Sunday, March 2, 2014

Watch Dateline, Fracked off Online |

Watch Dateline, Fracked off Online |

As Australia considers a natural gas future, what has been the experience in the US? Claims of health risks and depression, polluted rivers and contaminated water supplies, allegations of political intrigue and big business interference has led thousands onto the streets in protest. Dateline investigates the controversial coal seam gas mining known as Fracking.


  1. Adam Goodes decries muted response to John Pilger film Utopia

    ‘I find the silence about Utopia in mainstream Australia disturbing and hurtful,’ says Goodes, of film exploring Indigenous Australia

    The 2014 Australian of the year, Adam Goodes, has called the muted response to John Pilger’s latest film on Indigenous Australians disturbing, hurtful and embarrassing.

    Pilger’s film Utopia explores the state of Indigenous affairs in Australia, and revisits many of the locations and people he has visited over his years as a filmmaker. Over 4,000 people attended an open-air premiere of the film in Redfern, Sydney in January.

    Goodes, an Adnyamathanha man and AFL player who was named Australian of the year in January in recognition of his leadership and dedication to the Indigenous community, was critical of the response to the film in a Fairfax column on Monday.

    “When I watched Utopia for the first time, I was moved to tears. Three times. This film has reminded me that the great advantages I enjoy today – as a footballer and Australian of the Year – are a direct result of the struggles and sacrifices of the Aboriginal people who came before me,” he said. “Frankly, as a proud Adnyamathanha man, I find the silence about Utopia in mainstream Australia disturbing and hurtful. As an Australian, I find it embarrassing. I also see an irony, for Utopia is about telling the story of this silence.”

    Pilger told Guardian Australia that Utopia was one of the most urgent films he had ever made.

    “Utopia is long overdue. The so-called ‘intervention’ in 2007 was one of the most devastating setbacks suffered by Aboriginal people,” he said in an interview in January.

    “That Australian governments believe they can manipulate and discriminate against Aboriginal communities in a manner that has been described in the UN as ‘permissively racist’ is astonishing in the 21st century. How ironic that as Nelson Mandela was buried and venerated, another form of the system he fought against was alive and well in Australia.”

  2. Park body draft rejected reef dredge plan

    There will be a push in the Senate on Tuesday to revoke the approval of the Abbot Point coal port expansion.

    The Greens will ask for a vote after it was revealed the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) initially wanted to reject a plan to dump three million cubic metres of dredge spoil in the marine park over several years.

    In the draft report to the federal environment department - obtained by Greenpeace under the Freedom of Information - GBRMPA said the project had the potential to cause long-term, irreversible harm.

    But in January, it approved the plan, which will turn Abbot Point in north Queensland into one of the world's largest coal terminals.

    Greenpeace campaigner Louise Matthiesson says the organisation wasn't aware of any significant changes to the project which would justify a major change in GBRMPA's stance.

    When approving the application, GBRMPA imposed 47 conditions, which chairman Russell Reichelt says are the strictest conditions that have ever been put on a port development.

    He said the documents obtained under FOI were preliminary working drafts and were never submitted.

    "As such they do not represent the views of the agency," he said.

    "It's important to note that the draft permit assessment was conducted before stringent conditions ... were put in place by the environment minister."

    Mr Reichelt has previously said GBRMPA's preference was for the spoil to be dumped on land but the authority failed to persuade the North Queensland Bulk Ports Corporation to do so.

    However, he said land dumping was difficult given the port was surrounded by valuable wetland and bird habitats and the authority was satisfied with the offshore dumping plan.

    Environment minister Greg Hunt said he was advised the proposal put forward for offshore disposal was the best option available.

    "I was advised that the previous Labor government had already ruled out all other options," he said.

    Bulk Ports, which will undertake the dredging, has said it could possibly make the water cloudy during a short period and may damage seagrass but it's unlikely to affect other flora and fauna.

    They say dumping the spoil in the water will be less damaging to the environment than depositing it on land.

    But green groups argue they're opting to dump it at sea because it costs less.

  3. Senators reject bill to scrap Climate Change Authority

    THE first of the Abbott government bills to scrap the carbon tax has been defeated in the Senate.

    Legislation to dismantle the Climate Change Authority was knocked back in the upper house today by Labor and the Australian Greens.

    It is the first bill in a package designed to unwind the Gillard government’s clean energy laws, and has been the subject of protracted debate in the Senate.

    The bill was amended by Labor senator Louise Pratt, who wanted to include the Senate’s concerns about what impact scrapping the authority could have on independent climate science.

    But a government effort to pass the amended bill at its second reading stage was defeated 38 votes to 32.

    It will be three months before the bill can be reintroduced to the Senate, and a second rejection would be a trigger for a double dissolution.

    The move will frustrate the government, which has slammed Labor and the Greens for their “industrial go slow’’ in the Senate over the repeal bills.

    The Greens are already claiming victory, while environment groups are praising senators for keeping the authority temporarily alive.

    The Australian Conservation Foundation said the authority would now be able to continue its work until the new Senate takes over in July.

    “The Climate Change Authority is such an important body because it takes the politics out of setting climate policies,’’ spokeswoman Victoria McKenzie-McHarg said in a statement.

    Greens leader Christine Milne said Australia could continue to receive high quality independent advice on global warming and a rigorous review of the renewable energy target.

    “I am delighted that today the Senate has defeated Tony Abbott’s push to try and tear apart a science-based recommendation and go with his anti-science obsession,’’ she told reporters.

    Senator Milne said the government could bring this legislation back before the Senate in three months.

    “It will depend on the makeup of the Senate,’’ she said.

    If West Australians at the upcoming Senate election reduce the number of coalition senators, the Senate would then have the numbers to reject government efforts to remove Labor’s climate change legislation, she said.

    Environment Minister Greg Hunt said the Senate was snubbing voters following a clear Coalition commitment in the election campaign.

    “The Senate has snubbed the Australian people by voting against the abolition of the Climate Change Authority,’’ he said in a statement.

    “The government has a very clear mandate. The Australian people voted but Labor and the Greens think the election never happened.’’

    Mr Hunt told the lower house Labor was blocking a tax on basic state services with hospitals, schools and police all impacted by the carbon tax.

    “If the leader of the opposition wants action not talk, go to your senators, get them off strike and get our of the way.’’

  4. Great Barrier Reef: government website to justify dredging ‘not accurate’

    The site, aimed at correcting ‘false claims’ about Abbot Point decision, is just a political document, scientist says

    .............Brodie said the website made little mention of the impact of climate change and downplayed the sheer amount of spoil that would be placed onto the reef by the Abbot Point project and others in the future.

    “The average sediment coming from rivers onto the reef is 6m tonnes a year, so 5m from Abbot Point over three years isn’t an insignificant amount by any means,” he said. “The concern is the precedent because there’s a huge amount of dredging to come in Townsville, Cairns and Gladstone.

    “The [park authority] itself said there will be damage done to the corals and seagrasses. There are perfectly good other alternatives that would cause less damage, so why did we choose the most damaging? It’s a slap in the face to Unesco.”

    Unesco’s World Heritage Committee will decide whether the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger” in June, having previously warned the Australian government about levels of port development alongside the vast ecosystem.

    Felicity Wishart, a campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, told Guardian Australia that the Reef Facts site made glaring omissions about the state of the reef.

    “Dredging spoil can travel up to 80km, so the fact the nearest reef is 40km is largely irrelevant,” she said.

    “Clearly the community is up in arms about the threat to the reef. We can only conclude the Queensland government has heard those concerns and has sadly chosen to provide a website to mislead the community.

    “The reef is in the worst condition it has ever been in. This is on their watch and they need to take action.”


    Keystone XL protesters arrested after strapping selves to White House fence

    • Around 200 arrested in Sunday protest
    • Marchers mostly college students

    Police on Sunday arrested around 200 people who strapped themselves to the White House fence to protest the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

    The protesters were mostly college students who participated in a peaceful march that began at Georgetown University and ended outside the White House.

    The marchers chanted “climate justice now” and carried signs such as “don’t tarnish the Earth” in their efforts to convince President Barack Obama to reject the pipeline. They say it will contribute to global warming.

    Protesters were passionate but quite orderly. Police were waiting for them with buses and vans to speed the process. The protesters cheered as police warned them that blocking the sidewalk or strapping themselves to the fence would lead to their arrest.

  5. Newspoll figures show surge in support for Labor, Bill Shorten

    LABOR’S support is the highest it has been since Kevin Rudd was removed as prime minister in 2010, as tough budget talk on Medicare co-payments and lifting the retirement age seems to have pushed the Coalition and Tony Abbott to their worst position since the election.

    The ALP’s primary vote support of 39 per cent - up four percentage points - has put Labor ahead in two-party-preferred terms, 54-46, a reversal of the result at the September election.

    Bill Shorten has also drawn virtually equal to Mr Abbott as preferred prime minister, on 37 per cent to Mr Abbott’s 38 per cent.

    Voter satisfaction with both leaders is the worst it has been since the election, with Mr Abbott’s dissatisfaction jumping seven percentage points to a high of 52 per cent and dissatisfaction with Mr Shorten as Opposition Leader rising four points to a high of 39 per cent.

    According to the latest Newspoll survey, conducted exclusively on the weekend for The Australian, the government’s primary vote dropped from 41 per cent two weeks ago to a post-election low of 39 per cent while Labor’s rose to 39 per cent, the highest it has been since mid-2010.

    Primary support for the Greens fell from 12 to 10 and remained unchanged on 12 per cent for independents and others.

    Full details in tomorrow’s The Australian.

  6. Molten salt storage gives push to US solar power

    Molten salt thermal energy storage, the technology that extends a solar power station’s daily operating life by up to six hours, is gathering momentum in the United States with the likely completion of a second utility-scale power plant later this year.

    The first large-scale plant to use molten salt storage, the $US2 billion Solana 280 MW parabolic trough plant near Gila Bend in Arizona, successfully passed commercial operation tests last October in what the project developer, Abengoa of Spain, called a “major accomplishment” for the concentrating solar power (CSP) industry.

    Arizona’s largest utility, Arizona Public Service, will buy all of Solana’s electricity output under a 30-year power purchase agreement with Abengoa.

    Solana’s thermal storage system, which stores heat generated during the day in tanks of molten salt and uses this at night to drive steam-powered turbines, can produce energy for six hours at maximum power after the sun goes down.

    Abengoa is not involved in the second project, known as Crescent Dunes, which is a 110 MW solar thermal tower plant with integrated molten salt storage at Tonopah in Nevada.

    The developer, California-based renewable energy company SolarReserve, announced on February 12 that it had entered the plant commissioning stage and said full commercial operation was scheduled for “later in 2014.”

    When completed, Crescent Dunes will produce 500,000 megawatt-hours annually of electricity, enough to power 75,000 homes during peak demand periods.

    Las Vegas-based power utility NV Energy will take all of the Crescent Dunes output under a 25-year power purchase agreement with SolarReserve.

    According to SolarReserve, when Crescent Dunes becomes operational it will be the world’s largest solar thermal plant with “fully integrated” energy storage. Work began on the plant in September 2011.

    “SolarReserve’s industry-leading solar thermal energy storage technology solves the intermittency issue that limits the use of other renewable energy projects, company CEO Kevin Smith said in a February 12 statement.

    Whatever the merits of competing claims about the biggest or best storage technology, Spain’s Abengoa is regarded as an industry leader in molten salt technology, having set up a pilot plant in January 2009 at its Solucar facility — Europe’s largest solar power complex — near Seville in January 2009.

  7. Molten salt storage gives push to US solar power

    Last month Abengoa announced it had won the tender to build a 110 MW solar power plant with molten salt storage in Chile’s Atacama Desert for the country’s Ministry of Energy and the Chilean economic development agency Corfo. It will be the first solar-thermal plant for direct electricity production in South America. Work on the plant is expected to start in the second half of this year, and according to Abengoa it will have 17.5 hours of storage capacity.

    The Atacama Desert has the highest solar radiation concentration in the world and is already known as a major lithium-producing areas through salt-pan evaporation.

    In a statement last month, Abengoa said the power plant in Chile would use solar-thermal tower technology similar to the Solana project.

    “A series of mirrors (heliostats) will track the sun on two axes, concentrating the solar radiation on a receiver on the upper part of the tower where the heat is transferred to the molten salts. The salts then transfer their heat in a heat exchanger to a water current to generate superheated and reheated steam, which feeds a turbine capable of generating around 110 MW of power,” it said.

    Like Abengoa’s Solana, the Crescent Dunes project in Nevada has a loan guarantee from the US Department of Energy. Private funding comes from SolarReserve and its partners, engineering and construction company ACS Cobra and the equity capital arm of Spanish banking group Santander.

    SolarReserve also hopes to start construction later this year on a 150 MW concentrating solar power plant with molten salt storage at the former Rice army airfield in Riverside County, California.

    The technology to heat molten salt was first demonstrated in the 1980s in France and the United States, but it is only in recent years that it has been used commercially. There are at least five 50 MW solar power plants using molten salt storage in Spain and another half dozen or more under construction there.

    However the world’s biggest operating solar thermal power facility, the 392 MW Ivanpah “power tower” plant in California developed jointly by BrightSource Energy, NRG Energy and Google, does not have a storage system. NRG announced in mid-February that the plant had reached commercial operation at the end of 2013. At full capacity its three 140-metre towers will generate enough electricity to power 140,000 Californian homes. Ivanpah uses 173,500 heliostats that follow the sun’s trajectory, aided by solar field integration software and a solar receiver steam generator.

    BrightSource has said previously it will look at using molten salt storage for future projects.

    Geoff Hiscock writes on international business and is the author of “Earth Wars: The Battle for Global Resources,” published by Wiley.