Spill devastates creek and raises troubling questions

December 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

The chemicals that spilled after a fire at the JJ Chemical Co. plant off Olympic Drive wiped out aquatic life in a stretch of Trail Creek and cost two dozen people their jobs.


But the July 28 fire and resulting chemical spill exposed a much more troubling problem, some believe.

See photos from the spill.

See photos from the fire.

“One of the things that sticks with me still is that this is what it looks like on the ground when some of the very basics of the state government’s role in our communities are eroded by budget cuts and staff reductions,” said Ben Emanuel, Oconee River projects coordinator for the Altamaha Riverkeeper, one of the groups that banded together to gather information and post warning signs after the spill.

Emanuel believes budget cuts over the past few years at the state Environmental Protection Division, the lead state agency in environmental disasters like the Trail Creek spill, may be so deep that the agency may not be able to do its job of environmental protection any more.

EPD workers put in long hours trying to assess the spill and limit its effects, but an EPD emergency team took hours to respond as the fire launched exploding fireballs and sent towering plumes of black smoke into the Athens night sky. And like citizens and elected officials, both the EPD and local emergency response teams had a hard time at first finding out just what was in the chemical runoff that poured into a branch of Trail Creek as firefighters used 740,000 gallons of water to keep the fire from spreading.

The water flowing off the fire site at the building on Trans Tech Drive, in Northeast Clarke County, carried thousands of gallons of formaldehyde, glutaraldehyde, paradichlorobenzene and dozens of other chemicals downstream. Also in the mix were oily perfumes and a brilliant blue dye that made it easy to see the contamination as it flowed down Trail Creek and into the North Oconee River at Dudley Park.

But most people at first knew only that the water looked and smelled funny.

“The first few days was a real exercise in frustration,” said District 9 Commissioner Kelly Girtz, one of many who struggled to get answers in the days following the fire about the runoff and whether it was dangerous to people or pets.

“I think I spent about 30 hours … dealing with phone calls and messages,” Girtz said. “I was getting the sense that there was incomplete information at best, and seemingly no one steering the ship.”

In the end, it was not the RPD or the Athens-Clarke government but volunteers from a coalition of environmental groups Emanuel pulled together that posted warning signs along the stream telling people to avoid contact with the water – four days after runoff from the fire gushed downstream.

Commissioners like Girtz and Andy Herod got dozens of e-mails and calls from constituents, alarmed after noticing the water smelled like urinal cakes or seeing it flow toilet-bowl blue and wondering if they were safe.

Herod couldn’t tell them anything at first because he couldn’t find out anything, either, he said.

“I think there was a general failure to communicate,” Herod said. “The elected officials were basically left in the dark as to what was going on.”

Athens-Clarke government administrators vowed to do a better job of communicating to the public and to officials in future emergencies.

“One of the main things it reinforces for me is that we are a community that thrives on information. The better information we can share, the more confidence the community has in what we do,” said Athens-Clarke Manager Alan Reddish.

EPD officials said the agency would communicate better in the future, both within the agency and to outsiders. But EPD emergency responders were hampered during the Trail Creek spill because they couldn’t get information quickly from the chemical company or the cleanup company it hired about what chemicals were in the plant or about the unfolding crisis, according to an EPD report on the spill.

Emanuel wonders if the spill signals the beginning of an era of do-it-yourself environmental protection for the state.

“EPD has been gutted, and that hampered their ability to respond,” he said.

Meanwhile, Emanuel and others are keeping a close eye on the stream, wondering how long it may take to recover.

Eventually, the blue water flowed on downstream, along with the toxic chemicals. Water samples taken in mid-November showed no detectable levels of paradichlorobenzene, the EPD announced early in December. The formaldehyde was gone by September, the agency said.

But life has been slow to return to the creek, said Jessica Sterling, a graduate student in ecology and a member of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, which has for years monitored the health of Trail Creek and other Athens waterways.

UOWN volunteers last tested Trail Creek’s waters Nov. 13, and will test again early next year.

Contamination remains at a small wetland off Olympic Drive, just downstream from JJ Chemical, Sterling said.

“We could still smell that perfume, and see that grayish-blue color,” she said. “It makes you wonder what’s still there.”

But UOWN volunteers did find a few living creatures such as blood worms, which can survive in polluted water; in August, they found none.

Although Athens-Clarke officials have made progress in reducing pollution from everyday sources such as runoff from parking lots, Sterling wonders how much planning local officials have done to protect area waters from catastrophic chemical spills like the one that killed Trail Creek.

The county had another major spill just seven years ago, when gasoline wiped out life in Hunnicutt Creek, which flows into the Middle Oconee River at Ben Burton Park.

“It doesn’t seem like we’re prepared for that at all,” she said. “What is the plan? Is there a plan?”

Life returned to Hunnicutt Creek in about a year, but neither environmental officials nor local water activists can say if Trail Creek will recover that quickly.

Gasoline, the major pollutant in the Hunnicutt Creek spill, is lighter than water, so most of the poison was flushed downstream quickly.

Sterling and other water activists suspect some of the toxic chemicals that poisoned Trail Creek may have sunk into stream sediments and will be slowly released into the creek’s waters for a long time to come.

A company hired to clean up the land around the chemical factory is scheduled to finish its cleanup and issue a final report to EPD officials by Jan. 14; after that, officials in the environmental agency will decide whether the company will also have to undertake a second cleanup in Trail Creek itself.

Originally published in the Athens Banner-Herald on Friday, December 31, 2010

Believe it or not, climate debate heats up

December 31, 2010 by  
Filed under Global Warming

Climate scientists want us to understand the world is burning, writes Adam Morton.

THE climate scientist Neville Nichols has long believed his role was research, not advocacy. But when he woke on the morning following the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, turned on his TV and caught his breath after witnessing the shocking aerial footage of what was once Marysville, he instinctively blamed himself.

”My initial thought was ‘Is this my fault? Has this happened because I haven’t been out there saying that this stuff is going to have catastrophic consequences for us?”’

”It is the first time I have ever been shaken from my belief that I shouldn’t be an advocate on climate change.”

Nicholls – an Australian Research Council professorial fellow at Monash University and an author and reviewer with the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – resolved to take more responsibility to be a public voice; not to lobby for a particular political response, but to explain and defend the science that is his life’s work.

He was not alone. Increasingly, as the first decade of the century unfurled, Australia’s most decorated scientists in climate fields were concerned that published evidence in their areas of expertise was being misused or ignored. Believing they faced a calculated misinformation campaign driven by fossil fuel interests and an intransigent political system, they formed Climate Scientists Australia as a means to improve the quality of public information and decision-making.

The public debate over climate change has yielded its share of controversies, confected and otherwise, but in the eyes of leading scientists the royal commission into the bushfire’s response – which barely mentioned climate change – is emblematic of the biggest of the past 10 years: the failure to convince policymakers and shapers to take the warnings of the world’s most reputable scientific agencies seriously enough to respond effectively.

The global public’s awareness of climate change grew significantly over the decade, but by this year, according to some polls, its acceptance of the science had diminished.

The decline was particularly marked in Britain and the United States. Britain was home to the affair in which senior scientists were accused of manipulating data after ambiguous emails were leaked from the University of East Anglia. The scientists were exonerated of the most serious claims of dishonesty by a series of inquiries, but the damage was done – the findings clearing their names received only a fraction of the media coverage of the initial allegations.

A separate investigation by the InterAcademy Council recommended changes to the IPCC, including greater transparency, but found its work synthesising published climate science was mostly successful.

In the US there was a concerted attack from the resurgent Republican Party and influential parts of the media claiming climate science was a hoax and conspiracy. A University of Maryland study published last month found Fox News viewers were 30 percentage points more likely to incorrectly believe that most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring, or that views are split.

The public mood was not helped by the debacle of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting in Copenhagen in December 2009, which left people with the not unreasonable perception that the world’s leaders had no idea how to tackle the problem. The recent follow-up meeting in Cancun managed to glue the pieces of the broken talks back together, but left the most challenging issues in forging a new treaty to build on the Kyoto Protocol – which covers little more than a quarter of global emissions – to a later date.

Meanwhile, the claims made on climate change’s behalf continued to mount. Delegates in Cancun were handed a report by the aid agency Oxfam that quoted the insurance agency Munich Re. It linked 21,000 deaths in the first nine months of 2010 to climate change. It was twice the number of casualties caused by extreme weather events in all of 2009.

The mid-year floods that soaked a fifth of Pakistan alone killed about 2000 people and affected the lives of 20 million. The same weather system caused extraordinary summer heat in near-Arctic Russia that wiped out crops, caused rampant wildfires and doubled the usual summer death rate for Moscow.

These events rang alarm bells for those familiar with the IPCC’s projection, based on more than 20 climate models that to date have proved remarkably accurate, that a significant temperature rise above pre-industrial levels will increase the likelihood of floods in southern Asia and the risk of heatwaves and wildfires in Europe.

Munich Re reported that its database of natural catastrophes showed that the number of extreme weather events such as windstorms and floods had tripled since 1980 ”and the trend is expected to persist”.

It should be noted that not everyone working in the area is comfortable with linking the present shift in extreme events with greenhouse gases. According to one view, there is little to no change in the proportions of people affected once population growth is factored in.

What does not remain a contested area in the scientific literature is that the planet is becoming hotter. Analysing the data from the world’s three temperature data sets, the World Meteorological Organisation reported in November that the past decade was the warmest since instrumental measurement began in 1850, and 2010 was on track to be the hottest – regardless of the extraordinary snow dumps clogging European and US cities over Christmas.

(In fact, there is significant evidence to suggest that global warming is responsible for the extreme northern winters of the past two years. An increase in air pressure in the Arctic atmosphere caused by warmer heat coming off a relatively ice-free ocean is pushing cold air south.)

Eighteen countries broke their records for the hottest day ever this year. Only one year in the 20th century, 1998, was warmer than any so far in the 21st.

The noughties was the decade of the killer heatwave. Western Europe was hit in August 2003, when extreme heat was estimated to have contributed to the deaths of 46,000. There were widespread crop failures and forest fires, particularly in southern Europe. About a tenth of Portugal’s forests burned.

In Australia, Victoria had never had three consecutive days above 42 degrees until January 2009, when there were three above 43 degrees. The January heatwave is estimated to have killed 500 people in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

Perhaps the biggest change came in Russia this past northern summer, when at least five days in Moscow topped 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38C) – a barrier that had never been crossed. An estimated 15,000 people died and the country’s massive grain harvest was devastated by wildfire.

The Russian state weather service chief, Alexander Frolov, said it was the country’s worst heatwave in a millennium. ”Nothing like it can be seen in the archives.”

Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise. Last month the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii showed that atmospheric carbon dioxide had reached 390 parts per million – a 40 per cent increase on pre-industrial levels.

All of this is in line with the IPCC’s most recent assessment report, published in 2007, which found that there was at least 90 per cent certainty that most of the increase in the globe’s temperature since mid-last century was due to the rise in industrial greenhouse gases.

There is, of course, still significant uncertainty about the future effect of climate change. But the fundamentals predicted by climate models – marked declines in Arctic sea ice in summer, rising sea levels due to thermal expansion and glacier melt and increases in temperature – are being matched by observations.

That is the science. The response, the politics and economics, remains a thornier question still.

The preferred model under the 1997 Kyoto Protocol is carbon trading, under which emissions are capped and pollution permits exchanged so that the cheapest way to meet the target can be found. This method has been adopted in haphazard fashion across Europe, New Zealand and a band of US states, and several more countries including Australia and China are looking at signing up.

There is near universal agreement among economists that a carbon price is the most efficient way to reduce emissions, but carbon trading faces criticism that, while nice in theory, it is ineffective in the real world when it includes poorly policed offset schemes. The US Congress has rejected a national trading scheme; Japan and South Korea have postponed the decision on theirs.

What are the hopes of a global solution to this diabolical problem? A recent prognosis by the Paris International Energy Agency found the national targets submitted under the loose Copenhagen Accord of 2009 would put the world on a path of 3.5 degrees warming by the end of the century. Even if you assume that countries introduce policies to back their international promises – Australia and the US, to name just two, at present have no way of meeting their targets – few scientists or policymakers expect the temperature rise to be kept within two degrees, the goal agreed under the UN process.

In Australia this year there will be a concerted effort from Labor, the Greens and parts of the business world to introduce a carbon price – most likely a tax that could evolve into carbon trading. Attention is then likely to turn to the challenge that has only just begun to find its way into the public debate, but will increasingly become apparent over the next decade: adapting to unavoidable change.

Cities take issue with water-quality proposal

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Water Quality

Cities are fighting proposed state water standards that they say would show no benefits while costing up to $6 billion.

State regulators must review water-quality rules every three years to ensure they provide as much protection as national standards. The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has recommended lower levels of heavy metals such as zinc, copper and chromium in treated sewage to help protect shellfish and other aquatic life.

Other states have met the standards, said Nikki Schimizzi, a senior DENR environmental specialist. North Carolina is the only state in the region that has not adopted them, she said.

Cities worry about the potential for burdensome costs to utilities customers. The N.C. League of Municipalities, which did a financial study of the proposals, said costs to local governments could range from $590 million to more than $6 billion over 20 years.

The proposed standards aren’t based on real-life conditions in state waters, said Erin Wynia, a policy analyst for the league. Only the most expensive interventions would get treatment plants to the proposed limits, she said.

Regulators are collecting information on costs for an analysis that must be approved by the state Office of Budget and Management. Then, the proposed rules would go through public hearings and a vote of the state Environmental Management Commission. The process will take a year or more.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said the new limits for zinc and copper would help protect the state’s freshwater mussels. The new standards also could help protect sensitive species not tested now, fish and wildlife officials said.

Marine Power Developers Getting Creative in Oregon (audio)

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Ocean Energy

Thu, December 30, 2010
Posted in Alaska News

Tom Banse, Northwest News Network

Alaska coastal communities that are considering the ocean for power might want to keep an eye on Oregon, where marine energy developers are looking for ways to make electricity from the sea.

The alternative energy sector has been slow to coalesce around one technology. In fact, unconventional ideas are blooming like algae. Northwest News Network Correspondent Tom Banse reports on the proliferation of creative electric engineering on the coast.

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Gulf of Mexico oil spill continues to foul 168 miles of Louisiana coastline

December 30, 2010 by  
Filed under Toxic Spills

Published: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 7:30 PM Updated: Thursday, December 30, 2010, 8:10 PM

Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune


Mark Schleifstein, The Times-Picayune

Louisiana’s coastline continues to be smeared with significant amounts of oil and oiled material from the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, with cleanup teams struggling to remove as much as possible of the toxic material by the time migratory birds arrive at the end of February, said the program manager of the Shoreline Cleanup and Assessment Teams, which are working for BP and the federal government.


BP cleanup worker Toney Edison was photographed Dec. 16 holding chunks of tar that were found buried underneath a layer of sand on East Grand Terre Island.

There are 113 miles of Louisiana coastline under active cleanup, with another 55 miles awaiting approval to start the cleanup process, according to SCAT statistics. Teams have finished cleaning almost 72 miles to levels where oil is no longer observable or where no further treatment is necessary.

But that’s not the whole story for the state’s coastline. According to SCAT statistics, there’s another 2,846 miles of beach and wetland areas where oil was once found but is no longer observable or is not treatable.

Gary Hayward, the Newfields Environmental Planning and Compliance contractor who oversees the SCAT program, said that large area will be placed into a new “monitor and maintenance” category, once Louisiana state and local officials agree to the procedures to be used for that category.

“With rare exceptions, most of the marshes still have a bathtub ring that we have all collectively decided we aren’t going to clean any more than we already have because we’d be doing more harm to the marshes than the oil is going to be doing to them,” Hayward said.

The cleanup protocols for each state have been approved by state and local governments, federal agencies and BP, he said.


Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressWorkers were photographed Dec. 16 digging up sand impacted by the BP oil spill on East Grand Terre Island.

Louisiana’s senior coastal official says the state is monitoring the cleanup, and remains concerned with end-of-year conclusions that the cleanup is almost complete.

“The reality is we still have hundreds of miles of oiled shoreline today,” said Garret Graves, chairman of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority. “We still have oilings on a regular basis in areas of Jefferson and Plaquemines Parish, and there’s still a lot of oil buried back in the marshes where it was carried during high water events.

“The threat is absolutely still there and the oil is absolutely still there,” he said.

‘We know we’re not done’

Hayward does not disagree.

“We know we’re not done. We’re still working,” he said. “We have some challenges ahead of us, including winter weather that will slow us down a bit. But we’ve made a lot of progress.”

At the height of the oil recovery and cleanup effort over the summer, the response program included 48,200 workers and 9,700 vessels. As of Dec. 23, there were still 6,170 workers and 260 vessels, although not all of those are participating in the cleanup.


Patrick Semansky, The Associated PressWorkers were photographed Dec. 16 looking into a hole dug by an auger, left, while searching for buried layers of tar from the BP oil spill on East Grand Terre Island.

Hayward said that the aim is for the cleanup to evolve into a long-term monitoring program for both beaches and marshes by the end of April all along the coast, but that could depend on shoreline re-evaluations scheduled for April and May.

“We’ll be assisted by very low tides in April and May, where we can really see how things have worked out in the winter,” he said.

Hurricane Alex

The biggest remaining problem in Louisiana, Hayward said, is a large area of marsh along the shores of Bay Jimmy in northernmost Barataria Bay, west of Port Sulphur, that was fouled when storm surge from Hurricane Alex in late June pushed oil into the bay system, even though Alex went ashore near the Mexico-Texas border.

“There was enough high water in the tide surge and enough oil on top of the water that it came down on the marsh surface and flattened the grass along a 40- or 50-foot swath along the marsh front,” he said. “And when it did that, it pushed the grass over and left an oily mat on the surface. That has since dried and has become a very crusty surface, underneath which there is still gooey oil.”

View full size

Cleanup contractors have tried several methods over the past few months to remove that oil.

“We tried burning and that didn’t work,” Hayward said. “We tried various methods of cutting the marsh and raking the black tarry mat up, and met with some success. We’ve tried four different ways to cut the marsh and let the young sprouts come through.

“But oddly, what we saw was that even though that marsh was quite heavily impacted, before the growing season stopped, the marsh sprouts were coming up through that stuff,” he said. “So we feel pretty confident that even though it looks like hell, that area will recover in the spring when things start to green up again.”

February target date

The target date of February is aimed at removing the threat of oil from areas along Louisiana’s shoreline by the time migratory birds return to roost or rest on their way from Central and South America in the spring, Hayward said. The hope is also to assure clean beaches in advance of the tourist season on Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.

BP oil spill

Times-Picayune Staff

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser, left, who hasn’t had much sleep in the past week, listens to BP 1st Global Properties Director Dave Kinnaird while he addresses the shrimpers and residents of Plaquemine Parish who gather to volunteer and learn how to use booms during a training session at old Boothville/Venice School in Boothville, LA., Friday April 30, 2010. According to the U. S. Coast Guard, oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil platform that exploded and sank over a week ago has reached Louisiana land in the Mississippi Delta Friday.

The 3,086 miles of targeted coastline in Louisiana, which makes up the SCAT western district, dwarfs the 1,598 miles of mostly beaches targeted for clean-up in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, which comprise the eastern district. Hayward said cleanup efforts also are aimed at February completion in those states.

“There’s a lot of pressure to get it done because of the loss of the last tourist season, and they want to get open for the winter months and they want to get open for spring breakers,” he said.

Unlike Louisiana’s rough texture beaches, a mix of sand, Mississippi River sediment and organic material, beaches to the east, especially along the Florida Panhandle, are a sugary, powdery white sand that’s more difficult to separate from the weathered remains from the BP spill.

“It’s really not oil. It’s not sticky, it’s not tacky, it’s basically a very crumbly, weathered oil residue,” Hayward said. “You can pick it up in your fingers and crumble it and it will just disintegrate.”

Mats of weathered oil

However, the cleanup plan is still struggling with tar balls and other material washing ashore from mats of weathered oil that are located in the surf zone just off several key beach areas, including Pensacola, Fla.; Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge at Gulf Shores, Ala.; and the barrier islands off Mississippi’s coast. Officials are concerned submerged tar mats may also be the source of tar balls that continue to be spotted along Grand Isle, Elmer’s Island and Fourchon Beach.

“People are concerned about the chunk of oil that they can’t find counted” in the federal description of how much oil remains in the Gulf of Mexico, Hayward said, and the tar mats explain a small part of the missing oil.

“These tar mats can be three or four or five yards wide and a couple hundred meters long, and they’re discontinuous,” he said. “They’re being found in 2 or 3 feet of water, just below the low-tide line.”

“These are areas where tar balls keep washing ashore,” Hayward said. “The shallow water (where the tar mats are believed to be located) precludes a lot of vessel activity. It’s a very turbulent area.”

Mark Schleifstein can be reached at mschleifstein@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3327.

Greenland ice sheet future ‘grim’

December 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Global Warming

Dr Alun Hubbard and his team camped about 70 miles (112km) up the ice sheet in Greenland

A glaciologist is warning that the Greenland ice sheet is “retreating and thinning extensively” after a year of record-breaking high temperatures.

Dr Alun Hubbard on Aberystwyth University says its future is “grim” but disputes claims by other experts that it could collapse within 50 years.

He maintains it would be at least 100 to 1,000 years before it “potentially passes any point of no return leading to any widespread collapse”.

Dr Hubbard and his team have been analysing the results of a summer-long expedition.

His team of 15 from Aberystwyth and Swansea universities spent five months on the ice sheet from the beginning of May.

The group camped about 70 miles (112km) up the sheet, and measured the thickness, speed, climate, and other vital statistics using radar, seismic and geophysical equipment.

Large melt lakes form on the Greenland ice sheet

They found rising temperatures had caused extensive melting in new upper parts of the ice sheet in this “very sensitive polar region of the planet”.

This has generated at least double the quantity of melt water, compared with 2009, which runs off the ice sheet into the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

There are fears the melting of the entire sheet could raise sea levels globally by about 7m (20ft), and a study last year found it was losing its mass faster than in previous years.

Dr Hubbard said his expedition had proved enhanced melting was more than just replenishing the oceans, it was now “directly contributing to global sea-level rise”.

He said global warming – at least local Greenland warming – was “worse than ever”.

“This year was another record-breaking year marked by very warm temperatures across Greenland and the Arctic,” he said.

“This warming enhanced and extended melting into new northern and upper parts of the ice sheet generating huge quantities – at least double that compared with the previous year – of melt water which runs off the ice sheet into the ocean.”

Dr Hubbard has spent four years researching the effects of climate change on the country. He has also worked on other glaciers and spent five years working in Antarctica before the Greenland project started.

It’s much like the ice is suddenly aquaplaning or slipping on a banana skinĀ  –Alun Hubbard

The team of scientists and students monitored the build up and drainage of a series of large melt lakes – up to five miles (8km) across – which form on the ice sheet surface during the summer and can drain rapidly to the bed through more than 1000m of ice.

He said the effect of this rapid drainage was to “lubricate and hydraulically lift up” the base of the ice sheet, “overcoming friction with underlying rock”, thereby allowing the sheet to flow much faster.

“It’s much like the ice is suddenly aquaplaning or slipping on a banana skin,” he explained.

“What we observed using methods borrowed from earthquake monitoring, is that the ice sheet slides and accelerates massively when these lakes drain, but the effect is relatively short lived and that the flow does regulate as further melt water drains to the bed.”

His work is part of a wider project involving researchers from Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Germany and the United States.

Dr Hubbard and his team plan to return to the Greenland ice sheet next year to study the effect that reduced winter sea ice has on ice sheet flow and ice berg calving.

Funding for the research has come from the Natural Environment Research Council.

Zoned for wind farms: Waters south of Cape (Wind) allotted for energy projects

December 28, 2010 by  
Filed under Ocean Energy

Massachusetts and federal officials have designated a 3,000-square-mile swath of ocean south of Cape Cod and the Islands as available to lease to developers of commercial-scale offshore wind farms.

State officials and the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement on Tuesday announced a “request for interest” to find out where in the area developers might want to pursue projects.

The area begins about 14 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard and about 24 miles south of Nantucket. It extends more than 35 miles out to sea.

It “begins a process that will lead to up to 4,000 megawatts of wind energy installed far off our shores enough electricity to power 1.7 million households and equal to the electricity currently generated by all the coal-fired plants in Massachusetts and take this new U.S. industry from infancy to maturity,” Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles said Tuesday.

In New Bedford, the leasing areas mean jobs and the revitalization of the city’s port, New Bedford Economic Development Council Executive Director Matthew Morrissey said. Cape Wind has fueled interest in Massachusetts as a “first mover” in the offshore wind industry, he said.

In October, Gov. Deval Patrick and Bowles announced that the port of New Bedford had been chosen as the site for a multimillion-dollar facility to support the installation of offshore wind projects including Cape Wind.

The estimated $35 million New Bedford Marine Commerce Terminal, which is planned for roughly 20 acres in the South Terminal area of the port, is expected to bring hundreds of jobs to the region and thrust New Bedford and the state to the forefront of the offshore renewable industry, according to state officials.

“There are very substantial opportunities for not just New Bedford but for other places,” Morrissey said, adding that European ports are examples of how offshore wind energy projects can help local maritime-based economies.

Bowles said information from developers and public comment will be collected ahead of a formal leasing process that will include an environmental review.

A task force that helped develop the request for interest will continue to meet and use public comments and new information to determine where leases for offshore wind are appropriate, he said.

“This is a multi-layered, ongoing, science-based review process,” he said.

But residents of Martha’s Vineyard continued to express concerns about offshore wind farms in state and federal waters, including the impact of turbines on fishing grounds and whether the projects will be visible from shore.

“Beyond that, I think that Martha’s Vineyard would like to see a community benefit if there is going to be wind development and it is going to affect the island in some way,” said Douglas Sederholm, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Vineyard fishermen have major concerns about the impact of turbines on navigation, said Michele Jones, secretary of the Dukes County Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen Association.

It isn’t clear whether fishermen will be allowed to work in the turbine area, she said of the possibility that insurers will require offshore wind energy developers to exclude vessels from the area.

For the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah), the process is the immediate problem, tribal historic preservation officer Bettina Washington said.

The federal government is required to consult the tribe but has not yet done so, she said, adding that meetings of the task force do not substitute for formal consultations.

The state also announced Tuesday that it would develop a research and development program to reduce the cost of offshore wind energy.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will partner with and provide matching funding to Massachusetts research institutions and offshore wind developers to win federal funding. The goal will be to reduce the cost of offshore wind 40 percent by the end of the decade and 60 percent by 2030 or to between 7 and 9 cents per kilowatt hour, according to a press release from Bowles’ office.

Tidal energy the way forward, says expert

December 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Secrets of the Ocean


The creek network near Karachi has the potential to generate 8,000 megawatts (MW) of tidal energy at very cheap rates, which would be enough to end the severe power crisis the city of 18 million is facing, Dr Naseem A Khan, vice chancellor Hamdard University and former secretary Alternate Energy Board, told The News on Friday.

The Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) has an installed capacity of 1,700 MW and faces a shortfall of 500 MW, which it takes from the Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda), according to the vice chancellor.

The tidal energy generated from the creek network could become the base load and would be available for eight hours a day, he said.

Dr Khan, who has a PhD in engineering and is also an author, suggested that initially one should focus on data collection and involve local universities in that process. He said the second step must be the acquisition of the required technology, following which a feasibility report should be made.

Dr Khan believed that the project should be run by a public-private partnership. He said the project would cost $150 million and take time to become a reality, but it once does the people of Karachi would finally get rid of loadshedding.

Dr Khan said when he was secretary he made an elaborate proposal to the Alternate Energy Board. However, the government was reluctant to invest in the project despite the fact that a Turkish firm, Zorlu, was taking a keen interest in it.

He agreed that the oil lobby was so well entrenched in Pakistan that proposals for alternate energy were ignored. We have great potential for alternate energy and we also have enough human resources, but we lack initiative.

A study conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIO) some 23 years ago suggested that the complex creeks network in the Indus Deltaic region, extending over an area of 170 kilometres along the 990-km coastline that Pakistan shares with the Arabian Sea, could generate 900 MW of affordable energy, which would be adequate to meet the power requirements of Karachi.

A team of scientists, led by Dr GS Quraishee, a former director general of NIO, conducted the two-year study but it was ignored by the countrys bureaucracy, apparently because the latter allegedly had a vested interest in producing energy through oil imports and enjoying huge kickbacks.

Tapping renewable energy from the ocean was becoming increasingly important, and one reason was that ocean energies were renewable and could not deplete, the study said. The other reason was that, unlike solar or wind power, which manifests itself in kilowatts, ocean energies were being debated and planned, in some cases even executed, in terms of megawatts. A third factor in its favour was the environment.

According to the NIO study entitled Feasibility studies for the extraction of energy from current and haliohydro gravity along Pakistan coast, water flows with high velocity during floods and ebb tides, which was a very favourable requirement for the extraction of energy from the currents. The bays and lagoons along Makran coast west of Karachi have narrow entrances and enclose large sea areas. The salinities in these semi-enclosed areas were higher than the open sea due to the high rate of evaporation. If the narrow entrances of these bays and lagoons were closed artificially, the evaporation will create hydraulic head with higher elevation of water level on the seaside. This head can be utilised for obtaining power. The power resources of the creeks system were great assets for future energy supply in the region. The serious power shortage which the industry was facing at Karachi can be adequately met from these resources, the study said.

Investigations carried out in all the main creeks of Indus Delta, namely Korangi Creek, Phitti Creek, Chan Waddo Creek, Khuddi Creek, Khai Creek, Paitiani Creek, Dabbo Creek, Bhuri Creek, Hajamaro Creek, Khobar Creek, Qalandri Creek, Kahr Creek, Bachiar Creek, Wari Creek and Kajhar Creek showed that, about 900MW can be produced.

In the emerging scenario when developed countries were vying to tap into environment-friendly options of tidal energy, one wonders why it was not was never considered as an option in Pakistan.

Melting sea ice blamed for UK Arctic weather

December 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Global Warming

Scientists are claiming melting sea ice in the Arctic Ocean is the cause of the bitter polar weather causing chaos across Europe.

Recent meteorological reports claim a high pressure area over the Atlantic resulting in the repositioning of the jet stream combined with the influence of La Nina are responsible for the current bleak midwinter. Scientists in Germany, however, are forming a complementary theory, with climate experts at the Potsdam Institute suggesting melting sea ice could be the cause.

The institutes Vladimir Petoukov believes the big freeze is a result of global warming causing sea ice in the Arctic to melt, changing wind patterns across the northern hemisphere and bringing icy blasts of freezing air across the UK. He expects the trend to continue, with Britain shivering in the grip of longer and colder winters.

Petoukov states the disappearing sea ice will have an unpredictable effect on the climate in the northern hemisphere due to a complex and powerful feedback mechanism detected in the Barents-Kara Sea. He adds that colder winters are not disproving the global warming theory, but are supplementing it.

The Arctics floating ice cover is though to have diminished by around 20 per cent in recent years, with temperatures rising at up to three times the global average. As the ice melts, the comparatively warm sea water loses its heat to the atmosphere, causing an area of high pressure to form. This creates clockwise Arctic winds which sweep southwards over northern Europe and the UK.

Although the climate research institute states its too early to link the last two years bitter winters to changes in the Arctic, it believes the theory resulting from the research is strong. and predicts freezing winters will continue for around 50 years, after which warmer winter conditions will develop.

The BP Oil Spill’s Long-Term Threat to Bluefin Tuna

December 25, 2010 by  
Filed under Protecting Habitats, Toxic Spills

Bluefin tuna

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill spewed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, one of the most pressing questions was how the environmental disaster would affect the area’s other major industry: fishing, and in particular, the highly prized bluefin tuna.

In the short term, Gulf fishing was crippled, as thousands of square miles were immediately closed. But even after some of these areas reopened, scientists and fishermen alike worried about the long-term effect of contamination on the area’s bountiful aquatic life. Recently, evidence has emerged to suggest that the oil spill may have an impact far beyond the Gulf, threatening one of the world’s most lucrative fishing species.

The controversy surrounds dispersants, the chemical compounds that BP (BP) used to break up the spilled oil. Basically a form of detergent, dispersants make it possible for oil to interact with water, transforming huge oil slicks into microscopic droplets that could seemingly disappear into the Gulf. In theory, at least, this would make it easier for bacteria and weather to further break down the oil, allowing it to dissolve into the environment.

Ignoring a Key Issue?

When BP began using dispersants, many environmentalists fretted that the compounds might harm the area’s fragile ecosystem. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a two-pronged study to measure the toxicity of various dispersants. Their ultimate conclusion was that the eight dispersants tested — including Corexit 9500A, the main compound used in the Gulf — were generally less toxic than crude oil. What’s more, the EPA detected little or no increase in toxicity when dispersants were combined with oil. That is, the action of breaking down an oil slick generally did not add more toxins to the Gulf.

According to Peter Hodson, an aquatic toxicologist at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, the EPA study ignored a key issue. While dispersants don’t increase the toxicity of petroleum, they can vastly increase the chances that a fish will interact with oil, and that the oil’s toxicity will affect sea life.

“After all,” Hodson points out, “Oil toxicity isn’t an issue until fish are exposed to it. Unfortunately, as minuscule dispersed oil droplets combine with water, the volume of the oil spill vastly expands. This can increase the risk to fish by 100- to 1,000-fold.”

Out of Sight, Out of Mind

One of the big problems, Hodson notes, is a matter of perspective. While oil dispersants make a spill disappear from the water’s surface, they don’t actually make it go away. For people, who naturally view a spill from above the surface of the water, it’s easy to see the effect of oil on birds, people and beaches, but harder to see the effect on fishes and other underwater organisms. That effect that may be increased as dispersants cause oil to combine with the water instead of float on the surface.

Hodson emphasizes that “This can lead to a blind approach when assessing risk, a process that is already difficult in an oil spill. If you are convinced that dispersants are not an issue because they aren’t more toxic than oil, then a lot less attention will be paid to what’s under the water, and we’re a lot more likely to endanger aquatic resources.”

This is particularly problematic for the Gulf’s sea life, especially eggs and embryos, which, Hodson says, “can’t move out of the way of oil.” Consequently, they’re likely to absorb dispersed oil and the chemicals that it releases. To make things worse, Hodson continues, “embryos and baby fish have thin skins, which makes them more susceptible to chemical contamination. This can lead to ‘teratogenic effects,’ or deformities.”

Bluefin Tuna in the Crosshairs

For the most part, attention has focused on the oysters and shrimp for which the Gulf is known. However, its waters are also home to a wide variety of sea life, including northern bluefin tuna, one of the most expensive fish species in the world. The tuna, which conservationists claim is on track to become an endangered species, spawns in only two areas: the Mediterranean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico.

While many fish may die because of the contamination, an even bigger problem may be the long-term impact on bluefin breeding. Hodson notes that “petroleum contamination could cause embryos to develop deformities, which can make it impossible for the young fish to grow old enough to reproduce.” This, in turn, could leave a major hole in breeding populations over the next few years.

To make things worse, bluefin tuna is already experiencing major problems. Exceedingly popular for sushi, the price of bluefin has skyrocketed over the past few years: In January 2010, a 510-pound bluefin tuna sold in Tokyo’s fish market for $175,000. With prices like that, fishermen are eager to reel in the fish.

Hammered at Both Ends

Fearing the bluefin’s extinction, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna set a 2010 quota of 13,500 tons, a 38% drop from 2009. In some regard, however, the ICCAT’s quota is largely irrelevant: Because of poaching and overfishing, the actual annual tuna yield is likely closer to 60,000 tons.

With so much money on the line, the pressure is tremendous to keep the bluefin tuna industry chugging along. Last month, fishing advocates successfully tabled a European Union plan to radically cut quotas aimed at allowing bluefin stocks to recover. Meanwhile, U.N. attempts to scale back or limit the industry have been blocked by several countries, notably Japan, which has lobbied aggressively to keep fishing quotas high.

Unfortunately, it will likely be years before scientists can fully measure the impact of the BP spill on the fish. During the initial cleanup efforts, it was impossible to directly observe the effect of the Deepwater Horizon oil on bluefin tuna embryos, though Hodson emphasizes that the long-term effect will be a decline in breeding stocks.

However, he warns, with overfishing threatening older bluefin tuna and oil contamination threatening embryos, humans are “hammering the bluefin population at both ends,” a process that is likely to lead to a devastating conclusion.

Tagged: bluefin tuna, bluefin-tuna-sushi, Deepwater Horizon, deepwater horizon oil spill, deepwater horizon spill, endangered, endangered animals, endangered species, endangered-species, EndangeredAnimals, extinct species

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