Planet Watch

Gulf of Mexico: maybe you missed the bad news...

Well, natural gas has stopped flowing from a stricken rig off the Louisiana coast, the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement informs us. The rig is owned by Hercules Offshore and operating for the Walter Oil and Gas Corp, about 42 miles southwest of Grand Isle. Hercules admits Mother Nature came to the rescue, saying the well became plugged with sand and sediment, basically snuffing itself out The leak started on the morning of July 23, and the fire burned for some 14 hours. It still isn't quite out yet, by most recent reports. (CNNAP, Times-Picayune, July 25; ENSAPHercules Offshore press release, July 24)

Arctic Great Game in Alaska missile deployment?

The Pentagon announced plans March 15 to add 14 missile interceptors to its anti-missile system in response to recent nuclear posturing of North Korea. The new interceptors would augment 26 already deployed at Ft. Greely, Alaska, with four others deployed at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. But the system is plagued with technical failures. The last successful hit against a target was in December 2008; test launches have failed to hit their targets since then. The Pentagon is said to have discovered a flaw in the guidance system of the newest Raytheon-made model. (LAT, March 16; Bloomberg, March 15) The ABM Treaty, which barred anti-ballistic missile systems during the Cold War, was pronounced effectively dead in the Bush years

Peak oil apocalyptoids: eating crow yet?

Remember the incessant squawking a few years back, when oil prices were spiralling, about how we were approaching "peak oil"? Been mighty quiet from that set recently, hasn't it? Vince Beiser explains why in a piece called "The Deluge" in the Pacifc Standard, March 4:

The widely circulated fears of a few years ago that we were approaching "peak oil" have turned out to be completely wrong. From the Arctic to Africa, nanoengineered materials, underwater robots, side-scanning 3-D sonar, specially engineered lubricants, and myriad other advances are opening up titanic new supplies of fossil fuels, many of them in unexpected places—Brazil, Australia, and, perhaps most significantly, North America. "Contrary to what most people believe," declares a recent study from the Harvard Kennedy School, "oil supply capacity is growing worldwide at such an unprecedented level that it might outpace consumption."

Court upholds statutory protection for polar bears

The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Feb. 1 upheld the listing of polar bears as a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of the animal as threatened gives polar bears the lower of two levels of protection. This designation was challenged by both environmental groups, which argued that the polar bears should be considered endangered and be given the highest level of protections, and industry and sporting groups, which argued that they should not be protected under the act at all. The court determined that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) used "reasoned decisionmaking" in deciding to list polar bears as threatened, and therefore did not disturb its designation. The agency went through a three-year rulemaking process and determined that, due to the effects of global warming, polar bears are likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future, warranting their designation as threatened.

BP Gulf oil spill trial opens

Trial began Feb. 25 in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana between individuals affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and British Petroleum (BP). The other corporations involved are the rig owner Transocean and well cement services provider Halliburton. The parties bringing suit against BP include the US Department of Justice (DoJ), states bordering the Gulf Coast, and individuals who did not agree to an earlier settlement agreement. The trial is to be conducted in phases with the first part focusing on determining what caused the blowout of the well and assign percentage blame on the companies involved. Other issues that are to be resolved are BP's level of negligence in conjunction with the incident and the amount of oil that escaped into the Gulf of Mexico, both elements are critical to determine BP's penalties under the Clean Water Act (CWA).

Chief Spence maintains hunger strike —despite Ottawa meetings

Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation attended a meeting with Canada's Gov-Gen. David Johnston Jan. 11, but left official residence Rideau Hall early to announce that her hunger strike will continue. "It didn't feel too good inside that house...but we stood up for your rights," Danny Metatawabin, who speaks for Spence, told gathered First Nations chiefs. "Somehow it felt like a show, a picture opportunity. What’s happening here is not done yet. It’s not over yet. Sadly, the hunger strike continues." He said that a wampum belt Johnston had been presented as a good will gesture by First Nations leaders at a meeting last January had been disrespected in the "ceremonial" meeting with Spence.

Canada: First Nations challenge Bill C-45 in courts

The Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Frog Lake First Nation, both located in Alberta, filed documents in Canadian Federal Court on Jan. 7, arguing that omnibus budget legislation that reduces federal environmental oversight violate the government's treaty obligations to protect traditional aboriginal territory. The plaintiffs are challenging Bill C-45 and it predecessor, Bill C-38, legislation that significantly restricts federal environmental assessments and cuts the number of waterways protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act.

Protesters occupy Keystone XL offices in Houston

More than 100 protesters stormed the lobby of TransCanada's Keystone XL office in Houston the morning of Jan. 7, dancing, releasing a cascade of black balloons to represent tar sands oil, and hanging neon orange hazard tape. After being forced out of the lobby by police, the protesters gathered on the sidewalk and performed street theatre in which a "pipe dragon" puppet destroyed homes and poisoned water until being slain by knights representing the grassroots coalition of the Tar Sands Blockade, Idle No More, Earth First and others. The protest was the first held in Houston to oppose the pipeline project, which follows a campaign of tree-sits to actually block pipeline construction in rural areas of Texas. "From the Texas backwoods to the corporate boardrooms, the fight to defend our homes from toxic tar sands will not be ignored," said Ramsey Sprague, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson. "We're here today to directly confront the TransCanada executives who’re continuing on with business as usual while making our communities sacrifice zones." (Your Houston News, Jan. 7)

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