Category Archives: News

Thad Allen: Oil Spill Is ‘Holding The Gulf Hostage’

Excerpt, from CNN Blog, June 6th 2010.

The federal government’s response manager to the Gulf oil disaster, Thad Allen, says BP has made progress, but cautioned it was too early to call the effort a success.

“We’re making the right progress. I don’t think anyone should be pleased as long as there’s oil in the water,” Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen said on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday.

Allen was responding to remarks over the weekend by BP’s senior vice president, Bob Fryar, who said the company was “pleased” with its operation to funnel crude up from the ruptured undersea well to a drilling ship a mile above on the Gulf of Mexico.

Fryar said the company funneled about 250,000 gallons of oil in the first 24 hours from a containment cap installed on the well to a drilling ship on the ocean surface.

But that’s only about 31 percent of the 798,000 gallons of crude federal authorities estimate is gushing into the sea every day.

Allen confirmed that BP has been able to bring oil to the surface after placing the cap, but said no one should be pleased until a relief well is completed and the leaking stops.

“This is an insidious enemy,” Allen said. “It’s attacking all of our shores, it’s holding the gulf hostage, basically.”

Even as the administration has tried to distance itself from oil company BP in recent days, with the Justice Department launching both criminal and civil investigations into the spill, it has not been enough to temper the frustration seething among residents along the coastline.

Original Article

The damages caused by Singapore’s insatiable thirst for land

Sand Mining Bangladesh

By Tom Levitt.

While logging and deforestation has gained global attention the growing sand mining sector is being largely ignored. Fuelled by Singapore’s land and construction demands it is wreaking environmental destruction across south-east Asia

The fast growing market for sand in south-east Asia, particularly from Singapore, is being linked to widespread damage to coastal ecosystems and fish stocks.

The densely populated state of Singapore has expanded in size by more than 20 per cent since the 1960s by reclaiming vast amounts of land from the sea, in doing so becoming the world’s biggest importer of sand – 14.2 million tonnes in 2008.



Most of its exports have come from neighbouring Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam but all three have now attempted to limit or ban exports of sand. With plans to expand its surface area by a further 7 per cent by 2020, Singapore is becoming increasingly reliant on another one of its neighbours, Cambodia, to meet its demand.

Although Cambodia publicly maintains that it has banned sand exports, an investigation by the NGO Global Witness has estimated that 796,000 tonnes of sand with a retail value of US$248 million are still being extracted and exported to Singapore every year from just one province, Koh Kong.


Ecological damage

The extraction is coming at a significant environmental cost. Dredging reduces water quality by increasing turbidity, blocking sunlight and killing off plant life, including seagrass and coral. Sand extraction also disrupts natural sedimentary regimes causing increased erosion and greater flood risks. There have also been reports of significant declines in fish stocks.

Campaigners are now worried that the rapid rise in sand mining activity in Cambodia could see the Koh Kong province in particular meet the same fate as Indonesia’s Riau Islands. Over-extraction there led to significant damage to coral reefs and entire islands disappearing, forcing the authorities to ban sand exports back in 2007.

Cambodia’s Prime Minister, Hun Sen, did announce a ban on sand exports last year but Global Witness later found this only covered river sand and not seabed sand. It claims the sector is rife with corruption and largely controlled by individuals close to the ruling elite in the country. 



Sand dredging licences, Global Witness maintains, are being allocated inside protected mangrove and seagrass habitats. Local newspapers have also reported villagers being attacked and killed during forced evictions from areas of increased sand extraction.


‘Ultimately the people who are reliant most on the natural resources will lose out: fishermen who are being evicted or seeing their stocks plummet from sand dredging boats coming through their catch area; and indigenous people,’ said Global Witness campaigner George Boden.

Corruption

Having already logged much of the country’s forest resources, Global Witness accuse Cambodia’s elite, in collusion with mining companies, of switching their attention to sand.

The report says there is little evidence that any of the financial benefit from the booming sand mining trade is benefiting the country as a whole.

‘Millions of dollars are changing hands, but there is no way of tracking whether royalties, taxes and other revenues generated are reaching the national treasury…as usual, it is Cambodia’s poor who have borne the brunt of this elite capture, with loss of their livelihoods and coastal environments,’ the report says.

While the problem is being felt most critically in Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia, Global Witness says the majority of the blame lies with Singapore, which it accuses of ignoring concerns about the environmental impact of its sand imports as it gives the go-ahead to new racing tracks, casinos and port developments requiring yet more sand. 


In response to the NGOs findings, the Singapore Government said the import of sand to Singapore was done on a commercial basis and that they were ‘not party to any agreement or contract for the import of sand’.

However, Global Witness says it has evidence that government ministries were involved in buying sand, allegedly from Cambodia.

Illegal trade

In fact the industry has become so lucrative that as neighbouring countries implement bans to safeguard their ecosystems, there has been a growing market from Singapore for smuggled sand.



Greenpeace Indonesia says smugglers had no problem getting their exports into Singapore and were ‘rarely intercepted by customs boats or the navy’. It said 300 million cubic metres of sand was being exported illegally every year.

There have also been reports that Singapore is turning its attention to sand mining opportunities in Bangladesh, a country where erosion is already threatening its coastline.

Global Witness says the onus is now on Singapore to act: ‘The Singapore government tries to portray itself as a regional environmental leader and is hosting the World Cities Summit in June this year showcasing its environmental leadership. The reality is their demand for sand is having a hugely damaging impact on the environment in surrounding countries.

‘Its failure to mitigate the social and ecological cost of sand dredging represents hypocrisy on a grand scale,’ said Boden.

The NGO says the country should bring in guidelines for construction companies on the sustainable sourcing of raw materials.

Jerry Berne from Sustainable Shorelines, which campaigns on sand dredging, says reforming the sector may prove difficult.

‘Unfortunately for our coastlines and the ecosystems these sustain, the dredging industry, its consultants, shipping interests and many governmental agencies are deeply committed to this process and the profits it generates.’

However, he said dredging could be done sustainably. ‘Not all dredging is a bad thing. In its place and properly vetted for its environmental impacts (not the often questionable reports from industry backers), dredging might be a relatively safe mining practice. Today, however, too little efforts goes into insuring this.

‘Also, it seems too many of those who should know about the harm being done by it are either ignorant or remain silent,’ said Berne.

Original Article

Bangladesh and Illegal Sand Mining: Read Full Article, Dredging Today (01-26-2010)
The government is going to formulate a policy to stop haphazard sand extraction from different rivers as unplanned sand extraction is harming the country’s aquatic resources…

Cap collects some Gulf oil; crude washes into Fla.

By Greg Bluestein, Associated Press Writer.

Waves of gooey tar balls crashed into the white sands of the Florida Panhandle on Friday as BP engineers adjusted a sophisticated cap over the Gulf oil gusher, trying to collect the crude now fouling four states.

Even though the inverted funnel-like device was set over the leak late Thursday, crude continued to spew into the sea in the nation’s worst oil spill. Engineers hoped to close several open vents on the cap throughout the day in the latest attempt to contain the oil.

As they worked on the system underwater, the effect of the BP spill was widely seen. Swimmers at Pensacola Beach rushed out the water after wading into the mess. Brown pelicans coated in chocolate syrup-like oil flailed and struggled in the surf on a Louisiana island. The oil on the beaches of East Grand Terre near Grand Isle, La., were stained in hues of rust and crimson, much like the color of drying blood.

“In Revelations, it says the water will turn to blood. That’s what it looks like out here — like the Gulf is bleeding,” said P.J. Hahn, director of coastal zone management for Plaquemines Parish as he kneeled down to take a picture of an oil-coated feather. “This is going to choke the life out of everything.”

President Barack Obama was set to visit the Louisiana coast Friday, his second trip in a week and the third since the disaster unfolded following an April 20 oil rig explosion. Eleven workers were killed.

A mile below the water’s surface, the cap has different colored hoses loosely attached to it to help combat the near-freezing temperatures and icylike crystals that could clog it. The device started pumping oil and gas to a tanker on the surface overnight, but it wasn’t clear how much.

“Progress is being made, but we need to caution against over-optimism,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, the government’s point man for the disaster.

He said a very rough estimate of current collection would be about 42,000 gallons a day, though he stressed the information was anecdotal.

Robots a mile beneath the Gulf were shooting chemical dispersants at the escaping oil — though it looked more like flares when illuminated a mile underwater.

To put the cap in place, BP had to slice off the main pipe with giant shears after a diamond-edged saw became stuck. By doing so, they risked increasing the flow by as much as 20 percent, though Allen said it was still too soon to know whether that had happened.

“Once the containment cap is on and it’s working, we hope the rate is significantly reduced,” he said.

The jagged cut forced crews to use a looser fitting cap, but Allen did not rule out trying to again smooth out the cut with the diamond saw if officials aren’t satisfied with the current cap.

The best chance to plug the leak is a pair of relief wells, which are at least two months away. The well has spit out between 22 million and 47 million gallons of oil, according to government estimates.

In Florida, spotters who had been seeing a few tar balls in recent days found a substantially larger number before dawn on the beaches of the Gulf Islands National Seashore and nearby areas, a county emergency official said. The park is a long string of connected barrier islands near Pensacola.

David Lucas, of Jonesville, La., and a group of friends abruptly ended their visit to Pensacola Beach after wading into oily water.
“It was sticky brown globs out there,” Lucas said after the group cleaned their feet in the parking lot and headed south to Orlando.

Just to the west at Gulf Shores, Ala., Wendi Butler watched glistening clumps of oil roll onto the white sand beach during a morning stroll. An oily smell was in the air.

“You don’t smell the beach breeze at all,” said Butler, 40.

Butler moved to Perdido Bay from Mobile days before the spill. Now, her two kids don’t want to visit because of the oil and she can’t find a job.

“Restaurants are cutting back to their winter staffs because of it. They’re not hiring,” she said.

Meanwhile, BP PLC Chief Executive Tony Hayward sought to reassure investors, saying the company has “considerable firepower” to cope with the severe, long-running costs. Hayward and other senior BP executives struck a penitent note in their first comprehensive update to shareholders since the oil rig explosion, stressing their commitment to rebuilding BP’s tarnished reputation, improving safety measures and restoring the damaged Gulf coast.

“We will meet our obligations both as a responsible company and also as a necessary step to rebuilding trust in BP as a long term member of the business communities in the U.S. and around the world,” said BP Chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg. “This is in the interest of all our stakeholders.”

In oil-soaked Grand Isle, BP representative Jason French might as well have painted a bulls-eye on his back. His mission was to be BP’s representative at a meeting for 50 or so residents who had gathered at a church to vent.

“We are all angry and frustrated,” he said. “Feel free tonight to let me see that anger. Direct it at me, direct it at BP, but I want to assure you, the folks in this community, that we are working hard to remedy the situation.”

Residents weren’t buying it.

“Sorry doesn’t pay the bills,” said Susan Felio Price, who lives near Grand Isle.

“Through the negligence of BP we now find ourselves trying to roller-skate up a mountain,” she said. “We’re growing really weary. We’re tired. We’re sick and tired of being sick and tired. Someone’s got to help us get to the top of that mountain.”
Obama shared some of that anger ahead of his Gulf visit. He told CNN’s Larry King that he was frustrated and used his strongest language in assailing BP.

“I am furious at this entire situation because this is an example where somebody didn’t think through the consequences of their actions,” Obama said. “This is imperiling an entire way of life and an entire region for potentially years.”

Newly disclosed internal Coast Guard documents from the day after the explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig indicated that U.S. officials were warning of a leak of 336,000 gallons per day of crude from the well in the event of a complete blowout.
The volume turned out to be much closer to that figure than the 42,000 gallons per day that BP first estimated. Weeks later it was revised to 210,000 gallons. Now, an estimated 500,000 to 1 million gallons of crude is believed to be leaking daily.

The Center for Public Integrity, which initially reported the Coast Guard logs, said it obtained them from Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The logs also showed early in the disaster that remote underwater robots were unable to activate the rig’s blowout preventer, which was supposed to shut off the flow from the well in the event of such a catastrophic failure.

Original Article

A Challenge to Florida Beach-Driving Tradition

daytona-beach-driving
Daytona Beach, FL. Photo source: ©© Steven Martin

Excerpts;

Questions linger after a 4-year-old girl from the United Kingdom was hit and killed by a car on the sand along Daytona Beach.

Debates over the practice of beach driving are nothing new. Over the decades, several lawsuits have been filed, either by environmentalists looking to protect sea turtles or by waterfront homeowners complaining about property rights…

Read Full Article, The New York Times

Beach Driving, Surfriders Foundation
Driving on the beach is a long-standing tradition in many areas of the United States, including Cape Cod National Seashore in Massachusetts, portions of the New Jersey shore, North Carolina’s Outer Banks, Georgia’s islands, certain areas in Florida, North and South Padre Islands and other areas in Texas, and several areas in Oregon and Washington, including the Long Beach Peninsula shoreline.
It is widely recognized that beach driving can cause serious ecological impacts by potentially destroying nesting areas for sea turtles and birds such as the piping plover and damaging or destroying vegetation and dunes. Shore erosion can be accelerated by careless beach driving and vehicles on the beach can be a safety hazard to beach goers.
In recognition of the potential impacts of beach driving, most areas that allow this practice regulate it in some way, including:requiring licenses or passes, limiting the number of vehicles on the beach, limiting beach, driving to certain types of vehicles (e.g. 4WD), enforcing speed limits, specifying beach access ramps and the, allowed driving zone along the beach, prohibiting driving on dunes an in other ecologically sensitive areas, prohibiting driving during certain times of the year, such as during seabird or sea turtle nesting seasons or when beach pedestrian traffic is so high that vehicles on the beach would represent a safety hazard.
Volusia County in Florida is home of Daytona Beach and New Smyrna Beach, where there is a tradition of beach driving dating back to the early days of the automobile.

A Feast Interrupted

sand-prints-coastal-care
Photograph: © SAF — Coastal Care

Excerpts;

Every few days, in some places as often as twice a day, tractors roll along a hundred miles or so of sandy beaches in southern California, scooping up not only trash but also seaweed that’s washed ashore, along with the myriad small creatures that shelter in it. This mechanical “beach grooming”, practiced for decades, helps keep up the classic sand-and-surf image that draws millions of people to the region’s beaches, but it also sweeps away a resource that provides vital nourishment for shorebirds.

“Grooming sandy beaches changes rich coastal habitats into barren plains of unstable sand,” says Jenifer Dugan of the Marine Science Institute at the University of California, Santa Barbara, whose team has surveyed over 40 beaches, both those that are regularly groomed and beaches where beach wrack, kelps and seagrasses brought ashore by waves and tides, is left in place. Their ongoing studies since 1995, funded by California Sea Grant, California State Parks, Minerals Management Service, and the National Science Foundation, have found far fewer creatures and far lower diversity of life on beaches that are regularly cleaned by “sanitizer” tractors.

On beaches where wrack was left undisturbed, “Our surveys have found a very high abundance and diversity of intertidal life compared to similar beaches in other parts of the world,” Dugan says…

Read Full Article, By Hal Hughes, in Making Waves

Mega-Earthquake Will Hit Pacific Northwest in Next 50 Years, Scientists Say

tsunami

By Oregon State University, in ScienceDaily.

The major earthquakes that devastated Chile earlier this year and which triggered the catastrophic Indonesian tsunami of 2004 are more than just a distinct possibility to strike the Pacific Northwest coast of the United States, scientists say.

There is more than a one-in-three chance that it will happen within the next 50 years.

New analyses by Oregon State University marine geologist Chris Goldfinger and his colleagues have provided fresh insights into the Northwest’s turbulent seismic history, where magnitude 8.2 (or higher) earthquakes have occurred 41 times during the past 10,000 years. Those earthquakes were thought to generally occur every 500 years, but as scientists delve more deeply into the offshore sediments and other evidence, they have discovered a great deal more complexity to the Cascadia Subduction Zone.

“What we’ve found is that Cascadia isn’t one big subduction zone when it comes to major earthquakes,” Goldfinger said. “It actually has several segments, at least four, and the earthquake activity is different depending on where a quake originates. The largest earthquakes occur in the north and usually rupture the entire fault. These are quakes of about magnitude-9 and they are just huge, but they don’t happen as frequently.

“At the southern end of the fault, the earthquakes tend to be a bit smaller, but more frequent,” he added. “These are still magnitude-8 or greater events, which is similar to what took place in Chile, so the potential for damage is quite real.”

Based on historical averages, Goldfinger says the southern end of the fault, from about Newport, Ore., to northern California, has a 37 percent chance of producing a major earthquake in the next 50 years. The odds that a mega-quake will hit the northern segment, from Seaside, Ore., to Vancouver Island in British Columbia, are more like 10 to 15 percent.

“Perhaps more striking than the probability numbers is that we can now say that we have already gone longer without an earthquake than 75 percent of the known times between earthquakes in the last 10,000 years,” Goldfinger said. “And 50 years from now, that number will rise to 85 percent.”

Understanding the Cascadia Subduction Zone history is further complicated by the possibility that major earthquakes in the northern segment have occurred in “clusters.” A thousand years may go by without a major event, and then an earthquake would occur every 250 years or so.

“We’re just starting to understand the whole idea of clusters and there isn’t consensus on whether we are in one or not,” Goldfinger said, “but that possibility does exist, which further suggests that we may experience a major earthquake sooner than later.”

The last major earthquake to hit the Cascadia Subduction Zone was in January of 1700, and scientists are aware of the impact because of written records from Japan documenting the damage caused by the ensuing 30-foot tsunami. Their knowledge about what happened in Oregon and Washington is more speculative, but the consensus, gleaned from studies of coastal estuaries, land formations, and river channels, is that the physical alteration to the coast was stunning.

Goldfinger, who is a professor in OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, is one of the leading experts on the Cascadia Subduction Zone and his comparative studies have taken him to the Indian Ocean and, most recently to Chile. In 2007, he led the first American research ship into Sumatra waters in nearly 30 years to study similarities between the Indian Ocean subduction zone and that off the Northwest coast.

When a major offshore earthquake occurs, Goldfinger says, the disturbance causes mud and sand to begin streaming down the continental margins and into the undersea canyons. Coarse sediments called turbidites run out onto the abyssal plain; these sediments stand out distinctly from the fine particulate matter that accumulates on a regular basis between major tectonic events.
By dating the fine particles through carbon-14 analysis and other methods, Goldfinger and colleagues can estimate with a great deal of accuracy when major earthquakes have occurred.

Goldfinger has used the technique to recreate the seismic history of the Cascadia Subduction Zone over the past 10,000 years. Going back further than 10,000 years has been difficult because the sea level used to be lower and West Coast rivers emptied directly into offshore canyons, he pointed out. Because of that, it was difficult to distinguish between storms debris and earthquake turbidites.

The OSU professor is convinced that the Pacific Northwest is at risk for an earthquake that could meet, or exceed, the power of seismic events that took place in Chile, as well as Haiti. If a magnitude-9 earthquake does strike Cascadia, he says, the ground could shake for several minutes. Highways could be torn to pieces, bridges may collapse, and buildings would be damaged or even crumble. If the epicenter is just offshore, coastal residents could have as little as 15 minutes of warning before a tsunami could strike.

That immediacy is why engineering and coastal communities are exploring different ways of evacuating low-lying areas, including the construction of high-rise, tsunami-resistant facilities.

“It is not a question of if a major earthquake will strike,” Goldfinger said, “it is a matter of when. And the when is looking like it may not be that far in the future.”

Original Article

Sand Trafficking: Elaborate Schemes, Worlwide

helicopter-beach
Military helicopter flying the shoreline. Photo source: ©© chapstickaddict

Excerpts

Police tape goes up every day in trouble spots all across Mexico but is rarely unfurled on the beach. One oceanfront stretch in Cancún, however, was closed off to the public recently after the federal government deemed it a crime scene , the target of what prosecutors consider an elaborate scheme to steal sand…

Read Full Article, By Marc Lacey, The New York Times

Le sable marin devient un objet de trafic, Le Monde – 29/03/2010

ASP Martin: Sand Mining is Rivalling the Drug Trade, Grenada Island News
The Royal Grenada Police Force (RGPF) has found itself being challenged to deal with another illegal business on the island, which is said to be fast “rivaling the already growing illegal drug trade”. The issue of sand mining was brought to the fore by Superintendent of Police, Edvin Martin during a news briefing with local reporters at the Grenada Red Cross building last week Thursday…

Tar sands oil extraction spreading rapidly, report warns.

Tar sands

By Terry Macalister, The Guardian, UK.

The successful development of Canada’s tar sands has triggered a rush by Shell and other oil companies to set up similar operations in Russia, Congo and even Madagascar, a new report reveals.

Soaring crude prices and an growing shortage of drilling sites have encouraged the energy industry to look at a series of “unconventional” hydrocarbon deposits threatening vulnerable environment and communities in places such as Jordan, Morocco as well as the US, Friends of the Earth says in a review called Tar sands – fuelling the energy crisis.

The revelations come just 24 hours before Shell’s annual general meeting and on the day when Ceres, a coalition of a investors and environmentalists, launches its own survey warning that Canadian tar sands extraction could pose an even bigger risk to an oil company share price than the US rig disaster which has knocked $30bn (£20.6bn) off the value of BP.

Tar sands and oil shale are considered by green groups to be much more damaging to the planet than normal oil operations because extraction is highly carbon- and water-intensive.

“Tar sands, bitumen that is extracted and upgraded to produce synthetic crude, has been heavily criticised for its poor environmental and social outcomes, locally and globally. Canada is currently the only major centre of production but investment is expanding, including by European oil companies such as BP, Shell, Total and ENI,” the Friends of the Earth report says.

The group wants the European Union to use its fuel quality directive to take into account the different carbon footprints of oil-based fuels entering the EU by assigning them a value to represent the strength of their greenhouse gas effect. Otherwise “it will encourage the global expansion of tar sands putting vulnerable communities at risk, and will slow progress towards the EU’s wider climate and energy goals”.

BP is developing tar sands in Alberta and also in Venezuela, the world’s second largest reserves after Canada, where it is active on the Petromonagas block and is also considering the Ayacucho 2 block.

Shell, which led the charge into Alberta, has been working with Tatneft to produce tar sands crude at the Ashalchinskoye field in Tatarstan, in the Russian Federation.

ENI of Italy has signed an agreement with the energy ministry in Republic of Congo to invest in tar sands although it says it will not use the methods being employed by others in Canada.

BP and Shell contest claims by Friends of the Earth and others that tar sands are up to five times as carbon-intensive to exploit as normal crude. Shell says it hopes to mitigate the impact by using carbon capture and storage techniques, although the technologies are unproven on a large scale.

Oil shale, a rock containing kerogen from which synthetic crude can be extracted by heating it to very high temperatures, is in abundant supply in Jordan. Shell finalised a deal last year to operate on the AzraQ and Al Jafr blocks via its Jordan Shale Company.

A spokesman for Shell said its operations in Jordan were at an early stage and claiming that although tar sands made headlines they were a very small part of the company’s overall business. “They make up 2.5% of our overall production and even after planned expansion in Canada they will only make up 4%,” he said.

Friends of the Earth points out that Jordan is one of the driest countries on earth and is estimated to have a water shortage of 320m cubic metres this year. “Oil shale production will exacerbate this trend hugely, as one barrel of shale requires as much as 3.2 barrels of water to upgrade,” the report notes.

There is also oil company interest in shale deposits at 10 locations in Morocco, two in Egypt as well as a “bitumen belt” in Nigeria which is already suffering major environmental damage from oil spills in the delta and the flaring of excess gas.

Meanwhile the Ceres report, launched by its president Mindy Lubber, highlights not only the widespread environmental and social impact of oil sands development, but also the high production costs and limited market for this fuel, for which companies have committed $200 billion in investments. Shareholder resolutions requesting expanded oil sands risk disclosure have been filed this year with leading oil sands producers, including BP, Shell, ExxonMobil and ConocoPhillips.

Original Article