Thursday, January 16, 2014

Comment: What cutting environmental regulations will do | SBS News

Comment: What cutting environmental regulations will do | SBS NewsThis is the reality.
While Tony Abbott will tell you that all environmental regulations do is hamper businesses from creating jobs and building the economy, these events in West Virginia are showing what they’re really about - and what can happen when we let them slip. Environment regulations are there to protect our rivers from mass chemical spills that could leave us without drinking for days on end. They’re there to keep our air clean, our drinking water safe, and our land protected. And whilst it may be hard to see Australia heading down the path where we can’t even drink our water, this is what could happen if we continue to let big businesses have their way through cutting essential regulations at every point.
Vital protections that keep our drinking water safe, our air clean, and our communities protected are much more than just tape.


  1. They really are getting worse.


    Mining at 'risk' in horse stud country

    ANGLO American has ramped up its warnings over an independent panel recommendation against an extension to an open-cut mine in the Hunter Valley coalfields, declaring that NSW is becoming an "investment risk" and that the nation needs to realise it has "no God-given right to attract investment".

    The chief executive of Anglo American's coal business, Seamus French, said "the world is watching" the situation over the Drayton mine.


    Brushing off voters' climate fears would be a foolish move

    ....................The environment will return as a political hot button and he will have to be careful not to miss the signs. It might be an oil spill on the Great Barrier Reef, coal seam gas mining, an outbreak of concern over salinity, or some other slow-burning problem, but the public has a history of galvanising around environmental concerns and then demanding action. This is only natural - after all, it's about the land on which we live.

    Abbott's office could not answer my query this week about how often he changes his toothbrush. But come July, as a new Senate repeals the carbon tax, he should be unwrapping brush number four in the top job. He'd be wise to keep count of each new toothbrush in the future, and remember that even after they are thrown away, they have a habit of hanging around.


    Company in West Virginia Spill Files for Bankruptcy

    Freedom Industries, the West Virginia company whose chemical spill last week tainted the drinking water of more than 300,000 residents in and around Charleston, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Friday.

    In documents filed in federal bankruptcy court in Charleston, a lawyer for the company stated that the spill apparently occurred after a broken water line caused the ground to freeze beneath an aging chemical storage tank, pushing an unidentified object into the bottom of the tank.

    The resulting puncture allowed 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, a chemical that washes impurities from coal, to escape the tank on Jan. 9 and leach into the Elk River, the source of drinking water for Charleston and surrounding communities.

    The area’s main water intake is about one and a half miles downstream from the cluster of 13 tanks where the leak occurred. Residents were warned not to use the water for the next five days, and 14 were hospitalized for exposure to the chemical.

    Related Coverage

    Return to Normal in Parts of West Virginia Is Marred by DistrustJAN. 14, 2014

    The Elk River in Charleston, W.Va. A coal-processing chemical spill last week cut off water to more than 300,000 people.

    Critics Say Spill Highlights Lax West Virginia RegulationsJAN. 12, 2014

    Wait Continues for Safe Tap Water in West VirginiaJAN. 11, 2014

    Although the authorities now say that the area’s water is safe, public and even official mistrust continues to run high. The Charleston Gazette reported Friday that the state’s Education Department had recommended that nine school districts in the region continue to use bottled water at least through next week.

    A Facebook page organized by area residents maintains a list of restaurants serving bottled water, and in a random sample of stores on Friday, bottled-water sales remained brisk.

    The state attorney general’s office said it was investigating reports of price-gouging related to water sales.

  2. Campbell said Barnett had gotten a bloody nose from his dealings with Broome - maybe Woodside just want to rub it in.


    Woodside secures a slice of Canadian LNG boom

    Woodside Petroleum has secured an agreement with the government of Canada's British Columbia province for its proposed liquefied natural gas export venture near Prince Rupert on the Pacific coast.

    Under the accord, announced overnight Australian time by the government of British Columbia, Woodside has been granted the exclusive right to negotiate a long-term tenure for an LNG export project at a site at Grassy Point.

    The deal is the second such agreement reached by British Columbia, according to Premier Christy Clark, who said the LNG sector could bring in billions of dollars of investment and create 100,000 new jobs in the province.

    Woodside chief executive Peter Coleman said the company “looks forward to working with the government of British Columbia, the First Nations and the community as we assess the feasibility of an LNG development at Grassy Point”.


    Woodside's tentative plans for the project were first revealed last April when it was disclosed as one of four companies that had submitted an expression of interest to the British Columbia government to develop a gas export terminal at Grassy Point, about 30 kilometres north of Prince Rupert. It has not revealed its plans for gas supply for an LNG venture, or potential partners, costs or timing.

    British Columbia's Minister of Natural Gas Development Rich Coleman said the accord with Woodside “is another promising LNG proposal for our province which will create jobs and economic activity”.

    Woodside's proposal is one of more than 10 LNG export ventures proposed on Canada's Pacific coast, where cargoes are expected to target high-priced markets in Asia.

    The government is assuming about five of the projects will get built, creating more than 39,000 annual jobs during a nine-year construction period, and 75,000 jobs once the plans are fully operational. Among the most advanced are the Kitimat LNG project between Apache and Chevron, and Shell's LNG Canada venture which involves LNG import giant Korea Gas Corporation, Mitsubishi and PetroChina.

    1. Woodside Wins B.C. Approval for Grassy Point LNG, Canada

      .......................Woodside joins an expansive list of industry proposals making strides in the province, many of which are already investing in B.C.’s natural-gas sector and boosting local economies. There are currently more than 10 LNG project proposals in British Columbia.

      On Jan. 16, 2014, the Government of British Columbia announced a sole proponent agreement with Woodside.

      The sole proponent agreement provides Woodside with the exclusive rights to pursue long-term Crown land tenure in the Grassy Point area.

      The agreement is for the southern parcel of Grassy Point, which covers 693.6 hectares of land, plus foreshore land equalling 243.9 hectares.

      Woodside will be examining the viability of constructing a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant and export terminal at this location.

      Under the agreement, Woodside will pay $4 million to the Province upon signing the sole proponent agreement. Another $6 million will be paid by Woodside on, or before, the first anniversary of the agreement, as long as the proponent wants the arrangement to continue, and a further $7 million is due on or before the second anniversary of the agreement.

      The right to acquire the land for construction or long-term use remains a matter of future negotiations and the Province will consult local First Nations. If the land is acquired by Woodside, the $17 million submitted to the Province will be subtracted from the final sale price.

      As part of the agreement, specific milestones must be achieved:
      ◾Woodside must obtain an export licence from Canada’s National Energy Board within the first year of the agreement.
      ◾Woodside must also submit Project Description – with Canada and with the Province British Columbia – to initiate the environmental assessment process.

      Development at Grassy Point is subject to various regulatory approvals and a final investment decision by Woodside.

    2. State of Alaska pays $5.75Bln for stake with majors in one of world's largest LNG plants

      Thursday, 16 January 2014

      The state of Alaska plans to pay $5.75 billion to join three oil majors and a Canadian pipeline company in the $45Bln South Central Alaska LNG project described as the largest in the world.

    3. Tremors Force Dutch to Cut Groningen Output

      .......................Residents, environmental activists and politicians have blamed onshore drilling in the area.

      In a statement sent to Rigzone, the Dutch government said it has decided that production in those areas most at risk (near the town of Loppersum) will be reduced by 80 percent during the next three years. In addition, limits will be placed on total gas production from the Groningen field so that output will reduce to 42.5 billion cubic meters in 2014 and to 40 billion cubic meters in 2015. In 2013 production from the Groningen field reached nearly 54 billion cubic meters.

      The government has also agreed to make $1.6 billion (EUR 1.2 billion) available to reinforce homes and other buildings and strengthen infrastructure in Groningen province.

      "To ensure the safety of those living above the Groningen natural gas field, we are reducing production in those areas most at risk and limiting total production levels," Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs Henk Kamp said in a statement.

      "We are taking measures to prevent damage where possible and to streamline the process of damage compensation. And in partnership with stakeholders, we will improve economic prospects in the region and boost quality of life."

      In a separate statement, Royal Dutch Shell plc said: "We are aware of the plan that the Dutch Minister of Economic Affairs proposes for the future gas production of the Groningen field including specific measures on how to address the concerns of local communities."

      Shell and ExxonMobil each hold a 50-percent stake in the Groningen field.

  3. Frequency of ship engine noise 'almost the same' as that of whale calls

    Ships passing by the Great Barrier Reef could disrupt whales' ability to call out to one another, a study has found.

    James Cook University researchers used a large underwater microphone to record sounds at a reef off Townsville for three months last year.

    Professor Colin Simpfendorfer, who recently analysed the recordings, said three main sounds could be heard.

    These were weather-related background noises, whale calls and marine life sounds, and the rumble of ship engines.

    ''The [low-frequency] noise created by the vessels is about the same as that used by whales to communicate,'' he said.

    Professor Simpfendorfer said that as the research was only in its early stages he could not be sure what effect engine sounds had on whales.

    ''But one of the things we've wanted to highlight is that increasing traffic may in the future lead to concerns,'' he said.

    He said that if the noises became significantly louder they could disrupt the whales' ability to communicate over long distances. ''They use the sound to co-ordinate family groups, communicate with calves, those sorts of things,'' he said.

    Jill Perry, who has run tour firm Hervey Bay Whale Watch for almost three decades, said boat engines did not seem to affect the mammals.

    ''The engines of the boats seem to attract the whales because I think they know they're not in any danger [while they're in Hervey Bay],'' she said.

    Professor Simpfendorfer said little research had been carried out on how the noises made by ships affected whales. He hoped for more funding that would help researchers better understand the issue.


    Tim Flannery in call to honour Aborigines killed in land wars

    Tim Flannery, Australian of the Year in 2007, has expressed his ''personal sense of outrage'' that Aboriginal warriors who fought and died defending their lands and people against white settlers are ignored by the Australian War Memorial.

    In any other war, they would have been awarded the Victoria Cross, Professor Flannery told a forum of the National Australia Day Council. But at official sites, they are not even acknowledged, let alone honoured.

    ''They're up there with the 300 Spartans,'' Professor Flannery said, referring to the 480 BC Battle of Thermopylae, when an outnumbered Greek force including 300 Spartans held off up to 150,000 Persians.

    They should be commemorated in the Australian War Memorial or have their own memorial, he said, but instead their bones were consigned to museum vaults.

    Professor Flannery was on a panel debating the meaning of Australia Day and whether the lyrics of Advance Australia Fair reflected the realities of contemporary Australia.

    He referred to documented massacres during the settlement of Australia when Aboriginal men stood their ground to be mowed down ''hour after hour just to give their women and children the chance to get away''.

    But even calling the century-long conflict between indigenous Australians and white settlers over land a war remains controversial in the ''history wars''. Historian Henry Reynolds said national reconciliation is impossible until Australia acknowledges what he calls the ''Forgotten War''.

    Shelley Reys, a Djirribul woman and vice-president of the National Australia Day Council, said most indigenous Australians felt the lack of acknowledgement, but it was ''just one of many areas where they are unacknowledged''.

    She said this stemmed from the days before the 1967 referendum when indigenous Australians were not officially citizens but were treated by governments as part of the ''flora and fauna''.

  4. What a time for California to be starting the biggest fracking operation for oil .


    Severe Drought Grows Worse In California

    NORDEN, Calif. — Cattle ranchers have had to sell portions of their herd for lack of water. Sacramento and other municipalities have imposed severe water restrictions. Wildfires broke out this week in forests that are usually too wet to ignite. Ski resorts that normally open in December are still closed; at one here in the Sierra Nevada that is open, a bear wandered onto a slope full of skiers last week, apparently not hibernating because of the balmy weather.

    On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown made it official: California is suffering from a drought, perhaps one for the record books. The water shortage has Californians trying to deal with problems that usually arise in midsummer.

    With little snow in the forecast, experts are warning that this drought, after one of the driest years on record last year, could be as disruptive as the severe droughts of the 1970s.

    Under state law, that would allow the governor to “waive laws or regulations and expedite some funding,” said Jeanine Jones, deputy drought manager for the State Department of Water Resources. “It does not create a new large pot of money for drought response or make federal funding available.”


    Signs of drought are everywhere, affecting vast sectors of the economy. A sense of dread is building among farmers, many whom have already let fields go fallow. Without more water, an estimated 200,000 acres of prime agriculture land will go unplanted in Fresno County, according to Westlands Water District officials. Cattle ranchers accustomed to letting cows graze on rain-fed grass have had to rely on bought hay or reduce their herds.


    California gets much of its water from the snowpack of the Sierra Nevada, so towns like this one have a front-row view of the problem. The base at Donner Ski Ranch, a family-owned resort with limited snow-making capacity, was less than a foot of snow this week. Usually, it would be several feet deep in January, like other resorts in the Sierra.

    Near Sacramento, the Folsom Lake reservoir’s level has fallen so much that remnants of a Gold Rush-era ghost town are now visible. The San Juan Water District, which serves communities near Sacramento and relies on water from Folsom Lake, has asked customers to reduce their water usage by 20 percent and in some areas cease all outdoor watering. Santa Cruz, some 75 miles south of San Francisco, banned restaurants from providing customers with drinking water unless it is requested. In Glendora, near Los Angeles, but also in Humboldt County in far Northern California, firefighters have been battling wildfires that normally do not happen during the winter.

    “We still have extreme fire conditions throughout the state in January,” said Dennis Mathisen, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “This is definitely not the norm for us.”

    The snowpack plays a critical part in what is one of the world’s most sophisticated and complex water delivery systems, supplying water to more than 25 million people and the $44.7 billion agricultural industry. The snow that piles up on the Sierra Nevada’s 400-mile range during the winter acts as a reserve that starts to melt in the spring. The melting snow drains into rivers that feed reservoirs below, providing water to densely populated communities hundreds of miles south in Southern California.

    Given the snowpack’s significance to the state’s farmers and water boards, winter snow surveys are carried out monthly starting every January. In a ritual that often makes it onto the front pages of newspapers in California, the chief snow surveyor, Frank Gehrke, measures the depth of the snowpack every month by plunging aluminum tubes into the same spot along Highway 50 in the Sierra.

    After the survey this month, the Department of Water Resources said that the snowpack was only 20 percent of the historical average.

  5. Shell's profit warning linked to cost of drilling in Arctic waters

    Sources say financial writedowns come from costs associated with the Alaskan drilling operation

    The costs of a trouble-prone drilling programme in Arctic waters off Alaska have contributed to Shell being forced to issue a shock profit warning which has shaken investor confidence.

    Shares in the Anglo-Dutch oil group slumped in early trading after its newly-installed chief executive admitted that fourth quarter earnings would be around 70% lower than the same period last year.

    "Our 2013 performance was not what I expected from Shell," Ben van Beurden said. "Our focus will be on improving Shell's financial results, achieving better capital efficiency and on continuing to strengthen our operational performance and project delivery."

    Shell made no mention of mishaps in the Arctic but admitted that its American exploration business had made a loss. And sources said that financial writedowns had come from dry wells and costs associated with the Alaskan operation.

    The group was only able to engage in a vastly reduced Arctic drilling programme in the Chukchi sea rather than the wider scheme in the Beaufort sea after equipment failures and a rig grounding during 2012 which continue to cost it money.

    Shell is estimated to have spent $5bn (£3m) in the region over recent years without any tangible result so far and it is struggling to convince safety regulators that it should be allowed to drill in the Chukchi this summer.

    The company also blamed higher exploration costs, security problems in Nigeria and heavier than expected maintenance work on its liquefied natural gas business, as well as a high dollar, for its lower profits.

    Fourth quarter earnings on a current cost of supplies basis are now expected to be around $2.2bn while the annual result will be $16.8bn compared with $27.2bn before. The results are due to be released on 30 January.

  6. Can't help but wonder what Abbott would be saying about all this if Labour were still in?


    SBY felt betrayed by 'best friend' Tony

    ..................But in the book, Dr Yudhoyono makes it clear Mr Abbott's handling of the affair and his refusal to apologise over the furore had caused the most significant damage to the bilateral relationship in recent times, and had also hurt him personally.


    "When my best friend Tony Abbott made several statements before the Australian parliament suggesting the case was normal and refused to apologise, I could no longer stay silent," Dr Yudhoyono wrote in the book.

    In what is perhaps another telling pointer to the level of resentment felt by the president, the 900-page book's release, initially scheduled for December, was delayed, allowing for the addition of a chapter dedicated to the spying row, which was headed: "A leader has to be firm, but remain rational".


    Australian breach of Indonesian territorial waters angers Jakarta

    Jakarta has demanded an immediate halt to asylum-seeker boat turnbacks and announced it will send a navy frigate to bolster its southern defences after Australian ships repeatedly breached Indonesian territorial waters.

    In a dramatic escalation of the standoff over border protection, Indonesia drew a line in the sand on Friday, saying it would step up its own maritime patrols in a move that could heighten the risk of confrontation.

    ''The government of Indonesia has the right to protect its sovereignty and territorial integrity in accordance with international laws and the charter of the United Nations,'' said Agus Barnas, the spokesman for the Co-ordinating Ministry of Political, Legal and Security Affairs.


    Coalition's ‘stopping the boats’ strategy taking on water

    In an information blackout, it's hard to see exactly where Operation Sovereign Borders is going

    .......................The latest consequence is likely to be for the already strained relationship with Indonesia. Having insisted it would never, ever breach Indonesia’s territorial sovereignty, the navy suddenly realised Wednesday afternoon that it had, by accident, quite a few times. Putting aside the slightly disconcerting revelation that navy ships don’t always know where they are, this deeply embarrassing woopsie highlights the diplomatic dangers of deploying frigates and patrol boats along a sensitive maritime border in a “war” against leaky fishing boats.

    And we now have credible reports from asylum seekers that they have been towed back to the maritime border and left there with only enough fuel to get back to Indonesia in Australian-bought lifeboats with Australian-provided navigation equipment – which apparently doesn’t amount to a technical breach of sovereignty, but which Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa has understandably said is a “slippery slope”.

    (Morrison’s Lt Gen Angus Campbell confirmed the lifeboats had been bought, but he and Morrison won’t confirm widespread reports they bought 16 or how many they have left. This is apparently so people smugglers won’t know when the navy has run out, unless of course they can read, and count.)


    Commission of audit likely little more than bottom-covering exercise

    Audit will make suggestions Coalition will politely decline and a few it will accept – all to 'fix Labor’s mess' of course

    .......................There are no commissioners from the welfare or community sector, for a start. Neither its report nor the submissions it receives will be made public until after the government has already decided its response. Its timetable is rushed. No hearings are being held in public. The terms of reference are all about spending cuts rather than what’s wrong with the tax base (the tax system is to be reviewed separately) and the government has ruled out changes to the GST, despite the revenue side of the budget being a big part of the problem.

  7. Tony Abbott becomes a slow-talking PM

    ....................His media interviews dropped from 216 words per minute to 108 words per minute.

    ''That's a huge difference,'' Dr Madill said. ''Now in response to an interview question he's speaking at half the rate.

    ''I look at his rate of speech now and I think, 'He's got a lot of time to think about what he'll say next,' and repetition is a very good strategy to buy yourself time. If you can't think what you're going to say next, just repeat what you said before.''

    But she warned that the Prime Minister's transformation had gone too far. ''There is always a balance between authority and spontaneity, but the hard part is you risk losing the sense of who you are, and that was what Julia Gillard suffered from. I think he's now on a par with her wooden presentation style, and Gillard didn't have nearly as many repetitions. He has to find a balance because I think he's starting to drift towards a presentation that is so controlled and so managed that he risks his listener switching off, he's becoming a puppet.''


    ACTU accuses Abbott of bowing to big business

    .................''The Coalition are not taking ownership of decision-making but instead outsourcing it to their big business friends,'' Ms Kearney said.

    ''It is a grievous failure of leadership to give big business a free-for-all with exclusive rights to advise the government to the exclusion of all other sections of the community.''


    Aid groups accuse Coalition of broken promise after it announces new cuts

    All funding for environment programs to end, as Coalition focuses aid on countries it needs to support its asylum policy

    ......................Julia Newton Howes, chief executive of Care Australia, said her organisation had lost $500,000 from a $20m budget this year.

    “This is for aid we had already programmed this financial year. We are now going to have to scramble to work out where we can cut,” she said.

    Newton Howes, who is also vice-president of the Australian Council for International Development (Acfid) said it was “particularly disappointing that the government is making cuts it promised it would not make before the election”.

    The government has minimised cuts for countries in the region and those involved in its asylum policy.

    Aid funding to Indonesia is $532m, almost $50m more than it received last year, but about $60m less than promised by Labor. The $448m promised to Papua New Guinea has been retained. Nauru’s funding has also stayed the same.

    The International Labor Organisation will now get no funding from Australia and detailed tables show international environmental programs, already pared back under Labor, will now also get no money.

  8. Abbott / Cameron & Crosby / Textor.


    Emails reveal UK helped shale gas industry manage fracking opposition

    Government officials accused of cheerleading for fracking by sharing 'lines to take' and meeting for post-dinner drinks

    Shale gas executives and government officials collaborated in private to manage the British public's hostility to fracking, emails released under freedom of information rules reveal.

    Officials shared pre-prepared statements with the industry last year before major announcements and hosted high-level dinners with "further discussion over post-dinner drinks", while the industry shared long lists of "stakeholders" to be targeted. Critics said the government was acting as an arm of the gas industry" and was guilty of cheerleading, but officials defended the discussionsaid facilitating discussions was "right and proper" as "right and proper".

    This week David Cameron said the government was "going all out for shale" and announced financial incentives for councils and local communities, labelled bribes by opponents. There have been major protests against fracking at sites across the country, and a Guardian poll last summer showed the public evenly split for and against shale gas wells near them.

    The emails, sent throughout 2013, are often chatty, with summer holidays discussed, and in one case the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc) apologises to the UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG): "Sorry to raise your blood pressure on this subject again, no expletives please!" following a discussion of contentious policy points. In another email, UKOOG's chief executive, Ken Cronin, tells Duarte Figueira, head of Decc's office of unconventional gas and oil: "Thanks for a productive meeting (it's like being set homework)."

    Decc emailed what it called "lines to take" to UKOOG before the publication of a review by Public Health England of the potential public health effects of chemical and radioactive pollutants from fracking. One such line was: "We are confident that there is robust and appropriate regulation in the UK to ensure safe operations that minimise impacts to human health."

    Another email, from the big six energy company Centrica to Decc officials, warned that Lancashire county council was far from convinced about the level of regulation. Centrica, which spent £100m on a 25% share of Cuadrilla's fracking operation in the county, said: "The most common theme [of a county council meeting] was that separate onshore regulation is needed of shale, they clearly don't feel totally comfortable with the current situation/or understand how it will work."

    Cameron has rejected the need for specific shale gas regulations and has seen off EU proposals for binding rules for shale gas exploration.

    Centrica also met Decc to discuss "managing national and local stakeholders", and shared a list of stakeholders, as did IGas, the company facing fracking protests in Salford. In another email, Centrica told Decc it was planning to line up academics to make its case: "Our polling shows academics are the most trusted sources of information to the public, so we are looking at ways to work with the academic community to present the scientific facts around shale." Decc told Centrica the discussions between the two were "really useful".

  9. Abbott / Cameron & Crosby / Textor.


    Emails reveal UK helped shale gas industry manage fracking opposition

    Government officials accused of cheerleading for fracking by sharing 'lines to take' and meeting for post-dinner drinks

    Centrica emailed Decc a figure of 74,000 potential jobs linked to shale gas development, a number later repeated by Cameron and ministers despite Decc's own study estimating a peak of 16,000 to 32,000 jobs.

    The emails also give further details of a dinner in May hosted bythe cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, at which senior civil servants and fracking executives met. The two-hour dinner, at the Preston Marriott, was to be followed by "further discussion over post-dinner drinks".

    A spokeswoman for Decc said: "Decc has working relationships with external partners across its portfolio and this is no different with regards to shale gas. It is right and proper that Decc facilitates discussions between companies, regulators and other interested parties as part of this. The government believes that shale gas has the potential to provide the UK with greater energy security, growth and jobs. We are encouraging safe and environmentally sound exploration to determine this potential."

    Cronin, of UKOOG, said: "Given the amount of regulatory and wider industry issues at present, you would expect Decc to have a fairly open dialogue with the industry trade body just as Decc has with environmental NGOs, as witnessed by the NGOs' input into the strategic environmental assessment announced in December."

    Lawrence Carter, energy campaigner at Greenpeace UK, which made the FOI requests now published by Decc, said: "Decc has again been revealed to be acting as an arm of the gas industry. The government are supposed to represent the interests of the public when they deal with these companies, but the evidence is piling up that they're all in it together." British Gas owner Centrica currently has an executive working within Decc on secondment.

    Shadow energy minister Tom Greatrex said shale gas could have a role to play in improving energy security, but added: "I would expect government to engage with key stakeholders, including businesses, but to do so in order to provide responsible leadership, not pliant cheerleading. It is increasingly concerning that Tory ministers seek to exaggerate the potential benefits of shale and dismiss genuine and legitimate concerns. The public would expect government to be challenging shale companies on their interaction with communities, not agreeing press lines with them."

    Green party MP Caroline Lucas said: "This is yet more evidence of the creepily cosy relationship between Decc and big energy. Apparently it's not enough to give fracking companies generous tax breaks, the government also has to help them with their PR. Instead of cheerleading for fracking, the government should be working with community and renewable energy to move us towards a low carbon future."

    A spokesman for Centrica said: "It is completely appropriate that we regularly meet with environmental NGOs, the energy regulator and Decc to discuss a range of issues from shale development to renewables. The information shared is all in the public domain."

    A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "The cabinet secretary regularly meets businesses from all sectors of the economy – these meetings are recorded and published in the usual way."

  10. Here's a great idea for cost cutting..............


    Engineer accused of stealing F-35 fighter secrets for Iran

    ........................Lockheed Martin - the company building the fighter and promising to the deliver the first Australian aircraft later this year - also declined to comment, other than to note it was co-operating fully with the investigation. Australia has committed to buying 14 of the US-built jets at a cost of $3.2 billion - with a further 58 under consideration - although the development is being plagued by delays, cost overruns and design faults.

    China has several times been accused of hacking computers containing sensitive features of the plane.

    Had the blueprints fallen into Iranian hands they almost certainly would have found their way to Russia and China - a potential fatal compromise as these countries manufacture the only aircraft the F-35A is likely to face in battle.

    Mr Khazaee's job on the Joint Strike Fighter project was to test the strength and durability for the turbine engine - along with that of another highly secretive fighter, the F-22 Raptor.

    A sealed affidavit by US Homeland Security officials, used to obtain an arrest warrant for him, has now been released by court order and gives a fascinating insight to his apparent plans to ship the documents to Iran - and how the scheme came unstuck.

    But the affidavit claims not to outline all the facts known in the case - only enough to lay charges - and does not allege Mr Khazaee was working under direction of Iran's government, but visited the country five times in the past seven years.

    It is also not clear whether he or others may have scanned electronic copies of the documents before the shipment was intercepted. According to the affidavit, in November Mr Khazaee sent the boxes by truck from Connecticut on the US east coast to California.

    His mistake appears to have been marking the shipment as destined for Iran - rather than a transit country - and it was selected for inspection by customs officials.

    While the container was marked ''House Hold Goods'', inspectors discovered the trove of sensitive reports described as ''voluminous documents and other material containing technical data''.

    Mr Khazaee had left his Connecticut home but was discovered by surveillance agents at a former residence in Indianapolis. The documents in his shipment had been marked with export restrictions and other classifications as the property of at least three defence contractors and it is unclear how they were smuggled out of the supposedly secure worksite.

    Investigators found Mr Khazaee's name written in red ink on at least one document, and estimated the value of one technical report at more than $350,000.

    He is alleged to have told the freight company he was shipping the boxes to his brother-in-law to hold for his return to Iran. If convicted, he faces at least 10 years in prison.

    Read more:

  11. Shale way too over - hyped.


    US Army colonel: world is sleepwalking to a global energy crisis

    Senior figures from industry, military and politics explore risks of financial chaos, oil depletion and climate catastrophe

    .....................Participants, who addressed one another via video link, consisted of retired military officers, security experts, senior industry executives, and politicians from the main parties - including two former UK ministers. According to US Army colonel Daniel Davis, a veteran of four tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, and regular contributor to the Armed Forces Journal:

    "We put the event together because the prevailing idea that we have a bright future of increasing oil and gas production that can sustain our current way of life indefinitely is based on a selective appraisal of the data. We brought together experts from across the spectrum, and with a wide range of opinions, to have a comprehensive look at all the relevant data. When you only look at certain things, like the very real resurgence of US oil and gas production, the picture looks fine. But when you dig deeper into the data, it becomes clear that this is only part of the picture. And the big picture proves that our current course cannot continue without significant risks."

    The dialogue opened with a presentation by Mark C. Lewis, former head of energy research at Deutsche Bank's commodities unit, who highlighted three interlinked problems facing the global energy system: "very high decline rates" in global production; "soaring" investment requirements "to find new oil"; and since 2005, "falling exports of crude oil globally."

    Lewis told participants that the International Energy Agency's (IEA) own "comprehensive" analysis in its World Energy Outlook of the 1,600 fields providing 70% of today's global oil supply, show "an observed decline rate of 6.2%" - double the IEA's stated estimate of future decline rate out to 2035 of about 3%.

    The IEA report also shows that despite oil industry investment trebling in real terms since 2000 (an increase of around 200-300%), this has translated into an oil supply increase of just 12%. Lewis said:

    "That is a very striking number and one I think that should be ringing alarm bells. It indicates to me that something has fundamentally changed in the economics of the oil industry and that you're having to invest more and more for diminishing incremental production."

    Lewis also referred to US Energy Information Administration (EIA) data showing that although global crude oil exports increased "year on year from 2001 to 2005", they "peaked in 2005 and have been trending down since 2009." Lewis attributed this trend to rapidly rising populations in the Middle East which has led to escalating domestic oil consumption, effectively eating into the quantity of oil available to export onto world markets.

    OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) populations since 2000 have increased at twice the rate of the world as a whole. This has driven them to increase their oil consumption four times faster, or by 56%, relative to the rest of the world.

    Such increases in domestic consumption, curtailing global exports, have been enabled by a corresponding increase in domestic subsidies, said Lewis. Fossil fuel subsidies have increased to $544 billion, nearly half of which amounted to oil subsidies dominated by Saudi Arabia and Iran.

    Against this consistent trend of rapidly declining oil exports, Lewis questioned the IEA's projection of an increase in global crude oil exports and imports from 35 to 38 million barrels a day out to 2035. He pointed out that if such domestic subsidies are removed by OPEC to facilitate increased exports, this would increase "the risk of greater domestic stress and social disorder", as already seen since the 'Arab spring'.

  12. Shale way too over - hyped.


    Lewis' presentation was complimented by geoscientist David Hughes, formerly of the Geological Survey of Canada, who cited a wealth of official data demonstrating that shale oil production is likely to peak around 2016-17. Similarly, US shale gas production has sustained a plateau for the last year that is unlikely to retain long-term sustainability due to spectacularly high decline rates, and because the vast majority of production comes from just two or three plays.

    The upshot is that continued dependence on fossil fuels is becoming increasingly expensive, with oil prices continuing to rise for the foreseeable future, impinging evermore on global economic growth. At worst, declining global exports point to a risk of an oil crunch that could, in turn, trigger another financial crash.

    Co-convener of the conference Leggett, author of the new book, The Energy of Nations, said:

    "It should not be forgotten that only a very few people warned that the financial incumbency had their particular comforting narrative catastrophically wrong, until the proof came along in the shape of the financial crash." According to Leggett, a global energy crisis is unlikely to "erupt fully until 2015 at the earliest."

    According to Lt. Col. Davis, scepticism of the oil industry's bullishness about future production is growing amongst senior Pentagon officials:

    "A lot of high-ranking officials are starting to ask exactly these hard questions about the sustainability of the current energy system. You've got to remember that for the military, it doesn't matter what you want to do. What matters is what you can do, and it's our top priority to make sure we understand potential limits to our operational capability. Even the EIA is forecasting that we could see a peak of shale production by 2018 followed by a plateau and decline, and the Pentagon knows this. But our transport infrastructure is totally dependent on liquid fuels. How are we going to sustain that infrastructure with these decline rates? That's why serious questions are being asked by high level US military officials as to what exactly the Army, as well as American society in general, is going to do to address this challenge."

    Dr Nafeez Ahmed is executive director of the Institute for Policy Research & Development and author of A User's Guide to the Crisis of Civilisation: And How to Save It among other books. Follow him on Twitter @nafeezahmed

  13. WTF !


    ‘Neglected Topic’ Winner: Climate Change

    HERE’S a scary fact about America: We’re much more likely to believe that there are signs that aliens have visited Earth (77 percent) than that humans are causing climate change (44 percent).

    That comes to mind because a couple of weeks ago, I asked readers for suggestions of “neglected topics” that we in the news business should cover more aggressively in 2014. Some 1,300 readers recommended a broad range of issues, which I look forward to pilfering (with credit!) — and many made a particularly compelling case for climate change.

    A reader from Virginia quoted James Hansen, the outspoken climate scientist: “Imagine a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth. That is the equivalent of what we face now.”

    Another reader, Daria, acknowledged that the topic isn’t sexy but added: “Whether we ‘believe in it’ or not, all species on Earth are being subject to frightening disruptions in our weather, food supply, land.”

    You would think that we would be more attentive, with the federal government a few days ago declaring parts of 11 states disaster areas because of long-term drought. More than 60 percent of California is now in extreme drought.

    Yet we in the news media manage to cover weather very aggressively, while we’re reticent on climate. Astonishingly, coverage of climate has actually declined in mainstream news organizations since peaking in 2007, according to the count of researchers at the University of Colorado. (Coverage did increase last year after a low in 2012.)

    The proportion of Americans who say they believe that global warming is real has fallen since 2007 as well, and climate beliefs have fallen victim to political polarization. In 1997, there was no significant gap between Republicans and Democrats in thinking about climate change. These days, 66 percent of Democrats say human activity is the main cause of global warming; 24 percent of Republicans say so.


    Kenya to generate over half of its electricity through solar power by 2016

    Government invests $1.2bn jointly with private companies to build solar power plants across the country


    Kenya has identified nine sites to build solar power plants that could provide more than half the country's electricity by 2016.

    Construction of the plants, expected to cost $1.2bn (£73m), is set to begin this year and initial design stages are almost complete. The partnership between government and private companies will see the state contributing about 50% of the cost.

    Cliff Owiti, a senior administrator at the Kenya Renewable Energy Association, said the move will protect the environment and bring down electricity costs. "We hope that when the entire project is completed by 2016, more than 50% of Kenya's energy production will consist of solar. Already we are witnessing solar investments in Kenya such as a factory that was opened here in 2011 that manufactures solar energy panels."

    He said that over $500m had already been invested in solar projects in Kenya. "The costs related with hydro electricity are very high, considering they are influenced by the low water levels in major supply dams. With high investments in solar, we will witness almost no blackouts and power charges will reduce because electricity will be in high supply."

    Germano Mwabu, an economics professor at the University of Nairobi, said the solar plan could have a dramatic impact on energy prices. "When the project is complete and solar is in good use, electricity costs could go down by as much as 80%."

    The country is also planning the construction of what will be sub-Saharan Africa's largest windfarm, near Lake Turkana, which is set to be operational by 2015.

    Kenya ranks 22nd in Africa for the amount of electricity it generates, and 46th in the world in the generation of solar energy. But it could rank third for solar in the next four years, according to figures from the Energy Regulatory Commission, a government agency.