Saturday, August 31, 2013

Is the Syrian conflict a climate war? Part 2

Winter precipitation trends in the Mediterranean region for the period 1902 - 2010.

This is the graph
That shows the drought
That drove the farmers
Away from their fields
And into the cities
Where they looked for scapegoats
And found religion
Took up their weapons
And were killed in number.

We watched in horror
We wrung our hands
We talked of bombs
But not of rain
Nor climate change
Nor carbon emissions
Nor greenhouse gases
Symptoms not causes
Our own complicity
In dreadful slaughter.

Now read Peter Gleick's piece on Science Blogs:
Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

We need to talk about global warming

Friday, August 30, 2013

Is the Syrian conflict a climate war?

The issue of water does not feature much in discussions on Syria but water shortage and a perceived unfairness in water distribution was one of the original triggers to the uprising a couple of years ago, though it's now been overtaken by all sorts piling into the scrum.
It's a fairly arid area with a growing population and growing demand for irrigation. Much of the water is supplied by rivers that start in other countries, Turkey and Lebanon, and flow to other countries, Iraq, Jordon and Israel. Some of the catchment, the Golan Height, has been occupied by Israel since 1967. Groundwater is being abstracted much faster than replenishment. There have been several drought years, particularly in the north and east of Syria. Global warming is likely to cause climate change towards less rainfall in the region and recent droughts may be the start of worse to come.
If there's one place where war will be triggered by water this is it. Or maybe this was it.
Here are a couple of significant articles to start off with: 
Quote from IRIN  (What is IRIN?)
DEIR EZ ZOUR, 17 February 2010 (IRIN) - Drought in eastern and northeastern Syria has driven some 300,000 families to urban settlements such as Aleppo, Damascus and Deir ez Zour in search of work in one of the largest internal displacements in the Middle East in recent years. 
The country’s agriculture sector, which until recently employed 40 percent of Syria’s workforce and accounted for 25 percent of gross domestic product, has been hit badly, but farmers themselves are worst affected, say aid officials.

In some villages, up to 50 percent of the population has left for nearby cities. 
Note the date - 17 February 2010. Mass migration of rural population forced by drought into cities such as Aleppo, scene of the latest atrocities. Without water, unable to grow crops, the cattle dead, uprooted to the city, is it any wonder that folk find scapegoats, religions and causes?
For a recent update see Peter Gleick's piece 
Syria, Water, Climate Change, and Violent Conflict

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Oil, gas and fracking Lincolnshire, part 5

Why the Campaign Against Fracking is Vital

The Elephant in the Landscape, as I wrote earlier, is global warming.  The local environmental issues associated with fracking the gas-rich shales, important as they are, are not going to end life on Earth.  They are manageable risks, like sailing oil tankers round the world or driving motor cars without the man walking in front with a red flag.  We assess the risks, take precautions, and carry on, hoping that our precautions work.

Continuing to burn fossil fuel is not a manageable risk.  In fact it's not a risk at all but a certainty that burning the 'unconventional' fossil fuels on top of the easy stuff will lead to catastrophic global warming.  Anyone who cares about their grandchildren knows we're on the wrong road.

We have to keep this carbon underground.  That's why the campaign against fracking is vital.

Individual efforts to reduce fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions, our carbon footprint, don't actually cut the mustard.  If we reduce our demand for fuel, the price drops, other people can then afford to buy the fuel and it all still gets burnt.  This is a good excuse to use for taking a flight for a holiday - you say, "Well, if I don't burn the oil then somebody else will, so it doesn't make any difference to global warming".  The logic is fine, though you may wish to question the ethics.

The point is that individual actions to reduce fossil fuel use will come to nought unless there are also limits to supply. Conventional oil, the easy stuff that comes out of the ground when you drill a hole, is limited by geology to such an extent there is a possibility that we might get away it.  Add in the unconventionals, the tar sands, the deep off shore, the Arctic, the coal-bed methane, the underground coal gasification and the fracked shales, and we will certainly not get away with it.

We have to do whatever we can to make it difficult to exploit these resources, sending the price of oil and gas higher, forcing people to stop burning it because it is just not affordably available.  The government could help of course by adopting Tradable Energy Quotas (TEQs) but until then we just have to make things difficult for those who wish to frack.

We have to keep this carbon underground.  That's why the campaign against fracking is vital. I may have said that before.  I will probably say it again.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Oil, gas and fracking Lincolnshire, part 4

The Elephant in the Landscape

Listening to the reports on the BBC and elsewhere this morning, it is clear that something is not being discussed in all the hoopla over whether to frack or not to frack at Balcombe.
The talk is all of water supplies and pollution, of earthquakes, of noise and of other local issues. This, of course, is exactly what the industry and their government backers want us to discuss because they know that all these local issues can be portrayed as nimbyism, can be regulated, managed and mitigated and are not all that serious in the great scheme of things.

Keep talking, keep talking but don't mention global warming.

Let's get it straight: 
  • these local issue probably won't kill many people.
  • global warming could wipe out all life on Earth
We don't have the carbon budget to burn even half of the EXISTING PROVED fossil fuel reserves. Exploring for additional reserves is simply daft.

People who support fracking yet deny man-made global warming are either:
  • fools 
  • knaves 
  • do not understand climate science 
  • do not care about their grandchildren 
  • and possibly all of the above. 
Let's involve global warming in all conversations about fracking. It is the one thing to which the industry can have no answer.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Oil, gas and fracking Lincolnshire, part 3

I was looking for information about planning applications for oil and gas exploration in Lincolnshire and asked a Lincolnshire County Councillor, Mrs Sarah Dodds, for some advice.  She said she would enquire for me.
She sent this message to Tony McArdle, Lincolnshire’s Chief Executive:
Hi Tony
I have had a number of residents contact me in the last week or so who are concerned about potential Fracking in the Lincolnshire area. I understand that there are a number of potential sites being considered around the county. Would it be possible for all members to have a briefing paper quite quickly about where those locations are, what stage of the process we are at, and what we can expect for the future? I do think it is important that members have the information quickly so that we can be in touch with our communities as efficiently as possible.
Many thanks, Sarah
He replied thus:
I am aware that there are some companies that have made public statements identifying Lincolnshire as an area where opportunities to extract shale gas could arise. There has certainly been a lot of site-specific interest in North Lincolnshire. At the present time, and whilst we do have a number of oil extraction operations in the county, we have received no applications from companies interested in fracking.  Last month, DCLG issued planning practice guidance for onshore oil and gas. We plan to take a paper through Environmental Scrutiny considering this, and that will provide the opportunity for us to address policy options (as well as clarifying information around the geology etc).
Regards,  Tony

Fair enough, you might think.  What Tony McArdle did not say was that in July Lincolnshire County Council granted planning permission for drilling at Laughton.  The application made no mention of fracking, the plan being to drill an exploratory well into the Carboniferous sandstone reservoir rocks that may produce oil conventionally.  The company that applied and were granted permission was a small firm with other operating experience in Lincolnshire, Blackland Park Exploration.  This company does not have, on its own, the resources to explore and develop an oilfield so is working with a larger company, Egdon Resources Plc.  They are the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence (PEDL) holders for the area and are providing 100% of the finance for the project.
Let us return to Tony McArdle’s statement “we have received no applications from companies interested in fracking”.
It is true that the Laughton application from Blackland Park Exploration gave no indication that they had any interest in fracking and the application itself was for exploration for conventional oil.  However, since the project is to be 100% financed by Egdon, it is this company’s intentions that should be looked into.
On Egdon’s website they publicly state, after a description of the immediate purpose of the Laughton drill, the following:
Egdon also recognises that there is potential for significant shale-gas resources to be present within parts of the Licence.  The Company’s current evaluation indicates that the Pendleian Shale shale-gas play extends over about 45 square kilometres of PEDL209. Using similar parameters to those defined by RPS Energy in their independent evaluation of the prospective shale-gas resources in PEDL139 and PEDL140, Egdon estimates that the total in-place volume of gas within the Pendleian Shale interval in PEDL209 could alone amount to over 3 Trillion cubic feet.  Further, as with PEDL139 and PEDL140, PEDL209 is interpreted as holding additional shale-gas potential in the thick Lower Carboniferous sequence which underlies the Pendleian Shale but which remains to be tested by drilling in the region.  Neither of these sequences will be penetrated in the planned Laughton-1 well.
Obtaining gas from these shales that underlie the Laughton site would only be possible by fracking so one has to conclude that Egdon Resources are indeed interested in fracking, a conclusion which is not obvious from the Lincolnshire Chief Executive’s reply to his Councillor, “we have received no applications from companies interested in fracking”.
I do not know whether Tony McArdle was aware of the connection between Blackland and Egdon or whether he was aware of Egdon’s interest in the underlying gas shale but I am inclined to think that he’s paid to find such things out before responding to a Councillor’s question.  And he does not appear to have agreed to Cllr, Dodd’s suggestion, “Would it be possible for all members to have a briefing paper quite quickly about where those locations are, what stage of the process we are at, and what we can expect for the future.” 
To say that there are no such locations is not the whole truth and Laughton is not alone..  A second such location is at Biscathorpe where, I am informed by Marc Willis, Principal Planning Officer (Development Management) that a planning application for an exploratory well has been received and is currently being validated.  Like Laughton, the application is to drill into conventional oil reservoir rocks, but also as at Laughton, the site is underlain by a great thickness of Lower Carboniferous gas-bearing shales.  The same company, Egdon Resources Plc, is behind the project.  I would expect the Chief Executive and the Principal Planning Officer to share information on issues that are currently at the centre of national politics.

Why am I bothered? It takes less than two minutes but this little video from Kevin Anderson, Deputy director of Tyndall Centre for Climate Research provides the key. Please watch it.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

How to Make Money from Fracking.

Set up a hydrocarbons exploration and development company.  The important thing is to make it look credible.  The Board of Directors and senior management need to have excellent credentials; the majority should have been practising geologists, geophysicists and engineers working in senior positions in big oil companies, a few should be experienced lawyers and accountants. This may be the sort of crew you should be looking for.
Acquire Petroleum Exploration and Development Licences.
Borrow lots of money.
It is probably best to work with other similar companies, either letting them buy a slice of your action or buy into theirs.
The important thing is to make it look credible.  You can only borrow seriously lots of money if the City, or whoever, believes they will get a great return.  (That’s not too hard when bank rate is what it is.)  So, not only do you have to demonstrate that you are a competent company you also have to persuade everybody that your licence area will deliver lots of valuable hydrocarbons.
Now, and this is important so pay attention, it does not actually matter (to you) whether or not your fields deliver.  The important thing is to ensure that people believe they will deliver so they lend you lots of money.  You can use the money to pay handsome salaries (and have fun with an imaginative bonus scheme that pays out still more) to all your directors and managers, including, most importantly, yourself.  You’ll also be able to pay generously to all your other staff and contractors.
There could eventually be one of two outcomes.  It might turn out that there are no hydrocarbons found, not even with fracking.  The company folds and the good folk who bought shares or otherwise lent you money are disappointed.  But you’ve been paid and so have the rest of your board of directors including a nice little nest-egg squirreled away for pensions all round.  Staff and contractors have had a good few years.  Only the money-lenders are sad, now realising the whole affair was an over-hyped scam of a scheme.
The other outcome is that you do, after all, strike it rich.  You are able to produce hydrocarbons at a profit.  Extra bonuses all round and dividends for shareholders with a windfall as a global oil corporation buys you out.
Either way, it’s win-win for you and your company.
So what’s the risk?  The International Court might enact the crime of ecocide, turning all who produce greenhouse gasses guilty of a crime against humanity.  Or pigs might fly.
The Big Qestion is: Is this the way fracking firms operate?
Meanwhile, come and join the conversation on Frack Free Licolnshire.
And here's a bit of pertinent further reading. Prof Paul Ekins from UCL and Nicole Foss at Automatic Earth.  Both, of course, much more sensible than what you've just been reading. 

Sunday, August 04, 2013

It's Himalayan Balsam flowering season again.

Himalayan Balsam, Impatiens glandulifera. Do you rush out and pull it up or spray it with glyphosate or 2,4-Damine as DEFRA recommend or do you say, "That's a pretty flower and the bees love it, where's the harm?"

Himalayan balsam is listed under Schedule 9 to the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 with respect to England and Wales. As such, it is an offence to plant or otherwise allow this species to grow in the wild.

Many folk seem willing to take the government advice and rush out on a killing spree. Others prefer to read the scientific literature first. For those I can recommend a couple of papers.

There's this one:

Martin Hejda and Petr Pyšek
What is the impact of Impatiens glandulifera on species diversity of invaded riparian vegetation?
Biological Conservation Volume 132, Issue 2, October 2006, Pages 143–152

in which the authors say:
 "It is concluded that I. glandulifera exerts negligible effect on the characteristics of invaded riparian communities, hence it does not represent threat to the plant diversity of invaded areas."
and there's this one: 

Philip E. Hulme and Eleanor T. Bremner
Assessing the impact of Impatiens glandulifera on riparian habitats: partitioning diversity components following species removal
Journal of Applied Ecology Volume 43, Issue 1, pages 43–50, February 2006

in which a more complex set of conclusions are drawn but can be roughly summed up as saying that in most cases it's probably best not to bother interfering.

Certainly these papers, and others in the scientific literature, do not support the simplistic advice of government agencies to kill Himalayan Balsam wherever possible and by whatever means even including herbicides.

It seems that Himalayan Balsam can be quick to invade disturbed ground but struggles to compete with established swards of grass or vigorous native species such as Stinging Nettle, Great Willowherb and Bracken but can dominate other non-native 'invasive' ruderal species.  Overall biodiversity is not adversely affected.

The question must be raised as to why government sponsored advice is cast in such simplistic terms and why so many individuals and agencies act of such advice without checking the scientific literature.  It is easy to accept, uncritically, advice from a competent authority but perhaps a piece of advice, initially not rigorously researched, has been repeated so often that it has become the accepted custom and practice.

It may, of course, be challenging for people to accept that their long-held beliefs have little foundation in science and that their hard work may have had little beneficial effect.  Is objectivity clouded by prejudice against the alien? I leave it to my readers to consider whether Himalayan Balsam might be regarded as an allegory, the lessons learnt applied to other areas of public policy.