Reuters | 1 August 2016

Still Waters: US To Crack Down on Ocean Noise That Harms Fish

The ocean has gotten noisier for decades, with man-made racket from oil drilling, shipping, and construction linked to signs of stress in marine life that include beached whales and baby crabs with scrambled navigational signals.

An Israeli gas platform, controlled by a US/Israeli energy group, is seen in the Mediterranean sea west of Israel’s port city of Ashdod in 2013. Credit: Reuters/Amir Cohen.

The United States aims to change that as a federal agency prepares a plan that could force reductions in noise-making activities, including oil exploration, dredging, and shipping off the nation’s coast.

“We’ve been worried about ocean noise for decades, since the 1970s,” said Richard Merrick, chief science adviser to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries agency and a key author of the agency’s more detailed 10-year plan to be released publicly later this year. “The question is, what should we do now?”

The draft plan calls for developing noise limits and setting up a standardized listening system. It would also call for the creation of an online archive of noise data that could hold thousands of hours of recordings, which scientists could then cross-reference against data on where marine life congregates.

The plan urges more research on the effects of noise on sea creatures and more coordination with environmental and industry groups, the military, and government.

The Canadian Press | 27 July 2016

Oil-Sniffing Dogs Can Help Detect Pipeline Leaks, Calgary Handler Says

Duke has the scent.

The white-gold lab lopes through a field, pulling his owner, Ron Mistafa, behind him.

Ron Mistafa, owner of Detector Dog Services, and Duke rest after training in a field near Calgary to hunt for oil pipeline leaks. Credit: The Canadian Press/Jeff McIntosh.

It takes about a minute for the pooch to circle through the tall grass and hone in on the spot where Mistafa has buried a small jar of crude oil.

“Atta boy!” Mistafa says to Duke, who is digging away the dirt covering the jar. Mistafa tosses the dog his reward for a job well done—a rubber ball to chew on.

For about 2 decades, Mistafa has run Detector Dog Services International, a Calgary-based outfit that helps clients in the oil and gas sector to search out pipeline leaks, drugs, and explosives.

Mistafa has two dogs working for him: Duke, for pipeline leak jobs, and George, a lab cross who specializes in drugs and explosives. Both live with Mistafa, along with a springer spaniel named Toby, who is retired.


Eco Magazine | 27 July 2016

Offsetting the Effects of Deepsea Mining Activities

A pioneer of the sustainable seafood movement, Christopher Fisher Goldblatt has enjoyed many years as a fishing vessel operator, free-dive spear fisherman, and international seafood trader. He has worked in more than 30 countries with fishermen and fisheries managers and is the founder and managing director of the Fish Reef Project, which has been given observer status by the International Seabed Authority (ISA). Goldblatt is also the author of seven ocean-related books, a contributing columnist to ocean-related publications, and producer of films for international ocean film festivals.

Chris Goldblatt, CEO, Fish Reef Project

The Fish Reef Project has been given observer status by the ISA. What does your role entail?
The ISA is a United Nation­s-sanctioned body set up to manage the extraction of deepsea minerals. It includes more than 160 nations and has been at work for 20 years creating the operating agreements for extraction that prevent conflicts between nations and assure a degree of fairness and access for smaller nations. The ISA meets every July for nearly three weeks. Fish Reef Project was vetted over a full year and voted in as a permanent observer to the ISA by all member states. Observer status provides access to the general assembly and intimate discussions about the future of deepsea mining. We also speak on record at the general assembly. The duty of observers is to address issues that may otherwise not be discussed and to lend an outside perspective. In the case of the Fish Reef Project, we are an NGO (nongovernmental organization) that was concerned that no action was being taken to offset the coming environmental impacts of deepsea mining, either by NGOs, industry, or state parties. We are proud to say that we have provided leadership in this realm by creating a worldwide system of measurable marine biomass offsets known as the International Marine Mitigation Bank (IMMB) that can help balance the scales of nature once impacts occur to the deep sea. Fish Reef Project has a specific mission to restore and enhance the marine ecosystem, and the IMMB is the perfect vehicle to accomplish this vital task.

What can nations do to avoid irreversible damage to ocean ecosystems?
Impact avoidance is paramount and should always be the first option. There are three types of deepsea mining: hydrothermal vents for sulfides, which have the most sensitive ecosystems; cobalt­-rich crusts; and poly­metallic or manganese nodule fields. Once the impact occurs in the deep sea, especially with regard to the manganese nodule fields, the reality is that there is no fixing it in the area of impact. Hence, to restore and enhance more bio­diverse nearshore ecosystems such as coral reefs is the very best way to balance the scales of nature. By aiding nearshore ecosystems, we can bring massive socio­economic benefits to local communities that otherwise would never see a single benefit from deepsea mining. The Law of the Sea states very clearly that the ocean should be seen as single system and not compartmentalized—so this way of acting is in good keeping with the Law of the Sea. The Law of the Sea, which was, in part, originally motivated by mineral extraction rights, also clearly states that project owners have a clear legal obligation to make environmental recompense for their impacts—so it is vital that a solid, measurable system such as the IMMB be created. The Equator Principals expressly require that projects funded by its many members mitigate or offset their environmental impacts regardless of where they occur. In many cases, the Equator Principals cannot be met due to lack of a good mitigation/offset structure. The IMMB system will allow such projects to meet the terms of Equator Principals and bring the projects into compliance, thus resulting in greater political, social and ecological stability.

The State Journal | 21 July 2016

Drilling Wastes From Research Wells Below Federal Guidelines, Team Says

West Virginia University (WVU) researchers studying drilling wastes produced from a pair of research wells near Morgantown say they are well below federal guidelines for radioactive or hazardous waste, the university reports.

Paul Ziemkiewicz, director of the West Virginia Water Research Institute at WVU, will present the team’s findings at the Marcellus Shale Energy and Environmental Laboratory (MSEEL) on 20 July at the Appalachian Basin Technology Workshop in Canonsburg, Pa.

WVU said Ziemkiewicz and his research team are studying the solid and liquid drilling wastes that are generated during shale gas development, including drill cuttings, muds, and produced water.

Drilling a horizontal well in the Marcellus Shale produces about 500 tons of rock fragments, known as cuttings. WVU researchers have been studying the radioactivity and toxicity of the drill cuttings, which are trucked on public roads to county landfills.

MSEEL scientists found that using the green drilling mud BioBase 365 at the well site resulted in all 12 cuttings samples passing the US Environmental Protection Agency’s test for leaching toxicity, allowing them to be classified as nonhazardous for nonradiological parameters such as benzene and arsenic.

They determined that the drilling mud exerted a strong influence over the environmental risks associated with handling and disposing of drill cuttings.

Bloomberg | 12 July 2016

Fossil Fuel Industry Risks Losing USD 33 Trillion to Climate Change

The fossil fuel industry risks losing USD 33 trillion in revenue over the next 25 years as global warming may drive companies to leave oil, natural gas, and coal in the ground, according to a Barclays energy analyst.

Government regulations and other efforts to cut carbon emissions will inevitably slash demand for fossil fuels, jeopardizing traditional energy producers, Mark Lewis, Barclays’s head of European utilities equity research, said on 11 July  during a panel discussion in New York on financial risks from climate change.

His comments are part of a growing chorus calling for more transparency from oil and gas companies about how their balance sheets may be affected by the global shift away from fossil fuels. As governments adopt stricter environmental policies, there’s increasing risk that companies’ untapped deposits of oil, gas, and coal may go unused, turning valuable reserves into stranded assets of questionable value.

“There will be lower demand for fossil fuels in the future, and by definition that means lower prices” Lewis said.

Environmental Protection | 21 June 2106

Environmental Crime Report Shows Damage Far Worse Than Estimated

A new report on environmental crime from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and INTERPOL indicates the cost of environmental crimes is 26% larger than previous estimates, having grown to some USD 91 billion–258 billion today, well above previous estimates of USD 70 billion–213 billion in 2014. The report, titled “The Rise of Environmental Crime,” was released 4 June on the eve of World Environment Day and shows how weak laws and poorly funded security forces have been unable to prevent international criminal networks and armed rebels from profiting from the illicit trade.

“The rise of environmental crime across the world is deeply troubling. The vast sums of money generated from these despicable crimes are fueling insecurity and keeping highly sophisticated international criminal gangs in business,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said. “It is essential the world acts now to combat this growing menace before it is too late.”

According to the report, environmental crime dwarfs the illegal trade in small arms, which is valued at approximately USD 3 billion. Environmental crime is the world’s fourth largest criminal enterprise after drug smuggling, counterfeiting, and human trafficking, and the amount of money lost to environmental crimes is far more than the money spent by international agencies combating it; it is 10,000 times greater than the USD 20million–30 million they spend.

McCarthy Tétrault via Mondaq | 17 June 2016

Quebec Government Introduces Bill To Modernize Environmental Authorization Scheme

On 7 June 2016, the Quebec Minister of Sustainable Development, Environment, and the Fight against Climate Change, David Heurtel, at the Quebec National Assembly introduced Bill 1021, which aims at modernizing the environmental authorization scheme established by the Environment Quality Act. If adopted in its current form, this bill could have important repercussions on the environmental assessment procedure and on the authorization scheme of industrial projects carried out in Quebec.

The New Environmental Authorization Scheme
The bill proposes to substantially modify the requirements of environmental authorization. In this regard, the government proposes to further modulate permits requirements according to the level of environmental risk of each project:

  • Activities of negligible risk will not need a ministerial authorization to be carried out. These activities will be identified by regulation or according to an assessment methodology that will be prescribed by regulation.
  • Activities of low risk, the list of which will also be established by regulation, may be carried out without an authorization 30 days after the filing of a declaration of compliance to the Minister.
  • Activities of moderate risk will be subject to the obligation of obtaining a ministerial authorization. This category targets any activity that does not fall under the other categories of activities.
  • High-risk activities, identified by regulation, will require an authorization issued by the Quebec government following the environmental impact assessment and review procedure (EIA). The government may exceptionally subject any project to the EIA if, in its opinion, (i) the project may raise major environmental issues and public concern warrants it, (ii) the project involves a new technology or new type of activity in Quebec whose apprehended impacts on the environment are major, or (iii) the project involves major climate change issues.

The bill provides other measures streamlining the environmental authorization process including:

  • The carrying out of an industrial project will only be subject to the obtaining of one ministerial authorization rather than multiple authorizations as is currently the case.
  • The minister may mandate the Bureau d’audiences publiques sur l’environnement to hold a public hearing on a project subject to the EIA without any prior information period when the holding of such a hearing seems inevitable because of the nature of the issues raised, thus avoiding delays inherent to this information period.
  • The bill will remove the requirement to obtain a certificate of compliance with municipal by-laws when filing an application for ministerial authorization.
  • The minister may issue, on certain conditions, an authorization for research and experimental purposes to facilitate pilot projects, thus allowing to derogate from some regulatory requirements for a limited period.
  • The prior authorization of the minister will no longer be required to transfer an authorization. However, the transferor must first send the minister a notice of transfer. The minister will then have 30 days to oppose the transfer.

To the contrary, the bill contains several measures that will tighten the framework of projects subject to an environmental authorization:

  • The minister may, in the cases provided for by government regulation, take into account the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the project and assess any impact mitigation a project may entail.
  • The governmental authorizations may include diverse conditions, restrictions, or prohibitions for protecting the quality of the environment, including site-restoration measures and post-closure management on cessation of activities and measures to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions attributable to the activity, in particular the selection of a specific technology, process, or energy source.
  • Any change to a residual materials elimination facility or a hazardous materials management activity will require a ministerial approval.
  • An authorization to operate an industrial establishment will now be issued for a period of 5 years and will need to be renewed within the time and in the manner and form prescribed by regulation. An authorization will remain valid until the minister makes a decision with regard to its renewal.

Science Daily | 17 June 2016

Ecological Method for Cleaning Oil From Lakes

A new technology developed at Tomsk State University (TSU) for cleaning oil from lakes is best suited for lakes with thick sediments, report scientists. The method allows cleaning both sediments and water, and there are no any restrictions on the depth of the pond.

Danil Vorobiev, doctor of biological sciences and director of biological institute at TSU. Photo courtesy of TSU.

The oil cleansing method was developed by TSU researchers, and it is optimal for lake ecosystems. The experiment proved that the content of oil in water wasc reduced by 35 to 40 times.

“The technology is based on flotation method,” said Danil Vorobiev, one of the authors of this development and doctor of biological sciences and director of the biological institute at TSU. “In place of oil accumulation, we perform pneumatic and mechanical action and, as a result, oil sticks to the section of the two phases—liquid and air—and rises to the surface.”

The method does not require using any chemicals and can be used in winter when vegetative processes in a lake “freeze” and interference with the underwater world is minimal.

Offshore Energy Today | 15 June 2016

APPEA Presents Woodside With Environment Excellence Award

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) has awarded Australian energy company Woodside with the Environment Excellence Award on 6 June at the APPEA 2016 Conference Dinner in Brisbane.

APPEA presents Woodside with the Environment Excellence Award.

APPEA board member and Buru Energy executive chairman Eric Streitberg said the judges found that Woodside has consistently shown excellence across all facets of environmental performance.

Streitberg said, “Woodside minimizes its footprint by integrating world-class environmental management into its exploration and its facilities.”

He added that Woodside emphasizes the use of sound science and that it uses key scientific partnerships to enhance local knowledge.

Coloradoan | 15 June 2016

Colorado State University Lands USD 3.5 Million Methane Emissions Test Site

Colorado State University (CSU) will soon be a hub for national research on emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas and side effect of natural gas production.

CSU researchers will partner with the Colorado School of Mines to design, build, and operate a methane emissions testing facility near Fort Collins. Photo courtesy of Colorado State University.

A team of CSU researchers just landed a USD 3.5 million Department of Energy grant to create and operate a facility to simulate a range of natural gas production systems and test new technologies for sensing methane. The grant will be awarded over 3 years.

The CSU team will work with the Colorado School of Mines to design, build, and operate the facility on CSU property near Fort Collins, according to a university press release. The facility will host subfacilities to simulate steps of the natural gas supply chain, including dry and wet gas production, midstream compression, metering and regulating stations, and underground pipelines.

Offshore Energy Today | 31 May 2016

US Says Offshore Fracturing Has Minimal Effect on Environment

The Obama administration has made a decision according to which well-stimulation treatments, including hydraulic fracturing, in oil and gas activities offshore California pose no significant effect to the environment.

The US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) said the decision was made after they completed a comprehensive environmental analysis evaluating the potential effects from the use of well-stimulation treatments on the 23 oil and gas platforms currently in operation on the Outer Continental Shelf offshore California.

“The comprehensive analysis shows that these practices, conducted according to permit requirements, have minimal impact,” said BOEM Director Abigail Ross Hopper. “As always, coordination with other key agencies, and input from the public and nongovernmental organizations,were vitally important as we developed this assessment.”

The announcement from BOEM and the BSEE ends a court-ordered settlement that placed a moratorium on offshore fracturing and acidizing in federal waters off California.

Investor's Business Daily | 24 May 2016

Column: We Don’t Have To Shut Oil and Gas Production To Curb Methane

Across the oil and gas industry, companies are struggling in the face of low energy prices. Belt tightening means companies can’t afford to pass up opportunities to curb waste—especially those that pay for themselves and benefit our environment in the process.

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas and the key component of natural gas, escapes into our atmosphere every day across the oil and gas supply chain—both intentionally and accidentally. But some oil and gas companies are working with manufacturers and tapping into the American spirit of innovation and entrepreneurialism to reduce pollution caused by emissions of methane. In doing so, they boost US manufacturing and create much-needed jobs.

Reducing methane emissions offers opportunities for forward-thinking companies in the oil and gas sector to reduce risk, improve trust, and gain financially, while also providing clear and immediate environmental benefits. Every time methane is emitted into the atmosphere, oil and gas companies waste a valuable national energy resource and saleable product. A 2015 estimate placed the value of natural gas lost across the globe at USD 30 billion annually.  Just last week, the EPA finalized  rules curbing emissions of methane from new and modified oil and gas sources.

These emissions pose a serious threat to both the environment and public health. Initially, when released, methane is 84 times more efficient at trapping heat than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years it is in the atmosphere and is frequently emitted alongside other pollutants that impact local air quality.

Luckily, cost-effective solutions for curbing emissions exist, and an entire industry stands ready to address the methane issue. More than 75 American companies—60% of which are small businesses—build, sell, and support technologies that minimize methane emissions from oil and gas operations. In the process, they create much-needed, well-paying, and skilled jobs such as mechanical engineers, machinists, and assemblers in states such as Iowa, Texas, Oklahoma, and Ohio.