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Trump Administration Pushes Coal Mining in Roadless Forest in Colorado

Forest Service Pushes to Mine Next to West Elk Wilderness, Giving Arch Coal Access to More Than 17 Million Tons of Coal

     by Center for Biological Diversity

DENVER— Just days after announcing the U.S. will exit the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration today pushed ahead with plans for another damaging action: a plan to approve Arch Coal’s proposal to lease 1,700 acres of roadless wildlands in the Gunnison National Forest for mining 17 million tons of coal. The plan, addressed in a draft environmental impact study, would greenlight exploratory drilling and road construction to expand the West Elk coal mine about 40 miles southwest of Aspen.

Mount Gunnison perched atop the Sunset Roadless Area. The aspen forests on the right would have been scarred by six miles of road and nearly 50 methane drainage well pads if the lease expansion had gone forward. Ted Zukoski / Earthjustice

Local, regional, and national conservation groups condemned the proposal.

“This coal mine expansion proposal brings Trump’s dirty energy agenda to Colorado,” said Matt Reed, public lands director for Gunnison County-based High Country Conservation Advocates. “Pristine forests, abundant wildlife, clean water, and a healthy snowpack are the cornerstones of our local economy and quality of life, and this destructive proposal threatens all of these values.”

The Colorado mine expansion plan follows high-profile Trump actions to allow coal mines and coal-fired power plants to foul America’s air and water, including killing rules meant to stop mines from dumping millions of tons of metal-laced waste rock into streams, rolling back measures limiting arsenic, lead and mercury pollution poured into rivers and lakes by coal-fired power plants, gutting protections that limit health-threatening air pollutants from such plants, and, last week, terminating America’s commitment to reduce planet-heating climate pollution pursuant to the Paris Agreement signed by more than 190 nations.

Under Arch Coal’s plan, more than six miles of roads will be bulldozed and as many as 48 drilling pads with vents to release methane will be built in the Sunset Roadless Area, which is adjacent to the West Elk Wilderness. The area is a rolling landscape of aspen and spruce-fir forests that provide habitat for black bear, elk, lynx and cutthroat trout.

Mining in this pristine area will create a spiderweb of roads and industrial facilities on 1,700 acres of public lands, similar to that already encroaching toward wilderness.

“Bulldozing aspen groves to mine coal is exactly the sort of senseless destruction we’ve come to expect from the Trump administration,” said Allison Melton, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity. “But it’s madness for the climate and a raw deal for the people of Colorado, and we’re not going to sit still and let it happen.”

The Trump administration’s latest action exploits Colorado’s Roadless Rule loophole, reinstated last year after being thrown out by a lawsuit, which opened the door for road construction within about 20,000 acres of the Gunnison National Forest to subsidize coal mining.

The lease that the Forest Service is poised to approve will give Arch Coal access to more than 17 million tons of coal, extending the life of the West Elk mine by about three or four years. The company already has an estimated 10-year supply of coal under lease.

The West Elk mine was the single largest industrial source of methane pollution in Colorado from 2013 to 2015, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data. Methane — an immensely potent greenhouse gas — has more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide over the short term and is a major contributor to climate pollution. The West Elk mine emits so much methane that it wipes out a significant chunk of the benefit from the state’s trailblazing rule to limit waste methane from oil and gas wells.

The impact of pushing more coal into the energy market at a time when the demand for coal has dropped could undercut efforts to transition to a clean energy economy. A 2016 Forest Service study concluded that opening Colorado roadless forests to coal mining would displace renewable energy from the grid.

“While Arch Coal and the U.S. Forest Service may feel the political winds have shifted in their favor recently with the Trump administration, the harsh reality of this polluting coal mining expansion proposal remains the same,” said Jim Alexee, director of the Colorado Sierra Club. “These coal mining operations and the associated road construction will cause irreparable harm to our local air quality, to our climate, and to the wildlife living in the Sunset Roadless Area.”

“Giving away our western public lands to the coal industry isn’t energy independence, it’s a scheme to make executives and shareholders rich at our expense,” said Shannon Hughes, climate guardian for WildEarth Guardians.  “Our future is clean energy and vibrant public lands, not more fossil fuel giveaways in our backcountry.”

“Roadless areas are important for many of the wildlife species in our state including the federally threatened Canada lynx,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney for Rocky Mountain Wild. “Sacrificing these areas to appease the interests of the coal industry is irresponsible public lands management.”

“At this point in history when climate change is already causing devastating impacts in Colorado and worldwide, it is unconscionable to continue mining and burning fossil fuels, especially on federal and public lands,” said Micah Parkin with 350 Colorado. “We must begin leaving fossil fuels in the ground and transitioning rapidly to Colorado’s abundant renewable energy if we are to have any chance of staying below the 1.5-2 degrees C global temperature rise that countries around the world have agreed to.”

“It’s shameless that our roadless public lands and prime wildlife habitat will now be leased to a coal company for its own profit,” said Shelley Silbert, executive director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “We need to transition to a future with clean energy jobs, clean air, and healthy communities, and not commit our public lands for more development that pollutes our water, air, and climate.”

The groups pledged to oppose the plan through public comments, which the Forest Service will accept through July 24.  The public can submit concerns about the proposal through the agency’s website: https://cara.ecosystem-management.org/Public//CommentInput?Project=32459.

“This proposal is the latest example of the Trump administration’s apparent desire to ignore science, poison the air we breathe, and undermine our shared responsibility to be good stewards of the Earth,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney with the nonprofit law firm Earthjustice. “We’ll keep fighting Trump’s damaging mining plan because we need to protect what Coloradans love best about our state: clean air, scenic mountains, healthy streams, and vibrant wildlife populations.”

Read more the roadless area and what’s at stake.

See photos of the roadless areas the Forest Service opened to bulldozing, as well as of damage from Arch Coal’s ongoing mining operations to nearby forests.

Twenty Arrested at Utah Tar Sands Mine

By Canyon Country Rising Tide

SUNDAY JUNE 19, PR SPRINGS, UT: Thirty people walked onto the country’s first tar sands mine and sowed seeds to regrow land destroyed by tar sands – a fossil fuel more polluting than coal and oil. With butterfly puppets, songs, and banners, protesters trespassed onto the mine site and took the remediation of the stripped land into their own hands with shovels, pick axes and seed balls.

Evidently displeased with the sowing of native grasses and flowers, law enforcement intervened to arrest 20 of the planters, who banded together and sang until arrest. The action was planned by the Tavaputs Action Council, a coalition of grass roots social justice groups of the Colorado Plateau, and came as the conclusion to a 3-day event dedicated to celebrating land and biodiversity. Over 100 people participated, camping on public land next to the tar sands mine and attending workshops, panels, and music shows. People came together to hear about indigenous resistance to fossil fuels and colonialism, and to imagine a more equitable future together.

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Canadian mining company US Oil Sands has leased 32,005 acres of public lands for oil shale development. In the future, 830,000 acres of public land could be at risk of irreversible tar sands strip mining in the western United States. Tar sands requites large quantities of water for processing into crude oil, putting extra pressure on a water system already under threat of running dry.

Kim, Nihigaal Bei Iina, said: “We must remember that if we do not fight we cannot win, we don’t even have a chance of winning. By planting seeds we have a chance of winning another round for mother earth, we still have more battles to fight within us. These seeds planted will harvest another generation of fighters and warriors.”

“The boom and bust failures of coal, tar sands, and oil shale show that we cannot rely on the fossil fuel industry to provide long-term jobs and a steady economy.  We are demanding a ‘just transition’ away from subsidizing dirty energy and towards a stable and sustainable way of living,” says Moab resident and CCRT member Melissa Gracia.  “That is an enormous task and yet people all over the world are rising to the occasion.  We need policies and institutions to support a just transition and we are building the people power to make it happen.”
According to Will Munger, “All across the region people are facing a similar situation. Take for example the recent bankruptcy of Peabody Coal.  They must be held accountable for their destruction of indigenous land on Black Mesa and we must ensure that the CEO’s don’t bail with bonuses while workers and local communities suffer.  We must take the money generated by the fossil fuel industry to repair the land and water while supporting local communities’ transition away from a fossil fuel-dependent economy.”

The Tavaputs Action Council includes Canyon Country Rising Tide, Peaceful Uprising, Utah Tar Sands Resistance, Climate Disobedience Center and Wasatch Rising Tide.

Utah Lawmakers Scheme to Fund California Coal Terminal

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY­— Republican lawmakers in Utah are attempting an eleventh-hour maneuver that would use $53 million in state sales tax money to pay for a California coal-export terminal.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Senate Majority Whip Stuart Adams (R-Layton) has proposed using $53 million in sales-tax revenue targeted for highway improvements to fund a proposed coal terminal in Oakland. The scheme would ship millions of tons of coal from four Utah counties to be burned abroad, further deepening the climate crisis. Under legislative rules, Wednesday is the last day bills can be taken up in committee to be considered this session, which has eight scheduled days remaining.

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: "Port of Oakland 'Round Sunset" by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

The redevelopment of the waterfront in Oakland, California, is generating new controversy over a proposed coal export terminal. Image: “Port of Oakland ‘Round Sunset” by Russel Mondy/CC BY-NC 2.0

“This is clearly a cynical maneuver to sneak legislation into the waning days of the session,” said Wendy Park of the Center for Biological Diversity. “It makes no sense to use highway-improvement money from Utah to build a coal terminal in California. On top of that, Utah would be doubling down on coal, one of the dirtiest fossil fuels on the planet and one of the primary reasons our climate’s in serious trouble.”

“With China’s coal consumption falling, and coal exports down more than 20%, this bill is a risky bet,” said Ted Zukoski, an attorney at Earthjustice.  “Apparently, one of the few places it’s legal to gamble in Utah is at the state legislature, where it’s OK to raid taxpayers’ wallets to wager on an industry in historic decline.”

Utah’s Permanent Community Impact Fund, designed to offset the effects of mining on rural communities, last year agreed to loan $53 million to four Utah coal-producing counties, which planned to invest the money in the coal terminal. The state agency asked state Attorney General Sean Reyes to review the deal’s legality. The results of the review have not been made public.

“The lack of transparency in the attorney general’s office on this review makes one wonder whether there is a legal reason that the Community Impact Board review has not been made available and could explain this last-minute attempt to shift the burden of this scheme to taxpayers,” Park said.

“It’s clear this bill is being pushed because there’s concern that the CIB loan is illegal,” said Zukoski. “The Attorney General should release his analysis now – before the bill is considered – so the public can know whether SB 246 is also vulnerable to challenge.”

In a letter to Reyes in November, environmental groups, including the Center, Sierra Club, Earthjustice and Grand Canyon Trust, argued that the $53 million loan violated federal and state laws.

The proposed coal terminal that is to be built on a former Army base in Oakland has been vigorously opposed by Mayor Libby Schaaf and many city officials, faith leaders, residents and environmental groups in the Bay Area who do not want to see trainloads of dusty coal pass through their neighborhoods. Several bills have been introduced in the California legislature to block funding for the $1.2 billion terminal project over concerns about effects of transporting coal locally and the burning of coal globally.

China announced last week that it is closing more than 1,000 coal mines due to a “price-sapping supply glut” and the government’s new determination to clean up dangerous air pollution across the country.

The Obama administration has also paused all new federal coal leasing until a comprehensive review of the federal coal-leasing program is completed. Some of the coal that would supply the Oakland terminal could come from the publicly owned coal from the Greens Hollow mine, but the president’s coal moratorium offers no guarantee that this coal will be mined, making the legislature’s gambit to bet state sales tax revenue on the coal-export terminal a very questionable move.

BLM Utah Halts Oil and Gas Lease Sale

By Center for Biological Diversity

SALT LAKE CITY— Climate activists are celebrating today as the Bureau of Land Management made a last-minute decision to halt an oil and gas lease sale owing to a “high level of public interest.”

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Photo by Andres Sheikh, Center for Biological Diversity

Dozens of citizens were planning to protest the auction on Tuesday morning in Salt Lake City. Instead they will now celebrate the Bureau’s decision to postpone the auction of 73,000 acres of publicly owned oil and gas in Utah—which harbor an estimated 1.6 million to 6.6 million tons of potential greenhouse gas pollution. The planned protest had been led by Elders Rising, calling on the BLM to act to prevent catastrophic climate change and to ensure a livable future for generations to come.
The victory is the latest from a rapidly growing national movement calling on President Obama to define his climate legacy by stopping new federal fossil fuel leases on public lands and oceans—a step that would keep up to 450 billion tons of carbon pollution from escaping into the atmosphere. Similar “Keep It in the Ground” protests were held in Colorado and Wyoming in recent weeks and more are planned for upcoming lease sales in Reno, Nev., and Washington, D.C.

“The BLM knows the public is watching, and that they don’t want our lands and our climate auctioned off to the highest bidder,” said Valerie Love with the Center for Biological Diversity. “We pushed the BLM to stop this lease sale, and we won’t rest until all new fossil fuel lease sales on America’s public lands are ended.”

 

Ecowatch: Utah Oil Boomtown Hostile to Midwife’s Concern Over Skyrocketing Infant Deaths

By , originally appearing on Ecowatch

When a polluting industry creates jobs and economic activity, especially in the very poor areas where these industries often land, there’s a tendency of citizens to want to deny any impact on its health or environment. Such a clash of interests has reached a sad impasse in a Utah oil boom town where some citizens are scapegoating a midwife who is raising questions about a spate of infant deaths.

UintahBasin
The ozone levels in the Uintah Valley have been found to be as high as in Los Angeles, thanks to oil and gas operations. Photo credit: Scott Sandberg/NOAA

A heartbreaking story in the Los Angeles Times tells about 20-year midwife Donna Young, who noticed what she thought was an exceptional number of gravestones for infants at the local cemetery in Vernal, Utah.  She wondered if there could be a connection to the oil industry, which underpins the area’s economy and provides about half the town’s annual budget.

A state investigation is underway, but in the meantime, area residents—even mothers of some of the deceased infants—are already angrily denying the connection and demonizing Young for asking questions, reports the L.A. Times. She’s gotten threatening calls, been attacked on local talk radio and online, and even found rat poison in the animal feed on her ranch, exposing the fear, anger and denial some people feel when fossil fuel industries are the linchpin of an economy. As Vernal’s Mayor Sonya Norton aptly told the paper, “People get very protective of what we have here. If you challenge our livelihood, it’s considered personal. Without oil, this town would be a couple of storefronts and a gas station.”

After spotting the graves, Young dug into obituaries and cemetery records and found that the number of graves for an infant skyrocketed from one in 95 in 2010 to one in 14 in 2013. That concern led her to contact the Tri-County Healthy Department. When its director Joseph Shaffer called a public meeting and Young’s involvement in raising concerns was revealed, blowback began. And as the matter was referred up to the state, it intensified with Shaffer taking heat as well as Young. Even area doctors were angry with her. Digging around for anything that could deflect blame from the oil industry, some citizens are blaming drug use or poor nutritional habits among oil field workers.

Vernal is located in the Uintah Basin, where a recent study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed elevated levels of winter ozone pollution caused by the widespread oil and gas exploration and extraction activities in the region. That was alarming because ozone pollution generally spikes in warmer weather. “Chemicals released into the air by oil and gas activities can spark reactions that lead to high levels of ozone in wintertime, high enough to exceed federal health standards,” said NOAA. Ozone pollution in the Uintah Basin has been measured at levels as high as the Los Angeles basin. And ozone is known to cause respiratory problems which are most acute in the old and the very young, including infants.

Meanwhile, the number of infant deaths in 2014 dropped to just two, after 13 died in 2013, which is likely to only fuel blowback and the depiction of Young as an anti-oil demon. The Los Angeles Times quoted the George Burnett, owner of a local smoothie and juice bar, saying “Drilling brings the Earth’s energy to life” and accusing Young of “alarmist thinking that has gotten ahead of good science.”

Washington Post: Four Corners Methane Plume

By Joby Warrick, The Washington Post
CUBA, N.M. — The methane that leaks from 40,000 gas wells near this desert trading post may be colorless and odorless, but it’s not invisible. It can be seen from space.

plume_full

Satellites that sweep over energy-rich northern New Mexico can spot the gas as it escapes from drilling rigs, compressors and miles of pipeline snaking across the badlands. In the air it forms a giant plume: a permanent, Delaware-sized methane cloud, so vast that scientists questioned their own data when they first studied it three years ago. “We couldn’t be sure that the signal was real,” said NASA researcher Christian Frankenberg.

The country’s biggest methane “hot spot,” verified by NASA and University of Michigan scientists in October, is only the most dramatic example of what scientists describe as a $2 billion leak problem: the loss of methane from energy production sites across the country. When oil, gas or coal are taken from the ground, a little methane — the main ingredient in natural gas — often escapes along with it, drifting into the atmosphere, where it contributes to the warming of the Earth.

Methane accounts for about 9 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, and the biggest single source of it — nearly 30 percent — is the oil and gas industry, government figures show. All told, oil and gas producers lose 8 million metric tons of methane a year, enough to provide power to every household in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

As early as next month, the Obama administration will announce new measures to shrink New Mexico’s methane cloud while cracking down nationally on a phenomenon that officials say erodes tax revenue and contributes to climate change. The details are not publicly known, but already a fight is shaping up between the White House and industry supporters in Congress over how intrusive the restrictions will be.

Republican leaders who will take control of the Senate next month have vowed to block measures that they say could throttle domestic energy production at a time when plummeting oil prices are cutting deeply into company profits. Industry officials say they have a strong financial incentive to curb leaks, and companies are moving rapidly to upgrade their equipment.

But environmentalists say relatively modest government restrictions on gas leaks could reap substantial rewards for taxpayers and the planet. Because methane is such a powerful greenhouse gas — with up to 80 times as much heat-trapping potency per pound as carbon dioxide over the short term — the leaks must be controlled if the United States is to have any chance of meeting its goals for cutting the emissions responsible for climate change, said David Doniger, who heads the climate policy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group.

“This is the most significant, most cost-effective thing the administration can do to tackle climate change pollution that it hasn’t already committed to do,” Doniger said.

Methane’s hot spot

The epicenter of New Mexico’s methane hot spot is a stretch of desert southeast of Farmington, N.M., in a hydrocarbon-soaked region known as the San Juan Basin. The land was once home to a flourishing civilization of ancient Pueblo Indians, who left behind ruins of temples and trading centers built more than 1,000 years ago. In modern times, people have been drawn to the area by vast deposits of uranium, oil, coal and natural gas.

Energy companies have been racing to snatch up new oil leases here since the start of the shale-oil boom in recent years. But long before that, the basin was known as one of the country’s most productive regions for natural gas.

The methane-rich gas is trapped in underground formations that often also contain deposits of oil or coal. Energy companies extract it by drilling wells through rock and coal and collecting the gas in tanks at the surface. The gas is transported by pipeline or truck to other facilities for processing.

But much of this gas never makes it to the market. Companies that are seeking only oil will sometimes burn off or “flare” methane gas rather than collect it. In some cases, methane is allowed to escape or “vent” into the atmosphere, or it simply seeps inadvertently from leaky pipes and scores of small processing stations linked by a spider’s web of narrow dirt roads crisscrossing the desert.

For local environmental groups, gas-flaring is a tangible reminder of the downsides of an industry that provides tens of millions of dollars to local economies as well as to federal tax coffers. Bruce Gordon, a private pilot and president of EcoFlight, an environmental group that monitors energy development on federally owned land, recently banked his single-engine Cessna over a large oil well near Lybrook, N.M. He pointed out two towers of orange flame where methane was being burned off, a practice that prevents a dangerous buildup of pressure on drilling equipment but that also wastes vast quantities of methane.

“For these companies, the gas is worthless — the oil is what they want,” Gordon said. The burning converts methane into carbon dioxide — another greenhouse gas — while contributing to the brown haze that sometimes blankets the region on sunny days, he said.

Other environmental groups have documented leaks of normally invisible methane using infrared cameras that can detect plumes of gas billowing from wells, storage tanks and compressors. All of it contributes to the giant plume “seen” by satellites over northwestern New Mexico, a gas cloud that NASA scientists say represents nearly 600,000 metric tons of wasted methane annually, or roughly enough to supply the residential energy needs of a city the size of San Francisco.

The NASA analysis estimated the average extent of the gas plume over the past decade at 2,500 square miles — and that was before the recent energy boom from shale oil and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, said Frankenberg, the NASA scientist.

Possible remedies

But spotting the leaks is far easier than fixing them. The Obama administration is reviewing a host of possible remedies that range from voluntary inducements to more costly regulations requiring oil and gas companies to install monitoring equipment and take steps to control the loss of methane at each point in the production process. The announcement of the administration’s new policies has been repeatedly delayed amid what officials describe as internal debate over the cost of competing proposals and, indeed, over whether methane should be regulated separately from the mix of other gases given off as byproducts of oil and gas drilling.

The American Petroleum Institute, the largest trade association for the oil and gas industry, contends that companies are already making progress in slashing methane waste, installing updated equipment that reduces leaks. New regulations are unnecessary and would ultimately make it harder for U.S. companies to compete, said Erik Milito, API’s director of upstream and industry operations.

“Every company is strongly incentivized to capture methane and bring it to the market,” Milito said. “We don’t need regulation to tell us to do that.”

But environmentalists point to problems with old pipelines and outdated equipment that are the source of more than 90 percent of the wasted methane, according to a report earlier this month by a consortium of five environmental organizations. The study said relatively modest curbs would result in a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions over two decades comparable to closing down 90 coal-fired power plants.

The report’s authors noted that the measures would also help protect taxpayers who, after all, are the ultimate owners of the oil and gas taken from federally owned lands, including most of New Mexico’s San Juan Basin.

“The good news is that there are simple technologies and practices that the oil and gas industry can use to substantially reduce this waste,” said Mark Brownstein, an associate vice president for climate and energy at the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the contributors to the report.

“You don’t have to be an environmentalist to know that methane leaks are simply a waste of a valuable national energy resource,” he said.

Mexico: Researcher Raises Alert About Environmental Dangers of Wind Farms

Many Thanks to Truthout for permission to reprint this article.

By Renata Bessi, Santiago Navarro F. and Translated by Britt Munro and Sarah Farr, Truthout 

September 17, 2014

2014 917 wind 6bThe wind turbines of the Biioxo Wind Farm are located on land that used to be cultivated. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The Tehuantepec Isthmus, a southern region of Mexico that includes the states of Oaxaca, Chiapas, Tabasco and Veracruz, holds the highest concentration of wind farms in Latin America. The Isthmus, measuring a mere 200 kilometers between the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean, is the third narrowest strip of land on the continent, following Nicaragua and the Panama Canal. A total of 28 wind farms have been planned for construction, 15 of which have already been completed.

The region is ideal for the construction of wind farms since high wind speeds are constant throughout the year. “The southern Andes converge at the Tehuantepec Isthmus, creating a kind of tunnel effect the same width as the land strip. This ensures that the winds gain great strength and reach a high velocity,” explains Patricia Mora, a research professor in coastal ecology and fisheries science at the Interdisciplinary Research Center for Comprehensive Regional Development, Oaxaca Unit (CIIDIR Oaxaca), at the National Institute of Technology.

An environmental impact study conducted by the URS Corporation Mexico at the request of Natural Gas Fenosa, which was used to justify the construction of the Biino Hioxo park in Juchitan de Zaragoza, Oaxaca, concluded that the development of a wind farm “in this area of the state of Oaxaca is a clear example of sustainable development” and that “the project is environmentally viable as it utilizes renewable resources and does not generate significant environmental impacts.”

But while environmental impact reports tend to support the construction of these wind farm parks, local communities and environmentalists are raising concerns that local flora and fauna are being affected. The cases of the Barra Santa Theresa in Alvaro Obregon and San Vicente Beach in Juchitán de Zaragoza are of particular interest. “This is the meeting point of various intimately related aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, known as ‘ecotones.’ What occurs in each distinct ecosystem affects the dynamic on a larger scale, placing the existence of the adjoining ecosystems in danger,” Mora said.

2014 917 wind 1Cattle and other livestock are raised close to the wind turbines of the Biioxo Wind Farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

In a detailed interview, the biologist explained what the environmental impact reports omit: the real impacts on the flora and fauna of the Tehuantepec Isthmus. These negative impacts extend not only throughout Mexico, but also into the ecosystems of Central America.

Mora even casts doubts about the way in which these environmental studies are conducted. “Generally there are ‘agreements’ behind closed doors between the consultants or research centers and the government offices before the studies are conducted. They fill out forms with copied information (and sometimes badly copied), lies or half truths in order to divert attention from the real project while at the same time complying with requirements on paper.”

In the following interview, Mora discusses the realities of the wind farms’ impacts – and how environmental impact studies are often manipulated to serve the interests of corporations.

Truthout: What could be the large-scale impacts on the flora and fauna in the TehuantepecIsthmus ecological corridor, principally in the Barra Santa Theresa, San Vicente Beach and La Ventosa?

The impacts will be seen on two time scales. First, the direct impact. When a project is installed, the first step is to “dismantle” the area, a process through which all surrounding vegetation is eliminated. This means the destruction of plants and sessilities – organisms that do not have stems or supporting mechanisms – and the slow displacement over time of reptiles, mammals, birds, amphibians, insects, arachnids, fungi, etc.

Generally we perceive the macro scale only, that is to say, the large animals, without considering the small and even microscopic organisms. But the most harm occurs in the micro scale. Often these organisms are not even identified, yet curiously, they are the organisms that in reality keep the ecosystems alive and balanced. In many of Mexico’s ecosystems, we are only recently cataloguing the full diversity of species. This process depends on the availability of researchers, funding and the accessibility of the zone. This is why there are still many endemic and native species that are recognized as endangered on national and even international lists.

After the construction is finalized, the indirect impact continues in the sense that ecosystems are altered and fragmented. As a result, there is a larger probability of their disappearance, due to changes in the climate and the use of soil.

What is the importance of the ecosystems in this region?

They are considered extremely fragile. As a result of their location in semiarid zones where the water cycle is vital, these ecosystems act as retainers of humidity and their disappearance drastically changes the humidity of the soil. When vegetation disappears, these ecosystems are converted into completely uninhabited deserts and solar radiation changes the dynamic of the soil, prohibiting the growth of new vegetation.

The relationship between humans and the environment is changing – we no longer have respect for the land and this contributes to a greater deterioration. Almost nobody considers this effect. The land is no longer perceived as our provider. It has been converted into a commodity.

In particular, I would like to point out the case of the Barra Santa Teresa and San Vicente Beach, as here we find ourselves at the meeting point of various intimately related aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, known as “ecotones.” What occurs in each distinct ecosystem affects the dynamic on a larger scale, placing the existence of the adjoining ecosystems in danger.

Mexico’s coastal zones are extremely abundant and rich in diversity. Not only are there terrestrial organisms, but also aquatic organisms. In these zones we speak of thousands of species, many of which are not evident at first glance.

A dramatic example is the millions of viruses found in the world’s oceans. Generally, we think of viruses as bad things and we associate them with sickness, but this is a great falsehood. Viruses, like bacteria, are responsible for life on earth and for the richness and diversity of that life. In short, we need them to maintain life on this planet.

In coastal zones we find mangrove ecosystems, coastal dunes, and supra and infra littoral zones. We can make the claim that coastal vegetation plays a vital role in the humidity of these coastal zones. When this vegetation disappears, these ecosystems become deserts – inert and without life. Erosion creates havoc on the coastal border, encouraging the extinction of coastal lagoons and increasing the salinity of the soil, rendering it useless for agriculture.

Climate change will also lead to the disappearance of vegetation, removing natural barriers against air currents, tropical storms and cyclones. The life cycles of many species will be truncated. For example, reptiles require certain temperatures in order to create equal numbers of male and female offspring and to incubate that offspring. Since they cannot regulate their own body temperature, they depend on the temperature of their surrounding environment.

Mangroves act as refuges for aquatic species. In fact, the Laguna Superior is one of the most important sanctuaries in Mexico for terrestrial species. It forms part of the Mesoamerican corridor, through which thousands of birds from hundreds of different species pass. The lagoons are wetland refuges, providing resting places and food for these birds. If the mangroves disappear, the birds will lose this important resting place, which could contribute to their extinction. Bats would also be affected by changes in light and sound.

Wind turbines create a magnetic field. Could the magnetic fields produced by wind turbines have consequences for microorganisms found in the soil or for humans?

There is abundant information about the harm caused by the sound waves produced by wind turbines. These sound waves are not perceptible to the human ear, which makes them all the more dangerous. They are also low frequency sound waves and act upon the pineal and nervous systems, causing anxiety, depression (there is a study from the United States that found an elevated suicide rate in regions with wind farms), migraines, dizziness and vomiting, among other symptoms. Western science has given very little weight to electromagnetic and sound waves. In contrast, Eastern science, which gives greater importance to the flow of energy through the body, links the origin of many illnesses to the pollution we generate through the emission of human-made energy flows. The harm caused by this pollution has only recently begun to be accepted.

2014 917 wind 5During times of harvest and planting, the farmers live in cabins close to the Biioxo Wind Farm. (Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

There are also consequences for other living beings. Many animals, such as bats, orient themselves through the use of sound frequencies. Among marine animals, fish are another example – they guide themselves using the electromagnetic frequencies that pass through their bodies. Other animals also use similar mechanisms and it is difficult to gauge the full effect that the disruption of these frequencies might have.

I had the opportunity to personally observe an example of this problem at an aquarium in Mazatlán, Mexico. The aquarium’s sharks were swimming erratically, crashing into the glass, and refusing to eat. It turned out that the aquarium had recently repaired the shark tank using different iron screws than the previous screws. When the aquarium removed these new screws, the sharks’ behavior returned to normal. The material of the new screws had created a different magnetic field. A few simple screws.

Some animal species are positively phototropic, meaning that they are attracted by light. For example, one can commonly observe insects near streetlights at night or near computer screens in dark rooms. Some fishing techniques even take advantage of this trait, which is found in shrimp and other species. The migration patterns of some species are related to the moon cycle. The coastal wind farm projects that illuminate the night interfere with the cycles, causing an unusual number of animal and insect deaths, which can be observed on nearby beaches.

One would assume that these companies should conduct environmental impact studies related to their projects. Do companies conduct such studies? What are the parameters of these studies? What do they contemplate? Who does follow-up?

What happens is absolute corruption. I have to admit that generally there are “agreements” behind closed doors between the consultants or research centers and the government offices before the studies are conducted. They fill out forms with copied information (and sometimes badly copied), lies or half truths in order to divert attention from the real project while at the same time complying with requirements on paper. Unfortunately, consultants sometimes take advantage of high unemployment and hire inexperienced people or unemployed career professionals without proper titles. Sometimes the consultants even coerce them into modifying the data.

Research centers, pressured by a lack of funding, accept these studies. It is well known that scientists recognized by CONACYT (National Counsel on Science and Technology) accept gifts from these companies, given that they need money to buy equipment for their laboratories and to fill their pocketbooks to maintain their lifestyles. This is the extent of the corruption. Upon reviewing these studies, it is clear that the findings are trash, sometimes even directly copied from other sources online. These studies tend to focus on the “benefits of the project” and do not include rigorous analysis.

The Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAT) does follow-up to the studies, but everything can be negotiated. The bureaucrats have the last word.

What would be the effects on the ecosystem, including the local communities, if a native animal species were to migrate to another space or disappear as a result of the wind farm project?

The majority of species have specific habitational niches. There are very few pioneering species that are capable of inhabiting new environments. The acclimation of each species depends on its life cycle and its adaptability. To give a concrete example, marine turtles always return to the same beach where they were born. If that beach were to disappear, they would have nowhere to return. Mangroves could be similarly affected since they are located in intertidal zones. Changes to the surf’s intensity, the depth of the water or the water’s salinity could cause them to disappear.

Many of these communities depend on fishing and agriculture, not only in economic terms but also culturally. What effects could these mega projects, with such a large number of wind turbines, have on communities?

The inhabitants would have to leave behind their traditional activities. Migration and misery would be their future. You can see how this has happened in other areas of the country. They would lose their culture and a lifestyle that has a deep respect for nature. For example, in the northwest coastal region of the country, the arrival of these projects has displaced the fishing communities and farmers. Today, many of these people and their children have migrated. In the worst cases, they have joined the drug trafficking business.

What is known about the first of these projects – Pilot Project La Ventosa – in terms of environmental impact? What have been the benefits and consequences of the project?

Very little is known about that project. Actually, environmental impact studies about it used to go unnoticed or were not conducted.

It is also unclear what the benefits have been – the statistics are not clear. To the contrary, the fact that communities have begun to organize against these projects reflects the discontent and the negligible benefit.

2014 917 wind 3(Photo: Santiago Navarro F.)

The only benefit has been for the companies. The carbon credits they have received have allowed them to avoid taxes and have permitted them to continue polluting. Companies have seen spectacular earnings through the use of these carbon credits in stock exchanges. In summary, the only benefits have been for the transnational companies. There has been a high cost to the environment, which continues to be damaged by climate change. In fact, this damage is worse than what had been previously estimated, as the most recent findings by the United Nations show.

Copyright, Truthout.org. Reprinted with permission

“Utah’s Carbon Bomb”: State Plots Massive Tar Sands & Oil Shale Projects Despite Climate Concerns

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

Map of oil shale and tar sands deposits in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming.

While the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline and the Alberta tar sands has galvanized the environmental movement, far less attention has been paid to a related story here in the West. The state of Utah has begun making preparations for its own major tar sands and oil shale extraction projects. According to one U.S. government report, land in the region could hold up to three trillion barrels of oil — that’s more recoverable oil than has been used so far in human history. Critics say Utah is sitting on a tar sands carbon bomb. The Utah Water Quality Board has recently begun giving out permits for companies to extract from the state’s tar sands reserves. We speak to Taylor McKinnon, energy director of the Grand Canyon Trust.

TAYLOR McKINNON: In Utah, we have vast deposits…

Read the full interview.

White Mesa Uranium Mill Problems Provoke Legal Notice [Press Release]

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

For Immediate Release, January 29, 2014

Contact:  Anne Mariah Tapp, Grand Canyon Trust (512) 565-9906

Uranium Mill Problems Provoke Legal Notice

SALT LAKE CITY, UT— Ongoing violations of the Clean Air Act at the nation’s only operating uranium mill have prompted Grand Canyon Trust to file a 60-day notice of intent to sue Energy Fuels Resources, the owner of the White Mesa Mill, located near White Mesa and Blanding, Utah.

White Mesa Mill | Photo: Taylor McKinnon, Grand Canyon Trust

In the notice Grand Canyon Trust cites data showing that in 2012 and 2013 the annual average radon-222 emissions at the mill exceeded hazardous air pollutant standards. Exposure to radon-222 is linked to cancer, genetic defects, and increases in mortality. It further alleges that, during that same time period, mill owners operated six tailings impoundments when only two are allowed, and that two of those are larger than the maximum…

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Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals Linked to Fracking Found in Colorado River

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance Southwest Coalition:

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser,courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

The Colorado River flows through the town of Rifle in Garfield County, Colorado. Photo (taken 1972) by David Hiser, courtesy of U.S. National Archives, Flickr/Creative Commons.

Original article by Sandra Postel, National Geographic

This week, more evidence came in that hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) poses potentially serious risks to drinking water quality and human health.

A team of researchers from the University of Missouri found evidence of hormone-disrupting activity in water located near fracking sites – including samples taken from the Colorado River near a dense drilling region of western Colorado.

The Colorado River is a source of drinking water for more than 30 million people.

The peer-reviewed study was published this week in the journal Endocrinology.

Fracking is the controversial process of blasting water mixed with sand and chemicals deep underground at high pressure so as to fracture rock and release the oil and gas it holds…

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