Alarm Bells Ring in a Whale Habitat Famed for its Silence

Alarm Bells Ring in a Whale Habitat Famed for its Silence

SOURCE: Hakai Magazine DATE: February 3, 2020 SNIP: The fjords that etch out British Columbia’s central coast are deep, cold, and mostly very quiet—the perfect habitat for whales. The territory of the Gitga’at First Nation, situated around Douglas Channel, is home to the country’s highest concentration of humpback and fin whales, two distinct populations of killer whales, as well as Pacific white-sided dolphins, Dall’s porpoises, and more. “Humpback and fin whales think they have found heaven,” says Janie Wray, CEO of the nonprofit North Coast Cetacean Society (NCCS). “It’s one of the quietest places around.” But this oasis of calm is under threat. In 2018, work began on a CAN $40-billion liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in Kitimat, at the head of the Douglas Channel. Once operational, the plant will export 18 million tonnes of LNG every year. It’s one of more than a dozen LNG export projects under development in the region as Canada bids to establish itself as a major supplier to Asia. Sixteen Indigenous nations signed off on the Kitimat facility and its pipeline, though not without controversy. Because natural gas evaporates when spilled, it is seen as a less contentious product than oil to transport through their territories. Currently, a large ship passes through Douglas Channel once every two or three days. But a fleet of carriers will be needed to transport the fuel from the facility to markets in Asia. Eric Keen, codirector of science at NCCS,* estimates that the Kitimat facility will add 1,500 transits every year—an average of four extra trips per day. Traffic from small recreational vessels such as fishing boats...
Japan Races to Build New Coal-Burning Power Plants, Despite the Climate Risks

Japan Races to Build New Coal-Burning Power Plants, Despite the Climate Risks

SOURCE: New York Times DATE: February 3, 2020 SNIP: Just beyond the windows of Satsuki Kanno’s apartment overlooking Tokyo Bay, a behemoth from a bygone era will soon rise: a coal-burning power plant, part of a buildup of coal power that is unheard-of for an advanced economy. It is one unintended consequence of the Fukushima nuclear disaster almost a decade ago, which forced Japan to all but close its nuclear power program. Japan now plans to build as many as 22 new coal-burning power plants — one of the dirtiest sources of electricity — at 17 different sites in the next five years, just at a time when the world needs to slash carbon dioxide emissions to fight global warming. “Why coal, why now?” said Ms. Kanno, a homemaker in Yokosuka, the site for two of the coal-burning units that will be built just several hundred feet from her home. “It’s the worst possible thing they could build.” Together the 22 power plants would emit almost as much carbon dioxide annually as all the passenger cars sold each year in the United States. The construction stands in contrast with Japan’s effort to portray this summer’s Olympic Games in Tokyo as one of the greenest ever. Under the Paris accord, Japan committed to rein in its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 percent by 2030 compared to 2013 levels, a target that has been criticized for being “highly insufficient” by climate...
Russia announces plan to ‘use the advantages’ of climate change

Russia announces plan to ‘use the advantages’ of climate change

SOURCE: The Guardian DATE: January 5, 2020 SNIP: Russia has published a plan to adapt its economy and population to climate change, aiming to mitigate damage but also “use the advantages” of warmer temperatures. The document, published on the government’s website on Saturday, outlines a plan of action and acknowledges changes to the climate are having a “prominent and increasing effect” on socioeconomic development, people’s lives, health and industry. Russia is warming 2.5 times faster than the planet as a whole, on average, and the two-year “first stage” plan is an indication the government officially recognises this as a problem, even though Vladimir Putin denies human activity is the cause. It lists preventive measures such as dam building or switching to more drought-resistant crops, as well as crisis preparations including emergency vaccinations or evacuations in case of a disaster. Possible “positive” effects are decreased energy use in cold regions, expanding agricultural areas and navigational opportunities in the Arctic Ocean. Russia is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change, with vast Arctic regions and infrastructure built over permafrost. Recent floods and wildfires have been among the planet’s worst climate-related disasters. Moscow formally adopted the Paris climate accord in September last year and criticised the US withdrawal from the pact. Putin, however, has repeatedly denied the scientific consensus that climate change is primarily caused by emissions deriving from human activity, blaming it last month on some “processes in the...
Moscow adopts 15-year grand plan for Northern Sea Route

Moscow adopts 15-year grand plan for Northern Sea Route

SOURCE: Barents Observer DATE: December 31, 2019 SNIP: The development plan for the Northern Sea Route was signed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev just few days before the start of the new decade. The document has been in the making for some time and it was considered of great importance that it was approved and signed before the end of 2019. Medvedev put his signature on the document on the 21st of December and it was published on the government website on the 30th. Behind its development stands Rosatom, the nuclear power company with top responsibilities for the Northern Sea Route. The document builds on President Putin’s decrees from May 2018 and the request to boost annual shipments on the Northern Sea Route to 80 million tons by year 2024. A massive development of natural resources is needed for Russian to meet its ambitions on the Arctic route and several of the country’s biggest companies are involved. Among them are oil and gas companies Novatek, Gazprom Neft, Rosneft and the Independent Oil Company. In addition comes minerals and ores developers like Nornickel, VostokCoal, Baimskaya, KAZ Minerals, Vostok Engineering and Severnaya Zvezda. A big number of new vessels are part of the plan. By year 2035, about 40 new vessels are to be built, several of them nuclear icebreakers. In addition to five LK60 icebreakers, the country will build three Lider-class vessels, the first one to be ready for operations in December 2027. The second and third ships are to be ready in late 2030 and 2032 respectively. The Lider will be able to break through the thickest Arctic ice...
How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled

How Oil Companies Avoided Environmental Accountability After 10.8 Million Gallons Spilled

SOURCE: Pro Publica DATE: December 27, 2019 SNIP: In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, while stranded New Orleanians flagged down helicopters from rooftops and hospitals desperately triaged patients, crude oil silently gushed from damaged drilling rigs and storage tanks. Given the human misery set into motion by Katrina, the harm these spills caused to the environment drew little attention. But it was substantial. Nine days after the storm, oil could still be seen leaking from toppled storage tanks, broken pipelines and sunken boats between New Orleans and the Mississippi River’s mouth. And then Hurricane Rita hit. Oil let loose by Katrina was pushed farther inland by Rita three weeks later, and debris from the first storm caused damage to oil tankers rocked by the second. All told, the federal agency overseeing oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico reported that more than 400 pipelines and 100 drilling platforms were damaged. The U.S. Coast Guard, the first responder for oil spills, received 540 separate reports of spills into Louisiana waters. Officials estimated that, taken together, those leaks released the same amount of oil that the highly publicized 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster spilled into Alaska’s Prince William Sound — about 10.8 million gallons. The Oil Pollution Act, passed by Congress in response to the Valdez incident, requires that federal and state agencies work with the companies that spilled the oil to conduct a preliminary assessment of damage to natural resources. Once a comprehensive report is finalized on the value of the affected plants, soil, water and wildlife, those so-called responsible parties must pay for restoration efforts....