Environment Forum

More dead birds in the oil sands

The Shell Muskeg River Mine demonstration tailings pond in northern, Alberta in seen in this undated handout photo. Shell Canada announced a new commercial size oil sands tailings project for the Canadian oil sands industry at their headquarters in Calgary today. REUTERS/Handout

What a week for Syncrude.

Just three days after the oil sands producer was fined $2.9 million for the deaths of 1,600 waterbirds in 2008, more ducks landed in one of their toxic waste ponds and had to be euthanized.

Could the timing be worse?

During a freezing rain storm on Monday, hundreds of ducks landed on a toxic tailings pond owned by the company in the oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada, putting the birds in contact with tar-like bitumen floating on the surface.

“I cannot express how disappointed and frustrated I am that this incident occurred,” Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said of the latest bird deaths in a statement.

A smaller number of birds also landed on toxic ponds operated by Suncor and Shell in recent days, prompting the Alberta government to launch a “regional investigation” to make sure all bird deterrents were in place.

Another investigation is not exactly welcome news for stakeholders of the oil sands industry. Since June, the industry has been the subject of an international advertising campaign by environmental groups urging travelers to avoid Alberta (“the other oil disaster”) and a high-profile visit from Hollywood director James Cameron.

from Tales from the Trail:

Green energy aspirations for Obama’s India visit

INDIAWhen Barack Obama heads for India next month, he'll be carrying a heavy policy agenda -- questions over the handling of nuclear material, the outsourcing of U.S. jobs and India's status as a growing economic power, along with regional relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel Peace laureate who heads the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, hopes the U.S. president has time to focus on clean energy too.

Even as Pachauri and the U.N. panel evolve -- and as Pachauri himself weathers pressure from some quarters to resign -- he urged Obama to work on U.S.-India projects that he said would enhance global energy security.

Given India's red-hot economic growth rate -- 8 or 9 percent a year, Pachauri told reporters during a telephone briefing -- he said it makes sense for the United States to work with India to head off an expected soaring demand for fossil fuels.

from PopTech:

Edit your life and win a green contest

Graham Hill's latest design initiative, Life Edited, is a contest to renovate a 420 square-foot apartment in New York City in a way that will radically reduce your carbon footprint. With $70,000 in cash, prizes and a design contract, why not enter it?

Hill, who is the founder of TreeHugger.com, which is now a part of the Discovery network, is on a mission to help everybody get rid of all the unnecessary clutter in their lives. In New York City, this is particularly essential if you want to remain sane. A good way to start is by "ruthlessly editing," as Hill says, your minimal personal space in a green way. Speaking from personal experience, it also clears some (much needed) space in your mind.

In New York, this shouldn’t be so hard to do. In fact, stripping your belongings down to the bare essentials is a regular occurrence given the limited space of most apartments and the fact that various furry -- and not so furry -- freeloaders find clutter to be a perfect place to set up home, as I recently discovered.

Backyard tigers

ENVIRONMENT-TIGERS/Would you keep a tiger as a pet?

A puppy-sized tiger cub can be bought in the United States for as little as $200, and there are probably about 5,000 such backyard tigers across the country, about the same number of privately owned tigers in China, according to World Wildlife Fund.

That is far greater than the approximately 3,200 wild tigers worldwide, compared to the estimated 100,000 wild tigers a century ago. The growing number of these animals in captivity poses a threat to the species in the wild, WWF reports.

“People don’t realize when they buy a $200 tiger cub that it grows into a full-grown tiger, which means a huge enclosure and costs about $5000 a year just to feed,” says Leigh Henry, an animal conservation expert at WWF. “So you end up with a lot of unwanted animals that are very poorly regulated.”

Could “putting the cow inside the plant” make a new biofuel?

SWITZERLAND/The Next Big Thing in biofuel might involve genetically engineered plants that digest themselves, making it cheaper to turn them into fuel. That’s one of the new ideas that Arun Majumdar finds fascinating. As the head of the U.S. Energy Department’s ARPA-E – the path-breaking agency that aims come up with efficient, green energy solutions — Majumdar said this concept is one of a few dozen that are in the development stage now.

Majumdar let his enthusiasm show as he described this project at the Reuters Global Climate and Alternative Energy Summit on Thursday. He was talking about a project in its early stages at Massachusetts-based Agrivida.

“If you look at biofuels, cellulosic biofuels  …  you take agricultural waste, you separate out … the cellulose, then you throw a bunch of enzymes at them. And these enzymes are there in the cow’s gut, or termites, that break down this long chain polymer, this cellulose, into small bits and pieces called sugar molecules. And then you take those sugar molecules and feed them into another bug and then you produce gasoline,” he said.

from Photographers' Blog:

A toxic work environment

Bernadett Szabo spent eight days photographing the disaster that enveloped part of Western Hungary after a reservoir of red sludge, an alumina factory by-product, burst on October 4 and released one million cubic meters of highly toxic sludge that killed eight people, injured 120, and destroyed nearly 1,000 hectares (2,400 acres) of land. Here’s her account of working in the field under the adverse conditions she found.

Photographer Bernadett Szabo works in the village of Devecser, 150 km (93 miles) west of Budapest, October, 2010.   REUTERS

This work required a whole lot more caution than normal when covering a different type of disaster story, like a flood for example. There’s water there, and mud, and you can sink and all, but that’s only water. This red sludge is toxic.

We knew it was alkaline, with a potent bite. We knew it was a lot more dense than regular silt, making moving around in it very tiring – and its toxicity meant no touching, so we could not hold onto anything for support. Falling over was not an option, because the toxic stuff could damage you to the point of visible wounds or cause damage to your eyes, and render your gear inoperable.

The Green Gauge: Vedanta, Sterlite ordered to shut smelter

A bird flies by the Vedanta office building in Mumbai August 16, 2010. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

This month, Vedanta Resources and subsidiary Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd. made headlines for posing a public health risk to the surrounding community in southern India with pollution from a large copper smelter. They share the top spot in this issue of The Green Gauge, a breakdown of companies recently in the news for winning or losing credibility based on environment-related activity.

Selections of companies were made by Christopher Greenwald, director of data content at ASSET4, a Thomson Reuters business that provides investment research on the environmental, social and governance performance of major global corporations. These ratings are not recommendations to buy or sell.

bot25 Vedanta Resources, Sterlite Industries (India) Ltd.
Vedanta Resources faces a new environmental setback in India after a Madras High Court ordered the closure of a large copper smelter at Tuticorin belonging to Vedanta’s Indian subsidiary, Sterlite Industries. Claiming that “the right to have a living atmosphere congenial to human existence is part of the right to life,” the Madras court argued that toxic emissions from the copper smelter, the 9th largest in the world, posed a public health risk to the surrounding community. The Indian Supreme Court granted permission for the facility to continue to operate while Vedanta appeals the verdict.

from MacroScope:

Will China make the world green?

Workers remove mine slag at an aluminium plant in Zibo, Shandong province December 6, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer

Joschka Fischer was never one to mince words when he was Germany's foreign minister in the late '90s and early noughts. So it is not overly surprising that he has painted a picture in a new post of a world with only two powers -- the United States and China -- and an ineffective and divided Europe on the sidelines.

More controversial, however, is his view that China will not only grow into the world's most important market over the coming years, but will determine what the world produces and consumes -- and that that will be green.

Fischer, who was leader of  Germany's Green Party, reckons that due to its sheer size and needed GDP growth, China will have to pursue a green economy. Without that, he writes in his Project Syndicate post, China will quickly reach limits to growth with disastrous ecological and, as a result, political consequences.

Surprise ending to director’s oil sands visit

James Cameron did not meet expectations with his high-profile visit to Alberta’s oil sands, and that’s probably to the Canadian-born filmmaker’s credit.

An earlier contention by the director of “Titanic” and “Avatar” that development of the massive energy resource was a black eye for Canada had industry supporters in a tizzy.

Surely, his trip to oil sands plants and native communities in the region would be just another example of some celebrity seeking to burnish his green cred without knowing the real story, they said.cameron

The future of carbon reporting

Liz Logan and Kangos
– Liz Logan is a partner in PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Sustainability and Climate Change practice and leads the company’s efforts as adviser to the Carbon Disclosure Project. Doug Kangos is a PwC partner who focuses on assisting companies respond to demands of greenhouse gas emissions and sustainability reporting. Any views expressed here are their own. –

Carbon reporting by U.S.-based companies today has broad similarities to financial reporting before the enactment of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934. Just as market forces and regulation evolved then, so too now are we seeing a similar trend.

We expect that within this decade, more companies will regard carbon as significant and will develop and implement increasingly sophisticated and accurate programs to track, manage and report emissions data. And to the extent that carbon emissions are monetized through, for example, a cap-and-trade system, they will become subject to conventional accounting and reporting, with their demands for high levels of accuracy, reliability and timeliness.

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