Trust us, we have honest faces …


British Police Investigating $1.3 Billion Shell, ENI Nigerian Oil Corruption

By John Daly | Mon, 29 July 2013 22:32 |

The British police are probing an allegation that a $1.3 billion Nigerian oil bloc deal involving Royal Dutch Shell and Italy’s Eni SpA may have involved money laundering. Most of the money was allegedly paid to a company linked with Nigeria’s former Minister of Petroleum Dan Etete. Nigerian President General Sani Abacha appointed Etete Minister of Petroleum in March 1995 and he served in that role until 1998, when he went into exile following Abacha’s death. In 2007 Etete was convicted of money laundering in France.

Last week a British High Court issued a judgment, Shell and its by-then-partner ENI paid the federal government $1.3 billion, including a $207 million signature bonus paid into a government account, in return for the right to operate the offshore OPL 245 bloc concession. A Shell subsidiary paid the signature bonus, and an ENI subsidiary paid the $1.1 billion balance. The court further ruled that convicted felon Etete should pay at least $110.5 million to Emeka Obi, the owner of Energy Venture Partners for helping him facilitate the sale of OPL-245.

According to the tangled story presented in court, Etete had in his capacity as Minister of Petroleum in the Abacha administration in 1998 awarded the OPL 245 concession to Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd, a company in which he allegedly had interest, for a payment of $2 million. Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd was registered on 24 April 1998, five days before Etete awarded OPL 245 to the firm. Three months later Abacha died.

Abacha’s son Mohammed and other Abacha cronies were also alleged to be shareholders in the company. After Abacha’s death the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo subsequently cancelled the concession, considering the transaction was lacking transparency and due process. Scrutiny of Etete’s activities as Oil Minister increased when the Obasanjo administration filed a complaint with international financial review agencies asking for help in tracing over $386 million that disappeared from the Central Bank of Nigeria from 1994 to 1998, adding that another $800 million was missing, with Abacha family members strongly suspected to have profited from the theft of the funds. During the subsequent investigation, millions of dollars in Switzerland, France, Gibraltar, the British Virgin Islands and several other tax havens traced accounts held by Etete. Etete told investigators that he was one of the largest ship-owners in Nigeria but that the corruption accusations against him were initiated by Obasanjo in an effort to deprive him of the OPL 245 oil bloc concession which Abacha awarded to his Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd.

During the London court proceedings Etete told the court in a breach of contract suit brought against him over the sale of the OPL 245 oil bloc that he only made $250 million working as a consultant for Malabu Oil and Gas Ltd., testifying, “I put my blood, I put my life into this oil bloc,” even as he denied ownership of OPL245. When presented with a transcript of a recording where he said, “It’s my bloc,” Etete claimed that the transcript was inaccurate.

In London a police spokesman speaking on condition of anonymity said, “The Metropolitan Police’s Proceeds of Corruption Unit is investigating allegations of money laundering related to the oil bloc.”

The U.K. based energy campaign organization Global Witness director Simon Taylor said, “From Global Witness’s point of view, the decision before Court effectively came down to whether or not to give cash to a crook who had stolen the block worth over a billion dollars from the Nigerian people, or to the middleman who claims he brokered the deal to sell it on.

Given that there are serious unanswered questions about the legality of OPL-245 deal, and the way it was put together, it is surely a scandal that the Court’s only consideration was where to send the money. The first question that should have been considered and fully investigated is to the legitimacy of the deal in the first place.”

By. John C.K. Daly of Oilprice.com

I just talked about this (July 30)


Referred to this case last night in a presentation to the NGK (Church) in Cape Town South Africa, (SHELL) were also present. I was talking about how many non-disclosure agreements conceal fracking pollution cases …

Confidential agreement should have been part of Washington County Marcellus Shale case record

Newly released transcript also reveals details of lifetime gag order on Hallowich family
July 31, 2013 12:20 pm

Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette
The Hallowich family on a hillside on their property in 2010.
 By Don Hopey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A just-released Washington County Common Pleas Court transcript of a 2011 settlement hearing in a Marcellus Shale damage case shows the case records should have included a confidential settlement agreement and reveals details of an unusual lifetime “gag order” that covers two children involved in the case.

According to the 16-page transcript, then-Washington County Judge Paul Pozonsky approved sealing the court records with the settlement agreement “attached thereto” during a private hearing held to settle the claims of Chris and Stephanie Hallowich against Range Resources, Williams Gas/Laurel Mountain Midstream and Markwest Energy.

The Hallowiches, long-time critics of shale gas drilling, claimed that Marcellus Shale gas development — including four wells, gas compressor stations and a 3-acre wastewater impoundment — adjacent to their 10-acre farm in Mount Pleasant, Washington County, damaged the family’s health and the value of their property.

The Hallowiches signed an affidavit as a condition of the settlement that stated their family’s health was not damaged by the gas operations. Matt Pitzarella, a Range Resources spokesman, said today that the family was not forced to sign the affidavit.

“All of the reports done at the time indicated no exposure (from the gas development) and they never produced evidence of any health impacts,” Mr. Pitzarella said.

“We did say that clearly the Hallowiches were not in an ideal situation in terms of their lifestyle. They had an unusual amount of activity around them. We didn’t want them in that situation.”

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and the Washington Observer-Reporter successfully petitioned the court to unseal all of the Hallowich case records, but when more than 900 pages of records were released in March, the confidential settlement agreement was missing from the file.

“This shows clearly the settlement agreement was part of the record,” said Frederick Frank, an attorney representing the Post-Gazette.

The hearing transcript, which provides details of the $750,000 settlement paid to the family, shows the Hallowiches reluctantly agreed to the terms of the settlement to remove their children from what they considered an unhealthy environment.

They also raised questions about how a lifetime “gag order,” as the judge called it, included in the settlement that required the entire family to never discuss Marcellus Shale or fracking would be enforced against their then 7-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.

According to the transcript, the Hallowiches’ attorney, Peter Villari, said that in 30 years of practicing law he never had seen a nondisclosure agreement that included minor children.

And, although he advised the Hallowiches to accept the settlement, he questioned whether the children’s First Amendment rights could be restricted by such an agreement.

Judge Pozonsky, who has since resigned, responded that he didn’t know, adding, “That’s a law school question, I guess.”

James Swetz, the attorney representing Range Resources at the settlement hearing, then is quoted as saying, “I guess our position is it does apply to the whole family. We would certainly enforce it.”

Mr. Pitzarella said today that Mr. Swetz’s comment about enforcing the nondisclosure agreement “is not our understanding, not something we agree with.”

Mr. Swetz could not be reached for comment.

Although the settlement hearing, from which reporters from the Post-Gazette were barred, occurred in August 2011, almost two years ago, a transcript of the hearing was not produced until Mr. Frank requested it last month.

Washington County Common Pleas President Judge Debbie O’Dell Seneca ordered release of the transcript, which was scheduled to be filed this morning with the Washington County prothonotary.

The release of the transcript does not settle the case. Range and Markwest have appealed, to state Superior Court, the order unsealing the records.

But Mr. Frank said, “We believe the transcript fully supports our position that the actual settlement agreement between the plaintiffs and defendants was part of the court record, and moreover it was reviewed by the court, which held extensive discussions regarding its terms.

“The agreement should be returned to the record as clearly indicated, and as a judicial record should be made available to the public.”

Don Hopey: dhopey@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1983.
First Published July 31, 2013 7:00 am

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/local/washington/confidential-agreement-should-have-been-part-of-washington-county-marcellus-shale-case-record-697530/#ixzz2aeY5J8t3

No hot air here …


By ANTHONY R. INGRAFFEA
Published: July 28, 2013

ITHACA, N.Y. — MANY concerned about climate change, including President Obama, have embraced hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. In his recent climate speech, the president went so far as to lump gas with renewables as “clean energy.”

As a longtime oil and gas engineer who helped develop shale fracking techniques for the Energy Department, I can assure you that this gas is not “clean.” Because of leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, the gas extracted from shale deposits is not a “bridge” to a renewable energy future — it’s a gangplank to more warming and away from clean energy investments.

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, though it doesn’t last nearly as long in the atmosphere. Still, over a 20-year period, one pound of it traps as much heat as at least 72 pounds of carbon dioxide. Its potency declines, but even after a century, it is at least 25 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. When burned, natural gas emits half the carbon dioxide of coal, but methane leakage eviscerates this advantage because of its heat-trapping power.

And methane is leaking, though there is significant uncertainty over the rate. But recent measurements by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at gas and oil fields in California, Colorado and Utah found leakage rates of 2.3 percent to 17 percent of annual production, in the range my colleagues at Cornell and I predicted some years ago. This is the gas that is released into the atmosphere unburned as part of the hydraulic fracturing process, and also from pipelines, compressors and processing units. Those findings raise questions about what is happening elsewhere. The Environmental Protection Agency has issued new rules to reduce these emissions, but the rules don’t take effect until 2015, and apply only to new wells.

A 2011 study from the National Center for Atmospheric Research concluded that unless leaks can be kept below 2 percent, gas lacks any climate advantage over coal. And a studyreleased this May by Climate Central, a group of scientists and journalists studying climate change, concluded that the 50 percent climate advantage of natural gas over coal is unlikely to be achieved over the next three to four decades. Unfortunately, we don’t have that long to address climate change — the next two decades are crucial.

To its credit, the president’s plan recognizes that “curbing emissions of methane is critical.” However, the release of unburned gas in the production process is not the only problem. Gas and oil wells that lose their structural integrity also leak methane and other contaminants outside their casings and into the atmosphere and water wells. Multipleindustry studies show that about 5 percent of all oil and gas wells leak immediately because of integrity issues, with increasing rates of leakage over time. With hundreds of thousands of new wells expected, this problem is neither negligible nor preventable with current technology.

Why do so many wells leak this way? Pressures under the earth, temperature changes, ground movement from the drilling of nearby wells and shrinkage crack and damage the thin layer of brittle cement that is supposed to seal the wells. And getting the cement perfect as the drilling goes horizontally into shale is extremely challenging. Once the cement is damaged, repairing it thousands of feet underground is expensive and often unsuccessful. The gas and oil industries have been trying to solve this problem for decades.

The scientific community has been waiting for better data from the E.P.A. to assess the extent of the water contamination problem. That is why it is so discouraging that, in the face of industry complaints, the E.P.A. reportedly has closed or backed away from several investigations into the problem. Perhaps a full E.P.A. study of hydraulic fracturing and drinking water, due in 2014, will be more forthcoming. In addition, drafts of an Energy Department study suggest that there are huge problems finding enough water for fracturing future wells. The president should not include this technology in his energy policy until these studies are complete.

We have renewable wind, water, solar and energy-efficiency technology options now. We can scale these quickly and affordably, creating economic growth, jobs and a truly clean energy future to address climate change. Political will is the missing ingredient. Meaningful carbon reduction is impossible so long as the fossil fuel industry is allowed so much influence over our energy policies and regulatory agencies. Policy makers need to listen to the voices of independent scientists while there is still time.

Anthony R. Ingraffea is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell University and the president of Physicians, Scientists and Engineers for Healthy Energy, a nonprofit group.

A version of this op-ed appeared in print on July 29, 2013, on page A17 of the New York edition with the headline: Gangplank To a Warm Future.

Shell Oil Co. dodges its responsibility


Carson to declare emergency stemming from Carousel tract contamination

Posted:   07/19/2013 07:30:07 PM PDT
Updated:   07/19/2013 07:40:47 PM PDT

 

Residents of the Carousel tract and the City of Carson have filed a legal complaint against Shell Oil Co. for pollution in the 50-acre neighborhood. Teenagers pass by gloomy Carousel tract signs at Lomita Boulevard and Neptune Avenue in Carson. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

Carson is on the verge of declaring a local emergency to spur more rapid cleanup of its environmentally contaminated Carousel housing tract, which sits on a former oil tank farm that left untold amounts of petroleum just a few feet below the neighborhood’s 285 homes.

The city filed a claim for damages this week in Los Angeles Superior Court, alleging that Shell Oil Co. is trespassing and creating a public nuisance that is causing injury. On Thursday night, council members told staff to prepare an emergency resolution seeking immediate remediation of the problem.

“Five years is long enough,” Councilman Mike Gipson said. “The people of Carousel tract need some

Residents of the Carousel tract and the city of Carson have filed a legal complaint against Shell Oil Co. for pollution in the 50-acre neighborhood. Many residents of the tract have signs in front of their homes to show their solidarity. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

answers now. When will this be resolved? And how? No one is answering that. Everyone is passing the buck while people’s lives are hanging in the balance. It’s not fair.” 

It isn’t clear how the regulatory agency overseeing the cleanup — the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board — will respond to Carson’s declaration. Officials have known about the problem for five years and, as it stands now, actual cleanup won’t begin until next year at the earliest.

“It’s really expressing the city’s concern about the state of the current environmental investigation,” Carson Planning Officer Sheri Repp-Loadsman said. “We’re looking at the best ways to use the (local emergency)

resolution as a tool.” 

The council will consider adopting the emergency resolution at or before its Aug. 6 meeting, Repp-Loadsman said.

Two years ago, the regional water board ordered Shell to clean the soil to a depth of 10 feet below the residential community. Since then, the company has conducted extensive testing inside homes and below ground to determine whether the oil is turning into hazardous vapors.

No one disputes that cancer-causing benzene, explosive methane and other hazardous compounds are present in the abandoned oil waste. But while Shell’s testers argue the chemicals don’t pose major health risks, residents and the investigators representing them say that people and pets have become sick and died from a spectrum of illnesses as a result of living in the community.

The oil was discovered during soil testing in 2008 near the 50-acre community on the city’s southernmost boundary, near Wilmington. Soon after it was found, Shell investigators began tests to determine how bad the contamination was.

The crude stems from the tank farm that occupied the land from the 1920s through 1966, when construction began on the Carousel tract. Shell used the area to store crude oil and, when the company vacated the property, it demolished oil reservoirs and left the rubble and waste petroleum in the ground. Though the tanks reached a below-ground depth of roughly 10 feet, the oil has leaked at least 50 feet below ground, investigators said.

 

Residents of the Carousel tract and the city of Carson have filed a legal complaint against Shell Oil Co. for pollution in the 50-acre neighborhood. Children play on Marbella Avenue near home with sign indicating the toxic nature of the neighborhood. (Robert Casillas / Staff Photographer)

Since 2008, residents have been warned not to let their children play in backyards. Rigorous testing has temporarily displaced homeowners while investigators take over their homes to test the air quality and sub-slab vapors. In the past year, Shell’s pilot tests have dug up front yards, exposing smelly, oil-soaked soil. The water board has required Shell to submit a so-called Remedial Action Plan by the end of this year to outline the steps it will take to clean the soil and its time line. The actual cleanup is scheduled to begin once the water board approves that plan.

However, attorneys representing the residents and the city argue that Shell’s tentative plan to clean soil to a depth of 10 feet below some homes — and only on land that isn’t developed — is extremely flawed.

The July 16 complaint was filed on behalf of the city by Girardi and Keese, the same law firm representing residents suing Shell. Girardi and Keese and its investigator, Erin Brockovich, battled PG&E in a contamination case involving the desert town of Hinkley, Calif., that was dramatized in a 2000 feature film.

The complaint demands “full and total abatement of the contamination down to approximately 40 feet below the Carousel neighborhood.”

Bob Finnerty, an attorney with Girardi and Keese, said several complaints have already been filed on behalf of 1,008 clients who say they have been physically and financially harmed by living in the neighborhood.

“The soil is contaminated down to 50 feet,” Finnerty said. “The water board is exploring the removal of 10 feet to determine whether or not that would be sufficient. The reality is that would be a simple Band-Aid procedure and, in a few years, residents would have the identical problem of vapor intrusion into their homes.”

 

sandy.mazza@dailybreeze.com

@sandymazza on Twitter

Disposable oil & gas workers


 

Disposable workers of the oil and gas fields

If you don’t have a college degree, it’s the best job in the West. Unless you die, unnoticed.

FEATURE STORY – From the April 02, 2007 issueBy Ray Ring

Ray Ring received recognition in three national journalism contests for this story. He won the Sidney Hillman Foundation Award for magazine reporting, which is for journalism promoting social and economic justice. He was also a finalist for the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award and received an Honorable Mention Heywood Broun Award.

“You’re going to obtain a job. You have to maintain a job,” a Wyoming judge told Joe Laster. “You have the ability to work. You’re a big, strapping young man.”

The judge’s order came on Oct. 31, 2002, in a utilitarian district courtroom on a hilltop in Gillette, a city of 23,000 surrounded by coalbed methane fields and coal mines. Many people in Gillette survive on energy-related jobs, to the degree that the city’s seal, displayed on its trucks and letterhead, boasts, “The Energy Capital of the Nation.” But like most everywhere in America, some people in Gillette also support themselves by selling drugs, and Joe Laster, then 24 years old, had been caught dealing baggies of methamphetamine.

The pre-sentence report, supplemented with information from Laster’s family, sketches his path to that point: He’d lived in a half-dozen states as his parents drifted from job to job in the construction industry, mostly calling an 8-by-45-foot camper trailer home. He’d dropped out of high school, held spotty employment in gas fields and drywalling, had a 2-year-old daughter whose mother he didn’t marry and a rap sheet of 18 misdemeanors, from driving offenses to drugs to booze. He was known on some street corners as “crankhead Joey” and was residing in a campground at the time of his arrest.

The judge and the prosecutor gave Joe Laster a chance to straighten out: In a plea deal, he was put on four to nine years of probation, to be served, at his request, in the state’s local community corrections center, a low-slung, humorless building in an industrial zone on Gillette’s south side. If Laster could put in six good months, living in the corrections center while holding down a job and proving himself drug-free, he would be released to serve the rest of his probation outside custody.

A national nonprofit, Volunteers of America, contracts with the state to run the corrections center; the group has a Christian philosophy, and the center has Jesus portraits and religious slogans on the walls. “You won’t be able to quit or change a job without permission of your probation officer,” the judge warned.

How did Laster fare under that order to work? Though he was in the state’s custody the rest of his life, official sources provide only fragmentary information. His family is more forthcoming.

Taking directions the Lasters had provided, I drive several blocks from the courthouse during one of Gillette’s notorious blizzards, battling slush so deep it scrapes the car’s underbody. I wrestle a turn at Pat’s Liquors, stop at a single-wide trailer sandwiched between other trailers. Right away, the place looks halfway defeated; the front window has cracks held together by a starburst of duct tape. Inside, in the kitchen, Laster’s mother, Peggy, and his father, Ken, both look haggard; they’re missing front teeth and chain-smoking Camels. One of his sisters, Amanda, has damp hair and glowing skin, fresh from the shower.

They’re all angry, the type of anger that refuses to dissipate.

Peggy takes the lead. Between swigs from a quart beer bottle wrapped in a paper bag, she pulls out her stash of documents and snapshots, which, with additional court records, spell out what happened: Joe Laster had a meth relapse in the corrections center and was sent to Wyoming’s toughest prison, in Rawlins. He put effort into recovering from that setback, transferring to a Colorado prison, where he earned his GED, then to a forestry-oriented boot camp in the Wyoming prison system, where he learned to fight wildfires and was in a crew that saved a hundred homes. He took electronics classes and attended substance-abuse programs. He wrote the judge a letter, promising, “I plan to make better decisions in the future.”

By January 2005, Joe Laster made it back to the corrections center in Gillette, where staff helped him get a job with a small private company, Tyvo LLC, that was fixing up old water-well drilling rigs to be used for testing soils in the methane fields. With the current energy boom now into its seventh year, Gillette has essentially zero unemployment, and bosses come to the corrections center and pick up inmates for almost every shift.

About noon on Feb. 21, 2005, Laster and another inmate were working out in the high desert, on a dirt road off a dirt road off a dirt road, on a Tyvo drilling rig that was more than 40 years old. The rig — a 24-foot-tall derrick on a truck bed — hadn’t been in service for three years and needed repairs. The industry hungers for equipment as much as for workers, and in the rush for methane, which often occurs in shallow coalbeds, many water-well rigs have been pressed into service, either to tap the water-methane mix or for soil-testing.

Laster was loosening two stubborn bolts near an exposed, spinning driveshaft. The glove on his right hand snagged on the driveshaft, and in that split second, instinctively, he reached with his left hand. The inexorable machine — revolving at least 800 times per minute — tore off both his arms. He bled to death before the medical helicopter reached him, according to first responders.

Peggy has gone to some trouble to locate the spot where he died, and she shows me snapshots she took of her only son’s blood spilled on the dirt.

“They took my son!” she says. She leans close, sobs, collapses in a chair, rocks back and forth, hugging herself as if she might crack apart and dropping the terrible snapshots face down onto the linoleum.

Joe Laster’s death received almost no news coverage. The Associated Press published a few basics, a total of 101 words. Two investigators from Wyoming’s workplace overseer, the Department of Employment’s Workers’ Safety and Compensation Division, completed an investigation months later. The agency found that Tyvo LLC had violated safety regulations, citing the company for failing to have a guard on the driveshaft that grabbed Laster’s glove, for inadequate training, and for having no first-aid supplies at the site. The agency slapped Tyvo with a fine: $3,375

That doesn’t begin to satisfy Peggy Laster. She is tormented by thoughts that her son’s death has been swept into the brush. She wants a lot more investigation. She talks of the Flight for Life helicopter landing in the wrong place and then doubling back, which a map in a sheriff’s report indicates. Joe had years of experience on drill rigs, she says; he knew this one was a disaster waiting to happen. “It was a Mickey Mouse operation,” says Ken Laster. “He called us (a few days before the accident) and said he wasn’t happy working there.”

The family has few resources for pressing a legal grievance. Four adults — including Amanda’s husband, Justin — and three kids live squeezed into the one-bathroom trailer. But they want to spread the word, even if they also feel they’re taking a real risk meeting with me, a stranger. After all, I could be working for the cops, and, technically, they are fugitives: Arrest warrants are out on Peggy and Ken for driving with suspended licenses and then failing to show up in court.

As they talk about the injustice of what happened to Joe on the Tyvo rig, an irony emerges: Everyone in the trailer depends on the income from a single job, held by Justin, and that job is located in the methane fields that they know, all too well, can be lethal. At 28, Justin has worked there for 11 years already, doing, he says, “everything that needs doing.”

Across town, bosses still swing by the corrections center and pick up inmates and then head out to all sorts of jobs, some of them in the oil and gas fields.

The Lasters’ case burns on one end of the spectrum, but its themes resonate.

From Louisiana to Alaska, oil and gas is an industry in a rush, spurred by a sense of worldwide shortage and entranced by escalated prices and inordinate profits. And the industry targets the Interior West, especially; the region’s summertime total of drilling rigs has soared since 2000, from 204 to 447, according to RigData, a Texas company that tracks the industry. With that increase in drilling and related activities, the number of fatal accidents has also risen. Last year alone, 20 people died doing jobs directly related to drilling and servicing wells in the region. And for the whole time period I studied — 2000 to 2006, roughly encompassing the current boom in coalbed-methane and other natural gas exploration — federal and state records show at least 89 people died working in energy extraction in the states of Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Montana and North Dakota. That toll is almost certainly an understatement, and not just because the average oil and gas death gets less publicity than, say, a fatal traffic wreck. This industry’s true accident totals, fatal and otherwise, are as shrouded in obscurity as the Laster case is.

There is a federal agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, assigned to look out for worker safety. It either handles each state’s workplaces directly, or hands off the duty to state agencies. But the federal and state safety cops don’t seem particularly tough. They can’t do many workplace inspections, because typically there are no more of them now than 20 years ago, straining to cover an explosion in the numbers of workplaces of all types that comes with the West’s population growth. And when workers die in the oil and gas fields, the safety cops levy fines that are so low, compared to the profits being reaped, that families often view the penalties as insulting and outrageous.

Other aspects of state laws also appear to be rigged against accident victims and their families, making it all but impossible for them to sue even in the face of apparently extraordinary management negligence. At times, the industry and the whole government system treat tenaciously loyal workers as if they were as disposable as a broken drill bit. The victims’ own character traits — from stoicism to lack of formal education to a tendency to use alcohol or drugs or both — often set them up to take the hit.

But there is a less downtrodden end of the death-and-energy spectrum, and I find it by taking the two-lane along the Bear River north from Evanston, Wyo., another oil-and-gas town. Past the office of Baker Hughes Fishing Services (the “fishing” that drillers do trying to hook things lost down the holes) and the turnoff for the big natural-gas plants that Chevron and BP have tucked into the hills, I take a series of dirt roads and finally come to the handsome log home where Kaylee and Bill Bryant have seven acres backed against the ice-rimmed river.

Bill greets me at the door, a polite, lean man with weathered gray eyes and a handlebar mustache; he’s wearing a blue Wrangler shirt, jeans and a tooled-silver belt buckle. He invites me into a living room that is grandly Western: soaring ceiling, draw-shaved logs from a local mill, sanded plank floors, fire flickering in the stove. Kaylee also shakes my hand politely, and on hers there’s the noticeable twinkle of the big diamond wedding ring Bill bought her 32 years ago. They’ve decorated their house with an array of cowboy stuff: Bill’s grandfather’s chaps, Bill’s father’s saddle, the chaps Bill had as a kid, and Kaylee’s spurs hang on the walls or the railing of the interior balcony. They both speak with a slight country drawl.

“I was born and bred cowboy,” Bill says.

 

‘Ban new applications on fracking’


This is the view of Irish MEP Nessa Childers, speaking at a session of the The European Parliament’s Environment Committee on July 11:


MEPs putting the brakes on fracking in Europe

Posted by Nick on July 18th, 2013
stop fracking 

By Geraldine Ring from Fracking Free Ireland (Brussels)

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee took on board concerns from their constituents on July 11 by voting in favour of an amendment to the EIA Directive that would require a mandatory Environmental Impact Assessment to apply to all unconventional fossil fuels (UFF) projects, at both exploration and extraction phases. Some 51 MEPs lent their support to the amendment, with only 18 voting against.

Conscious of efforts by some conservative MEPs to retract the amendment and to change its wording, the reaction from citizens who had lobbied their MEPs to support the amendment was one of jubilation and relief.

The requirement for a mandatory EIA originally garnered broad political support in the own-initiative report on the Environmental impacts of shale gas and shale gas oil extraction activities adopted in Parliament in November of last year. The same report included an amendment calling on Member States to enact a moratorium on fracking but this failed to attract enough votes, with the Parliament’s largest political faction, the right-wing EPP group, largely dictating the result.

Thursday’s result was also welcomed by a number of MEPs. Northern Irish MEP Martina Anderson (GUE/NGL) stated that the amendment when voted in plenary “will ensure that the impact on the environment and public health is considered.”

Referring to the large industry lobby behind shale gas, Irish MEP Nessa Childers (S&D) criticised the industry for having failed to “sustain its responsibility to ensure that its practices are safe and to examine the consequences for public health.”

The result was also welcomed by Czech MEP Pavel Poc (S&D), and by one of the report’s shadow rapporteurs French MEP Sandrine Bélier (Greens/EFA) who also referred to the “intense lobby pressure” preceding the vote.

The reaction from the pro-shale contingent on the other hand was one of frustration and disappointment. Quoted in British tabloid ‘The Sun’, Scottish MEP Struan Stevenson (ECR) claimed “Targeting exploration in this unnecessary way amounts to stifling the potential benefits at source.”

The current version of the Directive does not guarantee systematic and mandatory EIAs before new projects commence. Because UFF projects have a maximum daily production rate of between 115,000 and 250,000m3, they will never meet the 500,000m3/day threshold mentioned in the existing legislation. With regard to mandatory EIAs applying to the exploration phase this is an important addition because deep drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques are used all along the process, including during exploration. Significant environmental damage can already occur during this phase, as was recently illustrated through new scientific evidence on the link between fracking and earthquakes.

A mandatory EIA at exploration stage presents a significant hurdle for the industry. In Austria last year following plans by the government to make EIAs compulsory for shale gas projects, fracking company OMV decided to withdraw its plans citing economic concerns.

The absence of a mandatory EIA is only one of several gaps in the EU legislative framework concerning both the exploration and extraction of UFF. These gaps were identified in a study published by the European Commission in September 2012. By the end of the year, the Commission plans to issue a risk management framework designed to give shale gas developers a positive signal. This framework is favoured by shale gas proponents such as Polish MEP Bogusław Sonik (EPP).

According to Nessa Childers, “The EU needs to introduce strong measures to curtail hydraulic fracturing in Europe and ensure there is a sufficiently comprehensive legal framework to secure protection for health, safety and the environment. Until we have very strict regulations, we need to ban any applications for fracking.”

Both industry and pro-shale MEPs have been opposed to such a comprehensive legal framework, while the most preferred policy option among participants in a European Commission public consultation is the development of a comprehensive and specific EU piece of legislation governing UFF. The results also indicated that two-thirds of participants believe that this industry should not be developed at all.

Peak ‘water’ is the real threat …


The Guardian home

‘The real threat to our future is peak water’

As population rises, overpumping means some nations have reached peak water, which threatens food supply, says Lester Brown

Kansas Drought 2012

Kansas’s Quivira National Wildlife Refuge in 2012, during the worst drought in the US in more than 50 years. Photograph: Jim Reed/Corbis

Peak oil has generated headlines in recent years, but the real threat to our future is peak water. There are substitutes for oil, but not for water. We can produce food without oil, but not without water.

We drink on average four litres of water per day, in one form or another, but the food we eat each day requires 2,000 litres of water to produce, or 500 times as much. Getting enough water to drink is relatively easy, but finding enough to produce the ever-growing quantities of grain the world consumes is another matter.

Grain consumed directly supplies nearly half of our calories. That consumed indirectly as meat, milk, and eggs supplies a large part of the remainder. Today roughly 40% of the world grain harvest comes from irrigated land. It thus comes as no surprise that irrigation expansion has played a central role in tripling the world grain harvest over the last six decades.

During the last half of the twentieth century, the world’s irrigated area expanded from close to 250m acres (100m hectares) in 1950 to roughly 700m in 2000. This near tripling of world irrigation within 50 years was historically unique. But since then the growth in irrigation has come to a near standstill, expanding only 10% between 2000 and 2010.

In looking at water and our future, we face many questions and few answers. Could the world be facing peak water? Or has it already peaked?

Farmers get their irrigation water either from rivers or from underground aquifers. Historically, beginning with the Sumerians some 6,000 years ago, irrigation water came from building dams across rivers, creating reservoirs that then enabled them to divert the water on to the land through a network of gravity-fed canals. This method of irrigation prevailed until the second half of the 20th century, where with few sites remaining for building dams, the prospects for expanding surface irrigation faded. Farmers then turned to drilling wells to tap underground water resources.

In doing so, they learned that there are two types of aquifers: those that are replenishable through rainfall, which are in the majority, and those that consist of water laid down eons ago, and thus do not recharge. The latter, known as fossil aquifers, include two strategically important ones, the deep aquifer under the North China Plain and the Ogallala aquifer under the US Great Plains.

Tapping underground water resources helped expand world food production, but as the demand for grain continued climbing, so too did the amount of water pumped. Eventually the extraction of water began to exceed the recharge of aquifers from precipitation, and water tables began to fall. And then wells begin to go dry. In effect, overpumping creates a water-based food bubble, one that will burst when the aquifer is depleted and the rate of pumping is necessarily reduced to the rate of recharge.

Today some 18 countries, containing half the world’s people, are overpumping their aquifers. Among these are the big three grain producers – China, India and the US – and several other populous countries, including Iran, Pakistan and Mexico.

During the last couple of decades, several of these countries have overpumped to the point that aquifers are being depleted and wells are going dry. They have passed not only peak water, but also peak grain production. Among the countries whose use of water has peaked and begun to decline are Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. In these countries peak grain has followed peak water.

Nowhere are falling water tables and the shrinkage of irrigated agriculture more dramatic than in Saudi Arabia, a country as water-poor as it is oil-rich. After the Arab oil export embargo in 1973, the Saudis realised they were vulnerable to a counter-embargo on grain. To become self-sufficient in wheat, they developed a heavily subsidized irrigated agriculture based heavily on pumping water from fossil aquifers.

After being self-sufficient in wheat for over 20 years, the Saudis announced in early 2008 that, with their aquifers largely depleted, they would reduce wheat planting by one-eighth each year until 2016, when production would end. By then Saudi Arabia projects it will be importing some 15m tonnes of wheat, rice, corn and barley to feed its 30 million people. It is the first country to publicly project how aquifer depletion will shrink its grain harvest.

Syria, a country of 22 million people riddled by civil war, is also overpumping its underground water. Its grain production peaked in 2001 and during the years since has dropped 32%. It, too, is becoming heavily dependent on imported grain.

In neighboring Iraq, grain production has plateaued over the last decade. In 2012 it was dependent on the world market for two-thirds of its consumption. In addition to aquifer depletion, both Syria and Iraq are also suffering from a reduced flow in the Tigris and Euphrates rivers as upstream Turkey claims more water for its own use.

In Yemen, a nation of 24 million people that shares a long border with Saudi Arabia, the water table is falling by roughly six feet a year as water use outstrips aquifer recharge. With one of the world’s fastest-growing populations and with water tables falling throughout the country, Yemen is fast becoming a hydrological basket case. Grain production has fallen by nearly half over the last 40 years. By 2015, irrigated fields will be a rarity and the country will be importing virtually all of its grain. Living on borrowed water and borrowed time, Yemen could disintegrate into a group of tribal fiefdoms warring over water.

Thus in the Arab Middle East the world is seeing the collision between population growth and water supply at the regional level. For the first time in history, grain production is dropping in a geographic region with nothing in sight to arrest the decline. Because of the failure of governments in the region to mesh population and water policies, each day now brings 9,000 more people to feed and less irrigation water with which to feed them.

Other countries with much larger populations are also near or beyond peak water. In Iran, a country with 77 million people, grain production dropped 10% between 2007 and 2012 as irrigation wells started to go dry. One-quarter of its current grain harvest is based on overpumping. With its population growing by a million people per year, it, too, faces a day of reckoning.

Pakistan, with a population of 182 million that is growing by 3 million per year, is also mining its underground water. Most of its irrigation water comes from the Indus river system, but in the Pakistani part of the fertile Punjab plain, the drop in water tables appears to be similar to the better-known fall that is occurring in India.

Observation wells near the twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi showed a fall in the water table between 1982 and 2000 that ranged from three to six feet a year. In the Pakistani province of Balochistan, which borders Afghanistan, water tables around the capital, Quetta, are falling by 3.5 metres (11.5 feet) per year – pointing to the day when the city will run out of water. Sardar Riaz A Khan, former director of Pakistan’s Arid Zone Research Institute in Quetta, reports that six of Balochistan’s seven basins have exhausted their groundwater supplies, leaving their irrigated lands barren.

In a World Bank study, water expert John Briscoe says: “Pakistan is already one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, a situation which is going to degrade into outright water scarcity due to high population growth.” He then notes that “the survival of a modern and growing Pakistan is threatened by water.”

In Mexico – home to a population of 122 million that is projected to reach 156 million by 2050 – the demand for water is outstripping supply. Mexico City’s water problems are well known. Rural areas are also suffering. In the agricultural state of Guanajuato, the water table is falling by six feet or more a year. In the north-western wheat-growing state of Sonora, farmers once pumped water from the Hermosillo aquifer at a depth of 40 feet. Today they pump from over 400 feet. Mexico may be near peak water use. Peak grain may be imminent.

In addition to these small and midsize countries, aquifer depletion now also threatens harvests in the big three grain producers – China, India and the US – that together produce half of the world’s grain. The question is not whether water shortages will affect future harvests in these countries, but rather when they will do so.

Among the big three, dependence on irrigation varies widely. Some four-fifths of China’s grain harvest comes from irrigated land, most of it drawing on surface water, principally the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. For India, three-fifths of its grain is irrigated, mostly with groundwater. For the US, only one-fifth of the harvest is from irrigated land. The bulk of the grain crop is rain-fed, produced in the highly productive Midwestern Corn Belt where there is little or no irrigation.

Falling water tables are already adversely affecting harvest prospects in China, which rivals the US as the world’s largest grain producer. A groundwater survey released in Beijing in 2001 indicated that the water table under the North China Plain, an area that produces half of the country’s wheat and a third of its corn, was falling fast. Overpumping has largely depleted the shallow aquifer, forcing well-drillers to turn to the region’s deep aquifer, which is not replenishable.

The survey reported that under Hebei Province in the heart of the North China Plain, the average level of the deep aquifer was dropping nearly 10 feet per year. Around some cities in the province, it was falling twice as fast. He Qingcheng, head of the groundwater monitoring team, notes that as the deep aquifer is depleted, the region is losing its last water reserve – its only safety cushion.

In 2010, He Qingcheng reported that Beijing was drilling down 1,000 feet to reach an aquifer, five times deeper than 20 years ago. His concerns are mirrored in the unusually strong language of a World Bank report on China’s water situation that foresees “catastrophic consequences for future generations” unless water use and supply can quickly be brought back into balance.

As serious as water shortages are in China, they are even more alarming in India, where the margin between food consumption and survival is so precarious. In India, whose population is growing by 15 million per year, irrigation depends heavily on underground water. And since there are no restrictions on well drilling, farmers have drilled more than 21 million irrigation wells and are pumping vast amounts of underground water.

In this global epicenter of well drilling, pumps powered by heavily subsidised electricity are dropping water tables at an alarming rate. Among the states most affected are Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Gujarat in the north and Tamil Nadu in the south. In North Gujarat the water table is falling by 20 feet per year. In Tamil Nadu, a state of 72 million people, water tables are falling everywhere. Kuppannan Palanisami of Tamil Nadu Agricultural University noted in 2004 that 95% of the wells owned by small farmers have dried up, reducing the irrigated area in the state by half over the preceding decade.

India’s grain harvest has been expanding rapidly in recent years, but in part for the wrong reason, namely massive overpumping. A World Bank study estimates that 15% of India’s food supply is produced by mining groundwater. Stated otherwise, 175 million Indians are now fed with grain produced with the unsustainable use of water. As early as 2004, Fred Pearce reported in New Scientist that “half of India’s traditional hand-dug wells and millions of shallower tube wells have already dried up, bringing a spate of suicides among those who rely on them. Electricity blackouts are reaching epidemic proportions in states where half of the electricity is used to pump water from depths of up to a kilometer.”

As India’s water tables fall, larger farmers are using modified oil-drilling technology to reach water, going as deep as 1,000 feet in some locations. In communities where underground water sources have dried up entirely, all agriculture is now rain-fed and drinking water must be trucked in. Tushaar Shah of the International Water Management Institute says of India’s water situation: “When the balloon bursts, untold anarchy will be the lot of rural India.”

In the US, farmers are over-pumping in the Great Plains, including in several leading grain-producing states such as Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, and Nebraska. In these states, irrigation has not only raised wheat yields but it has also enabled a shift from wheat to corn, a much higher-yielding crop. Kansas, for example, long known as the leading wheat state, now produces more corn than wheat.

Irrigated agriculture has thrived in these states, but the water is drawn from the Ogallala aquifer, a huge underground water body that stretches from Nebraska southwards to the Texas Panhandle. It is, unfortunately, a fossil aquifer, one that does not recharge. Once it is depleted, the wells go dry and farmers either go back to dryland farming or abandon farming altogether, depending on local conditions.

In Texas, a large grain and cattle state, whose northern part overlies the shallow end of the Ogallala, irrigated grain area peaked in 1975. Since then it has shrunk by two-thirds, with the most precipitous drop in recent years. In Kansas the peak came in 1982 and irrigated grain area has since fallen 41%. Nebraska, now also a leading corn-producing state, saw its irrigated area peak most recently, in 2007. Even though aquifer depletion is reducing grain output in several key states, it is not yet sufficient to reduce the overall US grain harvest, the bulk of which is produced in the rain-fed Midwestern Corn Belt.

At the international level, water conflicts, such as the one in the Nile river basin between Egypt and the upstream countries, make the news. But within countries it is the competition for water between cities and farms that preoccupies political leaders. Indeed, in many countries farmers now face not only a shrinking water supply as aquifers are pumped dry, but also a shrinking share of that shrinking supply.

In large areas of the US, such as the southern Great Plains and the Southwest, virtually all water is now spoken for. The growing water needs of major cities and thousands of small towns often can be satisfied only by taking water from agriculture. As the value of water rises, more farmers are selling their irrigation rights to cities, letting their land dry up. Hardly a day goes by without the announcement of a new sale. Half or more of all sales are by individual farmers or their irrigation districts to cities and municipalities.

In the largest farm-to-city water transfer in U.S. history, farmers in California’s highly productive Imperial Valley agreed in 2003 to send San Diego County enough water to meet the household needs of close to one million people each year. The agreement spans 45 years. This could reduce food production in the Imperial Valley, a huge vegetable garden not only for California, but for countless other markets as well. Writing from the area in the New York Times, Felicity Barringer notes that many fear that “a century after Colorado River water allowed this land to be a cornucopia, unfettered urban water transfers could turn it back into a desert.”

Colorado, with a fast-growing population, has one of the world’s most active water markets. Cities and towns of all sizes are buying irrigation water rights from farmers and ranchers. In the Arkansas river basin, which occupies the southeastern quarter of the state, Colorado Springs and Aurora (a suburb of Denver) have already bought water rights to one third of the basin’s farmland. Aurora has purchased rights to water that was once used to irrigate 19,000 acres of cropland in the Arkansas valley. The US Geological Survey estimates that 400,000 acres of farmland dried up statewide between 2000 and 2005.

Colorado is not alone in losing irrigation water. Farmers in rural India are also losing their irrigation water to cities. This is strikingly evident in Chennai (formerly Madras), a city of 9 million on the east coast. As a result of the city government’s inability to supply water to many of its people, a thriving tank-truck industry has emerged that buys water from nearby farmers and hauls it to the city’s thirsty residents.

For farmers near cities, the market price of water typically far exceeds the value of the crops they can produce with it. Unfortunately the 13,000 privately owned tank trucks hauling water to Chennai are mining the region’s underground water resources. As water tables fall, eventually even the deeper wells will go dry, depriving rural communities of both their food supply and their livelihood.

In the competition for water between farmers on the one hand and cities and industries on the other, farmers always lose. The economics do not favour agriculture. In countries such as China, where industrial development and the jobs associated with it are an overriding national economic goal, agriculture is becoming the residual claimant on the water supply.

Where virtually all water has been claimed, cities can typically get more water only by taking it from irrigation. Countries then import grain to offset the loss of irrigated grain production. Since it takes 1,000 tonnes of water to produce one tonne of grain, importing grain is the most efficient way to import water. Thus trading in grain futures is, in a sense, trading in water futures. To the extent that there is a world water market, it is embodied in the world grain market.

We can now see how overpumping, whether in the Middle East or the US Great Plains, can lead to aquifer depletion and shrinking grain harvests. In short, peak water can lead to peak grain. For some countries this is no longer merely a theoretical possibility. It is a reality.

Thus far, aquifer depletion has translated into shrinking harvests only in smaller countries in the Middle East. When we look at middle-sized countries such as Iran, Mexico and Pakistan, with tightening water supplies, we see that Iran is already in deep trouble. It is feeling the effects of shrinking water supplies from overpumping. Pakistan may also have reached peak water. If so, peak grain may not be far behind. In Mexico, the water supply may have already peaked. With less water for irrigation, Mexico may be on the verge of a downturn in its grain harvest.

In summarising prospects for the three big grain producers – the US, China and India – we see sharp contrasts. In the US, the irrigated grainland is starting to shrink largely as a result of depletion of the Ogallala aquifer, making it more difficult to rapidly increase overall grain production.

China, with four-fifths of its grain harvest coming from irrigated land, relies heavily on irrigation, but it is largely river water. A notable exception to this is the all-important North China Plain which relies heavily on underground water. With tight water supplies in northern China and with cities claiming more irrigation water, the shrinking water supply will likely reduce the harvest in some local situations. And before long it could more than offset production gains, leading to an absolute decline in China’s grain harvest.

Of the big three countries, the one most vulnerable to overpumping is India. Three-fifths of its grain harvest comes from irrigated land. And since only a minor share of its irrigation water comes from rivers, India is overwhelmingly dependent on underground water. Its millions of wells, each powered with a diesel engine or electric motor, are dropping water tables at an alarming rate. Accurate data are hard to come by, but India may have already passed peak water. The question is, will peak water be followed by peak grain or is there enough unrealised technological potential remaining to raise yields enough to offset any imminent losses from wells going dry?

The world has quietly transitioned into a situation where water, not land, has emerged as the principal constraint on expanding food supplies. There is a large area of land that could produce food if water were available.

Water scarcity is not our only challenge. Just as harvests are shrinking in some countries because of aquifer depletion, they are shrinking in other countries because of soil erosion. Among the more dramatic examples are Mongolia and Lesotho, which have each seen their grain area shrink as a result of soil erosion. And as a result of overplowing and overgrazing, two huge new dust bowls are forming in the world today, one in northwest China and the other in the Sahelian region of Africa. These giant dust bowls dwarf the US Dust Bowl of the 1930s.

The bottom line is that water constraints – augmented by soil erosion, the loss of cropland to nonfarm uses, a plateauing of yields in major producing areas, and climate change – are making it more difficult to expand world food production. The question raised is this: Is it conceivable that the negative influences on future food production could one day offset the positive ones, leading to a cessation in the world grain harvest?

Lester Brown is president of the Earth Policy Institute and author of Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity (WW Norton 2012)

• This article was amended on 10 July 2013. The original contained some errors introduced when the hard copy of the article was scanned. These have been corrected.