Archive for Leaks and Spills
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.
LMV’s film ‘Plastic Shores‘ managed to come in second place at the Green Up Film Festival in Brussels, Belgium. We were invited to attend when we premiered Plastic Shores at the United Nations Regional Information Centre in March and were more than happy to have the film entered. The Green Up Film Festival is an innovative new way of hosting a film festival as it allows all the films to be viewed online. Viewers then vote on the film or films they like and at the end of the three week period, the public choice award is given. This time around the award went to the Spanish film ‘LIRA, RÉSERVE DE VIE’ directed by Marcos Galleco Fernandez. It is a fantastic film on the first marine reserve created in Spain by local fishermen. In third was the humorous French film ‘VÉLOTOPIA‘ directed by Erik Fretel (trailer above).
www.bbc.co.uk 11th October 2012
Quoted from source:
‘Oil giant Shell is due to appear in a Dutch court to face charges of polluting Nigerian villages in the Niger Delta region. The case is being brought by four Nigerian farmers and the Dutch branch of campaigners Friends of the Earth. It is the first time a Dutch multinational is being put on trial in a civil court at home in connection with damage caused abroad. Shell insists it has been unable to clean up the spills due to insecurity. The Anglo-Dutch firm also says that more than half of the leaks are caused by theft and sabotage. The case is linked to spills in the Ogoniland region of southern Nigeria. The farmers say that oil spills from the oil firm’s pipelines have destroyed their livelihoods by damaging crops and fish-farms. One of the plaintiffs, Friday Alfred Akpan from the village of Ikot Ada Udo, told the BBC the oil leaks in his village had badly damaged his 47 fish ponds.’
Read the rest of the report on the BBC news website.
Guest editorial by Elizabeth Odegaard, University of Washington 1st June 2012
SEATTLE, Washington – Located in the eastern part of the state of Washington, near the city of Richland, is the Hanford facility. The 586 square miles that comprise Hanford make up the most contaminated and radioactive site in the western hemisphere. Hanford was built out of the Manhattan Project during the nuclear arms race in WWII as the ideal location for producing the plutonium for an atomic bomb. Making it an ideal site was its close proximity to the cooling waters of the Columbia River and its relative isolation from major cities. So, in 1942, families, farmers, and three Native American tribes were evicted from their own land to make room for the construction of the Hanford facility. Because of the extreme secrecy and security of the project, those that were evicted had no idea why, other than that it was in the name of “the war effort”. And the site itself was virtually impenetrable by anyone that didn’t work there. By 1944 plutonium production was underway at Hanford and in 1945 the atomic bomb containing plutonium from Hanford was dropped on Nagasaki. The effects of Hanford are global, not only in terms of the devastation caused by the atomic bomb, but because of the far-reaching implications of what is now one of the most radioactive and contaminated sites in the world. At the time the facility was built, the future implications that a nuclear processing plant would have on the environment were not considered, but current generations are now dealing with the consequences of the short-sighted decision. This area of Washington is currently home to fruit orchards, farm and agriculture land, and recreational sports and camping which means that contamination and radiation have direct effects on the health of the region.
The history of Hanford is rife with tension; political, economic, and surrounding the health and safety of people and the environment. Hanford is currently managed under the Tri-Party Agreement which includes the United States Department of Energy, The United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the Washington Department of Ecology. The tension and in-fighting over the distribution of money, and the power to make decisions, is endless. Coupled with the secrecy, distrust, and denial that has long been characteristic of Hanford, an effective clean-up process has so far been impossible. Each of these stake-holders is working toward different expectations of clean-up, under different budget constraints, and answering to different federal and state administrations. As a provision under the Tri-Party agreement, the Yakima nation represents the loudest Native American voice in the clean-up of Hanford but this has so far done little to truly further clean-up and speak for their specific rights. Many people, within each of these organizations, would agree that because of conflicting ideas of clean-up and pressures from outside forces, true collaboration is more or less impossible to achieve.
Plutonium production at Hanford continued until 1989 when the era of clean-up began. However, the challenge of clean-up is staggering. So far, only 2% of the radioactivity at Hanford has been immobilized. One of the biggest challenges is the 53 million gallons of nuclear waste stored in 177 underground tanks. A third of these tanks have leaked more than one million gallons of radioactive waste into the soil and groundwater that feeds into the Columbia River, the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. The method of “disposal” used so far at Hanford includes the dumping of waste into miles of poorly designed trenches on the site. The future of waste management at Hanford looks to the operation of a Vitrification Plant that will immobilize the waste in the form of glass, encapsulating it in a secure cylinder that can then be ‘safely’ stored. However, the design and construction of the plant has been inefficient, slow-going, and expensive, and won’t even begin operations for what is estimated to be at least another ten years. Hanford is now the most expensive clean-up program and the largest public works project in the United States.
Plutonium is a man-made element with a half-life of over 24,000 years. This means that once it enters the body, through inhalation, consumption of contaminated food/water, or exposure to the skin, it doesn’t leave. The radioactive waste produced during the processing of plutonium is extremely dangerous, as plutonium is not only a carcinogen but also a mutagenic, it poses a serious health risk with long-term consequences for generations to come. In addition to the plutonium waste, other toxic chemicals, like chromium, tritium, uranium, strontium-90, and tetrachloride, have already contaminated the groundwater at Hanford, and threaten the Columbia River. Workers at Hanford, during both production and clean-up, as well as those living ‘down-wind’ from the facility, and people who use the Columbia River for recreational purposes, all face the continued dangers of potential exposure or contamination by an endless list of toxic chemicals. There are countless cases of people with cancers, thyroid diseases, and other illnesses because of radiation exposure or chemical contamination at Hanford.
Safe levels of radiation and chemical exposure are based on a “reference man” a statistical starting point that realistically only represents a small portion of the population; and the portion least at risk because it is based on a healthy, young, white male. Children have at least a three times greater risk of cancer than adults, and women are more vulnerable than men. The federal standard of ‘safe exposure’ from the Department of Energy is the least stringent and allows for 3 deaths out of every 10,000 people due to radiation exposure. The Washington State standard is 1 death per 100,000 people. These competing standards further reflect the challenge of collaboration and the problem of disjointed leadership perspectives at Hanford.
Hanford, though in many ways seemingly isolated from the rest of the world, has the potential to continue to have relatively unseen, but far-reaching effects. An earthquake or a chemical reaction at the facility has the potential to cause a massive radiation release, contaminating the air and waters of the Columbia River. As the biggest river in the Pacific Northwest, contamination of the Columbia would easily impact the Pacific Ocean and the marine and human life that relies on it for survival. Through the bio-accumulation of contamination, would likely perpetuate the exposure to humans and animals over great distances. Already, the river water along the shore of the facility has been tested and shown to have contaminants at levels greater than 1,500 times the drinking water standard. This poses a major threat to the health of the people and animals in contact with the river. This means that effective and thorough clean-up is necessary in order to prevent even more contamination in the future.
Though there is much contention surrounding Hanford, everyone can agree that it needs to be cleaned up; the disagreement is as to how that should be done. Hanford was built behind curtains of secrecy and justified with a vehement sense of patriotism. These qualities have made it extremely difficult to enact changes in clean-up policy and standards of health and safety as Whistleblowers are harassed and treated vilely; and the “good ol’ boy’s” club makes it virtually impossible to speak out against the ‘way things are’ at Hanford. The political willpower of the 1940’s that built Hanford, and constructed nuclear weapons, stands in great contrast to the current apathy and lack of collaboration on the part of the federal and state government and the stake holders there. Many organizations are working hard toward a collaborative clean-up effort with federal and state programs, and give voices to those that are affected by Hanford.
If you would like to learn more about Hanford and the clean-up effort please explore some of the resources below.
Hanford Challenge: A non-profit organization working on a collaborative clean-up of Hanford
The United States Department of Ecology: One of the Tri-Party stake holders
Physicians for Social Responsibility: A non-profit organization working on environmental and social concerns related to Hanford
Heart of America Northwest: A citizen’s group that works in pursuit of Hanford clean-up
Plastic Shores is based across the USA and the UK but there were two main beaches we explored for plastic pollution. The first was Kamilo Point in Hawaii, where we were taken around by the Hawaii Wildlife Fund. The second was Porthtowan in Cornwall (above). Both these shorelines provided the small pieces of plastic used in the animation sequences put together by Alice Dunseath for the film.
We found out about Porthtowan through Chris Hines MBE, the founder of UK-based charity called Surfers Against Sewage (SAS), who Plastic Shores’ director Ed Scott-Clarke met at a lecture hosted by Selfridge’s department store for their Project Ocean campaign. Chris (above) was one of the interviewees for the film and told us all about SAS’s work in almost single-handedly changing the way the UK and the EU think about sewage. In Chris’ words though, “What we dealt with was the continuous crude raw discharges that had been inherited from Victorian times. And those are gone now…then, all those panty-liners and condoms that we used to see, and we saw a lot of them, they have been replaced by an ever-increasing amount of marine debris, marine litter. All kinds of pieces of plastic from plastic bags, to sheets of plastic, to broken down pieces of plastic bottles, to mermaid’s tears. And I’ve been seeing more and more of it.”
Chris put us in touch with his former colleagues (he has now left SAS and set up a new organisation called A Grain of Sand) at the SAS HQ in St. Agnes, Cornwall, including Andy Cummins (above, right). Andy, also an interviewee in Plastic Shores, took us down to Porthtowan beach, a beautiful spot near Truro. What was amazing about the beach was that, unless you were looking very closely, the majority of the plastic pollution was almost invisible to the eye. When we leant down close though, we could see that there were an infinite amount of small pieces of plastic in the sand. Andy explained about the ‘Blue Flag’ initiative put together by the Foundation for Environmental Education. “To get a Blue Flag…you go to the dirtiest part of the beach and you pick a 10cm by 10cm area…and there shouldn’t be 10 pieces of small plastic in there.” In the area Andy chose on Porthtowan, by far not the worst spot on the beach, he counted almost a 100 pieces. “The scale of this litter is phenomenal,” he said shaking his head.
Surfers Against Sewage does fantastic work around the UK in raising awareness for the state of our coastlines and waterways. With their previous successes in tackling sewage discharges by taking on EU legislation and tackling the big water corporations, one can’t help but feel optimistic that they are now fighting to clear our seas of plastic pollution. We thank them for all the help they have given us.
www.bbc.co.uk 6th April 2012
A Japanese shrimping vessel that was washed to sea during the disastrous tsunami of March 2011 has been sunk in 9,000 ft of water by the United States Coastguard off the coast of Alaska. The Ryou-Un Maru, which was without power or lights, was deemed a hazard to other vessels and sunk using a cannon that punctured holes in the ship’s sides. The question many people have asked is why the Ryou-Un was not salvaged. In fact, the coastguard had already contacted the Japanese government to ask them whether they were interested in salvage. The reply was negative. Then, the coastguard had agreed to hold off taking action as a Canadian fishing vessel claimed salvage rights. When the larger Japanese ship proved difficult to tow though, the US authorities stepped in. Another question worrying conservationists is the 7,500 litres of diesel fuel that were not removed prior to the sinking. According to Petty Officer David Mosley the fuel ‘should very quickly dissipate in the ocean.’ The Ryou-Un is believed to be the vanguard of a large debris field from Japan that is making its way to the west coast of North America on North Pacific currents.
www.independent.co.uk 9th April 2012
Quoted from source:
‘Sixty-nine oil and chemical spills in the North Sea have been reported in three months. Eighteen companies were named in a table published by the Department of Energy and Climate Change. The most recent incident was a gas leak at Total’s Elgin platform on 25 March. Professor Andrew Watterson, the head of the occupational and environmental health research group at the University of Stirling, accused companies of playing down “the potentially catastrophic consequences” of gas and oil leaks. “These are very worrying figures that cannot be slicked over by government agencies and industry,” he said. He blamed “corporate failures” for polluting the sea, and pointed out that the number of reported chemical leaks had more than doubled since 2005. Oil & Gas UK, which represents offshore companies, said the leaks were “relatively small” and many of the chemicals “benign”. BP and Shell were among the firms listed, with BP reporting the highest number of incidents at 23. Other companies included EnQuest, British Gas and Nexen.’
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.bbc.co.uk 24th December 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Brazil has fined US oil giant Chevron $5.4m (£3.5m) for breach of its environmental licence when it tackled an oil spill in November. Brazil’s Ibama environmental agency said Chevron lacked the necessary equipment and was slow to respond. Ibama had already fined Chevron $28m for causing the spill off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Chevron is also facing an $11bn lawsuit over the spill of about 3,000 barrels of crude oil at the Frade field. Brazil has already suspended all of the drilling operations of Chevron and its contractors after the incident. Chevron has apologised for the leak but stressed it acted as rapidly and safely as possible to contain it. The spill happened at a well in the Frade oil project, 370km (230 miles) off the Brazilian coast. In recent years Brazil has discovered billions of barrels of oil in deep water that could make it one of the world’s top five producers. But to date there has been little debate about the environmental risks of offshore drilling. Political discussion has instead focused on how future oil revenues should be divided between different states.’
e360.yale.edu 13th December 2011
Quoted from source:
‘Russian scientists sampling the waters of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf have discovered enormous plumes of methane, some more than a kilometer wide, bubbling up from the thawing seabed. Igor Semiletov, an oceanographer from the Far Eastern branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences, said a research cruise late this summer detected more than 100 of these extensive methane “fountains” in an area of less than 10,000 square miles. Semiletov, who has been studying the region’s seabed for 20 years, said the scale and volume of the plumes far surpasses anything he had seen previously and could indicate that slushy methane hydrates on the seabed are thawing at an intensifying rate as Arctic Ocean ice disappears and sea temperatures rise. In 2010, Semiletov estimated that the emissions of methane — a powerful heat-trapping gas — bubbling from the seabed in this region were about 8 million tons a year, but he said the recent expedition has shown that methane releases could be far higher. “We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale,” Lemiletov told the UK’s Independent newspaper. Scientists fear that continued warming of the Arctic could release so much methane that the global climate could pass a tipping point and be pushed into an era of rapid warming.’
www.bloomberg.com 24th November 2011
US oil giant Chevron has been banned from drilling in Brazilian waters while an investigation is carried out into the recent spill in the Frade oilfield. Although Chevron insist that they reacted to the spill as fast and as efficiently as they could, Brazil’s oil regulator Agencia Nacional do Petroleo (ANP) said the company’s “negligence” was a contributing factor. The South American country has recently discovered what are believed to be the largest oil deposits in the Western Hemisphere in deep waters off its coast. The Frade oilfield alone is valued at $3.6 billion and Brazil is looking to multinational corporations such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell, and Statoil to help them maximise oil extraction. Chevron released a statement saying that it “has not received any formal notice from” the ANP and that oil production from Frade continues. However the company has been fined $27 million by Brazilian authorities and its head of Brazil operations, George Buck, has appeared in front of a congressional hearing in the country’s capital of Brasilia. “Sincere apologies to the Brazilian people and the Brazilian government,” he said. Chevron is the third largest oil producer operating in Brazil, after state-owned Petrobras and Shell, and owns a 51.74% stake of the Frade oilfield.
www.bbc.co.uk 20th November 2011
The US oil giant Chevron have admitted full responsibility for an oil spill off the Brazilian coast that regulators say has spilt 416,400 litres since it began 2 weeks ago. The company claim they underestimated the pressure of underwater oil deposits resulting in the fossil fuel to rush up the bore hole and seep into the ocean through the seabed. Although Chevron have said the spill has now been capped, its head of Brazilian operations, George Buck, stated that residual oil flow was still coming from undersea rock. Initial reports by the company suggested as little as 400-650 barrels of oil had been lost but this was revised when international environmental monitoring group Skytruth studied satellite images and reported the ‘the spill was many times bigger’. Police are also investigating the methods Chevron was using to clean up the spill amid reports that they were pushing it to the bottom of the sea rather than corralling and collecting it. Brazilian Energy Minister Edison Lobao has promised that Chevron would be “severely punished” if it was found to have failed in its environmental responsibilities. Brazil has recently discovered large oil reserves in its deeper waters that could make the country one of the top five oil producers in the world.
www.independent.co.uk 13th October 2011
BP has come under heavy criticism from four of the UK’s leading conservation charities due to their plans to drill a new deep-water oil well off the coast of Scotland. In the BP’s own worst case scenario, the well could leak 75,000 barrels of oil for 140 days from the platform situated offshore from the island of North Uist. Such a leak would make it the worst oil spill in history and more than twice the size of BP’s Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have all written to energy secretary Chris Huhne to try to get him to stop the drilling, citing a “significant risk to wildlife”. They also complained that not one of the charities were made aware of BP’s “public consultation exercise”, which ended last week without a single response from the public. None of the charities knew about the exercise until the Independent broke the story yesterday (pictured).
The stranded container ship Rena, which ran aground on the Astrolabe reef on Wednesday, has had all non-essential crew members removed by the New Zealand navy. The news came as a fresh oil leak from the ship was discovered and the first oil was washed up on the shore of North Island. An attempt to siphon off oil from the Rena onto an adjacent tanker was abandoned after just 10 tonnes of an estimated 1,700 due to bad weather. Around 30 tonnes have so far leaked into the ocean. Overnight, the ship’s position has changed atop the reef as the pinnacle it was wedged on collapsed causing the evacuation as a precautionary measure. 500 workers are on standby to cleanup beaches around North Island but the authorities have warned locals not to get involved. Maritime New Zealand issued a statement saying: ‘although it looks bad, the oil in its clumped state is at no risk of going anywhere, and people attempting to remove it without the proper training or equipment risk making the situation worse.’ It has been claimed that the Rena was involved in a near miss incident just two days before it ran aground.
www.bbc.co.uk 16th August 2011
Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell has revealed to the UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) that they have discovered a second leak beneath their Gannet Alpha platform in the North Sea, some 113 miles off Aberdeen. The first leak was found last weekalthough the company refused to say how much oil had been spilt. However, with the new discovery it is understood that around 1,300 barrels, or 216 tonnes, of “light crude oil with a low wax content” has been released into the marine environment creating a visible sheen on the sea’s surface about 0.5km wide. A DECC spokesman stated, “although small in comparison to the Macondo, Gulf of Mexico, incident, in the context of the UK Continental Shelf the spill is substantial. But it is not anticipated that oil will reach the shore and indeed it is expected that it will be dispersed naturally.” The leak, according to Shell’s technical director of exploration and production (Europe) Glen Cayley, is in a difficult area to access with a large amount of “marine growth”. ”It’s taken our diving crews some time to establish exactly and precisely where that leak is coming from,” he said. The Gannet oil field, owned by American oil giant Exxon and operated by Shell, has produced around 13,500 barrels a day this year.
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.
news.sky.com 13th August 2011
The Anglo-Dutch oil-giant Shell has confirmed it has found an oil leak in a pipeline running to its Gannet Alpha platform 112 miles off the coast of Aberdeen. The company has refused to say how much oil has ben leaked from the damaged pipeline but a spokesman said: ”We have stemmed the leak significantly and we are taking further measures to isolate it. The subsea well has been shut in, and the flow line is being de-pressurised.” A cleanup ship has been sent to the site as well as a spotter plane to look out for oil on the sea’s surface. The UK’s Department of Energy and Climate Change have announced they are aware of the situation and are working with Shell to tackle the problem. Shell told the government agency that only a ‘finite’ amount of oil can be released from the pipeline. The oil field in the North Sea is actually owned by Esso, a subsidiary of American oil giant Exxon, but is operated by Shell. The Scottish Green Party has warned that Shell needs to keep the government, and the public, informed on the situation, something BP failed to do with the Deepwater Horizon disaster of April last year.
www.lemonde.fr 8th August 2011
One year after the French government launched the ‘Plan National de Lutte Contre les Algues Vertes’ (the national plan against Green Algae), the marine flora is still causing huge problems along the country’s coastlines. Recently, a herd of wild boar have been discovered dead on the shores of Brittany. Autopsies revealed that they had gorged themselves on green algae and had died from the resulting gases released from the decomposing plants. The algae first made its appearance around 4 decades ago but it is only recently that official bodies have begun to tackle the problem. 109 sites in Brittany, northwest France, are badly affected with cleanups sometimes taking away as much as 70,000 cubed metres of algae per year. Some of this is used as fertiliser. The cause of the scourge, which chokes the life out waterways, is easily identifiable. Fertilisers from local farms run-off into water-systems saturating the water with nitrates causing algae blooms. These farms have agreed to various measures to reduce this runoff, including turning 60% of land back to grassland and not using fertilisers. As yet though, success has not been achieved.
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.’
A number of dangerous chemicals that have been frozen in the Arctic ice are being released as rising temperatures cause ice-caps to melt. The chemicals are called Persistent Organic Pollutants (or Pops) and include the industrial chemicals PCBs, and the pesticides DDT, lindane, and chlordane. They have all been banned under the 2004 Stockholm Convention due to the damaging effect they have on the environment and on human health. Studies carried out by Canadian and Norwegian scientists (the former based at Alert weather station in northern Canada and the latter at Zeppelin research station at Svalbaard) have shown that despite a global reduction in Pops emissions, air concentrations of PCBs and HCBs have been on the rise since 2004 due to chemicals being released from melting Arctic ice. Pops are stored in the fatty tissues of organisms that inadvertently consume them and are passed up the food chain because of this. Larger organisms at the top of the food chain, such as dolphins, seals, and orcas, therefore receive dangerously high concentrations of the chemicals that have profound effects on their health. In humans, Pops are related to cancers and physical deformity, among other defects and diseases. There is little scientific knowledge on the scale of Pops stored in high altitude regions.
Japanese agricultural officials have warned that more than 500 cattle slaughtered for Japanese supermarkets have been infected by radiation from the Fukushima nuclear disaster several months ago. The Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was severely damaged in the tsunami of March this year, which devastated the Japanese coastline after an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale struck off the nation’s coast. Beef has now joined a wide variety of foodstuffs that have tested positive for radioactive cesium including spinach, tea, milk and fish. Officials blame the cattle meat contamination on hay left outside during the nuclear fallout. This hay has been found as far away from the plant as 85 miles implying the fallout was wider than initially thought. Attention now turns to the Japanese government who have been unwilling to extend the ban on food exports from just a 12 miles radius of the plant. The reason behind this decision was to reduce the amount of people put out of work and also the amount of compensation claims levelled against Tokyo Electric Power, the operating company of Fukushima. With the amount of contamination reports on the rise though, the government have now banned meat shipments from the entire of the Fukushima prefecture, an area of 5700 square miles. Farmers from the area still claim they are being kept out of the loop and have had no information from the government on how to tackle the problem.
www.sciencedaily.com 1st July 2011
A research trip put together by two students at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography has found that over 9% of fish sampled in the area of the North Pacific called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have ingested plastic. The Scripps Environmental Accumulation of Plastic Expedition (SEAPLEX) travelled across the North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, which stretches between the North East Asian coast and western North America and sampled a total of 141 fish from 27 species. Based on the figure of 9.2% of sampled fish had plastic in their stomachs, the authors of the study, Peter Davidson and Rebecca Asch, went on to calculate that fish in the “intermediate levels of the North Pacific ingest plastic at a rate of roughly 12,000- to 24,000 tons per year.” Most of the plastic pieces were smaller than a human fingernail and many were too small for their original purpose to be determined. Furthermore, the study’s authors believe that the 9.2% is an underestimate as some fish may regurgitate plastic pieces, they may pass through the body, or a fish may die from eating it. It is impossible to measure these exceptions. SEAPLEX put down 132 net tows (130 came up with plastic) across a distance of 1,700 miles of the North Pacific. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is not, as is commonly thought, an island of human waste but rather it is ‘highly dispersed’ and therefore impossible to map from satellite or plane. For this reason, research on the matter is still relatively young.
www.seaweb.org 6th July 2011
In the absence of a global move to reduce carbon emissions, many have asked the question whether anything can really be done to reduce the effects of ocean acidification on the marine environment. A new paper, released in the journal Science, has tried to tackle this question by putting forward a number of ideas that could be implemented by local and national governments to better protect their coastlines. Although the growing amount of CO2 in our atmosphere is increasing the level of the gas absorbed by the oceans (thereby creating carbonic acid), several other factors also play a role in this process. Freshwater input from rivers, pollution, and soil erosion all affect the acidic level of seawater. Although the report, headed by Ryan Kelly of the Center for Ocean Solutions at Stanford University, is aimed towards the United States, it’s lessons are relevant on a global scale. The first issue they tackle is to reduce acidification-related runoff. This can be done by using state funding and the Clean Water Act to prevent stormwater surges, upgrade water treatment facilities, and restore wetland areas. Secondly, in order to reduce coastal erosion (which carries with nutrient runoff and acidification-inducing fertilisers) local governing bodies should encourage vegetation growth that stabilises coastal sediment. Thirdly, “enforcement of federal emissions requirements for such industrial pollutants as nitrogen oxide and sulfur oxide should provide local benefits given these pollutants’ short atmospheric resident times.” The paper insists that these more local moves challenge the commonly held belief that the problem of ocean acidification can only be dealt with on a national scale.
www.latimes.com 3rd July 2011
An ExxonMobil oil pipeline crossing the Yellowstone River in Montana has been damaged spilling around a 1,000 barrels (42,000 gallons) of crude into the marine environment. It took ExxonMobil engineers 6 minutes to shut the pipeline down after pressure readings dropped on Sunday. The last inspection of the pipeline (December) showed the pipe 5-8 feet below the riverbed but heavy rains and melted snow are believed to have removed the sediment on top. This exposed the metalwork to floating debris which damaged the structural integrity of the pipeline, resulting in the spill. The pipeline is only 20 years old but was already shut in May this year due to worries about seasonal flooding. It was reopened however after it was deemed safe based on the pipeline’s record. It is too early to tell the impact on the surrounding environment although local residents are concerned that when the high river waters recede, they will leave oil on farmers’ land.
e360.yale.edu 15th June 2011
Quoted from source:
‘The Gulf of Mexico’s hypoxic zone, an oxygen-depleted area created by excessive nutrient pollution, isexpected to reach record proportions this year as a result of the extreme flooding in the Mississippi River basin, according to a forecast by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Using nutrient load data compiled by the U.S. Geological Survey, scientists calculate that the hypoxic zone, also known as the “dead zone,” could cover 8,500 to 9,421 square miles, an area about the size of New Hampshire. The dead zone — which is created when algal blooms remove oxygen from the water and suffocate marine life — has reached an average 6,000 square miles during the last five years. But with the flow rate of the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers nearly double the normal rate this spring, the quantity of nutrients entering the Gulf is about 35 percent higher than usual, according to NOAA. The dead zone, located along the coast, forces Gulf fishermen farther offshore.’
The LMV team (director Edward Scott-Clarke and cameraman Huw Poraj-Wilczynski) spent the day in Cornwall yesterday interviewing Andy Cummins, the Campaign Director from Surfers Against Sewage (SAS). The SAS have been campaigning hard all across the UK, since 1990, to clean up British coastlines. It was formed by a group of Cornish surfers who were fed up with swimming and surfing in sewage pumped straight into the UK’s seas by complacent water companies. They banded together and took their protest directly to the private water companies, Westminster, and even the European parliament. Within 7 months of their inception, the charity achieved 2,000 members and put significant, and successful, pressure on the UK’s water companies to amend their attitude towards sewage discharge. Today, it can be said they were key players in changes made to the EU’s Bathing Water Directive as well recommendations made by the UK government that all sewage released into UK waters be treated to a tertiary level. Among current projects organised by the SAS are No Butts on the Beach, Motivocean Beach Cleanups, and Return to Offender.
Update (1st July): LMV returned to Porthtowan on the 20th June to interview Chris Hines MBE, founder of SAS and his current project A Grain of Sand, and Andy Hughes, an artist whose incredible photographs of marine debris seeks to raise awareness about the harmful effects this debris has on the coastal environment. Below are a few photographs taken by LMV of a our days at the (not very clean) beach.
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.
www.bbc.co.uk 21st April 2011
Due to the continued instability of the Fukushima nuclear plant, the Japanese government has brought into effect a 20km exclusion zone around the site. Although an evacuation zone has been in effect since the 9.0 earthquake hit the Japanese coast on the 11th March, it has now been made officially illegal to enter. There will, however, be a brief window for the 80,000 former residents to collect belongings. There are also believed to be as many as 60 families still living in the exclusion zone, although nobody seems to be sure where. If they do not leave, they could face the penalty of around £730 or 30 days detainment by the police. Most of the evacuees are currently living in temporary shelter in local sports halls and gymnasiums. With Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Fukushima plant operator, saying that they aim to bring the plant to a cool shutdown state within 9 months, these stranded citizens may have a long wait to return home.