Unstable Ground

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Monday, October 3, 2022

This article was produced in partnership with Type Investigations, where Adam Federman is a reporting fellow. Along an open stretch of tundra far above the Arctic Circle, a gas flare burns bright against the early morning sky. The oil production facility, about eight miles north of the Alaska Native Village of Nuiqsut, sits like a ship on the horizon. Known as CD1, it is ground zero for ConocoPhillips’ Alpine Field, a sprawling network of gravel roads, pipelines, and well pads that covers about 165 acres of land. The CD1 pad houses hundreds of employees and has its own airstrip to receive direct flights from Anchorage. ConocoPhillips refers to it as “our town.”  On March 4, the fossil fuel company reported an uncontrolled gas leak at the facility. According to ConocoPhillips’ own analysis, an estimated 7.2 million cubic feet of natural gas was released into the atmosphere during the first five days of the leak, equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of over 3,000 cars. Residents in Nuiqsut complained of headaches and nausea. ConocoPhillips brought in industry specialists from Texas with experience fighting oil well fires in Iraq and Kuwait. Then, around noon on March 7, the company decided to evacuate 300 employees from the pad out of “an abundance of caution.” It would take nearly a month before the leak was fully plugged.   Nuiqsut’s mayor, Rosemary Ahtuangaruak, had been getting little sleep during those first few weeks and was anxious about the village’s air quality — an ongoing concern for residents of Nuiqsut, which is surrounded by oil and gas development. ConocoPhillips had reached out to the community to provide updates, but information was hard to come by, in part because it took several weeks for the company to fully understand what had happened. Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak looks out on the village of Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder More than a week passed before the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state agency that regulates drilling on both state and federal land, had someone on the ground at CD1. The state’s spill response division, known as the Prevention, Preparedness, and Response program, or PPR, was frustrated with ConocoPhillips’ response, according to dozens of emails obtained by Grist and Type Investigations. “I’m having difficulty getting the information PPR needs regarding the situation at CD 1,” the northern region manager wrote in an email to ConocoPhillips nearly a week into the event.  While some questions remain unanswered more than six months later, it’s clear now that the gas leak at Alpine illuminated the ways that climate change is amplifying the risks associated with oil and gas drilling in the Arctic — and even creating new ones. Permafrost thaw, which is accelerated by drilling and new construction, played an important role in the leak: In its incident report submitted to the state, ConocoPhillips explained that the heat generated by the injection of drilling fluids deep underground had thawed the permafrost layer — ground that had been frozen for thousands of years — to a depth of about 1,000 feet, which ultimately allowed the gas to reach the surface. Sandhill Cranes stand near the Alpine development area north of Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder But the problem didn’t end there. This same thawing process had affected some of the neighboring wells — there are about 50 wells on the CD1 pad, each about 10 feet apart — forming what Steve Lewis, a retired petroleum engineer who worked in the region for 20 years, described as a “gas highway,” creating multiple pathways for the gas to migrate. In its report, ConocoPhillips called this phenomenon a “thaw bulb.” A similar phenomenon is being replicated across Alaska’s North Slope region at a time when the Arctic is warming two to four times faster than the rest of the planet. According to an analysis by researchers at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, more than half of the near-surface permafrost on the North Slope could disappear by 2100 if emissions aren’t curbed. Soil temperatures at Prudhoe Bay, which is about 60 miles east of Nuiqsut, have already warmed by about 6 degrees Fahrenheit since the late 1970s.  Permafrost thaw can cause the ground to buckle and in some cases collapse. Roads, pipelines, and well pads could all potentially be compromised and even in some cases rendered unusable, according to Vladimir Romanovsky, a permafrost expert and emeritus professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Portions of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline, the 800-mile conduit that runs from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez, have already been damaged due to thawing permafrost. Pipes curve near the CD1 pad at Alpine oil development area northwest of Nuiqsut, left. Windblown signs, right, stand long the road in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Nathaniel Wilder According to interviews with former petroleum engineers and geologists who have worked on the North Slope, state and federal oversight of oil and gas drilling has not kept pace with the changes wrought by a warming climate. The Alpine leak exposed deep flaws in ConocoPhillips’ understanding of the region’s geology, but regulators at the Department of the Interior and the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, or AOGCC, continue to rely largely on the company’s assurances and proprietary data as it embarks on major new development projects. Despite the risks, Alaska’s political leaders remain determined to expand oil and gas development on the North Slope, including in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. In Alaska, the fossil fuel industry is deeply intertwined with the state officials who regulate it: Republican Governor Mike Dunleavy’s former chief of staff, Ben Stevens, is now vice president of external affairs at ConocoPhillips Alaska. Dunleavy also appointed Jeremy Price, another top aide and a former lobbyist with the American Petroleum Institute, to head the AOGCC, which is overseeing the investigation into the Alpine leak and has not yet released its findings. (Price stepped down in late September to work for an oil refinery out of state.)   The company’s own preliminary analysis revealed several missteps that led to the leak. “ConocoPhillips screwed up in a number of different ways,” said Mark Myers, a retired petroleum geologist who served as director of Alaska’s Division of Oil and Gas from 2001 to 2005. In a written statement, an AOGCC spokesperson said that the agency is aware of problems created by thawing permafrost and has addressed the issue in the past by modifying its drilling requirements. “AOGCC has some of the strongest regulations in the country in terms of drilling and well construction,” the spokesperson wrote. The commission would not comment on whether it plans to make additional changes because of the Alpine leak but said it “continuously evaluates the adequacy of our regulations.” Am aerial view of the MT-7 pad near Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder The Department of the Interior says it has collected permafrost temperature data from unplugged legacy wells on the North Slope for more than 20 years, in partnership with the U.S. Geological Survey, and continues to monitor the changes closely. “Preliminary data supports temperatures warming at approximately 0.1°C/year,” the department said in a written statement, “though additional data is needed to better characterize the changes spatially.”  But long-held assumptions about oil and gas drilling on the North Slope may no longer apply. Scientists and engineers who spoke to Grist and Type Investigations were far less certain about the future of development in an area experiencing such rapid warming.  “The assumed structural integrity of the permafrost is basic to the design of both surface facilities and well construction,” Lewis said. “If that premise is questionable, the entire design philosophy of North Slope development becomes suspect.” As ConocoPhillips struggled to control the leak during those first few days in March, Nuiqsut residents were worried that a single spark could lead to a far more dangerous situation. If just one well had caught fire, according to Lewis, it could have led to a series of explosions. Terza Hopson, a young mother who is expecting a second child in October, drove her family and their two dogs and cat to Anchorage, more than 800 miles away. Hopson said that she grew alarmed when she heard of ConocoPhillips’ decision to evacuate its own employees, as well as rumors that the company was bringing in buses to prepare for a larger emergency. At least 20 other families left the village during that first week, according to Ahtuangaruak. Terza Hopson poses for a photo in the Nuiqsut community center. After the gas leak in March, she drove 25 hours to Anchorage with her family. Nathaniel Wilder “We were scared,” Hopson told me. “My concern was my unborn child. I wasn’t going to try to endanger my child.”  Nevertheless, oil and gas development continues nearby. As Mayor Ahtuangaruak focused on keeping her town safe during the leak, she was also preparing for the next big battle on the North Slope. ConocoPhillips’ Willow project, one of the largest proposed onshore oil and gas developments in the United States, lies about 30 miles west of Alpine in the government-managed National Petroleum Reserve. The Department of the Interior approved the project during the final months of the Trump administration. In August of last year, however, a federal judge ruled that the legally required environmental analysis did not sufficiently address the project’s anticipated greenhouse gas emissions, among other flaws, and ordered the department to redo portions of its environmental impact statement. If the Willow project is approved, it would allow for more than 250 wells, dozens of new gravel roads, and up to two airstrips. The project would produce an estimated 284 million metric tons of carbon dioxide over its 30-year lifetime, according to the most recent environmental impact statement. The Center for American Progress, a Democrat-aligned think tank, has described the project as a “carbon disaster.” Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak drives by the location of the recent gas leak. Nathaniel Wilder Nevertheless, the Biden administration has supported Willow since the president took office, even though it threatens to derail the White House’s climate goals by locking in decades of fossil fuel drilling. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has squeezed global energy supplies, has only strengthened calls to boost oil and gas production on the North Slope. In early July, the Interior Department released a new draft of the environmental analysis providing a wider range of possible development scenarios, including one that would reduce the project’s overall footprint. The department has sent mixed signals in its rollout of the document. It originally posted an obsolete version, which included language suggesting that the agency was legally obligated to greenlight the project. This draft was later removed and replaced with one that did not indicate a preferred development scenario. The department also initially promised Nuiqsut a longer comment period, but it later reversed course without explanation and ultimately gave the public just 45 days, the minimum required by law. A final decision is expected later this year. This has all served to heighten tensions in Nuiqsut, where Willow has been a source of controversy for several years. In 2019, tribal leadership passed resolutions opposing the project and urging federal and state agencies to undertake baseline environmental studies before approving any new development. “The Tribal Council of the Native Village of Nuiqsut objects to the continued practice of approving oil and gas exploration and development activities in a piecemeal fashion and without [a] thorough understanding of how these activities are affecting our lands, waters, and air,” the council wrote. An aerial of the village of Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder Snow covers houses in the village of Nuiqsuit. Nathaniel Wilder Photographs of elders hang in the community hall in Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder Children play near the Nuiqsuit community center, left. Photographs of elders hang in the community hall in Nuiqsut, right. Nathaniel Wilder Nathaniel Wilder That same year, the village filed its first-ever lawsuit challenging the Interior Department’s approval of ConocoPhillips’ winter exploration work. A court ultimately decided in the company’s favor, but it marked a turning point in relations between Nuiqsut and the fossil fuel industry on the North Slope. Ahtuangaruak, a former physician’s assistant and public health aid, was elected mayor in November 2021, and she attributes her victory in part to growing opposition to new oil and gas development.  Nearly 100 percent of Nuiqsut households depend on subsistence hunting and fishing, which has already been affected by decades of industrial development. According to the Bureau of Land Management, which is part of the Interior Department, oil and gas activity has made it more difficult for residents to access traditional use areas. Willow’s footprint would overlap with some of the most important hunting and fishing grounds in the region. Under ConocoPhillips’ preferred development scenario, there would be an estimated 3.2 million vehicle trips over the lifetime of the project, many of them in areas currently used by subsistence hunters. “We don’t know what’s going to happen once they get that project going,” said Gordon Brown, a member of the village corporation’s subsistence oversight panel. “Are we going to lose our caribou, or are we not? That’s the big thing.” Caribou move north toward calving grounds along the Dalton Highway, which leads to the oil camp of Prudhoe Bay. Nathaniel Wilder Some of the development, including gravel roads and pipelines, would be built within a special conservation area around Teshekpuk Lake, the largest body of water on the North Slope and critical calving grounds for the Teshekpuk caribou herd. And, just as it did with Alpine, ConocoPhillips has plans to expand its development further west, designs it refers to as “greater Willow 1 and 2.” Ultimately, the final decision on Willow will be made not in Nuiqsut but well over 3,000 miles away in Washington, D.C. In April, Interior Department Secretary Deb Haaland traveled to Alaska, fulfilling a promise she’d made to Alaska’s two Republican senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, during her confirmation hearings. Her trip included a stop in Utqiagvik, the North Slope borough seat, where she sat down with local leadership and representatives from Native corporations, including Kuukpik and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, according to a Department of the Interior employee who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the event. Kuukpik and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation have voiced their support for the Willow project. Haaland’s trip came just two months after Russia invaded Ukraine and threw the world into an energy crisis. A few days before she arrived, Senator Sullivan and North Slope Borough Mayor Harry Brower published an op-ed urging the secretary to quickly complete the Willow environmental impact statement and invoke emergency measures to expand oil and gas development in the National Petroleum Reserve. A rearview mirror shows a pipeline south of Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Nathaniel Wilder “Roughly the size of Indiana, the [National Petroleum Reserve] was set aside in 1923 specifically for oil production in case of emergencies,” they wrote. “We believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the disruption this is causing energy markets, and the astronomical prices Americans are paying at the pump, all constitute an emergency.” The new draft environmental impact statement published in July includes a brief, two-paragraph discussion of the events at Alpine and notes that the same shallow layer of sandstone, known as the Halo formation, that was the source of the leak is also present at Willow. But key questions related to the leak remain unanswered, scientists say, raising concerns about the potential for similar accidents if Willow moves forward. In particular, experts who spoke to Grist and Type Investigations say they were surprised that ConocoPhillips, despite decades of drilling in the Arctic, was unable to detect the presence of significant amounts of natural gas in the area where the leak occurred. The company, which has since conducted new three-dimensional seismic surveys of the area, has not explained the anomaly. Read Next Don’t Look Down Lois Parshley In a written statement, Dennis Nuss, a ConocoPhillips spokesperson, said the company took federal guidelines and environmental concerns into account when designing the Willow project. “Arctic engineering principles are present throughout Willow’s design, and they include practices that are widely used and designed to promote safe, environmentally sound operations,” Nuss said. Meanwhile, the draft environmental impact statement for Willow has only a few pages devoted to permafrost thaw, an issue that will continue to complicate drilling on the North Slope. The Interior Department said it would not comment on any questions related to the Alpine leak, which occurred on state land, including whether it has had access to the new seismic data.  According to ConocoPhillips, human error was the immediate cause of the leak: Pressure limits exceeded during a routine drilling operation damaged a portion of the well known as the casing shoe about a half-mile underground, creating the initial pathway for gas to escape. Poor cement bonding, which adds another layer of protection between the casing and the surrounding rock, also compromised the integrity of the well. Between March 1 and March 3, before the leak was reported, warning signs were also missed or left unaddressed, ConocoPhillips has acknowledged. Boxes of supplies sit on the Kuukpik Corporation staging grounds in the Alpine oil development region just north of Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder In an April letter to the Department of the Interior, a coalition of environmental groups urged the agency to undertake a more rigorous analysis of potential impacts from gas leaks, blowouts, oil spills, and other accidents. “The leak demonstrates that ConocoPhillips cannot guarantee the safe operation of oil development projects in the region,” they wrote. In a written statement, ConocoPhillips defended its safety record on the North Slope and said that the permitting process and design principles used at Willow account for the future effects of a rapidly warming climate.  “ConocoPhillips recognizes that it is a privilege to operate on the North Slope and in Alaska, and we have done so safely and responsibly for more than 50 years,” Nuss said. “When planning and permitting projects like Willow, the company works with regulatory agencies, local communities, and other stakeholders to assess and mitigate community concerns and potential impacts related to air emissions, subsistence activities, surface disturbance, water use, wildlife, and people.” The company also said the Willow project would come with significant benefits for the public — and that there is no reason to further delay construction. Depending on when the Interior Department issues its final decision, ConocoPhillips says it could break ground on the project as soon as this winter. Just over a week after the court ruling vacating the Willow environmental impact statement in August 2021, ConocoPhillips sent a letter to the Bureau of Land Management’s Alaska office describing the flaws in the document as “discrete and fixable” and asking to work with the agency to “expeditiously move the permitting process forward.” That’s exactly what they did. According to public records obtained by Grist and Type Investigations through a Freedom of Information Act request, ConocoPhillips and the bureau had their first meeting a few days later.  Trucks carry equipment staged in the village for use in nearby oil development projects. Nathaniel Wilder “It shows the depth of influence ConocoPhillips has no matter which party is in office,” said Bridget Psarianos, a former Interior Department employee who now works as a staff attorney at Trustees for Alaska, an environmental organization representing groups who have filed suit against the department over the Willow project. The draft environmental statement also reveals how the Interior Department and other regulatory agencies depend on assurances from the oil and gas industry that may not always turn out to be reliable, especially in a rapidly warming environment. The statement echoes some of the same assumptions that led to the leak at ConocoPhillips’ Alpine site. According to the incident report, ConocoPhillips’ decision to forgo the use of cement casing around the portion of the well where the leak occurred was based on the assumption that there was little to no gas present in the 3,000-to-4,000-foot deep formation. (In ConocoPhillips’ words, it was not considered a “significant hydrocarbon zone.”) This turned out to be wrong. But Lewis, the former petroleum engineer, said that Interior appears to have reached a similar conclusion for Willow, where the same geological formation is found, without providing much evidence to support it. In a written statement, the Interior Department said it made its determination after reviewing seismic studies and proprietary data from wells drilled in the project area, which cannot be released to the public.  Layers of dirt and snow pile up in the village of Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder Lewis said that the paragraphs in the draft environmental impact statement devoted to the leak rely almost entirely on information provided by ConocoPhillips and “read like industry-supplied text.” (The Interior Department declined to comment on Lewis’ assertion.) Because the geological formation in the Willow project occurs at a shallower depth than it does at Alpine, the Interior Department says planned wells would be fully cemented, providing additional protection in the event of an accident. “This would further reduce the already very low risk of a shallow-gas leak,” the environmental impact statement reads.      But Mark Myers, the retired petroleum geologist and former director of the Alaska Division of Oil and Gas, said that the agency needs to do more to ensure that leaks like the one at Alpine don’t happen again. Myers argued that the agency should incorporate whatever ConocoPhillips has learned about the underlying geology through newly conducted seismic surveys at Alpine into its planning for the Willow project. In addition, he said there should be a more robust permafrost monitoring program at the Willow site in order to evaluate changes and possibly modify standards for pad construction.   The Department of the Interior said that the current design of the Willow project “accounts for the expected conditions” over the project’s anticipated 30-year lifespan. Meanwhile, ConocoPhillips continues to expand its footprint in and around Nuiqsut. In May, the company announced that it had successfully tested a new Alpine rig dubbed “The Beast” capable of drilling up to 7.5 miles in any direction. It’s often noted that Nuiqsut is encircled by oil and gas development. That circle is growing closer.  Late one evening in May, Ahtuangaruak drove me out along the road that runs south of the village. The sun was still bright, and snow geese angled overhead. We passed a lake that provides Nuiqsut’s drinking water and eventually came to a bluff overlooking the Colville River, not far from where the original inhabitants of the village had settled in the early 1970s. Mayor Rosemary Ahtuangaruak drives along an oil development road west of Nuiqsut. Nathaniel Wilder Ahtuangaruak pointed out seismic tracks on the surface of the river, still covered in snow, running in a grid-like pattern toward the village. Kuukpik, Nuiqsut’s village corporation, had recently completed new seismic surveys covering 59 square miles of land as part of another project, known as Narwhal, including areas in and around the village. These surveys will be used to provide the location and estimates of oil and gas reserves in the area. “We fought it,” said Ahtuangaruak. “They did it anyway.”  Looking out at a landscape that had undergone profound changes in the last 40 years, Ahtuangaruak explained that Nuiqsut is an Iñupiat word meaning “beautiful place on the horizon.” She still believes that to be true, but doesn’t know how much more development the village can endure. Part of the area surveyed this winter and spring includes leases directly underneath the village that have already been sold. The buyer? ConocoPhillips. This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Unstable Ground on Oct 3, 2022.

How thawing permafrost threatens a Biden-supported plan to drill in Alaska's Arctic

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Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa

Farmer Ndaula Liwela, from Machita settlement in Namibia’s Zambezi province, points to the scattered flowers of a baobab tree lying on the dry ground close to her homestead. “The fruit this year will be small and few,” she says, even though the iconic tree is known for its ability to store water and thrive in […] The post Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

Farmer Ndaula Liwela, from Machita settlement in Namibia’s Zambezi province, points to the scattered flowers of a baobab tree lying on the dry ground close to her homestead. “The fruit this year will be small and few,” she says, even though the iconic tree is known for its ability to store water and thrive in dry conditions. It’s several weeks after she would normally have planted her crops, “but we stopped ploughing when we saw the clouds were not even starting to build”. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP27 took place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from 6 to 18 November 2022, where ‘the African COP’ hoped to mobilize the funds and actions needed for a climate-resilient Africa, but this means very little to Liwela, whose immediate concern is around how to feed her family in the face of an increasingly uncertain future. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF-US Her home in Namibia’s northernmost province lies within the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA), the five-country transboundary park formed to protect biodiversity while supporting people who live in the landscape. It is not far from the Zambezi River, but is water-scarce. Each year, Liwela supplements her livelihood by harvesting baobab and other wild fruits, but this year, even this wild pantry looks likely to let her down. Many parts of Africa are increasingly affected by the dry season growing hotter and rainy seasons arriving later. Extreme events such as drought are increasing in frequency and severity. “Liwela’s story is not unique. Over the last year, we have interviewed farmers, fishers, grass harvesters, and many others who rely on natural resources in this region. They have noted the impacts of changing weather patterns on their ability to sustain themselves. This leaves them vulnerable, not just to climate change impacts, but also to other shocks, like the COVID-19 pandemic,” says WWF Namibia’s Sigrid Nyambe. She has been working with communities in this region to gather data on climate change impacts on communities as part of WWF’s Climate Crowd program. This information informs pilot projects to help rural communities adapt to the changes they are experiencing while reducing pressure on biodiversity. The latest IPCC Working Group II report on Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability shows that many climate risks are bigger than previously anticipated, particularly for vulnerable African countries. Many nations have included nature-based solutions as part of their national climate change adaptation plans, but need financial and technical support for action at a grassroots level. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF US Addressing the Forum on Finance for Nature-Based Solutions organised by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee of Finance, UN Climate Change Deputy Executive Secretary Ovais Sarmad said: “We face a double crisis of climate change and nature. The two are inextricably linked. The mutual, intertwined destruction grows worse by the day. If nature and climate change are linked, it only stands to reason that nature-based solutions lie at the heart of addressing both.” Yet, according to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, in a recent article for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, “only about 133 billion dollars are channeled into nature-based solutions, and investments must triple by 2030 to meet the climate, the nature, and land-neutrality targets.” “In the last few years, we’ve seen two crises climate change and a global pandemic – intersect. Both impact the most vulnerable communities the hardest and affect how people interact with their natural resources,” says WWF director of climate, communities, and wildlife Nikhil Advani. For example, in Namibia, climate change and the pandemic both increased the unsustainable use of natural resources, says Advani, who also runs the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform. This project was launched in 2021 to connect funders to communities involved in nature-based tourism across 11 countries in eastern and southern Africa, helping to identify the hardest-hit communities and enterprises and their most pressing needs. Over half of Namibians interviewed in 2021-2022 for the Climate Crowd project reported direct impacts on local wildlife, including high mortality rates and wildlife migration to other areas where water and food are more abundant. Fifty-eight percent of respondents reported that crops had failed or produced very little in recent years, and 62% noted declines in livestock health. About three-quarters of respondents said that the wild fruits harvested seasonally are also declining. And as natural resources become increasingly difficult to find, more people and their livestock come into conflict with wildlife. “The data we’ve collected shows that we need to focus more on adaptation efforts that protect the people who are most vulnerable,” he said. Within KAZA, there are examples and opportunities for resilience-building through initiatives that are also climate adaptation strategies. These practical, nature-compatible pilot projects being implemented through Climate Crowd often draw on solutions shaped by a community’s own traditional, indigenous and local knowledge and practices. Beekeeping is an environmentally friendly and potentially lucrative complementary industry helping communities cope with unpredictable crop yields. Youth in these communities are frequently unemployed and lack access to income-generating activities as rain-fed agriculture declines. In Namibia, one such project involves training youths from Muyako, Omega 3, and Luitcikxom villages in Bwabwata National Park in beekeeping. David Mushavanga, a local bee farmer with over 16 years of experience, will implement the project in partnership with WWF Climate Crowd and the Ministry of Environment, Forestry, and Tourism. Other projects being implemented in Namibia will focus on increasing water security through rainwater harvesting and solar powered boreholes, climate-smart agriculture, installing clean cookstoves, and other alternative livelihoods such as craft making. Image credit: Nikhil Advani, WWF US “Climate Crowd is a bottom-up, community-driven initiative. It’s important to support projects the community feels a sense of ownership over. These projects can help them build resilience to multiple shocks and stressors. Environmental emergencies such as climate change could cause social and economic damages far larger than those caused by COVID-19,” says Advani. Through Climate Crowd and the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform, WWF works with community-based natural resource management organizations in several other eastern and southern African countries to provide funding and technical support for solutions that protect natural ecosystems and benefit people while building resilience to future shocks and stressors. For example in Malawi, a recently funded project led by African Nature-Based Tourism Platform partner KAWICCODA, supports the scaling up of conservation-friendly alternative livelihood activities within the five-kilometre belt around Kasungu National Park. “Both the climate crisis and pandemics threaten the wellbeing of people and nature, which is why we urgently need to pilot projects that make people and nature more resilient. We can learn from these grassroots-led initiatives. And then we can scale them,” says Advani. ____________________ About Climate Crowd WWF’s Climate Crowd works with partners in more than 30 countries to collect data on how vulnerable communities are affected by changes in weather and climate and how they cope with them. The data is analysed and presented back to the communities, who then work alongside WWF and partners to develop and implement on-the-ground solutions. WWF also shares the data online for researchers, educators, and conservation and development practitioners. Explore the data at wwfclimatecrowd.org. About the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform To capture the complete picture of the impacts and to help Africa’s tourism sector recover and become more resilient, WWF and a host of global, national, and regional partners created the African Nature-Based Tourism Platform. Established in 2021 with $1.9 million from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Platform is gathering data on the impacts on communities and SMEs from the COVID-19 crisis, facilitating learning and knowledge exchange, identifying funding opportunities, and developing funding proposals with communities and SMEs. The post Communities and Working with Nature the Key to Mitigating Climate Change in Africa appeared first on SAPeople - Worldwide South African News.

‘Point of no return’: Chris Packham leads calls for Rishi Sunak to attend Cop15

Conservationist says if world leaders do not go to the summit a strong deal to halt and reverse nature loss is at riskChris Packham is urging the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to attend a key nature summit to protect the planet for the sake of his great-grandchildren because we are “very close to the point of no return”.The Cop15 biodiversity summit being held in Montreal from 7-19 December is the nature equivalent of the recent Cop27 climate summit in Egypt, with governments from all over the world expected to agree targets to halt the destruction of the natural world. But world leaders are not expected to attend the once-in-a-decade meeting where the next 10 years of targets will be agreed. Continue reading...

Conservationist says if world leaders do not go to the summit a strong deal to halt and reverse nature loss is at riskChris Packham is urging the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, to attend a key nature summit to protect the planet for the sake of his great-grandchildren because we are “very close to the point of no return”.The Cop15 biodiversity summit being held in Montreal from 7-19 December is the nature equivalent of the recent Cop27 climate summit in Egypt, with governments from all over the world expected to agree targets to halt the destruction of the natural world. But world leaders are not expected to attend the once-in-a-decade meeting where the next 10 years of targets will be agreed. Continue reading...

Is B.C.’s $6 billion commitment to Coastal GasLink and LNG Canada still economically viable?

By Matt Simmons (Local Journalism Initiative Reporter) B.C. estimates it will earn $23 billion over 40 years once LNG Canada gets going, but net-zero pledges raise questions about whether global demand for gas will hold up over the project’s lifespan

By Matt Simmons (Local Journalism Initiative Reporter) In 2018, First Nations leaders, B.C.’s then-premier John Horgan and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau gathered in Vancouver to announce what they deemed at the time to be the single largest private sector investment in Canadian history. LNG Canada, a consortium of some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, was investing $40 billion to create a liquefied natural gas project in northern B.C. “I can’t tell you how proud I am. I can’t stop smiling,” Horgan said at the news conference.  B.C.’s support for LNG Canada — and the contentious Coastal GasLink pipeline project needed to get the gas across the province — is based largely on an economic argument: major projects support jobs and boost the economy.  In 2018 and again in 2019, B.C. estimated it would receive around $23 billion in government revenues over the 40-year lifespan of LNG Canada. According to 2019 forecasts, those estimates include upstream revenues such as taxes, royalties and hydro payments. The province also predicted the projects would create 10,000 construction jobs and up to 950 permanent jobs at the liquefaction and export facility.  Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. Get The Narwhal in your inbox! People always tell us they love our newsletter. Find out yourself with a weekly dose of our ad‑free, independent journalism. Construction is well underway. The Coastal GasLink pipeline is about 75 per cent complete, with 400 kilometres of pipe in the ground on its 670-kilometre route, according to the company. TC Energy, the pipeline operator, predicts it will complete construction by the end of 2023, with the pipeline being ready for operation the following year. Meanwhile, the LNG Canada project, including its liquefaction and export facility currently under construction in Kitimat, is 70 per cent complete and aims to have the first phase of its operations up and running in 2025. But as construction continues, costs continue to rise. In the summer of 2022, TC Energy announced the cost of the Coastal GasLink pipeline project had ballooned from an original estimate of $6.2 billion to an updated estimate of $11.2 billion. Now, the Alberta-based company says it could cost even more. “Current market conditions, including inflationary impacts on labour costs, could result in final project costs that are higher than this new estimate,” the company noted in its third quarter financial report, released earlier this month.  Climate implications aside, as the project budget continues to grow and the global demand for liquefied natural gas fluctuates, is there still a financial case for the project and the province’s support of it? Here’s what you need to know. B.C. subsidies and investments in Coastal GasLink and LNG Canada more than $6 billion B.C. has contributed more than $5.4 billion to the LNG Canada project. But it’s not as though B.C. wrote the corporations a cheque. That money is in the form of financial breaks and incentives — tax reprieves, tax exemptions and cheaper electricity rates. In other words, it’s money that would have otherwise ended up in public coffers.  That $5.4 billion includes $82 million for a “load interconnection” project, according to B.C.’s recent budget and fiscal plan. That’s hydro-speak for a power line: the province is footing the bill to connect the plant to the grid. In addition, to get Indigenous support for the pipeline, Christy Clark’s Liberal government agreed to pay more than $39 million to 16 First Nations governments, plus an additional $10 million per year once the gas starts flowing in the Coastal GasLink pipeline. In return, the agreements protect B.C. from litigation if the project infringes on any charter rights. The agreements were negotiated by former minister of Aboriginal relations John Rustad (who was recently ousted from the Liberal caucus after promoting climate change denial).  The province also committed more than $113 million to coastal First Nations through agreements related to LNG Canada and other potential export facilities, plus $4.68 million annually. Those agreements require the nations to support the LNG industry at large, not oppose specific LNG projects “in any manner whatsoever” and work with the province to resolve a situation if one of its members does or says anything in opposition.  When you add all of this up, the province has committed more than $6 billion to help get gas out of the ground and exported to overseas markets. This doesn’t factor in the cost of the Site C dam, which many analysts and critics connect directly to the fossil fuel industry, noting corporate and government narratives claim B.C. is building and operating the “cleanest liquefied natural gas facilities in the world.” Those claims depend largely on extraction, transport and liquefaction being powered by electricity. The current projected price tag of the beleaguered hydro project is $16 billion. Many critics of Site C connect the $16 billion hydroelectric project to the fossil fuel industry. Photo: BC Hydro There are also federal subsidies. Canadian taxpayers have covered $275 million for a direct investment in the liquefaction facility and are on the hook for up to $500 million in loans to the pipeline company. To date, taxpayers across the country have also footed the bill for more than $25 million in policing costs on Wet’suwet’en territory. A special unit of the RCMP maintains a constant presence in northern B.C., enforcing a court injunction against anyone acting in opposition to the pipeline.  And more government spending may be in the works. Skye McConnell, a public affairs manager with Shell Canada, the company with the biggest stake in LNG Canada, recently lobbied the provincial government on climate issues, including the “creation of opportunities to incentivize electrification.” Shell also recently lobbied Stephen Guillbeault, the federal minister of Environment and Climate Change Canada. Shell did not reply to The Narwhal’s questions prior to publication. LNG Canada told The Narwhal it is setting the wheels in motion for its approved second phase, an expansion that would double production at the Kitimat facility. “A final investment decision will take into account a number of factors; these include competitiveness, affordability, pace, future [greenhouse gas] emissions and stakeholder needs. Government collaboration and support will be essential for the success of LNG Canada expansion.” The spokesperson said the LNG export project, as it is currently being built, has the lowest carbon intensity of any similar scale facility in the world. “But if we can improve on that design, we will. That’s why we’re examining options to introduce additional electrification along the value chain in Phase 2, including at the plant site in Kitimat, which is already designed to take electricity from BC Hydro for certain power requirements.”  The team looking into those options “will discuss with various parties, including governments and public agencies,” the spokesperson added. When will B.C. start making money from LNG Canada and Coastal GasLink? To date, beyond job creation, the B.C. hasn’t seen economic gains from the projects. And while northern B.C. has certainly been busier since construction started, about two-thirds of the pipeline jobs are filled by out-of-province workers, according to a project status report released in June.   When the gas starts flowing and the liquefaction facility opens its doors, the province is set to start receiving tax revenue and BC Hydro will be paid for the electricity it sells.  But B.C.’s estimated $23 billion in government revenue over 40 years works out to $575 million per year. That means it will take more than 10 years for the province to cover the total costs of its subsidies and agreements with First Nations. Neither B.C.’s Ministry of Finance nor the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Low Carbon Innovation responded to The Narwhal’s questions about the current financial viability of the project prior to publication.   “In addition to other revenue streams from these projects, B.C. would start receiving revenue through royalties paid by natural gas producing companies for gas that is exported by the project,” a spokesperson for the Energy Ministry wrote in an emailed statement. According to reports filed with B.C.’s environmental assessment office, about two-thirds of construction jobs on the Coastal GasLink pipeline are filled by out-of-province workers. Photo: Matt Simmons / The Narwhal Will there still be demand 10 years after LNG Canada starts up? High natural gas prices, in part fuelled by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the resulting European energy crisis, means there’s incentive to complete Coastal GasLink and LNG Canada as quickly as possible. “As world events continue to demonstrate, a reliable supply of responsibly produced energy should never be taken for granted,” the LNG Canada spokesperson said. “Our project will provide security of supply for global markets that rely on Canada’s natural gas reserves to fuel their economies, reduce global [greenhouse gas] emissions as natural gas replaces the use of coal and bring significant economic growth and stability to northern British Columbia communities and all of Canada.” But those high prices may not hold, according to the International Energy Agency. In its most recent report, the intergovernmental data-driven organization says the crisis is making countries take a hard look at whether gas is the right fit in an unstable political climate. “The traditional arguments in favour of natural gas have focused on its role as a reliable partner for the clean energy transition and its ability to step in to fill the gap left by declining coal and oil,” the report noted. “These are currently being tested by the global repercussions of Russia’s actions in Europe. In the midst of a global energy crisis, fundamental questions are now being asked about natural gas: how can supply be assured, now and in the future, and at what price?” “If LNG Canada were to come in service today, they’d be making money,” Clark Williams-Derry, an energy economics analyst with the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, told The Narwhal in an interview. “But when it comes into service in 2025-26, will they actually be able to make money? That is an increasingly uncertain proposition.” In modelling scenarios the International Energy Agency used to forecast demand, based on stated policies, announced pledges and net-zero commitments, demand for the fossil fuel over the next few years either rises by less than five per cent before levelling off in 2030 or plummets to 20 per cent below current demand. If countries follow through on net-zero commitments, the demand is projected to be 75 per cent lower by 2050. The Coastal GasLink pipeline is being built to connect gas sources in B.C.’s northeast to overseas markets via the LNG Canada facility. According to the International Energy Agency, global demand is set to start decreasing over the next decade. Map: Shawn Parkinson / The Narwhal What all this means for Coastal GasLink and LNG Canada is not immediately clear. If the International Energy Agency scenarios prove accurate, the twin projects might have a few good years after coming online in the mid-2020s before prices start dropping, according to Williams-Derry. “From a long-term economics perspective, the rising cost and increasing uncertainty on supply for LNG Canada sort of casts a pall on the LNG industry for Western Canada in my mind,” he said.  The LNG Canada consortium remains confident. “A long-life asset with a 40-year export license, LNG Canada is advantaged by: access to abundant, low-cost natural gas from Western Canada; its location in an ice-free harbour and its shipping distance to North Asia, which is about 50 per cent shorter than from the U.S. Gulf of Mexico and avoids the Panama Canal,” the spokesperson wrote. According to Williams-Derry, the B.C.-based projects don’t make a lot of sense, financially. Getting gas from B.C.’s reserves to export facilities on the Gulf of Mexico costs less than half the cost of shipping it via Kitimat, he said. As an example, he noted a Tourmaline Oil project that would use existing TC Energy pipelines to get gas to Asian markets. But, he added, that may not matter to the corporations invested in the projects. As well as sunk costs in getting the pipeline and liquefaction facility this close to completion, there’s a big-picture economic argument at play for Shell, Petronas, Mitsubishi, PetroChina and Korea Gas, the companies that make up the LNG Canada consortium. “The whole purpose of LNG Canada was to monetize the reserves that these companies had on their books but they couldn’t get to market,” Williams-Derry explained. “It was a sort of an exercise in reserves engineering, or financial engineering at their reserves.” In essence, the companies had two options: write those reserves off the books, which means each company gets smaller and is therefore less profitable overall, or find a way to give them value. Williams-Derry said major oil companies stay financially successful by either replacing reserves they deplete while extracting or by buying more reserves.  “The reserves were what gave the company long-term value,” he said. “So you create the LNG Canada project to say, ‘Okay, this is how we’re going to get the stuff to market and monetize it, this is how we’re going to turn it from something that it’s in the ground to something that has extractable economic value and that we treat as a legitimate reserve.’ ” In other words, even if the projects themselves are significantly less profitable than other pipelines, gas sources and liquefaction facilities, corporations can still make money by ensuring those reserves are counted as assets. TC Energy seemingly distancing itself from the contentious Coastal GasLink pipeline The company appears to be distancing itself from the Coastal GasLink pipeline. TC Energy became a minority shareholder in 2019 after selling off 65 per cent of the project to U.S.-based KKR investments and the Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo), a Crown corporation that manages $160 billion of the province’s public pension, endowment and government funds. In March, TC Energy further reduced its future shares in the company by signing equity agreements with 16 B.C. First Nations. These agreements will provide the communities with a shared 10 per cent ownership stake in the pipeline — if the project is completed.  “Ownership in our projects and assets means that Indigenous communities can share in Canada’s resource economy where we have the opportunity to learn, grow and change the way energy is developed in Canada,” TC Energy CEO François Poirier said in a public statement in November. To pay for construction of Coastal GasLink, which includes navigating steep mountainous terrain and crossing more than 700 watercourses, the pipeline project is borrowing money from its operator, TC Energy. According to its latest quarterly report, TC Energy has to cough up another $1.9 billion, payable over just seven months. This doesn’t change the company’s 35 per cent ownership stake — it’s a reflection of the ballooning costs.   It noted its commitment to the financing “has been and will continue to be stepped down over time.”  Construction costs of the Coastal GasLink pipeline have ballooned to an estimated $11.2 billion. Photo: Amber Bracken / The Narwhal After announcing it is facing those new costs, TC Energy also announced this quarter it will sell more than $5 billion in assets next year, to free up cash and fund new projects. The Narwhal asked the company if the sell-off was related to the increased costs of the Coastal GasLink pipeline but did not receive a response prior to publication. Shareholders have undoubtedly had fears about the pipeline, given the project’s thorny past and tense present. Even before construction began in 2019, Coastal GasLink was a focal point for conflict and a jumping-off point for wider discussion about Indigenous Rights and reconciliation. The project is opposed by Wet’suwet’en Hereditary Chiefs and their supporters, who note the project did not receive Free, Prior and Informed Consent. The province and the pipeline company instead signed agreements with 20 elected First Nations governments, including five of six Wet’suwet’en band councils. Over three years, dozens of Indigenous land defenders have been arrested during raids by heavily armed tactical units of the RCMP. The conflict spilled across the country in early 2020, when widespread solidarity movements erupted, shutting down ports and rail lines. The company hasn’t specifically blamed this opposition for increased costs, but alludes to it in its latest quarterly report, noting the revised estimate “reflects an increase from the original project cost estimate due to scope increases and the impacts of COVID-19, weather and other events outside of [the company’s] control.” Though TC Energy’s actions suggest a distancing from the project, it continues to push forward with construction. “We continue to believe the project remains economically viable and, subject to a final investment decision, we anticipate a potential second phase of Coastal GasLink could enhance TC Energy’s project returns,” TC Energy CEO Poirier said in a July statement. TC Energy did not respond to The Narwhal’s questions about the long-term financial viability of the project.

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