Arctic oil wells up, Russia sends home 30 activists

Tasmania awaits the homecoming of Colin Russell, 59, one of the 30 Arctic activists detained and freed by Russian authorities.

The Russian Parliament passed amnesty laws before Christmas absolving a range of minor felons, including 30 Greenpeace activists known as the Arctic 30. As New Year draws near, the immigration department also ordered to issue exit visas so that former detainees can go home.

Colin Russell is free at last and is expected to be home in Tasmania for the New Year. (Photo: AAP)

Colin Russell is free at last and is expected to be home in Tasmania for the New Year. (Photo: AAP)

Twenty-eight Greenpeace protestors representing 18 nationalites – Americans, Canadians Britons and Australians, to name a few– and two freelance journalists were seized at the Prirazlomnoye platform on September 18 by Russian commandos. They boarded on the Arctic Sunrise to protest against drilling in the ice capped region, but were intercepted, captured, and charged of piracy, then reduced to hooliganism. If convicted, they could be locked up for at least seven years in jail.

The pardon came at a time when Russia’s first Arctic offshore field Prirazlomnoye started pumping oil in the remote waters of the Pechora Sea. Gazprom Neft announced on December 20 that oil production has begun with an average of 10.6 million barrels of oil per day, close to its current capacity. Gazprom expected an initial production of 12,000 barrels per day in 2014 and the first tanker is likely to be loaded with oil in the first quarter of next year.

Already an owner of the world’s largest natural gas reserves and a growing presence in the oil sector, Gazprom also aims to produce 6 million tons of crude per year (120,000 barrels per day) at the site by 2021.

The Arctic 30 in St. Petersburg awaiting trial on charges of hooliganism.

The Arctic 30 in St. Petersburg awaiting trial on charges of hooliganism.

Prirazlomnoye’s estimated oil reserves stand at 72 million tons — a small field that would be responsible for just 1 percent of Russia’s daily production and be depleted in about two decades, the Reuters reported.

Prirazlomnoye deposit is Russia’s first Arctic offshore exploration project, which marks the start of establishing of a large hydrocarbon hub in the region. The Prirazlomnoye oil deposit lies 60 km offshore in the Pechora Sea. The announcement also marks Russia’s long-planned effort to turn the vast oil and natural gas riches believed to be buried in the frozen waters into profits for its ambitious government-run firms. Gazprom also stressed it has rights to 29 other fields it planned to exploit in Russia’s section of the Arctic seabed.

But both Gazprom and the Kremlin view the field as a stepping stone in a much broader effort to turn the Arctic into the focus of future exploration that makes up for Russia’s declining oil production at its Soviet-era Siberian fields, according to AFP.

The Arctic region is seen as an important source of potential growth for Russia, the world’s largest oil producer, in the next decade, with global oil majors including ExxonMobil, Eni and Statoil clinching deals to enter the Russian Arctic. Russian President Vladimir Putin sees the Arctic offshore riches are of a strategic importance for the country.

Control over energy fields in Russia’s section of the Arctic is split between Gazprom and its state-owned rival Rosneft — an oil producer that wants to break Gazprom’s grip on the natural gas market. Rosneft is said to be partnering in the region with U.S. major ExxonMobil and has smaller deals signed with Italy’s ENI and Norway’s Statoil, the AFP report further added.

Gazprom sees overall investments into the project at about 200 billion rubles ($6 billion), of which half had already been spent with the bulk accounting for a special ice-proof platform.

Conservation groups react

Dima Litvinov, the first of the Arctic 30 to leave Russia for Finland said his freedom is not the end, but just a beginning.

Gazprom's Polarstar platform (Photo: Gazprom.ru)

Gazprom’s Polarstar platform (Photo: Gazprom.ru)

“ They (Gazprom) may have celebrated when our ship was seized, but our imprisonment has been a disaster for them. The movement to save the Arctic is marching now. Our freedom is the start of something, not the end. This is only the beginning. The oil companies are moving north, the world’s climate is changing, the biggest struggles still lie ahead of us.”

Greenpeace said all efforts to protect the last frontier of pristine resources will be exerted and the fight is not yet over. One of its campaign platforms to gather support is Save the Arctic.

Last year, the World Wildlife fund (WWF) released a joint report that seeks to find solution in the event of an oil spill in the region. It said that harsh conditions in Russia’s Pechora Sea coupled with an inadequate oil spill response plan mean that Gazprom would not be able properly respond to an oil spill in the Arctic

A comprehensive study and joint report was released last year by the WWF, Greenpeace, Hydrometcentre of Russia, SOI, AA RI, SRC Risk Informatics. The title of the report: “Simulation of the behaviour of oil spill in the course of OIRFP “PRIRAZLOMNAYA“ Operation Assessment of the possibility of emergency response related to oil spills.

The experts reviewed tens of thousands of possible scenarios and concluded that the area of possible contamination covers over 140,000 square kilometers of open water, as well as over 3,000 kilometers of coastline. The area at risk also includes three protected areas located 50-60 km from the Prirazlomnaya oil platform: the Nenetsky natural reserve, as well as two wildlife preserves, Vaigach and Nenetsky. These reserves are home to walruses and countless species of birds. Gazprom does not include any funds for animal rescue in its oil spill response plan.

 Gazprom's Prirazlomnaya platform in the Arctic (Photo: Gazprom)


Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya platform in the Arctic (Photo: Gazprom)

Gazprom’s Technology

Gazprom defended its Prirazlomnaya as a unique platform designed and built in Russia on Gazprom orders. In a press statement, it said it uses technology designed to work in extreme conditions, conforms to the strictest safety requirements and is capable of withstanding maximum ice pressure. Specification of the materials used are comprehensively detailed to ensure Prirazlomnaya is oil-spill-free.

Blog Link: The Green Journal at Asian Correspondent

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Don’t mine the the Reef!

From Greenpeace:

The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area covers an area of 348,000 square kilometres and more than 2300 kilometres long

Who has heard of the Galilee Basin? Virtually no one. That is the problem.

We are witnessing one of Australia’s biggest environmental emergencies unfold but it is taking place out of the public eye. And it threatens one of the world’s greatest natural treasures – the Great Barrier Reef.

Watch the video HERE

The Great Barrier Reef is on the brink of being turned into an industrial zone, with huge new coal ports and shipping routes waiting to be approved. These developments are the result of plans to rapidly increase Australia’s coal exports. The coal will be mined in Queensland’s Galilee Basin and shipped overseas via the Great Barrier Reef.

Beautiful marine lives under threat (Photo: National Geographic)

A new Greenpeace investigation has revealed the damage the coal mines could have if they go ahead. The Galilee Basin mines threaten our World Heritage Reef, as well as the stability of our climate, the health of our water supply and the habitat of native wildlife.

Let our politicians know you don’t want our environment sacrificed 
- SIGN PETITION

Australia’s biggest contribution to global warming is our coal exports. As plans progress to rapidly increase our coal exports, just yesterday the Arctic ice sheet melted to its lowest point on record; the result of an increasingly warming climate.

Greenpeace’s investigative findings:

•There are nine mega coal mines proposed here, five of which would be bigger than any mine currently operating in Australia.

•If the coal from the Galilee mines is burned, it would produce over 700 million tonnes of carbon pollution a year – that’s bigger than the entire fossil fuel emissions of Australia, the UK or Canada.

•These mines are the single biggest driver of industrialising the Great Barrier Reef. A series of coal ports are planned to be built and expanded, millions of tonnes of sea floor will be dredged and up to 10 000 coal ships will travel through World Heritage Area.

•If we don’t reduce our emissions, sea temperatures will rise. If they rise by 2-3°C it would result in the annual bleaching of over 97% of the Reef. There is a growing movement of people taking action in this epic struggle to safeguard our precious Reef and the stability of our climate.

Greenpeace welcomes underwater investigation

Please join us by signing the ‘Save our Reef’ petition now.

Super trawler can’t super fish

Super trawler Abel Tasman could suck schools of mackerel off Australian waters (Photo: Pierre Gleizes/Greenpeace)

MV Margiris, the giant fishing vessel measuring 146-metre long, has been banned from its grand mission to fish 18,000 tons of pelagic fish off Australian waters.

Even before it reached Australian shores, more than a dozen of Green groups have already sounded the alarm bell pushing the Federal Government to block the super trawler.

Baptising it with a new name, Abel Tasman, early this month did not help the super ship either to set its past records straight. Green groups alleged the humongous vessel to have plundered the seas off the Pacific and the coasts off West Africa, among other major international waters. The vessel, longer than the Sydney Harbour Brige, can dwarf and make local fishing boats look like toys– if allowed to sail on, they said. The ship is now docked at Port Lincoln in South Australia.

Abel Tasman could be the largest fishing vessel to sail on Australian waters. (Photo: News Corp)

The Parliament said Abel Tasman cannot go ahead with its mission– banning it for two years until a comprehensive scientific research and review of the Small Pelagic Fishery Agreement has been made. Fisheries Minister Joe Ludwig also announced a review of the 20 year old fisheries management legislation, in light of concerns about super trawlers devastating fish stocks.

Australian-owned, Seafish Tasmania, entered a joint venture with the Dutch-owned MV Margiris for small pelagic fishing that would net schools of Blue Mackerel, Jack Mackerel and baitfish. The MV Margiris weighing 9,499 tonnes can process over 250 tonnes of fish a day and has a cargo capacity of 6,200 tonnes.

Seafish Tasmania Gerry Green said the venture was estimated to provide jobs to about 50 people, including 45 in Devonport, Tasmania. At least, 15 of whom are likely to be from overseas. “It is going to be hard to tell these employees, some of them who were long term unemployed, that we no longer have a job for them,” SBS noted.

But the Tasmanian Times unearthed some evidence claiming the “Dutch owned, EU subsidised, Margiris Trawler, offers “no advantage to Tasmania or for that matter Australia.” If there is one beneficiary, it would be Seafish Tasmania owner Gerry Geen, the online paper said.

Pelagic or mid-water trawling is the process of deploying and towing a net at a chosen depth in the water column to catch schooling fish such as herring and mackerel. This differs from “bottom” (benthic) trawling in which a net is dragged along the ocean bottom where fish such as cod, haddock, and flounders live.

The Government's zoning of Small Pelagic Fishery. (Photo: AFMA)

Small Pelagic Fishing zones by AFMA

The Small Pelagic Fishery (SPF), managed by the Australian Fishery Mangement Authority (AFMA), is a purse-seine mid-water trawl fishery extending from Southern Queensland to Southern Western Australia. The AFMA said there are currently 71 licenses and five active vessels operating targeting several species including Jack Mackerel, redbait, Blue Mackerel, and Australian Sardine (off NSW only). Yellow Tail scud is taken as by-product.

AFMA has adopted various harvest strategy such as input and output control including limited entry, zoning, mesh size restriction, and total allowable catch limits. They are said to be based on sound science and best marine management practices.

Supernet scoops tonnes of small fish. (Photo: Greenpeace)

However, Greenpeace oceans campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said, “These ships literally vacuum up entire schools of fish”

Greenpeace, GetUp, Environment Tasmania, and the 14 other conservation and fishing groups galvanised a CommunityRun! to block the giant net off Australian waters

The Fishingworld website noted:

Greenpeace oceans campaigner Nathaniel Pelle said the organisation had confronted the Margiris off the coast of Mauritania in March, for its role in what it says is overfishing in the North Sea and South Pacific ”to the point of plunder”.

The environmental group claims the industrial super-trawler is part of the European Association of pelagic freezer trawlers (PFA), responsible for “some of the worst fishing excesses on the planet.”

It said PFA vessels had been reponsible for jack mackerel stocks off Chile plummeting by 90 per cent.

“There has never been a trawler of this scale in Australian waters to my understanding before and that is a serious concern that we just don’t know what effect it will have on the food chain,” Greens MP Kim Booth said.

Reflagged Abel Tasman awaits fate at Port Lincoln. (Photo: Ivon Perrin)

The Sea Shepherd said,

If this super trawler is allowed to operate in Australia, it would mean huge impacts on the already critically endangered Southern Bluefin Tuna and albatross, and the tragic death of seals and dolphins through being trapped and drowned in this super trawler’s indiscriminate killing nets of death as “by-catch”.

If overfishing does not stop, the world’s fisheries will completely collapse by 2048. The reality is that the oceans that provide up to eighty percent of our oxygen are in deep trouble and allowing this super trawler to operate in Australia’s waters would be a further sealing of humanities fate.

Sea Shepherd are calling on all our supporters to please for our oceans sake and our children’s sake, please assist Sea Shepherd in stopping this super trawler.

And the drama on the super trawler continues.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Queensland slams UNESCO, defends gas on the barrier reef

UNESCO has released its damning environmental report on the Great Barrier Reef, but the Queensland State Government hits back saying the report poses an obstacle to the multi-billion dollar seam gas business.

The report came in time when the mineral boom is underway and the Queensland Government is excited about financial gains. Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said his Government understands the issues raised in the report but could not accommodate some of its chief recommendations, News Corp. reports.

Newman said his government is in coal business and he is not going to see the economic future of Queensland shut down.

UNESCO sent a team of experts in March to assess the status of the reef confronted by both natural and man-made threats. While natural threats could be beyond control, the impact of the latter can be minimised if the Queensland Government can review and adopt strategic solutions.

The international body said the World Heritage listed site is under enormous pressure amid increased developmental activities, including additional port infrastructures in and around the Great Barrier Reef and ongoing management of major liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants at Curtis Island and Gladstone Harbour.

The dredging in Gladstone Harbour for the seam gas has been blamed by local environmentalists for the area’s poor water quality and a skin disease affecting marine life. Green activists say dredging has adversely affected whales and dugongs in the area.

UNESCO recommended to the State Government to stop port facilities expansions and to undertake a comprehensive review and strategic solutions to protect the Outstanding Universal Value of the reef.

It warned the reef could officially be listed “in danger” if the federal Government fails to convince the international body it has improved its performance before February next year.

Whether Queensland would be able to help improve environmental conditions of the reef or not, both state and federal governments have already given mineral explorations a go. Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke supports the developmental projects saying the approval of applications has been in full swing. He said there was not much he could do to prevent development applications already in progress.

Mining magnates Clive Palmer and Gina Rinehart have likewise secured government’s approval of their mining ventures in Queensland. Further, the two mining lords have  been pressuring the Government to allow them to build the world’s largest coal export facility right in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The facility is envisioned  to double Australia’s coal exports. The mining moguls expect to hear of Government’s decision in 36 weeks time, GetUp noted.

GetUp, an activist group, said mining billionaires are used to getting their way,” but they’re not the only ones who know how to fight.”  The group has forged a tie up with Greenpeace and BankTrack to undertake an advertising campaign in key financial market in Asia and India to warn potential investors not to invest in these projects.

It’s not just UNESCO who are against the massive expansion of coal and coal seam gas facilities. We’ve just released an opinion poll that found 79 per cent of  Australians are already concerned about the expansion of mining along the Reef’s recognised heritage area — and that was before UNESCO’s  scathing criticisms started to make headlines nationwide.

GetUp is optimistic the ad campaign will work.  It claims that  in 2009, it funded ads in the European Financial Times to discourage potential investors who were previously considering to fund Gunns’ pulp mill in Tasmania.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Australia’s mining tax and CIA conspiracy

The mining tax has dominated Australia’s political landscape this week.

The Senate passed the mining tax on Monday imposing a 30 percent tax on super profits generated by mining companies from coal and iron ore. The tax revenue will be used to elevate income and pension funds of the less well-off Australians and to cut tax on small businesses.

This sent shockwaves to the mining industry which could have been rejoicing over mining boom worldwide.

Mining magnate Clive Palmer hits CIA of mining conspiracy

Queensland mining magnate Clive Palmer lashed out at the federal government and claimed the CIA is behind the mining tax as part of America’s conspiracy to kill Australia’s coal industry.

Palmer also accused the Greens as “tools” of the US government and the environmental activists group, Greenpeace, is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

He said he will lodge a double High Court challenge on both carbon and mining taxes.

But his accusation hits back like a boomerang.

The CIA via ABC email denied his claim prompting him to back away from inflammatory comments, Fairfax reports via SBS.

Crikey, an alternative online media said,

Now Clive Palmer again has demonstrated the eccentricity that comes from having so much money you don’t have to care what anyone thinks of you…

Palmer is doing no more than continuing Queensland’s rich tradition of conspiracy theorists, which has produced the Citizen’s Electoral Council and Pauline Hanson, to name only the most prominent of recent years. Nor is it the first time he’s accused people of being a CIA front — back in November, it was American Express who were doing the bidding of the spooks.

Palmer could probably find consolation in knowing another mining group, Fortescue Metals, confirms it has sought legal advice ahead of plans to mount a High Court challenge against the Federal Government’s mining tax, News Corp said.

Chairman Andrew Forrest of Fortescue Metals leads a protest against mining tax during Kevin Rudd’s time

Fortescue claimed the MRRT is a poorly designed tax, drafted by the big miners behind closed doors to minimise their tax exposure at the expense of the rest of the industry,” the company said in a statement.

The Government is also facing a revolt from Liberal-led mining states.

Western Australia’s Premier Colin Barnett, for one, says he will support any legal action against the tax.

Not Amused

Newly appointed Foreign Minister Bob Carr blasts Palmer’s “reckless” CIA conspiracy claims

He said the “recklessly irresponsible” claim that the CIA is sponsoring a campaign against the coal industry will trigger concern from the United States government and business community.

Carr said the comments should also make many Australians question  Palmer’s links to the Opposition. He said Palmer is very close to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and Palmer is considered the largest donor to the Liberal Party.

Foreign Affairs Minister Bob Carr

Treasurer Wayne Swan has also denounced Palmer’s claims. He supported Carr’s claim the mining businessman “is in cahoots with Mr Abbott.”

Federal Greens leader Bob Brown has echoed the remarks of Carr and Swan saying Palmer is a life member and a major donor to the Queensland Liberal National Party.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace senior campaigner John Hepburn rejected Mr Palmer’s comments as “ludicrous”. He said Greenpeace would not accept money from any government, corporation or secret service.

The mining tax was initiated almost two years ago, floated by former Treasury boss Ken Henry. It originally proposed a 40 percent tax on super profits—a proposal that stirred an industry-wide opposition rocking the Labor Party’s leadership. It was the same tax proposal that ousted Kevin Rudd from prime ministership in 2010.

Rising to power, Prime Minister Julia Gillard negotiated a modified tax rate with BHP, Rio and Xstrata although smaller miners remain unhappy with the deal.

The Mineral Resources Rent Tax (MRRT) Bill 2011 and related bills are now ready for the governor-general’s royal assent. The mining tax will start from July 1 this year, Australian media report.

The federal government estimated the new tax will generate $11 billion in three years which will be used to elevate income of the less well-off Australians. It will boost compulsory superannuation contributions, infrastructure payment and a one per cent tax cut for business.

The Australian, however, is pessimistic over the tax. Its editorial page said:

While this newspaper recognises the benefit in ensuring that some of the revenue generated by the once-in-a-generation mining boom is secured for future generations, this tax will do little to drive reform in the slower sectors of the economy while the fastest-growing sector is slugged with a tax that could damage our competitiveness.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott supports Palmer

I defence of Palmer, Abbott said he was a “larger than life” character.

“I think when he says that the Greens want to stop the coal industry he’s absolutely right – of course the Greens want to stop the coal industry,” Abbott told Channel 10.

Abbott is vowing to repeal the tax if he wins the next election.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent