Archive for Natural Resources
www.latimes.com 25th January 2013
Texas has lodged a complaint against the neighbouring state of New Mexico with the US Supreme Court this month. Texas claims New Mexico “has been diverting water it is obligated to send downstream under the 75-year-old Rio Grande Compact.” The compact was created in 1938 between Texas, New Mexico and Colorado and established a “formula” for allocating the Colorado river’s water to the various states. Two giant reservoirs, the Elephant Butte and Caballo, were built in New Mexico as a result yet Texas now claims that as many as 2500 wells have been installed below the Elephant Butte diverting water from the river to the underground aquifer. This, says Pat Gordon, Texas’ representative on the Rio Grande Compact Commission, has reduced water for the irrigation network. New Mexico denies the allegations claiming those drawing water from the river actually have water-rights that predate the compact. A prominent water law specialist Charles DuMars seemed to back New Mexico in the dispute when he stated that the compact “only requires that New Mexico deliver a set amount of water into Elephant Butte Reservoir…as to what happens to the river between there and Texas, New Mexico’s water law probably applies, not the compact.”
www.latimes.com 3rd January
A Royal Dutch Shell oil rig called Kulluk ran aground off the Alaskan coast just before the new year after drifting in high seas. The rig was being towed to Seattle for maintenance after its first season in the Beaufort Sea. Attempts to salvage the craft have so far failed. Kulluk is believed to be carrying 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel and another 12,000 of other oil products. However, US Coastguard aircraft failed to spot any signs of a leak and the rig is currently deemed stable. Shell has said a significant spill is unlikely as the ‘fuel tanks [are] isolated in the centre of the vessel and encased in heavy steel’. The Kulluk’s 14 man crew had already disembarked because of the weather. It is uncertain, and Shell cannot give a reason, as to why the rig was being moved in such bad weather. According to the LA Times, the oil company appears to have underestimated the conditions in the Arctic region. A long list of errors by Shell have included an inadequate capability to de-ice the Kulluk crew’s transport helicopters (which set back the moving operation by several months), a failure to build an arctic-worthy containment dome and spill-response barge (which kept the company drilling to adequate depths to reach oil this year), and serious deficiencies involving pollution controls and crew safety in the Noble Discoverer, the drilling ship Shell used in the Chukchi Sea.
www.nytimes.com 18th December 2012
Quoted from source:
‘An industry group representing oil and gas companies has sued a city in Colorado that outlawed hydraulic fracturing, saying voters had no right to ban the drilling practice. The lawsuit, filed on Monday by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, seeks to overturn the ban on the contentious practice that passed by a wide margin last month in the northern Colorado city of Longmont. The measure, the first of its kind in the state, still allows oil and gas drilling within city limits, but it prohibits hydraulic fracturing, which has lifted energy production across the country but has raised concerns about air and water contamination. The oil and gas association said the ban amounted to a prohibition on all efforts to tap the estimated $500 million in oil and gas resources locked in the rocks deep beneath Longmont. “The ban is illegal, and we expect it to be overturned by the courts,” said Tisha Schuller, the president of the group. City officials had been bracing for a lawsuit challenging Longmont’s right to make rules for an industry regulated largely by the state and federal authorities. Colorado officials opposed the city’s ban but have declined to sue to overturn it. Sam Schabacker, one of the ban’s leading advocates, called the lawsuit an attempt to “undermine a democratic vote in order to put a dangerous industrial activity next to homes, schools and public parks.”
The National Geographic November 2011 Issue
Decades of civil war has taken its toll on the rich biodiversity of the East African Rift Valley, a monumental geological phenomenon that separates the Nubian tectonic plate from the Somalian plate before forking down either side of Uganda. The region has seen the numerous conflicts over the last century including the most deadly since WWII: The Great African War, which saw around 5 million die. It also happens to be home to the highest biomass of large mammals in the world as well s huge reserves of important minerals such as gold, tin and coltan. This, combined with the huge population increase that places like the Democratic Republic of Congo have seen recently (for example in Goma, pictured, which is located next to an active volcano), has made for a volatile situation. People want land, and there is only a limited amount to go around.
For the national parks of the area, times are not good. Africa’s oldest national park, Virunga National Park founded in 1925, is a ‘warzone’ with many people already settled inside the park’s boundaries. The lodges are gutted and tourism is almost non-existent following the Rwandan genocide of 1994. The remaining park rangers are constantly battling with local militias, called Mai-Mai fighters, who control illegal fishing and charcoal production. Conogolese soldiers stationed on the western shore of Lake Edward have decimated populations of megafauna. 96% of the park’s hippo population has been slaughtered and sold for bush meat by militias. If the park rangers’ job is hard enough, they also face direct threats to their lives. In response to the rangers destroying illegal fishing boats (the fishing fleet of Lake Albert has swelled from 760 in the 1960s to 6,000 today), the Mai-Mai have put out bounties on the rangers. Furthermore, 100,000 villagers have demanded the government to reduce the park by 90%, or they’ll take it by force.
The Ugandan Queen Elizabeth Park (above), established in 1952, is not a lot better. By 1980 elephant numbers had dropped from 3,000 to 150. A common belief among the crowded villages is that national parks are making the population poor. In Uganda’s Kagombe Forest Reserve, a presidential decree has disallowed National Forestry Authority from evicting immigrant settlers, largely because of the upcoming elections. In order to placate the native populations about the rise of immigrants, politicians then announced that they too should seize land (see picture below). Most wildlife has now been hunted out of the reserve, a once important corridor for chimps and other animals. According to the forestry authority’s sector manager, Patrick Kakeeto, “they’re cutting all of this down and we can’t touch them. For us, it’s kind of psychoprofessional torture.”
www.bbc.co.uk 17th April 2012
A government appointed panel has stated that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking as it is more commonly known, should resume in the UK. The technique, used to extract gas trapped in underground rock, was put on hold following two earthquakes felt in the area of Blackpool due to fracking operations by a company called Cuadrilla. The panel was put together by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and their report on the process now goes out for a six-week consultation period before the DECC makes any final decisions. Although similar to a report put together by Cuadrilla that admits the company was responsible for the Blackpool earthquakes, the DECC appointed panel’s report claims other earthquakes could well happen, something Cuadrilla denies. However, these earthquakes are not likely to be larger than 3 on the Richter Scale (the previous two were 2.3 and 1.5 in April and May last year respectively). A decision to re-allow fracking in the country has angered environmentalists and conservationists who believe the coalition government (David Cameron’s self-described ‘greenest government ever’) should be doing more to reduce the UK’s reliance on fossil fuels. Fracking uses a combination of water and industrial chemicals that are sprayed at high-power into underground rock formations to loosen gas reserves trapped within them. In the US, there have been reports of contamination of the local water supply as a result, which in worst case scenarios causes tap water to become flammable.
The current standoff in the South China Sea reported in the BBC has the potential to be the beginning of something far larger in scale. The standoff is between China and the Philippines, and the area of contention is Scarborough Shoal, a small atoll of islands and reefs that lies well within the Philippines 200 mile Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) dictated by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (above). However, along with most of the rest of the South China Sea, China claims the atoll belongs to them. On Sunday (8th April), the Philippine’s largest warship, on a routine patrol of the area, found eight Chinese fishing vessels around Scarborough Shoal. Upon boarding one, the Philippine navy found a large amount of illegally caught fish and coral. Two days after this, two Chinese navy surveillance vessels arrived on the scene and positioned themselves between the fishing vessels and the Philippine warship, foiling any attempts the latter had to arrest the fishermen. Tensions grew yet further with news, reported in the BBC today (Thursday 12th April), that a Philippine coastguard vessel was to join the warship to face down the Chinese.
China claims territory within the 200 mile EEZs of five other countries around the South China Sea: Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Taiwan. Regional flare-ups have happened in the past but they have, as yet, not ended in violence. One factor that must be taken into account when studying the geopolitics of the region is the possibility that a large amount of oil and gas resides beneath the Sea. This maybe one reason why China has been bolstering its navy in recent years, a move that makes it now the second largest naval force in the world after the USA with over 500 combat vessels. The People’s Liberation Army’s Navy also trialled its first aircraft carrier in the South China Sea.
However, another factor that is sure to play a part in regional tensions in this part of the world is fish. It is interesting to note that although the confrontational nature of the Chinese surveillance vessels off Scarborough Shoal maybe to safeguard the area for future fossil fuel exploitation, it kicked off because of illegal fishing around the islands. With 70% of the world’s fish stocks being fished close to, already at, or beyond capacity has led experts to predict a catastrophic collapse in worldwide fish-stocks by the year 2048. Coastal communities in south-eastern Asian countries such as China and the Philippines have traditionally relied upon fish as a main source of protein and as fish populations decline, fishermen are having to travel further afield to satisfy demand. Not only does this have a devastating effect on the marine environment (from unsustainable fishing practices alone), but it also causes territorial disputes such as the one brewing around the Scarborough Shoal.
The fact that the Philippine navy is about to commence naval exercises alongside the US Navy in the same area makes for an interesting, and possibly fatal, few months. Although it is by no means certain that hostilities will commence (actually it is extremely unlikely as the last thing either the USA or China want is a clash), the fact that a standoff is even happening is because, presumably, the Chinese fishing vessels cannot find enough fish in areas of water that are less contested. This of course does not take into account the possibility that the boats were deliberately sent to the Shoal to reinforce China’s claim on the area.
Nobody wants a naval war to start in the South China Sea. Exploiting oil and gas reserves would become very difficult if it did. However, China does need to decide what is a more important resource: oil or fish. The former may matter more for the economy but the latter may be worth more to the population. Riots have started for far less than an increase in the price of fish. If it turns out that fish is a more important resource, then we here at LMV would not be surprised if clashes do happen in the South China Sea.
www.nytimes.com 10th April 2011
The global recession has had many an unintended consequence in our society. One way European governments are tightening their belts is by reducing subsidies on new technologies such as renewable energy, thereby making it more expensive for citizens to use. Coupled with the current negative attitude towards nuclear power following the awful Japanese tsunami of March last year, there is suddenly a gap in the energy market. And it seems we are falling back on fossil fuels as a result. Countries all over sub-Saharan Africa are experiencing billions of dollars of investment as energy giants look for the next lucrative oil or gas field to exploit. Mozambique, for example, has seen interest from the American company Exxon-Mobil, the British BG Group, and the Italian Eni. Potentially, the eastern African country has more gas reserves than the largest producer in Europe: Norway. Much of these resources will be diverted towards the energy hungry East, where China’s demand is forever increasing. The scramble for new resources good have benefits on a national scale. Energy companies are diversifying their sources for fossil fuels, and the introduction of the contentious ‘fracking’ of shale gas could allow countries like Poland escape their reliance on Russia for gas. However, environmentally, this renewed boom of fossil fuel exploration can only have a detrimental effect.
Pennsylvania has passed a controversial new law that allows gas companies to carry out hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking, as close as 90m (300ft) to residential housing. The bill renders previous zoning laws obsolete in a move that the state governor says will ‘level the playing field for gas exploration.’ Fracking is a controversial method of removing gas from underground rock by blasting them with water, sand and chemicals at high pressure. The practice has come under scrutiny following reports that it has contaminated drinking water supplies in the USA. Recently, Bulgaria has become the second state, after France, to ban fracking completely. The link below takes you to a video by the Guardian that documents the township of Dallas in Pennsylvania and their battle with the gas companies.
www.telegraph.co.uk 2nd November 2011
The main company exploring for shale gas in the UK have admitted that small earthquakes that hit the Lancashire coast in April and May were caused by hydraulic fracturing, the process whereby water, sand and chemicals are blasted at high pressure underground to release trapped gas from rocks. The company, Cuadrilla Resources, insist the tremors were not dangerous and that ‘fracking’, as hydraulic fracturing is more commonly know, is a safe process. However, there is growing concern that this may not be true, particularly in light of stories from across the pond of fracking causing flammable tap water and people becoming ill from contaminated water. Protests are on the rise in the UK where one drilling operation in Lancashire has already been brought to a standstill and a meeting of industry investors was stormed. James Barnes, a member of Frack Off (the group responsible), said, “We hear a lot about energy shortages, and we really need to be investing in researching sustainable energy sources, rather than finding tiny pockets of non-renewable gas and destroying our planet in order to get to them.” Chris Huhne, the Energy Secretary, also warned against mass use of shale gas by saying not enough was known about it to “bet the farm on it”. Charities, including Friends of the Earth and WWF, are attempting to implement a moratorium on fracking until more evidence on its safety can be collected.
e360.yale.edu 5th October 2011
‘The European Union says crude oil extracted from Alberta’s tar sands should be ranked as a dirtier fuel source than oil tapped from conventional oil wells, a move that could effectively ban the import of the controversial oil. The European Commission endorsed a measure that would essentially rate fossil fuels based on the CO2 emited during extraction, refining, and combustion. The EU has proposed that tar sands oil be ascribed a greenhouse gas value of 107 grams per megajoule of fuel, compared with 87.5 grams for ordinary crude oil. “With this measure, we are sending a clear signal to fossil fuel suppliers,” said Connie Hedegaard, the EU’s climate change commissioner. “As fossil fuels will be a reality in the foreseeable future, it’s important to give them the right value.” Such a ratings system may eventually be applied to natural gas extracted from shale oil formations. The exploitation of Alberta’s tar sands has generated increasing protest from environmental groups. In addition to destroying large swaths of forest, the extraction and processing of the sludgy bituminous material typically requires more energy and water than conventional production. Canadian officials and petroleum industry leaders vowed to fight the measure, calling it a “stigmatization” of a fuel source found only in Alberta and Saskatchewan.’
Daryl Hannah, the actor from such films as Blade Runner and Kill Bill, has been arrested for protesting against an oil pipeline that will see Canadian oil transported all the way to Texas, the length of the entire United States. The sit-in protest took place outside the White House and attracted the attention of the law when the several dozen protestors refused attempts by Park Police to move them along. The $13bn (£7.98bn) Keystone XL Pipeline will transport Canadian crude oil through 6 US states to the major refineries in Texas. TransCanada, the major Canadian oil company behind the pipeline, says the project will “significantly [improve] North American security supply”. It is not the first time Daryl Hannah has been arrested for environmental protests. In 2009 she was taken in by police along with 30 other protestors for demonstrating against mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia. In 2006, she was removed from a tree in Los Angeles following a protest against the demolition of a community farm.
Thanks to the hard work of Greenpeace, who have got in numerous scrapes with the law in order to see this happen, the oil-spill response plan drawn up by Cairn Energy, the company at the forefront of Arctic oil drilling, has been published on the internet. In the end it was the Greenland government, in whose waters Cairn is currently trying to drill, who released the elusive document after tens of thousands of emails were sent by Greenpeace supporters and concerned members of the public. The full document can be seen here (warning: large PDF) on the government’s website. Greenpeace activists have tried on numerous occasions to find Cairn’s oil-spill response plan, including boarding a Cairn oil rig in the Arctic and invading Cairn’s HQ in Edinburgh.
e360.yale.edu 5th August
Quoted from source:
‘U.S. government regulators have conditionally approved Shell Exploration’s plans to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea off the coast of Alaska. Drilling could begin as early as next July. The decision is a setback for various environmental groups and indigenous people, who are concerned that drilling activity and the potential for oil spills in the icy region could threaten a highly sensitive ecosystem that is home to whales, seals, walruses, polar bears, and migratory seabirds. Shell and Alaska’s U.S. senators praised the decision, which brings Shell a big step closer to drilling after years of legal battles. Shell must still clear some regulatory hurdles, including developing an oil spill response plan. Holly Harris, attorney for the environmental group Earthjustice, said the decision could open a warming Arctic to an unprecedented level of oil drilling, adding, “This is a disaster waiting to happen.” Meanwhile, the United Nations issued a report that criticized Shell and the Nigerian government for contributing to 50 years of oil pollution in the Niger delta. The UN said that reversing damage there would be the world’s largest oil clean-up, costing at least $1 billion and taking up to 30 years.’
www.bbc.co.uk 3rd August 2011
The UN Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit has reported that in the next 4 to 6 weeks all regions of southern Somalia will be affected by famine. Three new regions have been declared in a state of famine over the past few days bringing the number of people affected in the entire Horn of Africa to around 11 million. These regions are the Balcad and Cadale districts of the middle Shabelle region and areas surrounding the capital of Mogadishu. The drought causing such mass starvation is the worst the country has seen in 60 years and the UN have warned that an end is not in sight until at least December of this year. In Somalia alone, almost half of the entire population (3.2 million) are in need of immediate life-saving assistance. The situation is compounded by rising food prices, which have doubled since 2010, and even tripled in some areas. It is the first time in 19 years that the country has experienced famine.
www.nytimes.com 3rd August 2011
The oil and gas industry has maintained that fracking, the process of hydraulic fracturing whereby water and toxic chemicals are injected at high pressure into the bedrock to release natural gas reserves, has absolutely no effect on drinking water supplies. The reason behind this certification, industry officials say, is that fracking occurs thousands of feet below drinking water aquifers therefore it is impossible for the chemicals used in the process to enter the water. However, a report published by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1987 describes hydraulic drilling carried out by the Kaiser Exploration and Mining Company contaminated a well belonging to a Mr James Parsons of West Virginia not 600 feet away. Furthermore, the EPA have claimed that there may be more cases out there that will never see the light of day due to sealed settlements made between fracking companies and those affected by the contaminated water. This made it impossible for EPA researchers to investigate cases due to the lawsuits. “I still don’t understand why industry should be allowed to hide problems when public safety is at stake,” said Carla Greathouse, the author of the E.P.A. report that documents a case of drinking water contamination from fracking. “If it’s so safe, let the public review all the cases.” The American Petroleum Institute has denied such claims, instead referring to ‘countless academic, federal and state investigators’ who have ‘conducted extensive research on groundwater contamination issues, and have found that drinking water contamination from fracking is highly improbable.’
By Ben Caldecott, www.guardian.co.uk 12th July 2011
“The global financial system faces a deep, opaque and systemic risk that threatens to destroy our economic well-being, including our pensions. But forget collateralised debt obligations and subprime mortgages, the implications of an economy-wide over-exposure to fossil fuel investments could be even more severe and wide ranging than those of the recent financial crisis.
More money is flowing into clean technologies than ever before – a record £150bn of investment last year – but money is also still pouring into coal, oil, gas, mining and other high-carbon sectors at a pace that severely undermines our efforts to tackle climate change and other environmental challenges. Take last month’s listing of mining and commodities giant Glencore, for example, which valued the company at £37bn, the largest ever capital raising by an international company in London. Or Shell’s £62bn investment drive over the next four years, which is focused on increasing oil and gas production to 3.7m barrels of oil equivalent per day by 2014, an increase of 12% from 2010.
Judging from these and many other recent high-carbon endorsements, “let the good times roll” appears to be the tune to which the high-carbon incumbents across the world are dancing. The implications of locking in high-carbon investments are huge and long term.”
Read the full article on the Guardian’s website.
www.telegraph.co.uk 5th July 2011
The Natural History Museum, London, has postponed its biggest research expedition in 5o years following claims by human rights groups that it could put the lives of indigenous Paraguayan people at risk. The expedition intended to explore a vast dry forest called ‘Gran Chaco’ in the country, which holds the same biodiversity as the Amazon and has yet to be studied properly. However, concern was raised that the 40 scientists, along with their backup teams, may stumble across remote indigenous tribes that live in voluntary isolation. If this were to occur, the spreading of diseases may prove fatal to local people, just as they did 500 years ago when the Spanish and the English first alighted in the New World. The safety of the scientists was also questioned as some tribes, for example the Ayoreo, carry bows and arrows. The trip is now in a consultation period as the Paraguayan government discusses the venture with the Ayoreo tribe. The Natural History Museum has said that they would not go until “all parties were happy”. The Ayoreo are particularly important as the expedition hoped to work with them to learn local knowledge of the Gran Chaco’s environment. The forest, believed to home around 150 uncontacted people (down from 5,000 in 1950), is under severe threat from soy farming.
www.nytimes.com 1st July 2011
In an attempt to reduce their reliance on Amazonian hardwoods, officials in charge of maintaining the Coney Island boardwalk have begun to replace sections of the walk with concrete instead of wooden boards. Pressure from conservation organisations such as Rainforest Relief has apparently succeeded with the boardwalk, constructed in 1923, now having two sections of concrete walkway. Amazonian hardwoods, such as ipe, are used in many of Brooklyn’s piers, benches, and walkways and can withstand the weight of a garbage truck. In recent times, supplies of hardwoods have been depleted to dangerously low levels. Concrete seems to be the cheapest and most durable alternative costing at $95 a square foot compared to $127 for hardwood. Native American hardwoods are not suitable as sturdy as their Amazonian counterparts. The next instalment of concrete will be, if plans drawn up by advisory body Community Block 13 are followed through, 5 blocks on the walk’s eastern edge costing $7.5 million. An other plan to replace just a central strip of the boardwalk with concrete, on which the garbage trucks could drive, and then use recycled plastic boards for the rest (costing $110 per square foot) was turned down by Community Board 13 at a vote of 21 to 7.
www.bbc.co.uk 20th June 2011
According to a new report published by the International Programme on the State of the Ocean (IPSO), the world’s oceans are in a far worse state than previously recognised. Factors such as over-fishing, pollution, and climate change are working together in a way putting marine life “at high risk of entering a phase of extinction…unprecedented in human history”. IPSO collected together experts in the fields of many marine science disciplines to write the report, including coral-reef specialists, toxicologists, ecologists and fishery specialists. “We’ve ended up with a picture showing that almost right across the board we’re seeing changes that are happening faster than we’d thought, or in ways that we didn’t expect to see for hundreds of years,” said Alex Rogers, IPSO’s scientific director and professor of conservation biology at Oxford University. One of the new areas discussed by the specialists is the problem of plastics in the oceans. Plastic particles, broken down in the marine environment, act as sponges for persistent organic pollutants such as DDT and PCBs. This increases the toxin uptake rate in fish that mistake plastic for food. These chemicals then bioaccumulate up the food chain causing various harmful effects. Plastic also acts as transport for algae thereby increasing the occurrence of algal blooms. Other problems are ocean acidification and coral bleaching. Five “mass extinction events” are known to have occurred in the earth’s history and, although the report says it is too early to tell, IPSO say that if mankind continues to exploit the oceans as we are, then we will cause the sixth.
www.bbc.co.uk 14th June 2011
A new report titled ‘The State of Europe’s Forests 2011′ has put emphasis on the important role European woodland can play in mitigating the effects of climate change. Announced at the Forest Europe conference in Oslo, the report is expected to help EU ministers create legally binding forestry policy. In statistics, the forests of Europe account for 25% of the world’s total and absorbs about 10% of Europe’s carbon emissions. The area of European forest covers 1 billion hectares, or 45% of Europe’s total area. 80% of this is in the Russian Federation. Forests account for 1% of Europe’s GDP, which equates to 4 million jobs. Surprisingly, the forest area is increasing by about 800,000 hectares a year although there are several potential hurdles in this bit of good news. Forest fires, insect infestations, disease, and nitrogen deposition from pollution all threaten European woodland. The conference’s opening address was made by Crown Prince Haakon of Norway who stated: ”capacity building, good governance and increased international co-operation are necessary in order to secure sustainable forest management. Forests that are sustainably managed are becoming an important part of the solution for global climate change.”
e360.yale.edu 10th June 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Toymaker Mattel Inc. says it will stop using packaging from a Singapore-based company accused of clear-cutting swaths of Indonesian rainforest. Mattel’s action follows a campaign by Greenpeace that targeted, among other products, the packaging used in Mattel’s popular Barbie doll. While Mattel said it does not typically dictate where its suppliers obtain their materials, the company said it has now “directed” packaging suppliers to stop using pulp from Sinar Mas/APP, one of the world’s largest palm oil and paper companies, until Mattel is able to investigate allegations of illegal deforestation. “Additionally, we have asked our packaging suppliers to clarify how they are addressing the broader issue in their own supply chains,” the company said in a statement. Greenpeace has accused Mattel — as well as Hasbro, Lego, and Disney — of buying paper packaging sourced from disappearing rainforests, especially in Indonesia, where about 40 percent of rainforest has been cleared in recent decades. A Greenpeace campaign launched this week attracted attention globally after an online video spoofing its Barbie character as a rainforest “serial killer,” posted in 18 languages, attracted more than a half-million viewers.’
www.telegraph.co.uk 10th June 2011
The latest spell of warm weather across the UK has been the declared the driest spring in 100 years, according to the UK’s Environment Agency, causing parts of Eastern England to be given ‘drought’ status. This means farmers may have to stop taking water from local waterways and businesses such as food processors and breweries reduce water use and share resources. Despite this, the Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman has said that a hosepipe ban is not yet needed as reservoirs remain quite full. She did suggest people take showers instead of baths though to save water. Only one water company, Severn Trent in the Midlands, has openly said that a hosepipe ban is likely this summer. Although East Anglia is the worst affected part of the country, areas of the South West, South East, the Midlands, and Wales are designated as having ‘near-drought’ conditions. The WWF have expressed concerns that water companies make take too much water from waterways threatening such species as otters, water voles, and salmon. A spokesman said, “our water supplies have been taken for granted for far too long and now we’re facing a drought that could devastate our wildlife, rivers and crops. Ministers must act to ensure we change the way we use our water instead of wasting it through badly designed buildings and appliances, poor planning and inadequate investment.” Most cereal crops such as Barley and Wheat in East Anglia and the South East have already been lost due to dry conditions but fruits such as strawberries and cherries are having bumper yields.
www.nytimes.com 6th June 2011
Canadian oil sands hold an incredibly large amount of oil. Sands in the province of Alberta alone hold an estimated 171.3 billion barrels of oil so it is not hard to see why its extraction is progressing at a rapid rate. However, a proposed pipeline between Canada and the US has stumbled across some difficulties as the State Department, the US government body that needs to give permission for the pipeline, reaches an end of its environmental review. The process has lasted since November 2008. A decision is expected by the end of this year. Environmental groups widely criticise the exploitation of oil sands due to the amount of energy and water used in the extraction process and the destruction of the Boreal forest atop the sands. With $7 billion behind the Keystone XL pipeline’s construction though, as well as US government concerns about oil import instability due to the Arab Spring, environmental concerns may be sidelined for a secure source of oil. Russell K. Girling, president of TransCanada, the company behind Keystone XL, has said that oil sand development will go ahead whatever the American government decide. Other alternatives include transporting by rail or by using other existing pipelines such the Trans Mountain pipeline to Canada’s Pacific Coast. The Chinese have also expressed interest. The Canadian government is not likely to fall out of love with so-called ‘dirty oil’ (see the film of the same name in our documentaries section) anytime soon. Canadians re-elected a conservative government who have been staunch supporters of oil sand development.
Cairn Energy, based out of Edinburgh, Scotland, have been at the forefront of Arctic oil exploration with its rig Leiv Eiriksson and one other already in operation off the coast of Greenland. However, the company has repeatedly refused to reveal its plans in the event of an oil spill similar to the Deepwater Horizon explosion off the US Coast last year. In response to the company’s refusal, Greenpeace launched an ambitious raid on the Leiv rig in order to ask workers if they had heard of the plan. 18 activists in 5 outriggers managed to evade Danish naval patrol vessels and reach the rig from where the Greenpeace ship Esperanza was moored just outside the 500m exclusion zone established by the Danish authorities. All the protestors have since been arrested and their mission to discover the disaster plans proved to be futile with all crew denying its even existence. Greenpeace campaigner Ben Ayliffe, speaking from on board the Leiv Eiriksson, said, ”It’s obvious why Cairn won’t tell the world how it would clean up a BP-style oil spill here in the Arctic, and that’s because it can’t be done. Experts say the freezing temperatures and remote location mean a deep water blow-out in this stunning pristine environment would be an irreversible disaster. If they published the plan, the dangers of investing in such a high risk venture would be laid bare.” Cairn energy are now seeking to make Greenpeace protests illegal through the Danish courts.
www.nationalgeographic.com 20th May 2011
The high prices of oil around the world may benefit the adoption of more renewable fuels for transport. New tests by the US Department of Defence have shown that Hydrotreated Renewable Jet (HRJ) fuel, which is kerosene derived from natural sources such as plants or animal fat, is a viable alternative to normal fossil fuels. ASTM International, the standard-setting body of the aviation, is now poised to vote on the certification of HRJ. Successful tests by the US Airforce have seen jets fly at supersonic speeds using a 50:50 composite of renewable and petroleum based fuels. The civil unrest in the Middle East and Northern Africa has helped bump up oil prices, but aviation fuel is harder hit than some other types. During such shortages, refineries cut production of aviation fuel in favour or more profitable products such as diesel. Also, the tsunami and earthquake in Japan caused outages across three refineries further reducing the amount of aviation fuel on the market. The result is a 50% increase in prices over last year (a 30% increase from the beginning of 2011 alone). As fuel takes up the largest expenditure for an airline, the inevitable knock-on effect is falling profits or even losses. Although other biofuels have been put forward to replace regular petroleum fuels, none have succeeded as they either rely on fossil fuels to power the production process or are too energy intensive. HRJ is different however as it relies upon hydrogen to turn natural materials into fuel. The diversity of the feedstock is also hugely beneficial.
www.telegraph.co.uk 12th May 2011
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has released a paper that states the consumption of resources by wealthy nations must be ‘decoupled’ from economic growth. As it stands today, the world uses around 60 billion tonnes of resources per year but, under a business as usual scenario, this figure could leap to 140 billion by 2050. Per capita in developed countries, this accounts for 16 tonnes of resources consumed annually. This is compared to an average of 4 tonnes per person in India. Achim Steiner, the head of UNEP, said that if developed countries don’t start doing ‘more with less’, then resources such as iron ore, timber, fossil fuels, and fish will begin to run out (many are already running out). “Decoupling makes sense on all the economic, social and environmental dials,” he said. “People believe environmental ‘bads’ are the price we must pay for economic ‘goods.’ However, we cannot, and need not, continue to act as if this trade-off is inevitable. Decoupling is part of a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy needed in order to stimulate growth, generate decent kinds of employment and eradicate poverty in a way that keeps humanity’s footprint within planetary boundaries.”
www.bbc.co.uk 6th May 2011
A team of scientists from the US have determined that climate change over the past three decades has led to a 5.5% decline in global wheat yields. The research was carried out by Stanford University and assessed the impact of climate on the four major food crops of the world: wheat, rice, corn, and soybeans. Crop losses were so severe in some regions that they wiped out gains made through such factors as technology. ”There are already clear changes going on in most agricultural regions in terms of weather, and they have effects on food production that are sizeable,” said David Lobell, the head researcher on the report. Strangely enough, North America was the only region studied that did not show any trend of warming over the 30 year period whereas Europe, China, and Brazil all did. When it came to rainfall, just as many regions were experiencing more rainfall as those experiencing less. Professor Lobell insisted that the findings only referred to past relationships and in order for predictions in future crop yield to be worked out, some large assumptions would have to be made. For one, whether the crops of tomorrow will be the same as the ones we use today (genetically for one).
www.telegraph.co.uk 6th May 2011
Fracking is the latest craze within the energy industry. Invented in 1821 in New York, fracking involves blasting water, sand, and often toxic chemicals into shale thousands of feet under the earth in order to extract natural gas. The use of the method rocketed in 2005 ‘in the US when the Energy Policy Act exempted fracking wells from federal regulation under the Safe Drinking Act.’ Since then reports have been made by local residents about tap-water catching fire when a match is lit nearby. But with 28,000 wells in 16 states in the USA alone by 2009, fracking is big business. BP paid $3 billion for fracking rights in 2008 and the world’s largest mining company BHP Billiton handed over $5 billion for rights in Arkansas. Fracking began in the UK in March. Although some green advocates insist that burning natural gas is a greener option compared to other fossil fuels as it produces less CO2, the US Environment Agency released a report in 2010 that contradicts this. Due to the hugely intrusive way the natural gas is extracted from shale, greater amounts of methane (one of the worst greenhouse gases) is emitted, therefore making fracking one of the most polluting practices in energy production. Furthermore, the process produces harmful chemicals including carcinogens and radioactive elements that leak into local water supplies. Air quality is another issue. Due to the 27,000 fracking wells in Wyoming, the state failed its federal requirements for air quality.
The list goes on. Read more in the original article from the Daily Telegraph here.