The Canadian province of British Columbia has dealt a major blow to the extraction of carbon-intensive crude oil from Alberta’s tar sands. In a victory for environmental and indigenous activists, the B.C. government formally rejected the Enbridge corporation’s Northern Gateway pipeline project, which would have carried tar sands oil to Canada’s West Coast. The proposal had sparked protests for standing to cut through sensitive environmental areas and indigenous land. Announcing its rejection, B.C. officials cited a lack of evidence Enbridge could adequately respond to oil spills along the pipeline’s route. Canada’s federal government could still override B.C.’s decision, but that prospect appears unlikely given local opposition and the chance of a protracted legal dispute. The Northern Gateway has been seen as the main back-up option should President Obama reject another tar sands pipeline, the Keystone XL. In a statement, 350.org founder Bill McKibben called on the White House to follow B.C.’s lead, saying: “If [Obama] rejects the pipeline, then an awful lot of crude is going to stay in the ground where it belongs.”
At issue is a proposed mining operation in a remote area that is home to several Alaskan native tribes and nearly half of the world’s sockeye salmon. Six tribes have asked the Environmental Protection Agency to invoke its powers under the Clean Water Act to block the mine on the grounds that it would harm the region’s waterways, fish and wildlife.
The two mining firms behind the project, Northern Dynasty and Anglo American, have struck back with a major lobbying and public-relations campaign aimed at derailing any EPA intervention.
The Bristol Bay dispute has been largely overshadowed by the high-profile battle over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to Texas, which has prompted strong opposition from environmental groups and which requires approval from the State Department to proceed.
Environmentalists argue that the Bristol Bay project poses a serious threat to the area’s delicate ecosystem and to the local fishing industry. Fishing businesses and tribal leaders, who have often quarreled, have banded together to oppose it.
“If we don’t protect this, we’ll have nothing to fight over in the future,” said Peter Andrew Jr., a board member of the Bristol Bay Native Corp. “This is the last place on Earth like this.”
The Bristol Bay project would rank as the largest mine in North America if constructed and could eventually produce 80 billion pounds of copper, 107 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum.
In an early environmental assessment, the EPA estimates the mine would probably cause the loss of between 54 and 89 miles of streams and between four and seven square miles of wetlands. Any accidents, the assessment continued, could result “in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat.”
On Friday, the EPA extended the time for public comments on the impact of the project until June 30. [++]
"We have a word for the conscious slaughter of a racial or ethnic group: genocide. And one for the conscious destruction of aspects of the environment: ecocide. But we don’t have a word for the conscious act of destroying the planet we live on, the world as humanity had known it until, historically speaking, late last night. A possibility might be “terracide” from the Latin word for earth. It has the right ring, given its similarity to the commonplace danger word of our era: terrorist.
"The truth is, whatever we call them, it’s time to talk bluntly about the terrarists of our world. Yes, I know, 9/11 was horrific. Almost 3,000 dead, massive towers down, apocalyptic scenes. And yes, when it comes to terror attacks, the Boston Marathon bombings weren’t pretty either. But in both cases, those who committed the acts paid for or will pay for their crimes.
"In the case of the terrarists — and here I’m referring in particular to the men who run what may be the most profitable corporations on the planet, giant energy companies like ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, BP, and Shell — you’re the one who’s going to pay, especially your children and grandchildren. You can take one thing for granted: not a single terrarist will ever go to jail, and yet they certainly knew what they were doing."
— “Terracide and the Terrarists, Destroying the Planet for Record Profits,” Tom Engelhardt
The federal government has proposed a new set of national fracking rules that would weaken disclosure requirements. The proposal allows ‘trade secrets’ to remain unknown from the public, which has distressed environmental groups.
I called it. Last month, environmental groups were doing handstands and backflips over Sally Jewell, who is Obama’s pick to lead the BLM (US Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management).
She used to frack wells for Mobil oil company long before she was CEO of REI.
…the bigger story is about the left’s environmental heroine, Sally Jewell, who used to frack wells. As new head of the Dept. of Interior, she will (with Obama’s encouragement) - will - allow aggressive fracking on more public lands, possibly much more in our National Parks.
Brian Merchant: Today, federal scientists confirmed that for the first time in millions of years, the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had reached 400 parts per million. The pre-industrial level was 280 ppm, and the amount that top climatologists say is advisable for maintaining a stable environment is 350 ppm. The new carbon concentration signals that planetary warming will continue to accelerate—and that the rapidly melting Arctic will continue to thaw.
“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” Pieter P. Tans, who runs the chief carbon-monitoring program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, told The New York Times, in a front-page story headlined “Carbon Dioxide Level Is at Highest in Human History.”
At about the same time that NOAA released its numbers, the White House—which has thus far not commented on the carbon milestone—published a press release called “Protecting Our Interests in the Arctic.” The release heralds the administration’s newly forged National Strategy for the Arctic Region, a document that contains the recommendations of military advisers, scientists, and policy analysts on how to cope with and exploit a slushier Arctic.
The strategy document notes that “dense, multi-year ice is giving way to thin layers of seasonal ice, making more of the region navigable year-round. Scientific estimates of technically recoverable conventional oil and gas resources north of the Arctic Circle total approximately 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of the world’s undiscovered gas deposits, as well as vast quantities of mineral resources, including rare earth elements, iron ore, and nickel. These estimates have inspired fresh ideas for commercial initiatives and infrastructure development in the region.”
Sometimes I worry we’re too stupid not to go extinct.
It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem.
The level of the most important heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere, carbon dioxide, has passed a long-feared milestone, scientists reported on Friday, reaching a concentration not seen on the earth for millions of years.
Scientific monitors reported that the gas had reached an average daily level that surpassed 400 parts per million — just an odometer moment in one sense, but also a sobering reminder that decades of efforts to bring human-produced emissions under control are faltering.
Ralph Keeling, who runs another monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, said a continuing rise could be catastrophic. “It means we are quickly losing the possibility of keeping the climate below what people thought were possibly tolerable thresholds,” he said.
Five weeks after ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured and spewed thousands of barrels of tar sands oil in Mayflower, Arkansas, residents are stuck “on their own” as they suffer from health problems following noxious black cloak that enveloped their neighborhood.
“Both the subdivision and the cove look more like construction sites than neighborhoods,” Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel said at a press conference on Tuesday of the cove area of Lake Conway. “There’s heavy equipment everywhere, much of it contaminated with oil as it goes down roads and through people’s yards.”
And in contrast to claims from the government and ExxonMobil that the air is safe to breathe, McDaniel said, “Many continue to suffer from headaches and nausea and air sampling continues to show the carcinogen benzene remains in the air.”
As InsideClimate News reported Wednesday, Arkansas Department of Health residents who’ve been experiencing symptoms like nausea, vomiting and dizziness are “on their own.” Dr. William Mason, chief of emergency response at the Arkansas Department of Health, said that if people in the area of the tar sands spill were feeling adverse health effects, “the option for them to leave is their personal choice.”
Nearly one in three commercial honeybee colonies in the United States died or disappeared last winter, an unsustainable decline that threatens the nation’s food supply.
Multiple factors — pesticides, fungicides, parasites, viruses and malnutrition — are believed to cause the losses, which were officially announced today by a consortium of academic researchers, beekeepers and Department of Agriculture scientists.
“We’re getting closer and closer to the point where we don’t have enough bees in this country to meet pollination demands,” said entomologist Dennis vanEngelstorp of the University of Maryland, who led the survey documenting the declines.
Beekeepers lost 31 percent of their colonies in late 2012 and early 2013, roughly double what’s considered acceptable attrition through natural causes. The losses are in keeping with rates documented since 2006, when beekeeper concerns prompted the first nationwide survey of honeybee health. Hopes raised by drop in rates of loss to 22 percent in 2011-2012 were wiped out by the new numbers. [more]
Toxic smog in Beijing, 16,000 dead pigs in the tributaries of the Shanghai river, birth defects from pollution, no safe drinking water in any Chinese city: Premier Li Keqiang has promised to respond to China’s environmental problems with an ‘iron fist and firm resolution’.
But one crucial aspect of China’s energy strategy unlikely to change soon is its reliance on coal – it burns almost as much as the rest of the world combined. There have been claims that consumption will plateau by 2015, but several massive infrastructure projects suggest otherwise. The West-East Electricity Transfer Project will supply the cities of the east with electricity transmitted along hundreds of miles of cables from power stations in the coal-rich western provinces (especially Xinjiang). One obstacle is a shortage of water in the west: coal-fired power plants require large amounts of water to remove impurities from the fuel and provide steam for the turbines. The plan is to redirect water to these regions as part of the South-North Water Transfer Project, which is already diverting huge quantities from the Yellow River and the Yangtze to feed the demands of northern cities.
As a result rivers have dried up and rural communities have been forcibly resettled. It’s even been argued that the Zipingu Dam caused the 2008 Sichuan earthquake which killed as many as 69,000 people. Such large-scale projects used not to be met with much resistance, but the internet has made it easier for ordinary people to talk about and protest against them.
China gets a lot of bad press for the dirty sides of its energy policy, but it’s also the world’s biggest investor in renewable energy. There have been other encouraging signs – there’s talk of introducing a carbon tax; Beijing and other major cities have put a limit on the number of car registrations – but the much-flouted existing environmental laws (covering factory emissions, for example) also need to be enforced. No one is pretending that things are likely to improve soon; Beijing’s target for achieving clean air is in 2030.
Two oil projects in the works could significantly increase the amount of heavy crude oil moving on — and near — the Great Lakes, causing alarm among environmentalists because they involve the same heavy oil that was behind a $1-billion oil spill on the Kalamazoo River in 2010 that remains an ecological disaster. The company fined for that spill — Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge — is behind one of the new projects. Its new venture would nearly double the amount of crude oil shipped on a major pipeline from Canada to Lake Superior — transporting more oil than the controversial Keystone XL pipeline that has caused an environmental outcry and fierce debate in Congress. The second project involves a refinery on Lake Superior’s shore building a dock to load oil barges, allowing the shipment of up to 13 million barrels of crude oil per year throughout the Great Lakes to Midwest refineries and markets beyond. Together, the projects would mean a new reality for the Great Lakes basin, heightening risks to the world’s most vital freshwater source, according to environmental groups.Great Lakes oil proposals threaten repeat of Kalamazoo spill, environmentalists say | Detroit Free Press (via dendroica)
A Pennsylvania judge in the heart of the Keystone State’s fracking belt has issued a forceful and precedent-setting decision holding that there is no corporate right to privacy under that state’s constitution, giving citizens and journalists a powerful tool to understand the health and environmental impacts of natural gas drilling in their communities.
The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund’s Linzey said that this ruling will affect other anti-fracking litigation in state court, but more importantly is a landmark in the ongoing community rights movement to elevate public values over private profits.
Following our story, Rendell’s column—which called on New York officials to lift a ban on the drilling technique—was updated to disclose that he is a paid consultant to a private equity firm with natural gas investments.
Rendell assured us in an interview before the first story that despite his role with the private equity firm, he had no “pecuniary interest in the natural gas industry doing well.”
But the story doesn’t end there. One entity that indisputably has an interest in the industry is Rendell’s longtime home outside of politics: the law firm Ballard Spahr of Philadelphia.
Rendell is currently special counsel at the firm, and is a member of its energy and project finance and environment and natural resources practice areas, his spokeswoman said.
The firm touts its work “on the forefront” of the development of the Marcellus Shale, the formation under Pennsylvania and other states from which a vast quantity of natural gas is now being extracted.
In 2011, the publication AOL Energy named Ballard Spahr one of the top five energy law firms in the country. AOL cited Ballard Spahr’s “deep presence in Pennsylvania” that “put it on the doorstep of the Marcellus Shale natural gas field,” a “major source of controversy and legal work as developers work in heavily populated and closely monitored areas.”
“Governor Rendell cannot comment on what areas he may or may not work on for clients of the firm,” said his spokeswoman.
A week after leaving the governor’s office in 2011, Rendell rejoined the firm, where he had given up his job as partner when he was elected in 2003. As governor, he presided over the fracking boom in Pennsylvania. [++]
“In the last two weeks alone there have been at least six different inland oil spills across the country,” said Eric Wheeler, an Oklahoma native and spokesperson for Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance. “It’s time to stop referring to pipeline spills as accidents, it’s now abundantly clear that leaks are just part of business as usual. Tar sands hurt everyone they touch, from the indigenous communities in Alberta whose water is being poisoned, to the Gulf Coast communities that are forced to breathe toxic refinery emissions. We’re not going to allow this toxic stuff in our beautiful state.”