Category Archives: Water

To have impact, the People’s Climate March needs to reach beyond activists

 

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The 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City. Annette Bernhardt/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Jill Hopke, DePaul University

Following closely on last week’s March for Science, activists are preparing for the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29. This event will mark President Donald Trump’s 100th day in office, and comes as the Trump administration is debating whether the United States should continue to participate in the 2015 Paris Agreement on limiting global carbon emissions. The Conversation

Organizers have worked for over a year to build an intersectional movement that brings together diverse constituencies under the banner of climate justice. They hope to replicate the first People’s Climate March in September 2014, which was the largest climate change mobilization in history. Continue reading

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‘Unconscionable’: Trump Looks to Gut Protections for National Monuments

Order instructs Interior Department to review designation of every monument larger than 100,000 acres protected by Antiquities Act since 1996

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-26-2017

Among the areas now at risk are Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which protects more than 1.3 million acres of land. (Photo: Bureau of Land Management/flickr/cc)

President Donald Trump on Wednesday ordered federal officials to launch a review of national monument designations, potentially setting the stage to gut environmental protections for public lands and oceans.

The executive order instructs the Department of the Interior to review the designation of every monument larger than 100,00 acres protected by the Antiquities Act since 1996. It could give fossil fuel companies access to millions of acres for new drilling, climate justice advocates warned. Continue reading

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‘Payout Time’: Exxon Seeks Waiver From U.S. Sanctions to Drill in Russia

“Exxon applied for waiver from sanctions on Russia. Among departments who must approve: State Department, run by company’s ex-CEO”

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-19-2017

Photo: Fox News screenshot/Twitter

Exxon is applying for a waiver from the U.S. Treasury Department to bypass U.S. sanctions against Russia and resume offshore drilling in the Black Sea with the Russian oil company Rosneft, the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday.

Among those charged with deciding to grant the permit is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former CEO of Exxon who previously oversaw the company’s Russia operations. Continue reading

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Fracking comes to the Arctic in a new Alaska oil boom

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Trans-Alaska Pipeline, northern Brooks Range, Alaska. U.S.Geological Survey/Flickr

Scott L. Montgomery, University of Washington

Arctic lands and waters hold irresistible allure for global oil companies. Despite opposition from environmental groups and President Obama’s 2016 ban on drilling in federal Arctic waters, exploration in Alaska has revealed massive new volumes of oil. The Conversation

This comes at a time of low oil prices, when many observers felt the Arctic would remain off limits. Alaska has proved precisely the opposite. Although it has gone largely unnoticed outside the industry, foreign firms are partnering with American companies to pursue these new possibilities. I expect this new wave of Arctic development will help increase U.S. oil production and influence in world oil markets for at least the next several decades.

This is a global story, spurred by continued growth in world oil demand, especially in Asia; the dynamism of the oil industry; and the fact that the United States has become a major new petroleum exporter, something that would have seemed impossible only a few years ago. Such realities imply that decisions made in Washington, D.C. are far from the only forces shaping U.S. energy and climate change policy.

Fracking comes to the Arctic

Over the past year oil companies have discovered volumes on Alaska’s North Slope totaling as much as five billion barrels or more of recoverable oil. This is a 14 percent increase in U.S. proven reserves, based on recent estimates, which is no small thing.

One discovery, “Horseshoe,” made this year by the Spanish company Repsol in partnership with Denver-based Armstrong Oil and Gas, is the largest new U.S. find in more than 30 years. It is estimated at 1.2 billion barrels, and comes just after a find by ConocoPhillips in January, called “Willow,” evaluated at 300 million barrels.

Both of these are dwarfed by “Tulimaniq,” a spectacular discovery drilled by Dallas-based Caelus Energy in the shallow state waters of Smith Bay, about 120 miles northwest of Prudhoe Bay, in October 2016. Caelus has confirmed a total accumulation of as much as 10 billion barrels of light, mobile oil, with 3-4 billion barrels possibly recoverable at current prices of about US$50 per barrel.

Alaska’s North Slope region, including the National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA), Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and Trans-Alaska Pipeline (TAPS). U.S. Geological Survey/Wikipedia

These new finds may only be the beginning. Tulimaniq will produce from reservoirs of the same age as Horseshoe and Willow, 75 miles to the southeast. This strongly suggests that a large new stretch of the North Slope, mostly on federal land and in state waters (within three miles of shore), has been defined for further exploration. Burgundy Xploration of Houston and Australia-based 88 Energy also have another new drilling program underway to test shale intervals known to have sourced some of the oil at Prudhoe Bay, a supergiant field that has produced some 13 billion barrels to date.

A number of these new wells will be fracked – the first use of this technique in the Arctic. One or more of the oil-bearing rock units at sites being explored on the North Slope have low permeability, meaning that oil can’t flow within them very well or at all. Company engineers expect that hydraulic fracturing will be able to free such oil so it can be produced. Such has been the result for other shales and low-permeability reservoirs in places like North Dakota and Texas.

The logistics of finding large quantities of water and sand needed for fracking in the Arctic will be challenging, and probably more expensive than similar operations in the lower 48 states. It remains to be seen whether operators will clean, reuse and carefully contain frack water.

Green lights from the Trump administration

In another significant find, Italian company Eni has developed an oil field that lies in state waters, and so is not affected by Obama’s drilling ban. But the oil reservoir extends into federal waters of the Beaufort Sea. Called the Nikaitchuq Unit, it lies just west of Prudhoe Bay and is producing around 25,000 barrels per day.

Eni developed this field between 2005 and 2015 using an artificial island to drill horizontal wells in various directions from a single site. The company stopped activity in 2015 when prices collapsed, but intends to drill up to six wells this year. Its leases, which continue north into federal waters, were not automatically canceled by the federal ban, but Eni needs a federal drilling permit and has submitted an application to the Interior Department. The company plans to run a long horizontal well to access the additional oil, thereby avoiding any need for a rig in federal waters.

The Interior Department is now reviewing Eni’s application, which I expect it will approve. Geologic studies indicate that the oil continues across the state/federal boundary, and Eni’s proposal to use a horizontal lateral from an existing drill site appears to be aimed at minimizing environmental impacts.

Moreover, the Trump administration has pledged to promote fossil fuel development. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is a former congressman from Montana, which produces oil, gas and coal, and Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan are strong proponents of oil and gas development.

The oil industry’s new dynamics

Why is all of this new Arctic drilling happening at a time when oil prices are low and in a place where production costs are high? The oil price collapse that has occurred since mid-2014 is the deepest slump since 1986.

Oil companies have ways of being nimble in hard times, such as selling assets, adjusting production levels and seeking mergers. Now rapid innovations in drilling, seismic imaging and data processing enable well-run companies to cut costs in multiple areas. Some firms can make money today at prices as low as $35 to $40 per barrel or even lower. This includes drilling offshore and fracking onshore.

Innovation and cost-cutting have made U.S. firms a potent global force and eroded OPEC’s dominance by keeping oil supplies high, despite a significant production cut by the cartel and many non-OPEC producers, including Russia. In this new era, smaller companies are making inroads in areas once reserved for giants like BP and Exxon. This shift is significant because smaller, independent companies, for whom new discoveries are especially important, tend to be aggressive explorers.

Oil remains our one unreplaceable energy source. Global mobility and a modern military are, as yet, inconceivable without it. Growth in global demand, centered in developing Asia, will continue for some time, as it did even from 2010 through 2014 when prices were above $90 per barrel.

The United States now exports around 5.7 million barrels per day of crude oil and refined petroleum products, double the level of five years ago and by far the largest volume in our nation’s history, thanks to major increases in sales to Japan, South Korea, India, Taiwan, Singapore and China. In short, we would be expanding fossil fuel production even without a Trump administration.

If these new discoveries become producing fields, the Alaskan Arctic will write a new chapter in the U.S. oil industry’s dramatic ascent. It will increase our leverage over OPEC and may help to counter Russia’s geopolitical influence. This prospect raises a new question: How will we will use our clout as the world’s most important new oil power?

Scott L. Montgomery, Affiliate Faculty, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Groups to Probe Why Pruitt Put ”Pesticide Industry Profits Ahead of Children’s Health”

‘Americans have a right to know who influenced the EPA to suddenly reverse course’

By Andrea Germanos, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 4-12-2017

“Americans have a right to know who influenced the EPA to suddenly reverse course and put pesticide industry profits ahead of children’s health,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. (Photo: Austin Valley/flickr/cc)

How is it that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt came to the decision to reject his own agency’s science and reject a ban the insecticide chlorpyrifos?

Watchdog group American Oversight and advocacy organization Environmental Working Group (EWG) want to know, and are ready to sue to get to the bottom of the matter.

Pruitt’s March 29 decision to deny a 10-year-old petition brought forth by Pesticide Action Network and the Natural Resources Defense Council sparked outrage from public health advocates and environmentalists who say the move—which is what the chemical’s maker, Dow, had wanted—was unacceptable in the face of studies linking the nerve agent to numerous adverse effects, from contaminating water to harming children’s brain development. Continue reading

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Trump slams brakes on Obama’s climate plan, but there’s still a long road ahead

 

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Trump signed the executive order surrounded by coal miners, saying it was ‘about jobs.’ AP Photo/Matthew Brown

Henrik Selin, Boston University

Badly looking for a political win that would both fulfill some campaign promises to his political base and satisfy the demands of rank-and-file Republicans in Congress, President Trump on March 28 signed an expansive Energy Independence and Economic Growth Executive Order. The Conversation

The executive order signals a sharp shift in federal climate change rules, standards and work procedures. This was expected based on Trump’s campaign rhetoric and his selection of Cabinet members and advisers. But as with other Trump White House initiatives, it is unclear how much change the administration can deliver and at what pace.

It took a long time for the Obama administration to formulate some of the central climate change rules now targeted by the Trump administration, and it will take years trying to change them. The signing of the executive order is just the administration’s opening salvo in what is destined to become a protracted and high-stakes battle.

The Trump attack

Cloaked in unsubstantiated “pro-growth” rhetoric, the executive order targets the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. It also focuses on mandates to cap methane emissions, looks to increase support for the extraction and use of coal and other fossil fuels, and changes the ways in which climate change concerns are embedded in actions by federal agencies (including taking into consideration the social cost of carbon).

The Clean Power Plan was designed to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing coal-fired power plants as well as to promote renewable energy production and greater energy efficiency. The Obama administration also set emissions standards for new power plants. These and other measures were issued in response to the unwillingness by the U.S. Congress to pass any separate climate change legislation.

Announced in August 2015, the Clean Power Plan was immediately challenged in court by a group of 29 states and state agencies with the support of a variety of firms and industry organizations, including Oklahoma while current EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was the state’s attorney general. The opponents argued the EPA had overstepped its regulatory authority with the new rules and they therefore should be struck down.

The Supreme Court in an unprecedented decision in February 2016 ordered the EPA to temporarily stay the implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a lower-level court had made a ruling on the EPA’s authority to set such standards. Oral hearings were held in the D.C. Circuit Court in September 2016, but a decision is still pending.

Coal miners were visible supporters of Trump during the presidential campaign and at the signing of a sweeping executive order to reverse regulations to limit greenhouse gases. flavor32/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Because the EPA under Pruitt will review the Clean Power Plan and roll back other Obama initiatives, the executive order alters basic legal dynamics. Now, lawsuits making their way up the court system will change. Instead of challenging the Obama rules, suits will be aimed at forcing the Trump administration to either uphold them or take other forms of meaningful regulatory action.

Many states and environmental groups that support the Clean Power Plan and other existing measures stand ready with a lineup of lawyers to fight back. They will argue that the federal government must act based on a 2007 U.S. Supreme Court decision classifying CO2 as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act and a 2009 EPA Endangerment Finding stating that current and projected atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.

Will we still always have Paris?

The executive order is silent on the Trump administration’s intent vis-à-vis the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which nearly 200 countries agreed to lower greenhouse gas emissions. But it casts a long shadow both on the U.S. ability to meet its Paris goal and the future of U.S. international leadership on climate change.

The implementation of the Clean Power Plan is central to fulfilling U.S. commitments under the Paris Agreement of reducing national GHG emissions by 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025 and to make best efforts to reduce its emissions by 28 percent. By 2014, national emissions were down 9 percent compared with 2005 levels.

The EPA Clean Power Plan was a linchpin in the U.S. global climate commitments because it restricted carbon emissions from power plants, directly affecting coal-fired plants. AP Photo/Matthew Browne

Electing to either leave or ignore the Paris Agreement would not provide the United States with more independence and flexibility, as it reduces its political influence and ability to shape future decisions in global climate negotiations.

There are other global environmental treaties around biodiversity protection and the management of hazardous chemicals and wastes to which the United States is not a party. As a result, the U.S. ability to influence regulatory decisions under these treaties is severely limited – for example, specific chemical compounds where there is a need to protect human health and the environment, or where U.S. firms have economic interests. This foreshadows the kind of outsider status that the United States may gain if it backs out of the Paris Agreement.

Notably, ceding international leadership on climate change may serve only to embolden other countries, including China, to take on a more prominent role at the expense of U.S. influence. It would also further increase many other countries’ rapidly mounting frustration with the Trump administration.

Many different stakeholders, including ExxonMobil, argue that it is better for the United States to be on the inside rather than the outside when it comes to the future climate change cooperation. Former ExxonMobil CEO and current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has suggested the U.S. should stay in the agreement.

US paying for assistance or ammunition?

Even if the United States stays with the Paris Agreement, President Trump and Republicans in Congress have made it clear they want to severely limit, or completely cut off, U.S. contributions to climate finance in support of mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries. The United States so far has provided US$1 billion of the $3 billion pledged by the Obama administration to the Green Climate Fund.

Carrying through on these statements by significantly reducing U.S. international assistance would effectively erode an important basis of U.S. political leadership and influence. But they appear to be part of a larger shift in the use of foreign policy instruments from nonmilitary means, such as climate and development aid, to military ones.

Trump’s “skinny budget” proposed a 31 percent cut to the EPA budget and a 29 percent reduction in funds for the State Department and other development programs. There is very little chance that Congress will approve such dramatic cuts, but these proposals tie in with what seems to be a broader change in U.S. foreign policy strategy.

As Trump proposed a 10 percent increase in the military budget, foreign policy experts worry that a significant cut in nonmilitary resources will severely undermine U.S. leadership and the ability by the State Department and other government agencies to promote U.S. interest and political stability.

The court of public opinion

As the battle over federal climate change policy continues, President Trump risks losing the public opinion battle on climate change beyond his most ardent base.

A recent poll shows that 75 percent of Americans believe that carbon dioxide should be regulated as a pollutant and that 69 percent believe that there should be limits on emissions from existing coal-fired power plants.

If such polling numbers remain strong, the Trump administration will be fighting an uphill battle in both courtrooms and the public sphere.

Henrik Selin, Associate Professor in the Frederick S Pardee School of Global Studies, Boston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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US Ditches Human Rights Hearing in ‘Unprecedented Show of Disrespect’

ACLU had planned to drill officials on immigration, DAPL, and Muslim ban, but representatives from various departments never showed

By Nadia Prupis, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-21-2017

The civil rights group had filed an emergency request for the meeting in January, after President Donald Trump signed an executive order that banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries. (Photo: Karla Cote/flickr/cc)

The U.S. failed to show up to a human rights hearing in an “unprecedented show of disrespect to the international community,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said Tuesday.

In a surprise move, the government ditched a hearing with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), an arm of the Organization of American States, where the ACLU had planned to drill officials on the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration; its ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries; and the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), among other issues. Continue reading

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‘We Exist, We Resist, We Rise’: Thousands March for Native Nations

‘Standing Rock was just the beginning’

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-10-2017

The march began at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters and ended at Lafayette Square. (Photo: Zoë Flo/Twitter)

“Water is life!” was the cry heard throughout Washington, D.C., on Friday as thousands of people filled the streets and marched for Indigenous rights and the sovereignty of native nations, demonstrating that the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline has sparked an ongoing movement.

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Environmental activists in Honduras refuse to submit

One year after Berta Cáceres’ murder, indigenous peoples are in revolt, fighting for their rights to exist in a system that has no part for them to play.

By Michael Phoenix. Published 3-3-2017 by ROAR Magazine

Berta Cáceres. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Let us wake up! Let us wake up, humankind! We’re out of time. We must shake our conscience free of the rapacious capitalism, racism and patriarchy that will only assure our own self-destruction.

These are the words of Berta Cáceres, the community organizer, human rights defender, environmental activist, indigenous Lenca woman, leader and rebel who was shot dead one year ago, on March 3, 2016, by unidentified gunmen at her home in La Esperanza, the capital city of the department of Intibucá in southwestern Honduras.

Berta was a co-founder of the Consejo Cívico de Organizaciones Populares e Indígenas de Honduras (COPINH), an organization fighting neoliberalism and patriarchy in Honduras and working for respect of human rights and the rights of indigenous peoples in particular. She was a long-term opponent of internationally funded exploitative development projects in indigenous territories in Honduras, such as the Agua Zarca hydroelectric dam, set to be built on the territory of the Lenca people in the Río Blanco. Continue reading

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Flint Residents Now Have to Pay for Water They Still Can’t Drink

State government ends program that helped residents of Flint, Michigan with their water bills after widespread lead poisoning was revealed

By Nika Knight, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 3-1-2017

“It’s been three years, and we still can’t drink the water.” (Photo: Steve Johnson/flickr/cc)

The state of Michigan has declared that Flint’s drinking water “meets all federal water quality standards,” ending a program Wednesday that reimbursed residents for most of their water costs in the wake of the lead crisis.

Yet Flint residents still can’t drink the water, and the announcement was met with outrage.

“They want to make it look like they’ve resolved this thing, that it’s fixed,” Tim Monahan, a carpenter who survived Legionnaires’ disease caused by the poisoned water supply, told the Washington Post. “It’s been three years, and we still can’t drink the water.” Continue reading

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