Fracked Earth Whirl

Protester “chipmunks” obstruct work at Utah tar sands mine.

By Kate Lanier

Mining and local communities: Scenes of conflict

__Pope Francis is at it again, saying there must be a “radical change” in the way mining industries interact with local communities and the environment. “The companies, the governments that are supposed to regulate them, investors and consumers … [of] mined material ‘are called to adopt behaviour inspired by the fact that we are all part of one human family.’”

__Utah “mining regulators have given the go-ahead for the next phase of the nation’s first commercial tar sands operation” in Uintah and Grand Counties. US Oil Sands of Calgary, Alberta, Canada will do the mining. State regulators will rely on the mine to “monitor for potential impacts to groundwater and comply with federal pollution standards.” Confident that’ll work?

__”Mining will never satisfy its appetite,” says San Carlos Apache Tribe Chairman Terry Rambler, whose tribe is in an “epic battle to save Oak Flat, its most revered sacred site.” Democracy Now interviews Wendsler Nosie Sr. of the San Carlos Apache Tribe and his granddaughter, Naelyn Pike, about the McCain-Flake giveaway of the sacred Apache site to Rio Tinto for a huge copper mine. The tribe has made a caravan from Arizona to Washington, DC in protest, with a nice assist from Neil Young.

__Uh-oh. Alaska Supreme Court has ruled that the popular initiative for restricting the Pebble mine project—which is on state land—“seriously impedes a regulatory process set out in state law and is unenforceable.” The proposed gold and copper Pebble mine is in the same area as “headwaters of a world-class salmon fishery.”

__Seems the US Forest Service got “thousands of public comments” so is now “considering a more stringent analysis of a mining proposal near Yellowstone National Park. British Columbia’s Lucky Minerals wants to “search for gold on federal and private land around Emigrant Peak in south-central Montana.”

__Imagine! A mining policy which gives “greater weight to social and environmental factors during the approval process.” That’s what’s been proposed for New South Wales, Australia, “giving hope” to those fighting such projects as Rio Tinto’s Mount Thorley Warkworth Hunter coal mine expansion.

__Meanwhile, Shenhua Watermark, a spectacularly huge open-cut coal mine in New South Wales, Australia, could have an unknown impact on local groundwater and underground aquifers, but there’s no plan showing how Shenhua would manage such a crisis.

__Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, apparently is a coal-head, insisting that coal is “good for humanity.” His government’s approving coal mines all over the place. (more…)

Fracking Whirl


“Nature Is Speaking: Edward Norton Is The Soil,” from Conservation International

By Kate Lanier

__2,000+ scientists met in Paris over global warming. Adviser to Germany and Pope Francis, Han Joachim Schellnhuber, argued there must be an “‘induced implosion’ of the fossil fuel industry.” Joseph Stiglitz, US Nobelist economist argued for a “green economy [since] it can promote economic growth.” Schellnhuber again: “We need a global society movement and it is already happening.” Much more.

__In Bolivia, Pope Francis called “for a ‘structural change’ to a global economy.” Capitalism is “the dung of the devil” for all the pain and suffering it causes; “land, lodging, and labor are ’sacred rights’”; true revolution must come from the people—soon. Can’t wait for September when he addresses the US Congress. His Holiness the Dalai Lama lends support to the pope.

__Good news or what? “Denmark’s Wind Energy Output Just Exceeded National Demand.” They’re exporting the extra to Norway, Germany and Sweden.

__As the great Krugman underscores, consumption of green energy (solar and wind power) has taken off, tripling from December 2009 to March 2015. Neat graph.

__US electric power generation comes mainly from natural gas (31%) and coal (30%). Natural gas is “cleaner,” but finite, so shouldn’t we be thinking ahead? On that “thinking ahead (or not)” theme: Republicans in the House have vowed to block a new rule, the Clean Power Plan, “intended to cut earth-warming pollution from power plants by 30 percent by 2030.” Blocking environment-related rules is definitely a trend.

__The US National Park Service planned to “stop selling disposable [plastic] bottles and let visitors refill reusable ones with public drinking water.” But the 200-corporations-strong International Bottled Water Association swung into action and an amendment to stop the NPS’ plan was added to a House budget bill, courtesy of Rep. Keith Rothfus (R-PA).

__Major drought in British Columbia, with consumers cutting water use. Nestle and other water companies, however, continue bottling British Columbia drinking water at a fraction of what the water costs BC consumers, and selling it for profit. Petition in circulation. h/t Mike Hudema

__Birds are magnificent creatures. US House politicians, however, voted to cut funding for bird protections under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. Without the Treaty, BP would have escaped “prosecution for the killing of millions of birds” as a result of their 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf. More from Audubon.

__King salmon have made a come-back in Anchorage, Alaska. From 330 caught in 2012 to 1300 in 2013, and this year likely even more. Fish & Game installed a $100-million hatchery in 2011. These things can be done.

__While many species are moving northward as global warming continues, there is one exception: the bumblebee. In North America and Europe, bumblebees’ ranges are shrinking, some “completely disappearing.”

__42,000+ people in Millvale, Pennsylvania “received inaccurate and/or delayed water bills for months on end.” Class-action lawsuit now underway to remedy the situation and make the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority more “transparent.” Water is provided by a for-profit French company, Veolia Environment.

__Monsanto “has arranged for an outside scientific review of a World Health Organization finding that the weed killer [Roundup]’s key ingredient probably causes cancer.” They’ve hired Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy which has “subject-matter experts who can optimize your company’s success and minimize risk.” Hmmmm.

__Australia “has ordered the Clean Energy Finance Corporation” to stop future investments in wind power, and instead focus on ‘emerging technologies’” (solar and “native wood waste”). Heated controversy erupted—including charges this was simply an attack on renewables.

__This just in: “Warming of oceans due to climate change is unstoppable, say US scientists.” (more…)

Nigerian Professor Argues For Coal Industry Revival

General Muhammadu Buhari (Photo from Chatham House, London / Creative Commons)

Albert Obanor, a professor at the University of Benin, said to an audience of the Nigerian Institution of Mechanical Engineers, on June 27, that Nigeria needed to revive its coal industry to prevent power shortages.

Obanor specifically singled out President Muhammadu Buhari and recommended using coal as an alternative to natural gas, which is not a reliable source of energy.

The country’s infrastructure for natural gas is poor, despite holding the largest natural gas reserves out of all African countries.

Nigeria, aside from crude oil, is one of the top exporters and producers of natural gas. It heavily depends on natural gas for revenue. Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company Limited, comprised of government officials and leaders of foreign firms, estimated at least $85 billion was made in the past 15 years because of natural gas exports.

Russian officials recently expressed interest in the country’s oil and natural gas.

Valeriy Shaposhmikov, a Russian diplomat, told journalists last month companies like Gazprom would invest in Nigeria’s energy reserves to provide thousands of jobs:

An important area could be oil and gas sector – a major Russian oil and gas company Gazprom could be involved in developing pipelines infrastructure and protection system, an oil company Lukoil is coming to work here. There is interest in the development of the solid mineral resources.

Obanor defended suggestions to privatize the energy sector and even called for a security force to defend pipelines from vandalism. The latter may refer to Boko Haram, the terrorist group in the country. (more…)

Over Easy: Coral bleaching threat increasing with warmer ocean temperatures

credit: NOAA

On Monday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported an increased threat of coral bleaching in the western Atlantic and Pacific oceans. NOAA predicts increased coral bleaching in Northern Hemisphere reefs through October. According to NOAA, when water is too warm, the coral expels its symbiotic algae (zooxanthellae) living in their tissues causing the coral to turn completely white.

Bleached coral by Samuel Chow on Wikimedia Commons
Bleached coral by Samuel Chow on Wikimedia Commons
The Guardian obtained additional figures and reported on Tuesday that according to NOAA scientists, 15,000 square kilometers of coral reef could be lost in the current mass bleaching.

But the devastation is only getting started. The event could continue well into 2016. NOAA announced on Monday that the western Atlantic is about to heat up, turning the corals of the Caribbean bone white. When this occurs, bleaching will have hit every tropical ocean basin on Earth since June last year.

In all, scientists forecast a total of 15,000 sq km of reef may not recover and losses to the world’s remaining coral reefs would be a devastating 6%.

Dr Mark Eakin, the co-ordinator of Noaa’s Coral Reef Watch programme, said that given uncertainties around how long the event will continue it was very difficult to predict exactly how much reef would be wiped out.

“It probably won’t be as big as 1998, so we’re probably talking hopefully no more than 10%. Even if we’re talking one to 10% of the coral reefs around the world that’s a huge amount of coral reef area,” he said.

In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, a conservation group fitted a turtle with a GoPro camera, to show some spectacular footage of the health of the reef:

Related:
Contrasting futures for ocean and society from different anthropogenic CO2 emissions scenarios

Warming and acidification of surface ocean waters will increase proportionately with cumulative CO2 emissions (see figure). Warm-water corals have already been affected, as have mid-latitude seagrass, high-latitude pteropods and krill, mid-latitude bivalves, and fin fishes. Even under the stringent emissions scenario (RCP2.6), warm-water corals and mid-latitude bivalves will be at high risk by 2100. Under our current rate of emissions, most marine organisms evaluated will have very high risk of impacts by 2100 and many by 2050. These results—derived from experiments, field observations, and modeling—are consistent with evidence from high-CO2 periods in the paleorecord.

Pope Francis Calls Attention to Climate Change as Moral Issue of Our Time

Pope Francis

In the encyclical Pope Francis released on June 18, he called on the world to create “a new and universal solidarity” in response to climate change and stressed the need for the world to immediately act.

“It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance,” Francis stated. “There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected.”

Francis highlighted problems that will happen—and already are happening—because of climate change. “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth,” he declared.

The encyclical, found here, is a letter usually written to members of the Catholic Church by the pope. Famous encyclicals in history include Rerum novarum, written by Pope Leo XIII in 1891 supporting both unions and private property, and Humanae vitae, written by Pope Paul VI in 1968 to denounce birth control and affirm the sanctity of life.

Daniel Blackman is a managing partner at Social Karma and worked with the interfaith community for the past decade on the issue of climate change. The Vatican invited him, along with other leaders, to Rome later this month for a series of events for the world to act on global warming. He told Firedoglake he agreed with the intentions of the encyclical as climate change is “the moral issue of our time.”

“The reality is climate change is real and it’s getting worse.” Blackman said. “There are vast arrays of environmental, social, economic and political challenges facing humanity. One fact that must be addressed is the disproportionate effects of global warming on the poor. Climate change’s worst impact, as Pope Francis says, ‘will probably be felt by developing countries in coming decades.'”

 

Blackman noted how he hoped people, not just Catholics, would take a “shared moral responsibility to address climate change.”

“I believe the protection of our planet, our home, is essential and not an option. Living harmoniously on the planet is our sacred right; protecting it is our moral obligation,” Blackman said.

The release of the encyclical, noted Blackman, would help in ensuring a strong deal at the U.N. conference in Paris later this year featuring nearly 200 nations coming together and creating an agreement.

“Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment will have a major impact in encouraging U.N. negotiations on global warming. In my lifetime, Pope Francis’ personal commitment to this issue is like no other pope before him and other faith leaders around the world should follow his lead. The biggest effect on the Paris negotiations will be the addition of a ‘moral element,’ a moral responsibility to climate change for many believers, and activists to hold on to,” Blackman said.

Blackman emphasized the importance of mobilizing to prevent global warming’s worst effects.

“As my colleague, the Reverend Gerald Durley, puts it, if we can’t breathe, if we have no planet, there are no human rights or environmental issues to resolve.  The organizing must begin with leaders with massive audiences and effective means of communication—the pope, President Barack Obama, interfaith leaders, heads of state and especially non-governmental organizations with active memberships,” Blackman said.

Reverend Durley recommended Blackman to be a part of a cohort to Rome. (more…)

Senate Report Calls for President Obama to Lift Crude Oil Export Ban

Senator Lisa Murkowski

Senator Lisa Murkowski, R-Ala., released a report on June 9 advocating for the end of the crude oil export ban. She is the chairperson of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.

The report—titled “Rendering Vital Assistance: Allowing Oil Shipments to U.S. Allies“—called for President Barack Obama to end the ban as well as provide oil for allies, such as South Korea, Poland and Japan. As a result, these countries would not depend oil coming from Russia or Iran:

Many U.S. allies and trading partners are interested in purchasing American oil to diversify away from Russia, Iran and other problematic sources. Allowing such shipments would send a powerful signal of support and reliability at a time of heightened geopolitical tensions in much of the world. The mere option to purchase U.S. oil would enhance the energy security of countries such as Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, India, Japan, and South Korea, even if physical shipments did not occur.

The crude oil export ban was first implemented on Dec. 22, 1975, through the Energy Policy and Conservation Act in response to the 1973 OPEC oil shock. Then-President Gerald Ford signed the legislation into law and said “the long debate over national energy policy” was over.

Currently, the U.S. provides an exemption to Canada over crude oil exports and operates an exchange program with Mexico. It additionally exports crude oil to Israel, as part of an agreement, in case the latter suffers from a shortage.

As noted in the report, “the Obama administration renewed the agreement following a bipartisan letter led by Senators Lisa Murkowski and Mark Warner, D-Va., sent in April 2015, encouraging the Department of State to expedite its renewal.”

Murkowski, after taking over as leader of the Senate energy committee, immediately vowed to lift the crude oil export ban. She introduced, on May 12, S.1312 in the Senate energy committee, which intends to end the ban.

At the CERAWeek conference this year, which brings together oil and gas industry leaders and government officials in Houston, Murkowski told an audience it was “time to lift America’s ban on domestic oil exports.” She referred to the P5+1-Iran negotiations as a reason why the ban would need to be repealed.

“We should not lift sanctions on Iranian oil while keeping sanctions on American oil. It makes no sense,” Murkowski said.

Moreover, Murkowski co-authored a piece with Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., and Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., for Foreign Policy where they argued allies of the U.S. need crude oil for security:

The benefits to global security of allowing oil shipments to our trading partners are obvious and indisputable. Our friends in Asia, eager to comply with Western sanctions against Iran, would have a new alternative source for their energy needs.

Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who also sits on the energy committee, was cautious about an end to the ban. Cantwell wanted to know what impact such a change would have for U.S. consumers:

The information we have thus far is inconclusive to how lifting the ban on oil exports may impact consumers – especially those in the Pacific Northwest, who experience some of the highest gasoline prices in the nation,

Jesse Coleman, a researcher for Greenpeace, told Firedoglake the recent oversupply was a reason why such calls to lift the crude oil export ban are happening.

“These oil companies are being caught, as the industry have been caught many times in the past, with a massive oversupply. So they want to overturn the oil export ban,” Coleman said.

Coleman additionally criticized the rhetoric used against Russia despite firms working with the country.

“They say it will stop Vladimir Putin and these companies are working with Russian companies,” Coleman said.

In early 2014, the President Obama signed a series of executive orders barring companies from working with Russia including oil. Although, ExxonMobil, in the same year, was able to work with the Russian government to drill in the Arctic. Still, most companies are unable to work with the Russian government due to sanctions.

The call to end the crude oil export ban is not new. The American Petroleum Institute, a trade association representing more than 600 U.S. oil and gas companies, advocates an end to the ban.

John Felmy, API’s chief economist, cited restrictions to fossil fuel growth as stopping the U.S. from growing as an “energy leader:

Unfortunately, there’s a limit to how much we can grow as an energy superpower if U.S. oil and natural gas producers aren’t able to access the global market. We have every reason to protect and accelerate America’s growth by lifting outdated export restrictions,

Even Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said, in December 2013, there were issues “that deserve some new analysis and examination in the context of what is now an energy world that is no longer like the 1970s.”

Recently, a report by Bank of America-Merrill Lynch Global Research found a “surprising amount of support” from Congress to remove the export ban. In fact, the authors of the report believe there is a 50 percent chance the ban will be repealed in the next two years.

Jared Margolis, staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told Firedoglake, if such a law was passed, calls for more trains and pipelines to carry the crude oil would increase.

“There’s going to be a push for more crude oil trains, certainly. There’s going to be a push for more pipelines,” Margolis said.

A major concern, in regards to trains, is use of “bomb trains,” which can explode because of numerous factors including the volatility of the crude oil.

While crude oil is transported mostly through pipelines, trains are becoming a more cheaper, popular option. The New York Times highlighted last year how such “a business was nearly nonexistent” six years ago.

In recent years, there have been more accidents involving such trains and Margolis said it will grow if the crude oil export ban is lifted.

“[You’ll have] increased rail traffic and, as a result of that, you’ll have more rail accidents,” Margolis said.

Murkowski, in all of her speeches, reports and writings on crude oil, does not address the impacts of oil-by-trains. Although, in the Foreign Policy article, she noted, along with McCain and Corker, “any environmental impact [because of crude oil production] would also be negligible, as American oil is produced under some of the strictest safeguards on the planet.”

Coleman said to Firedoglake the amount of land sacrificed for crude oil was “mind-blowing.”

“You don’t have to look after 2010 with the BP oil spill to be aware of crude oil spills. That’s just one instance,” Coleman said.

BP released a report last week showing how the U.S. replacing Russia as the world leader in oil and gas exploration. Most of this is light, sweet crude oil.

Margolis authored a report in early February on the environmental consequences of oil trains and the lack of serious government effort to regulate “bomb trains.”

“Economics drives regulations a lot of time. The concern is that these agencies tend to be captured a lot of times,” Margolis said.

The report by Margolis also cites risks associated with light crude oil produced in Bakken region of North Dakota, where it is “generally more explosive, more toxic and can penetrate soils more quickly and deeply than traditional crude.”

As Margolis stressed, all fossil fuels like crude oil are best left alone because of climate change.

“From top of the bottom, these are what we call extreme fossil fuels. If we want to prevent climate change, we need to keep this stuff in the ground,” Margolis said.

Image from United States Congress and as such is in the public domain.

John McCain Cites Islamic State As Bigger Threat Than Climate Change

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told host Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation, the Sunday political talk show on CBS, that President Barack Obama needs to focus on the Islamic State rather than climate change.

McCain responded to a question by Schieffer on what the Obama administration could do after the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria to ISIS. He advocated for a “robust strategy” as the current one was not working:

We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is, I would like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn`t apparent now, and right now we are seeing these horrible — reports are now in Palmyra they`re executing people and leaving their bodies in the streets.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States is saying that the biggest enemy we have is climate change.

McCain’s reference to climate change stems from what President Obama told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on May 20 when it came to the America’s security:

Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.

Criticism of the Obama administration on facing ISIS by McCain is not new as, on May 21, he called the loss of Ramadi “a significant defeat” when speaking on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain is the chairman of the committee.

The White House admitted the fall of Ramadi was a “setback.” Yet White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the loss of the city is a part of the “back-and-forth” military campaign.
(more…)

Obama Defends Decision Allowing Shell to Drill for Oil in the Arctic

Arctic Destroyer Arrives in Port Angeles

President Barack Obama defended his recent decision to allow Royal Dutch Shell to drill in the Arctic Ocean by saying he was reassured there were “strong safeguards” in place.

Josh Earnest, press secretary of the White House, elaborated more on the Obama administration’s decision as part of the “all-of-the-above approach” at a press briefing on May 12th.

Earnest additionally noted President Obama previously protected the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and even increased investments into renewable energy, all a part of the “all-of-the-above approach.” Thus, he said, allowing Shell to drill was just a part of this strategy:

[W]hat’s also true is the President is committed to ensuring that we are doing as much as we can to protect our energy security, and that means looking for opportunities to safely develop sources of energy on American soil. And I think this—again, this decision reflects the effort to pursue that all-of-the-above approach

Interestingly, however, Shell experienced technical problems last month with its oil rig, which questions why Obama felt confident in Shell’s ability to drill without any doubts.

Moreover, Obama believed, in spite of the problems with fossil fuels, oil and natural gas would need to be used and preferred obtaining it domestically than going overseas.

The decision to allow Shell is very controversial, especially among environmentalists.

In Seattle, for example, the “Shell No!” movement is growing against drilling in the Arctic. Indeed, the Port of Seattle, in a 3-1 decision, voted to ask Shell to delay drilling to begin after public pressure. (more…)

White House Approves Arctic Drilling

Despite constant complaints of inaction on climate change by Congress, the Obama Administration has now approved drilling in the Arctic Ocean. The approval opens the way not just for more carbon emissions but possible dangers of oil spills and other despoilment of a new section of the planet.

The concession was given to Royal Dutch Shell and the approval came from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) with a five page stipulation regarding protecting wildlife, the ocean, and human inhabitants of the area.

Green groups have been working on various fronts to block Shell’s drilling plan, saying the unique, treacherous conditions of the Arctic make drilling too risky. They also argue that Shell has a poor track record in the area “Once again, our government has rushed to approve risky and ill-conceived exploration in one of the most remote and important places on Earth,” Susan Murray, deputy vice president for the Pacific at the group Oceana, said in a statement.

“Shell has not shown that it is prepared to operate responsibly in the Arctic Ocean, and neither the company nor our government has been willing to fully and fairly evaluate the risks of Shell’s proposal,” she added. “We can’t trust Shell with America’s Arctic,” added Cindy Shogan, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

The remoteness of the location also means if Shell runs into any problems – say an oil spill or emergency malfunction – it will take considerable time for adequate resources to arrive in the area. It is not an accident that it has taken this long to open up drilling in the Arctic, the terrain is exceedingly difficult and hard to navigate.

Shell could just be the first company to start drilling – ConocoPhillips, Statoil, and Chevron also have leases that have so far gone unused. But now that the Arctic is open for drilling it seems unlikely they will stay away for long.

What could go wrong?