Showing posts with label sustainability. Show all posts
Showing posts with label sustainability. Show all posts

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Blatant water theft by miners being allowed under Berejiklian Government rules?


IMAGE: Ros Druce. Maules Creek Mine, January 2016 in New Matilda

ABC News, 10 September 2018:

A New South Wales coal mine is being accused of inappropriately taking more surface water than it is entitled to.

A review of Whitehaven Coal's Maules Creek Mine near Narrabri by the campaign group Lock the Gate showed it captured 1,800 million litres (ML) of surface water in 2016, despite being licenced to take 30 million litres.

Surface water is water that is collected from rainfall and run off.

An examination of surface water licences in New South Wales has been unable to find any other surface water licences held by the mine to justify the additional water.

"It does appear that the take is much higher than the licence they have explained to the community," Maules Creek farmer Lochie Leitch said.

Whitehaven Coal declined to be interviewed.

The company issued a statement saying it was in compliance with its water licences, and the use of rainfall and runoff is permissible under legislation.

Farmers whose properties neighbour the mine have joined forces with the campaign group, Lock the Gate Alliance, to lodge a complaint with the state's new water watchdog, the Natural Resources Access Regulator.

The NRAR was set up in April 2018 following a review of water management and compliance which was prompted by a story by the ABC's Four Corners.

The farmers are worried that the alleged collection of this extra surface water is affecting the environment.

"[It's] simply capturing too much water that would otherwise be recharging groundwater and flowing into surface water systems," Maules Creek farmer Sally Hunter said.

Sunday, 10 June 2018

The political endorsements of extinction by Turnbull, Berejiklian and Palaszczuk governments continue




Wild fish stocks in Australian waters shrank by about a third in the decade to 2015, declining in all regions except strictly protected marine zones, according to data collected by scientists and public divers.

The research, based on underwater reef monitoring at 533 sites around the nation and published in the Aquatic Conservation journal, claims to be the first large-scale independent survey of fisheries. It found declining numbers tracked the drop in total reported catch for 213 Australian fisheries for the 1992-2014 period.

The biomass of larger fish fell 36 per cent on fished reefs during 2005-15 and dropped 18 per cent in marine park zones allowing limited fishing, the researchers said. There was a small increase in targeted fish species in zones that barred fishing altogether.
"Most of the numbers are pretty shocking," said David Booth, a marine ecologist at the University of Technology Sydney. “This paper really nails down the fact that fishing or the removal of large fish is one of the causes” of their decline.

Over-fished stocks include the eastern jackass morwong, eastern gemfish, greenlip abalone, school shark, warehou and the grey nurse shark. The morwong catch, once as common as flathead in the trawl fishery, dived about 95 per cent from the 1960s to 109 tonnes in the 2015-16 year to become basically a bycatch species……

…Peter Whish-Wilson, the Greens ocean spokesman, said the new research was largely based on actual underwater identification – including the Reef Life Survey using citizen scientists. It suggests fishing stocks "are not as rosy as the industry or government would like us all to think".

"This study also shows that marine parks can be successful fisheries management tools but we simply don’t have enough of them or enough protection within them to deliver widespread benefits," he said.

"The new Commonwealth Marine Reserves are woefully inadequate and won’t do anything to stop the continuing decline in the health of our oceans."


Humane Society International Australia (HSI), represented by EDO NSW, is seeking independent review of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s (GBRMPA) decision to approve a lethal shark control program in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

HSI has lodged an appeal in the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) which will require a full reconsideration of the approval of the shark control program. The 10 year lethal control program targets 26 shark species in the Marine Park, including threatened and protected species. The appeal is based on the public interest in protecting the biodiversity of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.....

As apex predators, sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of the Great Barrier Reef. HSI is concerned about the ongoing impacts caused by the use of lethal drumlines which are known to impact not only on shark species but also dolphins, turtles and rays. HSI is calling for non-lethal alternatives for bather protection.


Forest covering an area more than 50 times the size of the combined central business districts of Sydney and Melbourne is set to be bulldozed near the Great Barrier Reef, official data shows, triggering claims the Turnbull government is thwarting its $500 million reef survival package.

Figures provided to Fairfax Media by Queensland’s Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Energy show that 36,600 hectares of land in Great Barrier Reef water catchments has been approved for tree clearing and is awaiting destruction.

The office of Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg did not say if his government was comfortable with the extent of land clearing approved in Queensland, or if it would use its powers to cancel permits.

The approvals were granted by the Queensland government over the past five years. About 9000 hectares under those approvals has already been cleared.

Despite the dire consequences of land clearing for the Great Barrier Reef – and billions of dollars of public money spent over the years to tackle the problem – neither Labor nor the government would commit to intervening to stop the mass deforestation.


Freedom of information laws are an important mechanism for making government decisions transparent and accountable. But the existence of such laws doesn’t mean access to information is easy.

It took a three-year legal process for the Humane Society International (HSI), represented by EDO NSW, to access documents about how the Australian Government came to accredit a NSW biodiversity offsets policy for major projects

The NSW policy in question allowed significant biodiversity trade-offs (that is, permitting developers to clear habitat in return for compensatory actions elsewhere) seemingly inconsistent with national biodiversity offset standards. HSI wanted to know how the national government could accredit a policy that didn’t meet its own standards.

Despite Australia being a signatory to important international environmental agreements and accepting international obligations to protect biodiversity, in recent years it has been proposed that the national government should delegate its environmental assessment and approval powers to the states, creating a ‘one stop shop’ for developers.

The original FOI request in this case was submitted in early 2015, during a time when Federal and State and Territory Governments were actively in consultation on handing over federal approval powers under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). This was to be done in the name of efficiency, with the assurance that national standards would be upheld by the states.
Over 60 documents finally accessed by HSI show this was a false promise. The documents reveal that federal bureaucrats in the environment department identified key areas of the NSW policy that differed from federal standards.

Despite this, the policy was accredited.

Accreditation meant that the NSW policy could be used when approving developments with impacts on nationally threatened species found in NSW, instead of applying the more rigorous national offsets policy.

In the time it took to argue for access to the documents, NSW developed a new biodiversity offsets policy as part of broader legislative reforms for biodiversity and land clearing. Unfortunately, the new NSW biodiversity offsets policy continues to entrench many of the weaker standards. For example, mine site rehabilitation decades in the future can count as an offset now; offset requirements may be discounted if other socio-economic factors are considered; and supplementary measures - such as research or paying cash - are an alternative to finding a direct offset (that is, protecting the actual plant or animal that has been impacted by a development).

While there have been some tweaks to the new policy for nationally listed threatened species, there is still a clear divergence in standards. The new policy, and the new NSW biodiversity laws, are now awaiting accreditation by the Australian Government.

How our unique and irreplaceable biodiversity is managed (and traded off) is clearly a matter of public interest. And on the eve of a hearing at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, the federal environment department agreed and released over 60 documents. While it was a heartening win for transparency and the value of FOI laws, it was a depressing read when these documents revealed the political endorsement of extinction.

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The people of the Liverpool Plains versus Santos and its irresponsible domestic and international shareholders


Oil and gas mining corporation Santos Limited is currently seeking approval to drill up to 850 natural gas wells on est. 425 sites over 95,000 hectares in the Pilliga Forest region of north-west New South Wales. 

Pilliga Forest is consdered a rare example of intact temperate forest and covers an est. 300,000 hectares sitting atop a recharge area of the Great Artesian Basin.

Santos presents itself as an Australian company, yet two affilated Chinese companys hold over 624 million voting shares in the companyand its top institutional shareholders contain the usual mix of international banks, finance and investment companies2.

In its 2017 annual report Santos admits; A range of environmental risks exist within oil and gas exploration and production activities3

This is the response of the people living on the Liverpool Plains. 


The backyard of New South Wales is facing its biggest threat yet – invasive gasfields. Betrayal by governments has meant protectors are fighting to save the things they love. The Pilliga, Great Artesian Basin, Liverpool Plains – all are at risk. This is a David and Goliath battle to save our land, air and water from destruction. It’s also a fight for the soul and future of Australia. In this film we meet the experts and people living in the sacrifice zone and uncover the truth behind the real gas crisis confronting ordinary Australians.

https://youtu.be/h3h1FxwI1CE

Footnotes
1. As of 27 June 2017 Hony Partners Group, L.P and ENN Ecological Holdings Co Ltd acting in concert
2. At Page 130 https://www.santos.com/media/4319/2017-annual-report.pdf.
3. 15 February 2017 Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage Protection fined Santos  $12,190 for non-compliance with a Soils Management Plan.

Sunday, 6 May 2018

Problems with the Murray-Darling Basin plan just keep mounting and the NSW Northern Rivers needs to make sure these problems don't become ours


When it comes to the Murray-Darling Basin river systems there is never any really good news - we go from reports of town water shortages, pictures of permanently dry river beds and allegations of widespread water theft to the possibility of a fundamental legal error in the master plan circa 2012.

The Guardian, 2 May 2018:

One of Australia’s foremost lawyers has issued an extraordinary warning that the Murray-Darling basin plan is likely to be unlawful because the authority overseeing it made a fundamental legal error when it set the original 2,750-gigalitre water recovery target in 2012.

Bret Walker QC, who chairs the South Australian royal commission into the Murray-Darling basin plan, issued the warning in a second issues paper. He also spelled out the far-reaching implications of the plan being unlawful.

Not only does it mean that the original water recovery target of 2,750GL was likely to have been set too low to deliver the environmental goal of the Water Act and could be challenged in court, but it also means that amendments to the plan now being debated by the Senate are likely to be invalid as well.

These include a plan to trim 70GL from the northern basin water recovery targets and a suite of projects, known as the sustainable diversion limit adjustment projects, which would be funded in lieu of recovering 605GL in the southern basin.

Both are being strongly criticised by scientists and environmentalists because they believe that they further undercut the environmental outcomes of the plan. 
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) says it has relied on the best available science in recommending the changes.

The new uncertainty over the validity of the amendments will make it difficult for crossbenchers to support them as the Coalition government has urged.

Walker has provided a roadmap for environmental groups or an individual affected to challenge the plan in court.

At the heart of his advice is his view that the Water Act directs the MDBA to ensure environmental outcomes are achieved when it set the environmentally sustainable level of take (ESLT) from the river system. This is the flipside of setting the water recovery target.

But instead of considering the environmental outcomes only, the MDBA applied a triple bottom line approach, giving equal weight to social and economic impacts of water recovery.

“The MDBA also appears to have approached the word ‘compromise’ in the definition of ESLT in a manner involving compromise between environmental, social and economic outcomes rather than in relation to the concept of ‘endangering’ or ‘putting in danger’ environmental criteria such as key environmental assets, and key ecosystem functions,” the SA royal commission said.

 “The commissioner is inclined to take the view that this approach to the word ‘compromise’ in s4 of the Water Act is not maintainable, or alternatively that he is presently unable to see how it is maintainable,” the paper says.

“There is also evidence that recovering an amount of water for the environment of 2,750GL does not, as a matter of fact, represent an ESLT in accordance with the definition of that term under the Water Act.”

Walker pointed to numerous reports, including a 2011 CSIRO report which said modelling based on a 2,800GL recovery target “does not meet several of the specified hydrological and ecological targets”.

There is also evidence that the MDBA received legal advice on more than one occasion, consistent with the commissioner’s concerns.

The issue of water sustainability in the Murray-Darling Basin affects not just those living in the basin and the economies of the four states this large river system runs through – it also affects the bottom line of the national economy and those east coast regions which will be pressured to dam and divert water to the Basin if its rivers continue to collapse.

One such region is the Northern Rivers of New South Wales and in particular the Clarence River catchment area and the Clarence Valley Local Government Area.

Almost every year for the past two decades there have been calls to dam and divert the Clarence River – either north into south-east Queensland or west over the ranges into the NSW section of the Murray Darling Basin.

The latest call came last month on 18 April from Toowoomba Regional Council in south-east Queensland:



The response came on 24 April via NBN News and it was a firm NO:

However, because communities in the Murray-Darling Basin have for generations refused to face the fact that they are living beyond the limits of long-term water sustainability and successive federal governments have mismanaged water policy and policy implementation, such calls will continue.

These calls for water from other catchments to be piped into the Basin or into SE Queensland are not based on scientific evidence or sound economic principles. 

They are based on an emotional response to fact that politicians and local communities looking at environmental degradation and water shortages on a daily basis are still afraid to admit that they no longer have the amount of river and groundwater needed to maintain their way of life and, are wanting some form of primitive magic to occur.

The Clarence River system is the most attractive first option for those would-be water raiders, but experience has shown the Northern Rivers region that once a formal investigation is announced all our major rivers on the NSW North Coast become vulnerable as the terms of reference are wide.

The next National General Assembly of Local Government (NGA) runs from 7-20 June 2018.

If Toowoombah Regional Council’s motion is placed on the assembly agenda it is highly likely that a number of councils in the Murray-Darling Basin will announce their support of the proposal.

Northern Rivers communities need to watch this NGA closely.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Just because Nationsls MP for New England Barnaby Joyce is now sitting on the backbenches in disgrace doesn't mean the Turnbull Government can ignore all those dodgy water deals he made


Example of a dodgy water deal par excellence where a Cayman Islands corporation can pocket $78.8 million from a suspect water sale in the beleaguered Murray-Darling Basin........

Eastern Australia Agriculture Pty Ltd (EAA) was incorporated in 2007 and is based in St George, Australia. It operates as a subsidiary of Eastern Australian Irrigation Limited.

According to The Courier Mail on 21 March 2018; the company is based in the tax haven of the Cayman Islands.

The Land reported on 19 October2011 that; EAA shareholders are based in Grand Cayman in the Cayman Islands. Its directors include former Ridley Corporation managing director Matthew Bickford-Smith and former Colly Farms's grower services manager Peter Cottle.

EEA’s portfolio comprises two properties - “Kia Ora” (7km south of St. George) and “Clyde” (10km south-west of Dirranbandi) totalling 37,590ha made up of 12,800ha of cotton producing irrigation land with further areas of development potential.

These properties are close to the notorious water harvester,“Cubbie Station”, in the Condamine-Balonne Valley.

EAA’s entire properties, including the water licences were reported to have been independently valued at est. $107m in 2017.

In 2017 the Turnbull Government agreed to purchase over 29 gigalitres of water for $80,041,455  from EEA, which originally insisted on $2,200 per megalitre. But after negotiation, the Government paid a higher price - $2,745 per megalitre.

Then Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Water, Barnaby Joyce, approved the final purchase of 29,159 megalitres of OLF licences in May 2017 - 14,969 ML from “Clyde” and 14,190 from “Kia Ora”.

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) due diligence later reduced the total volume to 28,740 megalitres and the price paid to $78,891,300.

The water purchased was for Over Land Flow (OLF) licences, which cannot be traded between irrigators, because they are attached to land. They have no legal status or any recognition at a location other than where they were originally purchased. That is, there appears to be no legal basis for the Commonwealth to ensure it gets to the places it is intended to be used. [The Australia Institute, March 2018, “That’s not how you haggle”, p.3]

The sale of EAA’s OLF licences represented 74% of the value of both EAA properties.

EAA recorded a $52m gain on the sale in their 2017 Annual Report. [ibid, p.8]

The purchase appears to be in breach of the Commonwealth Procurement Rules because it was not made available to all licence holders in the valley…. [ibid, p.3]

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Murray-Darling Basin: water mismanagement just keeps rolling on


Image sourced from Twitter

Having miserably failed to enforce even the most basic of safeguards against widespread water theft in the Murray Darling Basin - such as not allowing unmetered water extraction -  the Murray Darling Basin Authority and then water resources minister and now humble Nationals backbencher Barnaby Joyce have left us having to rely on leaks to the media to find out the true state of play in the national water wars.


The ailing state of the Darling River has been traced to man-made water extraction, according to a leaked report by the agency charged with overseeing its health.
The "hydrologic investigation", dated last November and obtained by Fairfax Media, analysed more than 2000 low-flow events from 1990-2017 on the Barwon-Darling River between Mungindi near the NSW-Queensland border down to Wilcannia in far-western NSW .

The draft report – a version of which is understood to have been sent to the Turnbull government for comment – comes days after WaterNSW issued a red alert for blue-green algae on the Lower Darling River at Pooncarie and Burtundy.


The paper by Murray-Darling Basin Authority's (MDBA) own scientists found flow behaviour had changed since 2000, particularly in mid-sections of the river such as between the towns of Walgett and Brewarrina.

On that section, low or no-flow periods were "difficult to reconcile with impacts purely caused by climate", the scientists said.

Indeed, dry periods on the river downstream from Bourke were "significantly longer than pre-2000", with the dry spells during the millennium drought continuing afterwards.

Water resource development – also described as "anthropogenic impact" – must also play "a critical role" in the low flows between Walgett and Brewarrina, the report said.
The revelations come after the Senate last month voted to disallow changes to the $13 billion Murray-Darling Basin Plan that would have cut annual environmental water savings by 70 billion litres…..

A spokeswoman for the authority said the report was "undergoing quality assurance processes prior to publication", with a formal release on its website likely in coming days.

The MDBA commissioned the internal team to "address some of the specific concerns raised" by its own compliance reviews and those of the Berejiklian government, she said.

Terry Korn, president of the Australian Floodplain Association,  said the report confirmed what his group's members had known since the O'Farrell government changed the river's water-sharing plan in 2012 to allow irrigators to pump even during low-flow periods.

Poor policy had been compounded by "totally inadequate monitoring and compliance systems", Mr Korn said.

"Some irrigators have capitalised on this poor management by the NSW government to such an extent that their removal of critical low flows has denied downstream landholders and communities their basic riparian rights to fresh clean water," he said. "This is totally unacceptable."….

Fairfax Media also sought comment from federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud.

Once publicly outed for sitting on the review report the Murray Darling Basin Authority finally decided to publish it this week.
https://www.scribd.com/document/372999806/Murray-Darling-Basn-Compliance-Review-Final-Report-November-2017


The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 February 2018:

The NSW government intervened to urge the purchase of water rights from a large irrigator on the Darling River that delivered a one-off $37 million profit to its owner while leaving downstream users struggling with stagnant flows.

Gavin Hanlon, the senior NSW water official who resigned last September amid multiple inquiries into allegations of water theft and poor compliance by some large irrigators, wrote to his federal counterparts in the Agriculture and Water Resources Department, then headed by Barnaby Joyce, in late December 2016 urging the buyback of water from Tandou property to proceed.

The Tandou water purchase proposal "should be progressed...given the high cost of the alternative water supply solution" for the property south-east of Broken Hill, Mr Hanlon wrote, according to a document sent on December 23, 2016 and obtained by Fairfax Media.

Early in 2017, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences estimated the property's annual water entitlements of 21.9 billion litres to be $24,786,750 "based on recent trade values", according to another document listed as "Commercial in Confidence".

Despite this valuation, the federal government by 16 March, 2017 would pay Tandou's owner Webster Ltd more than $78 million. At its announcement on 21 June last year, Webster said in a statement it "expects to record a net profit on disposal in the order of $36-37 million".

The transfer of the water rights are apparently the subject of inquiries by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, with several people saying they have discussed their knowledge of the deal with the agency. An ICAC spokeswoman declined to comment.


Liberal Party donor Christopher Darcy “Chris” Corrigan is Executive Chairman and a significant shareholder in this company

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The mess that Barnaby left





EDO NSW, on behalf of its client the Inland Rivers Network, has commenced civil enforcement proceedings in the NSW Land and Environment Court in relation to allegations of unlawful water pumping by a large-scale irrigator on the Barwon-Darling River.

The two water access licences at the centre of these allegations allow the licence holder to pump water from the Barwon-Darling River in accordance with specified licence conditions, as well as rules set out in the relevant ‘water sharing plan’. The conditions and rules specify – amongst other things – how much water can be legally pumped in a water accounting year (which is the same as the financial year) and at what times pumping is permissible (which depends on the volume of water flowing in the river at any given time). 

Our client alleges that the holder of these licences pumped water in contravention of some of these conditions and rules, thereby breaching relevant provisions of the Water Management Act 2000 (NSW) (WM Act). The allegations are based on licence data obtained by EDO NSW earlier in 2017 from Water NSW, a state-owned corporation charged with the responsibility of regulating compliance with the WM Act. 

Analysis of this data, along with the relevant rules and publicly available information on river heights, indicates that the licence holder may have pumped significantly more water than was permissible on one licence during the 2014-15 water year, and taken a significant amount of water under another licence during a period of low flow when pumping was not permitted in the 2015-16 water year. Despite being made aware of these allegations by EDO NSW on two occasions, in April and August 2017, and having had access to the data since at least July 2016, Water NSW has not provided any indication that it intends to take compliance action against the licence holder.

Both allegations concern the potentially unlawful pumping of significant volumes of water, which may have had serious impacts on environmental flows in the river and downstream water users. However, our client is particularly concerned by the alleged over-extraction in the 2014/15 water year, as this period was so dry that the Menindee Lakes – which are filled by flows from the Barwon-Darling River – fell to 4 percent of their total storage capacity. This in turn threatened Broken Hill’s water security and led the NSW Government to impose an embargo on water extractions during part of that year in order to improve flows down the Barwon-Darling into the Lakes and Lower Darling River. 

In these proceedings, the Inland Rivers Network is seeking, amongst other things, an injunction preventing the licence holder from continuing to breach the relevant licence conditions. In addition, and in order to make good any depletion of environmental flows caused by the alleged unlawful pumping, our client is also asking the Court to require the licence holder to return to the river system an equivalent volume of water to that alleged to have been unlawfully taken, or to restrain the licence holder from pumping such a volume from the river system, during the next period of low flows in the river system. Failure to comply with a court order constitutes contempt of court, which is a criminal offence. 

EDO NSW is grateful to barristers Tom Howard SC and Natasha Hammond for their assistance in this matter.

Brendan Dobbie, Senior Solicitor at EDO NSW, has carriage of this matter for IRN.


In 2008, then Senator Joyce criticised the Labor government’s purchase of water in the Warrego valley: that is going to have no effect whatsoever in solving the problems of the lower Murray-Darling, and especially the southern states.

Despite the now Deputy Prime Minister and Water Minister’s own fierce criticism of that purchase, he approved the $16,977,600 purchase of another 10.611 gigalitres of water in the Warrego valley in March 2017 at more than twice the price paid by the Labor government. Questions should be raised about what changed the Deputy Prime Minister’s mind and whether that purchase was value for money.

This purchase also has serious implications for the recent amendments to the Basin Plan that was disallowed by the Senate on 14 February 2018.

This purchase was not required to meet the water recovery target in the Warrego under the Murray-Darling Basin Plan. Instead, it was intended to count towards the water recovery target in the Border Rivers. This swap required an amendment to s6.05 of the Basin Plan, which was tabled in parliament and disallowed by the Senate. Yet, the Warrego purchase was not reflected in the Sustainable Diversion Limits (SDLs) put to Parliament as part of the amendments.

Murray-Darling Basin Authority (MDBA) is required to base its recommendations to change SDLs based on best available science, but the proposed amendments allowed MDBA and States to subsequently change the SDLs in a valley without any consideration of the science.

While MDBA was seeking public submissions on changes to valley SDLs, based on science; the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources (DAWR) was in negotiations to change those valley targets, not based on science.

Parliament was asked to pass an amendment to the Basin Plan with SDLs that would have been changed based on a deal agreed over a year earlier, if the amendment had passed.

Given that the new SDLs were known and agreed by governments, it is not apparent why the MDBA did not include the new SDLs in the amendment put to parliament.

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Gas industry finally admits that its lobbying spin contains untruths?


Tucked into the wall-to-wall spin of this media release is a tacit admission that safe aquifer recharge with treated water is little more than a convenient deception offered up to governments and citizens in the gas industry's drive to create more gasfields and extract more water from the natural environment in the mining process.
Research into the effects of the Coal Seam Gas industry on groundwater is continuously improving our understanding about underground water movements and implications for coal seam development.
Scientists from Queensland's independent Office of Groundwater Impact Assessment (OGIA) and the University of Queensland Centre for Coal Seam Gas have been wading through an enormous amount of data being contributed by landholders, government, industry and other research projects to build up a better understanding of groundwater movements.
Early studies suggest that the recharge of underground aquifers may not be as effective as once thought and recharge flow paths may not be what we first thought.
Research indicates that much of the rain recharging the Hutton and Precipice Sandstone aquifers in the North-East Surat Basin is discharging into the local low topography of the Dawson River.
That means the water is flowing in a north easterly direction, rather than to the south west into the regional Great Artesian Basin as was thought prior to 2009.
These findings were applied by OGIA in the development of regional groundwater flow models in 2012 and 2016 but many landholders remain unaware of the new findings.
It's also thought there could be small faults that create a localised connection between the Precipice and Hutton Aquifers in the vicinity of what is known as the Moonie-Goondiwindi fault system.
Researchers stress that this is still a work in progress and it is currently being reviewed by UQ and CSIRO researchers working independently on multiple data sets to either confirm or refute the hypothesis.
Lead researcher at the UQ Centre for Coal Seam Gas, Prof Jim Underschultz says, "Our understanding of the Great Artesian Basin is increasing as researchers analyse the growing amount of data collected from the basin.
"The use of groundwater monitoring data, water production figures, detailed geographic distributions of water levels and hydrocarbon migration 'fingerprints' are giving us a level of detail never seen before".
The UQ researchers are collaborating closely with CSIRO, OGIA and the CSG Compliance Unit to ensure that research findings are made publicly available as quickly as possible.
Jim's research publications can be found at: http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/8868
[my yellow highlighting]

Friday, 9 February 2018

Falling biodiversity, degradation of productive rural land, intensification of coastal & city development, and the threat of climate change require Australia to produce blueprint for a new generation of environment laws


“The next generation of environmental laws will need to recognise explicitly the role of humanity as a trustee of the environment and its common resources, requiring both care and engagement on behalf of future generations.”  [APEEL, Blueprint for the Next Generation of Environmental Law, August 2017]

The Guardian, 6 February 2018:
Environmental lawyers and academics have called for a comprehensive rethink on how Australia's natural landscapes are protected, warning that short-term politics is infecting decision-making and suggesting that the public be given a greater say on development plans.
The Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law has launched a blueprint for a new generation of environment laws and the creation of independent agencies with the power and authority to ensure they are enforced. The panel of 14 senior legal figures says this is motivated by the need to systematically address ecological challenges including falling biodiversity, the degradation of productive rural land, the intensification of coastal and city development and the threat of climate change.
Murray Wilcox QC, a former federal court judge, said the blueprint was a serious attempt to improve a system that was shutting the public out of the decision-making process and failing to properly assess the impact of large-scale development proposals.
"We found the standard of management of the environment is poor because everything is made into a political issue," Wilcox said. "Nothing happens until it becomes desperate.
"We need a non-political body of significant prestige to report on what is happening and have the discretion to act."
The legal review, developed over several years and quietly released in 2017, resulted in 57 recommendations. It was suggested by the Places You Love alliance, a collection of about 40 environmental groups that was created to counter a failed bid to set up a "one-stop shop" for environmental approvals by leaving it to the states. The panel undertook the work on the understanding it would be independent and not a piece of activism.
Review report can be found here.

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

Scientists issue a final warning to humanity



THEN……

1992 World Scientists' Warning to Humanity

Scientist Statement: World Scientists' Warning to Humanity (1992) (PDF document)

Some 1,700 of the world's leading scientists, including the majority of Nobel laureates in the sciences, issued this appeal in November 1992. The World Scientists' Warning to Humanity was written and spearheaded by the late Henry Kendall, former chair of UCS's board of directors.

Introduction
Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.

NOW……

WILLIAM J. RIPPLE, CHRISTOPHER WOLF, THOMAS M. NEWSOME, MAURO GALETTI, MOHAMMED ALAMGIR, EILEEN CRIST, MAHMOUD I. MAHMOUD, WILLIAM F. LAURANCE, and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries

Twenty-five years ago, the Union of Concerned Scientists and more than 1700 independent scientists, including the majority of living Nobel laureates in the sciences, penned the 1992 “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” (see supplemental file S1).

These concerned professionals called on humankind to curtail environmental destruction and cautioned that “a great change in our stewardship of the Earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided.” In their manifesto, they showed that humans were on a collision course with the natural world. They expressed concern about current, impending, or potential damage on planet Earth involving ozone depletion, freshwater availability, marine life depletion, ocean dead zones, forest loss, biodiversity destruction, climate change, and continued human population growth. They proclaimed that fundamental changes were urgently needed to avoid the consequences our present course would bring.

The authors of the 1992 declaration feared that humanity was pushing Earth’s ecosystems beyond their capacities to support the web of life. They described how we are fast approaching many of the limits of what the biosphere can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm. The scientists pleaded that we stabilize the human population, describing how our large numbers—swelled by another 2 billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase—exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realize a sustainable future (Crist et al. 2017). They implored that we cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and phase out fossil fuels, reduce deforestation, and reverse the trend of collapsing biodiversity.

On the twenty-fifth anniversary of their call, we look back at their warning and evaluate the human response by exploring available time-series data. Since 1992, with the exception of stabilizing the stratospheric ozone layer, humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse (figure 1, file S1). Especially troubling is the current trajectory of potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising GHGs from burning fossil fuels (Hansen et al. 2013), deforestation (Keenan et al. 2015), and agricultural production— particularly from farming ruminants for meat consumption (Ripple et al. 2014). Moreover, we have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century.

Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated by these alarming trends (figure 1). We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats (Crist et al. 2017). By failing to adequately limit population growth, reassess the role of an economy rooted in growth, reduce greenhouse gases, incentivize renewable energy, protect habitat, restore ecosystems, curb pollution, halt defaunation, and constrain invasive alien species, humanity is not taking the urgent steps needed to safeguard our imperilled biosphere.

As most political leaders respond to pressure, scientists, media influencers, and lay citizens must insist that their governments take immediate action as a moral imperative to current and future generations of human and other life. With a groundswell of organized grassroots efforts, dogged opposition can be overcome and political leaders compelled to do the right thing. It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources.

Read the full Second Notice here.

ALL THE WHILE THE DOOMSDAY CLOCK IS TICKING.......

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 25 January 2018:

It is now two minutes to midnight

Editor’s note: Founded in 1945 by University of Chicago scientists who had helped develop the first atomic weapons in the Manhattan Project, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists created the Doomsday Clock two years later, using the imagery of apocalypse (midnight) and the contemporary idiom of nuclear explosion (countdown to zero) to convey threats to humanity and the planet. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 15 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world’s vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains. A printable PDF of this statement, complete with the President and CEO’s statement and Science and Security Board biographies, is available here.

To: Leaders and citizens of the world
Re: Two minutes to midnight

Date: January 25, 2018

In 2017, world leaders failed to respond effectively to the looming threats of nuclear war and climate change, making the world security situation more dangerous than it was a year ago—and as dangerous as it has been since World War II.

The greatest risks last year arose in the nuclear realm. North Korea’s nuclear weapons program made remarkable progress in 2017, increasing risks to North Korea itself, other countries in the region, and the United States. Hyperbolic rhetoric and provocative actions by both sides have increased the possibility of nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.
But the dangers brewing on the Korean Peninsula were not the only nuclear risks evident in 2017: The United States and Russia remained at odds, continuing military exercises along the borders of NATO, undermining the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), upgrading their nuclear arsenals, and eschewing arms control negotiations.

In the Asia-Pacific region, tensions over the South China Sea have increased, with relations between the United States and China insufficient to re-establish a stable security situation.
In South Asia, Pakistan and India have continued to build ever-larger arsenals of nuclear weapons.

And in the Middle East, uncertainty about continued US support for the landmark Iranian nuclear deal adds to a bleak overall picture.

To call the world nuclear situation dire is to understate the danger—and its immediacy.
On the climate change front, the danger may seem less immediate, but avoiding catastrophic temperature increases in the long run requires urgent attention now. Global carbon dioxide emissions have not yet shown the beginnings of the sustained decline towards zero that must occur if ever-greater warming is to be avoided. The nations of the world will have to significantly decrease their greenhouse gas emissions to keep climate risks manageable, and so far, the global response has fallen far short of meeting this challenge.

Beyond the nuclear and climate domains, technological change is disrupting democracies around the world as states seek and exploit opportunities to use information technologies as weapons, among them internet-based deception campaigns aimed at undermining elections and popular confidence in institutions essential to free thought and global security.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists Science and Security Board believes the perilous world security situation just described would, in itself, justify moving the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight.

But there has also been a breakdown in the international order that has been dangerously exacerbated by recent US actions. In 2017, the United States backed away from its long-standing leadership role in the world, reducing its commitment to seek common ground and undermining the overall effort toward solving pressing global governance challenges. Neither allies nor adversaries have been able to reliably predict US actions—or understand when US pronouncements are real, and when they are mere rhetoric. International diplomacy has been reduced to name-calling, giving it a surreal sense of unreality that makes the world security situation ever more threatening.

Because of the extraordinary danger of the current moment, the Science and Security Board today moves the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock 30 seconds closer to catastrophe. It is now two minutes to midnight—the closest the Clock has ever been to Doomsday, and as close as it was in 1953, at the height of the Cold War.

The Science and Security Board hopes this resetting of the Clock will be interpreted exactly as it is meant—as an urgent warning of global danger. The time for world leaders to address looming nuclear danger and the continuing march of climate change is long past. The time for the citizens of the world to demand such action is now:

#rewindtheDoomsdayClock.

The untenable nuclear threat. The risk that nuclear weapons may be used—intentionally or because of miscalculation—grew last year around the globe.

North Korea has long defied UN Security Council resolutions to cease its nuclear and ballistic missile tests, but the acceleration of its tests in 2017 reflects new resolve to acquire sophisticated nuclear weapons. North Korea has or soon will have capabilities to match its verbal threats—specifically, a thermonuclear warhead and a ballistic missile that can carry it to the US mainland. In September, North Korea tested what experts assess to be a true two-stage thermonuclear device, and in November, it tested the Hwasong-15 missile, which experts believe has a range of over 8,000 kilometers. The United States and its allies, Japan and South Korea, responded with more frequent and larger military exercises, while China and Russia proposed a freeze by North Korea of nuclear and missile tests in exchange for a freeze in US exercises.

The failure to secure a temporary freeze in 2017 was unsurprising to observers of the downward spiral of nuclear rhetoric between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. The failure to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program will reverberate not just in the Asia-Pacific, as neighboring countries review their security options, but more widely, as all countries consider the costs and benefits of the international framework of nonproliferation treaties and agreements.

Nuclear risks have been compounded by US-Russia relations that now feature more conflict than cooperation. Coordination on nuclear risk reduction is all but dead, and no solution to disputes over the INF Treaty—a landmark agreement to rid Europe of medium-range nuclear missiles—is readily apparent. Both sides allege violations, but Russia’s deployment of a new ground-launched cruise missile, if not addressed, could trigger a collapse of the treaty. Such a collapse would make what should have been a relatively easy five-year extension of the New START arms control pact much harder to achieve and could terminate an arms control process that dates back to the early 1970s.

For the first time in many years, in fact, no US-Russian nuclear arms control negotiations are under way. New strategic stability talks begun in April are potentially useful, but so far they lack the energy and political commitment required for them to bear fruit. More important, Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea and semi-covert support of separatists in eastern Ukraine have sparked concerns that Russia will support similar “hybrid” conflicts in new NATO members that it borders—actions that could provoke a crisis at almost any time. Additional clash points could emerge if Russia attempts to exploit friction between the United States and its NATO partners, whether arising from disputes on burden-sharing, European Union membership, and trade—or relating to policies on Israel, Iran, and terrorism in the Middle East.

In the past year, US allies have needed reassurance about American intentions more than ever. Instead, they have been forced to negotiate a thicket of conflicting policy statements from a US administration weakened in its cadre of foreign policy professionals, suffering from turnover in senior leadership, led by an undisciplined and disruptive president, and unable to develop, coordinate, and clearly communicate a coherent nuclear policy. This inconsistency constitutes a major challenge for deterrence, alliance management, and global stability. It has made the existing nuclear risks greater than necessary and added to their complexity.

Especially in the case of the Iran nuclear deal, allies are perplexed. While President Trump has steadfastly opposed the agreement that his predecessor and US allies negotiated to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, he has never successfully articulated practical alternatives. His instruction to Congress in 2017 to legislate a different approach resulted in a stalemate. The future of the Iran deal, at this writing, remains uncertain.

In the United States, Russia, and elsewhere around the world, plans for nuclear force modernization and development continue apace. The Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review appears likely to increase the types and roles of nuclear weapons in US defense plans and lower the threshold to nuclear use. In South Asia, emphasis on nuclear and missile capabilities grows. Conventional force imbalances and destabilizing plans for nuclear weapons use early in any conflict continue to plague the subcontinent.

Reflecting long decades of frustration with slow progress toward nuclear disarmament, states signed a Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, commonly known as the ban treaty, at the United Nations this past September. The treaty—championed by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for its work—is a symbolic victory for those seeking a world without nuclear weapons and a strong expression of the frustration with global disarmament efforts to date. Predictably, countries with nuclear weapons boycotted the negotiations, and none has signed the ban treaty. Their increased reliance on nuclear weapons, threats, and doctrines that could make the use of those weapons more likely stands in stark contrast to the expectations of the rest of the world.

An insufficient response to climate change. Last year, the US government pursued unwise and ineffectual policies on climate change, following through on a promise to derail past US climate policies. The Trump administration, which includes avowed climate denialists in top positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the Interior Department, and other key agencies, has announced its plan to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. In its rush to dismantle rational climate and energy policy, the administration has ignored scientific fact and well-founded economic analyses.

These US government climate decisions transpired against a backdrop of worsening climate change and high-impact weather-related disasters. This year past, the Caribbean region and other parts of North America suffered a season of historic damage from exceedingly powerful hurricanes. Extreme heat waves occurred in Australia, South America, Asia, Europe, and California, with mounting evidence that heat-related illness and death are correspondingly increasing. The Arctic ice cap achieved its smallest-ever winter maximum in 2017, the third year in a row that this record has been broken. The United States has witnessed devastating wildfires, likely exacerbated by extreme drought and subsequent heavy rains that spurred underbrush growth. When the data are assessed, 2017 is almost certain to continue the trend of exceptional global warmth: All the warmest years in the instrumental record, which extends back to the 1800s, have—excepting one year in the late 1990s—occurred in the 21st century.

Despite the sophisticated disinformation campaign run by climate denialists, the unfolding consequences of an altered climate are a harrowing testament to an undeniable reality: The science linking climate change to human activity—mainly the burning of fossil fuels that produce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—is sound. The world continues to warm as costly impacts mount, and there is evidence that overall rates of sea level rise are accelerating—regardless of protestations to the contrary.

Especially against these trends, it is heartening that the US government’s defection from the Paris Agreement did not prompt its unravelling or diminish its support within the United States at large. The “We Are Still In” movement signals a strong commitment within the United States—by some 1,700 businesses, 250 cities, 200 communities of faith, and nine states, representing more than 40 percent of the US population—to its international climate commitments and to the validity of scientific facts.

This reaffirmation is reassuring, and other countries have maintained their steadfast support for climate action, reconfirmed their commitments to global climate cooperation, and clearly acknowledged that more needs to be done. French President Emmanuel Macron’s sober message to global leaders assembled at December’s global climate summit in Paris was a reality check after the heady climate negotiations his country hosted two years earlier: “We’re losing the battle. We’re not moving quickly enough. We all need to act.” And indeed, after plateauing for a few years, greenhouse gas emissions resumed their stubborn rise in 2017.

As we have noted before, the true measure of the Paris Agreement is whether nations actually fulfill their pledges to cut emissions, strengthen those pledges, and see to it that global greenhouse gas emissions start declining in short order and head toward zero. As we drift yet farther from this goal, the urgency of shifting course becomes greater, and the existential threat posed by climate change looms larger.

Emerging technologies and global risk. The Science and Security Board is deeply concerned about the loss of public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in facts themselves—a loss that the abuse of information technology has fostered. Attempts to intervene in elections through sophisticated hacking operations and the spread of disinformation have threatened democracy, which relies on an informed electorate to reach reasonable decisions on public policy—including policy relating to nuclear weapons, climate change, and other global threats. Meanwhile, corporate leaders in the information domain, including established media outlets and internet companies such as Facebook and Google, have been slow to adopt protocols to prevent misuse of their services and protect citizens from manipulation. The international community should establish new measures that discourage and penalize all cross-border subversions of democracy.

Last year, the Science and Security Board warned that “[t]echnological innovation is occurring at a speed that challenges society’s ability to keep pace. While limited at the current time, potentially existential threats posed by a host of emerging technologies need to be monitored, and to the extent possible anticipated, as the 21st century unfolds.”
If anything, the velocity of technological change has only increased in the past year, and so our warning holds for 2018. But beyond monitoring advances in emerging technology, the board believes that world leaders also need to seek better collective methods of managing those advances, so the positive aspects of new technologies are encouraged and malign uses discovered and countered. The sophisticated hacking of the “Internet of Things,” including computer systems that control major financial and power infrastructure and have access to more than 20 billion personal devices; the development of autonomous weaponry that makes “kill” decisions without human supervision; and the possible misuse of advances in synthetic biology, including the revolutionary Crispr gene-editing tool, already pose potential global security risks. Those risks could expand without strong public institutions and new management regimes. The increasing pace of technological change requires faster development of those tools.

How to turn back the Clock. In 1953, former Manhattan Project scientist and Bulletin editor Eugene Rabinowitch set the hands of the Doomsday Clock at two minutes to midnight, writing, “The achievement of a thermonuclear explosion by the Soviet Union, following on the heels of the development of ‘thermonuclear devices’ in America, means that the time, dreaded by scientists since 1945, when each major nation will hold the power of destroying, at will, the urban civilization of any other nation, is close at hand.”

The Science and Security Board now again moves the hands of the Clock to two minutes before midnight. But the current, extremely dangerous state of world affairs need not be permanent. The means for managing dangerous technology and reducing global-scale risk exist; indeed, many of them are well-known and within society’s reach, if leaders pay reasonable attention to preserving the long-term prospects of humanity, and if citizens demand that they do so.

This is a dangerous time, but the danger is of our own making. Humankind has invented the implements of apocalypse; so can it invent the methods of controlling and eventually eliminating them. This year, leaders and citizens of the world can move the Doomsday Clock and the world away from the metaphorical midnight of global catastrophe by taking these common-sense actions:

• US President Donald Trump should refrain from provocative rhetoric regarding North Korea, recognizing the impossibility of predicting North Korean reactions.

• The US and North Korean governments should open multiple channels of communication. At a minimum, military-to-military communications can help reduce the likelihood of inadvertent war on the Korean Peninsula. Keeping diplomatic channels open for talks without preconditions is another common-sense way to reduce tensions. As leading security expert Siegfried Hecker of Stanford University recently wrote: “Such talks should not be seen as a reward or concession to Pyongyang, nor construed as signaling acceptance of a nuclear-armed North Korea. They could, however, deliver the message that while Washington fully intends to defend itself and its allies from any attack with a devastating retaliatory response, it does not otherwise intend to attack North Korea or pursue regime change."

 • The world community should pursue, as a short-term goal, the cessation of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile tests. North Korea is the only country to violate the norm against nuclear testing in 20 years. Over time, the United States should seek North Korea’s signature on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty—and then, along with China, at long last also ratify the treaty.

• The Trump administration should abide by the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action for Iran’s nuclear program unless credible evidence emerges that Iran is not complying with the agreement or Iran agrees to an alternative approach that meets US national security needs.

• The United States and Russia should discuss and adopt measures to prevent peacetime military incidents along the borders of NATO. Provocative military exercises and maneuvers hold the potential for crisis escalation. Both militaries must exercise restraint and professionalism, adhering to all norms developed to avoid conflict and accidental encounters.

• US and Russian leaders should return to the negotiating table to resolve differences over the INF treaty; to seek further reductions in nuclear arms; to discuss a lowering of the alert status of the nuclear arsenals of both countries; to limit nuclear modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race; and to ensure that new tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons are not built and that existing tactical weapons are never used on the battlefield.

• US citizens should demand, in all legal ways, climate action from their government. Climate change is a real and serious threat to humanity. Citizens should insist that their governments acknowledge it and act accordingly.

• Governments around the world should redouble their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions so they go well beyond the initial, inadequate pledges under the Paris Agreement. The temperature goal under that agreement—to keep warming well below 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels—is consistent with consensus views on climate science, is eminently achievable, and is economically viable, provided that poorer countries are given the support they need to make the post-carbon transition. But the time window for achieving this goal is rapidly closing.

• The international community should establish new protocols to discourage and penalize the misuse of information technology to undermine public trust in political institutions, in the media, in science, and in the existence of objective reality itself. Strong and accountable institutions are necessary to prevent deception campaigns that are a real threat to effective democracies, reducing their ability to enact policies to address nuclear weapons, climate change, and other global dangers.

• The countries of the world should collaborate on creating institutions specifically assigned to explore and address potentially malign or catastrophic misuses of new technologies, particularly as regards autonomous weaponry that makes “kill” decisions without human supervision and advances in synthetic biology that could, if misused, pose a global threat.
The failure of world leaders to address the largest threats to humanity’s future is lamentable—but that failure can be reversed. It is two minutes to midnight, but the Doomsday Clock has ticked away from midnight in the past, and during the next year, the world can again move it further from apocalypse. The warning the Science and Security Board now sends is clear, the danger obvious and imminent. The opportunity to reduce the danger is equally clear.

The world has seen the threat posed by the misuse of information technology and witnessed the vulnerability of democracies to disinformation. But there is a flip side to the abuse of social media. Leaders react when citizens insist they do so, and citizens around the world can use the power of the internet to improve the long-term prospects of their children and grandchildren. They can insist on facts, and discount nonsense. They can demand action to reduce the existential threat of nuclear war and unchecked climate change. They can seize the opportunity to make a safer and saner world.

They can #rewindtheDoomsdayClock.