Thursday, December 20, 2007

Double threat of Cyanide Leach Mining and Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) imperils the Futaleufu River Valley - Kinross Gold & Geocom Resources responsible

Mine Tailings, Sudbury Ontario, Edward Burtnyski
Fool's Gold?

One of the world’s greatest adventure tourism destinations is being threatened by the plans of Kinross Gold Corporation, of Canada and Geocom Resources Inc. of the United States. These junior level mining concerns are intent on establishing a gold mine along the Rio Espolon, a major tributary of the Futaleufu River. Discovery work was conducted within the claim in 2006 resulting in the release of assay results in April, 2007. Along with substantially high gold deposits, some as concentrated as 20.9 grams per tonne, the assay also returned reports of a “massive” sulfide layer nearly three meters thick within the ore body. These sulfide layers are notorious for producing Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) – sulfuric acid - a potent environmental poison which is discharged from mine tailings. Furthermore, such toxic drainage can go on for centuries, long after a mine has shuttered its operation. Rather than declare the area unfit for a safe mining enterprise, Kinross Gold Corporation and Geocom Resources Inc. have instead elevated the Espolon Claim to a formal venture status thus instigating a confrontation with determined and established environmental organizations(1) and adventure travel outfitters for the future of the region, as outlined below.

Geographic proximity to communities, national parks and adventure tourist destinations

The location of the future mine is an odd choice, as if the company executives were unaware of the community they planned to operate in, which in the past has been typical of many North American based mining operations. Canadian mining companies, with a wink and a nod from the Canadian Government, (2) have often shoved aside indigenous people around the world (3); the evicted and displaced populations of Guatemala being a perfect recent example (4). What these companies are allowed to do internationally they are prohibited by law from doing in their own country (5) leading the CEO of a prominent Canadian mining corporation to proclaim, "Chile is the best mining jurisdiction in the world... Canada is not a jurisdiction where I would like to develop a mine." (6) Where it is unthinkable that Canadians would be exposed to the toxins generated by these mines, Canadian mining interests like the ones proposing this project in the Futaleufu River Valley have little concern about exposing poorly represented and uninformed indigenous people to the health and environmental threats of heavy metals, sulfuric acid (battery acid), and cyanide. (7)

As for the geographic neighborhood of the mine, on the western border of the Kinross-Geocom claim lies Pumalin National Park (8), Chile’s largest and newest nature sanctuary, founded by American entrepreneur and passionate conservationist Douglas Tompkins(9). Tompkins, who made his fortune founding the Esprit and North Face apparel companies before discovering the Shangri-La of Patagonia, is vehemently opposed to the gold mine as well as the road that must be built through Pumalin Park to sustain it. (10) An "industrial thoroughfare" through and bordering the park he founded is not something he envisioned.

To the east of the mining claim lies the famously anti-mining province of Chubut, Argentina (11) whose populace recently voted down(12) a proposed gold mine, by Meridian Gold Corporation, another North American concern. The mine was to be situated seven kilometers from the city of Esquel, Argentina, which sits some 50 kilometers from the present Kinross-Geocom claim in the Futaleufu River Valley. Instead of working with the citizens of Esquel, to address points of weakness in the company's environmental impact statement (EIS), Meridian Gold instead chose to pursue their case all the way to the Argentine Supreme Court where they were summarily rebuffed. (13) It probably came as some surprise to the Meridian Gold executives, who are used to having their say in nations in which they are ostensibly guests, that the Argentine government works independently of the international extraction industry. (14 , 15) Had the same environmental challenge been raised in Chile, its authors would have been, at minimum, monitored by the Chilean National Intelligence Agency (16 , 17 , 18) before the challenge was inevitably papered-over under the pretense that Chile is not ready for the full environmental privileges, protections and regulations of a first world country(19), being only one of three countries in the Western Hemisphere without an Environmental Protection Agency. (Peru and Panama are the other two, for those keeping track.) It is sad to say that it appears the Chilean national government believes that quality of life improvements for its citizens can only be made manifest through environmental degradation, not preservation. (20)

To compound matters on the Argentine side of the claim, the Kinross-Geocom mine, once built, will abut one of Argentina’s preeminent nature reserves, Los Alerces National Park. (20) The park is world famous for harboring rare populations of ancient Alerce Trees, some over three thousand years old. The blasting in the mine, which will send heavy metals aloft, will unfavorably effect the air quality, water quality and health of Los Alerces.(22) In addition, the drainage of the Futaleufu River, one of the greatest sport fisheries in Patagonia runs directly through or is directly adjacent to the mine. Exposure to even the most diminutive amounts of cyanide, heavy metals or sulfuric acid will irreparably spoil this international angling treasure. (23.)

Finally, to the south of the mining claim lies the spectacular and awe-inspiring Futaleufu River Valley, world renowned for international adventure travel and worldclass whitewater rafting and kayaking. The Futaleufu region is fast becoming one of Patagonia, Chile’s greatest tourist destinations, gaining the same fame and stature as Torres del Paine National Park and Argentina’s Cerro FitzRoy, in recent Chilean (24) and international (25) media coverage. The Futaleufu River Valley is also a favorite vacation destination of a wide array of Hollywood celebrities and European and North American business magnates, some of whom have bought property in the valley that will be rendered worthless when the Kinross-Geocom mine begins operation. A recent well publicized outfitter's trip included:

"John McEnroe and his wife, rock singer Patty Smyth; comedian-writer Dan Aykroyd and his wife, actress Donna Dixon; and Seinfeld star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her husband, Saturday Night Live comic; Brad Hall, all with children in tow." (25)

The above mentioned trip also happened to include Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Chilean Senator, Antonio Horvath. According to the outfitters, who run adventure trips on the river, there are many other celebrities who vacation in the Futaleufu Valley, incognito, that will gladly volunteer to shed their anonymity to help publicize the plight of the Futaleufu - virtually ensuring that the fight over this river will become long and protracted.

Incongruously, this world-renowned adventure Mecca lies only a few kilometers downstream from the ill-considered Kinross-Geocom mining claim and it will bear the full brunt of the cyanide, heavy metals and acid runoff the mine is sure send down the drainage, (26) rendering the river lifeless and useless (27) to anything but the generation of hydropower – which will likely be this project's aftermath? (28)

Sulfide Contamination throughout the Strike Zone

If geographic location were not inauspicious enough for this proposal, what lies between the ore bearing lodes is the pièce de résistance of environmental foreboding and abuse. As reported in the official Geocom Resources company assay (29), of April 2007, the Espolon Mining Claim contains a “massive” sulfide layer composed of the sulfur laden compounds of pyrrhotite-pyrite and chalcopyrite. These injurious aggregates, which nature has wisely provided to safely and nearly permanently encapsulate, when exposed to an atmosphere of oxygen and water, of which the Patagonia region has no shortage, devolve to form sulfuric acid. (30) While acid is a valuable commodity (when confined to an automobile battery) to have sulfuric acid freely flowing through the environment is another matter altogether.

As far as the sport fishery is concerned it can be completely wiped out by one flood that the mine owners fail to contain. (31, 32) A small tailings dam in Romania failed with the following result:

In January 2000, the tailings impoundment dam failed, resulting in the release of 130 cubic yards (130 pick-up trucks worth) of mine waste contaminated with cyanide and heavy metals. The result was the disruption of drinking water supplies in 24 locations and for 2.5 million people and a massive fish kill in the Tisza River where up to 80% of all fish perished. In all, over 1,200 miles of the Danube River system were contaminated. (33 , 34 , 35)

If the Kinross-Geocom mine were to be developed in North America, a region with strict environmental laws, it would require the most stringent and extreme precautions, often requiring the claim owners to harvest only the highest-grade ores and avoid tailings reclamation. (36) This is something Kinross Gold Corporation has historically loathed to practice. (37) During such a mine’s lifespan, were it located in North America and not Chile, environmental regulations would require that all water be cached and filtered through a water treatment plant and that the mine be back-filled with limestone as a final precaution at the end of its productive use. All of these safeguards are expensive and significantly limit a mine’s lifespan, productivity and profitability and are no guarantees against natural disasters. However, in a country with weak environmental laws, these concerns are often dismissed so that the indigenous inhabitants might enjoy jobs at the mine to the sacrifice of their environment, communities and health. (38) Furthermore, should an employee elect to become a part owner in the mining enterprise they would find the proposition exceedingly difficult as the mine’s stock is not listed on the Chilean stock exchange, despite Chile being the company’s primary venue of business. (39)

Abundant water and epic storms mean acid mine runoff and containment difficulties.

Water is another element of concern in the extremely sodden environment of Patagonia, Chile. Anyone who has spent any significant time in this area is bound to encounter the epic rains that frequently soak this region, sometimes for weeks at a time. It is not unimaginable that one of these storms could inundate the Espolon Mine forcing a release of toxic tailings waste into the environment, as was the recent case with the Red Dog Zinc Mine in Alaska.

"As I've told you folks here in the past, we can't stop discharging unless it stops raining," Kuals said. "Until that happens we must discharge water or that dam will fill up and overtop and nobody wants that to happen."

The only recourse the Red Dog Mine owners offered was to reapply to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the United States to increase their discharge quota. (40)

Cyanide in the water - a necessary part of the gold mining process

The Espolon Mine will require vast amounts of toxic cyanide to extract the metal from the ore layers. Cyanide is used to process both base and precious metals and is the reagent of choice at modern mines. 85% of the world's gold is produced through the cyanide leach process. (41)Cyanide leach mining is a hallmark of the Kinross Gold Corporation which is petitioning the EPA in the United States to implement the technology at mines it owns in Alaska. (42) Cyanide spills can cause longterm problems for local communities like Futaleufu which lies directly downstream of the mine.

"Even after mining ceased in 1997, cyanide continued to leak into nearby Jordan Creek at levels harmful to aquatic life. At the Beal Mountain, Kendall, Golden Sunlight and Zortman-Landusky mines - all in Montana - numerous cyanide spills and leaks contaminated drinking water aquifers and killed streams. These weren't transient effects. Because of persistent cyanide contamination, Pegasus Gold had to provide an alternative drinking water source to the town of Zortman..." (43)

Cyanide mining has been banned in some provinces of Argentina (44) and recently in Romania. (45)

Pit Mine Blasting - Will the "daily blast" rock the Futaleufu River Valley?

In order to loosen rock material to be transported to the cyanide leach heaps, rock must first be loosened from the surface using pit blasting. These daily blasts are so large and powerful that they are often captured on seismographs designed for earth quake monitoring:

"In August 2004 a UNR group set out a line of 400 seismometers extending from Fresno, Calif. north across Nevada to Idaho. These seismometers recorded earthquakes and several large (>100,000 lb ANFO) mining blasts at huge open-pit gold mines in northern Nevada for one week. This open-pit gold mine is more than 400 m (1400 ft) deep and over 2 km (1.5 mi) wide. Blasting is done almost every weekday, since for these deposits gold production depends on crushing and processing huge volumes of ore." (46)

Because the topographic relief is so great in the Futaleufu Valley the noise created by these mega-blasts will echo through the canyons for miles. Noise pollution will not only affect the experience of international adventurers visiting the valley but may also impact animal species like the endangered Huemul which lives in a dedicated nature reserve nearby. What pit mine blasting does to people living in the vicinity is already well documented:

"Mining companies blast rocks once or twice daily and this does not only generate noise pollution but the vibration has created deep cracks in residential buildings and schools. Four schools in the Kwabibirem district, Fiaseman Sec. Sch. in Tarkwa, three basic schools at Bogoso to mention a few, are on the verge of collapsing due to deep cracks in them. Must we allow this to continue?" (47)

Take a tour of various Kinross Gold Corporation properties from around the world. For all practical purposes, this IS the future of the Futaleufu River Valley, these mines look all alike.

Exchanging the Patagonia wilderness for jewelry & jobs

The Espolon Mine will be a scar on the landscape, a sprawling industrial zone comprised of some 14 square miles (3800 hectares, 9360 acres) at latest count, if all the ore is to be mined. (48) At the end of the mine’s useful life all that will remain is a pit brimming with hazardous mine tailings covered over with a thin layer of topsoil which will need to be monitored for centuries after closure, to ensure that nothing infiltrates the water-table and watershed. (49)

In exchange for all this environment cost the mine owners promise jobs and community fringe benefits - for as long as the strike lasts. The “creation of jobs” (50) has become the cornerstone of the miner’s mantra as if the very act itself supersedes the environmental damage they intend to inflict. (51)

It is ironic that even with the sharp increase in the number of the mining companies established all over the country, unemployment in the mining areas is growing at a geometric rate and labour rights and welfare are ever deteriorating. Social inequity is further exacerbated by the fact that the indigenous people’s hopes of attaining employment in these mines have all too often proved elusive. Two reasons account for this:

1. The processes involved in surface mining offer few job opportunities for unskilled labour.

2. Where they can be absorbed, they are discriminated against.

These mining companies propose an employment quota for the affected communities as bait to gain local acceptance but consistently fail to deliver. The introduction of surface mining has been characterised by forceful ejection, displacement, relinquishing of farmlands and an outright ban on agricultural activities including farming, hunting and fishing. Believe me the legacy has been acute unemployment associated with a drastic fall in living standards. In effect, people in mining areas are pushed deeper into poverty. (52)

Using the very same logic these miners employ one could argue that the dismantling of the Pyramids of Egypt would offer local Egyptians the same perks during the destruction and the very same disadvantages after it was over (lack of tourists) – albeit without the centuries of subsequent environmental heavy metal contamination.

Gold mining produces nothing of practical value.

Finally, the most peculiar aspect of gold mining is that it produces nothing of practical value. Gold is mined almost exclusively to adorn the wrists, fingers and necks of the upper classes (53). There is no shortage of gold in the world for useful purposes. However, what the planet is fast running out of are wild and pristine places like the wilderness areas of Patagonia, Chile. (54)

In Summary - Eight Reasons to question the Espolon Gold Mine

1] The mine is located in an ecologically sensitive triangle between the Pumalin National Park in Chile, Los Alerces National Park in Argentina and the spectacular world-class tourist destination of the Futaleufu River Valley. The land already has a use as world-class international tourist destination. How can a gold mine of this magnitude exist without degrading the environment and scaring away international travelers?

2] The mine claim area contains vast amounts of Sulfide which will cause Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) and Acid Mine Drainage (AMD). This mining proposal, if approved, will be the dirtiest type of gold mine possible. The effects on the aquatic life in the Espolon and Futaleufu River Valleys will be devastating. The result will affect every fishing lodge and aquatic dependent business in the watershed, including possibly the Salmon Industry in the Golfo Corcovado sixty miles downstream.

3] The Espolon Mine will use vast quantities of toxic Cyanide in the extraction process. The cyanide will be present in tailings waste containment ponds waiting for the inevitable flood which will send toxic water down the Espolon into Futaleufu River, as was the case on the Danube River in Europe. Additionally the cyanide can leak from the containment areas and infiltrate the ground water making it unfit for human consumption for decades after closure. When this happens will Kinross Gold & Geocom Resources be around to monitor and ameliorate the environmental problems they caused?

4] The Futaleufu River Valley region is subject to vast amounts of precipitation and frequently floods. Even if Kinross Gold Corporation and Geocom Resources Inc plan for the worst-case flood scenario, and spend accordingly to prevent it, the Espolon Mine will leak acid and heavy metals into the environment, either through necessary releases to avoid a containment dam breach or through a breach itself. Vide infra:

"In 1992 in Summitville, Colorado (USA), a containment dam that held mine waste from a gold mining operation burst. The escaped toxic waste killed all life along a 25 km stretch of a nearby river." (55)

5] Daily pit-mine blasting in the Futaleufu Valley will drive away international tourists and wildlife. If the residents of the valley are lucky there will only be one seismically recordable blast a day. However, because the Espolon claim is so large, it is possible that there will be more than one open pit, which will require more than one explosion.

6] The mine region has no infrastructure to support heavy industry. Within the region there are limited roads and a limited electricity supply. All equipment for the mine, including cyanide for the leeching process, will need to be transported through Pumalin Parque or the Futaleufu River Valley. Both of these are unacceptable from a tourism perspective.

7] The Futaleufu River Valley is fast becoming one of Chile's greatest international tourism destinations. The pure, translucent teal colored waters of the Futaleufu River make it one of the most photogenic rivers in the world. Will tourists visit an area whose streams, lakes and rivers have been compromised beyond recognition?

8] Gold is a decorative metal with very limited use outside the manufacture of adornments. Is it worth the price of destroying one of the last pristine wilderness areas on the earth to produce it? The desire for gold has been the historical driving force behind the destruction of entire civilizations in the Western Hemisphere - do we need to add the Futaleufu River Valley as well?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Gift from the Kinross Gold Corporation of Canada to the residents of Futaleufu, Chile - Pit Mine Blasting - TNT & Dynamite Watch it Explode!

Experience the "Daily Blast" at the Kinross Fort Knox Gold Mine in Alaska

Can't see it? Try here: Kinross Gold Mine Blasting

In the likely event this video is removed, we have many others:

Blasting at Marvel Lock Gold Mine Western Australia

Blasts at Mt Keith Nickel mine in Western Australia.

Believe it or not, these explosions are so large they will crack foundations...

Mining companies blast rocks once or twice daily and this does not only generate noise pollution but the vibration has created deep cracks in residential buildings and schools. Four schools in the Kwabibirem district, Fiaseman Sec. Sch. in Tarkwa, three basic schools at Bogoso to mention a few, are on the verge of collapsing due to deep cracks in them. Must we allow this to continue?

See: The Environmental Effects of Surface Mining

...and can be detected on a seismograph used to measure earthquakes.

In August 2004 a UNR group set out a line of 400 seismometers extending from Fresno, Calif. north across the Sierra Nevada range, the Long Valley volcanic caldera, and central Nevada to the Idaho border. These seismometers monitored earthquakes in the caldera, and several large (>100,000 lb ANFO) mining blasts at huge open-pit gold mines in northern Nevada for one week.

This record of 411 seismograms shows the data from one of these mining blasts, from the south end at Fresno on the left, to the Idaho border with Nevada on the right, more than 500 km (300 mi) north. Time on each one of these four-minute-long seismograms increases downward, as deeper structures tend to affect the seismograms at larger time. The blast was located near the right side about 100 km south of the Idaho border.

Read on: The Sound of Seismic - Gold Mine Blast

Massive Sulfide Layer reported in Kinross Gold Corporation / Geocom Resources Inc. Espolon Mine claim in the Futaleufu Valley - AMD hazzard imminent

In April 2007 Kinross Gold Corporation and Geocom Resources Inc. reported initial assays for their Espolon Gold Mining Claim in the Futaleufu River Valley watershed. The results were as follows:

"The Espolon Claim Block comprises 13 claims totaling 3,800 hectares (9,390 acres or about 14 square miles). The claims cover a gold-silver-copper mineralized zone that has now been traced over a strike length in excess of 3 kilometers (2 miles). The mineralized zone is 10 to 30 meters thick (32 to 96 feet). The zone consists of a gently dipping altered sequence of volcanic tuffs, limestones, and argillites. These rocks have been thermally metamorphosed and moderately to completely silicified. Within the mineralized zone there is a massive sulfide layer that varies in thickness up to 3 meters (about 10 feet) consisting of pyrrhotite-pyrite with varying amounts of chalcopyrite. " Reference: Yahoo Finance, Espolon Assays...

The Geocom Resources geologists reported a "MASSIVE" SULFIDE LAYER within the mineralized zone. These layers, even when small in size, are associated with Acid Rock and Acid Mine Drainage (ARD/AMD), the industry's terms for the production of sulfuric acid run-off. Pyrrhotite-pyrite (FeSx, iron sulfide) and chalcopyrite (CuFeS2, Copper Iron Sulfide) , which were specifically mentioned, are both associated with Acid Rock Drainage (AMD). For pyrrhotite-pyrite see: Petrology and Minerology in ARD Prediction . For chalcopyrite see: What is Sulfide Mining

Sierra Club: Sulfide Mines with Acid-Producing Tailings (Waste Rock Piles)

"Another threat to the environment is the mining and processing of copper, nickel, platinum, palladium, rhodium, silver and gold found in low concentrations in rock with sulfides that turn to sulfuric acid (battery acid) when exposed to air and water — as they are when they are mined. The result is mountains of waste rock (99+% of mined rock would be waste) that are expected to leak acid for unknown decades. The acid kills aquatic life that feed fish and amphibians, leaving the rivers and downstream lakes barren and unsafe. Water draining from the waste rock also (with or without acid) will leach toxic metals such as cobalt into the waters.

After the mines play out, the perpetual costs of treating polluted drainage and tending toxic wastes could fall on taxpayers because sulfide mines are "reactive" or acid producing for thousands of years." Reference: Sierra Club

For more information regarding Sulfide Mining see:

What is Sulfide Mining

Acid Mines are Never Safe

The Controversy Behind Sulfide Mining

What is Acid Rock Drainage (ARD)

Read more articles about the Kinross Gold / Geocom Resources Espolon Project here: Espolon Gold Mine

What is Sulfide Mining and Acid Mine Drainage?

In April of 2007 Kinross Gold Corporation and Geocom Resources Inc. reported finding a "MASSIVE SULFIDE LAYER" in the Espolon Gold Mine claim in the Futaleufu River Valley. Here are the implications:

“Sulfide mining, like that of the Yellow Dog mining project, may create potentially irreversable environmental damage to the region and lasting health ailments to area residents,” said U.S. Congressman Stupak.

Read more articles about the Kinross Gold / Geocom Resources Espolon Project here: Espolon Gold Mine

Acid Mine Drainage - Environment Impacts - How will Kinross Gold / Geocom Resources Sulfide Mining effect the Futaleufu River Valley?

In April of 2007 Kinross Gold Corporation and Geocom Resources Inc published an assay of their Espolon Gold Mine claim in the Futaleufu River Valley. What they found was a "massive" sulfide layer within the ore bearing strike. (more about it here) Here are the implications:

Acid Mine Drainage

A high school freshman sits in a grass meadow where two mountain ridges slope down and join. As the young observer gazes across the landscape, he sees a scar on the neighboring ridge. At first it looks like a rockslide or scree slope, but on closer examination he sees a hole in the mountainside. It is an abandoned mine with a waste rock pile at its entrance. An orange-red liquid slowly trickles down from the mine into the forest until it reaches the headwaters of a crystal clear mountain creek teeming with small fish and insects. The volume of clear, cold water flowing overwhelms the orange-red liquid and it disappears.

Returning 8 years later as a college graduate, the observer encounters a much different scene. The meadow is now a wasteland without vegetation, and the once healthy creek is flowing red in the headwaters. The observer follows the creek downstream to see it change from red to white to turquoiseblue; no fish or insects appear for several kilometers downstream. What has happened? The answer is acid mine drainage.

Specifically, in the first visit, the high school student saw acid mine drainage from an old mine that had been worked with crude equipment, likely producing no more than a couple tons of ore a day. Acid mine drainage from this old mine was not significant enough to negatively affect the creek.

The following year, however, the mine had been reopened. The newly opened mine operated with high efficiency using modern equipment and produced from 350 to 450 tons of ore per day. Owing to the larger disturbance and production methods, the acid mine drainage from the modern mine had a significant impact on an entire watershed.

This scene actually played out in the Siskyou Mountains of southwest Oregon. The Formosa Mine initially operated between 1927 and 1933. The mine re-opened in 1990 and produced from 350 to 400 tons of copper and zinc ore per day. The ore was crushed into powder and processed using ponds to separate the metals.

Upon closure in 1994, the mining company placed the leftover crushed high-grade ore back into the mine workings and filled the former flotation ponds with the gangue or low-grade ore. The following winter, the mine workings and former ponds filled up with water from rainfall and began producing acid mine drainage (AMD) as the ore reacted with the water.

AMD from the mine flowed into the headwaters of two nearby creeks, which were habitat for threatened salmon and steelhead. Studies performed before 1990 documented an abundance of aquatic insects and fish in both creeks. After the mine closed, the creeks flowed red, white, turquoise-blue, and blue-green as the metals in the AMD precipitated out into the streambed. A total of 29 kilometers (18 miles) of stream were contaminated with metals from the AMD. Eighteen kilometers (11 miles) were found to be mostly void of aquatic insects, and fish populations were reduced by over 90 percent.

Acid Rock Drainage (ARD) and Acid Mine Drainage (AMD)

Acid rock drainage (ARD) is a natural process in which sulfuric acid is produced when sulfides in rocks—for example, pyrite (FeS2)—are exposed to air and water. This occurs along outcrops or scree slopes where sulfide-bearing rock is naturally weathered.

Acid mine drainage (AMD) is essentially the same process as ARD only greatly magnified. In general, rocks that contain valuable metals usually contain sulfides (metals combined with sulfur). The reason for this marriage (metal deposits with sulfide or sulfur) is that thermal waters are typically responsible for depositing many types of metallic ore. These thermal waters travel along fractures or small channels in the host rock. As a result, the thermal waters also change the mineralogy of the host rock along these fractures, creating bodies of rock referred to as hydrothermal alteration zones, which may be many times larger than the economically-defined ore zones or veins that fill the fracture.

Mineral Deposits

Gangue minerals are the nonvaluable minerals closely associated with the valuable ore deposits. They generally include minerals like quartz or calcite. During mining activities, the gangue material is commonly discarded as waste rock or low-grade ore in an effort to extract more valuable ore minerals found in the veins. AMD is typically associated with these types of hard rock mines across the world. Another major form of AMD is associated with coal mines in the eastern United States (and elsewhere around the world) where acid is formed by the oxidation of sulfur occurring in the coal and the rock or clay found above and below the coal seams.

When the minerals in the rock were deposited millions of years ago, they were formed at high temperatures and pressures. This makes these mineral deposits (including the gangue material) unstable under surface conditions when exposed to oxygen and water. Most sulfide minerals react with oxygen (oxidation) and water (hydration). Some sulfides, especially those containing iron and copper, generate sulfuric acid in the process. Pyrite (commonly called "fool's gold"), the most common sulfide mineral, reacts with oxygen and water to form ferrous iron and sulfuric acid in solution.

Laboratory studies have shown that exposing sulfide minerals to oxygen and water produces sulfuric acid, but scientists found that the rate of generation is so slow that it would take decades to oxidize a significant proportion of sulfide. Observations of AMD and other natural systems clearly demonstrate that acid production occurs in a short time period, from months to years. This is because some common strains of bacteria present in almost all environments increase the reaction rate by orders of magnitude.

Once the acid is formed it leaches other metals, such as copper, zinc, cadmium, nickel, arsenic, lead, and mercury, from the mineralized vein. High concentrations of these metals are dissolved by the acid and carried away in solution. As the acid solution flows away from the mine, the pH changes and affects the chemistry of the solution such that different metals begin to precipitate out of solution.

Color changes typical of creeks affected by AMD start as orange, red, or yellow-brown as the ferrous iron solution is diluted. The pH rises as the AMD mixes with the receiving stream, causing the ferrous iron to precipitate out as ferric iron. Farther downstream, the stream is white as aluminum oxide deposits along rocks and the streambed. The iron and aluminum deposits tend to form a sludge-like material, which inhibits algae, insect, and fish growth, and damages their habitat. Benthic (bottom-dwelling) organisms are particularly sensitive to this type of pollution. Following the orange iron and white aluminum deposits, the streams can then take on turquoise-blue or green colors as copper and other metals begin to precipitate from solution.

Depressed food supplies, gill clogging, and smothering by iron or aluminum precipitates, along with direct toxicity from ingested metals, contribute to the significant decline of fish, insect, and benthic communities in streams polluted by metal oxides. With their food supply diminished, fish populations can be limited even when degradation is not severe enough to cause direct poisoning of individual fish.

The Problem and the Cleanup

Acid mine drainage is a global problem. In the eastern United States alone, AMD from coal mines has adversely impacted fisheries associated with over 13,000 kilometers (8,000 miles) of streams in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, and Maryland. The problem in the western United States is less studied, yet it has become apparent that once-pristine watersheds are suffering from the effects of AMD. Cleanup of abandoned mine sites is difficult because of their remote locations and because these problems will go on for hundreds of years until the mineralized rock is leached free of sulfides and metals.

Here is the full article.

Read more articles about the Kinross Gold / Geocom Resources Espolon Project here: Espolon Gold Mine

Cyanide Heap Leaching and Acid Mine Runoff - A Futaleufu River Valley preview?

This is the story of the struggle to save the famed Blackfoot River (memorialized in A River Runs Through It) from a proposed leach mine. It documents the enduring but sad legacy of mining throughout the state of Montana--cyanide-laced groundwater, acid mine drainage, and the failures of a boom and bust economy. It speaks from the hearts and minds of men and women who are fighting to save their vanishing heritage. Private property and the right to make a short term profit face off against the rights of future generations to experience the spirit, physical beauty, and health of the wilderness.

Examples of Acid Mine Drainage - Will Kinross Gold Corporation & Geocom Resources Inc. do this to the Futaleufu River Valley?

Abandoned Mine - Kentucky

News segment on WYMT TV about Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in Letcher County,KY and the work of OSM/VISTA Evan Smith (Head of Three Rivers Project) and Kentucky Watershed Watch to bring attention to this problem and seek remediation. Produced by Amy Walker.

Little Dry Fork Mine - Kentucky

On or around March 7, 2007, an abandoned mine had a blow out and now acid mine drainage is gushing into Little Dry Fork, just west of Whitesburg, KY. The orange water, increased water flow, and the changed chemical makeup of the water has decimated aquatic life in the creek. The acid mine drainage flows into Dry Fork and then into the North Fork of the Kentucky River. The plume of cloudy orange runoff extends at least one mile downstream from the mouth of Dry Fork.

Appalshop created this piece as a collaboration with WMMT's Community Correspondents Corps (CCC) and Appalshop Films.

The Almeda Mine - Oregon

The Almeda Mine is located in Southern Oregon on the Wild & Scenic Rogue River. Despite decades of acid mine drainage discharging into the river, the BLM and DEQ have continued to drag their feet when it comes to a comprehensive cleanup of the site. The Center for Environmental Equity, a Portland-based nonprofit is leading the charge to have the mine listed as a Federal Superfund site. For more information go to

Read more articles about the Kinross Gold / Geocom Resources Espolon Project here: Espolon Gold Mine

Monday, December 17, 2007

"Chile is the best mining jurisdiction in the world... Canada is not a jurisdiction where I would like to develop a mine." says Centenario Copper CEO

Risk not a factor in this offer

Maybe having a former investment banker running a company is the best way to ensure investors are protected in the event that things don't work out properly.

Or maybe the same level of protection can be achieved by having a chief executive decide the risk should be borne by the company -- and not by the investors.

Whatever the source, investors in a US$80-million private placement done for Centenario Copper Corp., were protected in the event the issuer didn't receive the necessary permits. Centenario was formed in 2004 and operates in Chile.

"I didn't want us getting caught in the position where we were seen to be bagging investors," said Richard Colterjohn, chief executive of Centenario and a former investment banker with UBS Securities.

In July, Centenario raised US$80-million by selling 16 million special warrants at US$5 per warrant. The capital was raised after the company completed a bankable feasibility study. "I am very interested in speed of execution. So rather than waiting around to do a prospectus and then do a traditional IPO structure, we did a special warrant financing to accredited investors and gave an undertaking that we would become publicly listed within 120 days," added Colterjohn in a phone conversation from Chile last week.

(Canadian law allows this, sadly to the detriment of the host countries: 10 Things Canada Does Best - What Canada doesn't do best is hold domestic mining companies accountable for the damage they do abroad. , Canadian Government Urged to Rein in Mining Sector , Mining Misery: Guatemala is one of many countries that has attracted the investment of Canadian Mining Companies – but at what cost to its people? )

But releasing the proceeds from that financing was made conditional on getting a final Environmental Impact Statement approved, said Colterjohn, noting that despite giving the investors an out in the event that the permit wasn't received, he remained confident it would be.
"As far as I am concerned, Chile is the best mining jurisdiction in the world and we were highly confident we would get it. In fact, we did get it before we closed the financing."

(Mining is so good in Chile that the National Intelligence Agency (ANI) monitors all environmental NGOs that oppose mining: ANI or DINA? Environmental organizations protest espionage and infiltration by Chilean Intelligence Agency , Legislators angered by Chile Intelligence Agency monitoring of environmental organizations - investigation demanded , Chile Intelligence Agency Monitors Environmental NGOs )

Colterjohn, whose company's shares have been trading since mid-October following the receipt of a prospectus to clear the private placement, said that approach was adopted because he "was completely prepared to eat that risk in order to minimize that dilution. And I got better pricing for doing it," he said. The reason: with permitting risk not a factor, investors could focus on the merits of the company's copper project, knowing that in the event the permit wasn't received, they would get their money back--plus a tad more.

"It was a decision that [the permitting] risk belonged with us rather than with the investor and, thereby, we gave them greater comfort," he said.

Colterjohn was asked about the lack of a similar out in a $200-million financing done in March for Gabriel Resources, a company with a gold project in Romania -- but no permit. "It's an incredible geological potential, but you have a bunch of locals who don't want you. Mining has to go where it's wanted, and I am where I am wanted," he said.

(Read more about Gabriel Resources and Romania here: Canadian gold mining corporation, Gabriel Resources Ltd. halts Romanian project as support sours - NGO's influence cited , Battle over gold mine plan that would create giant cyanide lake. , Mine Your Own Business - The Darkside of the Environmental Movement? - watch the groundbreaking video trailer below )

He was asked what he would have done had he been running Gabriel and decided to raise $200-million. "The reality is that there is permitting risk. From the company's perspective, it was more important to get the funds in and to continue to drive the project forward and to continue to develop support. Mining people by nature are optimistic and believe that sooner or later they will get there. But it's a judgment call," he said.

Colterjohn was asked about permit risk in Canada. He replied, "Canada is not a jurisdiction where I would like to develop a mine."

(Naturally, countries with weak governments and environmental laws attract miners: Chile's Government fines itself for polluting the environment . Compare that to what recently happened to a number of US paper companies : US Environmental Protection Agency forces paper companies to begin $400 million clean-up project to deal with PCBs in the Fox River . )

Here is the full article.

Bali's crying shame

The drama of the UN climate change talks caught the world’s attention, but critics wonder whether they will secure its future.

The baby turtles were cute, but they were also clearly suffering. The tropical sun was beating down on the beach in Bali as they swam round and round in their big plastic bowls full of slowly warming water. They were waiting to be liberated into the ocean – but first came the talking.

The turtle release was a side event to the United Nations climate change conference taking place a few hundred yards away in the Bali international convention centre, and that meant a host of dignitaries first had to make themselves heard.

As they droned on, with each speaker placing their own particular emphasis on the threats presented by global warming – not least to endangered species such as turtles – the energy of the captives began ebbing away. They stopped swimming and sat still in the water.

By the time those gathered on the beach were allowed to scoop up the turtles and carry them down to the water’s edge, some had almost lost the will to live and, when released, lay motionless on the sand.

Pushed into the cool of the water they did gradually revive and paddled slowly away, but to many observers it seemed the perfect metaphor for the events of the past fortnight in Bali: a lot of humans talking endlessly while nature suffers.

Last Thursday the World Meteorological Organisation revealed that 2007 had been one of the 10 hottest years on record, as were eight other years in the past decade.

In Bali, the best response that the politicians could manage yesterday was to agree a “road map” for more talks without any specific targets for cutting emissions of greenhouse gases.

Getting that agreement was certainly dramatic. Yesterday saw Yvo de Boer, the UN’s main climate change official, burst into tears while addressing the conference. The strain of multiple sleepless nights and tortured negotiations had become too much.

America even appeared to have been forced into concessions after its representative, Paula Dobriansky, was booed by delegates from other countries.

Optimists, including Hilary Benn, Britain’s environment secretary, hailed the agreement as “historic” yesterday, mainly because America had signed up to it.

Others, however, fear that it will prove too weak to achieve anything. As the exhausted delegates and politicians board their planes to travel home today, are the real prospects of controlling global warming any better than before the Bali talks began?

THE precedents are not good. It is 10 years since the world’s politicians held a similar gathering in Japan where they signed the Kyoto treaty. At the heart of Kyoto was a commitment from industrialised countries such as Britain, America, Australia and Russia to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. John Prescott, then environment secretary, helped to broker the agreement and proclaimed it as the deal that would save the world.

In reality Kyoto was a disappointment. The draft treaty had promised that the industrialised nations would reduce emissions of all greenhouse gases – there are six in total – by 6% from 1990 levels by 2008. The final version referred to only three gases, the date had slipped to 2012 and the level of cuts had fallen to 5.2%.

Australia ratified the treaty only after the election of a new prime minister last month and America, the world’s biggest emitter, has still not done so.

In 1997 mankind was already generating the equivalent of 40 billion tons of CO2 a year. Kyoto was meant to herald a new era in which such emissions would stabilise and then reverse. Instead they have risen faster than ever – up to 50 billion tons last year.

The International Energy Agency (IEA), an energy policy adviser to 27 industrialised countries, believes that trend is unlikely to change. In its recent World Energy Outlook report, it said emissions would be pushed well above 65 billion tons by 2030.

The IEA concluded that we still had a faint chance of keeping global temperature rises below 2.4C by 2020, but only if energy-related CO2 emissions were cut by 25% to 40%. Such a cut would be, said the IEA, “unprecedented”.


The question now is whether the process that has begun in Bali has the potential to achieve the dramatic cuts in carbon emissions that the scientists say are needed.

It seems unlikely. Even if the political will is there, the science mitigates against it.

Vicky Pope, of the Met Office’s respected Hadley Centre for climate prediction, was just one of many scientists presenting new research in Bali. Sitting under the palm trees fringing the idyllic Nusa Dua beach, she pointed to the “small but scary” graph showing the latest predictions on the global temperature rises that we might expect as greenhouse gas levels rise.

The natural background level of CO2 is 273 parts per million (ppm) but human activities have pushed this up to 379ppm. At some time before 2030, greenhouse gas levels are predicted to reach the equivalent of 450ppm.

At this level, said Pope’s graph, global temperature rises of 2C are 80% certain. If CO2 levels reach 550ppm, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of respected scientists has said they will, probably before 2030, then there is a 70% chance of the global rise exceeding 3C.

Here is the full article.

Power for the Mapuches but not for Uganda- Norwegian Government owner, SN Power, pulls out of Uganda hydroelectric venture citing economic unviability

SN Power pulls out of unviable Uganda power projects

Norwegian multinational hydropower developer and operator Statkraft Norfund Power Invest AS (SN Power) is pulling out of four mini-hydropower dam projects in western Uganda.

Though the pullout is on the grounds of the project’s financial viability, SN Power is selling its license to another Norwegian power firm.

SN Power announced in December 2004 that it would make Uganda its entry point for Africa in the energy sector. The government had hoped its entry would help improve Uganda’s ailing energy sector when it began generation of 43.5 Megawatts of power in six districts in western Uganda.

The company said it decided to withdraw from the projects in August this year because they were deemed financially unviable.

“SN Power gave up the Muzizi and Nengo Bridge licence rights because we realised the projects would be not be commercially viable,” said Marte Lerberg Kopstad SN Power’s external relations manager.

“The Waki and Bugoye projects were developed to the point of investment decision, but SN Power decided not to go further as they did not fit our corporate strategy and the commercial viability was not strong enough.”

Mr Kopstad told The EastAfrican that SN power had decided to sell its rights to Norwegian power company Troenderenergi. This will now mean that residents of western Uganda will have to put up with irregular or no power supplies longer than the 24-month construction period.


Energy Commissioner Paul Mubiru however said the pullout does not spell doom for the western districts as Troenderenergi is already preparing to continue with construction work at these sites.

The relatively small hydropower stations are expected to cost between $50 million and $60 million.

The Norwegian government, with some 100 years of experience in developing hydropower, owns SN Power. The company, licensed in November 2004 by the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA), was expected to demonstrate its expertise on four sites in western Uganda.


About five per cent of Uganda’s population has access to electricity, and the 250MW Bujagali hydropower project under construction and eight other mini-hydropower projects are expected to expand production to another 15 per cent of the population and attract more industries to a country where domestic usage accounts for 70 per cent of power consumption.

(Read about what Norway's SN Power intends for Chile's indigenous Mapuche people: Mapuche Protest against Norwegian Hydroelectric Power , Norwegian Power Projects in Mapuche, Chile Heartland Plunder Environment )

Here is the full article.

Australian fishermen fear the impact of the Traveston dam on the regional fishery - Environmental Impact Statement is not complete

Trawlers group fears Traveston dam impact

The Independent Trawlers Association says it is concerned the proposed Traveston Crossing dam could damage the livelihoods of fishers by reducing the flow of fresh water into the ocean.

The Queensland Government plans to build the dam near Gympie, in the south-east, to supply water to south-east Queensland if it is approved by the federal Environment Minister.

A spokesman for the trawlers association, Joe McLeod, says a draft environmental report on the dam does not include enough information on the impact it might have on fishers off the Fraser Coast.

"That's what this latest work has pointed out, that there's massive holes in their understanding or their lack of understanding of dams and weirs on marine productivity," he said.

The chief executive officer of Queensland Water Infrastructure, Graeme Newton, says all interested parties are encouraged to make a submission about the dam's draft environmental impact statement.

Here is the full article.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bali's business bonanza and what it means for Chile - Pacific Hydro has as many people in its Santiago office as its Melbourne headquarters.

Bali's business bonanza

Dorjee Sun is huddled into his mobile phone, one of many players jostling for position as the nascent global carbon market opens up a goldmine of opportunity.

Dorjee Sun is huddled into his mobile phone, laptop slung over one shoulder, pacing dangerously close to the edge of the pool.

His white shirt has stuck to him in Bali's evening heat and mosquitoes are nibbling at his ankles. But the 30-year-old internet millionaire from Sydney's North Shore has a grin on his face and a hand in the air, waiting for a reciprocal high five.

He has had a breakthrough in negotiations for his latest venture, Carbon Conservation, with three Indonesian provincial governors. Sun wants to facilitate the sale of carbon credits to developed countries from projects which prevent or reduce deforestation in Aceh and Papua. He has managed to get Merrill Lynch on board and is pretty happy about it.

(While Merrill Lynch may be ecstatic the indigenous people who lands the scheme depends on are not: Indonesia: WALHI Protest against Kyoto, Carbon Trade, Clean Development Mechanism , Africa: Poor Countries Fail in Demand for Control of New Clean Development Mechanism Fund , Indigenous Peoples protest World Bank carbon scam in Bali , A gift from Scotland to Brazil: drought and despair . On top of that, such projects deforestation projects rarely bear close scrutiny: The great carbon trading scam? )

Sun has no background in science or climate change. He made his fortune out of starting up and then selling a recruitment software company and an education mentoring business.

But the carbon industry is no longer just inhabited by scientists, environmentalists and policy wonks. Over the past year, entrepreneurs like Sun - keen to make a buck and feel good about doing it - as well as the big investment banks, project developers and trading firms are looking to get a piece of the action.

Their interest is not surprising. More than $US60 billion ($68.1 billion) changed hands in the global carbon market this year, double the trade of last year and up from just $US400 million three years ago. Analysts estimate the market could be worth $US1 trillion within the next 10 years.

By 2030, according to some carbon bulls, it may even be the biggest commodity market in the world, overtaking crude oil.

(Read more here: Bank says climate change is investment "megatrend" , Global warming has a financial upside , Profiteering from Carbon Trading - How the Global Carbon Market will Destroy Patagonia, Chile )


At the UN Climate Change Conference in Bali over the past two weeks, comparisons with the internet industry and the dotcom crash of 2001 were freely made. However, despite all of the obstacles there seems to be general agreement that while there may be a shake-up of the carbon industry, it won't collapse or disappear. Like the internet before it, carbon is here to stay and it will transform the way people do business.

"I can't guarantee that nothing will happen like the dotcom bust or the US housing market," says Olga Gassan-zade, a senior analyst at research firm Point Carbon.

"But I will say that the dotcom industry didn't die. You need a carbon market to manage emissions reductions. We'll be here in 2020 and 2050, I'm quite sure."

Australia has its own challenges. With it having only agreed to ratify Kyoto after the Rudd Government was elected late last month, companies, investors and traders are scrambling to work out what it actually means for the local market.

By not ratifying Kyoto, Australia was estimated to be missing out on $3.8 billion of economic activity a year, according to research by consulting group Cambiar, prepared for the Australian Conservation Foundation. That reflected lost revenue from project development, the sale of carbon credits and services to facilitate transactions.

(See: Kyoto deal to clear air for Australian investors, say experts - Pacific Hydro's manager says, Australia is "now open for business". )

"People are still scratching their heads trying to work out what the policy means and what it means to be a company acting responsibly in the environment," says Oliver Yates, head of Macquarie Capital Group's Climate Change Practice.

"These are not new concepts to international companies but they are new issues for Australian companies. We've largely had our eyes blinkered to this through not signing the Kyoto Protocol."

Macquarie has moved fast to shore up its position in the nascent industry. It set up an emissions trading desk in London, is already selling carbon credits out of China into Europe and last week bought half of Climate Friendly, one of the biggest players in the local carbon offset market. Climate Friendly offers people the chance to offset carbon emissions from their home, business, car, or travel by investing in renewable energy projects. (not by advocating a change in their lifestyle.)


Macquarie is not the only company ramping up its activities in the area. Renewable energy player Pacific Hydro, which has built up carbon projects in Chile and Fiji in recent years, is looking to hire up to 50 more people in Australia over the next 12 months. The company has as many people in its Santiago office as its Melbourne headquarters. Australia's decision not to ratify Kyoto had limited what Pacific Hydro could do within the country. Now that Australia is part of the Kyoto club and the Rudd Government has announced it will double the renewable energy target to 20 per cent by 2020, that's all about to change.

"Australia has the ability to be a world leader in carbon," says Andrew Richards, the company's head of corporate and government affairs.

"In the past all the investment and innovation has been sitting behind a dam wall. But that's now been broken down and we expect the investment and innovation will rush forward. There is a completely different mind set now."

(Read about the Pacific Hydro / SN Power's Chile dam plans here: Value of Pacific Hydro Skyrockets with Australian ratification of the Kyoto Protocol – Chilean rivers sacrificed to offset European Carbon Emissions. ,SN Power, Norway, & Pacific Hydro, Australia, move on La Confluencia dam project on the Tinguiririca River- effort to reduce Europe's Carbon Emissions , Chile Environment Exploited to Offset European Pollution , Kyoto ratification crucial in Australian plans for Chile hydro-development – Carbon Offsets purchased in Europe critical to dam construction , Australia's Pacific Hydro finds a loophole: Climate change, Kyoto, and carbon trading . More on how Norway's SN Power (Pacific Hydro's partner) intends to oust Chile's indigenous Mapuche people from ancestral lands to pursue hydro-development schemes: Mapuche Protest against Norwegian Hydroelectric Power , Norwegian Power Projects in Mapuche, Chile Heartland Plunder Environment )

Richards expects the increase in the renewable energy target, alone, to drive $30 billion of investment into the sector over the next 12 years.

The problem for companies like Pacific Hydro, who are looking to hire, is that there are not enough carbon experts to go around. Many Australians fled to London over the past five years as it emerged as the world's carbon trading hub. Canberra-born Geoff Sinclair, who heads up Standard Bank's carbon business in London, says you might see some of those people moving home.

Pacific Hydro has sold certificates generated from hydro projects in Fiji and Chile. But that will be much easier now that Australia is seen as one of the good guys on climate change. For a start it will be easier to win approval from the host nation and once more projects are under construction there will be more demand for bankers, lawyers, brokers and consultants. Many investment banks, law firms and research groups are starting to set up special carbon teams to deal with the extra work.

"Ratification, in my opinion, makes people aware of the issues and of the commercial opportunities that already exist," says Sinclair, who was scheduled to speak at a carbon finance panel at the UN climate change conference this week but had to pull out because he was "too busy doing deals". (It should be obvious where his priorities lie.)


Grant says the commercial opportunities in dealing with climate change have been overlooked in Australia. "There is no doubt in my mind that the Government has been looking at the impact on the economy but not on the opportunity it presents."


But Molitor, who handles all the carbon offsetting for the entertainer Justin Timberlake and the rock group Linkin Park, says there's incredible peer pressure on companies to address climate change even without being forced to do so by governments. He cites the example of Fiji Water, a bottled water company which, facing a consumer backlash, bought up carbon credits on the voluntary market to offset the emissions from transporting its product to the US, Britain, France and Australia.

(Justin Timberlake and many other celebrities take the issue very seriously: With five private jets, John Travolta still lectures on global warming , Virgin Atlantic launches Carbon Offset Scheme )

Here is the full article.

The high human cost of inverted logic - policymakers assert that environmental protection, not environmental degradation, obstructs economic growth.

As world leaders meet in Bali to discuss Earth's rising temperatures, climate change is emerging as the central threat to our world's economic growth. The unprecedented attention to the issue is timely, but the crucial question is what national policy leaders will actually do to confront the underlying causes of climate change.

The root cause of climate change is environmental neglect, and related energy inefficiency accompanying the drive for rapid growth. Sadly, most policymakers and their economic advisers have wrongly held the view that it's environmental protection, not environmental degradation, that obstructs growth. This inverted logic comes at a high human cost.

While the world economy expanded sevenfold over the past century, global population increased from 1.6 to 6.5 billion, the world lost half the tropical forests, and carbon dioxide levels rose to 380 parts per million (from the pre-industrial 280 ppm). A rise in temperature of 0.74 degrees Celsius in the past century is causing sea levels to rise, melting glaciers and destroying biodiversity. Once CO2 levels exceed 450 ppm, the change in temperature could top the pre-industrial era by two degrees Celsius, enough to trigger massive climatic instability.

Aside from the global impact, the local damages of environmental devastation are great too. The losses in health and worker productivity from just particulate air pollution amount to 2-3% of GNP in some Asian countries. Water stress and losses from water pollution pose immediate threats to health and well-being, and such distress is on the rise. Deforestation and soil erosion are compounding the damages of natural disasters such as floods and wind storms - especially for the poorest, most likely to be in harm's way.

Along with this picture of environmental decay, there is the story of growth delivering social gains for the people. Where it has occurred, sustained growth has been the most powerful means to reduce poverty. East Asia may be the most striking example of the gains, where growth averaged more than 8% yearly for the past 25 years, and some 600 million people were lifted out of poverty. Developing countries still have to grow a great deal as their average income is still one-sixth that of rich nations.

So the question is how a country can continue to grow quickly without allowing environmental neglect to derail the process. The remarkable fact is that taking preventive measures to address the environmental concerns is a lot cheaper than waiting for the damage to occur and then trying to take curative actions - whether it's curbing water pollution or putting in adaptive reinforcement of structures in disaster-prone areas.

Here is the full article.

The great carbon trading scam?

The Bali summit: Our attempts to end deforestation require complex solutions, not quick fixes.

Deforestation has been big on the agenda here at the climate talks in Bali, and with some good reason. About a fifth of the carbon dioxide emissions entering the atmosphere each year because of human activities are down to the clearance of forests, especially the tropical forests. Halting deforestation is also necessary because a huge proportion of the planet's biological diversity is found in forest ecosystems. Some 70% of terrestrial species are believed to dwell in tropical rainforests. It is thus very clear that deforestation must be halted, but how?


Yesterday the World Bank unveiled plans to do just that. The chief himself, Robert Zoellick (who was also a former US trade representative), turned up to announce the launch of a new Forest Carbon Partnership Facility. The idea, we were told, is to link forests into a global carbon-trading scheme that rewards the protection of a forest that might otherwise have been cut down, or by replanting a forest that has already been cut down. Sounds great: until you look a bit deeper.

Such a scheme would rely on someone buying "carbon credits" that are linked to the protected or replanted forests. At a price per tonne determined by market forces, a company or government would pay to count the carbon benefit of protecting or planting a forest against the carbon damage caused by its emissions at home. So, in the future we could theoretically see British Airports Authority buying carbon credits derived from the protection of a Brazilian rainforest and counting that against the carbon emitted from the construction of a third runway at Heathrow, and for the new tarmac to be declared "carbon neutral".

(This is aleady happening: Virgin Atlantic launches Carbon Offset Scheme )

This raises major problems. The first is the way in which such a mechanism would allow high polluting industrialised countries to continue with business as usual on the strength of protecting forests (that need to be protected anyway). It also raises huge issues equity and justice and in some ways can be regarded as a form of "ecological imperialism". Having cut down our own forests, and now going through the fossil fuels like there is no tomorrow, we are asking that we pay a small fee to solve our problem though counting a developing country's forests as an offset to our own pollution. The forests that we are counting against our pollution are of course located mainly in countries that have contributed very little to the problem that we are seeking to solve. In addition, these forests very often are occupied by peoples who have struggled for years to gain legal title to their ancestral territories. It is clear that turning their homes into an excuse for the west to pollute is quite wrong.

The social impacts can be huge too. Land that might to the World Bank be classified as "degraded", and a good place to put a carbon "sink" in the form of a newly planted forest, might be occupied by landless people who rely on it for their living. The World Bank has a poor track record in relocating people to accommodate its projects and a new market in carbon offsets could perpetuate injustices of this kind.

Here is the full story.

Fossil Fuels in Green Packaging - Climate Change Debate Fuels Greenwash Boom

On the Indonesian island of Bali, thousands of senior government officials are negotiating a plan to slow global warming. The meeting, which will focus on how to limit the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, will run for the first two weeks of December and include 192 countries. This year’s conclave is the 13th in a series launched by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change that came into force in 1994.

The coal, gas and oil companies that are major producers of greenhouse gases are finally taking notice of these high-level political discussions, and many have mounted spirited public relations exercises to defend themselves, and even win endorsements of their products.


Fossil Fuels in Green Packaging

Another company ratcheting up the green rhetoric on climate change is General Electric (GE). Its television advertisement for "clean coal" technologies portrays scantily-clad models working in a coal mine, while an announcer sums up the message: "Thanks to emissions reducing technology from GE Energy, harnessing the power of coal is looking more beautiful every day."

The ad is part of GE's "ecomagination" campaign to promote "green" products such as lower-energy houses, wind turbines, solar power and water-purification systems, as well as a range of new coal technologies.

The company has joined the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of industry and environmental groups that claim to be concerned about global warming. "The time has come for constructive action that draws strength equally from business, government, and non-governmental stakeholders," said Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of Connecticut-based GE, in a statement timed for the day before George Bush's backing of alternative technologies.

While some of the technologies GE sells -- such as wind and solar power -- are indeed carbon neutral, others -- such as its "clean coal" integrated gasification combined-cycle coal power plants -- are questionable.

The term "clean coal" refers to a variety of new technologies under development: chemically washing the fossil fuel of minerals and impurities, burning it at higher pressure and temperature, and increasing efficiency by trapping and burning waste gases that would otherwise have escaped out the smokestack. Another "clean coal" technology is "carbon capture and sequestration," or CCS, which captures coal plant emissions before they enter the atmosphere, and stores them underground.

Many environmental activists note that these "clean coal" technologies are only marginally more efficient and far more expensive. Others, such as CCS, are still on the drawing board and may never work. (In fact, GE has yet to convince any of its clients to buy these new "clean coal" plants, according to California-based Rainforest Action Network, or RAN.)

"Why waste billions of dollars to research an uncertain technology when safer, cleaner energy solutions already exist?” asks Matt Leonard of RAN. “Even if we could capture coal's dangerous emissions, why create such massive waste streams in the first place? All fossil fuels, including coal, are running out. The longer we keep relying on them, the worse off our environment, climate, and society will be."

Immelt has admitted that the new promotion campaign was based on tapping public opinion and profits. "I can't lay claim to be a big environmentalist or nature lover here,” the GE head told NBC television this May. “I know that when society changes its mind, you'd better be in front of it, and not behind it. And this is an issue on which society has changed its mind. I came to the conclusion that technology that my company makes can help make it [the climate situation] better, and I can make money doing it, and I can do something good."

Do Nothing, Collect Praise

Other companies have managed to win environmental praise for effectively doing nothing. A case in point is the much heralded $45 billion purchase of Texas state utility TXU by private equity firm Kohlberg, Kravis and Roberts and Texas Pacific Corporation. The buyers won backing from Washington DC-based environmental groups Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council in exchange for scrapping plans to build eight of 11 proposed coal plants.

Not everybody is convinced. RAN executive director Michael Brune is skeptical of the scheme, pointing out that TXU could easily shelve its concessions in the future. "The commitments by TXU's new owners should be binding, not voluntary, and the three Texas coal plants TXU still intends to build are three plants too many," he said.

Warning: Greenwash Ahead

The cases of TXU’s non-binding concessions in Texas, GE’s amorphous “clean coal” promises, and Neste’s palm oil strategy in South Asia illustrate a widening trend: As the climate change issue becomes mainstream, more and more companies are jumping on the public relations bandwagon. If these examples serve as models, they will try to win endorsements for agreeing to do nothing, promise things that they cannot guarantee, and take advantage of the debate to profit from environmentally unfriendly technologies.

Activists attending the Bali gathering say that the real answer to climate change will not be generated by profit-motivated corporations, but by the concrete commitments of political leaders backed by the force of law. Raman of Friends of the Earth International, puts it simply: "We need Northern countries to develop stringent policies to reduce their energy consumption and attempt to find solutions to their energy needs locally."

Here is the full article.