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So long: Prisitine wildlife habitat may soon be opened up to commerical oil & gas drilling in the US after the Endangered Species Act was watered down | Photo: Pew Charitable Trust

US, Niger weaken endangered species protection for fossil fuel exploration

The Trump Administration has weakened the US’ Endangered Species Act to make it easier to lower protection for threatened species, and open up their pristine habitats for “economic assessments” — which implies licences for oil and gas exploration. The administration had previously opened the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil & gas drilling despite vehement protests by locals and environmentalists, and more such protected regions could now be brought under commercial fossil fuel exploration.

Similarly, Niger in Africa has downgraded protection for certain sections of the 100,000 sq. km Termit and Tin-Toumma nature reserve — one of the last known habitats for the critically endangered Addax (white antelope). The sections were awarded as oil blocks to China National Petroleum Corporation (CNPC), and the decision was based on the premise that the sections encroached upon the oil blocks, instead of the other way around.

Shale gas behind global methane spike, says study

A Cornell University study has found that the methane spike in the atmosphere over the past decade can be attributed to shale gas produced through ‘fracking’, rather than the usual fossil fuel suspects such as conventionally produced natural gas.  

While previous studies have glossed over the methane emissions from shale gas production, this study found that “unlike the 20th century, when the rise in atmospheric methane was accompanied by an enrichment in the heavier carbon stable isotope (Carbon-13) of methane”, the greenhouse gas in recent years has depleted levels of this isotope. According to the study, this points to a biogenic source for the increased methane. This ties in with the scientific fact that Carbon-13 levels in shale gas is somewhat depleted compared to conventional natural gas. Hence, the study’s conclusion.

It also says that about two-thirds of all new gas production over the last decade has been shale gas produced in Canada and the US.

Canada: Insurers urged to drop cover for Trans Mountain pipeline

Thirty-two indigenous and environmental groups have urged top insurers like Zurich, Munich Re and Talanx to cancel insurance for Canada’s Trans Mountain (Kinder Morgan) pipeline before August 31. The move is aimed at putting pressure on Canada into reducing its use of fossil fuels like crude oil, which is a major source of revenue, and the imports of which alone have topped $34 billion a year

If the insurers agree to drop coverage, the government would have to part with a hefty $1.1 billion of tax-payers’ money on self-insuring the project, which is likely to be opposed. The Zurich group, however, has pledged its support to the pipeline. 

10.6 GW of coal plants face the axe in the US

Facing acute market competition, up to 10.6 GW of coal plants in the US may be retired or converted to gas this year. The year 2018 saw 13 GW worth of plants shut down, with the increasing share of cheap shale gas obtained through fracking as one of the factors driving shutdowns.