Planktos Iron Dump Illustrates Dangers of Carbon Offsets

Planktos Iron Dump Illustrates Dangers of Carbon Offsets

For Immediate Release

For more information contact: Nick Berning, 202-222-0748

Planktos Iron Dump Near Galapagos Illustrates Dangers of Carbon Offsets

Planned dump lacks oversight and could harm the ocean; company plans to proceed despite widespread opposition

WASHINGTON–Despite criticism from scientists, environmental groups and international authorities, the California-based firm Planktos is moving forward with a planned iron dump near the Galapagos Islands. Planktos plans to spread tons of iron dust across 10,000 square kilometers of ocean in an effort to spur the growth of phytoplankton, which could remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Unfortunately, experts say the plan is unlikely to work as promised, that its effects are hard to measure, and that such iron fertilization schemes endanger the ocean. Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder said the dump illustrates potential pitfalls of carbon offset policies that allow polluters to pay others to “offset” global warming emissions.

“Planktos is selling the equivalent of global warming snake oil. Leading scientists in the field have raised all sorts of concerns about such ‘iron fertilization’ of the ocean–including the potential for environmental damage and questions about whether much carbon is actually taken out of the atmosphere,” Blackwelder said. “It’s a perfect example of the problems that come with carbon offsets. If you pay someone to remove carbon from the atmosphere, how can you be sure you get what you’re paying for–and that the environment isn’t harmed in the process?”

Leading oceanographers and biochemists say that ocean iron fertilization is unlikely to remove much carbon from the atmosphere in a lasting or significant way, as most plankton die within three to six months and release carbon back in the atmosphere. Such experts also say that the small proportion of carbon that is sequestered at the ocean’s bottom through this process is hard to measure. Additionally, experts warn that such fertilization could unintentionally alter ocean ecosystems in ways that lead to the production of methane and nitrous oxide, which contribute to global warming.

The Galapagos National Park in Ecuador has expressed concern about the dump, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency told Planktos it may be legally obligated to seek an ocean dumping permit for its project–at which point Planktos rapidly abandoned its plans to use a U.S.-flagged ship (which triggers the EPA permit requirement) and claimed it was “unable” to answer EPA questions about potentially adverse environmental impacts.

Friends of the Earth has been in communication with other environmental groups, scientists around the world, and even the president of Planktos in attempts to stop the Galapagos dump. After more than 5,000 Friends of the Earth activists e-mailed the International Maritime Organization in late June, its scientific committee for overseeing implementation of the London Convention on Ocean Dumping expressed concern about ocean iron fertilization–and called for the full London Convention to consider new regulations on such activities in the fall. But Planktos continues with its plans, going so far as to insist that its iron dumping is necessary to “reverse the apocalyptic collapse of the ocean.”

“We have to fix the carbon offsets system so our planet isn’t harmed by reckless entrepreneurs pursuing sham science in search of financial gain,” Blackwelder said. “Iron fertilization of the oceans should be banned, and other carbon offset schemes should be subject to regulation and oversight.”

Blackwelder also emphasized Friends of the Earth’s belief that the best way to limit global warming is to reduce emissions, rather than attempt to offset them. “The technology exists today to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions through conservation, increased efficiency and cleaner sources of energy,” he said. “The only question is whether we have the will to do so. Sitting around and waiting for a technological quick fix, which isn’t likely to come any time soon, is the wrong approach.”

For more information about the Planktos iron dump and the questions it raises about carbon offsets, or to be connected with numerous leading scientists who can speak to technical questions raised by the dump, please contact Friends of the Earth at 202-222-0748.