TAKE ACTION! Big Banks Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

Big Banks Coronavirus Accountability Campaign

While millions of Canadians and hundreds of thousands of small businesses are suffering from the coronavirus crisis, Canada’s Big 6 Banks gouged out record profits of more than $46 billion in 2019!

That works out to more than $22 million in profit every hour banks are open – 3% higher than in 2018, and more than double their profits in 2010!

This is the 10th year in a row the Big Banks’ profits have gone up.

The heads of the Big 6 Banks were also paid a total of $75 million in 2019 ($12.5 million each on average).

Canada’s Big Banks make among the highest profits of any banks in the world because the federal government has protected them from competition and bailed them out and given them many favours over the past 50 years. The Big Banks have reaped their record profits every year for the past 10 years in part by:

  • firing thousands of people;
  • cutting services, and;
  • hiking fees and credit card interest rates to gouge you even more than they were already (even though interest rates have dropped to record low levels).

The federal government has failed in the past 30 years to stop the Big Banks from gouging their customers and treating them unfairly.

Now, with the coronavirus crisis hurting millions of Canadians, and even though the Big Banks can afford it, the federal government still hasn’t made the Big Banks give everyone a break by cutting their gouging interest rates and fees, and stopping loan payments for the next few months if needed (without requiring them to be paid later).

The federal government also continues to refuse to make the Big Banks pay their fair share of taxes to help pay the costs of the crisis. Canada’s Big Banks paid a tax rate of only 16% over the past 6 years — lower than banks in other G7 countries. The Big Banks also exploit tax loopholes more than all other Canadian big businesses.

The Big Banks must be required:

  1. To cut all their interest rates and fees in half now;
  2. To disclose the profit level of every part of their business (credit cards, mortgages, lines of credit, each other type of loan, bank machines, and investment and insurance divisions) after fully independent audits (overseen by the Auditor General);
  3. To keep all their interest rates and fees at a level that gives them no more than a reasonable profit (for example, many U.S. states limit credit card interest rates);
  4. To disclose how many people and small businesses apply and are approved or rejected for loan cuts, low-interest credit cards, other loans, by type of borrower (as the U.S. has done for 30 years);
  5. To re-open basic banking branches in neighbourhoods (where they closed them in the 1990s) to help get rid of predatory pay-day loan companies (and low-cost banking at Canada Post outlets should also be allowed);
  6. To support the creation of an independent, consumer-run financial consumer watchdog group (as recommended in 1998 by MPs and senators) so consumers have a place to call for help if they are gouged or treated unfairly, and to get fully independent, expert advice;
  7. To pay their fair share of taxes now, and in the future, by closing all the loopholes they exploit (as England and Australia have), and;
  8. To cut the pay of their CEO and other top executives to no more than 40 times their lowest paid employee.

Enforcement measures and penalties also need to be strengthened to ensure the banks don’t ever gouge, rip-off or treat their customers unfairly, and pay high penalties if they do. Enforcement is much stronger in England and the U.S.

Please Sign and Send the letter on this page calling for these key changes, and Share this page with anyone you think may be interested in supporting this campaign.

You can also click here to sign DWatch’s petition on Change.org that calls for these same key changes.

Earth Day Activists Wanted to Disrupt the Fossil Fuel Industry. The Pandemic Is Doing it For Them

Nineteen-seventy was a simpler time. (February was a simpler time too, but for a moment let’s think outside the pandemic bubble.)

Simpler because our environmental troubles could be easily seen. The air above our cities was filthy, and the water in our lakes and streams was gross. There was nothing subtle about it. In New York City, the environmental lawyer Albert Butzel described a permanently yellow horizon: “I not only saw the pollution, I wiped it off my windowsills.” Or consider the testimony of a city medical examiner: “The person who spent his life in the Adirondacks has nice pink lungs. The city dweller’s are black as coal.” You’ve likely heard of Cleveland’s Cuyahoga River catching fire, but here’s how New York’s Gov. Nelson Rockefeller described the Hudson south of Albany: “one great septic tank that has been rendered nearly useless for water supply, for swimming, or to support the rich fish life that once abounded there.” Everything that people say about the air and water in China and India right now was said of America’s cities then.

No wonder people mobilized: 20 million Americans took to the streets for the first Earth Day in 1970—10 percent of America’s population at the time, perhaps the single greatest day of political protest in the country’s history. And it worked. Worked politically because Congress quickly passed the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, and scientifically because those laws had the desired effect. In essence, they stuck enough filters on smokestacks, car exhausts, and factory effluent pipes that, before long, the air and water were unmistakably cleaner. The nascent Environmental Protection Agency commissioned a series of photos that showed just how filthy things were. Even for those of us who were alive then, it’s hard to imagine that we tolerated this.

But we should believe it, because now we face even greater challenges that we’re doing next to nothing about. And one reason is you can’t see them.

The carbon dioxide molecule is invisible; at today’s levels, you can’t see it or smell it, and it doesn’t do anything to you. Carbon with one oxygen molecule? That’s what kills you in a closed garage if you leave the car running. But two oxygen molecules? All that does is trap heat in the atmosphere. Melt ice caps. Raise seas. Change weather patterns. But slowly enough that most of the time, we don’t quite see it.

The divestment campaign that, over a decade, has enlisted $14 trillion in endowments and portfolios in the climate fight has a new head of steam.

And it’s a more complex moment for another reason. You can filter carbon monoxide easily. It’s a trace gas, a tiny percentage of what comes from a power plant. But carbon dioxide is the exact opposite. It’s most of what comes pouring out when you burn coal or gas or oil. There’s no catalytic converter for CO2, which means you have to take down the fossil fuel industry.

That in turn means you have to take on not just the oil companies but also the banks, asset managers, and insurance companies that invest in them (and may even own them, in the wake of the current economic crash). You have to take on, that is, the heart of global capital.

And so we are. Stop the Money Pipeline, a coalition of environmental and climate justice groups running from the small and specialized to the Sierra Club and Greenpeace, formed this past fall to try to tackle the biggest money on earth. Banks such as Chase—the planet’s largest by market capitalization—which has funneled a quarter-trillion dollars to the fossil fuel industry since the Paris Agreement of 2015. Insurers such as Liberty Mutual, still insuring tar sands projects even as pipeline builders endanger Native communities by trying to build the Keystone XL during a pandemic.

This campaign sounds quixotic, but it seemed to be getting traction until the coronavirus pandemic hit. In January, BlackRock announced that it was going to put climate at the heart of its investment analyses. Liberty Mutual, under similar pressure from activists, began to edge away from coal. And Chase—well, Earth Day would have seen activists engaging in civil disobedience in several thousand bank lobbies across America, sort of like the protest in January that helped launch the campaign (and sent me, among others, off in handcuffs). But we called that off; there’s no way we were going to risk carrying the microbe into jails, where the people already locked inside have little chance of social distancing.

Still, the pandemic may be causing as much trouble for the fossil fuel industry as our campaign hoped to. With the demand for oil cratering, it’s clear that these companies have no future. The divestment campaign that, over a decade, has enlisted $14 trillion in endowments and portfolios in the climate fight has a new head of steam.

Our job—a more complex one than faced our Earth Day predecessors 50 years ago—is to force the spring. We need to speed the transition to the solar panels and wind turbines that engineers have worked so mightily to improve and are now the cheapest way to generate power. The only thing standing in the way is the political power of the fossil fuel companies, on clear display as President Trump does everything in his power to preserve their dominance. That’s hard to overcome. Hard but simple. Just as in 1970, it demands unrelenting pressure from citizens. That pressure is coming. Indigenous nations, front-line communities, faith groups, climate scientists, and savvy investors are joining together, and their voices are getting louder. Seven million of us were in the streets this past September. That’s not 20 million, but it’s on the way.

We can’t be on the streets right now. So we’ll do what we can on the boulevards of the internet. Join us for Earth Day Live, three days of digital activism beginning April 22. We’re in a race, and we’re gaining fast. SOURCE


BILL MCKIBBEN is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in Environmental Studies at Middlebury College, the founder of 350.org, and the winner of the 2014 Right Livelihood Award. He is a YES! contributing editor.

 

 

The Nuclear Dream Factory Has Restarted And Operating 24/7

Every time a nuclear power reactor idea doesn’t work out, and ordinary people get down-hearted and start to doubt the magnificence and benificence of nuclear energy, nuclear proponents rush back to their well-stocked dream factory to fetch another idea — one that is sufficiently unfamiliar and sufficiently untested that ordinary people have no idea whether it is good or bad, safe or dangerous, feasible or foolish, or whether the almost miraculous claims made about it are true or false.  Gordon Edwards

Gordon Edwards is one of the founders of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility.

It seems that the two SMNR (Small Modular Nuclear Reactor) entrepreneurs in New Brunswick (Canada), along with other nuclear “players” worldwide, are trying to revitalize the “plutonium economy” — a nuclear industry dream from the distant past that many believed had been laid to rest because of the failure of plutonium-fuelled breeder reactors almost everywhere – e.g. USA, France, Britain, Japan…
One of the newly proposed NB SMNR prototypes, the ARC-100 reactor (100 megawatts of electricity) is a liquid sodium-cooled SMNR that is based on the 1964 EBR-2 reactor – Experimental Breeder Reactor #2. (Its predecessor, the EBR-1 breeder reactor, had a partial meltdown in 1955, and the Fermi-1 breeder reactor near Detroit, also modelled on the EBR-2, had a partial meltdown in 1966.) The ACR-100 is designed with the capability and explicit intention of reusing or recycling irradiated CANDU fuel.
The other newly proposed NB SMNR prototype is the Moltex “Stable Salt Reactor” (SSR) — also a “fast reactor”, cooled by molten salt, that is likewise intended to re-use or recycle irradiated CANDU fuel.
The “re-use” (or “recycling”) of “spent nuclear fuel”, also called “used nuclear fuel” or “irradiated nuclear fuel”, is industry code for plutonium extraction. The idea is to transition from uranium to plutonium as a nuclear fuel, because uranium supplies will not outlast dwindling oil supplies. Breeder reactors are designed to use plutonium as a fuel and create (“breed”) even more plutonium while doing so.
The only way you can re-use or recycle existing used nuclear fuel is to somehow access the unused “fissile material” in the used fuel, which means mainly plutonium.  This involves a chemical procedure called “reprocessing” which was banned in the late 1970s by the Carter administration in the USA and the first PE Trudeau administration in Canada. South Korea and Taiwan were likewise forbidden (with pressure from the US) to pursue this avenue.
Argonne Laboratories in US, and the South Korean government, have been developing (for over ten years now) a new wrinkle on the reprocessing operation which they call “pyroprocessing” in an effort to overcome the existing prohibitions on reprocessing and restart the “plutonium economy”. That phrase refers to a world whereby plutonium is the primary nuclear fuel in the future rather than natural or slightly enriched uranium. Plutonium, a derivative of uranium that does not exist in nature but is created inside every nuclear reactor fuelled with uranium, would thereby become an article of commerce.
Another wrinkle on this general ambition is the so-called “thorium cycle”. Thorium is a naturally-occurring element that can be converted (inside a nuclear reactor) into a human-made fissile material called uranium-233. This type of uranium is not found in nature. Like plutonium, uranium-233 can be used for nuclear weapons or as nuclear fuel. Although the materials are different, the ambition is the same — instead of the plutonium economy one could imagine an economy based on uranium-233.
The problems associated with both recycling schemes (the plutonium cycle and the thorium cycle) are
(1) the dangerous and polluting necessity of “opening up” the used nuclear fuel in order to extract the desired plutonium or U-233, and (2) the creation of a civilian traffic in highly dangerous materials (plutonium and U-233) that can be used by governments or criminals or terrorists to make powerful nuclear weapons without the need for terribly sophisticated or readily detectable infrastructure.
By the way, in terms of nuclear reactors (whether small or large), whenever you see the phrase “fast reactor” or “advanced reactor” or “breeder reactor” or “thorium reactor”, please be advised that such terminology is industry code for recycling — either plutonium or uranium-233.  Also, any “sodium-cooled” reactors are in this same category.
I hope you are all staying safe.
Cheers, Gordon.

P.S. Economically, the use of plutonium fuel is (and always has been) much more expensive than the use of uranium fuel. This is especially true now, when the price of uranium is exceedingly low and showing very little sign of recovering. Cameco has shut down some of its richest uranium mines in Saskatchewan and has laid off more than a thousand workers, while reducing the pay of those still working by 25 percent. There is absolutely no way that plutonium-fuelled reactors can compete with uranium-fuelled reactors under such conditions.  And, as is well known, even uranium-fuelled reactors cannot compete with the alternatives such as wind and solar or even natural-gas-fired generators. Governments should not be wasting taxpayers’ money by subsidizing such uneconomical, dangerous and unsustainable nuclear technologies.


RELATED:

Westminster bid to re-launch toxic plutonium reactors

The UK government is trying to resurrect plutonium-powered reactors despite abandoning a multi-billion bid to make them work in Scotland.

Photos of Dounreay thanks to iStock/SteveAllenPhoto and iStock/deemac1

Documents released by the UK Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) under freedom of information law reveal that fast reactors, which can burn and breed plutonium, are among “advanced nuclear technologies” being backed by UK ministers.

Two experimental fast reactors were built and tested at a cost of £4 billion over four decades at Dounreay in Caithness. But the programme was closed in 1994 as uneconomic after a series of accidents and leaks.

Now ONR has been funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) in London to boost its capacity to regulate new designs of fast reactors, along with other advanced nuclear technologies.

Campaigners have condemned the moves to rehabilitate plutonium as a nuclear fuel as “astronomically expensive”, “disastrous” and “mind-boggling”. They point out that it can be made into nuclear bombs and is highly toxic – and the UK has 140 tonnes of it.

But the nuclear industry says that plutonium-fuelled fast reactors can produce “safe, low-carbon power”. UK government nuclear scientists support the idea, arguing that plutonium reactors can “minimise waste volumes”.

ONR released 23 documents about advanced nuclear technologies in response to a freedom of information request by Dr David Lowry, a London-based research fellow at the US Institute for Resource and Security Studies. They include redacted minutes and notes of meetings from 2019 discussing fast reactors, and are being published by The Ferret.

One note of a meeting in November 2019 shows that ONR attempted to access a huge database on fast reactors maintained by the UK government’s National Nuclear Laboratory (NNL) in Warrington, Cheshire.

NNL completed a “fast reactor knowledge capture” project in January 2019, including “a series of reports on Dounreay Fast Reactor and Prototype Fast Reactor for BEIS”. The whole archive is said to contain “around 40,000 documents”.

But when ONR asked to access the documents, it was told there were problems. “NNL explained that there may be some challenges associated with accessing some of these documents due to historic security classifications and export controls,” the ONR note said.

In September 2019 ONR talked to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in the US about regulating fast reactors, which can be cooled by sodium. ONR asked about the risks of containment being breached by “sodium fires”.

The commission responded by talking about its “risk informed approach to determine internal hazards such as a fire scenario”. Further details, however, have been blacked out.

In May 2019 ONR met with the Environment Agency, which covers England. One of the items discussed was a proposal “to develop an international benchmark for severe accident analysis for lead fast reactors”.

In another meeting with the agency in November 2019 it was mentioned that BEIS had given ONR £353,000 to continue work on advanced nuclear technologies. ONR also had a telephone conference with the Environment Agency in November 2019 which discussed “potential showstoppers” on radioactive waste disposal.

As well as helping ONR increase its understanding of fast reactors, BEIS has promised investments of up to £44 million to help nuclear companies research and develop a range of new small, new “modular”reactors.

Two companies have so far won funding under this heading to help develop fast reactors that can burn plutonium. The US power company, Westinghouse, is proposing lead-cooled fast reactors, while another US company called Advanced Reactor Concepts wants to build sodium-cooled fast reactors.

In November 2019 BEIS also announced an £18 million grant to a consortium led by reactor manufacturer, Rolls Royce, to develop a “small modular reactor designed and manufactured in the UK capable of producing cost effective electricity”.

According to Dr Lowry, fast reactors would require building a plutonium fuel fabrication plant. Such plants are “astronomically expensive” and have proved “technical and financial disasters” in the past, he said.

“Any such fabrication plant would be an inevitable target for terrorists wanting to create spectacular iconic disruption of such a high profile plutonium plant, with devastating human health and environmental hazards.”

Lowry was originally told by ONR that it held no documents on advanced nuclear technologies. As well as redacting the 23 documents that have now been released, the nuclear safety regulator is withholding a further 13 documents as commercially confidential – a claim that Lowry dismissed as “fatuous nonsense”.

I remain perpetually gobsmacked at the lobbying power of the nuclear obsessives.WALT PATTERSON, NUCLEAR CRITIC

The veteran nuclear critic and respected author, Walt Patterson, argued that no fast reactor programme in the world had worked since the 1950s. Even if it did, it would take “centuries” to burn the UK’s 140 tonne plutonium stockpile, and create more radioactive waste with nowhere to go, he said.

“Extraordinary – they never learn, do they? I remain perpetually gobsmacked at the lobbying power of the nuclear obsessives,” he told The Ferret. “The mind continue to boggle.”

The Edinburgh-based nuclear consultant, Pete Roche, suggested that renewable energy was the cheapest and most sustainable solution to climate change. “The UK government seems to be planning some kind of low carbon dystopia with nuclear reactors getting smaller, some of which at least will be fuelled by plutonium,” he said.

“The idea of weapons-useable plutonium fuel being transported on our roads should send shivers down the spine of security experts and emergency planners.”

Another nuclear expert and critic, Dr Ian Fairlie, described BEIS’s renewed interest in fast reactors as problematic. “Experience with them over many years in the US, Russia, France and the UK has shown them to be disastrous and a waste of taxpayers’ money,” he said.

This is not the view taken by the UK Nuclear Industry Association, which brings together nuclear companies. It wants to see the UK’s plutonium being used in reactors rather than disposed of as waste.

“Fast reactor development is about producing safe, reliable, low carbon power,” said the association’s head of communications, Hartley Butler George.

“They can be used to close the fuel cycle, by recycling its spent fuel and minimising waste volumes. They will produce exactly the type of clean, safe and reliable electricity which we sorely need to meet climate change targets.”

Asked whether new reactors could breed as well as burn plutonium, Butler George added: “This depends on the kind of fast reactor in which the plutonium is used. Some designs focus on a closed fuel cycle, which creates waste with a much shorter half-life, meaning it is safer sooner.”

The UK government’s National Nuclear Laboratory thought ministers were right to investigate advanced nuclear technologies as a way of help to cut climate pollution. “The rationale for fast reactor development is certainly about producing safe, reliable, low-carbon power,” said a laboratory spokesperson.

“Fast reactor designs have the potential to utilise plutonium as a fuel. They can also be used to close the fuel cycle, by recycling its spent fuel and minimising waste volumes.”

The Office for Nuclear Regulation confirmed that it had been funded by the UK government along with the Environment Agency “to further develop the capability and capacity of the nuclear regulators to regulate the development of advanced nuclear technologies.”

An ONR spokesperson said: “Any proposed reactor design would need to meet the UK’s high standards for safety, security and environmental protection.

“Using the government funding, we continue to resource and enhance ONR’s corporate and technical knowledge of advanced nuclear technologies to ensure expertise is gained and retained in the long-term so we can regulate effectively in the future, if we are required to do so.”

The Scottish Government has frequently insisted that it is against building new nuclear stations in Scotland. But in 2017 it added a rider, saying that its policy was “opposition to new nuclear stations, under current technologies”.

Critics point out that this could leave the door open to advanced nuclear technologies such as plutonium-burning fast reactors. When asked whether this was the case, the government didn’t directly respond.

“The Scottish Government remains opposed to new nuclear power plants in Scotland,” a spokesperson told The Ferret. “The Scottish Government believes our long term energy needs can be met without the need for new nuclear capacity.”

The UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy did not respond to repeated requests to comment.

The plutonium experiment started at Dounreay

Plutonium is created when uranium is burnt in nuclear reactors. It is highly toxic and can be used to make nuclear bombs, or to fuel reactors to generate power.

Plutonium has been extracted from UK and other reactors since the 1950s. Some 140 tonnes of it is now stored in high security vaults at the Sellafield nuclear complex in Cumbria, awaiting decisions on its fate.

An article by three German scientists in the international Bulletin of Atomic Scientists on 17 April, pointed out that the store will cost UK taxpayers £73 million every year for the next century. The plutonium is “highly toxic and poses a permanent risk of proliferation,” they said.

“It is enough material to build tens of thousands of nuclear weapons…But after decades of public and private consultation, there is still no accepted plan for its disposition.”

The plutonium store at Sellafield PHOTO THANKS TO NUCLEAR DECOMMISSIONING AUTHORITY

The UK’s plutonium experiment began at Dounreay on the north coast of mainland Scotland in 1955. It was deliberately sited as far away from population centres as possible because scientists at the time feared “a minor nuclear explosion”.

Fast reactors were then seen as the holy grail of nuclear power, because their potential for breeding as well as burning plutonium could hugely increase the amount of power that could be extracted from finite uranium resources. But forty years on perceptions changed.

After building and running a small Dounreay Fast Reactor from 1959 to 1977 and a larger Prototype Fast Reactor from 1974 to 1994, the £4 billion programme was cancelled. The technology, and the economics, had proved more difficult than expected.

There had also been a series of accidents and leaks – including an explosion in a waste shaft – which were often initially covered up. The shoreline and the sea near Dounreay have been contaminated by tens of thousands of radioactive particles that escaped from the plant between 1963 and 1984 – and which will never be completely cleaned up.

Today the array of old reactors and waste facilities at Dounreay are being decommissioned. The task was originally expected to cost £4 billion, but is now reckoned by the UK government’s Nuclear Decommissioning Authority to amount to £2.8 billion, with the aim of finishing in the 2030s.

A spokesperson for Dounreay said: “We keep decommissioning plans under constant review to reflect developments with such a unique and complex programme and to take account of opportunities, including advancing technology and best practice from around the world.”

According to the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority, a decision on what to do with the UK’s plutonium in the long term was a matter for government. “Until a decision is made, the continued safe storage of the material is our priority,” said an authority spokesperson.

Conservative finance critic says coronavirus programs amount to ‘freakonomics’

 


VIDEO: Conservative MP calls for changes to benefits for businesses.

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre took aim at the Liberals’ coronavirus stimulus programs on Sunday, saying that while his party supports compensating Canadians amid the pandemic, the measures are not working as intended.

VIDEO: Coronavirus outbreak: Conservative MP says reopening of economies up to provinces, feds must provide supplies to help

Initiatives such as commercial rent relief and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) discourage people from working — or businesses keeping their doors open — in order to meet eligibility requirements that are too strict, he said.

“These massive programs will be like a gigantic experiment in freakonomics because in many cases they are having the opposite of their intended effect,” he told reporters.

CERB, which pays out $2,000 a month to those who’ve lost their jobs, allows recipients to earn up to $1,000 per month under eligibility criteria that was expanded earlier this month.

The government’s business loan program — which Poilievre also criticized for shutting out some business owners — is another area where the Liberals have recently expanded eligibility criteria.

The rent relief plan, Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance, is open to businesses that have lost 70 per cent of their income — which Poilievre said was too high — or have shut their doors completely.

VIDEO: Could Canada implement universal basic income?

Imagine a program that forces workers to stop working and forces businesses to go out of business,” Poilievre said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did not speak with reporters on Sunday but has been repeatedly asked about making benefits universal or extending eligibility for various programs.

VIDEO: Coronavirus outbreak: Conservative MP says Trudeau should apologize to Canada’s top doctor, not Derek Sloan

Trudeau says his government’s approach has been to try to target its emergency financial assistance in stages to those who need it most, rather than to everyone at once, including those who don’t need it.

“There are millions of Canadians who need help. There are others who do not need help,” he said Wednesday.

“We feel that targeting the maximum amount of help to the people who needed it quickly was the right way to begin to get through this process.”

Poilievre’s press conference came days after Tory MP Derek Sloan faced strong criticism — including from some Conservatives — for questioning whether Canada’s top doctor Theresa Tam  is “working for China.”

READ MORE: Rookie Belleville, Ont., MP gets blowback for ‘racist’ comments against Canada’s top doctor

Poilievre was asked if he condemns the rookie eastern Ontario MP’s comments, but he did not do so.

The guy who should really apologize to Dr. Tam is Justin Trudeau,” he said. “He keeps blaming her for all of his mistakes.” SOURCE

RELATED:

 

First ministers agree to draft national guidelines on reopening economy

 

‘We Need to Hear These Poor Trees Scream’: Unchecked Global Warming Means Big Trouble for Forests

New studies show drought and heat waves

In Eastern California, the U.S. Forest Service is using controlled fires in Jeffrey pine forests to try and make them more resilient to climate change. Credit: Bob Berwyn

Tim Brodribb has been measuring all the different ways global warming kills trees for the past 20 years. With a microphone, he says, you can hear them take their last labored breaths. During blistering heat waves and droughts, air bubbles invade their delicate, watery veins, cracking them open with an audible pop. And special cameras can film the moment their drying leaves split open in a lightning bolt pattern, disrupting photosynthesis.

“We really need to be able to hear these poor trees scream. These are living things that are suffering. We need to listen to them,” said Brodribb, a plant physiologist at the University of Tasmania who led a recent study that helps identify exactly when, where and how trees succumb to heat and dryness.

The study, published April 17 in the journal Science, reviewed the last 10 years of research on tree mortality, concluding that forests are in big trouble if global warming  continues at the present pace. Most trees alive today won’t be able to survive in the climate expected in 40 years, Brodribb said. The negative impacts of warming and drying are already outpacing the fertilization benefits of increased carbon dioxide.

Trees and forests can be compared with corals and reefs, he said. Both are slow-growing and long-lived systems that can’t easily move or adapt in a short time to rapid warming and both have relatively inflexible damage thresholds. For corals, a global tipping point was reached from 2014 to 2016. In record-warm oceans, reefs around the world bleached and died.

The detailed new information and modeling on how water stress kills trees suggests there is a similar drought threshold for tree mortality, beyond which forests could also perish on a global scale, he said.

“Nobody predicted the coral bleaching scenario. If a similar thing evolves with forests, that is pretty catastrophic,” he said. “We’re at a point where we can see the process, we can predict it. It’s time to start making some noise about it. We can’t afford to sit on our hands.”

No CO2 Greening

The new paper shows that the hope that rising carbon dioxide would green the planet is probably misplaced. Studies have shown that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere boosts photosynthesis, spurring plant growth by chemically combining the carbon with water and ground nutrients.

But there will “probably be more browning than greening,” said University of Arizona forest scientist Dave Breshears, who was not involved in the new research.

“The review ends on a hard note, with high confidence that we’re going to have a lot of impacts with hotter droughts in the future,” he said. Mass forest die-offs will proliferate and expand. The trend toward more extreme heat waves and droughts is lethal for forests. But despite the grim outlook, it’s important not to paint an entirely desperate picture, he said.

“It’s our choice of how much worse we want it to get. Every little bit of reduction of warming can have a positive effect. We can reduce the tree die-off. Are we going to make the choices to try and minimize that?”

Breshears has used tree mortality data to try and make near real-time projections for tree die-offs in the Southwest. This would help adapt forest management, including firefighting, to rapidly changing conditions in a region where an emerging megadrought has already weakened and killed hundreds of millions of trees, including Rocky Mountain lodgepole and piñon pines, as well as aspens.

Piñon pines in Colorado’s Mesa Verde National Park have been killed by beetles and wildfires and in many areas it’s become too warm and dry for new trees to sprout from seed and grow. Credit: Bob Berwyn

Elsewhere, African cedars and acacias are dying, South America’s Amazon rainforest is struggling, and junipers are declining in the Middle East. In Spain and Greece, global warming is shriveling oaks, and even in moist, temperate northern Europe, unusual droughts have stressed vast stands of beech forests.

At the current pace of warming, much of the world will be inhospitable to forests as we know them within decades. The extinction of some tree species by direct or indirect action of drought and high temperatures is certain. And some recent research suggests that, in 40 years, none of the trees alive today will be able to survive the projected climate, Brodribb said.

“That’s one of the potential scenarios, and we need to know if that’s right. We have to establish the consequences of rising temperatures unequivocally for policy makers,” he said.

The stakes are high, since trees are the foundation for terrestrial biodiversity and because they capture and store about one-third of human-caused CO2 emissions within their dense wood frames. A global loss of forests could lead to a surge in heat-trapping carbon dioxide, causing more warming, and would also eliminate habitat for countless other animals, plants and fungi, with a rippling effect that reaches humans.

“The closer people are to the land and living at subsistence level, it’s going to hit those people hardest,” Breshears said.

Shifting Forests

Forests in warm and semi-arid regions may suffer the most in the decades ahead, but there may also be big changes in store for cooler, wetter regions. Some forests that need a lot of moisture could dry up with just a small decline in precipitation because rapid warming magnifies the loss of moisture from soils.

Even if forests don’t die, they will fundamentally change. A recent study published in the journal Global Change Biology zoomed in on the evergreen forests in the Stubai Valley in Tirol, Austria. At 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celsius) of global warming, which will be reached during the last few decades of this century, the dense stands of spruce and fir will change to a mix of oaks and pines, more like forests on the drier southern fringes of the Alps in Italy, the projections showed.

“We found that at warming levels above 2 degrees Celsius a threshold was crossed, with the system tipping into an alternative state,” the researchers wrote. Even warming that corresponds with the current policy goals of the Paris climate agreement could “result in critical transitions of forest ecosystems. Overshooting the climate targets could be dangerous, because “ecological impacts can be irreversible at millennial time scales once a tipping point has been crossed.”

Forests on a Knife Edge

The new paper reinforces the observational evidence that global warming has pushed many of the world’s forests to a knife edge, said University of Utah forest researcher Bill Anderegg. In the West, you can’t drive on a mountain highway without seeing how global warming affects forests, from wildfires to die-offs caused by beetles or other pathogens, he said.

In some areas, researchers have documented how forests are struggling to grow back. For example, in parts of the Four Corners region, hardly any new piñon pines have sprouted to replace trees killed by beetles in the early 2000s because it’s too warm for seeds to take hold and grow.

And older trees conserve their energy to survive drought and fend off beetles rather than producing seeds. As result, there were almost no piñon pine nuts to be harvested last fall on the Navajo Nation, where the nutritious nuts have been part of cultural tradition for centuries.

“The risks of climate change to forests are substantial and going up faster than we thought,” Anderegg said. The new physiological models of trees and ecosystems helps pinpoint exactly when and where forests are vulnerable, with the aim of making credible forecasts for forests in this century, giving landowners and policymakers more useful tools, he added.

Accurate new information is also valuable for climate policy, because many national  carbon-reduction targets based on the Paris climate agreement include tree planting as a key tool to reduce emissions. But rapid forest change and catastrophic die-offs could put a monkey wrench in those plans. And in addition to the direct tree-killing effects of heat and drought, interactions with other disturbances like insects and other pathogens will magnify forest die-offs, he said.

Restoration and Resilience?

University of Montana forest ecologist Diana Six said the conclusions in the new research weren’t surprising because she’s always been skeptical of the projected beneficial effects of carbon dioxide triggering photosynthesis in plants.

“I was always amazed by the early predictions for enhanced growth of forests, especially in the West,” she said. Many of the models only included warmer temperatures or higher CO2 effects. The projections were made mainly by economists who assumed that only temperatures and CO2 affect tree growth, she added.

“No one seemed to consider water. With warmer temperatures and a longer growing season comes greater demand for water and we are getting less, not more, in most cases. That should have been a big red flag,” she said.

Six’s research focuses on tree-killing bugs, and she said it’s clear how global warming and insect devastation fit together. Heat causes drought-weakened trees to release different chemicals from healthy trees, and the bugs “are incredibly good at finding them,” she said.

And global warming has weakened a lot of trees in the West.

“Even with average rainfall it’s still a drought for trees now much of the time because of increased temperatures. Trees are tough, but they can only take so much. Some of the forests look like they’re fine, but they’re not, they are already near thresholds,” she said.

Some mature trees can survive conditions that aren’t supportive for them anymore. They have deep roots and can hunker down in survival mode for decades in dry conditions, but that doesn’t mean conditions exist for new growth. And not all old trees can survive.

“Some recent research shows that a lot of our forests may be genetically maladapted to the changing climate. We’re losing big trees faster and regeneration is not keeping up. This is not a sustainable pattern that we’re seeing,” she said.

But there is also critical information to be gleaned from the trees that aren’t killed.

“The trees that survive are very different genetically and chemically, and they also grow very differently. In some cases it’s the slower-growing trees that survive,” she said. That’s important information for forest restoration and resilience planning, she added.

“There are ways we can help our forests adapt, with space, sizing and composition. But eventually, you really have to get at adaptation. You have to get trees on the landscape that can survive in new conditions,” she said.

That would include leaving the few trees that survived massive beetle outbreaks, rather than cutting them down during the salvage logging of beetle-killed trees. Often, the loggers are eager to harvest the remaining live trees because they are worth more, but Six said it’s exactly those survivors that could help seed a new forest that’s more resistant to insects and warming.

The survivors may hold some of the secrets to ensuring that at least some forests will survive human-caused global warming. And they show that there is already some natural adaptation under way. The die-offs are natural selection working on a large scale, and for some trees, that might be enough to trigger an evolutionarily adaptive response, she said. After all, conifers have a huge amount of genetic diversity and have survived drastic climate change on a geological time scale over millions of years.

“Some of the things we are seeing are dreadful and devastating, but there are studies showing trees can adapt quite rapidly on an evolutionary level. But if we keep cranking up the temperature, there is never going to be enough adaptation possible,” she said. SOURCE

Canada’s for-profit model of long-term care has failed the elderly, says leading expert

Elderly care needs to be recognized for the skilled work that it is, says Pat Armstrong

An elderly woman seen sitting in a room at the Lynn Valley Care Centre seniors facility in North Vancouver, B.C., on March 14. It was the first nursing home in Canada to experience an outbreak among its residents. (Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press)

The first person to die of COVID-19 in Canada was a resident of a long-term care home — a man in his 80s, living at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver. That facility would go on to become the first nursing home in Canada to experience an outbreak among its residents, foreshadowing a much greater tragedy to come.

By now, homes for seniors across the country have become ground zero for the virus. They account for more than half of all COVID-related deaths in the country.

That’s hundreds of this country’s elderly citizens — all with rich lives, histories and hopes for their futures — dying alone, bereft of dignity and respect. Thousands more are at risk of soon suffering the same fate.

Pat Armstrong is a distinguished research professor in sociology at York University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. (Submitted by Pat Armstrong)

 

“We haven’t placed a high priority on providing care in nursing homes. I think that basically we’d rather not think about them,” Pat Armstrong told Michael Enright of The Sunday Edition.

“When Roy Romanow did his Royal Commission [on the Future of Health Care in Canada], he said that the health care we get is a matter of values — and I think that this is making our values pretty evident.”

Armstrong is one of Canada’s foremost thinkers on long-term care. She is a distinguished research professor in sociology at York University and a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

Long-term care, she says, is one of the major gaps in Canada’s universal health-care system.

“It’s not clearly covered by the principles of the Canada Health Act, or in the funding,” she said. Instead, the act is “basically focused on hospitals and doctors. It was developed at a time, initially, when most care was provided in hospitals.”

Today, the country’s elderly population is increasingly in need of chronic care — and far more of that care is provided in nursing homes than in the past, Armstrong added.

‘The business of making a profit’

According to a report from the Canada Health Coalition in 2018, just under half of all long-term care facilities in the country are private, for-profit entities.

But when it comes to health-care services as essential as long-term care, we can’t trust markets to do what is in seniors’ best interests, Armstrong said.

“We know from the research that for-profits tend to have lower staffing levels. They tend to have more transfers to hospitals. They tend to have more bed ulcers,” she said. “There are some good for-profit homes, just like there’s some poor not-for-profit homes, but the general pattern is there.”

Years of for-profit care has meant a serious deterioration in the labour conditions inside nursing homes, she said.

“If you’re in the business of making a profit … in nursing homes, the overwhelming majority of the cost is labour. And that’s where you are going to try and save money.”

The easiest way to cut labour costs, Armstrong added, is through “hiring more people part-time, more people casual, more people at the last minute when you need them — rather than staffing up with full-time workers that you have to pay benefits to and provide things like sick leave for.”

Given these conditions, it should come as no surprise that care providers would work at multiple sites to make ends meet, Armstrong said.

“It is about needing full-time work but not being offered full-time work in the home where they’re working,” she said. “And a significant proportion in our country are people who are new to Canada, who have very few employment options.”

So you’re more likely to be on sick leave or injured in a nursing home than you are if you’re a police officer.– Pat Armstrong

But these poor labour conditions affect more than just the workers.

Armstrong, who recently completed a 10-year international project on promising practices in long-term residential care, said that the lack of adequate “time to care” is one of the most important obstacles to high-quality care in for-profit homes.

“We have done 550 interviews in this project alone … and what you hear from those who provide care and especially from those who provide the direct care is that they simply don’t have enough time,” she said. “Or what we hear from families is that there are not enough hands. So having appropriate staffing levels is a critical working condition. It’s as critical, I think, as pay and benefits.”

A worker wearing personal protective equipment is seen outside the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C., on March 25. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

Skilled work

But Armstrong also emphasized that focusing solely on staffing levels is not enough.

“Staffing is a necessary but not sufficient condition. That’s where we have to start. But that’s all we’re talking about right now,” she said. “What we’re not talking about is the skill involved in the work — whether it’s the skill in cleaning, or serving food, or in providing bed care.”

Elderly care needs to be recognized for the skilled work that it is, Armstrong said.

“Lifting a body is not the same as lifting a sack of potatoes. Convincing someone to let you bathe them is a skilled job…. These are complicated strategies, including getting someone to eat and to know the risks of encouraging them to eat and allowing them to eat,” she said.

“It’s skilled and very heavy work that is constant, all day long.”

Armstrong added that long-term care work also comes with significant risks of violence or injury.

“We did a survey a decade ago … comparing people from three different provinces in Canada and from three Nordic countries. And people working in long-term care in Canada were almost seven times as likely as those in Nordic countries to say they faced violence on an almost daily basis,” she said.

“The rates of injury and illness absence are highest in long-term care of any place in Canada. So you’re more likely to be on sick leave or injured in a nursing home than you are if you’re a police officer.”

A man wearing a protective suit and a mask is pictured at the Lynn Valley Care Centre in North Vancouver, B.C., on March 9. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

‘A life worth living’

As the country wakes up to the inadequacies of our long-term care in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s time to imagine how we might organize things differently, Armstrong said.

“One of the things we need to do is strongly move to ensure that we have not-for-profit care, and that those people who are paid to provide care have the time to do it. That means not just more staffing, but also the kind of work organization that allows them to do that,” she said.

“There are places that have pieces of this in Canada, but what we haven’t done is develop a universal strategy across the country that can move us in this kind of direction,” Armstrong added.

The pandemic, she said, is an opportunity “to think about how we can organize nursing homes so that people can flourish in them — not just survive.”

Very few people in Canada think that their future will be in a long-term care home, but it’s time we all tried to imagine the kind of home we’d want, Armstrong added.

“We should be thinking, ‘What kind of a place would I like to be able to go into? What kind of care do I want there? What do I think they should look like?'” she said.

Ultimately, the question we should be asking in reimagining our nursing homes is “what makes life worth living,” Armstrong said. “Or, as they said in a German home, we want to put life into years — rather than years into life.” SOURCE

 

Kenney rejects idea of Alberta speaking to Green New Deal advocates after oil prices drop

https://globalnews.ca/video/rd/73509104-865c-11ea-b7b1-0242ac110003/?jwsource=cl

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney announces former MP James Rajotte will be the province’s new senior representative in Washington, D.C. 

Premier Jason Kenney said Friday that he sees a future where Alberta continues to be a key global supplier of oil and gas, and that his government has no plans to speak with U.S. politicians who advocate for economies to transition away from fossil fuels.The premier’s comments were made at a news conference after a reporter asked whether, given the staggering recent drop in oil prices amid the coronavirus pandemic that last week saw prices even move into the negatives, Alberta would consider having its new representative in Washington speak to Green New Deal advocates.

“That kind of question, in the middle of an economic crisis, from a Calgary-based media outlet — really frankly throws me for a loop,” Kenney said to the reporter.

“When you talk about the Green New Deal, listen, our focus is on getting people back to work in Alberta, not pie-in-the-sky ideological schemes,” he said. “We are actually not trying to amplify but fight back against the political agenda of the green left that has been trying to landlock Alberta energy.

“So we’re not going to try to co-operate with the folks that are trying to shut down Canada’s single-largest subsector.”

The Green New Deal is an ambitious plan to address climate change laid out by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward J. Markey of Massachusetts in the U.S.

It calls for the U.S. to move away from fossil fuels and invest in clean energy industries. The resolution was defeated in the U.S. Senate last year.

The premier’s comments came during a Friday press conference where he announced $1 billion in federal funding will be invested into boosting oil well rehabilitation and cleanup across the province, in hopes it will stimulate the province’s energy sector and create more jobs despite the coronavirus pandemic-induced downturn.

VIDEO:   Alberta to ‘administer’ $1B well site rehabilitation program

He also said he was appointing former Edmonton-area MP James Rajotte to engage with U.S. lawmakers on Alberta’s energy economy and to help pursue a North American energy strategy.

Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.

The environmental advocacy group Climate Justice Edmonton posted a statement on its social media accounts Friday that was critical of Kenney’s response to the idea of meeting with Green New Deal advocates.

“With oil prices cratering, the most responsible thing the premier could do in this crisis would be to chart a new course through the interconnected crises of climate change, mass inequality and oil volatility,” the post reads.

“It was also unfortunate to hear the premier express that it’s somehow un-Albertan to ask about a plan for energy transition.”

Climate Justice Edmonton 🌅@CJEdmonton

here’s our response to @jkenney‘s comments today on a :

View image on Twitter

 

STORY CONTINUES BKenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.
Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.
Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.Kenney’s response to the Green New Deal question generated a significant response on social media. #GreenNewDealAB was trending on Twitter Friday evening.

Let’s stop pretending billionaires are in the same boat as us during this pandemic

While millions of Americans were being thrown out of work by the coronavirus, the super rich saw their wealth increase 10%

The billionaire David Geffen sparked a backlash when he posted on Instagram that he was ‘Isolated in the Grenadines avoiding the virus’ onboard his super yacht Rising Sun. Photograph: Jeff Morgan 10/Alamy Stock Photo

In this pandemic, we are unfortunately not in the same boat.

Most Americans don’t even have a canoe. But some billionaires have taken to the high seas in their yachts – literally – to ride out the pandemic. While ordinary workers get furloughed or laid off in record numbers, billionaires as a group are actually seeing their wealth increase.

Between 18 March and 10 April 2020, over 22 million Americans lost their jobs. Over the same three weeks, my co-authors and I find in a new study for the Institute for Policy Studies, US billionaire wealth increased by $282bn – an almost 10% gain.

Indeed, we’re seeing distinct socio-economic fault lines between who is vulnerable and who is protected – between those with healthcare and those without, those who rely on public transit and those with private jets, and those who work on the frontlines and those who telecommute from comfortable homes (or yachts).

Many billionaires, enjoying the luxury of owning multiple properties far from population centers, are riding out the pandemic in havens for the wealthy such as Jackson Hole, Palm Beach, Hilton Head Island and Sun Valley. Reporters describe private jets clogging the small airports on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, while gourmet food stores in the Hamptons have been cleared out by the itinerant rich.

Some small seasonal vacation communities, lacking the hospital beds or doctors to care for throngs of sick people, have had to beg affluent visitors to go home. The state of New Jersey even enlisted the Jersey Shore star Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino to implore people to stay away.

As the wealthy luxuriate in high-end vacation towns, new Covid-19 hotspots are springing up in working-class and immigrant gateway neighborhoods like Chelsea, Massachusetts, and New York City’s outer boroughs, where people live and work in higher-density spaces, and where social-distancing guidelines are more difficult to implement – especially for frontline workers without sick leave. 

While some essential workers brave the pandemic without paid sick leave, millions of others have lost their health insurance after being laid off. But that’s no worry for the wealthiest Americans, who have access to “concierge medicine” – where, in exchange for hefty annual fees, they have ready access to Covid-19 testing and treatment. At an exclusive residence on Fisher Island, Florida, even the hired help has gotten the medical testing and screening that the rest of the country is waiting for.

The wealthy are not only “social distancing”, in short – they are also “economically distancing”. For decades now, they’ve been disconnecting from the rest of society and taking their treasure with them, undermining our public institutions as well as social solidarity.

Decades of tax cuts and billionaire-friendly public policies, our report found, helped US billionaire wealth soar over 1,100% between 1990 and 2018. Yet their tax obligations, as a percentage of their wealth, decreased a staggering 79% between 1980 and 2018.

The billionaires may not have caused this pandemic. But extreme inequality and poverty are pre-existing conditions in this public health emergency. Not least, all that uncollected tax revenue could have funded a much more responsive public health system.

There are inspiring examples of social solidarity across the country, including meaningful offers of money and help from those with abundance. But the level of sacrifice being demanded from working-class Americans is truly medieval.

The first step in reversing these extreme inequalities? Stop pretending we’re in the same boat. SOURCE


Chuck Collins directs the program on inequality at the Institute for Policy Studies. He is a co-author of the IPS report Billionaire Bonanza 2020: Wealth Windfalls, Tumbling Taxes, and Pandemic Profiteers

North Dakota flared 19 per cent of its natural gas production in 2019

GROSS NATURAL GAS PRODUCTION IN NORTH DAKOTA AVERAGED 2.9 BILLION CUBIC FEET PER DAY IN 2019, AN 827 PER CENT INCREASE COMPARED WITH THE 2010 LEVEL.

In 2019, North Dakota flared 19 per cent of its gross natural gas production, or 0.56 billion cubic feet per day. Bismark Tribune photo.

According to the North Dakota Oil & Gas Division’s February 2020 Director’s Cut & Monthly Production Report, gross natural gas production in North Dakota averaged 2.9 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in 2019, an 827 per cent increase compared with the 2010 level of 0.3 Bcf/d.

Increases in natural gas production came primarily from associated gas recovered from oil wells in the Bakken and Three Forks formations. In 2019, North Dakota flared 19 per cent of its gross natural gas production, or 0.56 Bcf/d.

North Dakota monthly gross natural gas production
Source: North Dakota Industrial Commission, Director’s Cut & Monthly Production Report

Natural gas that is not captured is often flared. Flaring occurs when natural gas is burned at the wellhead of the production site. North Dakota implemented natural gas capture goals in 2014 to limit the amount of flaring into the atmosphere.

The state natural gas capture target was initially set at 75 per cent and set to increase over time. The current gas capture rate of 88 per cent, which went into effect in November 2018, is set to increase again in November 2020 to 91 per cent.

Insufficient natural gas processing capacity and lack of pipeline infrastructure in North Dakota have resulted in lower compliance with the state’s natural gas capture goals since 2018. The state natural gas capture target has not been met in any month since March 2018.

Compliance decreased in 2019, when 81 per cent of natural gas produced in North Dakota was captured, which was down from 83 per cent the previous year. Limiting natural gas production in North Dakota also constrains oil production because most natural gas comes from oil wells.

North Dakota monthly natural gas capture rates and goals
Source: North Dakota Industrial Commission, Director’s Cut & Monthly Production Report

Natural gas processing plants are midstream facilities that remove contaminants and separate natural gas plant liquids from natural gas. In 2019, capacity additions for natural gas processing plants increased total capacity by 0.7 Bcf/d to reach 3.1 Bcf/d.

An additional 0.9 Bcf/d of natural gas processing capacity is expected to enter service during 2020 and 2021, according to the North Dakota Pipeline Authority. These additions will allow more recovered natural gas to be processed, which will support crude oil production growth, but the new capacity may fill up faster than anticipated.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission (NDIC) issued an order in November 2019 to encourage firm service contractual agreements along natural gas gathering pipelines, which connect production sites to pipeline systems. Firm service contracts may provide a greater level of certainty to producers because service along the gathering line is guaranteed and may reduce the amount of well shut-ins and flaring. NDIC acknowledged concerns that firm service may crowd out smaller producers and create inequities among current and future contracts.

A low natural gas price environment makes building gathering lines and natural gas processing facilities harder. However, according to NDIC, firm service contracts may encourage a faster investment in gathering line infrastructure because economic risk is shared between natural gas producers and midstream companies. SOURCE