March 17 News: New Keystone XL Route Could Still Threaten Ogallala Aquifer

Map used to define Nebraska Sandhills doesn’t include nearby areas also vulnerable to contamination

Depth to water map of eastern Nebraska

A depth-to-water map of eastern Nebraska, with the original Keystone XL route in orange. Areas in light blue have a high water table (depth to water 0 to 50 feet) and are more vulnerable to an oil spill. Areas in dark blue have a depth to water of over 50 feet. The new route will likely pass through northern Holt County. Credit: Catherine Mann for InsideClimate News, based on a map created by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Conservation and Survey Division. PDF here.

New Keystone XL Route Could Still Threaten Ogallala Aquifer (InsideClimate News)

… while the [Keystone XL oil pipeline’s new route through Nebraska] will avoid the Nebraska Sandhills—a region of grass-covered sand dunes that overlies the critically important Ogallala aquifer—it could still pass through areas above the Ogallala, where the water supply is vulnerable to the impacts of an oil spill.

The original Keystone XL would have crossed through 100 miles of the Sandhills on its way from the tar sands mines of Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. But TransCanada agreed to reroute it in November, after thousands of Nebraskans joined environmentalists to protest the pipeline’s path over the aquifer.

The aquifer spans eight states and supplies 83 percent of Nebraska’s irrigation water. It’s also connected to the High Plains aquifer, which in many places lies above the Ogallala aquifer. Although residents of the Sandhills technically rely on the High Plains aquifer for drinking and irrigation, most refer to the Ogallala aquifer when talking about their water supply.

“It was always about the water,” said Amy Schaffer, a fifth-generation Nebraskan whose father runs a Sandhills ranch. “This isn’t over until they get [the pipeline] out of the Ogallala aquifer.

O.E.C.D. Warns of Ever-Higher Greenhouse Gas Emissions

LONDON — Global greenhouse gas emissions could rise 50 percent by 2050 without more ambitious climate policies, as fossil fuels continue to dominate the energy mix, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said Thursday.

“Unless the global energy mix changes, fossil fuels will supply about 85 percent of energy demand in 2050, implying a 50 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions and worsening urban air pollution,” the Paris-based O.E.C.D. said in its environment outlook to 2050.

The global economy in 2050 will be four times larger than today and the world will use around 80 percent more energy. But the global energy mix is not predicted to be very different from that of today, the report said.

Fossil fuels such as oil, coal and gas will make up 85 percent of energy sources. Renewables, including biofuels, are forecast to make up 10 percent and nuclear the rest.

Because of such dependence on fossil fuels, carbon dioxide emissions from energy use are expected to grow by 70 percent, the O.E.C.D. said, which will help drive up the global average temperature by 3 to 6 degrees Celsius by 2100 — exceeding the warming limit of within 2 degrees agreed to by international bodies.

Australian carbon tax faces constitution challenge

Australian mining magnate Clive Palmer has indicated there will be a High Court challenge against the government’s carbon tax because he has advice the legislation is unconstitutional.

The legislation has passed both houses of Parliament and is due to come into effect in the middle of the year.

The opposition Coalition has promised to repeal the legislation if it wins the next election.

Mr Palmer, who is a financial backer of the Coalition, first threatened to challenge the legislation last year and now says he is going to act on it.

“Our advice is that the carbon tax in its current form is unconstitutional, and that’s recognised in the legislation itself when it says if it’s found to be unconstitutional,” he told the ABC’s 7.30.

“Now, I think the constitution of Australia’s much more important than having a number of lawyers or Parliament trying to slip around it.

“The constitution sets out how it should be changed, how the states should vote – the majority of Australians have a democratic right to vote.”

IAEA: “significant” nuclear growth despite Fukushima

VIENNA, March 16 (Reuters) – Global use of nuclear energy could increase by as much as 100 percent in the next two decades on the back of growth in Asia, despite a slump in the construction of new reactors after the Fukushima disaster, a U.N. report says.

The report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has not yet been made public but has been seen by Reuters, said a somewhat slower capacity expansion than previously forecast is likely after the world’s worst nuclear accident in a quarter of a century.

But, it said: “Significant growth in the use of nuclear energy worldwide is still anticipated – between 35 percent and 100 percent by 2030 – although the Agency projections for 2030 are 7-8 percent lower than projections made in 2010.”

Japan’s reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima nuclear plant triggered by a deadly earthquake and tsunami on March 11 last year shook the nuclear world and raised a question mark over whether atomic energy is safe.

Germany, Switzerland and Belgium decided to move away from nuclear power to grow reliance on renewable energy instead.

The IAEA document, obtained by Reuters on Friday, said the number of new reactor construction starts fell to only three last year – two in Pakistan and one in India – from 16 in 2010.

Shell Canada’s carbon capture project gains environmental OK

Shell Canada’s flagship $1.35-billion carbon-capture and storage project at its Scotford bitumen upgrader moved a step closer to reality this week with the release of a federal environment assessment

The 24-page report from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency concludes Shell has planned “appropriate measures to mitigate any significant adverse environmental effects.”

The agency is now seeking public comments on the report, with a deadline of April 13. It is available online at

“This is our final report. Questions from the public will be answered and the information could be attached to the report,” said federal spokes-woman Maxine Leger-Haskell.

The agency’s work will help other federal agencies that are part of the regulatory process reach their conclusions. It covered air and sound quality, groundwater resources, vegetation and habitat, along with heritage resources and public health and safety issues.

Brazil to Issue Regulations Supporting Solar Energy, Aneel Says

Brazil, which has a single utility- scale solar plant, will issue within two weeks a pair of regulations designed to promote the use of power generated from sunshine, the country’s electricity regulator Agencia Nacional de Energia Eletrica said.

The two-pronged policy push offers tax breaks to utilities and will let consumers and businesses sell electricity generated from renewable sources to the grid, according to Ivan Marques de Toledo Camargo, Aneel’s director of regulation for distribution services.

Brazil has organized power auctions that made wind power cheaper than energy generated from fossil fuels and is the world’s second-largest ethanol producer. The country is now seeking to boost the use of solar energy, Camargo said.

“Brazil is supporting solar a lot,” he said today at a conference in Campinas, Brazil. “We’re clarifying the rules. The market will determine how much solar energy will be developed.”

Under the new regulations, utilities will be eligible for an 80 percent discount on taxes paid for distributing electricity generated by large solar projects.

Asian Development Bank Says Climate Migration Poses Growing Threat

The Asian Development Bank says climate change is likely to become a key cause of migration in Asia in the coming decades.

In a new report, the bank says more than 42 million people in the region were displaced by environmental disasters over the past two years alone.

In 2010, it said, more than 30 million people were displaced, some permanently, primarily by devastating floods in Pakistan and China.

In a video statement posted on the bank’s website, Asian Development Bank Director Bart Edes said that “the fact that we see people displaced now and many of them becoming migrants gives us a taste of what is to come as climate change begins to have a greater impact.”

“So we are releasing this report to present governments with policy options, with actions that they can take to address this challenge and to turn migration, climate-induced migration from a threat to an opportunity,” Edes said.

The report predicts that widespread land degradation, water shortages, and desertification are expected to affect many parts of Central Asia.

Air pollution could become China’s biggest health threat, expert warns

Air pollution will become the biggest health threat in China unless the government takes greater steps to monitor and publicise the dangers of smog, the country’s leading respiratory disease specialist warned this week.

Lung cancer and cardiovascular illnesses are already rising and could get worse in the future because of factory emissions, vehicle exhausts and cigarette smoke, Zhong Nanshan, the president of the China Medical Association, told the Guardian.

The outspoken doctor – who won nationwide respect for revealing the cover-up of the Sars epidemic in 2002 – said the authorities are starting to learn the lessons of past health crises by being more transparent about the risks posed by contaminated air. Unless there is more openness, he said, public trust will be eroded.

“Air pollution is getting worse and worse in China, but the government data showed it was getting better and better. People don’t believe that. Now we know it’s because they didn’t measure some pollutants,” said Zhong. “If the government neglects this matter, it will be the biggest health problem facing China.”

Earlier this month, the government promised to be more open.

It has been a long time coming. Beijing and other major cities have experienced dire levels of air pollution for more than a decade, but the government has been reluctant to investigate and publicly disclose the medical consequences.


5 Responses to March 17 News: New Keystone XL Route Could Still Threaten Ogallala Aquifer

  1. Tom King says:

    RE: Ever-Higher Emissions

    The O.E.C.D. predictions don’t make much sense. If fossil fuel consumption is going to increase by 80% then where will it come from? Also, if German energy is already 20% renewable and renewable growth rates are projected into the future, then how can fossil fuels still be 80% of the picture 38 years from now? That’s like going back to the early 1980’s and projecting the computer world will have moved from the Vic20 to the Commodore 64 by 2012.

  2. Alan Gregory says:

    I had the good fortune to be able to see – four years in a row – the migrating sandhill cranes along the Platte River in central Nebraska during Air Force Reserve duty periods at Offutt Air Force Base, Omaha. Those experiences stir a lot of good memories, but also instill fear in me when talk turns to this pipeline debacle.

  3. Colorado Bob says:

    AG –
    I got to see them leaving the Muleshoe Wildlife Refuge one spring. A huge helix of them spiraling up thousands of feet on a giant thermal. All of them calling to each other , from every point on the compass, birds were flying in at low levels to ride the rising air. Joy was the only way to describe the calls to each other.

  4. Colorado Bob says:

    Speaking of migrating animals –
    The announcement from researchers with WWF and Mexico’s National Commission for Natural Protected Areas appears to confirm the fears of some biologists, who said it was likely that scalding temperatures and extreme droughts affecting Texas and other parts of the United States in 2011 would take a toll on the butterflies.

    The migrating monarchs can survive for only so long without nectar or water, and the leg of their journey through parched regions of the U.S. was likely a difficult one.

    “I call that a thousand miles of hell, from Oklahoma down to Mexico,” Chip Taylor, a professor and insect ecologist at the University of Kansas, and the director of Monarch Watch, a nonprofit outreach organization, told OurAmazingPlanet in November.

  5. Anne van der Bom says:

    The OECD is talking about *energy*. Your figure is renewables’ share of *electricity*.

    The share of renewables in Germany’s total energy consumption is ~10%.