Thursday, 21 January 2010

UN climate chief admits mistake on Himalayan glaciers warning

Jeremy Page, South Asia Correspondent

The UN’s top climate change body has issued an unprecedented apology over its flawed prediction that Himalayan glaciers were likely to disappear by 2035.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said yesterday that the prediction in its landmark 2007 report was “poorly substantiated” and resulted from a lapse in standards. “In drafting the paragraph in question the clear and well-established standards of evidence, required by the IPCC procedures, were not applied properly,” the panel said. “The chair, vice-chair and co-chairs of the IPCC regret the poor application of IPCC procedures in this instance.”
The stunning admission is certain to embolden critics of the panel, already under fire over a separate scandal involving hacked e-mails last year.
The 2007 report, which won the panel the Nobel Peace Prize, said that the probability of Himalayan glaciers “disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high”. It caused shock in Asia, where about two billion people depend on meltwater from Himalayan glaciers for their fresh water supplies during the dry seasons.

It emerged last week that the prediction was based not on a consensus among climate change experts but on a media interview with a single Indian glaciologist in 1999. That scientist, Syed Hasnain, has now told The Times that he never made such a specific forecast in his interview with the New Scientist magazine.
“I have not made any prediction on date as I am not an astrologer but I did say they were shrinking fast,” he said. “I have never written 2035 in any of my research papers or reports.” Professor Hasnain works for The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI) in Delhi, which is headed by Rajendra Pachauri, head of the climate change panel.
Dr Pachauri has defended the panel’s work, while trying to distance himself from Professor Hasnain by saying that the latter was not working at the institute in 1999: “We slipped up on one number, I don’t think it takes anything away from the overwhelming scientific evidence of what’s happening with the climate of this Earth.”
Professor Hasnain confirmed that he had given an interview to Fred Pearce, of New Scientist, when he was still working for Jawaharlal Nehru University in 1999. “I said that small glaciers in the eastern and central Himalaya are declining at an alarming rate and in the next 40-50 years they may lose substantial mass,” he said. “That means they will shrink in area and mass. To which the journalist has assigned a date and reported it in his own way.” Mr Pearce was not immediately available for comment.
Despite the controversy, the IPCC said that it stood by its overall conclusions about glacier loss this century in big mountain ranges including the Himalayas. “This conclusion is robust, appropriate, and entirely consistent with the underlying science and the broader IPCC assessment,” it said.
The scandal threatens to undermine the panel’s credibility as it begins the marathon process of drafting its Fifth Assessment Reports, which are due out in 2013-14. Georg Kaser, a leading Austrian glaciologist who contributed to the 2007 report, described the glacier mistake as huge and said that he had warned colleagues about it months before publication.
The error is also now being exploited by climate sceptics, many of whom are convinced that stolen e-mail exchanges last year revealed a conspiracy to exaggerate the evidence supporting global warming.
Jairam Ramesh, the Indian Environment Minister, said on Tuesday the scandal vindicated his position that there was no proof that Himalayan glaciers were melting abnormally fast. “The IPCC claim that glaciers will vanish by 2035 was not based on an iota of scientific evidence,” he said.
Monitoring Himalayan glaciers is extremely difficult because most of them lie in some of the most inhospitable terrain in the word at an altitude of more than 5,000 metres (16,000ft).
Most studies until now have therefore been based necessarily on a mixture of outdated and incomplete data, satellite imagery, photography, and anecdotal evidence.
Last year, however, TERI launched a project to install high-tech sensors on three glaciers which it will use as benchmarks to assess the situation across the Himalayas.
Professor Hasnain, who is running the project, said that he would soon be presenting a report on the status of Himalayan glaciers, based on research works by Indian and international scientists published in different peer reviewed journals across the world.
He hopes that these studies will help to produce more incontrovertible evidence that the Himalayan glaciers are under threat. In the short term, however, it seems they will do little to convince climate change sceptics, or to repair the image of the IPCC.

Fate of US climate change bill in doubt after Scott Brown's Senate win

Democrats unlikely to touch climate legislation this year as party is robbed of filibuster-proof majority in the Senate

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Wednesday 20 January 2010 19.25 GMT
An ambitious climate change bill had been sliding down President Barack Obama's to-do list even before the Republican upset in Massachusetts that saw Scott Brown take Ted Kennedy's Senate seat.
Now it seems more likely than ever that Democrats in the US Senate will not touch global warming in 2010 unless they can be assured of sizeable Republican support. Brown's election has also led to international concern that any failure to act by the US - the world's biggest historical polluter - would undermine attempts to seal a global deal.
However, Senator John Kerry, who is leading the push on climate change in the Senate, said he remained confident of getting broad support for a bill.
"The political atmosphere doesn't reduce the urgency of dealing with pollution and energy, and the surest way to increase the anger at Washington is to duck the issues that matter in peoples' lives. There's overwhelming public support and this can be a bipartisan issue," he said today . "This is the single best opportunity to create jobs, reduce pollution, and stop sending billions overseas for foreign oil from countries that would do us harm. Sell those arguments and you've got a winning issue."
The House of Representatives narrowly passed a climate change bill last June. But Senate Democrats had long calculated that - with the divisive fight over healthcare causing internal splits - their only hope of passing their own version of a climate bill was to win Republican support.
Kerry has been leading a tripartisan effort with Republican Lindsey Graham and independent Joe Lieberman to craft a bill that would pull support from at least a few Republicans. The troika has yet to produce a draft proposal, but there is anticipation of an expanded role for nuclear power, perhaps with more cheap government loans or streamlined regulations to get projects approved. There is also talk of offshore oil and gas drilling.
Some Senators have proposed limiting the scope of the bill, regulating only the biggest power plants, or perhaps encouraging renewable energy without laying the foundations of a carbon trading market. Other Democrats - who were opposed to a climate change bill even before the vote in Massachusetts - say the Senate is unlikely to move in 2010 without those compromises.
"It is my assessment that we likely will not do a climate change bill this year, but we will do energy," Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat who opposes action on climate change told reporters in a conference call yesterday. "I think it is more likely for us to turn to something that is bipartisan and will address the country's energy interest and begin to address specific policies on climate change."
Brown's victory robs the Democrats of their filibuster-proof 60-40 majority in the Senate. But it is not entirely clear the Senate's newest member would be an automatic no. In the excitement of the campaign, Brown cast himself as a climate change sceptic. "I think the globe is always heating and cooling," the Boston Globe quoted Brown as saying. "It's a natural way of ebb and flow. The thing that concerns me lately is some of the information I've heard about potential tampering with some of the information."
But as a Massachusetts state senator in 2008, Brown voted for a regional cap-and-trade regime, which is similar in concept to what the climate bill is proposing on a nationwide scale.
Outside the US, reaction to Brown's win suggested it made a global pact to fight global warming harder. Nick Mabey, head of the E3G climate thinktank in London, said without US action there were risks talks would stall. "We can't afford climate to be a dysfunctional regime like trade," like the inconclusive Doha round on freer world trade launched in 2001, he said.
"On the international front, China is constantly looking to the US on climate bills. This is definitely bad news. It doesn't bring new confidence to international negotiations," said Ailun Yang of Greenpeace in Beijing.
Shirish Sinha of WWF India said US action was essential but that "irrespective of what happens in is on our self-interest to do something for climate change."

UN climate chief jabs back at allegations of financial impropriety - but fails to land a blow

A seven-star Dubai backdrop as Rajendra Pachauri awards $1.5m prize to Toyota won't help the climate science cause
The chairman of the UN's panel of climate scientists, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, has been under an unwelcome spotlight this week. First, he announced a review into the panel's claim that Himalayan glaciers would disappear by 2035. Then he had to defend himself from reports by the Sunday Telegraph that he's financially profiting from the influence of his UN role – a claim he trenchantly denies. Now, Pachauri has come out fighting, calling himself "unsinkable".
Yesterday in Abu Dhabi, he described recent criticism from British newspapers as "personal". At the weekend, an investigation of the finances of The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), a research body run by Pachauri, was published by The Sunday Telegraph, whose reporters alleged Pachauri had a "lavish personal lifestyle" and owned "$1,000 suits".
Pachauri has previously issued statements saying he has not received "a single penny" from payments by companies to Teri for advice he has provided.
"They can't attack the science so they attack the chairman," Pachauri, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) told me. "But they won't sink me. I am the unsinkable Molly Brown. In fact, I will float much higher."
Pachauri chairs another panel, the judges of the 2010 Zayed Future Energy prize, an illustrious jury that includes former BP chairman Lord Browne, architect Norman Foster and the president of Iceland. Yesterday in Abu Dhabi, Pachauri took to the stage at the seven-star Emirates Palace hotel to hand out a large cash prize – to one of the companies he has been advising.
Last year the $1.5m award was given to Dipal Chandra Barua, an entrepreneur whose company, Grameen Shakti, trained women in rural Bangledesh to install solar energy systems. This year, Pachauri and his judges awarded the prize to car-making giant Toyota.
Arguably Toyota neither needs the money nor the recognition for its work on hybrid technologies. It's worth noting that until less than a year ago, Pachauri was also a member of Toyota's International Advisory Board. I asked Pachauri why Toyota had won, when giving the money to a smaller-scale venture could have had more impact.
"We decided that if we rewarded Toyota's imagination it would not be lost on other car-makers," he said.
Pachauri has been consistent in countering attacks that claim he has conflicts of interest. In a letter published in the the Sunday Telegraph this week in response to an earlier article by the paper, he wrote:
I am proud of my association with various organisations, of which I am happy to provide a complete list, but such associations are limited to me providing them with advice essentially on clean technologies and sustainable practices. There is no question of them influencing the functioning of Teri, the IPCC or myself. There is no conflict between these roles and my position as chairman of the IPCC. I advise several organisations on sustainable energy and related subjects, and any remuneration that is due to me from these organisations is paid to Teri, not to me.
However, in the science community skilled, engaging communicators like Pachauri – the author of 23 books, including one of English verse – are all too rare. We're looking to them to convey the gravity of climate change and need for action. Not give succour to sceptics.

Claims Himalayan glaciers could melt by 2035 were false, says UN scientist

• IPCC report said ice would vanish 'perhaps sooner' • Panel head apologises for unsubstantiated assertion

Fred Pearce, Wednesday 20 January 2010 22.44 GMT
One paragraph, buried in 3,000 pages of reports and published almost three years ago, has humbled the head of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Facing global outcry, Rajendra Pachauri backed down and apologised today for a disputed IPCC claim that there was a very high chance the Himalayan glaciers would melt away by 2035.
The assertion, now discredited, was included in the most recent IPCC report assessing climate change science, ­published in 2007. Those reports are widely credited with convincing the world that human activity was causing global warming.
But Pachauri admitted in an IPCC statement (pdf) that in this case "the clear and well-established standards of evidence required by the IPCC procedures were not applied properly", and "poorly substantiated estimates" of the speed of glacier melting had made it into print.
He had stridently defended the report in recent months. Furthermore, the Guardian has discovered the claim was questioned by the Japanese government before publication, and by other scientists.
Pachauri's statement is a reprimand for some IPCC ­scientists involved. It is also bound to encourage critics of the panel to redouble efforts to undermine its scientific reputation. However, many scientists say evidence for man-made climate change remains compelling and note that the 2035 claim did not appear in the more widely read "summary for policymakers".
The offending paragraph, in the panel's fourth assessment report on the impacts of climate change, said: "Glaciers in the Himalaya are receding faster than in any other part of the world and, if the present rate continues, the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035 and perhaps sooner is very high."
In IPCC terminology a "very high" likelihood has a specific meaning: more than a 90% chance of coming true.
The report's only quoted source for the claim was a 2005 campaigning report from the environment group WWF. In turn, the WWF report's only source was remarks made in 1999 by a leading Indian glaciologist, Syed Hasnain, then vice-chancellor of Jawaharlal Nehru University in Delhi, to journalists at two magazines, New Scientist in London, and Down to Earth in New Delhi.
Hasnain had never submitted the suggestion of such an early demise to a scientific journal because, he said last week, it had always been "speculative". How this made it to the august pages of the IPCC report remains unclear. But the IPCC text is almost identical to that in the Down to Earth article in April 1999. WWF said today it regretted "any confusion caused" and would amend its report. The panel is yet to make a similar commitment.
Hasnain is currently employed as a senior fellow at an Indian research institute, the Tata Energy Research Institute, whose director is Pachauri.
Glaciologists who spoke to the Guardian say Himalayan glaciers contain so much ice it will be 300 years before it vanishes.
The affair raises serious questions about the rigour of the IPCC's process of sifting and assessing the thousands of research findings it includes in its reports. It also raises questions about the competence of Pachauri, who angrily defended the report's conclusions about Himalayan glaciers after they were called "alarmist" last autumn by India's environment minister, Jairam Ramesh.
Pachauri accused Ramesh of relying on "voodoo science", called the minister "extremely arrogant" and said Ramesh's claims were "not peer reviewed". It is now clear that it was the panel's claims that were not reviewed. The author of the part of the panel's report, another Indian glaciologist, Murari Lal, last week defended inclusion of 2035, saying "the error if any lies with Dr Hasnain's assertion".
Pachauri's statement repudiates that position. He said he "regrets the poor application of well-established IPCC procedures in this instance". One person who has not spoken is the co-chairman of the impacts assessment report, Martin Parry, who was unavailable for comment. But his successor, Chris Field of the Carnegie Institution in Stanford, California, said it was a powerful reminder of "carefully applying the well-established IPCC principles to every statement in every paragraph".
"Glaciergate" has brought into the open splits between authors of the four different IPCC reports, produced every five or so years. However, Bob Ward, policy director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change at the LSE, said: "We should be cautious about making sweeping ­statements about the IPCC based on a single error."

UN drops deadline for countries to state climate change targets

Copenhagen deal falters as just 20 countries of 192 sign up to declare their global warming strategies

John Vidal, environment editor, Wednesday 20 January 2010 18.14 GMT
The UN has dropped the 31 January deadline by which time all countries were expected to officially state their emission reduction targets or list the actions they planned to take to counter climate change.
Yvo de Boer, UN climate change chief, today changed the original date set at last month's fractious Copenhagen climate summit, saying that it was now a "soft" deadline, which countries could sign up to when they chose. "I do not expect everyone to meet the deadline. Countries are not being asked if they want to adhere… but to indicate if they want to be associated [with the Copenhagen accord].
"I see the accord as a living document that tracks actions that countries want to take," he told journalists in Bonn.
"It's a soft deadline. Countries are not being asked to sign the accord to take on legally binding targets, only to indicate their intention," he said.
The deadline was intended to be the first test of the "Copenhagen accord", the weak, three-page document that emerged at the end of the summit, and which fell far short of original expectations. It seeks to bind all countries to a goal of limiting warming to no more than 2C above pre-industrial times and proposes that $100bn a year be provided for poor countries to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change after 2020.
But with just 10 days to go, only 20 countries out of 192 have signed up, with many clearly unready or unwilling to put their name to the document. Countries which have signed so far include India, Russia, Mexico, Australia, France and Norway.
De Boer also endorsed the controversial idea of short-circuiting the traditional UN negotiating process of reaching agreement between all countries by consensus. Instead, he argued that a smaller group of countries could negotiate a climate agreement on behalf of the many.
"You cannot have 192 countries involved in discussing all the details. You cannot have all countries all of the time in one room. You do have to safeguard transparency by allowing countries to decide if they want to be represented by others, and that if a debate is advanced then the conclusion is brought back to the larger community", he said.
However, this more exclusive method of reaching agreement was criticised by some in Copenhagen after the host government, Denmark, convened a meeting of 26 world leaders in the last two days of the conference to try to reach agreement on behalf of everyone.
Critics argued that this was not only illegal, but undermined negotiations already taking place among the 192 countries and threatened the UN's multilateral and democratic process.
"The selected leaders were given a draft document that mainly represented the developed countries' positions, thereby marginalising the developing countries' views tabled at the two-year negotiations. The attempt by the Danish presidency to override the legitimate multilateral process was the reason why Copenhagen will be considered a disaster," said Martin Khor, director of the South Centre, an intergovernmental think tank for developing countries based in Geneva.
The US and Britain have argued since the conference that climate negotiations are best served by meetings of the world's largest polluters, such as China, the US, India, Brazil and South Africa. These countries, which emit more than 80% of global emissions, signed up to a deal in the final hours of the summit.
Brazil, India, China and South Africa, known as the "BASIC" group, meet next week in Delhi to agree a common position ahead of further UN climate talks.

World's glaciers melting at accelerated pace, leading scientists say

Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent, Wednesday 20 January 2010 23.49 GMT

From the Alps to the Andes, the world's glaciers are retreating at an accelerated pace - despite the recent controversy over claims by the United Nations' body of experts, leading climate scientists said today.
Lonnie Thompson, a glaciologist at Ohio State University, said there is strong evidence from a variety of sources of significant melting of glaciers - from the area around Kilimanjaro in Africa to the Alps, the Andes, and the icefields of Antarctica because of a warming climate. Ice is also disappearing at a faster rate in recent decades, he said.
"It is not any single glacier," he said. "It is very clear that these glaciers are behaving in a similar fashion."
The United Nations' climate science experts admitted today that it did not have the evidence to support the claim in its 2007 report that Himalayan glaciers could melt away by 2035.
Thompson, in a conference call with reporters, would not be drawn into making specific predictions on the future of the Himalayan glaciers. He said only about 800 of the 46,000 glaciers in the Himalayas are being monitored by scientists. Data from those under observation suggests that 95% of glaciers are in retreat, but it is still unclear how much mass the glaciers are losing without knowing the depth of the affected places. Scientists still do not have enough of that data, he said. It was also unclear that Himalayan glaciers were thinning at a faster pace than in other parts of the world.
But there was evidence gathered from a variety of sources that there has been significant melting of glaciers - from the area around Kilimanjaro in Africa to the Alps, the Andes and the icefields of Antarctica - and that the rate of ice loss was accelerating.
"Those changes - the acceleration of the retreat of the glaciers and the fact that it is a global response - is the concerning part of all this. It is not any single glacier," he said
Scientists now had evidence collected over a long period of that decline from samples of the ice core and even collections of plants from mountains that were left ice-free for the first time in more than 5,000 years, Thompson said.
The World Glacier Monitoring Service shows a similar picture. In a 2005 survey of 442 glaciers, 398 - or 90% - were retreating, 18 were stationary and 26 were advancing.
There was also, until recently, a full understanding of how glacier melt was influencing sea level rise. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) left out the effect of melting glaciers and ice sheets in its projections on sea level rise in the 2007 report.
But the Union of Concerned Scientists said new analyses suggested that such meltwater on land could lead to a sea level rise of 0.8 metre (2.6ft) by the end of the century - and possibly as much as two metres.
Glacier melt is also threatening water supplies, the UCS said, pointing to a 2008 study in the Himalayas which showed less water flowing from the glaciers to the great rivers such as the Indus, Ganges and Brahmaputra that sustain the Indian subcontinent.
Thompson, who has been studying glaciers in the Andes for more than 30 years, said he had watched the loss in his own lifetime. A number of the region's glaciers have disappeared. Venezuela, which had six glaciers when he first began as a graduate student in the early 1970s, now has only two small ice masses which Thompson thought would be gone within ten years. An Andean glacier that had been melting at a pace of six metres a year 40 years ago is now disappearing at a rate of 60 metres a year, he said.
"I find it striking how fast the glaciers are responding" to the warming climate, he said. "Certainly in the 1970s when you talked about the speed of a glacier that was something very very slow. But that is no longer the case."
He added: "These glaciers are dynamic and they are responding rapidly."

Drilling Tactic Unleashes a Trove of Natural Gas—And a Backlash

SHREVEPORT, La.—A mounting backlash against a technique used in natural-gas drilling is threatening to slow development of the huge gas fields that some hope will reduce U.S. dependence on foreign oil and polluting coal.
The U.S. energy industry says there is enough untapped domestic natural gas to last a century—but getting to that gas requires injecting millions of gallons of water into the ground to crack open the dense rocks holding the deposits. The process, known as hydraulic fracturing, has turned gas deposits in shale formations into an energy bonanza.

The industry's success has triggered increasing debate over whether the drilling process could pollute freshwater supplies. Federal and state authorities are considering action that could regulate hydraulic fracturing, potentially making drilling less profitable and giving companies less reason to tap into this ample supply of natural gas.
Exxon Mobil Corp. placed itself squarely in the middle of the wrangling when it agreed last month to pay $29 billion for gas producer XTO Energy Inc., a fracturing pioneer. Wary of the rising outcry, Exxon negotiated the right to back out of its deal if Congress passes a law to make hydraulic fracturing illegal or "commercially impracticable."
On Wednesday, Exxon Chairman and Chief Executive Rex Tillerson faced questions about the environmental impact of hydraulic fracturing at a Capitol Hill hearing on the merger.
"We can now find and produce unconventional natural-gas supplies miles below the surface in a safe, efficient and environmentally responsible manner," Mr. Tillerson told members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Criticism of hydraulic fracturing was muted at the hearing, with most representatives focusing on the potential benefits of increased gas use. But the merger has given drilling opponents a new target.
"It puts Exxon at front and center of this whole issue," said Michael Passoff, associate director of As You Sow, an environmental-minded investment group.
Even before the Exxon-XTO deal, the controversy over hydraulic fracturing, also known as "fracking" or "fracing," was growing.
Oilmen were injecting water into wells to free up valuable oil and gas as far back as the 1940s. But in the past decade the technique has really taken off. First in East Texas and in the outskirts of Fort Worth, companies began pumping water under enormous pressure to see if they could break open dense shale-rock formations to release gas.

These initial efforts were largely welcomed by communities, with homeowners and landlords often receiving lucrative checks for the mineral rights that allowed companies to drill on their land.
When early efforts succeeded, the companies began running bigger fracturing jobs, using more water and higher pressure—and in turn searching for even more gas-bearing shale deposits.
This took the gas industry into places where drilling was less common in modern times, including downtown Fort Worth, northeastern Pennsylvania and within the city limits of Shreveport, La.
Hydraulic fracturing and some other technology improvements have created a way to tap a domestic fuel source that has proved abundant. U.S. natural-gas production has risen about 20% since 2005 in large part because of these developments, making gas a much bigger player in energy-policy planning.
Natural gas heats more than half of U.S. homes and generates a fifth of America's electricity, far less than coal, which provides the U.S. with nearly half its power. The industry and its allies are promoting natural gas a bridge fuel to help wean the U.S. off coal, which emits more global-warming gases, and imported oil until renewable fuels are able to meet the demand.
What most worries environmentalists isn't the water in the fracturing process—it's the chemicals mixed in the water to reduce friction, kill bacteria and prevent mineral buildup. The chemicals make up less than 1% of the overall solution, but some are hazardous in low concentrations.
Today, the industry estimates that 90% of all new gas wells are fractured. Shale—a dense, nonporous gas-bearing rock—won't release its gas unless it is cracked open, and other types of formations also produce more gas when fractured. Easier, more porous formations, which don't require fracturing, were tapped in earlier decades and have largely dried up.
As the industry has honed its techniques, hydraulic-fracturing operations have become more complex, requiring far more water and chemicals—millions of gallons per well, rather than tens or hundreds of thousands of gallons in the past.
Environmentalists and some community activists fear hydraulic fracturing could contaminate drinking-water supplies. They point to recent incidents that they say are linked to fracturing, including a water-well explosion in Dimock, Pa., and a chemical spill here in Shreveport.
The industry says fracturing is safe and argues that there have been only a handful of incidents among the millions of wells that have been fractured over the past 50 years. "Hydraulic fracturing has been used since the 1940s in more than one million wells in the United States. It's safe and effective," says Exxon spokeswoman Cynthia Bergman.
Even if the industry can make its case, it still must deal with the public-relations and political fallout from some of the questionable incidents.
On a recent Friday morning, a crew from Cudd Energy Services worked to fracture a Chesapeake Energy Corp. well in Caddo Parish, La., the heart of the Haynesville Shale gas field. While cattle chewed grass in a field across the street, a team of Chesapeake and Cudd employees monitored computer readouts as 21 diesel-powered pumps forced nearly 3,800 gallons of water a minute down a well that reached two miles into the earth.
It is a process Chesapeake says it has learned how to do both efficiently and safely. "We've done it 10,000 times in the company's history without incident," said Aubrey McClendon, Chesapeake's chairman and chief executive officer, in a separate interview.
But in a coffee shop in nearby Shreveport, Caddo Parish Commissioner Matthew Linn said he had concerns after more than a dozen cows died during a Chesapeake Energy fracturing operation last year. A preliminary investigation linked the deaths to chemicals that spilled off the well site into a nearby pasture. A Chesapeake spokesman says the company compensated the cattle's owner and has taken steps to prevent a similar incident in the future.
"I'm all for drilling, and I want to get the gas out from underneath us," Mr. Linn said. "But at the same time, how do you balance human life and quality of life and clean water against that?"
Natural-gas companies say what's at work is fear of the new. "When you introduce something like hydraulic fracturing in a part of the country that hasn't had any experience with it, I think it's natural for there to be questions about the procedure," says Mr. McClendon.
Regardless, the industry faces a real prospect of tightened rules that could make it harder, or impractical, to use hydraulic fracturing. In June, congressional Democrats introduced legislation that would regulate fracturing at the federal level for the first time. The bills remain in committee. In October, the house formally asked the Environmental Protection Agency to study the risks posed by fracturing.
Several states, including Colorado, Pennsylvania and New York, have either passed or are considering tightening regulations on fracturing and related activities. Members of the House of Representatives pushing for new legislation argue that federal oversight is needed to protect water supplies because state regulations vary widely.
The industry worries that new regulations would hurt the thin margins on many gas wells and cut the financial incentive to tap the U.S.'s vast supply of gas. "There is an anticipation that more federal oversight would add enough costs to make it uneconomical, even it wasn't outright prohibited," said Gary Adams, vice chairman of Deloitte LLP's oil and gas consulting division.
Already, the growing concerns about the practice are causing some companies to rethink where they drill. Chesapeake last fall publicly abandoned plans to drill in the watershed that provides New York City with its drinking water after opposition from city officials and others who feared a spill could contaminate the water. Talisman Energy Inc. is shifting its drilling effort away from New York as well.
There have been attempts to regulate fracturing before. The 1974 Safe Water Drinking Act regulated wells that injected liquids underground. The federal courts ruled the law covered fracturing in a 1990s lawsuit from Alabama. But the technique was exempted from federal oversight in the 2005 Energy Bill.
Some argue there is little really known about whether fracturing poses a genuine risk to water supplies. Hannah Wiseman, a visiting law professor at the University of Texas, Austin, says tighter regulation may be warranted. "There just isn't enough information out there right now about the effects," she said.
Some of the potential threats are clearer than others, however. Gas-bearing shale formations typically lie a mile or more below the surface, with thousands of feet of nonporous rock separating them from even the deepest freshwater aquifers.
Most people agree that means that if a fracturing job is done correctly, it would be virtually impossible for water or chemicals to seep upward into drinking water supplies.
The industry argues that there has never been a proven case of water contamination caused by fracturing. But regulators have tied multiple incidents to oil and gas drilling more generally. Environmental groups point out that wells aren't always constructed properly. Moreover, they say, storage ponds that hold chemical-laced water after fracturing is complete can overflow, and trucks carrying chemicals can crash.
A poorly sealed well is the alleged cause of gas escaping into an underground aquifer in Dimock, Pa. Gas also built up in one resident's water well, causing an explosion in January 2009.
The company that drilled the wells, Cabot Oil & Gas, paid a $120,000 fine to settle the matter with the state, but has denied responsibility for the contamination and says fracturing couldn't have been the cause.
"I could never sell this house now," said Dimock resident Craig Sautner, who now has drinking water shipped to him by Cabot. "Our pristine water that we used to have? It's done."
Whether it is the act of fracturing itself or the risk of contamination from related activities is somewhat beside the point, says Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group that has raised concerns about fracturing. "Ultimately it's semantics. Somebody's water got contaminated," she says.
Still, for Exxon, the hearings this week presented an opportunity to highlight its investment in developing U.S. energy supplies and creating jobs. Most of its investments in recent years have been overseas. And Exxon executives usually face congressional grilling only when oil and gasoline prices skyrocket.
"This should probably be a very pleasant change of pace for Exxon Mobil because it's not going to be an argument about high oil and gasoline prices," says William Hederman, an energy analyst with Washington research firm Concept Capital.—Siobhan Hughes contributed to this article.
Write to Ben Casselman at and Russell Gold at

Putin Move Stirs Russian Environmental Row

MOSCOW–Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who plumbed the depths of Lake Baikal in a minisubmarine in August and pronounced the lake "ecologically clean," has given a well-connected tycoon's paper mill the go-ahead to resume dumping waste there, reversing what had been a landmark victory for environmentalists.
A decree Mr. Putin signed last week removed waste discharges in the production of pulp, paper and cardboard from a list of operations banned by environmental legislation in and around the world's largest body of fresh water.

As a result, OAO Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill said Tuesday it will restart operations that it halted in October 2008 after environmental authorities instructed the company to introduce a closed-loop waste-treatment system. Such a system would prevent discharges into the lake, but the company deemed it unprofitable, declared a permanent shutdown in February and began laying off its 2,000 employees. It started bankruptcy proceedings in March.
Mr. Putin's decree brought relief to Baikalsk, where workers had staged hunger strikes and blocked highways for a week in June to protest the demise of the Siberian town's biggest employer. It also resolved a problem for Oleg Deripaska, the tycoon whose control of the plant had cast him as the villain of those protests.
But the measure has enraged Russia's environmental activists, whose campaign against the mill gained widespread attention in the late 1980s as leading Soviet political and literary figures rallied behind it. The effort, disrupted by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991,finallysucceeded after environmental groups sued the company and won a 2008 court decision banning the discharge of waste water into the lake.
The mill, built in 1966, can produce 200,000 metric tons of pulp and 12,000 metric tons of packaging paper per year. A portion of the pulp, a special grade that can be produced only by using lake water, is used in Russia's nuclear warheads. Environmentalists said the mill's discharge threatened hundreds of species of wildlife, including a rare type of freshwater seal.
"This decree undoes more than two decades of struggle to defend the lake," said Roman Vazhenkov, head of Greenpeace's Lake Baikal campaign. Greenpeace appealed to President Dmitry Medvedev to reverse the measure. "To allow chemical wastes to be dumped there," he said, "…what else can you call it but a crime?"
He added: "The only thing I can conclude is that Putin is doing this to protect the interests of one person—Oleg Deripaska."
Mr. Deripaska's LPK Continental Management, part of his Basic Element industrial group, controls 51% of the mill. The state owns the other 49%. People close to Mr. Deripaska say he has used direct access to Mr. Putin and other top officials to become a major recipient of Kremlin bailouts and preserve a sprawling business empire that was threatened by the financial crisis a year ago.
Mr. Putin's press secretary, Dmitry Peskov, denied any favoritism toward Mr. Deripaska. "The only interests we can speak about protecting," he said, "are the interests of the 16,000 people in Baikalsk, whose lives depend almost entirely on that mill."
Mr. Peskov said preserving the lake's ecology is a "high priority" that the prime minister had to weigh against the town's fortunes. He said Mr. Putin consults frequently with scientific experts on Baikal and had ordered "strict government surveillance" of the mill's discharges once they resume.
Some economists say Mr. Putin's focus on saving jobs has delayed the restructuring of inefficient Russian companies crippled by the crisis. The Russian leader has been making televised appearances around the country, visiting near-bankrupt factories, scolding their managers and owners, and ordering banks to issue loans to revive employment.
The decree to rescue the Baikalsk mill, published on the government Web site, was first reported late Monday by Russian media. Oksana Gorlova, a spokeswoman for the Baikalsk mill, said Tuesday that the government decision behind it had been made in July, a month before Mr. Putin's televised dive in the minisub.
"I see the bed of Lake Baikal and it is clean," Mr. Putin told reporters through a hydrophone from 1.4 kilometers beneath the surface. Later, he said, "There is practically no environmental damage" and hinted that the mill might reopen.
Mr. Deripaska invested $6 million in November to start reviving the mill, the spokeswoman said. She said the company recently upgraded its technology for purifying waste water.
"Baikalsk Pulp and Paper does not do any ecological harm to the lake," she said.
Greenpeace's Mr. Vazhenkov disputed that, saying the mill's waste for years has exceeded legally established limits on concentrations of hazardous dioxin and sulfuric compounds.
Those limits, he said, are binding on Russia under international agreements aimed at preserving the lake, which contains one-fifth of the world's unfrozen fresh water and has been declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Should I leave the lights on?

There is a school of thought that believes that energy-saving light bulbs should not be switched off when leaving a room
Kieran Cooke

I grew up being told always to turn lights out when leaving a room. Then, with the arrival of energy-saving bulbs, I was told to leave lights on if returning to a room fairly soon. But the latest versions seem to warm up much more quickly: should I keep lights on or turn them off?
Stick to those old habits that you grew up with. It’s true that when compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs first appeared, they took an age to warm up to their full dull sheen, leaving householders knocking into umbrella stands and injuring toes on chair legs. Back then, not switching off the lights was understandable.
Nowadays, unless you’re using old types of CFLs, there should be no need to leave lights on. As you say, the new ones warm up much more quickly. And it’s often the case that though we might think that we’re leaving a room for only a few seconds, various distractions stretch it out to several minutes, thus wasting energy and needlessly running up electricity bills.
A common misconception is that it’s best to leave CFLs on because they need a lot of electricity to start. There is a power surge for less than a tenth of a second that might eat up two or three seconds of normal electricity use. But then the bulb quickly settles down. A general rule of thumb is that if you’re leaving the room for more than five seconds, switch off.
The working life spans of CFLs and incandescent bulbs are shortened by overuse. Switching lights rapidly on and off is obviously not a good idea. On the other hand, the cost of buying new bulbs has to be balanced against the electricity saved by turning off the lights — not always an easy calculation to make.
The subject of light bulbs, particularly those of the energy saving variety, certainly gets pulses running. Under EU regulations the manufacture and import of incandescents is being gradually phased out, with 100W bulbs going last year, the 75W being switched off this year and all incandescents taken off the shelves in 2012.
There are those who see the forced introduction of the CFL as yet another Brussels-inspired move to limit individual choice. Others see CFLs as part of a wider conspiracy by climate-change alarmists.
The Energy Saving Trust ( says that CFLs last up to eight times longer than incandescents and can save the average household about £40 in electricity bills each year. If widely used, CFLs would mean thousands of tonnes of CO2 would not be entering the atmosphere.
In retort, traditionalists allege that CFLs cause migraine and skin problems; and you can’t use them to read. Many are now stockpiling incandescents. Watch out for a shady figure on the street corner: “Psst. You wanna buy an old light bulb?”
Send your eco-dilemmas to

Time Team-style scanner to uncover illegally buried waste

Environment Agency to use new technology to trace buried waste sites and prosecute polluters

Alok Jha, green technology correspondent, Thursday 21 January 2010 00.05 GMT
Illegally buried waste can now be discovered by a Time Team-style scanner without the need to dig up the ground, according to the UK's environment watchdog.
The Environment Agency said the technology would speed up and make easier the hunt for criminal polluters and getting them pay for proper cleanup of their waste.
The scanner, similar to that used on Channel 4's Time Team programme, uses electrical currents to create an underground map of an area. "If something has been buried in the ground and it's a significant volume of material, [then] if the site isn't licensed or hasn't had a licence in the past, then it's clearly not a legal landfill," said John Burns, a project manager in the national enforcement team at the Environment Agency.
The scanner has already led inspectors to a large area of buried waste in the New Forest National Park that they estimate could cost around £500,000 to clean up. That cost will now be passed on to the landowner who illegally dumped the waste there.
In the past two years, the agency has shut down around 1,500 illegal waste sites, with fines for polluters shooting up from £1.4m in 2003 to £3m last year. Inspectors believe, however, that around 800 illegal sites are still in operation.
"In the main it tends to be, in terms of landfilling, construction and demolition waste and some tyres," said Burns. "In terms of the illegal dumping or depositing, it's quite often scrap and other materials like that which aren't very cheap to dispose of by legitimate means."
Illegally dumped waste can have serious environmental consequences. "If someone decides they're going to deposit a load of oily waste or a load of waste containing paints or spirits or cleaning materials, it could cause ground or surface water pollution and that can be quite serious. If a pollutant gets into the groundwater, it can take a long time to get it out and it's a very expensive process."
The agency's scanners use a technique known as resistive tomography where electrodes are inserted into the ground at regular intervals and an electrical current is passed between them. Because different materials respond to the current in different ways, the scanner can build up a picture of whatever is underground. "You can plot out a relatively large area in a day or two. The advantage is that it's non-invasive – you don't have to bring machines on to a site and have to start digging it up," said Burns.
Paul Leinster, chief executive of the agency, said: "By dumping waste illegally, waste criminals avoid landfill charges and undercut legitimate waste businesses, but more importantly they put the environment and human health at risk. We are making sure that waste crime does not pay, and have set up specialist crime teams to catch criminals and confiscate the assets they've gained from crime."
The agency plans to use the scanners along with other forensic science techniques, including handwriting analysis and SmartWater tracking – a solution which invisibly marks items and also contaminates anyone who takes those items so that they can later be identified.

Where there’s nuclear muck there’s a growing opportunity for brass

Robin Pagnamenta: commentary

Where there’s muck there’s brass, the old saying goes. And rarely has this been more true than in the murky world of nuclear waste. The first shipment of high-level waste from Britain back to Japan is part of a booming trade in toxic radioactive material that is poised for brisk growth in the next few years.
Globally, the number of nuclear reactors is expected to swell from today’s 435 in 31 countries to 568 in 42 countries by 2020, equivalent to one new reactor a month for the next decade. All of those reactors produce spent fuel and other waste material that must be safely handled, processed and placed in long-term storage facilities.
Only a handful of countries have the expertise and technology for nuclear reprocessing, in which spent nuclear fuel rods from power stations are chopped up and boiled in acid to extract uranium and plutonium for reuse in a reactor. The by-product is a concentrated form of vitrified nuclear waste that is as nasty as it sounds.
While Britain’s Sellafield site in West Cumbria has historically been a major player in the industry, in recent years it is France that has been far more aggressive about tapping in to the global market for such “back-end” services, as they are known in the industry.

A French state-controlled company, Areva, is now the world’s largest processor of nuclear waste and is keen to secure a bigger share as countries such as China and India expand their nuclear activities rapidly. The company had €7 billion (£6 billion) of orders for waste contracts last year, a 30 per cent increase on 2008.
But while the commercial opportunities are clear, this booming trade is driving growing concerns about safety and security risks. Last October there was an outcry after claims that French nuclear material was being shipped to Russia and stored in an open-air car park before processing in the Siberian city of Seversk.
A spate of illegal dumping of radioactive waste by Mafia groups in ships off the coast of Italy provides another example of the lucrative commercial opportunities. But the real concern now is the threat that terrorists pose, and governments are scrambling to find ways to contain it.

Clean energy drive to turn UK into giant forest

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Britain’s forest cover could double under a plan to map every underused piece of land for potential conversion to plantations to feed wood and crop-burning power stations.
Millions of fast-growing trees, such as eucalyptus and willow, could be planted on moorland, hillsides, former industrial areas and even land owned by conservation bodies such as the National Trust .
The trees would be turned into pellets and used to generate electricity in the rapidly growing number of biomass power stations. These stations are due to play a key role in reducing Britain’s emissions of carbon dioxide because trees absorb it as they grow. The new forests would be cut down and replanted in a continuous cycle.
The Energy Technologies Institute, a partnership between the Government and major energy companies, believes that up to 10 per cent of Britain’s land area, or 2.4 million hectares, could be converted to growing trees and tall grasses for biofuel.

Britain is the least-forested country in Europe, with trees covering only 12 per cent of the land compared with 28 per cent in France, 36 per cent in Spain and 74 per cent in Finland.
The institute is conducting a Government-funded study to identify which areas are the most suitable for conversion to plantations. The project is aimed at improving Britain’s energy security and reducing its reliance on imported wood.
Britain already imports more than five times as much wood in all forms, including paper, as it produces. The amount of foreign-grown timber consumed here is due to grow by 150 per cent because of plans for 16 large new biomass plants.
Many of the plants are being built at ports to enable easy access to wood imported from Canada, Brazil, Russia, South Korea and Scandinavia.
A biomass plant being built in Port Talbot, South Wales, will consume three million tonnes of wood per year, the equivalent of a third of Britain’s annual wood harvest of nine million tonnes. The plant will generate only 300 megawatt hours of electricity, or about 0.4 per cent of Britain’s current power-generating capacity.
Drax, operator of the country’s largest coal-fired power station, is planning to build three more 300megawatt biomass plants in Yorkshire.
David Clarke, the institute’s chief executive, said: “We have 2.4 million hectares of under-utilised land that is not suitable for food production. The issue is, can we use that for biomass production?
“We are looking at who owns it, what they do with it today and what would be the impact of turning it into biomass production.”
He said the institute would consider which varieties of trees and grasses would produce the most energy on different types of land. It would also study the impact of planting on uncultivated land, including the amount of carbon which would be released by disturbing the soil.
Mr Clarke said biofuel crops could deliver a net reduction in carbon emissions by being burnt in power stations equipped with carbon capture and storage systems. Ultimately, this system could help lower the concentration of carbon in the atmosphere back to a safe level.
Mr Clarke was speaking in London yesterday at a meeting with John Beddington, the Government’s chief scientific adviser. Mr Beddington welcomed the institute’s work and said Britain needed to remove all carbon emissions from its electricity generation by 2030 in order to meet its target of cutting greenhouse gases by 50 per cent by 2050.
The Forestry Commission began trials last year to measure the yields from eucalyptus planted in six areas. Unlike conifers, which take 40 years or more to produce a crop, eucalyptus can be harvested in as little as five years.
Deepak Rughani, director Biofuelwatch , which campaigns against the adverse impacts of the growing global demand for biofuels, said the converting land to plantations could be damaging to wildlife.
“We are already seeing a 50 per cent fall in our bee and butterfly populations and it could get much worse if we convert 10 per cent of Britain’s land to produce bioenergy. We should be focusing on true renewables such as wind and solar.”

Everybody's talking about: Qatari biofuels, the Arctic, and birdwatching's interaction manager rounds up this week's liveliest debates
The last seven days has seen detailed discussion of climate change causes and consequences around the world, from methane rises in the Arctic to Qatar's energy consumption. Joining up the dots led members such as bbmatt and RField7 to argue that regardless of climate change, we need to be more sustainable, with benjo02 insisting, "We should focus our collective power discussing our limits to growth."
Back to the micro-level, if you're in the UK this week I'm asking you to share your photos of the Big Garden Birdwatch on Flickr as part of the RSPB's annual collaborative bird-counting project. As always, please share your opinion on the debate of the week, anything I've missed, or anything you'd like me to pass on to the team, in the comments below.
Debate of the week
Qatar to use biofuels? What about the country's energy consumption?
* wonjale: "Another illustration of the absolute folly of trying to develop, industrialise, and Westernise a plot of land that is barely livable without reservoirs of water and 24 hrs per day air conditioning to cope with the climate."
* zavaell: "It beats me why a country like Qatar doesn't make a massive switch to solar power – it's all around them."
* Boredstupid: Residents get Electricity AND Water for free? What's the catch?
If you only read one thread...
China, India, Brazil and South Africa prepare for post-Copenhagen meeting
The position of the Basic countries on emissions cuts and climate aid

Moorlands and hills targeted to grow crops for biomass and biofuels

Countryside protection groups warn of damage to wildlife
Tim Webb, Wednesday 20 January 2010 18.44 GMT
One tenth of Britain, including moorlands and hillsides, could be used to grow crops for biomass and biofuels. Countryside protection groups warned that this would turn large swaths of the countryside into monocultural landscapes and pose a threat to wildlife.
The Energy Technologies Institute (ETI), a £1bn public-private investment body, said it was launching a project to map all the "under-utilised" land in Britain to find out how much could be turned over to growing bioenergy crops.
Research funded by the Natural Environment Research Council estimates that in England alone almost five million hectares could be used. David Clarke, chief executive of the ETI, said that the body had made the conservative estimate that 2.4m hectares could be used in Britain to grow bioenergy crops, used as substitutes for fossil fuels such as petrol and coal to reduce carbon emissions.
The 12- to 18-month project will find out what this land, which also includes semi-industrial sites and is unsuitable for growing food crops, is specifically used for, who owns it and the suitability of the soil for growing the bioenergy crops that include willow trees. Pilot projects could follow.
Energy companies are planning to build at least four new biomass plants in Britain, mostly using wood pellets. The carbon released from burning the biomass can be re-absorbed by planting more crops, neutralising the emissions. The government has started to pay subsidies to growers of such bioenergy crops.
But Abi Bunker, agriculture policy officer at the RSPB, said planting hundreds of thousands of acres would damage biodiversity and also degrade water quality, particularly in upland areas. "We're fully supportive of the UK's commitment to boosting renewable energy, including bioenergy from sustainable UK sources, but we're concerned biodiversity is getting forgotten," she said. "Local environmental considerations should be integrated if you want a truly sustainable solution."
Ian Woodhurst, of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, added: "Large bioenergy crop monocultures will damage landscape character and cause problems for wildlife, for example by obstructing the movement of some species around the countryside. In the 70s hundreds of conifer forests were planted and now we are spending a lot of money getting rid of them. We don't want to go back to that."
Clarke admitted the plans could prove controversial. "The question we are trying to answer is whether you could use that number, from a cost and land point of view. We have to recognise that issues around land-use and biodiversity are critical."
The ETI also said that it was launching a project this year to study the feasibility of filling rock formations on the east coast with water to store waste heat that would otherwise be vented into the atmosphere by power stations or industrial installations such as refineries. This hot water would then be pumped through pipes to heat homes and businesses during the winter.