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Author Topic: Pluto in Cap, the climate, ecology and environment topic  (Read 65601 times)
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« Reply #735 on: Oct 17, 2013, 05:57 AM »


UK aims to become hub for Arctic oil exploration

Foreign Office strategy likely to enrage conservationists while Greenpeace activists are imprisoned in Russia

Fiona Harvey   
theguardian.com, Thursday 17 October 2013 09.30 BST   

The government wants the UK to be a global centre of expertise in opening up the Arctic to exploration by oil and gas companies, promoting London as a hub of business services for the burgeoning exploitation of the polar regions, according to a Foreign Office strategy published on Thursday.

The green light is likely to enrage conservationists, as a group of Greenpeace activists and journalists have been imprisoned in Russia after protesting against fossil fuel exploration in the region.

But ministers said the exploitation of the Arctic would have to be carried on in a responsible manner, minimising any threats to the "unique and fragile natural environment". The UK does not have any territory in the Arctic, and so no formal role in negotiating international policy within the Arctic Council, but is regarded as an interested party because some of its northernmost reach is close to the region.

In the government's Arctic framework, set out for the first time on Thursday, the Foreign Office pledged to "facilitate responsible business activity in the region by UK companies. The UK government will promote the UK as a centre of commercial expertise with direct relevance to many industries that are growing in the Arctic."

That is likely to mean the construction of oil and gas platforms, in which the UK has decades of expertise from North Sea oil exploration, as well as lucrative ancillary services such as financial and legal advice, and shipping services as melting ice opens the region to transport.

Arctic oil and gas exploration is in the spotlight as 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists are being held by the Russian authorities on piracy charges. The crew, two of whom scaled a Russian oil platform from the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise on 18 September, said they were aiming to highlight what conservationists see as the peril of destroying one of the last pristine environments on Earth in the quest for fossil fuels. They could face 10 to 15 years in jail if convicted.

William Hague, the foreign secretary, has been negotiating with Russian ministers over the fate of the six British nationals involved.

Julia Marton-Lefevre, director general of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, told the Guardian: "Exploring the Arctic [for oil and gas] will have consequences that could be drastic. We are putting off the decisions we have to make about finding different [low-carbon] sources of energy. I think we should not be going into new areas like this."

The Foreign Office said the UK's diplomatic role would be secondary to the states, including Russia and the US, that have Arctic territories. "The UK will continue to support and respect the sovereign rights of the Arctic states to exercise jurisdiction over their territory; the peoples who live and work in the Arctic; and the unique and fragile natural environment. At the same time, [the strategy] outlines the UK's legitimate interests in the region, our priorities for practical action and our willingness to show leadership in appropriate areas."

Mark Simmonds, minister for the Arctic at the Foreign Office, said: "We are the Arctic's nearest neighbour and we have long-standing environmental and commercial interest there. Our climate, migrating birds, fishing and shipping industry, and energy needs are all reasons why what happens in the Arctic is of vital interest to us."

Concern for the environmental impacts of any exploitation of the Arctic's regions would be key, the government said. The framework document commits the government to "working towards an Arctic that is safe and secure; well governed in conjunction with indigenous peoples and in line with international law; where policies are developed on the basis of sound science with full regard to the environment; and where only responsible development takes place."

Areas where the UK can play a leading role, according to the framework, include taking leadership on global climate change, and engaging with UK-based scientists, industries and NGOs. This could imply a brokering role for the government in future dealings over environmental protests in the Arctic.

The document also commits the government to "promote UK Arctic science … and continue to fund top class climate research … to increase understanding of the changes in the Arctic and their impacts on the global system". The UK has for more than a century been a leader in exploration and scientific research in both the north and south polar regions, but last year the UK's pre-eminent polar science operation, the British Antarctic Survey, was close to crisis when its funding was threatened, before a partial reprieve.

The government would also support marine protected areas, where fishing would be restricted, in the Arctic, and push for "the highest environmental and drilling standards, and provide advice where this is sought".

Rod Downie, head of UK marine policy at WWF, said "The UK's new Arctic policy is a welcome step towards the conservation of one of our largest wilderness regions, and could in time serve as a model for other nations with emerging interests in the Arctic. But it also exposes the lack of coherence in Whitehall over climate and energy policy. Instead of looking to high risk Arctic oil and gas for energy 'security', the UK government, and governments and industry across the world, must heed the warning signs from the rapidly changing Arctic by acting with urgency and ambition to tackle climate change and transition to a renewable future."


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« Reply #736 on: Oct 17, 2013, 06:02 AM »

Romanian villagers and priests occupy Chevron fracking site in protest

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 16, 2013 18:45 EDT

Romanian police clashed with villagers on Wednesday as they tried in vain to force them off a field they have occupied for a third day to prevent U.S. energy giant Chevron from drilling for shale gas.

Hundreds of protesters blocked access to the site at Silistea in eastern Romania where Chevron plans to drill an exploration well, lying down in the mud and holding hands to form a human chain.

Some 250 anti-riot police engaged in an hours-long stand-off with the protesters, with skirmishes as they physically tried to force them off, but the demonstrators pushed their way back onto the field.

The group of protesters, some of whom have been sleeping at the site since Monday, had grown to about 500 on Wednesday, preventing Chevron bulldozers and excavators from accessing the site.

Orthodox priests also joined the protest.

Many of the villagers in the rural region arrived on horse carts, some brought their children who held up signs reading: “Stop Chevron!”, while an elderly woman leaned on her cane beside them.

They are afraid of the environmental and health impact of the highly controversial method used for shale gas drilling, called hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’.

The technique consists of pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into deep rock formations to free oil and gas.

Environmentalists say fracking may contaminate ground water and even cause small earthquakes.

Chevron has permits to explore for shale gas in three villages in this part of eastern Romania as well as on Romania’s Black Sea coast.

“Chevron is committed to building constructive and positive relationships with the communities where we operate and will continue our dialogue with the public, local communities and authorities on its projects,” the company said in a statement to AFP.

“Our priority is to conduct … activities in a safe and environmentally responsible manner consistent with the permits under which we operate,” it added.

Also Wednesday, more than 2,000 people staged a protest in the capital Bucharest, shouting “no to shale gas”.

Romania’s ruling centre-left coalition has been defending shale gas exploration after fighting it when it was in the opposition.

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« Reply #737 on: Oct 18, 2013, 05:17 AM »

Romanian villagers force Chevron to suspend fracking operation

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 17, 2013 15:27 EDT

US energy giant Chevron said Thursday it has suspended shale gas test drilling in northeastern Romania after three days of protests by villagers opposed to fracking.

“Chevron can today confirm it has suspended activities in Silistea, Pungesti commune, Vaslui county,” a press release read.

The move comes a day after Romanian police clashed with villagers who have occupied since Monday a field to prevent Chevron from drilling its first exploration well.

The protesters are afraid of the environmental and health impact of the highly controversial drilling method used to unlock shale gas, called hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’.

The technique consists of pumping water and chemicals at high pressure into deep rock formations to free oil and gas, with environmentalists warning the process may contaminate ground water and even cause small earthquakes.

Chevron has permits to explore for shale gas in three villages in this impoverished part of northeastern Romania as well as on Romania’s Black Sea coast.

“Our priority is to conduct … activities in a safe and environmentally responsible manner consistent with the permits under which we operate,” the group said Wednesday.

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« Reply #738 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:02 AM »


Amazon rainforest is home to 16,000 tree species, estimate suggests

Scientists' analysis of 1,170 surveys of the Amazon suggests there are four hundred billion trees in the region

Press Association
theguardian.com, Friday 18 October 2013 10.08 BST      

Almost four hundred billion trees belonging to 16,000 different species grow in the Amazon, according to a new estimate.

More than 100 experts analysed data from 1,170 surveys to come up with the figures, highlighting the extraordinary scale and diversity of the Amazon rain forest.

The vast size and difficult terrain of the Amazon Basin has historically restricted studies of tree communities to a local or regional level, making it difficult to see the "big picture". This lack of information about Amazonian flora on a basin-wide scale has hindered science and conservation efforts, according to experts.

"In essence, this means that the largest pool of tropical carbon on Earth has been a black box for ecologists, and conservationists don't know which Amazonian tree species face the most severe threats of extinction," said research author Dr Nigel Pitman, from the Field Museum in Chicago, US.

The new findings, published in the journal Science, provide the first estimates of the abundance, frequency and distribution of many thousands of Amazonian trees. Extrapolating the data, compiled over 10 years, suggests that greater Amazonia harbours around 390 billion individual trees, including Brazil nut, chocolate and acai berry.

The area covered encompasses the Amazon Basin (including parts of Brazil, Peru, Columbia) and the Guiana Shield (Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana), spanning an area roughly the size of the 48 North American states. In total roughly 16,000 tree species are believed to exist in the Amazon, but half the total number of trees are thought to belong to just 227 species.

"Thus, the most common species of trees in the Amazon now not only have a number, they also have a name," said co-author Dr Hans ter Steege, from the Naturalis Biodiversity Centre in the Netherlands. "This is very valuable information for further research and policymaking."

Almost none of the most dominant species are widespread throughout the Amazon. Instead, most are abundant in a particular region or forest type, such as swamps or uplands.

The study also offers insights into the rarest tree species in the Amazon. According to a mathematical model used in the study, roughly 6,000 Amazonian tree species have populations of fewer than 1,000 individuals. This would automatically qualify them for inclusion in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species - if they could be found and identified.

US ecologist and co-author Professor Miles Silman, from Wake Forest University, said: "Just like physicists' models tell them that dark matter accounts for much of the universe, our models tell us that species too rare to find account for much of the planet's biodiversity. That's a real problem for conservation, because the species at the greatest risk of extinction may disappear before we ever find them."

Why some species are hyperdominant and others are rare remains an unanswered question. Large numbers of hyperdominants, including Brazil nut, chocolate, rubber and acai berry, have been cultivated and used for millennia by human populations, the scientists note.

"There's a really interesting debate shaping up between people who think that hyperdominant trees are common because pre-1492 indigenous groups farmed them, and people who think those trees were dominant long before humans ever arrived in the Americas," said Dr Pitman.


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« Reply #739 on: Oct 18, 2013, 08:48 AM »

October 17, 2013

In North Dakota, New Concerns Over Mixing Oil and Wheat

By JOHN ELIGON
NYT

ROSS, N.D. — While three generations of the Sorenson family have made their livelihood growing wheat and other crops here, they also have learned to embrace the furious pace of North Dakota’s oil exploration. After all, oil money helped the Sorensons acquire the land and continue to farm it.

But more oil means more drilling, resulting in tons of waste that is putting cropland at risk and raising doubt among farmers that these two cash crops can continue to coexist.

A private company is trying to install a landfill to dispose of solid drilling waste on a golden 160-acre wheat field across the road from Mike and Kim Sorenson’s farmhouse. Although the engineers and regulators behind the project insist that it is safe for the environment, the Sorensons have voiced concern that salt from the drilling waste could seep onto their land, which would render the soil infertile and could contaminate their water, causing their property value to drop.

“I’m concerned not if it leaks, it’s when it’s going to leak over there,” Ms. Sorenson, 42, said.

Oil companies in North Dakota disposed of more than a million tons of drilling waste last year, 15 times the amount in 2006, according to Steven J. Tillotson, the assistant director of the Division of Waste Management for the state’s Health Department. Seven drilling waste landfills operate in the state, with 16 more under construction or seeking state approval.

Landowners who lease their acreage see a reward, while neighboring farmers often protest the potential harm to their pastures. Farmers here complain that state officials promote policies that help the energy sector grow rapidly with little regard for the effect on their livelihoods.

“I don’t think they’re very concerned about the farmer," Mr. Sorenson, 41, said.

His 36-year-old brother, Charlie, who farms with him, added, “There’s just more effort put on where the bacon’s coming from, I guess.”

Few would argue against the benefits of the energy industry, which has made North Dakota the second-largest oil producing state in the country and helped it build a surplus of more than $1.6 billion.

“I wouldn’t say that production agriculture is being forgotten because everyone understands that it always has been and always will be the backbone of the economy of North Dakota,” said Dave Hynek, one of five commissioners in Mountrail County, where the landfill is being proposed. “However, the tremendous amount of money coming into the state coffers from the oil industry at the present time has overshadowed that.”

Without the oil industry, Mr. Sorenson said, he might not even be farming.

His grandfather worked in the oil fields in Montana in the 1940s to earn the money to buy the land where Mr. Sorenson and his family live. In the late 1990s, Mr. Sorenson worked in the North Dakota oil fields for five years to make enough money to farm full time.

“I’ve worked in the oil industry,” Mr. Sorenson said. “That’s kind of how I got all my stuff.”

The Sorensons receive royalties from oil that is produced on their land and from allowing drilling, which accounts for about 10 percent of their income, Mr. Sorenson said.

“I’m fairly neutral on the drilling,” he said, though that did not lessen his concern over the possibility of a landfill across the street. “This most certainly affects me negatively.”

Ms. Sorenson said she was more worried about the environmental risk of living next to a landfill, like runoff seeping into their well water, and what that could mean for their five children.

“We’d love to see our grandkids and further generations be able to be a part of this land, also,” Ms. Sorenson said.

The Sorensons, who have hired a lawyer, are especially sensitive to the landfill proposal because the property owner offering to lease the land for the project is a second cousin of Mike and Charlie Sorenson. The cousin, Roger Sorenson, did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Most drilling waste, usually chunks of earth slathered in chemicals and petroleum, is disposed of at the drilling site. About a year and a half ago, the state passed a regulation requiring drilling companies to dry the waste before burying it on-site to address concerns about runoff and leakage. More companies have since turned to landfills to dispose of waste.

Industry experts argue that landfills are built with better technology and safeguards to prevent environmental hazards than dumps at drilling sites. And it is safer to have a few central dumps that are monitored than a waste pit on each of the thousands of drilling sites throughout the Bakken shale field, said John McCain, the executive vice president and principal engineer at Carlson McCain, the engineering company designing the landfill proposed in Ross.

“I think that landfills carry a negative connotation with them,” Mr. McCain said. “But that negative connotation comes from the old dumps, and the public hasn’t really been educated on new landfill technology.”

Mr. McCain argued that the environmental concern over the proposed waste site in Ross is unwarranted because the soil and liners would protect against leakage.

Those assurances ring hollow to environmental activists in the state, who say they have seen too many drilling-related spills, though not necessarily from landfills.

“We’re not in any way, shape or form against oil,” said Don Morrison, the executive director of the Dakota Resource Council, an environmental group. Later, he added, “The pace of development is the problem and the fact that there are laws on the books that are not being implemented to protect people’s water and land and livelihoods.”

Over the past five years, Mr. Tillotson said, contamination from landfills has occurred only twice, and the companies responsible were fined.

“Environmental releases, whether they are on a well site or off-site, or even at a landfill we regulate, is an issue that we take extremely seriously,” Mr. Tillotson said in an e-mail.

For the landfill near the Sorensons to be built, the Mountrail County Commission must rezone the land from agricultural to industrial.

Mr. Hynek said he was unsure whether he would support the landfill. He understood the environmental concerns, he said, but added that those needed to be balanced against the likelihood of a problem and the benefit of oil exploration.

Mr. Hynek, who farms for a living, said he shared one major concern with his neighbors: the increasing conversion of farmland into drilling land.

“This country has always been ag country as far as raising crops and livestock,” he said. “And once this mineral is depleted — and it will be some day — it will go back to being ag land, and I don’t believe it will ever be as productive as it originally was.”


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« Reply #740 on: Oct 19, 2013, 05:35 AM »


Scout leaders jubilantly knock over 170m-year-old rock formation in Utah

Outrage after triumphant video of destruction by Boy Scouts of America leaders in Goblin Valley state park goes on YouTube

Reuters
theguardian.com, Saturday 19 October 2013 02.00 BST   

An online video of two Boy Scouts of America leaders knocking over a 170m-year-old rock formation in a Utah state park has touched off worldwide outrage, state officials said on Friday, and the two men may face charges.

Click to watch: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYFD18BwmJ4

The video was posted on YouTube showing scout leader Glenn Taylor dislodging the massive rock free from its tiny perch in Goblin Valley state park as Dave Hall films him while singing and laughing.

"We, we have now modified Goblin Valley!" Hall shouts into the camera. "A new Goblin Valley exists with this boulder down here at the bottom!"

The rock formation, known as a "goblin," dates to the late Jurassic era and is one of many that give the desert park a surreal appearance that draws visitors from around the world.

The video has been viewed more than 2m times since it was uploaded to YouTube by the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper on Thursday. The Utah state parks director, Fred Hayes, said his office had been inundated with angry calls and emails.

"Literally from around the world," Hayes said. "Folks who have either been there [to Goblin Valley state park] or even just seen pictures of it. The South-western desert has a lot of appeal for a lot of people and they are just outraged."

Hayes said authorities first became aware of the video when a visitor posted a link to it on the state parks website, asking if such activity was legal. Prosecutors in Emery County will determine if charges would be filed, he said.

The two scout leaders told the Deseret News they toppled the boulder because they thought it posed a danger to children who might be walking by – an explanation that the state parks director greeted with some scepticism.

"Neither one of us were out there intending to do illegal activity," Hall said. "It just made sense to us at the time – remove the danger so that we don't have to hear about somebody dying."

Hayes said park rangers walked through the valley daily and had never considered the boulder to be a danger, noting that it took considerable effort for Taylor to shove it over.

"That's a real leap in logic for me to get there, based on what I see in the video," he said. "I can't get inside their head but that's not the way it looks to me."

A Boy Scouts of America spokesman said the organisation was reviewing the matter and would take appropriate action.

"We are shocked and disappointed by this reprehensible behavior. For more than a century, the Boy Scouts of America has been a leader in conservation – from stewardship to sustainability," Boy Scouts spokesman Deron Smith said.

"The isolated actions of these individuals are absolutely counter to our beliefs and what we teach," he said.


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« Reply #741 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:30 AM »

October 18, 2013

Britain Looks to Fracking as North Sea Oil Dwindles

By STANLEY REED
IHT

BARTON, England — Driving down a bumpy country road in northwest England, one comes upon a bare patch the size of a soccer field at the edge of a peat bog. Workers are erecting a security fence and unrolling watertight film to protect the soil from chemical contamination. Near the middle is a big rectangular hole where a drilling rig will go.

Inauspicious as it may look, what happens on this patch of ground in the coming months could help determine the future of Britain’s, and even Europe’s, approach to shale gas. The energy source has made the United States, for one, suddenly self-sufficient in natural gas, but it raises environmental concerns that have made many countries on this side the Atlantic dead set against it. Shale gas is extracted by the technique known as hydraulic fracturing — or fracking, the harsh-sounding word that can stir the passions of the technology’s harshest critics.

In France, the nation’s highest court recently upheld the government’s right to ban fracking. In Germany, fracking activity is suspended at least until a new government is formed.

But within the European Union, Britain — struggling to confront its energy future as its North Sea oil reserves are depleted, dirty coal is demonized and nuclear power remains expensive and geopolitically fraught — stands out as the country in which the government has officially encouraged the development of shale gas. Prime Minister David Cameron has thrown his support behind shale gas drilling, hoping to reap some of the benefits seen in the United States.

John Blaymires, chief operating officer of IGas Energy, said the government’s support could reap big rewards for Britain, especially in the industrial Manchester-Liverpool region, where the soccer-field-sized bare patch is being readied in Barton. “There is another Aberdeen waiting to be created,” he said, referring to Scotland’s North Sea oil hub. “Manchester and Liverpool could be centers of excellence.”

IGas, one of the small British companies chasing big dreams of shale-gas riches, has assembled a large package of acreage in an area that geologists say looks particularly promising. The company plans to drill an exploratory well here before the end of the year. If it likes what it finds, the company would then probably apply for permission to hydraulically fracture that well, or others that they may also drill in the area, to find out whether there are strong enough gas flows from the shale rock to make further investment worthwhile.

On a recent day, Mr. Blaymires led a tour of the windswept site and another about a half-hour’s drive to the west, in Warrington, where the company is already producing methane gas from coal beds — a conceptually similar technique that is also still considered unconventional.

IGas was founded in 2004 mainly to develop coal gas. But the company now reckons that shale gas, which it thinks can be found at greater depths than the coal in the area, may prove more promising. Mr. Blaymires said that 2014 and early 2015 were shaping up as a “critical period” for the company and the industry. “In all likelihood, a number of wells will be drilled and fracked, and that will determine the commercial potential of shale in the U.K.,” he said.

If so, those will be the first tests of hydraulic fracturing in shale since another small company, Cuadrilla Resources, set off seismic and political tremors with fracking in 2011 at a site not far from Barton.

This summer, a well that Cuadrilla drilled in Balcombe, in the commuter country south of London, set off protests from environmentalists and local opponents that received enormous attention from the media; the fact that it was a conventional oil well, not a fracking well for shale gas, almost seemed beside the political point.

British environmental groups remain largely opposed to shale gas fracking, even though it has the potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions if used as a substitute for coal in power generation. Even more than seismic concerns, they worry about possible water pollution, noise and other disruptions.

But they say their greatest worry is that companies like IGas might actually succeed, turning shale gas into an abundant enough source of fossil fuels that it will reduce the incentive to invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar power.

“We believe that if you care about climate change, you shouldn’t be looking for new fossil fuels,” said Leila Deen, head of energy policy for Greenpeace in Britain. “We believe you should leave it in the ground.”

The Cameron government is intent on encouraging the development of Britain’s energy resources, which is a reason that the chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, played a prominent role on Thursday in announcing that Britain would welcome Chinese money into its nuclear power program.

In support of shale gas development, the British government has established an office of unconventional oil and gas and has indicated that it will set up a favorable tax system as well as rewards to help overcome potential local opposition.

In addition, the government is preparing the first licensing round of onshore leases since 2008 with a possibility that bigger players with strong balance sheets will be persuaded to play. The government owns all mineral rights in Britain although companies like IGas lease individual sites from businesses and farmers.

This year, the British Geological Survey published a survey estimating that a strip across northern central Britain had a very large amount of shale gas in the ground. The midrange figure was 1,300 trillion cubic feet, or 36.8 trillion cubic meters. If even 10 percent of that gas could be produced, it could satisfy British natural gas consumption for about 45 years at current rates. But how much can be recovered if any is unknown.

Shale gas deposits appear to be widely distributed around the world. Political, economic and social factors will likely loom large in determining what countries actually exploit these resources.

“We do have the rocks; we do have the technical capability,” said Peter Styles a professor of geophysics at Keele University. The question is “do we have the political will?”

Besides Britain, Poland so far seems to be relatively open to shale gas exploration. Not only does it have potentially promising underground deposits, but Poland is also trying to reduce its heavy reliance on air-polluting coal and on natural gas from Russia.

That is why when it comes to shale gas development, of all the European countries “Britain and Poland look the most promising in the next five to 10 years,” said Menno Koch, an analyst at Lambert Energy Advisory in London.

There would certainly be customers for the natural gas, not only for direct energy productions but as feedstock for the fertilizer and petrochemical plants at Merseyside, not far from where IGas is looking.

One of those companies, Ineos, a petrochemical company with operations in Britain, is watching the shale gas developments with interest.

“We have a clear view that the development of indigenous shale gas within the U.K. is essential for a competitive energy market and particularly for a competitive chemical industry,” said Tom Crotty, an Ineos spokesman.

IGas talks big numbers. The company’s chief executive, Andrew Austin, a former banker, estimates that it has as much as 170 trillion cubic feet of shale gas under its northern acreage. If it could recover just 5 percent of that amount, it would have about the equivalent of three years of current British consumption, or about $85 billion worth at today’s prices.

IGas already operates a pilot coal-bed methane site at a place called Doe Green in Warrington. Four horizontal wells have been drilled into underlying coal seams. The resulting gas is fed to power a generator, which feeds into the electric grid.

IGas also operates more than 100 onshore oil wells around the country. Those wells produce about 3,000 barrels of oil a day, but the company is betting that more shale resources lie beneath some of those oil fields.

IGas is no Big Oil behemoth, but essentially an energy start-up. For the 12 months ended March 31, the company, which is listed on London’s AIM small company exchange, reported revenue of £68 million, or $110 million, and a loss of £18 million, or $29 million.

Mr. Austin flirted with bringing in an equity partner last year to pay for the new wells. Instead, IGas raised £23 million in new equity this year and also floated a $165 million bond in Oslo this month.

After drilling two wells and fracking at least one, the company will look for a partner to bring capital and expertise, Mr. Blaymires says. He conceded that the shale gas quest “has proven a little more difficult” than he envisaged when he joined in 2010. “There’s nothing I have seen to date that says this can’t work,” he said. “We have to get some wells drilled and fracked to demonstrate that it is commercially practical.”

Mr. Austin and Mr. Blaymires say they think they may have a way of overcoming environmental concerns. They say that the British shale formations appear to be 3,000 to 4,000 feet, or 915 to 1,220 meters, thick — several times as thick as those found in the United States. Because of the presumed greater production of the formations, the executives say they hope to be able to drill many wells from a single site so as to reduce the environmental impact above ground. Hydraulic fracturing involves drilling down vertically, and then horizontally, creating fissures into which a combination of water and chemicals is pumped to force the gas from the rock. Mr. Blaymires said a single site could extract gas from an underground formation of four or five square miles, or 10 to 13 square kilometers.

The back-of-the-envelope economics look encouraging. A site with 10 wells, each with four lateral branches, might produce gas worth more than $1 billion at today’s prices during its lifetime, according to a study by the Institute of Directors, a British business group. But to bring in sand, water and equipment for fracking might, over 20 years, require as many as 31,000 truck visits to the site, the group estimates. The prospect of big rumbling trucks rolling through their communities is one of the reasons local people oppose oil and gas development.

Winning over local skeptics may not be easy.

Treading carefully as it parses its descriptions of what it is up to in Barton, IGas says on its Web site, “We are not hydraulically fracturing but just taking samples for analysis,” even though the company does indeed hope to frack the well.

The Salford city government, which has jurisdiction over the Barton site, so far is under the impression that IGas is looking for coal bed methane, not shale gas.

“What will begin soon, undertaken by IGas, is coal-bed methane exploration drilling. There is no permission for ‘fracking’ in Salford,” Ian Stewart, the mayor of the city of Salford, wrote in an e-mail. “Should the company or anyone else wish in the future to engage in ‘fracking,’ then they would have to seek separate planning permission from the council.”

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: October 18, 2013

An earlier version of this article misstated the midrange estimate of the British Geological Survey on shale gas reserves in a strip across northern central Britain. It is 36.8 trillion cubic meters, not 368 trillion cubic meters.


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« Reply #742 on: Oct 19, 2013, 06:48 AM »


Sinosphere - Dispatches From China
October 17, 2013, 11:39 pm

Amid Heavy Pollution, Beijing Issues Emergency Rules to Protect Citizens

By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW

Snappily titled the Six Stops and One Wash, a new and complex string of regulations by the Beijing city government is aimed at combating the effects of persistent, heavy air pollution on the populace. A major rule will take private vehicles off the roads on alternate days, depending on their license plates, when pollution is especially bad.

The new measures were announced Thursday as air in the capital was deemed “heavily polluted,” according to government air quality readings. Air pollution is a chronic problem in large parts of China.

The regulations consist of a system of four colored alerts that will kick in when heavy pollution is forecast.

The World Health Organization’s cancer agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, said Thursday that it was classifying air pollution as a Group 1 human carcinogen. Particulate matter, a main component of air pollution, was also being classified as a carcinogen, said the agency, based in Lyon, France. “Our conclusion is that this is a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths,” Christopher P. Wild, the agency’s director, said at a news briefing in Geneva, according to Reuters.

That puts both air pollution and air-suspended particulate matter with more than 100 other known cancer-causing substances in the agency’s Group 1 category, including asbestos, plutonium, silica dust, ultraviolet radiation and tobacco smoke, Reuters reported.

Beijing, along with much of northern China, suffers from consistently heavy air pollution that can be especially bad in the winter, when coal-powered heating systems are widely used.

The plan seems to rest on being able to predict pollution patterns with great accuracy.

When one day of “heavy” pollution, defined as an air quality index reading of 201 to 300, is predicted, a blue alert will be put in place and extra street washing will be carried out. Street washing is intended to hold down the dust that accumulates from things like construction activity and sand from the desert, though some here see it as a mostly cosmetic measure.

A yellow alert applies to one day of “serious” pollution, defined as an index reading of more than 300, and will also lead to extra street washing.

When three days of heavy pollution are predicted, an orange alert will be put in place and more action will be taken: factories will close, work on construction sites will stop, and the use of barbecues and firecrackers will be banned.

A red alert will be put in place when three days of serious pollution are forecast, leading to the full Six Stops and One Wash plan. As well as all the above measures, kindergartens and elementary and high schools will close, and cars will be driven only on alternate days; those with license plates that end in odd numbers can be driven on odd-numbered days, and those with plates ending in even numbers on even-numbered days. Some people can get around this rule, like those lucky enough to have more than one car with the right plates.

Xinhua, the state-run news agency, said this measure will cause about two million more people to squeeze onto public transportation. Extra buses will be deployed, and the subway will run for half an hour longer in the evening, it said.

While the plan has received quite a bit of attention already, with many people sending or forwarding messages with details on Sina Weibo, a Chinese microblog site, its usefulness is already being called into question.

“The target of getting this policy out there is the pollution,” said Manpaozhe Robin on Sina Weibo. “So the point is whether the odd and even car rule will solve the air pollution problem. I don’t believe this is a good policy. It’s a simple and crude measure that leaves the skies still smoggy.”

China has also announced a long-term plan to clear the air, but the government has warned it will not be easy or quick.

Another person, with the user name Jihe de dipan, said: “Starting from today, I will use my mobile phone to follow the air pollution index. Even though we are helpless against the serious pollution that worsens day by day, the least I can do is use my goodness and this record to warn my loved ones and friends to protect their health!” On Thursday, the person noted, “The air pollution level is 285.”
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« Reply #743 on: Oct 19, 2013, 07:07 AM »


October 18, 2013

Corruption in Peru Aids Cutting of Rain Forest

By WILLIAM NEUMAN and ANDREA ZARATE
IHT

PUCALLPA, Peru — Afraid the police would tip off suspects, Francisco Berrospi kept local officers in the dark when he headed into the rain forest as a prosecutor to investigate illegal logging. Sometimes it hardly seemed to matter, though.

Even when he managed to seize trucks, chain saws or illegally harvested trees, judges would often force him to give them back, he said. Bribes were so common, he said, that one anticorruption official openly encouraged him to take them.

“The power of the logging industry here is very strong,” Mr. Berrospi said. “The corruption is terrible.”

More than half of Peru is covered by dense forest, including a wide stretch of the Amazon basin, which spreads across South America. Its preservation is considered central to combating global warming and protecting the many species of plants and animals found only in the region.

In recent years, Peru has passed laws to crack down on illegal logging, as required by a 2007 free trade agreement with the United States. But large quantities of timber, including increasingly rare types like mahogany, continue to flow out, much of it ultimately heading to the United States for products like hardwood flooring and decking sold by American retailers.

The World Bank estimates that as much as 80 percent of Peru’s logging exports are harvested illegally, and officials say the wood typically gets shipped using doctored paperwork to make the trade appear legal.

It is a pattern seen in other parts of the world, including the far east of Russia, where environmentalists have documented the rampant illegal logging of oak and other kinds of wood bound for the United States and elsewhere.
By The University of British Columbia School of Journalism

Hardwood timber from Russia’s Far East is being illegally cut and shipped to China to feed huge consumer demand for cheap wood products globally.

In September, federal agents in Virginia served search warrants on Lumber Liquidators, a major American retailer, in what the company said was an investigation into its importation of wood flooring products.

The company has been accused by environmentalists of regularly buying from a Chinese supplier that traffics in illegally harvested Russian oak. Lumber Liquidators disputes the claims, saying that it carefully monitors the origins of its wood.

Here in Pucallpa, a city at the heart of Peru’s logging industry on a major tributary of the Amazon, the waterfront is dominated by huge sawmills piled high with thousands of massive logs. They are floated in from remote logging camps, pulled by small motorboats called peke pekes, while trucks stacked with logs and lumber jam the roads.

A military officer stationed here to patrol the Ucayali River said that he had largely stopped making checks of the riverborne loads of timber, though the checks are supposed to be mandatory. In the past, he said, he had repeatedly ordered loads of logs to be held because they lacked the required paperwork, only to learn that forestry officials would later release them, apparently after creating or rubber-stamping false documentation.

In some cases, he said, loads of mahogany, a valuable type of wood that has disappeared from all but the most remote areas, were given fake documentation identifying the wood as a different kind.

“It’s uncontrollable,” said the officer, who was not authorized to speak publicly. Referring to local forestry officials, he said, “The bosses give jobs to people they trust and then take a cut of the bribes they get.”

Mr. Berrospi, who worked as an environmental prosecutor until August, recited a bitter catalog of frustrations. The local authorities are paid off by loggers to create or approve false paperwork, he said. On one occasion, he said, he was offered about $5,000 to stop an investigation. He reported it to a local prosecutor who specialized in corruption cases, but said he was dismayed by the response.

“Listen, in one year here you’ll get enough to build yourself a house and buy a nice car,” he recalled the other prosecutor saying. “So take care of yourself.”

Lucila Pautrat, director of the Peruvian Society for Eco-development, an advocacy group, said that despite new laws and the mandate under the trade agreement with the United States, the government had failed to tackle deep-seated corruption.

“There is a lack of interest, a negligence on the part of the authorities to regulate the forestry sector,” she said. “And, meanwhile, the wood keeps going out.”

The pressure to extract rare hardwoods and other lumber from the Peruvian rain forest has grown in recent years, as neighboring Brazil stepped up efforts to limit illegal logging, Ms. Pautrat said. She compared the situation to the drug trade, where efforts to crack down on cocaine production in Colombia have been followed by a big increase here in Peru.

“The pressure here grows,” she said. “It’s like cocaine. There is a constant demand in the market.”

Peru’s wood exports to the United States increased this year to $20 million between January and July, up from $15 million in the same period in 2012, according to United States Department of Agriculture data.

American officials say that Peru has made progress fighting illegal logging, but the persistence of the problem led the Office of the United States Trade Representative in January to demand stronger measures from Peru, including the swift prosecution of government officials and others who violate environmental laws.

While the United States, Europe and Australia have banned imports of illegally harvested wood, such efforts are often undermined by corruption and a lack of enforcement, said Kate Horner, a director at the Environmental Investigation Agency, an advocacy group in Washington.

“International demand for cheap illegal products is a main driver of illegal logging around the world,” said Ms. Horner, whose group has pressed the United States to seek stronger restrictions in Peru and recently issued a report accusing Lumber Liquidators of selling flooring made from illegally harvested Russian oak.

Cindy L. Squires, executive director of the International Wood Products Association, an industry group in Virginia, said that it was possible to operate responsibly in Peru, but that it required special vigilance. “This is not the kind of trading you can do from your computer at home,” she said. “You need to get out there and see.”

Mr. Berrospi, a bespectacled 45-year-old who carried antivenom in the jungle in case of snakebite, said officials in the Peruvian capital, Lima, had little idea of the obstacles faced by the country’s approximately 80 environmental prosecutors. Most investigations, he said, required traveling to remote areas, but his office had no boat or helicopter to reach logging camps inaccessible by road. Even getting a pickup truck required special permission, and he said he often had to pay for gas from his own pocket.

But his greatest frustration came from judges, who repeatedly sided with loggers, he said. In one case, he seized logs that he charged were part of a group of about 70 illegally harvested trees. But he said a judge had quickly ordered them to be returned to the logger.

“Do you know what the judge told me?” he said. “She said, ‘How am I going to send a person to jail or put them on trial for 70 little logs if I can see thousands or millions of trees growing here?' ”

In late May, Mr. Berrospi traveled over nearly impassable roads to a logging camp, seizing two tractors and three trucks. But local agencies refused to help find a place to keep them, so he had to return the machinery, he said. Then, a few weeks after he started his investigation, he said, the local forestry authorities restored the logger’s suspended permit without consulting him.

In the end, Mr. Berrospi said, his work made him such a “a stone in their shoe” that “the only thing they could do was get rid of me.”

He was removed from his job in August in what Antonio Fernández Jerí, the head of the environmental prosecutor’s office in Lima, said was a reassigning of personnel for “internal reasons,” though he praised Mr. Berrospi’s aggressiveness, saying that he had done a good job and that there had been no accusations of wrongdoing against him.

One investigation that Mr. Berrospi left unfinished involved Saweto, a distant Ashaninka Indian village near the Brazilian border. Edwin Chota, a resident who tracked a large load of logs transported by river from the village, said the barriers to enforcing environmental laws seemed overwhelming.

“There is no law,” Mr. Chota said, during a visit to the sawmill that held the stacks of massive logs that he had followed from his village. “There’s no money to investigate. There’s only money to destroy.”


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« Reply #744 on: Oct 20, 2013, 06:50 AM »


October 19, 2013 05:30 PM

Anti-Fracking Protest Turns Violent In New Brunswick

By Diane Sweet
CrooksAndLiars

Several police cars were torched and at least 40 people arrested Thursday during an anti-fracking protest near native land in Maritime Canada.

The violence erupted after the Royal Canadian Mounted Police moved in to arrest demonstrators and remove a blockade that members of the Elsipogtog First Nation erected two weeks to stop a shale gas project in Rexton, New Brunswick. The Elsipogtog claim hydraulic fracturing, popularly known as fracking, could irreparably damage their land and the surrounding area.

Witnesses estimated that at least 100 police faced off against several hundred demonstrators, according to news reports.

CBC News:

    "The clashes started at about 1 p.m. after police fired pepper spray at the protesters, who were trying to push through the police line.

    RCMP spokeswoman Const. Jullie Rogers-Marsh said that no rubber bullets were used but that RCMP members used "sock rounds" — also known as bean bag rounds, which are a type of non-lethal ammunition — on two occasions during the clash in an attempt to defuse the situation.

    CBC reporter, Jennifer Choi, said thick black smoke was billowing from the scene, and she could hear popping and see sparks in at least one of the flaming vehicles.

    It is not known whether ammunition was in the vehicles. Bystanders backed away from the fire as a precaution, Choi said."

Protesters were arrested for firearms offenses, threats, intimidation, mischief and not abiding a court injunction forbidding the blockade of an SWN Resources Canada compound. Elsipogtog Chief James Arren Sock was among those arrested, CBC News reported.

"The RCMP has worked diligently with all parties involved in hopes for a peaceful resolution. Those efforts have not been successful. Tensions were rising, and serious criminal acts are being committed," Constable Jullie Rogers-Marsh of the New Brunswick RCMP said in a news release.

Rober Levi, a tribal councillor, told The Canadian Press that chief Sock "was manhandled a little bit and all hell broke loose."

John Levi, a First Nations chief on the scene, said that First Nations may have "lost the battle" referring to the fact that SWN Resources, the company at the center of the conflict, has not agreed to stop shale gas seismic testing, as the protesters demand.

But "we have not lost the war," he added.

He said protesters would remain, despite the injunction. "This is what our people have been fighting for," he said.


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« Reply #745 on: Oct 20, 2013, 08:02 AM »


In Ulan Bator, winter stoves fuel a smog responsible for one in 10 deaths

Mongolia's capital is the coldest in the world – and in its tented slums, pollution from traditional heating is a killer. But change is on the way

Tania Branigan   
The Observer, Sunday 20 October 2013      

They call Mongolia the "land of blue sky"; its spectacular desert, forest and grasslands are blessed by sun for two-thirds of the year. But climb to a snow-dusted hilltop overlooking Ulan Bator and you see a thick grey band hanging over the city. In the coming weeks, as temperatures plummet, the smog will spread across the streets and into homes, shutting out the light.

While Beijing's "airpocalypse" has made headlines worldwide, it pales beside the haze of the Mongolian capital. Ulan Bator is the world's second-most polluted city, superseded only by Ahvaz in Iran, according to World Health Organisation research.

Pollution is a common problem for quickly developing countries. But the biggest issue is not the smokestacks on the horizon – Mongolia's manufacturing sector remains minute – nor the vehicles jamming the capital's streets. Rather, it is the collision of urbanisation and traditional culture: 60-70% of winter pollution comes from the old-fashioned stoves heating the circular felt tents or gers that sprawl across the slopes around the city.

More than half of the city's 1.2 million inhabitants live in the impoverished ger districts, burning coal, wood and sometimes rubbish to cook and keep warm. Ulan Bator is the world's chilliest capital, with temperatures dipping as low as -40C in January.

"As soon as people start getting cold they start up their stoves, and that's when the smog begins. It looks like thick fog and every year it's getting worse. It's only a bit of an exaggeration to say you could get lost in it," said Otgonsetseg Lodoisambuu, who lives in a district to the north of the city with his children. "The little one stays inside all the time in the winter, but my older son is in first grade now, so we have to take him to school; I just put a scarf over his face. The only time it's OK to let the kids out is between one and two in the afternoon, when people let their fires die down because they have finished cooking.

"In the morning it hurts my throat as soon as I go outside. It must be hurting my lungs, too."

Ulan Bator's pollutant levels of PM2.5 – tiny particulate matter, which can penetrate deep into lungs – are six or seven times higher than the WHO's most lenient air-quality guidelines for developing countries. The result, say researchers, is that one in every 10 deaths is caused by air pollution – on their most conservative estimate.

Ryan Allen, of Simon Fraser University, in Canada, who led the study, said the true figure could be as high as one in five. The study did not consider the effects of indoor air pollution, excluded the deaths of those aged under 30 and was based on data from a centrally located government monitoring site, in a relatively less polluted area of the city.

He and his Mongolian co-researchers are now studying how pollution affects foetuses and whether using air filters could reduce the impact; Ulan Bator's public health institute has warned of a sharp increase in birth defects in the capital as well as a 45% rise in the number of patients with respiratory illnesses between 2004 and 2008. The World Bank has estimated that pollution-related health problems cost the country £290m annually.

Dr Byambaa Onio, vice-director of the Bayanzurkh district hospital, arrived in the capital 46 years ago, when it was "a nice, clean city"; now the pollution levels are "disastrous", he said – and are producing a growing number of patients.

Like many of the capital's residents, he and his wife rarely open the windows in winter. But when they set up an air purifier at home, to test how severe the problem had become, they were shocked to see how dirty the filter became in just two days. "We've continued to use the purifiers, so my wife and I are breathing clean air – but others don't," he said.

Nor do others have the option to buy their children masks and decamp to a home outside the city at weekends, as the couple do, he notes. The residents of ger districts are hit twice over: pollution levels can be double those of the city centre, and they cannot afford to take evasive measures.

Joint research by the World Bank and National University of Mongolia suggests that halving ger stove emissions could cut year-round levels of the larger PM10 particles by a third. Foreign donors and Mongolian authorities have spent millions of dollars subsidising the distribution of 128,000 "clean" stoves in the last year and attempting to step up the production of clean fuels.

Galimbyek Khaltai, deputy head of the city's air pollution agency, says PM2.5 levels have already fallen by around 25% since the programme began. Other experts believe it is too early to judge its effectiveness because the monitoring network is not rigorous enough and unusually high levels of wind and snow last year are likely to have affected data.

Jugder Batmunkh is one of the keenest advocates of the stove replacement project. The 63-year-old is raising her grandchildren in a ger district to the north of the capital; last year she developed asthma, which her doctor blamed on pollution.

Disposing of the ashes from gers is easier and cleaner with the new model. When you take the cover off, the ger does not fill with smoke as it tended to do before. But the biggest advantage for her is its efficiency: it uses just half as much coal. Her family burn through just one bag a day now, saving themselves perhaps 45,000 tugriks (£16) a month – in an area where the average income is around 600,000 tugriks.

Most of her neighbours in Bhayan Khoshuu have bought the appliances, but not all are so enthusiastic. Some have heard rumours that the new stoves might explode; others are unimpressed by their performance.

Twenty-two-year-old Nadmid Rentsenosor's recent purchase is standing idle. "It takes too long to heat up, so it warms the place much more slowly – we are still using the old one instead," she said.

The city is launching a two-month campaign to show people how to use the stoves and minimise emissions. But even if officials can persuade everyone to adapt, the resulting fall in pollution will be vulnerable to fresh shifts in Ulan Bator's development. As its economy grows, construction projects are under way around the city, churning up dust, and more vehicles sit in traffic jams on the streets. The city's population continues to swell and another bitter winter could bring a fresh surge of migrants to the ger districts; many of the current residents moved to the capital from desperation when their livestock died in extreme weather conditions.

"Clean stoves reduce air pollution, but that's a short-term project. Our long-term project has to be to build affordable apartments," said Galimbyek of the air pollution agency.

The scale of demand is daunting and the quality of new buildings will be as important as the quality. Much of the city's housing dates from the Soviet era: it lacks double glazing and in many cases has just 5mm of basic polystyrene insulation on the concrete walls, said Graham McDarby of Gradon Architecture, a British firm now working on flats in the city. Raising current building standards to European levels could dramatically improve energy efficiency. "If you've got quality insulation and it's air-tight, the family in there will generate enough heat," he said.

The country also has its first wind farm, not far from the capital. There are ambitious plans for a new subway system, which should help cut traffic pollution.

But the ultimate problem, said Galimbyek, was that there were simply too many people in the capital: its size has tripled since 1979 and it has over a third of the country's population. It is where all the universities are located, and much of Mongolia's employment. To make Ulan Bator a healthier place, he believes, it has to stop mushrooming, which means that rural areas have to be developed instead. That might sound like a radical prescription, but drastic changes are needed. "For years we thought the effects of air pollution fell on a straight line: if you reduced it by 10 units, it didn't matter whether you were at the higher or lower end. What we seem to be learning more recently is that it is a curve, not a straight line, and actually you get the biggest bang for your buck in lower [pollution] conditions," said Allen.

"In a city like Ulan Bator you would actually need to have quite a dramatic reduction in air pollution before you started to see really good improvements in public health."


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« Reply #746 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:52 AM »

Hinkley nuclear power station gets go-ahead as coalition signs off EDF deal

Building to commence on Britain's first nuclear power station in 20 years as government hands subsidy to French company

Patrick Wintour   
The Guardian, Monday 21 October 2013   

Britain is to embark on building its first nuclear power station for two decades on Monday as the coalition hands a multibillion subsidy to France's EDF with help from a state-owned Chinese firm.

The two planned pressurised water reactors at Hinkley Point C, Somerset, are the first to start construction in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster and the first in the UK since the Sizewell B power station came online in 1995.

The new reactors, which will cost £14bn, are due to start operating in 2023 if constructed on time and will run for 35 years. They will be capable of producing 7% of the UK's electricity – equivalent to the amount used by 5m homes.

After months of delay, the news came as the coalition has come under intense pressure over rising electricity bills. British Gas and SSE have both announced price rises for customers of close to 10% and Ed Miliband's promise to freeze energy bills has struck a chord with voters. There are expected to be further rises announced by the big six energy companies this week.

Over the weekend the archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, waded into the row over energy prices, warning that the latest wave of hikes looks inexplicable. Welby, a former oil executive, insisted the big six energy companies had an obligation to behave morally rather than just maximising profit.

"They have control because they sell something everyone has to buy. We have no choice about buying it," he told the Mail on Sunday. "With that amount of power comes huge responsibility to serve society."

The guaranteed subsidies promised by the government for Hinkley Point C will lead to accusations that ministers are loading a further cost on spiralling energy prices by again requiring British taxpayers to subsidise nuclear power. The coalition counters that similar subsidies are going to other carbon-free industries such as renewables and that the country needs the energy security and steady base load that nuclear provides. Gas prices, although relatively low, are predicted to rise.

Britain is taking a sharply different route to Germany, which has decided to phase out nuclear power, and Italy, which has scrapped a planned nuclear programme. France, traditionally the nuclear enthusiast, has pledged to cut atomic power to 50% of its electricity mix from 75% today.

The strike price – the guaranteed rate to be paid for electricity produced at the Somerset site – will be announced as £92.50 on Monday, following two years of complex negotiations. That is nearly twice the market price of energy. The price is guaranteed for 35 years and will rise in line with inflation.
Hinkley Point map


EDF was thought to have started negotiations demanding a figure of £100, with the Treasury's gambit being £80.

The price will fall to £89.50 if EDF presses ahead with a second plant at Sizewell, Suffolk. Chancellor George Osborne removed another obstacle last week when he announced that Chinese firms would be allowed to invest in civil nuclear projects in the UK.

Ministers will come under twin attack from green groups, both for endangering safety and providing subsidy, as well as from enthusiasts for shale gas for failing to put their faith in cheap gas, currently nearly half the cost of nuclear.

The energy secretary, Ed Davey, is preparing to counter green groups by arguing that onshore or offshore wind could not fill the energy gap created by the decommissioning of the first wave of power stations. By some estimates, Hinkley Point C will generate the equivalent output of 6,000 onshore wind turbines.

EDF's longtime partner, China General Nuclear Power Group, possibly in combination with China National Nuclear Corporation, is expected to have a 30% to 40% stake in the consortium, with Areva taking another 10%, according to French weekend newspaper reports. The deal is thought to provide a 10% return on EDF's investment.

The coalition policy is being led by the Liberal Democrats – the party that had, in principle, opposed nuclear power right up until its party conference in September. The deal is a huge gamble for both the government and EDF, since projecting the state of the electricity market and wholesale prices 35 years ahead is fraught with risk.

Michael Fallon, the Conservative energy minister, signalled another review of the green subsidies imposed on energy firms, but Davey said: "It only takes a GCSE in maths to recognise that green subsidies are not pushing up prices. It is a fact that 47 % of energy prices come from wholesale prices and they have risen 50% in five years."

• This article was amended on 21 October 2013. An earlier version said that 7% of the UK's electricity was enough to power 7m homes. The correct figure is 5m.

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David Cameron hails nuclear power plant deal as big day for Britain

Planned reactors at Hinkley will be first to begin construction since Fukushima disaster and will come online in 2023

Patrick Wintour, political editor
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 08.54 BST   

David Cameron has hailed the UK government agreement with French-owned EDF to build the first new British nuclear power station in 20 years, saying it was a very big day for Britain and would kickstart a new generation of nuclear power in the UK.

The energy secretary, Ed Davey, claimed it was a great deal for consumers and would result in energy bills falling by more than £75 by 2030.

He added: "If we don't make these essential investments … we're going to see the lights going out."

The 35-year deal, struck at £92.50 per megawatt hour, is twice the current wholesale market rate for electricity, and will be attacked by some as a massive subsidy to help another non-carbon fuel, with the funds going to the French taxpayer and the Chinese government, which has a minority stake to build the new plant at Hinkley C in Somerset.
Hinkley Point map

With the deal between the UK government and EDF announced on Monday morning, Cameron said: "This is a very big day for our country: the first time we've built a new nuclear power station for a very long time."

He said the deal would be the first of many "kick-starting again this industry, providing thousands of jobs and providing long-term, safe and secure supplies of electricity far into the future".

The subsidy inherent in the strike price reflects the risk in constructing the plant, uncertainty over the future market and the need to reduce the UK's dependence on carbon fuels, such as coal and gas.

But the deal comes at a politically sensitive time as the government fends off criticism that government-imposed green subsidies are pushing up the price of electricity.

Cameron has rejected a Labour proposal for a 20-month government-imposed freeze on energy prices.

The shadow energy secretary, Caroline Flint, said Labour supported nuclear power, but claimed: "David Cameron is now in the ridiculous position of saying that they can set prices 35 years ahead for the companies producing nuclear power, while insisting they can't freeze prices for 20 months for consumers while much-needed reforms are put in place."

Davey said 57% of the jobs and contracts would go to UK contractors, a way of rebuilding the country's nuclear skills.

The two planned pressurised water reactors at Hinkley Point C will be the first to start construction in Europe since Japan's Fukushima disaster and the first in the UK since the Sizewell B power station came online in 1995.

The new reactors, which will cost £14bn, are due to start operating in 2023 if built on time and will run for 35 years. They will be capable of producing 7% of the UK's electricity – equivalent to the amount used by 5m homes.

In details released on Monday morning, the strike price – the fixed price at which output will be sold – has been set at £89.50 per megawatt hour for electricity produced at the new power station. That price will be fully indexed to consumer price inflation. But the price, at 2012 prices, is dependent on EDF moving ahead with a second plant, Sizewell C, in Suffolk. If it decides not to proceed, another £3/MWh will be added to the strike price for Hinkley, bringing it up to £92.50/MWh.

The reduction reflects the fact that advanced costs for a "first of a kind" nuclear power station are high, but reduce with each successive new plant as economies of scale kick in, the official said. The strike price covers not only the costs of building Hinkley Point C, but all decommissioning and nuclear waste management costs.

EDF was thought to have started negotiations demanding a figure of £100, with the Treasury's gambit being £80.

EDF, which is majority-owned by the French taxpayer and whose investment is likely to be guaranteed by the UK Treasury, will have to start depositing money into a special fund for such liabilities from the start of the project. The government has still not yet completed the process of agreeing a system of storing the waste.

The agreed strike price should allow EDF to make a 10% rate of return on the project. Costs would fall for taxpayer if EDF managed to refinance its package in the future, so sharing the gain.

The strike price is expected to be reviewed 7.5 years, 15 years and 25 years after the commercial operations date of the first reactor as well at the end of the contract term. Protection would be provided for any increases in nuclear insurance costs as a result of withdrawal of HMG cover.

• This article was changed on 21st October. And earlier version said that 7% of UK electricity is enough to power 7m homes. The correct figure is 5m.


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« Reply #747 on: Oct 21, 2013, 06:59 AM »


Opponents of Alaska's Bristol Bay gold mine continue their battle

Indigenous Alaskans fear the Pebble Mine will go ahead despite Anglo American pulling out of the development last month

Mark Riley Cardwell
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 11.55 BST   

Opponents of the development of the world's largest gold mine, in Alaska's Bristol Bay, have said they will continue to fight the project.

A spokesman for indigenous Alaskans said there is still a danger that the Pebble Mine would go ahead despite British mining company Anglo American pulling out of the development last month. Ron Thiessen, CEO of the Northern Dynasty Minerals, the remaining developer, has issued a statement saying the plans for the mine would continue.

The controversial Pebble Mine project would see the opening of vast open-pit gold and copper mines along tundra located 200 miles south-west of Anchorage.

Environmentalists and residents have fiercely opposed the plans, saying the mine would pollute the surrounding area, threatening the 30 to 40 million sockeye salmon that come to the bay each year. Indigenous Alaskan populations in the region rely on the salmon for food.

Speaking at the first UK screening of We Can't Eat Gold, a documentary showing how the development would affect native Alaskans, campaigner Bobby Andrew said it was good news that Anglo American had pulled out of the project.

But Andrew, a fisherman and spokesman for Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of eight Alaska Native village corporations in Bristol Bay, said it was likely that Northern Dynasty Minerals would find alternative investors to fill the funding gap.

He called on UK company Rio Tinto – a shareholder in Northern Dynasty Minerals – to pull out of the project as well.

Andrew, who has campaigned against the project for 10 years, said: "We aren't going to stop at this point even if Anglo American has pulled out. The main site is a very important area for salmon and we have to continue to work against the Pebble Mine project.

"As long as Northern Dynasty Minerals are looking for other investors worldwide, there is still a chance of them finding another partner company that will come in and make the largest North American open-pit mine in our region.

"We have to make sure salmon resources are available for future generations."

Andrew said the mine's exploration phase has already dislocated king salmon and caribou populations that many villages rely on for survival.

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently making an assessment of the potential environmental risks posed by the development, which it plans to complete before the end of the year.

A previous EPA study published earlier this year suggested the mine could destroy 100 miles of streams and 4,800 acres of wetlands in the Bristol Bay region.

Andrew, who lobbied the EPA to conduct the review, said native Alaskan groups would continue to make their voices heard during the public consultation after the latest report is published.


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« Reply #748 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:20 AM »


Chinese city paralysed by smog

In parts of Harbin, the PM2.5 measure of air pollution reaches 1,000 – more than three times the hazardous level

Reuters in Beijing
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 11.44 BST   

Choking smog has all but shut down one of north-eastern China's largest cities, forcing schools to suspend classes, blocking traffic and closing the airport in the country's first major air pollution crisis of the winter.

An air quality index measuring PM2.5, or particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres, reached a reading of 1,000 micrograms per cubic metre in some parts of Harbin, the gritty capital of north-eastern Heilongjiang province and home to some 11 million people. A level above 300 is considered hazardous, while the World Health Organisation recommends a daily level of no more than 20.

The smog not only forced all primary and middle schools to suspend classes on Monday, but shut the airport and some public bus routes, the official Xinhua news agency reported, blaming the emergency on the first day of the heating being turned on for winter. Visibility was reportedly reduced to 10 metres and the smog was expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

Air quality in Chinese cities is of increasing concern to the country's stability-obsessed leadership because it plays into popular resentment over political privilege and rising inequality in the world's second-largest economy.

Domestic media have run stories describing the expensive air purifiers government officials enjoy in their homes and offices, alongside reports of special organic farms so the elite can avoid the recurrent food safety scandals in the country.

The government has announced plans over the years to tackle pollution but has made little apparent progress.

Users of China's popular Twitter-like Sina Weibo microblogging site reacted with both anger and bitter sarcasm over Harbin's air pollution.

"After years of effort, the wise and hard-working people of Harbin have finally managed to skip both the middle-class society and the communist society stages, and have now entered a fairyland society!" wrote one user.

Other parts of north-eastern China also experienced severe smog, including Tangshan, two hours east of Beijing, and Changchun, the capital of Jilin province which borders Heilongjiang.

Last week, Beijing city released a colour-coded alert system for handling air pollution emergencies, to include temporarily stopping construction work, factory production, outdoor barbecues and the setting off of fireworks.

Beijing suffered its own smog emergency last winter when the PM2.5 surpassed 900 on one particularly bad day in January.


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« Reply #749 on: Oct 21, 2013, 07:27 AM »

October 20, 2013

Australia Struggles to Control Wildfires

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

CANBERRA, Australia — Firefighters on Sunday were battling some of the most destructive wildfires to ever strike New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, struggling to control a major blaze that stretched along a 190-mile front.

The authorities warned that high temperatures and winds would probably heighten the danger for several days in the state.

The fires had killed one man, destroyed 208 homes and damaged 122 others since Thursday, the Rural Fire Service said.

Firefighters took advantage of milder conditions in recent days to reduce the number of fires threatening towns around Sydney from more than 100 on Thursday night to 61 on Sunday, a fire service spokesman, Matt Sun, said.

Fifteen of the fires continued to burn out of control, including one near Lithgow, west of Sydney, which was given the highest danger ranking. The authorities expected the Lithgow fire to continue to burn for days and advised several towns nearby to consider evacuating.

The Defense Department, meanwhile, said it was investigating whether there was any link between the Lithgow fire, which started Wednesday, and military exercises using explosives at a training range nearby on the same day.

Mr. Sun said that the cause of the fire was under investigation and that any determination would be made public. Arson investigators were examining the origins of several of more than 100 fires that have threatened towns surrounding Sydney in recent days.

The commissioner of the Rural Fire Service in New South Wales, Shane Fitzsimmons, said the weather was expected to deteriorate further on Monday and Tuesday. The wildfires have been extraordinarily intense and early in an annual fire season that peaks during the Southern Hemisphere summer, which begins in December.

Wildfires are common in Australia, though they do not tend to pop up in large numbers until the summer. This year’s unusually dry winter and hotter-than-average spring have led to perfect fire conditions.

In February 2009, wildfires killed 173 people and destroyed more than 2,000 homes in neighboring Victoria State.

****************

Australia bushfires live: fears Blue Mountains fires will join together

RFS chief warns three major fires could join together, endangering entire Blue Mountains, as NSW premier calls a state of emergency to deal with more than 50 fires burning across the state

Helen Davidson and Nick Evershed   
theguardian.com, Monday 21 October 2013 09.15 BST       

Click to watch: http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/oct/21/wildfires-new-south-wales-australia-video

7.15pm AEST
Summary

We're going to wrap up our live coverage now. Here's a roundup of how things stand:

    There are currently around 60 fires burning across NSW, with two emergency warnings for fires at Springwood and Lithgow
    Two Blue Mountains (Mt Victoria and State Mine) fire fronts are expected to join together over the next 24-48 hours with increasingly dangerous weather conditions. The RFS can't rule out they will also join up with Springwood, although it's less likely
    Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione says all five arrests in relation to the current bushfire crisis have been "young people"
    An 11-year-old boy has been charged over two fires – one of which began in Heatherbrae in the NSW Hunter region, destroyed several buildings and burnt more than 5,000 hectares of land. A 15-year-old boy has also been arrested in relation to the Heatherbrae fire
    A 14-year-old has also been charged with lighting a fire near a tennis club near Rutherford, also in the Hunter
    Premier Barry O'Farrell on Sunday declared a state of emergency for NSW. It's believed to be the worst bushfire disaster in the state for 45 years
    Wednesday is expected to see extreme fire danger warnings in Sydney
    Smoke haze is affecting much of the Sydney region, causing airport delays and prompting warnings for people to avoid breathing in the poor air by staying inside and not taking part in any rigorous activity outside

For current warnings, please check the RFS website.

6.26pm AEST

Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione: all of the arsonists arrested so far have been "young people"

    Today, there has been two arrests with regards to a significant fire which caused about 5,000 hectares of damage. There has been an 11-year-old male taken into custody, has been charged and put before a court, his bail refused by the court.

    We currently have a 15-year-old male in our custody assisting us with similar enquiries, not yet charged but certainly at this stage the intention is he will be before the courts as soon as we can get him there.

    It's very disturbing, all of the arrests we have made with regard to arson attacks since this current crisis have been young people.

Updated at 6.26pm AEST

6.10pm AEST

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons says forecasted windy conditions will cause problems in the next 48 hours:

    The weather forecast continues to firm up as being problematic over the next 48 hrs with a continuance of similar conditions to today, albeit with a marginal reduction in temperatures for tomorrow before we see those elevated wind strengths dominate much of the fire affected areas, but also more broadly right up through the Hunter, central ranges, metropolitan and Illawarra regions. We can expect to see most of those areas with widespread severe fire danger ratings.

5.59pm AEST
RFS update

RFS Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has just given an update to the media.

He says the conditions are continuing to make things unpredictable, and "as the fire grounds continue to change, we continue to see flare-ups and erratic behaviour".

There is some good news with the previously mentioned Hall Road fire being downgraded.

He says there's a "developing amount of fire activity near the community of Bilpin and Berambing, and we're seeing spot fires and spot fire activity in that local area".

More to come...

5.35pm AEST

The Wollondilly fire near Hall Road has been downgraded to 'watch and act' by the RFS, and Picton Road has been reopened.

Update here.

5.04pm AEST

Police have confirmed the second arrest in relation to the Heatherbrae fire in a short statement:

    A 15-year-old boy has been arrested over the large bushfire that started in Heatherbrae last week.

    He’s currently at Raymond Terrace Police Station where he is expected to be charged.

    An 11-year-old boy was charged over the fire earlier today.

    No further details are available at this stage.

4.47pm AEST

Police have arrested a second boy over the Heatherbrae fire, according to the Newcastle Herald's police reporter Dan Proudman:

    Cops have arrested a second boy over Heatherbrae firestorm. 15yo expected to be charged this afternoon @newcastleherald
    — Dan Proudman (@Proudman74) October 21, 2013

4.40pm AEST

Guardian Australia's political editor, Lenore Taylor, on the political debate around climate change policies and the bushfires:

    According to a creeping conservative political correctness, it is allegedly improper to discuss the link between climate change and the increased risk of devastating bushfires like the ones still burning across New South Wales.

    Columnists start by attacking suggestions such as those made in an article written for the Guardian by the Greens deputy leader, Adam Bandt, that by repealing the carbon tax, Tony Abbott is failing to protect the Australian people from climate change risk. Then they move quickly to the accusation that it amounts to politicising a disaster to discuss the connection between climate change and bushfire at all.

    But report after report has pointed to climate change increasing the likelihood of conditions that pose the greatest risk for fire.

Read the full article here.

4.18pm AEST
Two fires likely to merge, "can't rule out" three

Fitzsimmons said they "can't rule out" that the three fires will join together, but at this stage it is likelier to be two of them — the large state mine fire at Lithgow and the Mt Victoria fire.

"North of Bells Line Of Road, the fire out of Lithgow heading towards Bilpin, will join the fire near Mt York and Mt Victoria," somewhere in the Grose Valley, he predicted, saying backburning efforts have had an impact.

Updated at 4.37pm AEST

4.14pm AEST

In his latest update on the bushfire crisis, RFS NSW Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has warned residents of Wilton to take shelter as embers travel kilometres ahead of the fire front. Firefighters are tasked to assist people in the area.

“The fire is well and truly heading towards Wilton," he said.

He also said they were "acutely aware" of the natural gas plant near Wilton. Extra services have been tasked to protect it.

Fitzsimmons blamed weather for the Springwood/Faulconbridge flare up where "dozens of homes" have been lost along Grose Road. It's not entirely clear if the houses have gone in the last few hours or if they are part of earlier assessments.

Both of these fires were upgraded to emergency warnings again just this afternoon. “The last hour or so reminds us to remain vigilant," said Fitzsimmons. "The fire grounds remain dynamic and challenging to firefighters."

Updated at 4.40pm AEST

3.59pm AEST

A reminder that total firebans are in place for four Sydney regions.

    Greater Sydney (including the Blue Mountains and Central Coast areas)
    Greater Hunter
    Illawarra / Shoalhaven
    Central Ranges

3.58pm AEST

ABC reporter Lexi Metherell is on site with firefighters backburning in the Blue Mountains.

    Back burning around Dargan in the Blue Mountains... Fireys protecting this 80 yr old dunny #nswfires @abcnews pic.twitter.com/ehcSfztvJz
    — Lexi Metherell (@LexiMetherell) October 21, 2013

3.54pm AEST
Third emergency warning in place

The Springwood fire has been upgraded to an emergency warning. From the RFS:

    The fire has flared up in bushland between Chapman Road and Grose Road. Firefighters are working in the area.

    If you are in the area north of the intersection of Daly Road and Grose Road, or the intersection of Lindsay Road and Chapman Parade, seek shelter if the fire impacts. Protect yourself from the heat of the fire.

3.50pm AEST

The fires are again playing havoc with the Bureau of meteorology's rain radar. The "rainfall" signals in the image below are created by the smoke from three fires at Lithgow, Springwood and Mt Victoria and one at Balmoral in the Southern Highlands.
Bureau Meteorology bushfires Smoke plumes from the bushfires show up as rain on the bureau of meteorology radar. Photograph: Bureau of Meteorology

Updated at 4.42pm AEST

3.43pm AEST

The 11-year-old boy arrested earlier in relation to two Hunter region fires has been charged. I'll have more details for you shortly.

3.42pm AEST

NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service (Wires) has urged people not to call their hotline with offers of help for animals injured in the bushfires.

    Wires would like to thank everyone for their offers of help. We have a dedicated trained volunteer base of over 2,000 who are coping with animal rescue and care at the moment.

    The best way to help is by donating to our Bushfire Appeal.

    If there is help needed in other ways we will post on our website and social media pages.

Updated at 4.43pm AEST

3.37pm AEST

An RFS spokesman has said that residents of Wilton are advised to take care and find shelter as flying embers from the Balmoral fire — now revised to an emergency warning situation — is starting spot fires in the township. Picton Road is now reportedly closed.

"Our advice to residents in that area will be to shelter in place because we can't guarantee their safety travelling on the roads," he said.

Updated at 4.43pm AEST

3.34pm AEST

A good indication of the sheer size of the Lithgow fire.

    NSW - For scale, latest #Lithgow #bushfire perimeter overlaid across #Sydney. #nswfires http://t.co/NrxKauEQ88 pic.twitter.com/P9eN4JLuFF
    — EmergencyAUS (@EmergencyAUS) October 21, 2013

3.23pm AEST

    Hall Rd Fire: People in the area of Wilton should be alert to burning embers. Take shelter if the fire impacts on your property. #nswfires
    — NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) October 21, 2013

    Hall Rd: An Emergency Alert Telephone Message has been sent to people in the Wilton Area #NSWRFS #nswfires
    — NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) October 21, 2013

3.17pm AEST

Melissa White assists her sister Christie Daschke at her home destroyed by bushfire on 21 October 2013 in Winmalee, Australia.
Melissa White assists her sister Christie Daschke at her home destroyed by bushfire on October 21, 2013 in Winmalee, Australia. Melissa White assists her sister Christie Daschke at her home destroyed by bushfire on October 21, 2013 in Winmalee, Australia. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

A home destroyed by bushfire in Winmalee.
A home destroyed by bushfire as seen on October 21, 2013 in Winmalee. A home destroyed by bushfire as seen on October 21, 2013 in Winmalee. Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Updated at 4.44pm AEST

3.11pm AEST
Second emergency warning for Southern Highlands

The Southern Highlands fire has been upgraded to an emergency warning. The fire is burning is bushland near Yerrinbool, Balmoral, Yanderra, Pheasants Nest, Wilton, Bargo, Buxton, Hill Top, Alpine / Aylmerton and Couridjah.

Burning embers are blowing towards Wilton and residents are being urged to watch out for embers and put out any spot fires that start on their property.

A second emergency warning remains in place for the State Mine fire.

Updated at 3.22pm AEST

2.50pm AEST

The insurance bill from the disaster is estimated at $94m with 855 claims made, the Insurance Council of Australia told AAP. More than 200 homes have been lost so far in the fires, and it's expected that number will rise.

2.23pm AEST

RFS NSW Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons has given another update on the worsening weather conditions this week. Wednesday is still predicted to bring the worst of it, with high temperatures and winds of up to 100km/h, albeit with higher humidity "which is a benefit," he said.

He said that currently the Blue Mountains fires are not burning as fast as they were last week at the height of the crisis.

"I'm not suggesting in any way that these fires will run in the same speed as they did last week but we can’t rule out that these fires may get up and run.”

Should the fires join up, as is feared, Fitzsimmons said it is likely to happen somewhere in the Grose Valley.

Updated at 2.35pm AEST

2.09pm AEST
Summary of events

    There are currently around 58 fires burning across NSW, 14 of them uncontained, according to the last update from RFS NSW Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons.
    Premier Barry O'Farrell on Sunday declared a state of emergency for NSW. It's believed to be the worst bushfire disaster in the state for 45 years.
    There are fears the three Blue Mountains fire fronts will join together over the next 24-48 hours with increasingly dangerous weather conditions.
    Wednesday is expected to see extreme fire danger warnings in Sydney.
    One emergency warning is in place for the State Mine fire at Lithgow which has destroyed more than 50,000 hectares. It's currently burning near the township of Bell and there are several evacuation advisories in place. Check here for details.
    Three 'watch and act' advisories are in place for Springwood and Mt Victoria in the Blue Mountains and Balmoral Village in the Southern Highlands.
    An 11-year-old boy has been arrested over two fires – one of which began in Heatherbrae in the NSW Hunter region, destroyed several buildings and burnt more than 5,000 hectares of land. A 14-year-old has also been charged with lighting a fire near a tennis club near Rutherford, also in the Hunter.
    Smoke haze is affecting much of the Sydney region, causing airport delays and prompting warnings for people to avoid breathing in the poor air by staying inside and not taking part in any rigorous activity outside.

Updated at 2.49pm AEST

1.41pm AEST

An update on the arrest reported earlier. An 11-year-old has been arrested in Raymond Terrace in relation to two fires, including the one which began in Heatherbrae and burned through 5,000 hectares, destroying several buildings. I'll have more details for you shortly.

Updated at 1.47pm AEST

1.40pm AEST

Sydney airport is experiencing delays due to the smoke from the fires reducing visibility. Fairfax reports that Airservices Australia has reduced landings from 50 per hour to 34. They expect landings to increase again as visibility improves with winds clearing the smoke this afternoon.

Updated at 1.48pm AEST

1.26pm AEST

    Backburning near Lithgow Workers Club (an evac point for locals + pets). A campfire compared to Thurs ... #nswfires pic.twitter.com/8SM95XtQD4
    — ClubsNSW (@ClubsNSW) October 21, 2013

1.16pm AEST

Doctors are warning people in NSW areas affected by the bushfire smoke to stay indoors as much as possible and put off any outdoor exercise as visibility and particle levels go through the roof.

The air quality is considered "hazardous" when the index (AQI) is more than 200. Parts of Sydney's southwest are currently giving readings of more than 1,200.

Bargo, in the Southern Highlands recorded a maximum reading of 2,443 on Sunday.

These readings appear to be the highest on record outside of the 2009 dust storm which saw Sydney and the surrounding region blanketed in thick red dust.
Sydney air quality index october 21 bushfires The bushfires have caused significant air pollution in Sydney. The air quality index is at the second highest levels on record, apart from the 2009 dust storm. Photograph: NSW Department of Environment and Heritage

Updated at 1.50pm AEST

11.57am AEST
Boy, 11, arrested over Heatherbrae fire

An 11-year-old boy has been arrested over the Hank St, Port Stephens fire which began at Heatherbrae last week. The Newcastle Herald reports that police expect to charge him today.

The fire burned through more than 5000 hectares, destroyed eight outbuilding structures, damaged six houses and caused the closure of Newcastle airport.

Updated at 12.40pm AEST

11.50am AEST

A 14-year-old boy has been charged with lighting a fire near Rutherford in the Hunter region on Sunday.

11.46am AEST
Looters are "on notice"

NSW police commissioner Andrew Scipione has delivered a harsh warning to looters. He said the good news was that "you can count on your left hand" the number of reports police have received. However anyone thinking of looting the homes of bushfire victims would be dealt with "very harshly," said Scipione.

    "You need to understand that the NSW police force, at this time as at all times, has a zero tolerance policy.

    "We have officers out. You should expect to see them. They may be in uniform, they may not.

    "We’ll be doing all we can to stop this type of behaviour. It’s not going to be tolerated. It is a low act - it’s probably the worst type of thing that you could do to a victim of bushfire.

    “You’re on notice.”

Updated at 12.32pm AEST

11.37am AEST

Backburning efforts:

Fitzsimmons gave reporters one example of the “high risk” strategies the RFS is undertaking to fight the three major blazes in the Blue Mountains, where backburning near Mt Wilson caught spot fires that were flaring up ahead of the main fire front. “Had that backburning not gone on that spot fire would have gone on unimpeded,” he said.

It was a “wonderful result” he said, however there are no guarantees with the extremely high risk actions the RFS is carrying out.

“All the applied backburning operations and other containing strategies would be tenuous at best in term of their surety of containment.”

He also said that joint teams of fire and rescue officers as well as RFS were visiting communities to assess their preparedness and maintenance for approaching or potential bushfire dangers.

"It’s fair to say you’ve got ‘atrocious’ to ‘very good’ and something in between,” he said, adding that SES workers will assist communities to prepare if it becomes necessary.

11.36am AEST
RFS HQ update

The RFS NSW commissioner has given an update on the situation and confirmed that there are currently 58 fires burning in NSW, 14 of which are uncontained. Over the next few posts I’ll outline the major points.

Fitzsimmons confirmed that there is still a danger of the three major fronts combining to become one giant bushfire.

The fires are still “a matter of kilometres away” but with conditions today and tomorrow worsening to what is likely to be “extreme” fire danger ratings, Fitzsimmons said “there is every likelihood...that these fires could start coming together in the next 24-48 hours.”

“There is still a prevailing and direct threat to a number of communities," he said.

Updated at 12.33pm AEST

10.35am AEST

The federal government has responded to criticisms of its changes to the disaster recovery payments. From AAP:

    Assistant Minister for Social Services Mitch Fifield said the changes were designed to help ensure those most in need received assistance first.

    "The decision that the government has taken is to initially provide assistance to those directly and immediately affected by way of home being damaged or destroyed," he told Sky News on Monday.

    But the government will continue to assess the situation as it develops, he said.

Updated at 12.33pm AEST

10.26am AEST

Here is a list of bushfire emergency resources, including information on emergency warnings and information on school closures and what to do about animals during a bushfire.

10.20am AEST

The smoke haze is heavy across Sydney today, even a long way from the fires.

    SMOKE HAZE: Stay indoors where it is safe to do so, with windows and doors closed #nswfires #smokehaze
    — Ambulance NSW (@ASNSW) October 20, 2013

10.15am AEST

A firefighter with a GoPro camera attached to his helmet has given a terrifying insight into what it's like to battle these fires. You can watch the video below. Jonathan Mallin filmed it in Mt Victoria while working alongside his colleagues from the Blackheath / Mt Victoria Rural Fire Brigade.

10.00am AEST

It was free beers for firies at the Catherine Hill Bay pub on the weekend, after publican Terry Beevor learned of the efforts they went to to save the local drinking hole.

From the Newcastle Herald:

    “We kept hearing reports of it burning down,” Mr Beevor said.

    “We were devastated. We thought we’d lost it all.”

    When the family was finally allowed to go back he saw that the winds had pushed the blaze past the pub, saving it by some kind of miracle.

The Hunter region community escaped devastation when the bushfire bore down upon them last Thursday, destroying hectares of land around them and getting within metres of homes.

Updated at 12.43pm AEST

9.42am AEST

The federal government has tightened eligibility on disaster relief payments in a move the Labor opposition has called "heartless," reports Fairfax.

    Payments of $1000 to eligible adults and $400 to eligible children are only available to people who have been injured, had an immediate family member killed, or whose homes have been destroyed or seriously damaged.

    In the aftermaths of the Tasmanian bushfire and cyclone Oswald in Queensland, payments were made available to people who were cut off from their home for 24 hours or more, or who were without electricity or water for 48 hours.

    Labor spokesman for human services, Doug Cameron, said: ''It looks like to me that this is simply about trying to save money at the expense of people who are in extremely difficult circumstances.''

Updated at 12.43pm AEST

9.28am AEST

    A number of schools are closed today. Check http://t.co/O6kwPnOMVP for info. #NSWRFS #nswfires
    — NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) October 20, 2013

9.24am AEST

    MONDAY: Total fire ban remains in place for Sydney, Hunter, Illawarra/Shoalhvn & Central Ranges. #NSWRFS #nswfires
    — NSW RFS (@NSWRFS) October 20, 2013

9.20am AEST

Marchelle Madden contributed this photograph to Guardian Witness, of a firefighting aircraft refilling in Penrith.

If you have images or video you would like to share, you can submit them here. Please stay safe and don't take risks for a photograph.
Skycrane refilling during Rowing Regatta
Skycrane refilling during Rowing Regatta

My 14 year old son and his rowing partner rowing at the Sydney International Regatta Centre whilst the Skycrane refilled before water bombing the Springwood fire.

Sent via GuardianWitness

By Marchelle Madden

20 October 2013, 6:57

Updated at 9.21am AEST

9.17am AEST

RFS NSW commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons is giving a live briefing from RFS NSW headquarters. He's told reporters "we still have a long way to go across all these fire grounds."

Today is the hottest of the predicted forecasts for the week, and changing conditions mean we are "likely to see different fire behaviour."

Fitzsimmons urged people who do not need to be in the Blue Mountains to stay away, and reiterated that there are no mass evacuations in place or planned for the area.

    "We are taking a very deliberate, very considered, very targeted approach to securing and protecting all the communities of the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury regions as and when they become impacted by the forward progress of these fires.

    We’ve got kilometres and kilometres and kilometres of active fire reach and that will only escalate as the daytime temperatures increase and set it."

8.53am AEST

Building impact analysis teams have completed damage assessments in most areas, confirming over 200 properties have been destroyed by last week's fires.

The most devastation occurred in the Springwood area where 193 houses were destroyed and 109 damaged.

The State Mine fire which is still currently the subject of an emergency warning, has so far destroyed three houses and seven outbuildings, and one house and one outbuilding were damaged.

In Mt Victoria one house was damaged and seven destroyed.

In the Southern Highlands, fire has destroyed two houses and 10 outbuildings, and damaged another two houses.

Fires near Wyong last week destroyed three houses and damaged another three, while destroying 15 outbuildings and damaging four.

Eight outbuildings but no houses were destroyed by the Port Stephens blaze, although six of each were damaged.

Updated at 8.54am AEST

8.34am AEST

This is a mirror of the NSW Rural Fire Service Current Fires and Incidents map. It should be at most a few minutes behind.

Disclaimer: This information is extracted from the NSW Rural Fire Service Incident Database. It is not 'real time' information, but is provided as a general indication of current activity.

Please listen to your ABC Local Radio station if you are in a hazardous situation.
This is a mirror of the NSW Rural Fire Service Current Fires and Incidents map. It should be at most a few minutes behind.

8.31am AEST

Some more detail on the Bell and Bilpin evacuations under threat from the State Mine fire.

Other states have sent in fire crews to assist the operations and to replace exhausted firefighters. Victoria has sent 120, South Australia 51 and Tasmania 20. Two ACT teams have gone to the Blue Mountains and eight firefighters have come from Queensland.

8.08am AEST
Current serious bushfire situations

There are currently three 'watch and act' fires, and one emergency warning in NSW.

The emergency warning is for the State Mine fire (Lithgow) which began on Wednesday last week. It is currently burning near the township of Bell where residents have been advised to leave now if they are not prepared. An emergency telephone alert was sent out yesterday. There are different evacuations directions for residents of different areas.

People who live in Bilpin are directed to leave immediately if they are west of the village. People on the east side should leave if they aren't prepared for fire. Bilpin village residents have been warned they may be left isolated and without electricity for several days.

Mt Wilson and Mt Irvine residents should stay where they are as it is no longer safe to leave. "There is a high likelihood you will be isolated for a number of days," warns the RFS.

The watch and act fires are in Mt Victoria and Springwood in the Blue Mountains, and Balmoral village in the Southern Highlands.

The Mount Victoria fire is threatening several townships and has crossed over the Darling Causeway into the Grose Valley to the east and has crossed west of the Mount York Road.

Around 66 firefighters are battling the Springwood fire which is burning less than two hours from properties. Residents of the area should beware of flying embers which can start spot fires well ahead of the main fire front.

Forecasted winds threaten to push the fire across containment lines in the Southern Highlands. There is no threat to property in the Illawarra but residents are urged to be vigilant and note the total fire ban for the area.

7.46am AEST

NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell declared a state of emergency over the weekend as more than 50 fires continued to rage across the state. Around 15 are still uncontained and three devastating blazes in the Blue Mountains are threatening to join together, warned the RFS.

"If the three fires were to all join together there is a very real threat to the Blue Mountains and Hawkesbury district over the coming days," Joel Kursawe from the Rural Fire Service told ABC on Sunday.

"If those fires were to join you are talking about a huge fire front encroaching on the very back end of Sydney."

Weather conditions are predicted to worsen with tops of 36 degrees today in Springwood.


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