‘Everywhere we looked’: trillions of microplastics found in San Francisco bay

‘Everywhere we looked’: trillions of microplastics found in San Francisco bay

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: October 4, 2019

SNIP: The most comprehensive study to date of microplastics in California has turned up a mind-boggling amount of plastic particles in the San Francisco bay.

An estimated 7tn pieces of microplastics flow into the San Francisco bay via stormwater drains alone, researchers discovered. Nearly half of the microscopic particles found in stormwater looked suspiciously like tiny fragments of car tires, which rainfall washes off the streets and into the ocean.

Treated wastewater contributed an additional 17bn particles of plastic, according to the study. Researchers also found plastic in sediment collected from the bay and its many tributaries and inside the digestive tracts of fish.

“It was basically everywhere we looked,” said Rebecca Sutton, an environmental scientist at the San Francisco Estuary Institute, a local institution that led the three-year, $1.1m research effort.

[R]esearchers accounted for two types of debris: microplastics, which are particles identified by a laser as fragments of plastic, and microparticles, which are particles the researchers suspect to be plastic, but couldn’t identify as such with the laser.

The fragments and fibers they analyzed included the remnants of plastic packaging and bottles, microscopic shreds of cigarette butts and fibers from clothing. Nearly half the particles found in stormwater were “these squishy black particles that we think might be from tires”, Sutton said. “But it’s really hard to get a definitive sense of where exactly it’s all coming from because there are so many sources of plastic pollution.”

The study is “extremely comprehensive”, said Stefan Krause, a microplastics researcher at the University of Birmingham. Even as scientists and engineers strive to clean up the hundreds of thousands of metric tonnes of the plastic debris floating on the ocean’s surface, it is becoming increasingly clear that “we have thousands and thousands and thousands of times more plastics that we can’t see”, Krause said.

Already Burning for a Month, Fracked Gas Blowout in Louisiana Could Last Two More Months

Already Burning for a Month, Fracked Gas Blowout in Louisiana Could Last Two More Months

SOURCE: DeSmog Blog

DATE: October 4, 2019

SNIP: For the fifth week since the blowout began, a large flare is still burning at the site of GEP Haynesville, LLC’s blown out fracked gas wells in northwestern Louisiana. The blowout occurred on August 30, shortly after the company began a frack job, igniting two adjacent wells. A state official estimated that efforts to contain the blowout could take another two months, or more.

The flare has gone out at times, resulting in fluid from the well, including what the oil and gas industry calls “produced water,” spreading a mist into the sky over a mile away, alarming nearby residents.

“Once out, saltwater and whatever else was shooting out into the sky,” a resident, who asked to not be named, told DeSmog. “It would come back down, making a heavy fog, killing lots of trees, and getting on everything.” The resident said the fog persisted for four days and caused irritation and burning in the eyes and any open wounds when outside for more than a few minutes.

Produced water is a byproduct of oil and gas drilling and can contain salts, “oil residues, sand or mud, naturally occurring radioactive materials, chemicals from frac fluids, bacteria, and dissolved organic compounds,” according to the American Geosciences Institute.

Residents have not been warned about any potential environmental or health impacts from the blowout, according to the unnamed resident, who reached out to DeSmog.

“I absolutely have issue with residents being told there is nothing to worry about,” Melissa Troutman, from the advocacy group Earthworks, told DeSmog. “If this blowout had been handled justly and responsibly, residents would have been given a full report of what produced water contains and alternative housing during cleanup.”

“This is an industry that doesn’t have to disclose the toxic chemicals it uses or manage its hazardous waste as hazardous because of special exemptions from laws that the rest of us have to follow,” she added.

“Produced water contains radioactive materials, including the carcinogen radium, as well as heavy metals and undisclosed chemicals that are used in the drilling and fracking processes,” Troutman said. She warned that “studies show oil and gas wastewater contains over a thousand chemicals, most of which have no toxicological hazard data, and in vitro testing on oil and gas wastewater has found hormone disruption, other endocrine related effects, and genetic mutation.”

Trump’s Border Wall Endangers Arizona’s Wildlife Amid Drought

Trump’s Border Wall Endangers Arizona’s Wildlife Amid Drought

SOURCE: Truthdig

DATE: October 4, 2019

SNIP: August is normally Arizona’s wettest month.

Not this year, though. The usual monsoon season failed to arrive, and just 1.5 inches of rain fell sporadically on the state throughout the month — the same period that the city of Phoenix experienced record high temperatures of up to 114 degrees Fahrenheit.

It’s also driven wildlife managers to fret over whether the state’s abundant wildlife — which rely on infrequent rains — will have enough water to survive.

“As the drought has deepened, the waters that wildlife traditionally used are going away or have completely disappeared,” says Kevin Woolridge, a teacher at Blue Ridge High School in Arizona who, with his students’ help, has collaborated with the Arizona Game and Fish Department to monitor the drought and its impact on wildlife.

Meanwhile a new manmade threat to Arizona’s water has cropped up. The Trump administration has begun construction on a stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border wall at Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. As part of construction, the Trump administration plans to pull up some of Arizona’s precious groundwater — not to hydrate people or animals, but to mix with concrete to build a 44-mile section of the border wall.

While the federal government spends billions on its wall across the border and sucks up some of Arizona’s last remaining ancient groundwater in the process, Arizona wildlife officials are asking the public for millions of dollars in donations to fund the delivery of water to animals in parched areas across the state.

Beginning in the 1940s, long before the world was aware of climate change, ranchers in Arizona made the arid landscape more hospitable to their cattle by building concrete rain catchments.

At the same time, Arizona wildlife officials began doing the same thing to provide supplemental water to game birds such as quail and dove. When they noticed that all kinds of wildlife — including insects — were also drinking from catchments, they built more. In total 3,000 units for all species have been constructed across the state.

For decades rainwater was enough to fill the catchments regularly. But as the global climate has continued to warm, Arizona fell into a long-term drought, and many catchments are now dry. With natural water sources also drying up, and animals going thirsty, officials with the Arizona Game and Fish Department have resorted to trucking out water to fill these catchments at a rate of 1.5 million gallons annually. They rely on donations from the public to keep the $1 million-a-year water deliveries going.

Experts say humans are the clear culprits for this water loss and need for water delivery.

“It’s hard not to see the effect of urban development on natural streams in Arizona,” says Hector Zamora of the University of Arizona, who has studied watersheds in southern Arizona. “Rivers that used to freely flow in the 1900s — such as the Gila River, the Sonoyta River and the Santa Cruz River — are now bone dry. Climate change will likely further degrade these already stressed systems.”

Arizona Public Media reports that the U.S. Customs and Border Protection estimates building along Organ Pipes Cactus National Monument will require at least 84,000 gallons of water per day pumped from the ground around Quitobaquito Springs and other natural water sources along the border. Ancient waters feed the springs, meaning that they’re not currently being recharged, says Zamora. Once the water’s gone, it’s gone.

Feds Open Slice of California’s Central Coast to Oil & Gas Drilling

Feds Open Slice of California’s Central Coast to Oil & Gas Drilling

SOURCE: Courthouse News Service

DATE: October 4, 2019

SNIP: The Trump administration opened about 720,000 acres of land for oil and gas development in California’s Central Coast as the administration pursues its energy agenda despite local opposition.

The Resource Management Plan Amendment approved by the Bureau of Land Management means 14 oil and gas leases dormant for the past five years will once again be open to bids from natural resource extraction companies.

Serena Baker, spokeswoman for the BLM, said that while the plan allows the companies to bid on the leases they would still have to perform site-specific environmental analysis before putting a spade in the ground.

“Most of the development is expected in or near already existing oil and gas fields presently around Monterey, San Benito and Fresno counties,” Baker said.

Voters in two of those counties – Monterey and San Benito – recently passed ballot initiatives banning the practice of fracking in their jurisdiction.

The BLM maintains such ordinances only apply to lands within local jurisdiction and federal lands are governed by federal law.

Even so, Clare Lakewood, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said the BLM typically complies with local laws regarding energy policy and other land use matters.

“Whether they continue to do so remains to be seen. This administration has been aggressively targeting California,” she said.

In late September, the U.S. Geological Survey released a study showing oil and gas development in Kern County has contaminated underground water sources. Water samples in the Lost Hills and Fruitvale areas of Kern County in California’s Central Valley were found to contain benzene, ethylbenzene and xylene. Benzene is a known cancer-causing agent.

Birdwatchers concerned by delayed arrival of migratory short-tailed shearwaters in Victoria

Birdwatchers concerned by delayed arrival of migratory short-tailed shearwaters in Victoria

SOURCE: ABC News (Australia)

DATE: October 4, 2019

SNIP: Birdwatchers fear for the fate of thousands of short-tailed shearwaters, also known as mutton birds, which failed to arrive in south-west Victoria at the usual time after their annual migration from the northern hemisphere.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of short-tailed shearwaters descend on Victoria’s coastline to breed following a mammoth journey which takes two months to complete.

The birds spend the northern summer around Alaska, before travelling 15,000 kilometres to Australia where they arrive with precision.

For the past 30 years, the south-west Victorian population has arrived at Griffiths Island, near Port Fairy, a day either side of September 22.

But this year, the date came and went without the usual flurry of activity.

Peter Barrand, president of Birdlife Warrnambool, said he had basically set his watch by the shearwaters’ arrival for the past three decades.

“We couldn’t find any at first, but further investigation found there were small numbers coming in.

“For a colony that’s something like 40,000 strong — a handful of birds is a significant decline.

A spokesperson for Victoria’s Environment Department said short-tailed shearwaters typically returned to colonies at Port Fairy and Port Campbell in late September to early October, but so far, only small numbers of birds had been sighted at either location.

It said the possible causes were unknown, but there were several factors that could have delayed the birds’ arrival, such as climate variability and food availability in the northern hemisphere.

“Something’s obviously gone drastically wrong in the arctic — whatever the shearwaters have been feeding on has failed to appear,” Mr Barrand said.

“Autopsies have shown the deaths were all attributed to starvation. And that’s the worrying part about it.

Turkey’s Dam-Building Spree Continues, At Steep Ecological Cost

Turkey’s Dam-Building Spree Continues, At Steep Ecological Cost

SOURCE: Yale e360

DATE: October 3, 2019

SNIP: From the vine-draped veranda of Yolgecen Hani, a café in the Turkish town of Hasankeyf, one can still catch the scent of the free-flowing Tigris River below, which courses through the country’s rugged southeast and then the length of Iraq before emptying into the Persian Gulf. The sun-baked mountains, verdant riverbanks, and jagged gorges, which lay at the heart of ancient Mesopotamia, today are home to unique ecosystems rich in endemic flora and fauna.

Yet, in a matter of months, a massive hydroelectric plant and impoundment dam located about 35 miles downstream will obliterate much of this splendor. The waters that will soon back up behind the Ilisu Dam will transform nearly 90 miles of the Tigris and another 150 miles of its tributaries into a vast reservoir that will submerge nearly 200 villages and displace an estimated 80,000 people. The drowned settlements will include the pearl of Hasankeyf, whose cultural heritage — ancient churches, caves, and tombs — attests to the presence of some of the first large human communities 10,000 years ago.

The flooding, as well as the surge of water releases downstream, also threatens endangered species such as the Eurasian otter, the marbled duck, and the red-wattled Lapwing, say experts. The dam will further imperil many of the Tigris’ native fish species, already battered by overfishing, industrial pollution, and sewage discharges. And experts say the impacts of the Ilisu Dam will be felt hundreds of miles downstream across large parts of the Tigris-Euphrates Basin, which includes Syria, Iraq, and Iran, exacerbating water shortages that will affect irrigation, biodiversity, fishing, drinking water, and transportation.

The region’s environmentalists say the loss of riverine ecosystems and wildlife will be calamitous. “This dam is a disaster for biodiversity, not just in Turkey but also for ecosystems of the whole Tigris-Euphrates basin,” explains Itri Levent Erkol, conservation manager at the Turkish environmental NGO Doğa Derneği. “The Tigris River Valley has the last pristine riverine and canyon ecosystems in all of southeastern Turkey. There are endangered species there that we know will become extinct once the valley is flooded.”

[T]he Euphrates soft-shelled turtle is one of the indigenous species on the brink of extinction. The turtles, which grow up to 2.2 feet and can weigh 44 pounds, have been laying their eggs in the river’s reedy sand banks for millennia. Now that the Euphrates has been carved up by dams and hydropower plants, the rare turtle species exists only in small pockets along the Tigris and is unlikely to survive the deluge that will engulf much of this part of the Tigris Valley.

As for birds, in addition to the lapwing, whose shrill alarm calls carry across the river, the lesser kestrel is a globally threatened species that will lose its habitat in the river’s grasslands. For centuries, the high cliffs that soar above the Tigris at Hasankeyf have hosted Bonelli’s eagles, Egyptian vultures, and griffon vultures. But the non-stop construction in and around Hasankeyf — which includes cementing over embankments and thousands of ancient caves, including the craggy nesting places of these birds of prey — has already driven most of them away.

River Flows All Across the Globe Are Dropping

River Flows All Across the Globe Are Dropping

SOURCE: Bloomberg

DATE: October 2, 2019

SNIP: Another slow-motion, man-made environmental disaster has been discovered, and it’s underneath your feet.

About 70% of the water pumped out of underground aquifers worldwide is used for agriculture while much of the remainder quenches the thirst of cities. As industrial development spreads at a speedy clip, the rate at which those critical reservoirs are emptied is far outpacing the rate at which they are naturally replenished.

A new study released Wednesday says that diminishing groundwater is causing the level of streams and rivers to fall as well. Like the shrinking aquifers, surface water is critical to farms, towns and cities for everything from food to trade to energy production.

With water systems all over the planet already strained by global warming and overuse, this new discovery poses an additional threat.

“Our overuse of groundwater resources is one of those quiet, under-appreciated challenges,” says Jason Morrison, president of the Pacific Institute, who wasn’t involved in the study. “The impacts are more profound than we understood. We’re kind of in this Wile E. Coyote moment where we’re over the cliff and we’re running still.”

The authors of the study, from universities in the Netherlands, Germany, Canada and the U.S., say their results “reveal the current and future environmental legacy of groundwater use.” The research is novel for its focus on the effects of pumping water out of the ground on the rest of the watershed. They define the threshold as diminished stream-flow for at least three separate months, two years in a row—or the point at which the flow can’t keep animals and plants in an ecosystem alive.

That threshold has already been eclipsed in as much as 21 percent of watersheds where pumping is common (about half of watersheds overall). Areas already in trouble, like those in the U.S. and India, belong to hotter climates that rely on groundwater for irrigation because rivers don’t supply sufficient volume. In America, the affected watersheds are also home to much of the nation’s agriculture production, a prime culprit in the drop in groundwater.

But Upmanu Lall, director of the Columbia Water Center in New York, says that while raising the issue’s profile is important, current water policies don’t provide much hope that this new threat will be quickly addressed.

“Even where groundwater depletion poses an existential or economic threat,” he says, “governments aren’t managing to do much.”

We’re Just Starting to Learn How Fracking Harms Wildlife

We’re Just Starting to Learn How Fracking Harms Wildlife

SOURCE: The Revelator

DATE: October 2, 2019

SNIP: In January 2015 North Dakota experienced one of the worst environmental disasters in its history: A pipeline burst, spilling nearly 3 million gallons of briny, saltwater waste from nearby oil-drilling operations into two creek beds. The wastewater, which flowed all the way to the Missouri River, contained chloride concentrations high enough to kill any wildlife that encountered it.

It wasn’t the first such disaster in the state. In 2006 a spill of close to 1 million gallons of fracking wastewater into the Yellowstone River resulted in a mass die-off of fish and plants. Cleanup of that spill was still ongoing at the time of the 2015 spill, nearly a decade later.

Spills like these highlight the dangers that come with unconventional fossil-fuel extraction techniques that go after hard-to-reach pockets of oil and gas using practices like horizontal drilling and high-volume hydraulic fracturing (otherwise known as fracking).

But events like these massive spills are just the tip of the iceberg. Other risks to wildlife can be more contained, subtle or hidden.

And while many of the after-effects of fracking have grabbed headlines for years — such as contaminated drinking water, earthquakes and even flammable faucets — the consequences for wildlife have so far been left out of the national conversation.

But those consequences are very real for a vast suite of animals including mussels, birds, fish, caribou and even fleas, and they’re as varied as the species themselves. In some places wildlife pays the price when habitat is destroyed. Elsewhere the damage occurs when water is sucked away or polluted. Still other species can’t take the traffic, noise and dust that accompany extraction operations.

All this damage makes sense when you think about fracking’s outsized footprint.

It starts with the land cleared for the well pad, followed by sucking large volumes of water (between 1.5 and 16 million gallons per well) out of rivers, streams or groundwater.

Then there’s the sand that’s mined for use during the fracturing of underground rock to release natural gas or oil. There are also new pipelines, compressor stations and other related infrastructure that need to be constructed. And there’s the truck traffic that surges during operations, or the disposal of fracking wastewater, either in streams or underground.

The cumulative footprint of a single new well can be as large as 30 acres. In places where hundreds or thousands of wells spring up across a landscape, it’s easy to imagine the toll on wildlife — and even cases with ecosystem-wide implications.

The most obvious threats fracking poses to wildlife comes in the form of habitat loss.

As rural areas become industrialized with each new well pad and its associated infrastructure, vital habitat for wildlife is altered or destroyed.

And it’s not just the area containing the well. The land or water just outside of the operation, known as “edge habitat,” also degrades with an increase in the spread of invasive plant species, among other concerns.

And large-scale development, such as miles-long pipelines, can change the way species move and hunt, often resulting in an increase in predation. The oil and gas development in Alberta, Canada, for example, created “wolf highways” that gave the predators easy access to an endangered herd of woodland caribou.

Roads, another kind of fragmentation, can be particularly dangerous for wildlife. A single fracked well can be responsible for 3,300 one-way truck trips during its operational lifespan, and each journey can injure or kill wildlife large and small. After all, it’s hard to get out of the way of a tanker truck carrying 80,000 pounds of sand.

And then there’s the big picture. Drilling within large, “core” forest areas previously located far from human development can be permanently detrimental for species such as migratory songbirds.

Aviation climate targets may drive 3 million hectares of deforestation

Aviation climate targets may drive 3 million hectares of deforestation

SOURCE: Rainforest Foundation Norway

DATE: October 1, 2019

SNIP: As the general assembly meeting of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) got underway in Montreal, Rainforest Foundation Norway’s new report ‘Destination deforestation‘ goes into the heated debate about “flight shame” and the role of the aviation sector in contributing to the climate crisis.

The report reviews the status of the targets the aviation industry has set for alternative fuels and shows how high the risk is that expanding biofuel use in aviation will cause the last thing the world wants or needs right now: increased deforestation.

The aviation industry has set an aspirational goal to reduce its CO2 emissions by 50 percent in 2050 (compared to 2005), without limiting growth. Central to this vision is a near complete shift from conventional jet fuel to alternative aviation fuels. Near total replacement of fossil fuel would be needed to meet this target.

A number of technologies are available to produce aviation biofuels, or even to produce aviation fuels from electricity, but the only one of these technologies currently operating at a commercial scale is the ‘HEFA’ (Hydroprocessed esters and fatty acids) process to produce jet fuel from vegetable oils and animal fats.

The cheapest and most readily available feedstocks for HEFA jet fuel are palm oil and soy oil, which are closely linked to tropical deforestation. Unless alternative aviation fuel policies actively support more sustainable options, it is likely that meeting the aviation industry’s aspirations to reduce emissions would lead to a sharp increase in demand for soy and palm oils.

The report estimates that meeting the aspirational targets outlined by ICAO through the cheapest and most readily available technology would lead to an additional demand in 2030 of 35 million tons of palm oil, 3.5 million tons of palm oil by-products (PFAD), and 35 million tons of soy oil. For comparison, the current global annual production of palm oil globally is around 70 million tons.

The report concludes that this increased demand for palm oil and soy could drive 3.2 million hectares of tropical forest loss (an area larger than the size of Belgium) and 5 gigatons of land use change CO2 emissions (close to the current annual greenhouse gas emissions of the USA) in 2030, unless measures are taken to avoid the targets being met using the most readily available aviation biofuel technology and feedstocks.

Thousands of ships fitted with ‘cheat devices’ to divert poisonous pollution into sea

Thousands of ships fitted with ‘cheat devices’ to divert poisonous pollution into sea

SOURCE: Independent

DATE: September 29, 2019

SNIP: Global shipping companies have spent millions rigging vessels with “cheat devices” that circumvent new environmental legislation by dumping pollution into the sea instead of the air, The Independent can reveal.

More than £9.7m has been spent on the devices, known as open-loop scrubbers, which extract sulphur from the exhaust fumes of ships that run on heavy fuel oil.

This means the vessels meet standards demanded by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) that kick in on 1 January.

However, the sulphur emitted by the ships is simply re-routed from the exhaust and expelled into the water around the ships, which not only greatly increases the volume of pollutants being pumped into the sea, but also increases carbon dioxide emissions.

The change could have a devastating effect on wildlife in British waters and around the world, experts have warned.

For every ton of fuel burned, ships using open-loop scrubbers emit approximately 45 tons of warm, acidic, contaminated washwater containing carcinogens including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heavy metals, according to the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), a non-profit organisation that provides scientific analysis to environmental regulators.

Heavy metal pollution has been connected to damage to the central nervous system in humans and animals while PAHs have been blamed for skin, lung, bladder, liver, and stomach cancers.

The ICCT has estimated that cruise ships with scrubbers will consume around 4 million tons of heavy fuel oil in 2020 and will discharge 180 million tons of contaminated scrubber washwater overboard.