Reuters estimates that 56 percent of Iran’s oil tankers — a capacity of 33 million barrels — are being used to store crude offshore as buyers cut back because of sanctions. Sources familiar with Iran’s main oil export terminal tell Reuters that 14 of National Iranian Tanker Company’s (NITC) fleet of 25 “very large crude carriers” each with a capacity of about 2 million barrels, are now anchored as floating storage. Five of Iran’s Suezmax tankers, with capacity of one million barrels per ship, are also parked offshore. The use of oil tankers as floating storage would indicate that Iran is experiencing increasing difficulty in finding customers for its crude as international sanctions tighten on Iran’s oil exports.
by Kiley Kroh
In another stark warning about the dangers of Arctic Ocean drilling, the German bank WestLB announced on Friday that it would not provide financing to any offshore oil or gas drilling in the region. The company’s sustainability manager said the “risks and costs are simply too high.”
The decision was made just a week after insurance giant Lloyd’s of London issued a report concluding that offshore drilling in the Arctic would “constitute a unique and hard-to-manage risk” and urged companies to “think carefully about the consequences of action” before exploring for oil in the region.
Dustin Neuneyer, sustainability manager at the corporate and investment bank WestLB, explained the decision to Environmental Finance:
“The further you get into the icy regions, the more expensive everything gets and there are risks that are hard to manage.… There are projects that are evidently unsustainable in an encompassing sense. For WestLB, the risks and costs are simply too high.”
The bank’s new eight-point policy on offshore drilling lays out specific criteria for the projects and companies that are eligible for financing — excluding any exploration or production activities in areas where the average temperature for the warmest month is below 10°C (50° F). Additionally, the policy’s criteria — which are binding for any company seeking a loan — require companies to use the best available technology, abide by the highest technical safety standards, and show that activities are validated by an independent third party.
The concerns raised by Lloyd’s of London and WestLB come as Royal Dutch Shell prepares to drill in Arctic waters off the coast of Alaska this summer. The recommendations of these institutions echo those in the recent Center for American Progress report, Putting a Freeze on Arctic Ocean Drilling: America’s Inability to Respond to an Oil Spill in the Arctic.
The dearth of supporting infrastructure throughout Alaska’s North Slope — including ports, roads, railroads, and permanent Coast Guard facilities — coupled with the lack of sound science and extremely volatile conditions make any potential offshore operations precarious at best. The remote location, harsh and unpredictable conditions, and absence of proven clean-up technologies designed for Arctic conditions would make large-scale response efforts nearly impossible.
Those factors represent a cost and risk WestLB isn’t willing to shoulder.
The stakes are high for Royal Dutch Shell, which after spending nearly five years and $4 billion, will likely soon receive the necessary permits for exploratory drilling in the remote Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. And other oil giants aren’t far behind — Exxon and ConocoPhillips are aiming to start offshore operations in the pristine Arctic Ocean by 2013.
WestLB might be the first bank to explicitly refuse financing for offshore drilling in the Arctic, but they may not be alone for long. “Other banks contacted us and are very interested in this approach and policy,” Neuneyer told Environmental Finance.
How many influential corporate voices will have to raise concerns before someone hits the pause button on Arctic Ocean drilling?
Kiley Kroh is the Associate Director of Ocean Communications at the Center for American Progress.
by Sarah Pavlus, via the Colorado Independent
Two of the country’s largest private water utility companies are participants in a massive lobbying effort to expand controversial shale gas drilling — a heavy industrial activity that promises to enrich the water companies but may also put drinking water resources at risk.
The situation — which some watchdogs describe as a troubling conflict of interest — underscores the complex issues raised by the nationwide push to privatize infrastructure and services like water, prisons, and roads.
The water companies – American Water and Aqua America – are leading drinking water suppliers in Pennsylvania, where drilling is booming. They also sell water to gas companies — which use a drilling technique that requires massive amounts of water — and have expressed interest in treating drilling wastewater, a potentially lucrative opportunity.
These investor-owned, publicly traded water utility companies are also dues-paying “associate members” of the gas industry’s powerful Marcellus Shale Coalition, a fact confirmed by coalition spokesman Travis Windle, who says associate members pay $15,000 annually in dues. “Our associate members are really the backbone of the industry,” adds Windle.
The coalition, which is led by major gas producers, contends that “responsible development of natural gas” will bolster the region’s economy while providing an important source of domestic energy. It has reported over $2 million in Pennsylvania lobbying expenditures since 2010.
Aqua America joined the coalition in 2010 and Pennsylvania American Water – a subsidiary of American Water – joined in 2011, according to the coalition’s quarterly magazine, which publishes a full member list in each issue.
Shale gas drillers use a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract gas from the Marcellus formation in Pennsylvania. The controversial technique forces millions of gallons of water — mixed with sand and chemicals — into the ground to crack the shale rock and release gas. In addition to the potential risks posed by actual fracturing, the process produces large amounts of toxic wastewater that can be difficult to dispose of safely.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently conducting a congressionally-mandated study “to investigate the potential adverse impact that hydraulic fracturing may have on water quality and public health.” Pennsylvania is home to three of the seven sites selected for the nationwide study.
Separately, the EPA is testing the water of some Pennsylvania residents who say that nearby gas drilling contaminated their wells. According to the EPA, early test results indicate the water is safe to drink, however, some environmentalists disagree with that analysis.
In the meantime, the water companies are selling water to the drillers while calling for fracking to be done in an environmentally responsible manner. In a presentation to investors last month, American Water stated that it is “realizing additional revenues from water sales to drilling companies while remaining vigilant in protecting our water sources.”
In the presentation, the company noted it is “currently selling water to gas drillers at 34 distribution points in Pennsylvania,” and that it “sold 250.4 million gallons of water to gas drillers from January through December of 2011, producing $1.6 million in revenues.”
(Some public water utilities sell to drillers too, but no public utilities are part of the Marcellus Shale Coalition.)
American Water spokesman Terry Maenza says the company’s support for environmental protection is unchanged by its role in the shale coalition and that it is also a member of numerous environmental groups.
“By the nature of our business, we will continue to be stewards of the environment, ensuring water source protection,” says Maenza.
The company isn’t currently in the drilling wastewater treatment business, according to Maenza, though during a quarterly earnings call last year, American Water CEO Jeff Sterba told investors, “We are very definitely looking and working in the wastewater treatment area.” Maenza declined to comment on any specific initiatives.
Aqua America executive Karl Kyriss says his company’s involvement in the coalition helps protect water resources.
“By participating, we can have some direct input into the group that is looking to support development of the Marcellus Shale,” says Kyriss. “But we are very much committed that it be done in an environmentally sensitive and protected manner. And we think we can do that better from the inside than just sort of watching what happens.”
Aqua America is aggressively positioning itself to take advantage of what CEO Nick DeBenedictis has described to investors as a “water-energy nexus that could have a positive impact on the future of our company.” In recent years, the company has made sizeable acquisitions in Texas and Ohio – states that, like Pennsylvania, are home to large shale gas plays – and is also building a pipeline in Pennsylvania to supply water to drillers.
DeBenedictis believes the pipeline will ease the wear and tear on roads and the environment currently caused by trucks carrying water to wells.
Recently, however, that pipeline has come under fire from local anti-drilling activists because the project will displace dozens of residents from a mobile home park.
Like American Water, Aqua America is not currently in the drilling wastewater treatment business, but may expand into that market in the future.
Some environmental advocates see potential conflicts between the interests of the private water industry and the interests of drinking water consumers.
“If American Water and Aqua America wanted to ensure that their water supplies were protected, they would support a national ban on hydraulic fracturing for shale gas,” argues Mary Grant, a researcher at Food and Water Watch, which has reported on Aqua America’s ties to the coalition. “But, instead of acting on the precautionary principle, they are paying thousands of dollars a year to an industry coalition that advocates for shale gas development, despite the risks to water quality.”
“We are concerned that these relationships encourage investor owned water utilities to endorse shale gas development despite its risk to public water supplies,” Grant says.
Eric Goldstein, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, adds, “Sometimes the interests of private ownership are inconsistent with the concept of preserving our water resources in the public trust for future generations. And the potential clashing of those interests is why these questions have been raised about whether for-profit companies ought to be running public water supplies.”
Sarah Pavlus is a reporter with the Colorado Independent. This piece was originally published at the Colorado Independent and was reprinted with permission.
- Water. Coal. Fracking. Texas. Sanity. One of These Words Does Not Belong. In one District west of Fort Worth, “the share of groundwater used by frackers was 40% in the first half of 2011, up from 25% in 2010.”
- Frackers Outbid Farmers For Water In Colorado Drought
But, unlike so many other cause-oriented nonprofits or charities–think of the Race for the Cure or Run MS–environmental groups have been slow to take advantage of the opportunity to connect the work they do to the running world.
The Nature Conservancy is trying to change that, which is how I found myself at the start of the GW Parkway Classic 10-mile race, which goes from Mount Vernon to downtown Alexandria, on Earth Day, a drizzly Sunday morning. Here in the capital region, and elsewhere around the world, Nature Conservancy chapters have organized Team Nature (“Healthy You, Healthy Planet’) to encourage people to get outside and run, and to raise money for the conservancy’s work.
When I had the opportunity to join Team Nature for today’s race–thanks to Mark Tercek, the Nature Conservancy’s CEO, and Kate Hougan, the regional marketing director–I was delighted to do so. TNC does important work, including efforts to protect and restore Chesapeake Bay, which I heard about today from Mark Bryer, who also ran the race. Plus I knew Scott Jurek would be there.
I’m too old for heroes, especially sports heroes, but I am a huge admirer of Scott, who I met recently for the first time. In a terrific book about running called Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen (which set off the minimalist running craze, a topic for another day), author Christopher McDougall writes:
Scott was the top ultrarunner in the country, maybe in the world, arguably of all time.
Scott, who is 38, is a seven-time winner of the Western States 100-mile endurance run, a trek through the remote and rugged Sierra Nevada mountains, and he set a course record the first time he ran the Badwater Ultramarathon, a grueling 135-mile run through Death Valley where temperatures routinely top 120 degrees.
A vegan, Scott credits his plant-based diet for his endurance and good health. (He’s also an accomplished cook, as Mark Bittman reported here.) Eating less meat is, arguably, one of the simplest things anyone can do to help protect the planet. Scott’s got a new book out called Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness, and I’ll have more to say about him after I get a chance to read it.
In June, Scott and Mark Tercek will travel to Kenya with a group of Team Nature runners to join in the Safaricom Marathon and Half Marathon at the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy. According to TNC:
The challenging dirt course follows Lewa’s undulating hills at an average altitude of 5,500 feet. Adding to the challenge and thrill is the runners’ awareness that they share the terrain with elephants, antelopes, cheetahs and lions.
Sounds like fun, no? The event raises money for wildlife conservation and community development.
If you’re a runner, keep an eye out for Team Nature events near you. If not, support a running friend–or, better yet, lace up a pair of (minimalist) shoes and give running a try.