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March 26 2012


On Our Radar: The State of the Planet

In advance of the Rio + 20 summit meeting in Brazil, specialists are meeting in London this week to present a comprehensive scientific update on the pressure the planet is under as well as potential fixes.

February 17 2012


Interior Approves Shell's Arctic Oil-Spill Response Plan

The Interior Department says Shell's oil spill response plan has been approved for drilling in shallow waters of the Chukchi Sea in the Arctic.
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February 01 2012


The Costa Concordia and the Destructive Environmental Impact of Cruise Ships

The shipwrecked Costa Concordia serves as a stark reminder of the environmental impact of cruise shipsThe recent sinking of the Costa Concordia underscores the destructive environmental impact of cruise liners. The ship went down on January 13 with 4,200 passengers and crew on board. Seventeen people are confirmed dead and 15 people are still missing. Even if they manage to stay afloat, these massive ships have enormous footprints.

If the Costa Concordia’s fuel leaks, it will wreak havoc on the marine environment, and the ship’s proximity to the coast means a spill could also be very damaging to local shorelines. An oil spill will destroy the livelihoods of many local fishermen who fish for cod, lobster, scampi and swordfish.

A spill of the ship’s fuel could cause the most serious environmental disaster in Italy since the Amaco Milford Haven caught fire and sank in 1991. The Amaco contained 1 million barrels of crude oil and it contaminated the Mediterranean coast and shorelines for more than a decade.

The sinking of the Costa Concordia off Giglio Island imperils Europe’s largest marine park and threatens a huge variety of species. This park covers over 150,000 acres (60,000 hectares) of sea. Its natural beauty is home to 700 species of flora and fauna, which includes wildlife like the critically endangered Mediterranean monk seal, the Audouin’s gull and some rare frogs. Other life forms found in the local waters include whales, dolphins, turtles, sea horses, red coral, and Poseidon sea grass.

After declaring a state of emergency, Italy’s Environment Minister Corrado Clini indicated the environmental risk is “very high.” The minister warned that if the tanks break, the fuel would block sunlight vital for marine life on the seabed. The spilled oil would kill sea grass, which would destroy the marine ecosystem. The grass produces oxygen and serves as a refuge for organisms to reproduce or hide from predators.

Areas at risk include the Laguna di Orbetello bird reserve and the Natural Park of Maremma. This park is the only Italian habitat for dune-dwelling plants; it is also a stopover point for migratory birds, and home to reintroduced osprey.

The Costa Concordia is full of environmentally harmful substances. The ship contains a total of a half-million gallons or 2400 tons of heavy fuel oil (bunker fuel), 200 tons of diesel oil and other environmentally hazardous materials like lubricants, cleaning products and chlorine. The fuel from the 950-foot long ship contains toxic compounds, which could prove lethal to animals that ingest them, or harm their ability to reproduce. The fuels can also coat animals, suffocating them and inducing hypothermia.

A slick has already started forming (most likely from engine parts) and there is concern that the ship may slide off the rock shelf it is on and sink into deeper water before salvage teams can recover the fuel. There is also a risk that if buffeted by high seas, the ship could break up like the Rena, the container ship that broke up off the coast of New Zealand’s Astrolabe Reef in October.

If everything goes as planned, it will take 2 to 4 weeks to remove the fuel and 7 to 10 months to remove the wreckage of the ship. However, bad weather has already delayed salvage efforts. To recover the fuel, divers will drill holes in the ship’s hull in a procedure known as “hot tapping.”

Even if the fuel is contained and salvaged, environmentalists warn that the 114,000-ton hull resting on the sea floor has already damaged a variety of marine life, including endangered sea sponges, crustaceans and mollusks. The local corals at risk are already suffering due to warming waters induced by climate change.

Some members of the Italian government have joined environmental groups in asking whether such large ships should be allowed to go near protected areas. Others are questioning the environmental viability of cruise liners altogether.

Large ocean-going passenger vessels are responsible for staggering amounts of pollution including three times the CO2 of airplanes. The massive footprints of luxury cruise liners have led some to describe them as a floating environmental disaster.

According to EPA statistics, each day, cruise ships discharge an average of 21,000 gallons of sewage (which includes fecal matter and heavy metals); 170,000 gallons of greywater; 6,400 gallons of oily bilge water; one ton of waste (including batteries, fluorescent lights, medical wastes and expired chemicals); and 8,500 bottles.

Perhaps the worst thing about cruise ships is the fact that they use thousands of tons of bunker fuel for each voyage. Bunker fuel is the worst type of petroleum known to man. It is a thick tar-like substance that produces airborne chemicals, including sulfur oxide, which have been linked with acid rain, asthma, and lung infections.

According to research conducted in 2009 by James Corbett of the University of Delaware, 64,000 residents of port cities die every year due to bunker fuel related ailments. Corbett predicted that in 2012, that number will rise to 87,000.

Alessandra Motola Molfino, president of Italy’s national conservation group, told Reuters, “These monstrous floating cities pollute the scenery with their very presence and the rivers, seas and cities where they stop with the refuse that they produce. The disaster of the Costa Concordia unfortunately proves the insubstantiality of the type of tourism that exploits and tramples on Italy’s beauty and cultural heritage and does not produce any growth or wellbeing.”

With 16 million passengers in 2011, the cruise ship industry is a significant source of GHGs and other pollutants. It is unconscionable that they are largely unregulated in the open ocean.

More regulations and more stringent laws are long overdue. We need legislation to protect the environment from cruise ships. The International Maritime Organization could start by regulating and restricting the use of bunker fuel.


Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

January 24 2012


December 30 2011


Musings of a Malcontent: The Earth in 2012 – Aye Carumba!

Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) World“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

I am beginning to feel redundant.

I mean how many weeks in a row can I talk about oil spills? Seemingly forever at the rate we’re going. If you haven’t seen it yet, there is an absolutely fabulous spill off the coast of Nigeria. Shell Oil clearly put a lot of work into making it look amazing. Let’s put our hands together for them. It really accentuates all the wonderful features of Nigeria’s coastline marvelously. You would think it was made just for that purpose. Stunning!

I think Victoria’s Secret is doing a special fashion show on the slick itself just so we can all revel in the magic. The best designers are involved, showing how much they care for this important issue. The models will be dressed as oil workers just getting off work at the rig from a hard day of drilling. As they strut down their specially made flotilla runway, spray from the slick coats them with the alluring shimmer that only crude oil can create. Covered in oil now, they strip out of their overalls to reveal the new line of sexy hot undergarments made from the carcasses of birds killed by spills all over the world. Fashion at it’s most poignant!

I can dream can’t I?

Will we raise our consciousness about what we are doing to the Earth in 2012?This new spill gives me little optimism for 2012. It just feels like it’s not going to stop. Oil everywhere, huge amounts of methane gas escaping from the Arctic, extreme weather patterns, the start of Celebrity Wife Swap – what are we in for? I know the Mayan calendar is predicting a profound rise in consciousness in 2012, but I’m wondering if that’s because we’ll all be in flames from the massive oil spill-methane-fueled fireball that’s likely to be the Planet Earth.

It’s amazing how being on fire can elevate your consciousness.

If you can’t tell – I’m worried. Somehow I think I am not alone in this. The question is what will it take to slow things down? Do we need an Occupy the Oil Companies movement? Yeah, that would work. Groups can start camping out at gas stations. We can all begin to use alternative fuel sources – like used fry oil from fast food restaurants. Soon the Chevy Volt will be the car everyone craves and all the oil-producing countries will be begging for us to use their product again. Yet because of our Mayan induced surge of conscious awakening we will no longer even need motor vehicles – as we will simply travel through teleportation.

We are totally screwed aren’t we?

Those changes are not going to happen. Sorry Mayans. Why? Because instead of cleaning up the mess currently spanning the globe, these big companies want to add to it. They have all the sway in just the right places. I know this because for the most part nothing has really happened to them. Sure they have gotten fined, but they are still getting away with all sorts of shaky behavior. Just like nothing has really happened to the Wall Street companies that did a collective pistol shot to our femurs, leaving us to bleed out on the street while they sauntered away whistling a tune. The exchange rate is maintained in their favor. I don’t see Bernie Madoff getting a Gaddafi style treatment at the hands of those he screwed. Heck I would settle for a daylong carnival dunk tank opportunity with old Bernie as the star.

Just give us some payback – a little hint that the scales are not totally off balance.

I am not holding my breath. I do have some desire for self-preservation.

So we step into a new year. Hopefully it will not be full of continued disasters. Or scams and misdeeds. Or torture and killing. Or horrors done on each other for just no good reason (like the guy lighting a woman in his building on fire in a very un-consciousness heightening way). Or stories of how much the rich and famous are spending on Christmas gifts ($12,000 worth of gifts from one Twilight series star to the other. They are in love though).


For the consciousness to shift it has to be about something else. Taking responsibility. Taking care of our world and each other. Practicing compassion. Practicing kindness. Practicing generosity. Speaking out when we see things that are unjust. Not tolerating violence. Calming our minds.

Can’t be that far fetched. If the Mayans thought it could happen, why not right?

So what if they died off.


Image sources: The Alopecian Muse, Astrological Musings

November 14 2011


Coast Guard Admiral to Lead Drilling Safety Bureau

The Interior Department has named James A. Watson IV, a rear admiral in the Coast Guard who helped coordinate the response to BP's huge oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, to succeed Michael R. Bromwich as director of the department's Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.

September 16 2011


America's Woefully Inadequate Oversight of Pipeline Safety: A New York Times Stunner

Last week, the New York Times published a bombshell of an expose about the government's woefully inadequate program to monitor and ensure the security and safety of American energy pipelines. I’ve spent a lot of time lately investigating the state of North American energy pipelines, and this is by far the best overview I’ve seen of the government’s feckless attempt to oversee the sprawling system and protect the public from spills, leaks, and explosions.

Reporters Dan Frosch and Janet Roberts dig into federal government records and safety documents and surface some truly startling findings. Like the fact that there are “still more than 100 significant spills each year.” (“Significant” spills being those that cause a fire, serious injury or death, or release over 2,100 gallons.)

Or that the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration only requires companies to focus their inspections on “the 44 percent of the nation’s land-based liquid pipelines that could affect high consequence areas — those near population centers or considered environmentally delicate — which leaves thousands of miles of lines loosely regulated and operating essentially on the honor system.” Or the fact that the agency doesn’t even employ as many inspectors as federal law demands.

It’s well worth reading the whole expose, but here’s the crucial takeaway:

The little-known federal agency charged with monitoring the system and enforcing safety measures — the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration — is chronically short of inspectors and lacks the resources needed to hire more, leaving too much of the regulatory control in the hands of pipeline operators themselves, according to federal reports, an examination of agency data and interviews with safety experts… They portray an agency that rarely levies fines and is not active enough in policing the aging labyrinth of pipelines, which has suffered thousands of significant hazardous liquid spills over the past two decades.

The article is accompanied by a jaw dropping map of all the toxic spills from pipelines since 1990. Here’s a little taste of the heart of our nation’s energy pipeline system — around extraction hubs in Oklahoma and Texas and the refineries along the Gulf of Mexico — but you really must click through and take in the whole nation.

pipeline spills energy pipeline spills since 1990 new york times

The writers also make the link to the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline that would funnel volatile DilBit crude 1,700 miles across six Great Plains states, 1,904 waterways, and the nation’s largest freshwater aquifer (Ogallala).

Keystone XL, like the rest of the tar sands lines in the Keystone system and the tens of thousands of miles of crude pipelines that came before it, would rely largely on the self-policing that Frosch and Roberts prove has been terribly ineffective.

For all the discussion of "energy security," there's remarkably little talk of how much more "secure" our energy system would be if it had appropriate oversight and monitoring in line with the vast scale of the pipeline system. And for all the hollow talk of "job creation," nobody mentions the number of safety workers that should be hired to keep this system running safely to protect the public.

August 26 2011


Musings of a Malcontent: Shell Oil is AWESOME!

Musings of a Malcontent: Environmental Irony in an Imperfect (but humorous?) World“Musings of a Malcontent” is a weekly op-ed by GlobalWarmingisReal contributor Carlyle Coash

Dudes and dudettes! I know a few weeks ago I said that Exxon rocks, but seriously –

Shell Oil is totally awesome!

They are like…totally the best when it comes to nearly averting huge oil spills. Man, they rock so much they make Exxon’s rocking look like a Yanni concert. Totally dude! Right?

I have lived in California too long. To all, my deepest regrets.

The Valley just takes me over sometimes.

As you may know, one of Shell’s massive drilling sites in the North Atlantic leaked about 2,000 gallons of oil into the sea last week. Woops. I hate when that happens. You’re minding your own business drilling into the seabed and you totally forget to check to make sure no pipes are leaking.

I could barely get into my bathroom the last time I let that happen.

A recent article in the Daily Telegraph stated that Shell was upset by the leak as it has been trying to position itself as the most reliable and trustworthy oil company after BP’s spill earlier this year.

“Solid and dependable” were the exact words.

Huh? Can a comparison even be made? Is there even a position to be jockeyed for as most dependable oil company of the year? We’re the best! We only spilled 2,000 barrels! Only 10 seabirds and a handful of sea life have met their end due to our actions – not like those miscreants over at BP. And don’t get me started on Conoco! I won’t even let them baby-sit anymore.

It’s like the Emperor saying he is more reliable than Darth Vader because at least he shows his face. Or Stalin saying he was more dependable than Hitler because he managed not to get himself shot in a ditch outside his bunker. Or that Charlie Sheen is trustworthier than Paris Hilton.

(There was actually a poll done there. Yes – we will deserve everything coming to us)

Do these companies really think they can outshine each other? Hmm – given all the recent oil slicks appearing in the Gulf, perhaps I should pick a different word. No – that works really. They might succeed in their efforts given the absolute lack of coverage of this particular event. By the way, Lindsey Lohan was seen wearing the same dress as Pippa Middleton did at the Royal Wedding.

Who are they fooling? Us, I am afraid. Us – big time.

I should have more compassion. Shell has been having such a tough year so far. The death of a maintenance worker, a series of dangerous gas leaks, equipment collapsing off a platform into the sea. Oh yeah – and a 15,000 hour backlog on repairs.

15,000 hours?

I’m sure there is nothing to worry about there.

Is there anyone paying attention to that? Any oversight? Any fines each day the repairs remain undone? I have SWAT teams descending on my home when I am two days late with my Student Loan payment, but by all means let’s give them their 15,000 hours. It won’t cost us anything.

Oversight is so overrated. They’re fine on their own.


Apparently the Shell Brent Field is the largest in the North Sea, with four platforms. In July the Charlie platform was closed by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) because of an “uncontrolled release of flammable substances” – not the first time such a thing has happened.

I bet the folks at Burning Man would know exactly how to handle that situation.

The HSE described ignition of gas at the platform as “almost inevitable” – with the potential for a catastrophe. Yep, they have a lot to be proud of. In their quest to become the most outstanding of oil companies they have triumphed. They truly have come out front in the battle of most awesomest, awake, earth healing, puppy conscious, gracious, resplendent and massive oil company in the world.

Dare I say the Universe? Yes, I dare it!

By the way, did I mention they have permission to drill in the Arctic?

It just keeps getting better.

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July 18 2010


Beyond a Gulf Cleanup

As the government and BP enter the next phase of the spill drama, many are already calling on them to make their long-term response about more than just cleanup.

June 21 2010


Environmental News Wrap – June 16-21

Environmental News Wrap - Covering a dynamic EarthGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

Must Read of the Week:

  • Biomass energy has been touted as a smart way to deal with bio-refuse. The idea is being reexamined though because the act of burning bio-refuse is more damaging than any alternative. Also, the pay off for making biomass burning carbon neutral is 50-100 years away, and we need to address climate conditions now, not later.
  • A website called seesouthernforests.org has a great interactive map for learning about the composition of Southern Forests in the US and how they have been changed by humans. Check It Out!
  • Making tires more green has always been focused on performance and longevity. Now companies are starting to incorporate alternative materials. The greatest gains in decreasing the environmental impact of tires still lie with the original focus of performance and longevity. If we want tires we have to accept some environmental impact, humans will never be impact neutral or positive with needs like cars.
  • Oil spills do not stop oil lobbyists. The Washington Post covers the obvious and awkward.
  • The four-year-long drought in California is over, but politicians are wary of lifting restrictions. California is looking long term and wants to conserve this valuable resource that will become more valuable as we shape our climate and environment.
  • Amid the BP oil spill Obama calls for a focus on energy policy. Using this disaster as a diving board Obama is seizing the moment and doing what has been needed for a long time. Also, the $20 billion account that BP has created to compensate economic losers from the spill is unprecedented. In the Exxon Valdez spill Exxon lost the court case but continued on to appeal the punitive penalty and got it reduced from $5 billion to $500 million. Exxon spent about $5 billion on clean up and settlements. For BP to just put up $20 billion for grabs is an astonishing advance in the powers of the environmental movement.
  • Battery technology is always advancing. Technology Review explains how nanotechnology is changing the lithium-ion battery, the battery used in your cell phone and hopefully in the future, your car.
  • Afghanistan has received attention for something besides war for once. Apparently $1 trillion worth of minerals are extractable in Afghanistan. The Week calls this new media focus a sham. Whether or not it is a sham, encouraging a country devastated by war to also become a country exploited by the global demand for minerals is terrible. Do not ruin the people and then ruin their land.

June 08 2010


Oil Plumes Exist, U.S. Agency Confirms

The federal government has confirmed the existence of deep-sea plumes of dissolved oil compounds.
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