Archive for the 'coal' Category

West Virginia Creek Runs Black After Catastrophic Coal Slurry Spill

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“Waters are running black for roughly six miles in West Virginia’s Fields Creek after more than 100,000 gallons of toxic coal slurry poured into the waterway from a Patriot Coal processing facility Tuesday.

“This is a big deal, this is a significant slurry spill,” said Secretary Randy Huffman of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection at a news conference Tuesday evening. “When this much coal slurry goes into the stream, it wipes the stream out.”

The spill comes just one month after the Elk River disaster, when 10,000 gallons of coal cleaning detergent Crude MCHM leaked into the river, contaminating the water supply for millions of residents living in and around the capital, Charleston.

Emergency officials said Tuesday that a “smaller amount of the slurry” had already traveled from the creek to the Kanawha River near the town of Chesapeake, West Virginia. Chesapeake is situated roughly 13 miles south along the Kanawha River from Charleston.

“This has had significant, adverse environmental impact to Fields Creek and an unknown amount of impact to the Kanawha River,” Huffman said of Tuesday’s spill which occurred at Patriot Coal’s Kanawha Eagle operation.

The spill was reportedly caused by a malfunction of a valve inside the slurry line. And although the valve broke sometime between 2:30 and 5:30 Tuesday morning, Patriot Coal did not call the DEP to alert them of the leak until 7:40 Tuesday morning, the Charleston Gazette quoted Huffman as saying.

There are some conflicting reports as to whether the slurry contains Crude MCHM or another chemical, polyethylene glycol. Regardless, the Gazette reports, the slurry contains a variety of substances and heavy metals such as iron, manganese, aluminum, and selenium that “are likely more toxic” than either Crude MCHM or polyethylene glycol.”

Read more: Common Dreams


Huge Leak of Coal Ash Slows at North Carolina Power Plant

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“From 50,000 to 82,000 tons of coal-ash slurry flowed into the Dan after the collapse of a corrugated metal drainpipe only a few feet beneath a 27-acre pond, known as an impoundment. Duke Energy, the utility that owns the impoundment and the Dan River Steam Station in Eden, N.C., which closed in 2012, says that 27 million gallons of contaminated water also leaked into the river. Coal ash, a murky gray sludge that is the residue from burning powdered coal to generate electricity, contains high levels of toxic elements, including lead, mercury, selenium and arsenic.

The state said it began testing the Dan’s waters on Tuesday for the presence of 28 toxic metals. A spokesman for the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, Jamie Kritzer, said Thursday that the first results would be available by Friday.

The department said that five downstream communities that take drinking water from the river were monitoring and filtering the water and had deemed it safe.”

Read more: New York Times


Lack of trickle-down in West Virginia leaves poorest high and dry

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“The ongoing water crisis in West Virginia has revealed the economic inequality in the state, as the richest shrug off inconveniences brought on by the contamination while the poorest struggle to obtain one of life’s basic necessities.

In the South Hills section of Charleston, where some homes sell for a million dollars, residents report few problems finding or affording potable water.

“There’ve been no complaints, really. People just go pick it up,” said Steve Bias, 51, the owner of Colonial Exxon gas station. “If someone said they had trouble finding water, we’d help them.”

The neighborhood’s rolling hills are home to the city’s doctors, lawyers and a few coal industry executives, whose homes — including some sprawling mansions — overlook more modest areas in the Kanawah River Valley.

An hour south of Charleston, residents in the impoverished coal mining town of Nellis in Boone County describe a very different scene than that in South Hills.

Some people work for the mine, but many have been laid off. Others drive long distances to low-paying jobs in the service industry.”

Read more: Aljazeera America


Thousands Without Water After Spill in West Virginia

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“CHARLESTON, W.Va. — As 300,000 people awoke on Friday to learn that their tap water was unsafe for brushing teeth, brewing coffee or showering, residents and businesses expressed a mix of anger and anxiety in coping with an industrial accident with no clear end in sight.

Schools were closed, restaurants locked their doors and hotels refused reservations. Store shelves were quickly stripped of bottled water, and traffic snarled as drivers waited to fill jugs from tankers delivered by the National Guard.

“It’s worrying me so much I’m having chest pains,” said Cookie Lilly, 71, who waited with her husband to get a ration of four gallons of water at the South Charleston Community Center.

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, who ordered the ban on drinking, bathing and cooking with tap water in Charleston, the state capital, and nine surrounding counties, called on people not to panic.

“Help is on the way,” he said in a statement. “There is no shortage of bottled water. Supplies are moving into the area as we speak.”

Asked at a news conference about his “personal hygiene,” the governor sought a touch of levity. “It would be great to hop in a hot shower, but we’ll get through it,” he said. “We’re tough West Virginians.”

Mayor Danny Jones of Charleston said the do-not-drink order was strangling businesses. “You can’t imagine what it’s like to function like this, or not function like this,” he said, speaking as he drove home on Friday evening in uncommonly light traffic and passed a mall he said was nearly deserted.

The mayor and everyone else said their greatest worry was that no one in authority would say how long it would be before the water supply was potable again.

Officials said that up to 5,000 gallons of an industrial chemical used in coal processing seeped from a ruptured storage tank into the Elk River, just upstream of the intake pipes for the regional water company.

Authorities struggled to determine how much danger the little-known chemical, MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, posed.”

Read more: New York Times

Fossil Fuel Divestment in the UK & Sustainability Through Finance

Retrieved from People and Planet


Fossil Fuel Divestment in the UK & Sustainability Through Finance

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is now a 1st year PhD student at the University of Manchester  after studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter in Cornwall.  He’s now trapped in the Nexus, researching the transition to sustainability of the global water-energy system.

Divestment’s come to Britain, in a big way. On the back of rising success stateside and a growing global influence, the fossil fuel divestment campaign’s finally taking hold in the UK with progress already gained at the University of Surrey. I’m chuffed really, so pleased to be able to check in periodically on the whole movement and see it constantly progress and expand. This is brilliant news, emblematic of the curious characteristics of this approach. We’re talking about a very strategic tactic here.

They are the boycott-direct-action of our modern globalised capitalism. Divestment doesn’t seek to radically transform the financial system to achieve its ends, rather it bends to fit the prevailing structure. In doing so these structures can erode, creating  crisis and opportunity for change. As Tutu frames it in the piece, you fight your moral cause by bleeding away profits. Though the current global economic system is a significant part of the problem, by targeting financial instruments you might hit where it hurts most. Take away steady sources of capital like pension funds or university endowments and financing that next big oil exploration project or new coal mine becomes all the more difficult. Pragmatic activism, who would have guessed?

Not to mention how much this all lends itself to the environmental economics approach, simply internalising more accurately the full costs and risks of energy production. That a coalition of 70 investors (worth $3 trillion) is calling on the global heavy hitters in energy to reassess their business plan financial risks in light of climate change and the current anaemic action is another vital step, and an encouraging sign of what else may soon be possible. In moving investment funds away from fossil energy we’re opening up new capital flows to be tapped by the truly transformational projects out there. There is no guarantee that more accurately accounting for carbon risk and moving out of fossil fuel portfolios will directly lead to more investment in low carbon energy solutions, or technologies to consumer our natural resources (such as water) more efficiently. Indirectly however you can bet there will be some such effects if for no other reason than the weakened business case for less sustainable competitors. Reforming the financial system has a role to play in driving forward the transition to sustainability of the energy-water nexus.

I’ve done a bit of work in energy economics and finance and the political economics of sustainability but having joined Manchester Business School I now have access to some of the world’s leading practitioners and thinkers on innovation and sustainability in business & finance. There’s a lot more to say about this and with at least three years left to sponge off of my peers’ collective genius I guarantee you will see this again soon. That is, of using the contemporary political economic structures as they are now to foster fundamental change towards sustainability, and for that matter more effective management of the Water-Energy Nexus itself.

Here’s to People & Planet’s Fossil Free UK campaign and a lot more like it! And to the victories ahead, many as they will be.

~Miles On Water


China Coal-Fired Economy Dying of Thirst as Mines Lack Water

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“At first glance, Daliuta in northern China appears to have a river running through it. A closer look reveals the stretch of water in the center is a pond, dammed at both ends. Beyond the barriers, the Wulanmulun’s bed is dry.

Daliuta in Shaanxi province sits on top of the world’s biggest underground coal mine, which requires millions of liters of water a day for extracting, washing and processing the fuel. The town is the epicenter of a looming collision between China’s increasingly scarce supplies of water and its plan to power economic growth with coal.

“Water shortages will severely limit thermal power capacity additions,” said Charles Yonts, head of sustainable research at brokerage CLSA Asia-Pacific Markets in Hong Kong. “You can’t reconcile targets for coal production in, say, Shanxi province and Inner Mongolia with their water targets.”

Coal industries and power stations use as much as 17 percent of China’s water, and almost all of the collieries are in the vast energy basin in the north that is also one of the country’s driest regions. By 2020 the government plans to boost coal-fired power by twice the total generating capacity of India.”

Read more: Bloomberg



Activism and the Nexus: Shaping Policy

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Activism & the Nexus: Shaping Policy

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

Activism is a force to be reckoned with. This simple truth is one easy to forget in the grim utilitarian realm of policy analysis. It’s a factor that depending upon your given governance structure is easy to shove off to the side as secondary. When the problems seem so big, when you’re working at a global system change the contributions of active engaged individuals can seem so small to be insignificant.

You might find yourself starting to ask brutal questions. What voice does the little guy have when the big players have such loud lobbyists? Given their diffuse and often ephemeral nature what influence can grassroots movements really have on decision makers?-So easy to do, and so damning.

Lucky for me I’ve got you folks in the Peak Water network and friends around the world constantly reminding me of this. People power can wield enormous influence, regardless of the particular creed it amplifies. In the pursuit of a truly sustainable global energy-water- climate system transition it’s these movements that give moral purpose and a groundswell of democratic legitimacy. They animate  people, engaging them in the complexities of the problem while helping them grow into change agents.

Right now across the United States there is a movement to divest public institutions from fossil fuels. In this column I’m going to highlight the efforts of the folks in the University of California pushing for such change.

As of 20 February 2013 the University of California, San Diego student government joined their fellows at the Berkeley and Santa Barbara campuses in passing a resolution to fully divest its portfolio from fossil fuel funds. Equal parts inspired by the call to action and the success of the anti-Apartheid divestments of the 80s and 90s the movement is as much about a moral revolution as climate change mitigation. The college campaign in California has largely been coordinated by the California Student Sustainability Coalition (CSSC) which coordinates environmental actions by students across the state.

At Berkeley the charge is being led by senior Katie Hoffman, her tireless efforts leading the team at Cal through their unsuccessful campaign in 2011 to divest the UC from coal companies all the way through to the current momentum of the day. That is, of UC Berkeley’s student government setting a vital new precedent by voting to divest. Katie is an old friend; we first met as transfer students to the Society & Environment B.S. programme at UC Berkeley a few years back.

I’ve watched her work, witnessed her passion and drive first hand. I have seen what she and all the other activists in the CSSC have accomplished.  I can see what they’re capable of. Expect more big things to come! To have been there at the start and to be here now is an incredible privelege, even from across the Atlantic. Katie and all the other folks on the ground across California and the whole United States pushing forward with divestment are a true and continued inspiration.

Some would scoff at the arrogant naivety of students, denying them even the pleasure of small victories. Such folks need only look at the million dollar funds at the disposal of UC student governments to see how wrong they are. This is a targeted movement, with specific and modular goals. Across the country they’re succeeding and their campaigns are growing.

All of this has profound implications for not only how we concieve of each and every sutainability nexus but the pathways we choose to realize them.  To bear witness to, even join, movements such as these opens your eyes to the possibility of a democratised and decentralised (both of technologies and governance) transition. That is, of a radical departure from the status quo and viable in a multitude of different manifestations. Yes, activism is but one complex piece but  what a vital part yet!  

The choice we face is not simply between different technical and economic structures, so too is it a resolution on how we are to conduct ourselves-a new order to things. It’s about governance, and strategic decision making. Grassroots organizing, direct action, advocacy and all the other forms must orient towards this truth. From the ground up and back down again how we choose must be reshaped. In radical, chaotic little steps we may yet solve the riddle of the sustainability nexus.

Activism is about policy, an imperfect and fragile evolution.

~ Miles on Water

Domesticating the Nu? China’s New Leaders Face Big Hydro’s Policy Hazards

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Domesticating the Nu? China’s New Leaders Face Big Hydro’s Policy Hazards

by Miles Ten Brinke

Miles, Peak Water columnist and avowed Hydrophilic energy-head, has found his way to Britain where he’s lost his California perma-tan and is studying an Energy Policy MSc at the University of Exeter on a Fulbright.

In this post I’ll revisit a fascinating subject already covered by Peak Water- the Chinese State Council decision to reopen hydroelectric dam development on the Nu river. As will likely often be the case, the coverage I’ve followed most closely on the subject is the Environment coverage of the Guardian and Peak Water’s news aggregation-perfect time for a Lily Victoria shout-out, fantastic work!

This is a particularly exemplary case of the essential tension of policymaking- here, between hydroelectric dam building-as-development and mitigation strategy on the one hand and the potentially devastating socioenvironmental impacts of such massive engineering projects on the other. Government environmental authorities here make the argument that new hydro development across China can help to offset the countries increasing reliance not just on a high proportion of coal in its energy mix but as the fastest growing component and to secure its supply of energy with domestic sources. It is true that this will be one of the greatest challenges in energy, that is the decarbonization of China, in the coming decades. As the economy continues to develop and its middle class grows, so too may demand rise exponentially. Efficiency and overall demand side management in China’s going to be essential, its not inevitable. From the sometimes crude calculation standpoint of policy, this dam building is only justified if the benefits outweigh the damage done. There is an increasing body of evidence that the 2008 Szechwan earthquake which killed 80,000 people may have been caused by the weight of water in the Zipingpu Dam reservoir. A coalition of actors has ensured since 2005 that the efforts have been forestalled. These included the scientists concerned with the southwest’s frequent seismic activity and NGOs dedicated to preserving the river’s biodiversity and indigenous cultures. In fact, that year, Premier Wen Jiabao joined these efforts as he imposed a moratorium on dam building citing geological and ecological concerns. Environmental policy saw its stock rise during the tenure of the last leadership, a greater priority for the public and in a more limited fashion the government. Since the leadership change however, it seems this coalition may be overtaken by a more traditional approach with devastating socioenvironmental costs increasingly ignored or obfuscated.

The 2011-2015 energy sector blueprint calls for 60 new hydro projects. In energy policy analysis we often talk about the degree of centralization of both an energy technology system and the policies which underpin it. Though there are examples to the contrary, hydro-electric dams tend towards titanic civil engineering feats of power and water resource concentration. They lend themselves to a technocratic (as opposed to more open, democratic alternatives) approach to resource management, one historically utilized by policymakers the world over. This is especially so in a state bureaucracy empowered by one-party rule. A return to a stronger technocracy and big hydro seems increasingly likely.

Time will tell the veracity of this assessment.

~ Miles on Water



Chinese Mayor Apologizes for Drinking Water Contamination

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“The mayor of the Chinese city of Changzhi apologized for a delay in reporting a poisonous leak from a chemical plant that caused the cutoff of water to 1 million people, the state Xinhua News Agency said.

The environmental authority in China’s northern Shanxi province didn’t receive a report about the pollution from the city until five days after the Dec. 31 incident when it should have been reported within two hours, the official news agency said, citing a news conference with the mayor.

About 9 metric tons of aniline, a colorless and poisonous liquid chemical, spilled from a plant owned by Shanxi Tianji Coal Chemical Industry Group, which also makes fertilizer, disrupting the drinking water supply in Handan city downstream in Hebei province, according to Xinhua. The leak was due to a loose drainage valve, Xinhua said.

Thirty more tons of aniline, which can be used to make pesticides, have been found in a nearby disused reservoir, it said, citing a local emergency response agency. The local environmental bureau is cleaning up the contamination in its reservoir, where water won’t be used until tests prove it safe.”

Read more: Bloomberg


Asia Risks Water Scarcity Amid Coal-Fired Power Embrace

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“Inner Mongolia’s rivers are feeding China’s coal industry, turning grasslands into desert. In India, thousands of farmers have protested diverting water to coal- fired power plants, some committing suicide.

The struggle to control the world’s water is intensifying around energy supply. China and India alone plan to build $720 billion of coal-burning plants in two decades, more than twice today’s total power capacity in the U.S., International Energy Agency data show. Water will be boiled away in the new steam turbines to make electricity and flush coal residue at utilities from China Shenhua Energy Co. (1088) to India’s Tata Power Co. (TPWR) that are favoring coal over nuclear because it’s cheaper.

With China set to vaporize water equal to what flows over Niagara Falls each year, and India’s industrial water demand growing at twice the pace of agricultural or municipal use,Asia’s most populous nations will have to reconsider energy projects to avoid conflict between cities, farmers and industry.”

Read more: Bloomberg