Pumped Up: Man-made earthquakes  

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The Economist has an article on the possible link between enhanced oil recovery techniques and earthquakes - Pumped Up: Man-made earthquakes.

IN MAY 2011 something routine happened at the Cavone oilfield in northern Italy. Padana Energia, its operator, started pumping more high-pressure water into their wells, to squeeze more oil out. This unremarkable event may, though, have had remarkable consequences. A year later, on May 20th and 29th 2012, two nearby earthquakes killed 27 people and injured hundreds more. A report made public on April 15th by the International Commission on Hydrocarbon Exploration and Seismicity in the Emilia Region (ICHESE), a six-strong panel of geoscientists, says the pumping and the earthquakes may be connected.

Most earthquakes are caused by movements in geological faults, places where two bodies of rock are being pushed in different directions but nevertheless remain (mostly) locked together by friction. When the pushing becomes forceful enough to overcome the friction, however, the fault slips, the pent-up energy is released and the earth quakes.

Seismologists have known for decades that pumping water into the ground near a fault can sometimes make it slip. (Such quakes are different from the small tremors generated by the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, used to extract shale gas from impermeable rocks. These are caused by stress created by the slurry used to break the rock open and release the gas, not by the slippage of faults.) But until these two quakes, only one person was believed to have been killed in a tremor triggered by the extraction of hydrocarbons—in Uzbekistan in 1984.

Leaving the grid  

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RNE has an article on the beginning of the end of the centralised power generation model - SA network operator: Rural communities could quit the grid.

The head of South Australia’s major power distributor says that rural communities – including major towns – could soon look after their own generation needs. And, said Rob Stobbe, the CEO of SA Power Networks, it could be inevitable that all forms of centralised generation and transmission will be made redundant over time.

Stobbe made his comments at the Energy Networks Association conference in Melbourne, where the industry is wrestling with the technology, cultural, and economic challenges of the biggest change in electricity markets in more than a century – and their $75 billion of assets.

The biggest challenge, of course, comes from the emergence of renewables, and distributed generation in particular, which along with storage is threatening to turn the tables on the centralized model.

Rob_Stobbe_-_webStobbe’s prediction that rural communities could go off grid – or create their own micro-grids with just a small connection to the main networks – follows similar remarks by Ian McLeod, the CEO of Queensland distributor Ergon Energy, earlier this week, and from the ENA itself, which has said that regional operators in Queensland and Western Australia would also look to “downsize” their network assets in favour of localized generation and micro-grids. In effect, they are looking to ditch their poles and wires.

Stobbe suggests that is exactly what is going to happen in South Australia, where the power network operator spends 70 per cent of its investment towards meeting just 30 per cent of its 840,000 customer base. Away from the big population centres around Adelaide, there are just three customers for every kilometre of line.

heimplanet mavericks: a geodesic inflatable tent for extreme conditions  

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DesignBoom hs a post on a geodesic dome tent - heimplanet mavericks: a geodesic inflatable tent for extreme conditions.

based on the specific molecular and crystal structure of the diamond, heimplanet has introduced ‘mavericks’, a multi-purpose tent designed for extreme conditions. following the footsteps of ‘the cave’ – a 2-3 person sleeper – it offers an internal height of two meters and more then 13 square meters of space, the mavericks tent incorporates inflatable diamond grid (IDG) technology and a multi chamber safety system. after inflation, the structure can be separated into ten individual air chambers to ensure an emergency stability in case of a defect. the special geodesic structure has been developed to withstand high wind speeds up to 180km/h, and is pre-assembled so it can easily be set up by an individual.

Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt  

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The NYT has a report on research into the melting of Antarctica's ice sheets - Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt

A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.

Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet, though other factors may also be involved, the scientists said.

The rise of the sea is likely to continue to be relatively slow for the rest of the 21st century, the scientists added, but in the more distant future it may accelerate markedly, potentially throwing society into crisis.

“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.” ...

The West Antarctic ice sheet sits in a bowl-shaped depression in the earth, with the base of the ice below sea level. Warm ocean water is causing the ice sitting along the rim of the bowl to thin and retreat. As the front edge of the ice pulls away from the rim and enters deeper water, it can retreat much faster than before.

Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies  

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The Harvard School of Public Health has published some new research on bee colony collapse disorder - Study strengthens link between neonicotinoids and collapse of honey bee colonies

Two widely used neonicotinoids—a class of insecticide—appear to significantly harm honey bee colonies over the winter, particularly during colder winters, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH). The study replicated a 2012 finding from the same research group that found a link between low doses of imidacloprid and Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), in which bees abandon their hives over the winter and eventually die. The new study also found that low doses of a second neonicotinoid, clothianidin, had the same negative effect.

Further, although other studies have suggested that CCD-related mortality in honey bee colonies may come from bees’ reduced resistance to mites or parasites as a result of exposure to pesticides, the new study found that bees in the hives exhibiting CCD had almost identical levels of pathogen infestation as a group of control hives, most of which survived the winter. This finding suggests that the neonicotinoids are causing some other kind of biological mechanism in bees that in turn leads to CCD.

Outside has an article looking at wider problems with insecticides - Your Food Is Poisoning You.

Such is the case, too, with people who’ve been trying to link celiac disease (and other ills) with the use of the herbicide glyphosate. Despite having long been treated like Bigfoot believers by their opponents, their research is now gaining widespread attention. More importantly, there's a growing sense that the science has reached a tipping point: Glyphosate cannot be recognized as harmless.

“I'm always suspicious of these consensuses on [the safety of] agriculture chemicals—they almost always fall apart over time, and that may be happening with glyphosate,” says author and food activist Michael Pollan.

Introduced by Monsanto in the early 1970s under the trade name Roundup (and used primarily back then as a weed killer), glyphosate is now used throughout the world on wheat and soy crops and since 2007 it has been the most widely used herbicide in the U.S.—and the growing target of research linking it to a variety of illnesses.

“Since Monsanto first introduced Roundup into crops in 1974, there’s been a rise in autism and other diseases,” says Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and co-author, with Anthony Samsel, a retired environmental scientist, of the recent review claiming that Roundup leads to celiac disease . “I’m certain at this point that glyphosate is the most important factor in an alarming number of epidemic diseases.” Diseases ranging from autism, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes to pancreatic cancer, thyroid cancer, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Parkinson’s disease and—wait for it—the ongoing collapse of bee colonies.

But where then, beyond the work of Seneff and Samsel, is the proof? Well, there isn’t much hard evidence (only two long-term studies on the health effects of the chemical have been conducted). And for a complicated set of reasons. For one, historically, people who’ve challenged the biotech industry have been systematically discredited, says Pollan, "as we learned recently about Tyrone Hayes, the UC Berkeley herpetologist who ran afoul of Syngenta." Also, there’s the just-as-hard-to-prove theory that no one wants to bite the hand that feeds them.

“Some of our scientists are the ones who are the most difficult—and the biggest impediment to better research—because they’re funding is dependent on the very same agrichemical companies like Monsanto that are producing Roundup,” says Dr. Don Huber, professor emeritus of plant pathology at Purdue University (who for years consulted with Monsanto scientists). "They’re not about to go in a different direction from the people who’ve been funding them."

China 'considering' building high-speed rail line from Beijing to the United States  

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The South China Morning Post has an article on a proposed Chinese high speed rail link across the Bering Strait to North America - China 'considering' building high-speed rail line from Beijing to the United States. I like high speed rail but I can't see this 2 day trip appealing to many travellers given the presumably exorbitant cost of such a project.

China is considering plans to build a high-speed railway line to the US, the country’s official media has reported.

The proposed line would begin in north-east China and run up through Siberia, pass through a tunnel underneath the Pacific Ocean then cut through Alaska and Canada to reach the continental US, according to a report in the state-run Beijing Times newspaper.

Crossing the Bering Strait in between Russia and Alaska would require about 200km (125 miles) of undersea tunnel, the paper said, citing Wang Mengshu, a railway expert at the Chinese Academy of Engineering. “Right now we’re already in discussions. Russia has already been thinking about this for many years,” Wang said.

The project - nicknamed the “China-Russia-Canada-America line” - would run for 13,000km, about 3,000km further than the Trans-Siberian Railway. The entire trip would take two days, with the train travelling at an average of 350kmh (220mph).

Hersh on Syria: The Red Line and the Rat Line  

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I haven't seen much from Seymour Hersh in recent years (most likely because I haven't been paying attention) but this recent article in the LRB about gas attacks in Syria was interesting - The Red Line and the Rat Line

In 2011 Barack Obama led an allied military intervention in Libya without consulting the US Congress. Last August, after the sarin attack on the Damascus suburb of Ghouta, he was ready to launch an allied air strike, this time to punish the Syrian government for allegedly crossing the ‘red line’ he had set in 2012 on the use of chemical weapons.​* Then with less than two days to go before the planned strike, he announced that he would seek congressional approval for the intervention. The strike was postponed as Congress prepared for hearings, and subsequently cancelled when Obama accepted Assad’s offer to relinquish his chemical arsenal in a deal brokered by Russia. Why did Obama delay and then relent on Syria when he was not shy about rushing into Libya? The answer lies in a clash between those in the administration who were committed to enforcing the red line, and military leaders who thought that going to war was both unjustified and potentially disastrous.

Obama’s change of mind had its origins at Porton Down, the defence laboratory in Wiltshire. British intelligence had obtained a sample of the sarin used in the 21 August attack and analysis demonstrated that the gas used didn’t match the batches known to exist in the Syrian army’s chemical weapons arsenal. The message that the case against Syria wouldn’t hold up was quickly relayed to the US joint chiefs of staff. The British report heightened doubts inside the Pentagon; the joint chiefs were already preparing to warn Obama that his plans for a far-reaching bomb and missile attack on Syria’s infrastructure could lead to a wider war in the Middle East. As a consequence the American officers delivered a last-minute caution to the president, which, in their view, eventually led to his cancelling the attack.

For months there had been acute concern among senior military leaders and the intelligence community about the role in the war of Syria’s neighbours, especially Turkey. Prime Minister Recep Erdo─čan was known to be supporting the al-Nusra Front, a jihadist faction among the rebel opposition, as well as other Islamist rebel groups. ‘We knew there were some in the Turkish government,’ a former senior US intelligence official, who has access to current intelligence, told me, ‘who believed they could get Assad’s nuts in a vice by dabbling with a sarin attack inside Syria – and forcing Obama to make good on his red line threat.’

Peak steel could leave Australian iron ore miners in the lurch  

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The ABC has an article pondering a peak in Chinese steel consumption and the impact on Australian iron ore miners - Peak steel could leave Australian iron ore miners in the lurch.

There's a disturbing new phrase being uttered by bears in the resources game - "peak steel". And it's a very different phenomenon to the "peak oil" theory, where supply dries up and energy prices soar.

Peak steel is all about too much supply, not enough demand and tumbling prices. While not conclusive proof, the recent fall in iron ore prices is showing there is a significant rebalancing of supply and demand going on. Since the start of the year spot prices are down more than 20 per cent. ...

In a recent report, the analyst team from brokers CLSA noted that "peak steel demand would be seen this decade rather than next." The CLSA research cited factors such as "the slowing pace of urbanisation and demographic trends which are going sharply into reverse."

Increasingly Chinese developers are reducing their land banks and building smaller apartments, with floor-space construction falling 27 per cent in the first three months this year. Overall, CLSA forecasts a 37 per cent decline in private property floor-space sales between 2013 and 2020.

CLSA says steel consumption in the property sector is likely to peak this year, and a similar scenario is developing in infrastructure. "We also forecast infrastructure steel consumption to peak this year, with steel demand from road and rail construction to decline," the analysts noted.

IEA says fossil fuels must be replaced by renewables  

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ReNew Economy has a look at this year's "Energy Technology Perspective" report from the IEA - IEA says fossil fuels must be replaced by renewables.

In its biannual Energy Technology Perspective report, the traditionally conservative IEA (of which Australia is a member) says the energy mix for the world’s electricity supply needs to be flipped within a few decades, from 68 per cent fossil fuels now to at least 65 per cent renewables by 2050.

And it argues that action is needed now,or it will get more costly. Already, the delays in action in the last few years has increased the bill to $44 trillion from $36 trillion. While that sounds like a big number, the IEA says it is a small percentage of globa GDP over the next three decades, and would be more than offset by $115 trillion in fuel savings.

RNE also has a companion piece on solar power - Baseload to be marginalised as solar takes pole position.

The International Energy Agency says solar energy – a combination of solar PV and concentrated solar thermal with storage – is likely to become the dominant source of energy across the world, accounting for more than 27 per cent of all electricity produced by 2050.

The IEA says its core scenarios for reaching climate targets by 2050 call for 68 per cent of generation to be sourced from renewable energy, but in the (increasingly likely) event that carbon capture and storage and nuclear cannot take up their imagined shares, then the IEA has painted a “high renewables” scenario where solar takes an even greater role. ...

Solar PV, for instance, is likely to expand way behind even the IEA’s most bullish scenarios, as a result of widespread deployment and continuing cost cuts. The IEA suggests that solar PV could account for 16 per cent of global generation by 2050, although this would require an average of more than 116GW of solar PV to be deployed over that time.

Its estimates, however, seem conservative given that most private forecasters suggest that the solar industry will reach 100GW installation a year anyway by 2017 or 2018, and capacity is likely to grow further beyond that. Its “vanilla” scenario for reaching its climate goals require just an average of 67GW of solar PV to be installed a year. The solar market is likely to reach that figure in 2015.

In any case, the IEA says that solar thermal with storage, the kind of facility that has been deployed in Spain, and is now being constructed in the US, and in South Africa and Chile, will also play a critical role, accounting for 11 per cent of global electricity supply in 2050 because of its ability to switch on production, and switch off, at any time of day.

How to grow fresh air  

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I noticed this TED talk recently on the benefits of freshening the air inside buildings in urban areas using plants - How to grow fresh air.

Researcher Kamal Meattle shows how an arrangement of three common houseplants, used in specific spots in a home or office building, can result in measurably cleaner indoor air.

Beyond Zero Emissions finds Australian high-speed rail service sensible and feasible  

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The Brisbane Courier Mail has a look at proposals for high speed rail in Australia - Beyond Zero Emissions finds high-speed rail service sensible and feasible.

IMAGINE boarding a train at Brisbane’s Roma Street at 9am and getting off at Sydney’s Central Station at noon.

Imagine living near the beach on the Gold Coast and commuting to work in Brisbane’s CBD within 20 minutes.

Both could be a reality in little more than a decade, according to a new report which says high speed rail is not only achievable and affordable, but essential to Australia’s future.

Detailed research by Melbourne University’s Energy Institute, think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions and the German Aerospace Center, concludes that a 1799km network linking Brisbane and the Gold Coast to Sydney and Melbourne could be operating by 2025. “This is a faster, better, cleaner cheaper and more convenient form of travel. It is vital to Australia’s future,” Beyond Zero Emissions CEO Stephen Bygrave said.

The report, which took two years to compile, says the total bill including infrastructure construction and rolling stock would be $84 billion – $30 billion less than the cost suggested by an advisory group set up by the Rudd Labor Government – due to plotting a route with fewer tunnels and bridges.

It predicts that 68 million passengers a year would be using the system within five years of the launch, generating $7 billion in revenue in 2030 and an annual operating profit of $4.6 billion.

Why Did China Set Up an Oil Rig Within Vietnamese Waters ?  

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The Diplomat has a look at a recent Chinese move into Vietnam's offshore territory in search of oil - Why Did China Set Up an Oil Rig Within Vietnamese Waters?.

The who, what, where, when and how of China’s HD-981 oil rig foray into Vietnamese waters have been addressed comprehensively, both by commentators here at The Diplomat and elsewhere. The enduring question, as with many of China’s provocative actions in the Asia-Pacific, remains why? The opacity of China’s internal decision-making processes makes it rather difficult to conclusively answer that question, but a good amount of evidence suggests that the oil rig crisis with Vietnam was manufactured to test the mettle of ASEAN states and the United States. It gives Beijing an opportunity to gauge the international response to China asserting its maritime territorial claims.

As Carl Thayer points out on this blog and M. Taylor Fravel said in an interview with The New York Times, the China National Offshore Oil Company’s decision to move oil rig HD-981 was a premeditated move of territorial assertion. CNOOC may be a state-owned enterprise but the decision to move this $1 billion asset into an area with questionable hydrocarbon reserves while also inciting a diplomatic crisis speaks to the planned, political nature of this move. The fact that approximately 80 PLAN and Chinese coast guard ships accompanied the rig reinforces the notion that China was making a strategic push to assert its territorial claims in the region.

The decision to move oil rig HD-981 into disputed waters matches China’s decision to impose an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea in terms of signaling China’s appetite to unilaterally pursue its maritime territorial claims. China has said that the oil rig will remain in these waters until August this year. What ultimately sets this episode apart from any other is that it is the first time China has placed an asset this expensive within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of another state. And Vietnam isn’t a pushover of a state either — it has a more-than-modest maritime capacity that could result in an armed altercation with China. Overall, in the past six months, we’ve seen China more assertive than ever in pursuing its claims and, for the moment, it is succeeding.

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