(The Philippine Star) | Updated July 19, 2013 - 12:00am
LEGAZPI CITY, Philippines – Albay folk are guarding the nesting place of the rare and largest species of marine turtle, the leatherback, one of which crawled to shore and laid eggs in the sand dunes of Albay Gulf near the Yawa River in Barangay Rawis here.
The turtle, measuring two meters long and one meter wide and weighing around 250 to 300 kilograms, was released to the sea Sunday night but is expected to return in eight to 10 days to lay more eggs.
Experts said it was the first documented nesting of the endangered turtle species, Deomchelys coriacea, in the country.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda was elated at the news of his province’s newest transient.
“We are truly blessed in having been chosen by nature for our shores to provide safe haven for the largest marine turtle found in the world and is now deemed an endangered species. I have ordered concerned personnel to adhere to the best ecological practices in handling the turtle and its eggs,” he said.
Albay is a safe home for the turtle and her nest, Salceda said of his province, which is the United Nations global model for climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.
He said being a breeding ground of the leatherback turtle “has added to the mystic of our well founded regard of the environment, borne out of the no-nonsense environmental programs and campaigns on climate change adaptation.”
Since experts believe that leatherback female turtles lay eggs in the place where they were originally hatched, Albay could be one of their few original homes of the turtle in the world.
The turtle is primarily found in the open ocean as far as north Alaska and the southern tip of Africa. It is sometimes called the lute turtle, the largest of all living turtles, and is the fourth largest modern reptile behind three crocodilians.
Norma Baylon, chief of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) wildlife section, said they haven’t counted the eggs yet for fear of disturbing the nest.
Leatherback turtles lay 50 to 110 eggs, which take 45 to 70 days to hatch.
Leatherbacks are the only marine turtles that do not have a hard bony shell. Their shell is about 1.5 inches thick and saturated with oil and connective tissues that are flexible and almost rubbery.
As this developed, Salceda signed a resolution creating a task force to protect the leatherback’s nesting area. – With Cet Dematera
Halliburton to plead guilty to destroying evidence in BP spill
By Steven Mufson, Friday, July 26, 9:10 AM E-mail the writer
The oil services giant Halliburton agreed Thursday to plead guilty to destroying evidence during the Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in 2010, admitting to one count of criminal conduct and agreeing to pay the $200,000 maximum statutory fine, according to the Justice Department.
In a startling turn in the three-year-old criminal investigation, Halliburton said that on two occasions during the oil spill, it directed employees to destroy or “get rid of” simulations that would have helped clarify how to assign blame for the blowout — and possibly focused more attention on Halliburton’s role.
The explosion at BP’s Macondo oil well on April 20, 2010, killed 11 people, destroyed the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig and ultimately leaked nearly 5 million barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
Halliburton, which has repeatedly denied responsibility and pointed fingers at BP, will be placed on probation for three years. It also agreed to pay $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation even if the U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana does not accept its plea agreement.
The admission is likely to complicate Halliburton’s efforts to avoid damage payments in civil suits linked to the Deepwater Horizon spill. During the first quarter of this year, the company took a $637 million charge against earnings to increase to about $1.3 billion a reserve set aside for possible Macondo settlement costs.
Other companies, including BP and the rig owner Trans*Ocean, have already reached deals with the Justice Department. In November, BP agreed to pay $4 billion to settle criminal charges, and TransOcean settled civil and criminal charges for $1.4 billion in January.
Halliburton said that the Justice Department agreed not to pursue further criminal prosecution of the company or its subsidiaries and that the department “acknowledged the company’s significant and valuable cooperation.” The company said it would continue to cooperate with any further investigations tied to the incident.
The Houston-based company provided the cement that was supposed to seal the spaces on the outside of the well’s steel drilling pipe, and the quality and drying time of the cement has been the subject of scrutiny.
Halliburton’s simulations examined one of the key decisions in the run-up to the disaster: Whether BP made a serious error by using six centralizers instead of 21; centralizers are metal collars on the outside of the steel pipe that helped stabilize the drill pipe in the center of the hole.
Before the blowout, Halliburton had recommended that BP use 21 of the centralizers. Later, during inquiries about the spill, Halliburton officials repeatedly pointed at a BP executive who gave the go-ahead to use only six centralizers in part because it would have taken additional time to find more.
Now the plea agreement says that on two occasions Halliburton’s simulations revealed that it made little difference whether BP used six or 21. That would have intensified scrutiny about whether flaws in Halliburton’s cement job were more significant.
On or about May 3, 2010, Halliburton established an internal working group to examine the Macondo disaster, including whether the number of centralizers used could have contributed to the blowout. According to the plea agreement, Halliburton’s cementing technology director instructed a senior program manager to run two computer simulations of the Macondo well’s final cementing job. When the simulations “indicated that there was little difference between using six and 21 centralizers,” the program manager “was directed to, and did, destroy these results,” the plea agreement said.
“In or about June 2010, similar evidence was also destroyed in a later incident,” the Justice Department said. Halliburton’s cementing technology director “asked another, more experienced, employee” to run simulations again comparing six vs. 21 centralizers, the department added; that employee “reached the same conclusion and, like the Program Manager before him, was then directed to ‘get rid of’ the simulations.”
The plea agreement comes after a new accident in the gulf, a blowout on a gas well. On Thursday, that fire was extinguished when sand clogged the hole and blocked further leaks. The crew had escaped unharmed.
The latest incident could again focus attention on the blowout preventer, a device designed to clamp shut the well pipe in an emergency. Cameron, a large manufacturer of the devices, made the blowout preventers on both the Macondo well and the gas well that caught fire this week. The investigation of the latest incident is just beginning, and officials said it was too early to assign blame.
Where is the $12-million escrow fund for the rehabilitation of the Boac River in Marinduque?
The question was raised by a former provincial board member of the island-province 12 years after the $12-million escrow fund was set up to rehabilitate the Boac River, which remains damaged by the Marcopper Mining Corp. spills of 1996—the country’s worst toxic mine waste spill in the last two decades.
The $12-million fund set up by Placer Dome Inc. in November 2001 was part of the mining company’s commitment to then President Fidel V. Ramos for the “cleanup and remaining works” on the 27-kilometer Boac River, said Melecio Go, a former board member of Marinduque.
The Vancouver-based Placer Dome Inc. was the former parent company of Marcopper, which shut down after the 1996 toxic spill that flooded several villages in Marinduque. In 2006, Placer Dome Inc. sold its shares to the global gold-mining firm, Barrick.
The Marinduque government, through Gov. Carmencita Reyes and her son former Rep. Edmund Reyes, filed a $100-million class suit against Placer Dome in October 2005. The case filed in a district court in Nevada has yet to prosper, said Go.
$3M for sandbags
“But this is different from the suit, as (the escrow) already belongs to Marinduque,” Go said.
Go, who chaired the provincial board’s committee on environment protection from 2004 to 2007, said the original cleanup amount was $15 million, but $3 million was deducted from it when the company placed “sand bags” in the upstream portion of the Boac River.
Go called it a “cosmetic” cleanup, as the rest of the river has not yet been cleared of the toxic waste.
In an interview, Go showed copies of the 2005 correspondence between him and former Marcopper president John Loney.
In Loney’s June 14, 2005, letter to the provincial board, he said the amount was deposited “under an escrow agreement with a financial institution to secure payments … and that the release of those funds is subject to safeguards…”
“The work completion agreement and the escrow agreement are binding contracts and (Placer Dome) intends to honor its commitments,” he said.
A 2006 Inquirer report quoted Marinduque board member Alan Nepomuceno as saying that the $12 million was deposited in a bank in Hong Kong “known only to selected government and Marcopper officials.”
In that same report, Nepomuceno said Governor Reyes assured them that the fund was intact.
The Inquirer on Sunday tried to seek comment from Governor Reyes but she was in a meeting and referred the matter to Edmund.
But Edmund, now a director of the Toll Regulatory Board, failed to take calls made by the Inquirer to his mobile phone on Sunday and Monday.
No politics here
Go, who ran for Marinduque vice governor but lost to a party mate of the Reyeses in the Liberal Party last May, denied politics was involved in the matter.
In a phone interview Monday, Edmund Reyes’ lawyer Miguel Ongsiako confirmed that there was such an escrow fund intended for the cleanup of the Boac River but the agreement was entered into by the national government, through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, and Barrick, the company that acquired Placer Dome Inc.
“The province and the governor had no involvement in that [escrow agreement],” said Ongsiako, noting that the province had never benefited from the escrow funds.
I’m now 72 and just heard about these trees,” e-mailed former Evening News reporter Melody Santos-Drexler from San Francisco. “Some jerks cashed in (on) imports of exotic species,” Leonor Lagsca of Iloilo wrote. “Gmelina from India or Malaysia’s candlenut tree shoved our native trees into the cellar.”
There’s hope in a “bumper crop of local trees research,” notes Dr. Jurgenne Primavera. “Awareness of native flora has gained critical mass, sweeping in the industry sector. But where is the supply?”
Tongue-in-cheek, Primavera describes herself as “zoologist by training, aquaculturist by profession, tree lover and planter since the 1970s.” Time magazine, in 2008, named her among “100 Heroes of the Environment.”
The Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc. (Rafi) meanwhile has published “Native Trees in the Visayas.” This book vets scientific data on 101 native trees and rendered them in layman’s lingo. It displays the “white lauan” in Negros Occidental and the four-meter-tall kaningag of Cebu. Cinnamomum cebuense kost grows only in forest fragments of Tabunan and Cantipla in Cebu.
“Effects (of exotic tree imports) have been heartbreaking,” is Rafi’s candid introduction. “Now, we promote planting of endemic tree species… (Follow up) ensures survival of planted trees.” Today, eight out of 10 trees in Rafi projects do not fall by the wayside.
Providence gifted this country with almost 3,500 tree species. But is imported sikat? Touted as fast growing, nine foreign exotics dominated government replanting programs for decades. But they lacked the resiliency of the native trees after typhoons or droughts.
Iloilo’s River Esplanade is lined with Royal Palm trees—a monoculture of roystonea elata hustled from Cuba. On the other end is Cebu’s 296-hectare South Road Properties. Ten years after opening, SRP remains a treeless semi-desert as sea levels rise.
In between are clones, notes Imelda P. Sarmiento, who edited “Philippine Native Trees 101”: In Forbes Park, Ayala Avenue, Ortigas or roadsides, the selection is cramped between foxtails and date palms to “the alien podocarpus and golden showers—yellow blooms for Aquino.”
The book musters 137 personal stories to illustrate 108 native trees. They include the critically endangered “Starburst” to “the Landscaping World’s Toast”—lubi-lubi or niyog-niyogan. This “is a start… toward reintroducing our own trees to our own people.”
Since 2004, Mindoro pine (pinus merkusii) caromed into International Union for Conservation of Nature’s “Red List” of endangered trees. Calapan City Councilor Girlie Ignacio campaigned to roll back “hometown” threats to Mindoro’s own. Jesuit scientist Peter Walpole has shown it grows in Zambales, and in Indonesia too. “We will popularize this tree in our urban areas,” Ignacio says.
“Shades of Majesty” is an earlier 212-page book that zeroes in on 88 hometown species. After that came “Beach Forests and Mangrove Associates in the Philippines.” The latter received a Best Book Award from the National Academy of Science and Technology. Coauthored by Primavera and Rex Sadaba, it spotlights 140 species—from the familiar talisay, dita and ipil to tugas which can grow up to 200 kilometers inland.
The “Washington Sycip Garden of Native Plants” tacks a living dimension on these studies. What was a parking lot at the University of the Philippines Diliman until 2012 has been converted into a park that showcases 101 native trees. It honors a soldier, scholar and multi-awarded founder of the country’s largest professional services firm.
A red brick path today meanders along “islands” of trees with tags that provide data from scientific name to tree tales. This is education by showcasing. “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education,” Albert Einstein once joked.
The critical need is for nurseries that churn out seedlings, Primavera says. That’d call for a dialogue among a “triad of sectors”—(a) scientists who know the trees, (b) suppliers and nurseries to grow saplings, and (c) landscape designers, developers and architects who create the demand for trees in public and commercial places.
The agenda must crunch numbers. Landscapers require planting of hundreds of trees, yet of the same species. Why? Need we strap monoculture for our streetscapes and public spaces? Native trees can bridge variety gaps.
There’s the issue of sizes. Landscapers require: “B and B”: up to 15-meter-tall trees ready to be “bagged and burlapped.” Start instead with one-and-a-half-meter saplings. This is a challenge for local governments, too. They get P68 billion in this year’s budget. Invest in trees, not waiting sheds, basketball courts or worse, self-granted allowances.
Landscape designers must convince gardeners and suppliers that there’s a market for native trees. Nothing works better than a buyer with cash.
“Does it make a difference whether we plant foreign mahogany from Bolivia rather than molave from the Philippines?” asks UP professor of plant diversity James LaFrankie. “Yes, and the reason, in one word, is ecology.”
Native species bear a relationship to land, water and organisms that developed over millennia. “No such relationship exists for the alien newcomer. Ten hectares of mahogany is a ‘dead zone’ in terms of biodiversity”: no birds, no insects, no seedling flourish beneath the canopy. “There is no future for 10 hectares of mahogany. It will remain as it is, until cut and replaced.”
“The alternative is… to rebuild forests with native species. Such schemes have been practiced for years by many Southeast Asian communities… The result for our children will be forests that grow.” We need to “U-turn” at a dead end.
Petron claims responsibility, apologizes for oil spill
By Donnabelle Gatdula
(The Philippine Star) | Updated August 13, 2013 - 12:00am
MANILA, Philippines - Petron Corp. is taking responsibility for the massive oil spill in Rosario, Cavite last week.
In a statement, Petron president Lubin Nepomuceno yesterday said the company also apologized for the damage caused by the oil leak.
“At this stage, we take responsibility for this unfortunate incident. We sincerely apologize and assure all the communities affected that we will strive to resolve the situation at the soonest possible time,” he said.
Nepomuceno said they would continue efforts to conduct cleanup operations in affected areas to restore the livelihood of the communities.
“In the meantime, we will continue to give the assistance needed by residents affected by the spill,” he said.
The oil spill began last Thursday after the M/T Makisig tanker unloaded diesel in Petron’s depot.
Latest sea-borne and aerial surveys of Petron showed almost no indication of the oil sheen.
The oil firm said it also engaged a third party to regularly conduct test samples of the soil, water and marine life quality of affected areas.
“We are closely coordinating with government agencies such as PCG (Philippine Coast Guard), BFAR (Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources) and DENR (Department of Environment and Natural Resources) to enhance our community assistance efforts,” it said.
Bad weather has prevented the PCG from removing M/T Makisig from Rosario, Cavite yesterday.
“Even if there is an ongoing investigation, we allowed the M/T Makisig to take shelter in Bataan because it could be more dangerous for them if they stayed out at sea during the typhoon,” Balilo said.
It would be up to the adjudication board formed by the PCG to conduct an investigation and determine who is responsible for the oil spill.
It was earlier reported that an estimated 500,000 liters of diesel oil spread to the towns of Tanza, Rosario, Ternate, and Naic in Cavite last Aug. 8.
Meanwhile, tests conducted by the PCG confirmed a leak in the two-kilometer Amazon pipeline of Petron Corp.
PCG spokesman Cmdr. Armand Balilo said members of the PCG’s Special Operations Group (SOG) conducted a water pressure test in the pipeline by putting violet-colored water in it.
“When the colored water was some 500 meters away from the shoreline, it was seen coming out of the pipeline. This is an indication that there was a leak,” said Balilo.
“All indications point to the pipeline as the main source of the leak. However, this is still inconclusive unless we could get footage showing a hole in the pipeline,” he said.
Members of the PCG-SOG were supposed to take underwater video of the pipeline yesterday afternoon, but Balilo said the rough sea condition spawned by Typhoon Labuyo made it difficult for them to take footage.
Meanwhile, the left-leaning fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) called on Petron to fast-track the cleanup of the oil slick and shoulder the expenses to be incurred in removing it.
Pamalakaya also urged Malacañang through the DENR to order the closure of the oil depot in Barangay Poblacion.
It said criminal and other appropriate charges should be filed against the oil company and the owner of M/T Makisig and compel the petroleum corporation and its shipping firm to pay compensation to thousands of fishing families affected by the oil spill.
“The Cavite oil spill is time ticking bomb. If not contained in the next two to three days, it will create more damage and eventually send the coastal areas of the province to intensive care unit,” said Pamalakaya vice chairperson Salvador France.
The group said around 10,000 fisherfolk in Rosario and Tanza were affected by the oil spill, which the group said could spread to other coastal towns of Cavite, including Noveleta and Naic, as well as Cavite City and even Bacoor City.
Guimaras oil spill
In a related development, environmental advocates under the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment (Kalikasan-PNE) marked the 7th anniversary of the Guimaras oil spill on Sunday.
Petron spilled 500,000 liters of bunker fuel
from its contracted oil tanker M/T Solar 1 in the southern coast of Guimaras in 2006, affecting marine sanctuaries and mangrove expanses in three municipalities.
The oil spill also reached the shores of Iloilo and Negros Occidental.
In 2010, it was also reported that Petron’s oil depot in Rosario, Cavite caused an oil spill after its submarine pipelines were damaged during Typhoon Basyang.
“A study published in the IAMURE International Journal on Marine Ecology estimated the damage to the affected ecosystems and the fisheries sector may last for up to two generations. Petron is claiming the situation in Cavite is under control, but coral reefs have reportedly been smothered by oil sludge, and reported fish and shellfish kills mean the oil slick has also affected the functions of marine species,” Clemente Bautista, national coordinator of Kalikasan PNE, said.
Kalikasan PNE said Petron has remained unaccountable for the Guimaras oil spill, adding that concerned agencies may also let the oil giant off the hook in the Cavite oil spill. – With Evelyn Macairan, Rhodina Villanueva, Michelle Zoleta
A few days ago, a group of farmers, obviously led by environmentalists, invaded a small experimental farm and destroyed the rice seedlings being grown to test crops with genetically modified organisms.
Environmentalists are afraid that GMO food may contain substances that are harmful to humans.
For some time now, Filipino environmentalists led by the European lobby group Greenpeace has been battling Filipino farmers to convince them not to grow the “Bt Talong,” a product of modern biotechnology process. Greenpeace has filed a case in court to stop Filipino scientists of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) from introducing a variety of eggplant that has a built-in ability to fight pests and diseases. It has been able to secure an order from the Court of Appeals restraining the UP scientists from continuing with their plant experiments.
What are GMO foods, in the first place? They are food from plants whose genes have been modified to produce varieties that are higher-yielding, more nutritious and tasty, and are resistant to pests and diseases. For example, genes of plants that are resistant to pest and diseases are mixed with the genes that are higher yielding, more nutritious and tasty such as the Bt Talong. Planting this variety of eggplant means doing away with chemical pesticides. It naturally protects itself against plant borers and other pests.
Food crops lost to pests and plant diseases will be enough to feed a big portion of the Filipino population. In fact, if not for these, we would be self-sufficient in rice. We don’t have to import the cereal and we may also be able to export it. That was what the UP scientists were trying to do in the small experimental farm in Los Baños that was destroyed by the Greenpeace-led Filipino farmers.
Greenpeace is afraid that biotechnology-processed plant varieties may have harmful substances. But isn’t that precisely what the scientists are trying to find out?
The group is led by former UP president and UPLB chancellor Emil Q. Javier, a respected scientist and academician. The CA has directed both Greenpeace and the Filipino scientists to defend their respective positions. The public now eagerly awaits the result of the CA hearings.
It is expected that Filipinos will respect whatever decision the court hands down. However, Filipino farmers still wish that whatever decision is made, such would help them make their own choice as to what they want to plant in their farms. After all, who should decide what Filipino farmers plant in their farms? Shouldn’t it be the farmers themselves? Why should a foreign pressure group decide for them?
Farmers choose on the basis of what they can sell in the market at better prices. They also choose on the basis of what is safer for their health.
At present, without Bt Talong, Filipino farmers are left with only two choices: poor harvest using antiquated farming methods, or better harvest after much application of chemical pesticides. The latter tend to put greater burden on their pockets and higher risks to their health. If you want to know more about the harmful effects of pesticides, read “The Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson.
It would be good for our farmers to have a third choice: higher yields at lower costs and with less risk to their health.
The debate on biotechnology should have been left as an issue of science and technology rather than in a legal contest. Greenpeace should have argued its case before Filipino farmers rather than before the courts. After all, it would be our farmers who will decide what to plant.
Why did Greenpeace opt for legal confrontation? Is it afraid of our Filipino scientists? Was it afraid that its contentions against biotechnology can easily be demolished by scientific proof and by the credibility of Filipino scientists?
The legal route appears to be a clever move by Greenpeace. What it cannot win in the court of public opinion it wants to win in a court of law.
Our interest is not in the legal grounds on which the efforts of our scientists stand. Neither are we hot on this pesticide-free eggplant variety. Eggplants have more uric acid content than other vegetable varieties. Too much uric acid in the body can give you gout, a very painful disease of the feet. But biotechnology may be able to produce an eggplant variety with less uric acid. We will wait for the others that are in the pipeline of the UPLB science community.
What we are interested in is freedom of choice, to which our farmers are entitled. This is no different from freedom of choice when it comes to issues of sexual reproduction. The job of government is to expand our options, to make new and better choices available.
The job of choosing which options are best for us should be left to us.
As for the safety of GMO foods, I will let the Food and Drug Administration, the government agency responsible for the safety of our food and drugs, speak:
“It can be said that food safety assessment for biotechnology products is more rigorous than for other crops produced by conventional breeding or other technologies. For the GMO food crops that have undergone food safety assessment and approval process, the consensus of scientific opinion and evidence is that the application of GM technology introduces no unique food safety concerns and up to this time there is no single case of evidence of harm to man. This conclusion has been reached by numerous national and international organizations.
“Regulatory systems are in place to assure the safety of these products… It takes around 10 to 14 years of laboratory research, contained greenhouse, contained small scale field trials, and pre-commercial testing and evaluation before a GM crop is approved for commercial release.”
It’s been a bad few weeks for the oceans of Southeast Asia, with three separate petrochemical spills polluting our waters, endangering biodiversity and livelihoods.
Coming hot on the heels of the spill in Thailand on July 27, in which 50,000 liters of black oil drenched the beaches of the tourist island Koh Samed, came news of a massive spill in Indonesia.
On July 31, an oil tanker carrying a reported seven million liters of diesel and gasoline crashed at the Indonesian island of Ternate in the Coral Triangle, an area that covers six Asia-Pacific nations and is a top priority for marine conservation.
On Aug. 9, the Philippines awoke to the news of another disaster, with reports of up to half a million liters of diesel spilling into Manila Bay, affecting several coastal towns in the province of Cavite. A state of calamity was declared in the town of Rosario after officials reported that the spill had damaged coral reefs and has driven local fishing boats out of the water amid serious contamination of fish catches.
The foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations went on a retreat in Hua Hin, Thailand, on Aug. 13-15 and the economic ministers will meet in Brunei on Aug. 20-24 to prepare the agenda for the next Asean Summit in October. It is imperative that the focus be on the issue of ocean pollution by dirty petrochemical fossil fuels.
As with their recent action on the “Haze Wave,” which saw much of the region affected by smog from forest fires, the Asean leadership must now cooperate to stop ocean pollution by dirty petrochemical fossil fuels.
Southeast Asia relies heavily on its oceans for food, tourism and livelihoods. The recent World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat” noted that in this region, there are 138 million people living on coasts and within 30 kilometers of a coral reef who are likely to suffer major social, economic, and nutritional impacts as a result of climate change.
At the upcoming Asean Summit, our leaders will have their chance to take strong measures to protect the region’s oceans, not only by holding the polluting industries accountable but also by ensuring that our region is steered away from a development path that will see the inevitable degradation of our natural resources and livelihoods.
These three oil spill incidents demonstrate that the transportation of fossil fuels is a high-risk activity, posing enormous dangers not just to the environment but also to communities and their way of life.
Our oceans are already under threat from destructive fishing, pollution, climate change, mostly caused by use of fossil fuels. The oceans have absorbed large amounts of carbon dioxide emissions and are rapidly becoming more acidic. This means that corals, shellfish, squid and many kinds of plankton are at risk. The increase in extreme weather events such as hurricanes and typhoons has often seen entire coral reef systems wiped out in one storm. Our oceans are already fragile. The last thing they need is repeated pollution by petrochemicals.
While Asean has paid a lot of attention to the Oil Spill Response Action Plan, it must be pointed out that damage to the oceans may appear to be “cleaned up.” But an oil spill can never be undone. As we have seen in the Gulf of Mexico, the long-term effects of an oil spill (as well as the methods used in the cleanup) continue to unfold. The impacts on marine life, human health and fishing communities will continue to be counted for generations to come.
Our region needs to set the global standard for marine protection, not just because it is home to the Coral Triangle, an area of such incredible biodiversity that it has been dubbed the “Amazon of the Seas.”
The World Bank report emphasized that “the degradation and loss of coral reefs will diminish tourism, reduce fish stocks, and leave coastal communities and cities more vulnerable to storms.”
Asean needs to take the lead in marine protection and conservation, not just for the sake of the environment but also because our people, our culture, and our entire future depend on healthy oceans.
“SMALL is beautiful,” wrote the economist E. F. Schumacher almost 35 years ago. In most areas of the economy, he reasoned, production had become too big and too centralized.
But he might have been wrong about the subject he knew most about: energy. When it comes to alternative ways of generating power, big may be better.
Wind, solar and other renewable-energy technologies that were once considered more appropriate for single homes or small communities are reaching levels of scale and centralizing that were formerly the province of coal- and gas-fired plants and nuclear reactors. In other words, green is going giant.
The companies that are building or dreaming up large projects argue that there are economies of scale to be gained.
In the desert north of Tucson, Arizona Public Service, an electric utility, is using an array of mirrors to concentrate sunlight and heat mineral oil up to 550 degrees; the heat vaporizes a liquid hydrocarbon, which runs a generator to make electricity.
But this is no rooftop operation. There are six rows of mirrors, each nearly a quarter-mile long, totaling nearly 100,000 square feet. The project produces one megawatt of power — enough to run a hospital or a large shopping center — but the company that installed it, now called Acciona Solar Power (formerly Solargenix), expects to open a 350-acre plant in Boulder City, Nev., soon, producing 64 megawatts with similar technology. And Arizona Public Service is one of about a half-dozen utilities that is considering a joint project to build a 250-megawatt plant based on the same technology.
Such projects run counter to some ideas of how alternative energy should be developed. Jeremy Rifkin, the author and futurist who believes that millions of people will soon be generating their own hydrogen from renewable energy, said that waste was built into large central projects because of electrical transmission losses.
“If you go and put it in the desert and bring it back in, you lose 7 to 9 percent on the way,” he said.
More to the point, Mr. Rifkin said, home-grown energy is going to be cheaper. “It’s a question of who owns and controls it at the end of the line,” he said. “If you own it on your own, it’s going to be at a cheaper price than if the utility company is going to sell it to you.”
But it is not just corporations that are finding that bigger may be better.
Hull, Mass., is about as far from an oil or gas well as it is possible to get in the United States. Its municipal utility decided in the early 1980s to build a wind turbine, making an asset from the strong breeze coming off the ocean north of Boston. The machine it built could generate 40 kilowatts, enough for a handful of homes.
Five years ago, Hull tried again, still wanting to cut energy costs and also the emissions of greenhouse gases that might one day cause the Atlantic Ocean, which surrounds the town on three sides, to creep up the beaches. It built a wind machine 16 times larger, 660 kilowatts. While the 1985 turbine was on a structure that looked a bit like a ham-radio operator’s antenna, the new one, named Hull 1, was on a 150-foot tower.
But it was too small. Last year the town installed Hull 2, which at 1.8 megawatts is three times larger. Now Hull is considering four new turbines that can produce 3.6 megawatts each. “The small one we have, purely aesthetically, is kind of an ugly thing,” said John B. Murdock, manager of the municipal electric system. With their slow-moving, graceful blades, he said, “the big ones are much more attractive.”
They also make better economic sense, he said. Earlier this year, the town put up a tiny turbine, 1,800 watts, as an educational tool, for $15,000. If 1,000 families in the area put up such machines, they would have the same output as Hull 2, at a cost of $15 million. Hull 2 cost about $3 million.
Hull’s economics are being repeated around New England and the world. Farther down the Massachusetts coast in Nantucket Sound, for example, entrepreneurs are trying to build the Cape Wind project, 130 turbines producing 3.6 megawatts each.
At Siemens Power Generation, which builds equipment for wind turbines and other generators, Randy Zwirn, the chief executive, said that the only limit to wind-turbine size might be how long a blade could be transported to the site. The company’s 3.6-megawatt machine uses a blade that is about 175 feet long.
Other companies want to build even bigger wind turbines with capacities as high as seven megawatts. A larger machine would be even higher — perhaps 250 feet — and could take advantage of the fact that winds are 20 percent stronger at 250 feet than at 150 feet, said Dr. Mark Z. Jacobson, an associate professor at Stanford’s department of civil and environmental engineering.
But in Nantucket Sound, 3.6-megawatt turbines are considered big enough. On a windy day, the 130 machines would produce as much power as a modest-size plant burning coal or natural gas.
There is certainly no point in making the project smaller, said Mark Rodgers, a spokesman for Cape Wind.
“You’ve got costs that include staging, marine construction, placing an electric transmission infrastructure below the seabed, acquisition of maintenance vessels, use of a port facility, spare parts, storage, manning an operations center, insurance and taxes,” he said.
For many of those items, if the project were 50 percent larger or 50 percent smaller, the costs would vary little. “These are things that you’re going to have to do, whether it’s a very small or a very large offshore wind farm,” Mr. Rodgers said. “The best bang for the buck is go to large.”
While mirrors in the desert cannot operate at the rooftop scale, the kind that can, photovoltaic cells, which turn sunlight into energy, may also work better on a big scale, experts say.
A single-home installation is fine, they say, but not cost-effective. It can become so through large-scale deployment of the kind envisioned by Bud Annan, who was the solar program director at the Department of Energy during the Clinton administration.
Mr. Annan said that the cost of a rooftop solar project was divided between the manufacturing of solar cells and installation. Some progress has been made in reducing manufacturing costs, but both parts of the equation must come down in price, he said.
Now living in Scottsdale, Ariz., Mr. Annan is working with a utility and local real estate developers to try to incorporate solar roofs into 10,000 new houses, all at once. That way, he said, the installers can go from house to house the way carpenters, plumbers and electricians do. “He can standardize his installation, and that whole second half of the equation becomes more manageable for him,” Mr. Annan said.
Clusters of houses might share a bank of batteries, so that they could guarantee a steady power output. Power that a utility can count on is worth more than power that is unpredictable. Solar energy that is connected to a battery system is available even after the sun sets, making it sell for a higher price.
Roger Little, chief executive of the Spire Corporation, a solar cell manufacturer near Boston, said his systems cost $7 or $8 per watt of installed capacity when put on rooftops, which means that the equipment needed to light a 100-watt bulb would cost $700 to $800. Half is for the cells and half is for the rest of the system, including mounting brackets and external wiring.
Mr. Little said he could lower the price to $3.60, but that the first step would have to be replacing typical solar panels, which produce about 160 watts of electricity each, with a 1,000-watt panel. The big panel would require less support material per watt than the smaller ones, he said.
But that panel would be 200 pounds, too heavy to haul up to a roof. The solution, he said, is to install it on the ground, in a big flat spot of desert — which, by the way, would be a wonderful place to build the solar-cell factory, cutting delivery costs to zero. And the bigger the installation, the lower the cost, per watt, of the other equipment required, he said.
Mr. Little is negotiating with the Tucson Electric Company to build a factory in Arizona that would produce 100 megawatts of cells a year, and run it for 10 years or so. Other cities and companies are considering similar ideas. Mr. Little said that at some point his project would turn into a “breeder,” its electric production paying for its operation.
His company already runs factories that make 50 megawatts of new cells a year. The viability of the project depends mostly on whether Congress extends the production tax credit given to renewable and nuclear energy, he said.
Arizona Public Service, which operates the solar generator north of Tucson, seems to be on a campaign to show that there is no green approach that does not work well on a corporate scale. Last year, it started raising algae, feeding them carbon dioxide from a natural-gas-fired power plant, Red Hawk, west of Phoenix. It used the algae to make biodiesel, a vehicle fuel that is more commonly made from soybeans or corn. The company is now installing bigger equipment to test the process on a larger scale.
Even for renewable energy like heating with wood (an idea that has been around for much longer than the term “renewable”), the scale is growing. For example, the University of South Carolina would like to reduce its carbon footprint and lower its natural-gas bill of $6.5 million a year. So this spring it plans to open a plant that will use wood scraps to make electricity, and use steam from the system’s waste heat to warm the campus.
This is not some wood-fired boiler. It is an $18 million gasification project that will heat the wood, mostly chips and bark, to produce a flammable gas, which will be burned in a turbine that resembles a jet engine. And the university will not run it on clippings from trees at the Columbia campus; it will take 14 tractor-trailer loads a day, about 55,000 tons a year.
Because the wood is gasified but not burned, the system, which is similar to one used in Burlington, Vt., produces less nitrogen oxides and less soot than a boiler would, said Jonathan S. Rhone, chief of the Nexterra Energy Corporation of Vancouver, British Columbia, which built the gasifier. But being that clean requires an industrial-size system.
There is another reason that it is not the kind of project that works on a small basis: it will take about 14 years to pay for itself. “We’ve been here 200 years,” said Helen Zeigler, the university business manager. “We can afford to make investments like this.” A 14-year payback would never work on a family budget, she said.
First, the (relatively) good news. The inclement weather that paralyzed a good part of Luzon between Sunday and Wednesday dumped a total of 671.6 mm of rainwater—much more than the 455 mm recorded in 2009 (Tropical Storm “Ondoy”) or the 472 mm in 2012 (during last year’s habagat or southwest monsoon). And yet the worst weather disturbance in four years claimed the lives of “only” 18 persons.
We place that in quotes because every single human life is important, and because unlike earthquakes which cannot be predicted, storms once tracked can be anticipated; the goal of ensuring that no life is lost during a storm’s passage through the Philippines is difficult but not unattainable. Each life lost is simply one life too many.
But in 2009, Ondoy claimed more than 460 lives; in 2012, about 110 victims died in the floods caused by torrential monsoon rains. It is possible that the death toll from this week’s extreme weather may still rise, but the final tally will be nowhere near Ondoy or even “Habagat 2012” levels.
Credit must be given to the weather forecasters, who helped prepare the country with up-to-date and accurate reports; to local governments, which effected the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people almost without incident; to agencies such as the Armed Forces of the Philippines which helped provide transportation assistance, and the Department of Social Welfare and Development which helped prepare and pre-deploy relief goods; to the Philippine Red Cross and other humanitarian organizations, which sprang into action even before the first rain fell; and to the journalists, soaked and battered, who provided vital information from the field.
The matter of the suspension of classes in affected areas is a good example of what went right. Suspensions were announced ahead of time, sometimes even the day before. Indeed, on Sunday, when the first announcements were made, some wags cracked jokes online, saying the early notice all but guaranteed that the sun would come out on Monday. But it was a good call, repeated over the next few days.
The evacuation of residents from vulnerable areas also proceeded according to plan; when the Marikina River rose to an alarming level, for instance, residents of at-risk residential villages in Marikina dutifully complied with the evacuation order—even though their streets were not even flooded.
According to the latest estimates of the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council, some 1.73 million people from 119 municipalities and 31 cities in Luzon were affected by the rains. Central Luzon bore the brunt, with some 1.02 million residents included in the tally.
Over half a million people were displaced. According to the NDRRMC count, over 217,000 persons had to seek shelter in a total of 709 evacuation centers, while over 345,000 persons retreated to the homes of families and friends. This is an extraordinary movement of people, conducted under less than ideal conditions.
Now, the (continuing) bad news. Laguna de Bay remains heavily silted; dredging of the lake does not seem to be a top priority, and the infrastructure to drain it of excess water (say, a spillway through admittedly densely populated Parañaque) is not in place.
Floods continue to be a serious problem in the sprawling mega-city that is Metro Manila, because some of the old problems remain. In the first place, there are just too many people: some 12 million are squeezed into an area the size of Singapore. The national government’s plan to relocate a total of 60,000 informal settlers who live on and near major waterways just got underway; this week’s rains render the three-year timetable insufficiently ambitious.
The volume of trash is another, familiar factor; the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority estimates that some 3,000 cubic meters of garbage find their way to the capital region’s rivers and waterways.
Illegal logging in the mountains north of Metro Manila, also worsens the floods; without enough trees, the mountains cannot retain as much rainwater as they used to.
Not least, sheer human stubbornness can get in the way of the no-life-lost policy. As caught on TV time and again, many residents were shown refusing to leave their homes, even when the entire first floor was already underwater. Unfortunately, there is often a steep price to pay.