Planet Watch

Russia files revised bid for arctic territory

Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Aug. 4 announced they have submitted a revised bid claiming over 350 nautical miles of Arctic sea shelf to the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS). The country's previous bids in 2001 were rejected for lack of evidence. Under Article 76 of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (PDF), Russia now argues it has a right to extend its control up to 350 nautical miles. Canada, Norway, Denmark and the US are also attempting to claim territories in the Arctic. The sea shelf is believed to hold a large amount of oil and gas which Russia estimates could be worth up to $30 trillion.

Anishinaabe 'Water Walk' against pipeline plan

A group of First Nations activists in northwestern Ontario are walking 125 kilometers of the proposed Energy East pipeline route to demonstrate their opposition to TransCanada's plan to convert the natural gas pipeline to transport oil. The walk began at Eagle Lake First Nation, near Dryden, Ont., on Aug. 3 and is expected to arrive at Shoal Lake 39 First Nation, west of Kenora, Ont. this weekend. The Anishinaabe protesters cite concerns for the region's waters in the event of pipeline leaks, and are calling the cross-country march the "Water Walk." TransCanada on July 29 announced that the company has reached an "engagement" agreement with Grand Council Treaty 3, which represents First Nations in the region. But Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White said the agreement does not mean that the Treaty 3 nations support the project, only that the company will "share information and listen to the people." At least one Treaty 3 chief is openly opposed to the pipeline. Shoal Lake 39 First Nation Chief Fawn Wapioke is taking part in the Water Walk. "Water is life," she said in a news release at the start of the walk. "Our Anishinaabe laws and values tell us everything we need to know about Energy East that is why we say no." (CBC, Aug. 5)

San Carlos Apache caravan to stop mineral grab

Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe returned to Arizona this week after traveling to Washington DC to protest the proposed Resolution Copper Mine near Superior, Ariz. A land swap to facilitate the project got federal approval last December, when it was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, although a bill sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) aims to repeal that section of the measure. The protestors, from the group Apache Stronghold, oppose the swap, which would open Oak Flat, a part of Tonto National Forest that they hold sacred, to mining. Resolution Copper expects the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review to start by year's end. Caravan member Standing Fox said at the Capitol, "I'll die for my land." If lobbying and legislation don't work, then in a "worst-case scenario, we will be out there blockading. We'll be stopping the whole process physically."

Ice Age fears: don't believe the hype

Russia Today on July 12 announces breathlessly: "Earth is facing the prospect of a 'mini ice age' this century, with our sun's activity projected to fall 60 percent in the 2030s, British astrophysicists say, based on the results of new research that they claim allows exact predictions of solar cycles." The scientists in question are a team from Northumbria University led by a Professor Valentina Zharkova. While the lead researcher's nice Russian name must be appealing to RT, there are other aspects of the story that doubtless make it even more irresistible. We smell Putin propaganda to allow him to go on exploiting Arctic oil without having to worry about contributing to global warming. Why have we seen this reported in few sources other than the unreliable (and state-controlled) RT? 

BP in $18.7 billion settlement over 2010 oil spill

BP on July 2 reached a settlement that will require the company to pay $18.7 billion in penalties and damages to settle all claims regarding the 2010 Gulf oil spill. The agreement, the largest corporate settlement in US history, will add to the $43.8 billion that BP had budgeted for penalties and cleanup costs, bringing the total cost of the spill for BP to $53.8 billion. The settlement with the US Department of Justice and the affected Gulf states specifically requires the company to pay at least $12.8 billion in penalties stipulated under the Clean Water Act and natural resource damages. Another $4.9 billion will go to the affected states. [An additional $1 billion will be paid to local governments.] Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch in a statement said, "Since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill—the largest environmental disaster in our nation's history—the Justice Department has been fully committed to holding BP accountable... The Deepwater trial team has fought aggressively in federal court for an outcome that would achieve this mission, proving along the way that BP's gross negligence resulted in the Deepwater disaster."

New York state puts fracking ban in place

The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) released a final environmental impact statement (PDF) on the dangers of fracking on June 29, which carries the force of law and officially bans fracking in the state. Signed by DEC commissioner Joseph Martens, the report cited significant water withdrawals, increased stormwater runoffs, potential severe flooding and inadequate waste disposal as possible dangers that may affect the state's water resources. The report also cited the dangers of increased greenhouse gas emissions and the release of naturally occurring radioactive material. The Department considered extensive mitigation measures but were not convinced as to their efficacy. "In the end...[t]he Department’s chosen alternative to prohibit high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the best alternative based on the balance between protection of the environment and public health and economic and social considerations." This decision confirms a report issued in December by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his administration affirming their intent to block hydraulic fracturing across the state.

Doomsday Clock: three minutes of midnight

More than 25 years after the end of the Cold War, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists security board announced Jan. 29 that the probability of global catastrophe is very high, and set the hands of its iconic Doomsday Clock at three minutes to midnight—two minutes closer than in 2014. "Despite some modestly positive developments in the climate change arena, current efforts are entirely insufficient to prevent a catastrophic warming of Earth," the statement read. "Meanwhile, the United States and Russia have embarked on massive programs to modernize their nuclear triads—thereby undermining existing nuclear weapons treaties." The BAS Timeline shows that the last time the clock stood at three minutes to midnight was in 1984, at the height of the Reagan arms race. The only previous time was in 1949, two years after the Clock was unveiled at seven to midnight in 1947. In 1953 it was moved to two minutes of midnight in response to development of the hydrogen bomb—the closest it has ever stood. The most relaxed positioning was 17 to midnight in 1991, after the Cold War ended. The clock was last moved—from six to five minutes of midnight—in 2012.

Obama's new offshore plan: don't believe the hype

This week, the Obama administration released a draft of its next five-year plan for offshore drilling—opening up a previously off-limits area along the Southeastern coast, from Virginia down to Georgia, as well as offering many new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico. And while it would protect some key areas north of Alaska from drilling, it would open other Arctic areas up. The plan designates 9.8 million acres of Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas off-limits to oil-and-gas leasing, and asks Congress to set aside 12 million acres in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) as "wilderness area," affording another level of protection. Daily Caller is outraged that the Alaskan waters are to be off-limits; Grist is outraged that the Southeastern waters are to be opened up; Bloomberg tries to play it objective. However, read the small print last line of the White House memo on the supposedly new polcy: "Nothing in this withdrawal affects the rights under existing leases in the withdrawn areas."

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