Conservationists Say Salmon Fishing Plan Imperils Whales

Conservationists Say Salmon Fishing Plan Imperils Whales

SOURCE: Courthouse News Service

DATE: March 18, 2020

SNIP: The government allowed salmon fishing in Alaska at rates its own reports said will push endangered Southern Resident killer whales closer to extinction, environmental groups claim in a lawsuit filed Wednesday.

Salmon born in the rivers and streams of Oregon, Washington state and British Columbia migrate to the Pacific Ocean and through the Gulf of Alaska, home to a major troll fishing fleet. In southeast Alaska, 97% of the Chinook salmon fishermen harvest were born elsewhere. The fish they take never make it back to their home waters, where they could have been dinner for the 72 remaining Southern Resident killer whales – a genetically distinct group of orca that are starving due to a lack of their main prey.

“It is reckless and irresponsible for NOAA to approve this harvest, these salmon don’t belong to Alaska, they belong to Southern Resident killer whales, indigenous peoples, and fishing communities down the coast,” Kurt Beardslee, Wild Fish Conservancy’s executive director, said Wednesday in a press release.

The whales live in three extended, matrilineal families called pods. Their numbers never fully rebounded since aquariums that later became SeaWorld captured a third of them in the late 1960s. After that, they climbed to a high of 98 in 1995 before plunging again. In 2018, a mother whale from J pod refused to let the body of her dead calf sink to the sea floor, instead carrying it on her nose for 17 days. Three more died last year, and a fourth disappeared this spring.

Their decline is due to three main factors: water pollution that harms their reproductive systems, ship noise that impairs their ability to communicate and find food using echolocation, and dramatically reduced numbers of their main food, Chinook salmon.

Scientists say that last problem, a lack of prey, is the main factor causing the whales’ decline. Meanwhile, nine species of Pacific Northwest Chinook are listed as either threatened or endangered.

Last year, the National Marine Fisheries Service studied whether commercial fishing of salmon in the ocean should be curtailed to make sure there was enough left for Southern Residents to survive. It concluded in a 2019 biological opinion that Chinook numbers would have to increase by 15% to help the whales recover. Yet the rates of harvest by commercial fishing allowed in southeast Alaska under the 2019 Pacific Salmon Treaty will instead reduce Chinook available to the whales swimming along the Pacific coast by as much as 12.9%, according to the biological opinion.

“The entire world is watching as Southern Resident killer whales literally starve to death,” Beardslee said in a press release. “NOAA has made it clear they are unwilling to stray from the same failed strategies that created this problem.”

Long Phased-Out Refrigeration and Insulation Chemicals Still Widely in Use and Warming the Climate

Long Phased-Out Refrigeration and Insulation Chemicals Still Widely in Use and Warming the Climate

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: March 17, 2020

SNIP: Starting decades ago, international governments phased out a class of chemical refrigerants that harmed the ozone layer and fueled global warming. Now, a new study indicates that the remaining volume of these chemicals, and the emissions they continue to release into the atmosphere, is far larger than previously thought.

The findings point to a lost opportunity to cut greenhouse gas emissions on a par with the annual emissions from all passenger vehicles in the United States, but also highlight a low-cost pathway to curb future warming, researchers say.

The study, published Tuesday in Nature Communications, looks at “banked” volumes of three leading chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) chemicals whose production is banned but remain in use today in older refrigeration and cooling systems and in foam insulation. CFCs were phased out of production in developed countries by 1996, and in developing countries by 2010, under the Montreal Protocol because of the leading role they played in creating the so-called “ozone hole” in the atmosphere.

Emissions from these remaining CFC sources were equivalent to 25 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from 2000 to 2020, the study concludes. Averaged over 20 years, that equals the emissions of 270 million automobiles per year according to the EPA’s greenhouse gas equivalency calculator, more than all registered U.S. passenger vehicles.

“If we don’t deal with these banks, they are going to be emitted and contribute to delaying ozone hole recovery and contribute to future warming,” Megan Jeramaz Lickley, a researcher at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences and lead author of the study said.

Arctic tundra is 80 per cent permafrost. What happens when it thaws?

Arctic tundra is 80 per cent permafrost. What happens when it thaws?

SOURCE: The Narwhal

DATE: March 11, 2020

SNIP: The tundra of the western Canadian Arctic has long been carpeted in cranberries, blueberries, cloudberries, shrubs, sedges, and lichen that have provided abundant food for grizzly bears, caribou, and other animals.

Now, however, as permafrost thaws and slumping expands, parts of that landscape are being transformed into nothing but mud, silt, and peat, blowing off massive amounts of climate-warming carbon that have been stored in the permafrost for millennia.

What we do know is that if the Arctic continues to warm as quickly as climatologists are predicting, an estimated 2.5 million square miles of permafrost — 40 per cent of the world’s total — could disappear by the end of the century, with enormous consequences. The most alarming is expected to be the release of huge stores of greenhouse gases, including methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide that have remained locked in the permafrost for ages. Pathogens will also be released.

But less well appreciated are the sweeping landscape changes that will alter tundra ecosystems, making it increasingly difficult for subsistence Indigenous people, such as the Inuit, and Arctic animals to find food.

The disintegration of subterranean ice that glues together the peat, clay, rocks, sand, and other inorganic minerals is now triggering landslides and slumping at alarming rates, resulting in stream flows changing, lakes suddenly draining, seashores collapsing, and water chemistry being altered in ways that could be deleterious to both humans and wildlife.

“We’re seeing slumping along shorelines that can drain most of the water in a lake in just days and even hours,” says Canadian scientist Philip Marsh, a former Canadian government scientist who is now a professor of hydrology at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario.

“It’s not surprising when you consider that as much as 80 per cent of the ground here consists of frozen water. When that ice melts, the frozen ground literally falls apart.”

Marsh’s research in the Canadian Arctic has already led him to conclude that climate warming will result in hydrological changes this century that will dry up 15,000 of the 45,000 lakes in the Mackenzie River Delta, one of the largest deltas in the world.

He also expects to see more of what Antoni Lewkowicz, a geographer and permafrost expert at the University of Ottawa, is seeing father north on Banks Island in the High Arctic of Canada. Lewkowicz recently reported a 60-fold increase in slumping along 288 lakes that he has monitored with satellite imagery from 1984 to 2015.

Slumping can occur with sudden catastrophic force.

In one notable case that was captured on time-lapse photography in 2015 by Steve Kokelj, a permafrost expert with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, a rapidly thawing cliff bordering the shores of a tundra lake collapsed into the Peel River watershed in the Northwest Territories. The waterfall that was created drained approximately 800,000 gallons of water from that upland lake in just two hours.

Heavy metals in the permafrost, such as mercury, were flushed downstream along with silt and peat, tainting the river system for miles downstream.

The rapid thawing of permafrost has enormous implications for climate change. There are an estimated 1,400 gigatons of carbon frozen in permafrost, making the Arctic one of the largest carbon sinks in the world. That’s about four times more than humans have emitted since the Industrial Revolution, and nearly twice as much as is currently contained in the atmosphere.

According to a recent report, a 3.6-degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) increase in temperature—expected by the end of the century—will result in a loss of about 40 per cent of the world’s permafrost by 2100.

Scientists suspect that some of the slumping may be giving new life to pathogens capable of killing muskoxen, caribou, and nesting birds as warmer temperatures nudge the pathogens out of their dormant state. Massive die-offs of muskoxen on Banks and Victoria islands in Canada, as well as reindeer in Siberia, appear to be related to once-dormant pathogens that are coming back to life.

Scientists are also finding that hundreds of sumps excavated by the oil and gas industry in the 1970s and 1980s are now thawing. Toxic petroleum waste that was supposed to be permanently contained in 200 frozen pits in the Mackenzie Delta, for example, is migrating into nearby freshwater ecosystems.

The planet’s largest ecosystems could collapse faster than we thought

The planet’s largest ecosystems could collapse faster than we thought

SOURCE: The Daily Climate

DATE: March 11, 2020

SNIP: If put under the kind of environmental stress increasingly seen on our planet, large ecosystems —such as the Amazon rainforest or the Caribbean coral reefs—could collapse in just a few decades, according to a study released today in Nature Communications.

In the case of Amazon forests, stressors could cause collapse in just 49 years. In Caribbean coral reefs, it could take as little as 15 years.

“The messages here are stark,” said lead researcher John Dearing, a professor in physical geography at the University of Southampton, in a statement.

Those estimates come from Dearing and colleagues who examined data on how 42 natural environments—small and large, and on both land and water—have transformed. They found that larger ecosystems may take longer than small ones to collapse, but the rate of their decline is much more rapid.

Ecosystem stress can come in many forms such as climate change, deforestation, overfishing, pollution and ocean acidification.

Humanity now needs to prepare for changes in ecosystems that are faster than we previously envisaged through our traditional linear view of the world, including across Earth ‘s largest and most iconic ecosystems, and the social–ecological systems that they support,” the authors wrote.

Larger ecosystems are made up of smaller “sub-systems” of species and habitats, which provide some resilience against rapid change. However, once these smaller systems start to collapse, the new study finds the large ecosystems as a whole fall apart much faster than previously expected.

Polar ice caps melting six times faster than in 1990s

Polar ice caps melting six times faster than in 1990s

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 11, 2020

SNIP: The polar ice caps are melting six times faster than in the 1990s, according to the most complete analysis to date.

The ice loss from Greenland and Antarctica is tracking the worst-case climate warming scenario set out by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), scientists say. Without rapid cuts to carbon emissions the analysis indicates there could be a rise in sea levels that would leave 400 million people exposed to coastal flooding each year by the end of the century.

Rising sea levels are the one of the most damaging long-term impacts of the climate crisis, and the contribution of Greenland and Antarctica is accelerating. The new analysis updates and combines recent studies of the ice masses and predicts that 2019 will prove to have been a record-breaking year when the most recent data is processed.

The previous peak year for Greenland and Antarctic ice melting was 2010, after a natural climate cycle led to a run of very hot summers. But the Arctic heatwave of 2019 means it is nearly certain that more ice was lost last year.

The average annual loss of ice from Greenland and Antarctica in the 2010s was 475bn tonnes – six times greater than the 81bn tonnes a year lost in the 1990s. In total the two ice caps lost 6.4tn tonnes of ice from 1992 to 2017, with melting in Greenland responsible for 60% of that figure.

The IPCC’s most recent mid-range prediction for global sea level rise in 2100 is 53cm. But the new analysis suggests that if current trends continue the oceans will rise by an additional 17cm.

Discarded coronavirus masks clutter Hong Kong’s beaches, trails

Discarded coronavirus masks clutter Hong Kong’s beaches, trails

SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: March 11, 2020

SNIP: Discarded face masks are piling up on Hong Kong’s beaches and nature trails, with environmental groups warning that the waste is posing a huge threat to marine life and wildlife habitats.

Most of Hong Kong’s 7.4 million people have for weeks been putting on single-use face masks every day in the hope of warding off the coronavirus, which has infected 126 people in the city and killed three of them.

But huge numbers of the masks are not disposed of properly, and have instead ended up dumped in the countryside or the sea, where marine life can mistake them for food, washing up on beaches along with the usual plastic bags and other trash.

Environmental groups, already grappling with the flow of marine trash from mainland China and elsewhere, say the cast-off coronavirus masks have compounded the problem and also raised concern about the spread of germs.

“We only have had masks for the last six to eight weeks, in a massive volume … we are now seeing the effect on the environment,” said Gary Stokes, founder of the environmental group Oceans Asia.

Densely populated Hong Kong has for years struggled to deal with plastic waste. A culture of eating out, fast food and takeaway has fueled a rising tide of single-use plastic.

Very little rubbish is recycled with about 70 percent of the city’s 6 million tonnes of waste a year ending up in landfill.

“Nobody wants to go to the forest and find masks littered everywhere or used masks on the beaches. It is unhygienic and dangerous,” said Laurence McCook, head of Oceans Conservation at the World Wildlife Fund in Hong Kong.

The masks are made of polypropylene, a type of plastic, and are not going to break down quickly, said Tracey Read, founder of the group Plastic Free Seas in Hong Kong.

“People think they’re protecting themselves but it’s not just about protecting yourselves, you need to protect everybody and by not throwing away the mask properly, it’s very selfish.”

Trees on commercial UK plantations ‘not helping climate crisis’

Trees on commercial UK plantations ‘not helping climate crisis’

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: March 10, 2020

SNIP: Commercial tree plantations in Britain do not store carbon to help the climate crisis because more than half of the harvested timber is used for less than 15 years and a quarter is burned, according to a new report.

While fast-growing non-native conifers can sequester carbon more quickly than slow-growing broadleaved trees, that carbon is released again if the trees are harvested and the wood is burned or used in products with short lifespans, such as packaging, pallets and fencing.

Of the UK’s 2018 timber harvest, 23% was used for wood fuel, while 56% was taken to sawmills. Only 33% of the wood used by sawmills was for construction, where wood used in permanent buildings can lock in carbon for decades. Much of sawmill wood was used for fencing (36%) with a service life of 15 years, or packaging and pallets (24%) or paper (4%).

“There is no point growing a lot of fast-growing conifers with the logic that they sequester carbon quickly if they then go into a paper mill because all that carbon will be lost to the atmosphere within a few years,” said Thomas Lancaster, head of UK land policy at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), which commissioned the report. “We should not be justifying non-native forestry on carbon grounds if it’s not being used as a long-term carbon store.”

The Committee on Climate Change has called for 1.5 billion new trees by 2050 – requiring planting on 30,000 hectares (74,000 acres) of land a year, increasing Britain’s forest cover from 13% to 19%.

Many of these new forests will also provide a commercial timber crop. But the scientific review by the ecologist Ellie Crane of how forestry can best address the climate and biodiversity crisis finds that there is no simple solution in Britain.

Planting conifers on the cheapest land such as the blanket bogs of Scotland’s Flow Country is “disastrous” for biodiversity, according to Lancaster, but also leads to carbon emissions because the bogs are drained for forestry and the peat degrades, releasing carbon into the atmosphere.

This leaves “shallow peat” moorlands of western Scotland, south and mid-Wales and parts of the Lake District and the Pennines as the most likely locations for new carbon-sequestering forests. Here, the RSPB has concerns about the impact on wildlife. Rare and declining species such as the curlew that breed on open moorland cannot survive close to plantations, which become home to predators of their chicks such as crows.

[T]he best option for wildlife and slower but long-term carbon sequestration is to plant broadleaved woodlands in the right locations and leave them intact.

Who’s greener? Mine fight pits electric cars against flower

Who’s greener? Mine fight pits electric cars against flower

SOURCE: The Bellingham Herald

DATE: March 7, 2020

SNIP: The rare Tiehm’s buckwheat stands less than a foot tall (30 centimeters) in Nevada’s rocky high desert, its thin, leafless stems adorned with tiny yellow flowers in spring.

To the Australian company that wants to mine lithium beneath the federal land where it grows, the perennial herb is a potential roadblock to a metal badly needed for electric vehicles and the global push to reduce greenhouse gases.

To environmentalists determined to halt the open pit mine, it’s a precious species that exists nowhere else in the world.

The competing interests appeared to find some common ground earlier this year at the remote site about 200 miles (320 kilometers) southeast of Reno. Ioneer Ltd. has spent millions exploring the site, which it says is one of the world’s biggest undeveloped lithium-boron deposits.

But the Center for Biological Diversity withdrew its lawsuit against the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in January after Ioneer ended its exploration activities and agreed to provide the group notice before resuming any work at Rhyolite Ridge in rural Esmeralda County.

Still, Ioneer remains committed to the mine it says is expected to produce 22,000 tons (19,958 metric tonnes) of lithium carbonate needed for electric car batteries like the ones Tesla makes east of Reno, create 400 to 500 construction jobs and 300 to 400 operational jobs.

And environmentalists insist the legal battle is just beginning.

“The storm is brewing on the horizon,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada director of the Center for Biological Diversity.

“If you look at a map of the lithium deposits and a map of the buckwheat, there’s really no way to build the mine without wiping out the buckwheat,” Donnelly said. “We fully anticipate a fight for many years to come.”

Company officials say they’ve been researching the plant since 2016, going to great lengths to ensure its protection and examining how it’s fared during previous mining operations at Rhyolite Ridge, near the small town of Tonopah, over the past 80 years.

They recently spent $60,000 for a yearlong study at the University of Nevada, Reno. Scientists there are growing hundreds of seedlings in a greenhouse to determine whether it’s feasible to transplant them into the wild to bolster the limited population, an estimated 43,000 plants covering a total of 21 acres (8.5 hectares).

University researchers are doing their best to replicate the harsh desert conditions with poor soil quality at the greenhouse where they planted 3,276 Tiehm seeds in January.

But Donnelly said the new research appears to be aimed at finding an alternative site “to keep the species alive so Ioneer could destroy its habitat.”

He acknowledged a difference between transplanting plants and growing them from seeds, but said it’s “beside the point, really.”

“A species is more than a set of genetic material. A species is inextricable from its habitat,” Donnelly said. “To allow a species’ habitat to be wiped out and put it someplace else, is functionally allowing it to go extinct.”

Ten per cent of northeast B.C. oil and gas wells leak — more than double the reported rate in Alberta

Ten per cent of northeast B.C. oil and gas wells leak — more than double the reported rate in Alberta

SOURCE: The Narwhal

DATE: March 4, 2020

SNIP: Northeastern British Columbia has been a major centre of conventional oil and gas production since the 1960s. More recently, the shale gas sector has also targeted the region.

Northeastern B.C.’s shale gas reserves are estimated to hold 10,000 billion cubic metres of methane, enough to supply worldwide consumption for almost three years.

One of the issues the oil and gas industry faces is the leakage of gases from wellbores — the holes drilled into the ground to look for or recover oil and natural gas. Methane leakage from wellbores has become an important issue because this greenhouse gas is far more potent than carbon dioxide.

My colleagues and I recently examined a database containing information about 21,525 active and abandoned wells located in the four main shale gas formations of northeastern British Columbia: the Montney, Horn River, Liard and Cordova basins. This represents almost all of the conventional and shale gas wells existing in the region.

Our study was the first to examine the data contained in the British Columbia Oil and Gas Commission Wellbore (OCG) Leakage Database.

We found that almost 11 per cent of all oil and gas wells had a reported leak, together releasing 14,000 cubic metres of methane per day. This is more than double the leakage rate of 4.6 per cent in Alberta, which may have less stringent testing and reporting requirements.

Our research in northeastern B.C. also found weak regulations on mandatory reporting, continued monitoring and the use of protective measures — oversights that represent risks for the environment.

The possibility of leakage from these wells has raised environmental concerns, especially since leaky wells are likely under-reported.

In addition to the release of greenhouse gases, which contribute to global warming and climate change, these leaking wells could contaminate groundwater and surface water with hydrocarbons, chemicals contained in fracking fluids and brines.

According to the B.C. OGC database, leakage had occurred in 2,329 of 21,525 tested wells.

Altogether, these leaking wellbores are releasing greenhouse gases equivalent to 75,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide annually. This is roughly equivalent to the emissions from 17,000 passenger vehicles.

Shale gas exploitation can have environmental impacts long after a well has been abandoned. Provinces should implement regulations that require monitoring wells after abandonment, reporting the results and applying corrective measures to stop leaks from abandoned wells.

To this day, very few field investigations have been carried out in B.C. to directly monitor the leakage from abandoned wells. One showed that 35 per cent of investigated abandoned wells exhibit emissions of methane and hydrogen sulphide gas or a combination of both.

The discrepancy between the database reports and the field study — as well as recent observations that human-made methane emissions are underestimated by 25 per cent to 40 per cent — suggests that wellbore leakages in B.C. may go unreported.

10 Years After Deepwater Horizon, Oil Spills and Accidents Are on the Rise

10 Years After Deepwater Horizon, Oil Spills and Accidents Are on the Rise

SOURCE: American Progress

DATE: March 3, 2020

SNIP: On April 20, 2010, an explosion and fire on the offshore drilling rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 men and injured 17 other crew members. Over the next 87 days, an estimated 210 million gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico, poisoning fish and wildlife, forcing the closure of beaches and fisheries, and causing billions of dollars in damage to coastal communities along the Gulf.

After this catastrophic spill, the Obama administration enacted a series of reforms to improve oil rig safety—reforms that the Trump administration has since rolled back. A Center for American Progress review of government data finds that oil spills, injuries, and accidents from offshore drilling are now on the rise, threatening to erase the progress made in the 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

In late 2017 and 2018, at the direction of an executive order signed by President Donald Trump, the U.S. Department of the Interior began to loosen its oversight of drilling and to weaken safety standards that the Obama administration implemented in response to Deepwater Horizon.

During its first months, the Trump administration placed the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)—an agency created after Deepwater Horizon to regulate offshore drilling—under the leadership of Scott Angelle, a former Louisiana secretary of natural resources who served for years on the board of an oil and gas pipeline company. During the Obama administration, Angelle helped lead the oil and gas industry’s fight against reforms to offshore drilling safety.

Following Angelle’s arrival in 2017, the number of inspections and enforcement actions undertaken by BSEE declined. According to agency data, BSEE inspectors conducted 13 percent fewer inspection visits to rigs, platforms, pipelines, and other facilities in the first three years of the Trump administration (2017–2019) than they did during the last three years of the Obama administration (2014–2016).

[A]gency data also show that BSEE inspectors took 38 percent fewer enforcement actions—through the issuance of so-called incidents of noncompliance—against offshore oil and gas operators from 2017 to 2019 than they did from 2014 to 2016. It is difficult to explain this precipitous decline in enforcement actions with a theory that oil and gas companies suddenly awakened to the merits of voluntary compliance with safety guidelines.

Furthermore, a Politico investigation found that BSEE granted nearly 1,700 waivers that allowed companies to sidestep compliance with stronger safety standards for blowout preventers—a critical piece of safety equipment that can serve as a last line of defense against well blowouts, oil spills, and other disasters.

On December 7, 2017, the Trump administration abruptly canceled a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine study that aimed to improve how BSEE conducts offshore oil and gas inspections.

Days later, the agency released a proposed rule to weaken oversight and safety procedures for offshore oil and gas production facilities, reversing reforms that were implemented after Deepwater Horizon. Then, in May 2018, Angelle’s BSEE issued a proposal to weaken blowout preventer and well control standards—standards that had been written based on the lessons learned from the mechanical, human, and systemic failures that led to Deepwater Horizon.

With safety standards weakened and inspections and enforcement actions on the decline, oil spills and injuries from offshore drilling have been rising.