Environmental Policy

Shell begins offshore drilling in the Alaskan Arctic
September 10, 2012 04:44 PM - Jeremy Hance, MONGABAY.COM

With the approval of the Obama Administration, Royal Dutch Shell began drilling into the ocean floor of the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska yesterday morning. The controversial operation, which has been vehemently opposed by environmental and Native groups, will likely only last a few weeks this year until the Arctic winter sets in. The U.S. government has said that Shell must complete operations by September 24th, however the oil giant has asked for an extension. "We look forward to continued drilling progress throughout the next several weeks and to adding another chapter to Alaska’s esteemed oil and gas history," Shell wrote in an online statement. "We're proud to be offshore Alaska, and we're extremely proud of the preparation we've put in place to do it right." Extreme weather, floating ice, and remoteness are just a few of the challenges that faces any fossil fuel exploitation in the Arctic, and environmental groups say Shell hasn't proven itself ready to drill safely. The oil giant, which spent $4 billion on Arctic oil drilling, has suffered costly and embarrassing delays all year, including an oil spill containment barge which is still harbored in Washington State and undergoing retrofitting.

Global Carbon Trading Takes a Big Step Forward
September 10, 2012 09:30 AM - RP Siegel, Triple Pundit

It has often been pointed out that our modern world could quickly become cleaner, safer, and more sustainable if only externalities, such as air pollution or carbon emissions, were internalized, so that they could be captured and factored into the economic equation. Then, as the argument goes, free market forces would provide the needed behavioral reforms and technological innovations.

What Caused the Significant Fish Mortality in Lake Erie?
September 8, 2012 08:23 AM - Miguel Llanos, NBC News

Tens of thousands of dead fish that washed up on Lake Erie beaches in Ontario, Canada -- and had locals wondering if something or someone had poisoned the water -- were likely killed by a lack of oxygen caused when lake sediment was stirred up, the province reported Friday. Water samples "do not show evidence of a manure spill or anything unusual in terms of contaminants," Ministry of Environment spokeswoman Kate Jordan told NBC News. Jordan said it wasn't known if the die-off was unprecedented, but that "it was a significant number -- tens of thousands." The fish were found along 25 miles of beach, with locals first coming across them on Monday.

Pillaging the Moon for the Promise of Space Energy
September 7, 2012 02:47 PM - Amy Shira Teitel, Discovery News

Between 1969 and 1972, Apollo astronauts brought just under 842 pounds of rocks and regolith back from the Moon. In 1985, engineers at the University of Wisconsin discovered significant amounts of Helium-3 in the lunar soil. Helium-3 is a stable isotope of helium -- the gas we use to fill party balloons with -- and is notable because it's missing a neutron, an important property that means we can used it in nuclear fusion reactions to produce clean energy. Unfortunately, our most plentiful stores of the isotope are a quarter of a million miles away. Current nuclear power plants use fission reactors, splitting uranium nuclei to release energy. This heat turns water into steam that drives a turbine to produce electricity. Unfortunately, radioactivity, spent nuclear fuel reprocessed into uranium, plutonium, and radioactive waste are by-products of this reaction. To get away from fission power, scientists have been working on nuclear fusion energy.

Creating Faster Charging Electric Car Batteries
September 7, 2012 08:41 AM - dave levitan, Yale Environment360

The amount of time it takes to recharge lithium-ion batteries has been a major impediment to consumer acceptance of electric vehicles. But a host of companies and researchers are working intensively to develop a battery that can recharge in 10 minutes and power a car for hundreds of miles. If stopping for gas took five or six hours, would you rethink that road trip? How about an hour? When it comes to electric vehicles, topping up the "tank" does indeed take a long time, one of the primary barriers to more widespread adoption of EVs. So it is no surprise that there is an aggressive push to improve batteries and charging infrastructure, with a goal of making a stop for a recharge no different than a stop for gas.

Deforestation affects rainfall, another reason to protect the rainforests
September 6, 2012 11:05 AM - Allison Winter, ENN

From regulating climate systems to offering food and medicines, to being home to many plants, animals, and indigenous people, rainforests are not only a local ecosystem but their benefits extend globally. Adding to its global effects is new research that shows rainforests have a huge impact on rainfall. A team from the University of Leeds and the NERC Centre for Ecology & Hydrology found that air passing over tropical forests produces at least twice as much rain as air passing over little vegetation and can impact rainfall thousands of miles away.

U.S. Emissions Reach 20-Year Low, but its not time to congratulate ourselves just yet!
September 6, 2012 06:24 AM - Reese Rogers, Worldwatch Institute

Climate scientists are getting their fair share of surprises this year, from the record-breaking ice melt in the Arctic to the fact that first-quarter U.S. carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions have hit their lowest point since 1992. CO2 emissions from energy consumption for the January-March period fell to 1.34 billion metric tons, down 8 percent from a year ago. While the depressed economy and rising renewable energy generation have contributed to emissions reductions in the past few years, the early 2012 low-point is due mainly to a combination of three factors: the relatively warm winter, reduced gasoline demand, and the continued decline in coal-fired electricity. Carbon emissions from energy consumption fell to 1.34 billion metric tons. (EIA) The declining demand for coal power is especially significant. Although emissions from natural gas and petroleum each dropped nearly 3 percent from the same period in 2011 (mainly because of lower heating demands in the mild winter), coal emissions fell 18 percent, to their lowest point since 1986.

Mackenzie River Basin Governance Forum
September 5, 2012 07:10 AM - ScienceDaily

The governance of Canada's massive Mackenzie River Basin holds enormous national but also global importance due to the watershed's impact on the Arctic Ocean, international migratory birds and climate stability, say experts convening a special forum on the topic. "Relevant parties in western Canada have recognized the need for a multi-party transboundary agreement that will govern land and water management in the Mackenzie River watershed. Successful collaboration will effectively determine the management regime for a watershed covering 1.8 million square kilometers or about 20 percent of Canada -- an area roughly three times the size of France -- and include the country's vast oil sands," says University of California Prof. Henry Vaux, Chair of the Rosenberg Forum, which meets Sept. 5-7 at Vancouver's Simon Fraser University with the support of the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation. The Forum's goals include identifying legal and scientific principles relevant to the processes leading ultimately to a coordinated basin-wide approach to management, as well as prioritizing knowledge gaps.

Ten African countries unite to protect rainforests
September 4, 2012 02:43 PM - Apollinaire Niyirora, SciDevNet

Ten central African countries have come together to protect the Congo Basin rainforest — the world's second largest rainforest — from severe deforestation, through implementing improved national forest monitoring systems and boosting regional cooperation.

Atmospheric Methane Reductions Attributed to not Venting it!
September 3, 2012 08:51 AM - ScienceDaily

Increased capture of natural gas from oil fields probably accounts for up to 70 percent of the dramatic leveling off seen in atmospheric methane at the end of the 20th century, according to new UC Irvine research being published in the journal Nature. "We can now say with confidence that, based on our data, the trend is largely a result of changes in fossil fuel use," said chemistry professor Donald Blake, senior author on the paper. Methane has 20 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, although CO2 is filling the atmosphere in far larger amounts. After decades of increases due to worldwide industrial and agricultural activity, the tapering off of methane from the 1980s through 2005 was remarkable. Scientists have long wrestled with the cause.

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