Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The battle in the British Isles against offshore drilling

Here's a question: in which country do you imagine that a police officer might say to a protestor who is trying to prevent an offshore gas/oil drilling exploration, “I have your last breath in my hands”?

Well, allegedly, it isn't the Gulf of Mexico but a good deal closer.

On the night of 14 July, a number of campaigners entered the water in Broadhaven Bay, County Mayo, on Ireland's north west coast, in kayaks and rafts in a peaceful attempt to prevent Shell from bringing in a borehole drilling platform.

They were met by five Garda water unit boats, with approximately 16 Gardaí on board.
Campaigners attempted to approach the platform but were prevented from
doing so by Gardaí who overturned their kayaks.

One managed to get close to the platform. When Gardaí overturned the kayak belonging to one of the campaigners, Eoin Lawless, he swam under the platform. A Garda then jumped into the water after him, and proceeded to drag him from the water into the nearby Garda boat.

Mr. Lawless rlates what happened next: “I said I would leave the area but they knelt on my back. One Garda then pinched my throat with his two fingers and cut off my air supply. He held me like that for about 90 seconds, allowing me to take one or two gasps. He kept saying into my ear that he had my last breath in his hands.

"It was terrifying. I truly believed he might kill me."

Mr. Lawless received medical attention at Belmullet Garda station and afterwards called for human rights observers to come back down to Mayo as a matter of urgency.

Such observers have been there before, because this is not the first time such a incident, or worse, has happened, in this long-running dispute that has been barely reported in the UK.

An independent report by Front Line, The International Foundation for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, concluded this year that Irish Government-sponsored incidents against these protestors, who are mostly local fishermen and crofters worried about the impact of the development on their livelihood in this environmentally-sensitive area, warranted defence under human rights legislation.

Off-shore discovery
The bakground to this story is that gas was found off North Mayo in 1996 by Enterprise Oil. A consortium of oil companies was established to develop the gas field, called Enterprise Energy Ireland EEI.

Shell later took over the exploration and now plans a pipeline coming onshore at Glengad, then crossing under Sruwaddacon Bay to Rossport and journeying nine kilometres overland to a refinery at Bellanaboy.

The development is controversial for a number of reasons. The planned pipeline is a high pressure one. It also carries raw gas, which is more volatile. Some residents argue that it goes too near to their houses – and fear the effects of an explosion. The refinery is located in – and the pipeline passes through – ecologically sensitive areas.

Shell to Sea, the group representing locals opposed to the project, has another concern – that the terms upon which the State has granted rights to oil companies were too generous (see below).

Shell to Sea wants the gas refined at sea on a shallow water platform.

In 2008, a previous group of protestors, Pobal Chill Chomáin, claiming to represent most locals opposed to the development, proposed building the refinery elsewhere – such as at Glinsk, a remote area in Mayo – with the pipeline coming onshore by a different route.

Shell has rejected this proposal. The refinery at Bellanaboy has now been substantially built. In order to pass over the lands at Rossport, either the consent of landowners had to be sought or compulsory purchase orders had to be made.

Most landowners consented but six did not. In 2004 planning permission was granted by an Bord Pleanála for the refinery at the Bellanaboy site, but the decision was a controversial one. Previously, a planning inspector had advised that the proposed development defied “any rational understanding of the term ‘sustainability’”.

Some Rossport residents defied a court order by preventing Shell agents entering lands over which the planned pipeline was to run. As a result, they were imprisoned for 94 days. The men concerned became known as the Rossport 5. They were released on 30 September 2005. Their campaign against Shell’s plans had now become an international news story.

The Irish government commissioned a review of safety issues - but the consultancy commissioned to carry out the review, British Pipeline Agency (BPA), was 50% owned by Shell. BPA kept quiet about this, even though they knew that the Minister wanted the review to be independent. The Minister did not find out until after the report was published. This did not endear him to objectors or solve the stand-off, which has continued to date.

Shell went ahead with some works at Bellanaboy without authorisation. A new report was commissioned that expressed concern that the maximum pressure for the onshore pipeline be more than halved from 345 bar to 144 bar. Shell accepted this but protestors were not satisfied with the report because it didn't consider whether processing should be offshore or alternative routes for the pipeline or an alternative site for the refinery.

There have been many other objections. For example, levels of aluminium in discharge water from the Bellanaboy plant regularly exceeding those permitted by very large margins; a slip road being built without planning permission at Glengad; unauthorised drilling carried out by Shell consultants in a Special Area of Conservation.

The Bolivian connection
More significantly, the security firm hired by Shell, IRMS, was accused of being heavy-handed. It has come under scrutiny because some of its employees have been involved in activities on behalf of gas and oil interests in Bolivia which led to one of them, Michael Dwyer from Tipperary, being shot by the Bolivian government for involvement in a plot to destabilise the government of President Evo Morales.

This is where the plot gets even murkier.

Bolivia is the key player in the struggle by developing countries to secure justice in the international climate negotiations. Three months ago it hosted the World People´s Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth carried out in Cochabamba.

Oil companies are prominent amongst those lobbying against action to counter climate change. Removing the Bolivian government would clearly be in their interests.

Links to oil and gas companies are indeed mentioned in a Prime Time investigation into the death of Dwyer, and the involvement of colleagues he met through his work with IRMS at Rossport, by reports Paul Murphy and Oonagh Smyth for the tv company RTE, broadcast on 3 December 2009.

They uncovered that the right wing Hungarian terrorist who recruited Dwyer and wanted to overturn the La Paz government was financed to the tune of millions of dollars, way beyond the capacity of local business interests to raise alone, and trace it back to oil and gas companies.

The Frontline report notes that one of the security guards had posted "inappropriate material regarding operations on Glengad" on a website he ran. He also headed a far right group, the Szeckler legion.

IRMS itself was not involved with the Bolivian group. But it has been involved in a string of violent incidents against protestors, along with the Gardai. Fisherman Pat O’Donnell for example claims that his boat was sunk by masked men on 11 June 2009.

He and others have been in Castlerea prison for much of this year for refusing to stop fishing in the vicinity of the proposed tunnel. He was released after 158 days on 17 July.

Another boat has been confiscated by the Gardai.

And on 22/23 April 2009 one Willie Corduff was allegedly assaulted by Gardaí and IRMS staff. Mr Corduff had been staging a sit in under a truck.

IRMS and Gardai boats have also on at least one occasion rammed the boats of protestors.

Last week, on the same night that Eoin Lawless was struggling to breathe at the hands of a policeman, a film about O'Donnell and the campaign, ‘The Pipe’ won best documentary at the Galway Film Fleadh.

The protest continues

The protest continues, led by a body called Shell to Sea, which claims it is a national campaign with active groups based across Ireland. It has three main aims:

• to have the Corrib gas field exploited in a safe way that will not expose the local community in Erris to unnecessary health, safety and environmental risks;
• to renegotiate the terms of the Great Oil and Gas Giveaway, which "sees
Ireland’s 10 billion barrels of oil equivalent off the West Coast go directly to the oil companies, with the Irish State retaining a 0% share, no energy security of supply and only 25% tax on profits against which all costs can be deducted";
• finally, to seek justice for the human rights abuses suffered by Shell to Sea campaigners.

Shell plans to drill up to 80 boreholes to survey the Sruth Fhada Chonn estuary to determine the course of a tunnel under the estuary linking up the offshore pipeline with the proposed inland refinery. The new route is still within 250m of several houses and the local community remains opposed to the plans.

The estuary is a Specially Protected Area & part of the Broadhaven Bay Special Area of Conservation. Protestors claim that the operation will damage parts of the estuary & disturb the wildlife there, particularly Atlantic salmon, otters & birds found on the intertidal areas.

Shell to Sea say their aim is to try to stop Shell from drilling the boreholes over the next few months through a campaign of peaceful protest.

In the planetwide shadow cast by BP's offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, these protestors' battle with the authorities has a significance way beyond the normally quiet Western Isles.

> www.shelltosea.com/content/environment

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Sustainable Home Refurbishment

Sustainable Home Refurbishment: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Retrofitting Homes for Efficiency by David ThorpeMy new book, Sustainable Home Refurbishment: The Earthscan Expert Guide to Retrofitting Homes for Efficiency, is out now, published by Earthscan.

Praise for this title:

"This is an excellent book - comprehensively-researched, powerfully-presented and crystal clear. It should be the first stop for anyone seeking objective advice in a field cluttered with misleading claims. I couldn't recommend it more strongly." - George Monbiot

"As the idea of radical retrofit of our existing housing stock gradually moves from geek-dom to chic-dom, this book is a must have for all involved in this burgeoning industry. This book is both for the capable amateur and the professionally engaged.

"There is all the detail you could wish for with a vast array of practical examples and materials. This is not a book for the total novice but is a life saver for anyone on the road to radical retrofit.

"We can't recommend it highly enough. David has managed to make the book a good and interesting ready whilst managing to get all the necessary hard-core energy information in there as well." - Penney Poyzer (tv presenter, writer, Queen of Green, grass roots activist) and Gil Schalom (architect) .

Order it using the link above.

A retro-fit offers many benefits: cutting electricity and heating bills, increasing the resale value of homes, slashing carbon emissions and creating a healthier place to live. This book is the guide to making it happen.

It looks at:
  • draught-proofing, insulation and damp
  • ventilation, heating and cooling
  • electrical efficiency and renewable energy
  • water use and re-use
  • materials' life cycles and incorporating nature
  • protection from climate change impacts
  • modelling energy flows and embodied energy
  • how we can meet the need to cut carbon emissions from dwellings by 80% by 2050.
Projects can apply to apartment blocks, recent builds and older, solid-walled properties.

Enlivened with helpful diagrams and photographs, plus plenty of pointers for further information, it provides a comprehensive resource handbook for any building professional and contractor, students - or any homeowner serious about efficiency (cash and carbon) savings.



1. Airtightness: Reducing Energy Demand for Heating and Cooling

2. Insulation Materials

3. Insulation Strategies

4. Going All The Way - Towards Passivhaus

5. Windows and Doors

6. Ventilation, Cooling and Heating

7. Water Management

8. Electricity Efficiency and Supply

9. Contextual Issues

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

‘Climategate’ review clears scientists and replicates their results

The long-awaited third review of the co-called 'Climategate' affair chaired by Sir Muir Russell has cleared the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UEA) of any wrong-doing.

The scientists at the heart of the matter, particularly Professor Phil Jones, have been cleared of any attempt to mislead or manipulate data or display bias. The report concludes, "we find that their rigour and honesty as scientists are not in doubt."

The review team also tried to replicate the CRU's results using publicly available data which critics had said was not possible. This confirmed the conclusions of the IPCC and CRU that average global temperatures are increasing.

In November 2009, approximately 1000 e-mails from the Climatic Research Unit
(CRU) of the University of East Anglia (UEA) were hacked into by climate sceptics and published on blogs.

CRU is a small research unit which over the last 30 years has played an important role in the development of climate science, in particular in their work on developing global temperature trends.

The leak happened in the run-up to the Copenhagen climate talks last November and were partly responsible for a rise in perceived scepticism of the reality of global warming. The results of those climate talks are widely held to have been disappointing.

It's therefore vitally important that the science behind the IPCC's verdicts on climate change is held up to rigorous scrutiny and perceived to be robust.

But scientists have been their own enemy too often in this respect. So besides urging the to be more open, the Review urges them to learn to communicate and defend themselves better.

The 'blogosphere' has been the principle arena for attacking their work. The
Review team therefore "simply urges all scientists to learn to communicate their work in ways that the public can access and understand."

But also "scientists should be supported to explain their position, and ... a public space can be created where these debates can be conducted on appropriate terms, where what is and is not uncertain can be recognised".

The Russell Report's conclusions

In a nutshell, the report says:

• there's no evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments
• CRU was not in a position to withhold access to land station temperature data or tamper with it
• no evidence of bias in the selection of stations for evidence
• no evidence to support that implication that CRU s work in this area shouldn't be trusted
• there was no subversion of the peer process
• the phenomenon of “divergence” in expressing the uncertainty associated
with reconstruction is not hidden and that the subject is openly and extensively discussed in the literature, including CRU papers
• the way that data derived from tree rings is described and presented in Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 is not misleading
• the references in a specific e-mail to a "trick" and to "hide the decline" in respect of a 1999 World Meteorological Organization (WMO) report figure show evidence of intent to paint a misleading picture, we find that, given its subsequent iconic significance (not least the use of a similar figure in the IPCC Third Assessment Report), the figure supplied for the WMO Report was misleading.

However on the negative side:
• CRU should have made available an unambiguous list of the stations used in each of the versions of the Climatic Research Unit Land Temperature Record
• CRU’s responses to reasonable requests for information were unhelpful and defensive
• Ruusell urges CRU to follow "the conventional scientific method of checking and seeking to falsify conclusions or offering alternative hypotheses for peer review and publication".

The question of replication
A chief criticism of CRU was that it did not make available the raw data collected from the weather-monitoring land stations, which it used to produce its report. Nor did it make available the computer code used to crunch these numbers.

To test this, the Review team tried to replicate the process adopted by CRU themselves.

They found three sources of data that are publicly available and would be known to scientists working in the field. They were able, using a competent programmer, to write their own code in just two days to process this data.

They then ran the data through the process and compared it to the results obtained by CRU and to the results published in the IPCC’s 4th report.

What is significant is that all four lines - shown below - more or less tally.
Global warming temperature rise graph by the Russell Review
Global warming temperature rise graph in the IPCC 4th report

In other words, the data is publicly available, easily processed, and produces graphs showing temperature increases that corroborate each other.

They note that it doesn't even matter that some of the land stations are urban and may be influenced by the 'heat island' effect – another criticism of CRU by sceptics like Benny Peizer. The overall trend of temperature change is still upwards, rising with the same degree of statistical variation.

The need for openness

However the Review does say that CRU should have been more open - a view expressed also by the House of Commons science and technology select committee in their report on 31 March. That report concluded that "Professor Jones has in many ways been scapegoated as a result of what really was a frustration on his part that people were asking for information purely to undermine his research."

But the Russell Review says "Without such openness, the credibility of their
work will suffer because it will always be at risk of allegations of concealment
and hence mal-practice."

Frustrating as it is, it is part of his job to deal with such enquiries, or at least that of the UEA who should have responded to the freedom of information requests, not CRU, as the Select Committee observed.

Lord Oxburgh's subsequent "international panel" review examined "the integrity" of CRU's research and that also cleared the unit.

"We saw no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice in any of the work of the CRU and had it been there we believe that it is likely that we would have detected it," the review concluded. "Rather we found a small group of dedicated if slightly disorganised researchers who were ill-prepared for being the focus of public attention. As with many small research groups, their internal procedures were rather informal."

Given the global importance of this work it’s clear that groups such as this must be better resourced and supported to carry it out thoroughly.