Saturday, June 26, 2010

A temporary no to commercial whaling

Peter Garrett had a temporary win with the IWC postponing the decision about whether to approve commercial whaling, forcing Japan to continue whaling under the farce of it being scientific.
I was reading the other day that since the end of whaling in Australia in 1963 and the subsequent end to commercial whaling in 1965 worldwide, the humpback population in the Kimberley has grown from 500 to 20,000. That's the largest population globally. Still it's less than it was before whaling commenced on an industrial scale.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Oz to be the best and safest driller

Recently and in response to the ongoing investigation into the Montaro blowout, Martin Ferguson is saying that "Our approach must be to ensure our oil and gas exploration and production operations are the best and safest in the world?" That is quite something to be held to. At least it looks like he's not going to rely on Colin Barnett to achieve that, as it looks like he'll support a national regulator.
Martin went on to say: "Shutting down the industry and putting the nation's energy security, jobs and the economy at risk does nothing towards achieving any of these goals." Huh!
That's a case of overstating the case. The Norwegians haven't shut down their industries; they've simple declared a moratorium on new deepwater wells. Nor, Martin, have the Americans shut down their industry.
I think the question is, in the light of the West Montaro leak, could Deepwater Horizon have happened here? We don't drill as deep, but West Montaro still leaked for months.

Thanks to the AFR

oil hypocrisy?

When oil companies lobby governments to reduce environmental protections, can the still use the defence that they complied with regulation? The president of BP Canada Anne Drinkwater was lobbying the Canadian government to end the requirement that a relief well had to be drilled at the same time as the main well in the Arctic. (She said it wasn't about money, though BP's submission said it was.)
It's not just about BP, it's about the oil industry as a whole. It's a matter of attitude. If the oil industry is saying we're just responding to demand but they're encouraging (and spending big bucks) people and industry to consume more, then the excuse isn't valid.
It's the way commerce is set up rather than an individual or even a company responsibility.

bellicose chauvanism - the accuracy of environmental claims

I've been reading a claim that the level of unique marine life that is found off south-western Australia is greater than that on the Barrier Reef and almost anywhere in the world. I've heard a similar claim for the Port Phillip Bay. So how true it is it?
Are the people making the claim guilty of environmental hyperbole? Are we always overstating the environmental case in a form of jingoism (aka "belicose chauvanism")? Or is this like the south-west botanically - a hotspot of diversity? A special claim is extended for everything - which devalues all claims.
Do we protect places because they have a level of endemic species? Is that the same as saying they have a high level of biodiversity? Why are we protecting the Great Barrier Reef? Because it is big and beautiful, or because it has a high level of diversity?
I can't assess the validity of the claim so I'll go off and do some research.

Why are the leatherbacks classified as critically endangered?

I receive a flyer from the ACF a little while ago and it has been sitting on my desk. It listed 3 endangered and one critically endangered species, which was the Leatherback turtle. I would have thought the long-footed potoroo would be much more at risk of extinction, with a much more localized distribution and a smaller overall population
I was intrigued and I started to read up on the Leatherbacks, and the more I read the more impressed I was by this animal. They're widespread with the largest geographical spread of any turtle, resident in three oceans and travelling as far north as Norway and as far south as the Cape of Good Hope. The species has been around a long time in its current form. More modern turtles have a proper carapace but the leatherback as its name suggests just has tough layers of skin. It is big, the largest reptile after three crocodiles species, and that enables it to stay warm, and it stays warmer than expected for a reptile of its size because of a number of adaptations including the oilness of its flesh.
The definiton of critically endangered isn't quite what I understood it to be. It's a relative term. It means that the population has or will decline by 80% in three generations. That intrigued me. The classfication system is complex, more complex than I thought people would have expected it to be. The terms come from the IUCN Red Book.
The other place to look is the CITES appendices. I hadn't quite got the distinction between the two and that CITES and IUCN are unrelated organizations, and the definitions are determined independently. CITES is only about trade, about controlling trade in animals to conserve them. And the devil (or the angels) in CITES is in the appendices. Leatherbacks are listed in Appendix 1, which outlaws harming or killing of the species. The thing about the appendices is the lower the number the more the the species that is listed is at risk.
The IUCN is a broad-based organization that operates at the level below governments. It has over 1000 organizational members and some 13,000 individual scientists as members. CITES is an international treaty between some 89 governments out of some 200 in the world (the UN has 193 members).
I'm glad I went on that little exploratory journey.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

vanishing Cassowary

It's a small item in yesterday's news: the north Queensland cassowary may vanish. The Rainforest Information Centre wants Peter Garrett to spend $60 million buying back land that's to be developed for housing in the Daintree north of Cairns and around Mission Beach to the south of Cairn. Subdivision is cutting through natural vegetation corridors and threatening the small remaining population of cassowarys, some 1000 birds. The cassowary population is being throttled by habitat lost, forced into smaller and smaller and less sustainable parcels of land by highways, subdivision and dogs. It's emblematic of what's happening in Australia, of how habitat loss and extinction happens in a developed country through the pressure of the constant push for development, of everybody wanting more. A third of Mission Beach's population died of starvation after Cyclone Larry in 2006. Populations are fragile and lack the access to alternative resources in times of stress.
"If they go, so too will many of the rainforest trees that depend on them for survival", says Ruth Rosenhek of the Rainforest Information Centre, showing the rippling pattern of change that is being inflicted on our natural environment by poorly planned development. The cassowary is a keystone species that distributes the seeds of some 150 species throughout the rainforest.
Ironically the cassowary is used extensively in tourism promotion for the region. But the tourism industry and the local economy isn't matching that with an obligation to protect this vanishing bird.

vanishing Cassowary

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Oil companies need to consider the inevitable corruption

Following the angry response of Obama to the Deepwater Horizon/Macondo leak in the Gulf of Mexico about the leaks in Nigeria. As much oil that has leaked from the Deepwater Horizon so far, leaks in the Niger delta every year! There's debate on how much responsibility the oil companies should accept for these leak - see the comments on John Vidal's article in The Guardian. The lesson that can be drawn from the history of the exploitation of the Niger delta is that you can't pump the wealth from oil into a third world economy without almost guaranteeing corruption. If the oil companies can't guarantee a equitable distribution to the stakeholders on the ground, especially in developing countries, then the sort of disaster that is happening in Nigeria is inevitable. It's an obvious truth but one which resource industries have yet to properly address. It's convenient to believe that resource wealth will benefit everybody.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Let's blame the British and avoid any responsibility ourselves

A US Congressmen is demanding the BP apologize to every American. Yep maybe after the president of Union Carbide has apologized to every Indian and Exxon to every Alaskan. American politicians are being hypocritical in their comments about British Petroleum, more correctly now called BP. What's happened in the Gulf is a disaster but it's the arrogance and greed of the oil industry, and the greed of consumers that is cultivated by the oil companies, not just the arrogance of BP, that's the cause. The focus on BP is a useful way to avoid dealing with the problems of the oil industry, the most profitable industry in history.

The rig is owned by an American company Transocean, which has applied to have its potential damages limited to the value of the rig. Transocean relocated to Switzerland and the rig itself is registered under a flag of convenience in the Marshall Islands. The repair work was done by another American company Halliburton, which is associated with an ex-American vice-president, Dick Cheney. Andarko Petroleum, another American company, which owns 25% of the leaking Macondo well, is paying out a dividend. Mistui also owns 10% of Macondo. BP was the operator though. BP has agreed to well more than the $75 million is required to under the US legislation that established the oil reserve.

BP has been British enough to stand up and put its hand in its pocket. Transocean aren't; Halliburton aren't. And let's go back to Union Carbide. The accident happened in December 1984 and the site is still leaking chemicals. Some 2000 to 13,000 people were killed in the disaster. UC offered the Indian government the value of the insurance claim. Warren Anderson the UC fled to the US while under arrest in India, and has not been returned to India by the US government. The US is using one standard for itself and another for others.

It's being widely stated on the internet that Canadian law requires that a relief well be drilled at the same time as the main well. A quick survey of the internet sees the statement widely quoted but no reliable source so it may be something of an urban myth but though it not sure that it's that neat. The Canadians do demand oil companies have much better developed plans for relief wells than US legislation and in some circumstances require relief wells to be drilled. BP was certainly kicking against the cost of drilling prophylactic relief wells in the Canadian Arctic earlier this year.

And there has been remarkably little discussion in Congress about the Ixtec-1 leak on June 3 1979. The blowout preventer was powerful enough to shear through the drilling pipe. It is estimated to have leaked 3.3 million barrels of oil (524.6 million litres). The biggest marine oil leak in history.

And there hasn't been much talk about the leaks in Nigeria.

Nobody at this stage knows why the blowout preventer failed. The American obsession with dumping all the blame on BP is a political convenience that distracts attention away from the real issues and real solutions.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Honest John

Here's John saying let's drill on the outer edge of the continental shelf back in February 2009

Fossil fuel is just too cheap

When the price of oil went up in 2008 the industrialized fishing fleets came home and the fish stocks had a chance to recover - at least a little. Just a tiny breathing space. But it shows that oil is too cheap. Read more on the subject of oil being too cheap.

And then you have idiots like John Hofmeister, an ex-president of Shell, who campaigns for cheap oil. He's just an oil industry front. He's been blustering on the US news a lot - apparently the accident was the fault of the public as we didn't allow the industry to drill in shallow water, and John gave the example that he had to spend $300m to get permission to drill in Alaska. He has an idiotic not-for-profit Citizens for Affordable Energy, funded by whom I wonder.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Transocean wriggly out of responsibility

BP are bearing the brunt of criticism and stating they accepting responsibility beyond the legal compensation requirements, while Transocean is sneaking around the back seeking to limit its legal liability to the value of the rig. It was after all Transocean employees who were killed. Why isn't the press focussing solely on BP. Halliburton have remained eerily silent.

Corporations aren't good at taking responsibility, except for profits.