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The Road Less Paved

If you build it, will they still come?

photo of an elephant in an arid landscapephoto courtesy Noel FeansTake the long way home? A new road through the Serengeti could
disrupt wildlife migrations.

Some version of that question is on the mind of conservationists and tourism businesses in Tanzania, where government officials are going ahead with plans to build a road through the Serengeti National Park despite strong protests from environmental groups around the world.

Last year, Tanzania’s government announced plans to construct a highway through the park as a way to spur economic growth and connect the country’s interior west with commercial activity on the eastern coast. The proposal quickly came under fire from conservation organizations and UNESCO officials (the Serengeti is a World Heritage site) who worried that the highway would disrupt the yearly migration of two million wildebeest and zebra that travel north from the Tanzanian national park to the adjacent Masai Mara reserve in Kenya.

In July, Tanzanian officials announced a kind of compromise: They would still build the road, but all traffic would be controlled by park rangers and the road would not be paved.

“The project is still there without a shadow of a doubt. But the road will be unpaved, so there will be no tarmac road or highway traversing through the Serengeti National Park,” says Natural Resources and Tourism Minister Ezekiel Maige.

According to the new plan, rangers will set up checkpoints and control the flow of traffic through the 33-mile section of the road cutting across the wilderness area. The road is part of a planned 260-mile route between Arusha, near Mount Kilimanjaro, and Musoma, on Lake Victoria. Roads outside the national park would be paved, but roads leading into the park and those inside it would not be.

“The road will be closely supervised. [The park rangers] will put up gates and carry out regular patrols to ensure no harm comes to the wildlife population as a result of vehicles that will be allowed to pass through the road,” Maige says.

Many conservationists are still unhappy with the plan. They have been pushing for an alternative route that would run south of Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Conservation area and leave the existing gravel route for administrative and tourism purposes only. Although an unpaved road would force cars to drive more slowly than they would on asphalt, roadkill would be inevitable – and in this area, roadkill comes at an especially high price. One animal that road opponents worry would suffer is the black rhinoceros, which is endangered. According to an environmental impact study on the proposed road, which was leaked earlier this year, black rhinoceros would be particularly at risk from collisions. The report also stated that the project “may impact the migration of the wildebeest and this would diminish the unique value of the Serengeti as a World Heritage site.”

Reuters, 6/29 & 7/4;
The East African, 6/12; AP, 6/1

(Mis)truth in Advertising

When the Anglo-Dutch energy giant Shell decided to start exploring for natural gas in South Africa’s semi-desert wilderness called the Karoo, company officials bought ads in several prominent newspapers to boast how safe the practice of hydraulic fracturing is.

Just one problem: According to South Africa’s Advertising Standards Authority, many of Shell’s claims were untrue.

The full-page advertisements, which ran in daily and weekly South African newspapers in April, claimed that hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) is used in 90 percent of natural gas wells and that there have been no cases of groundwater contamination from the process. In fact, fracking is a relatively new technology and accounts for only a minority of gas wells. And in the United States, where the procedure was developed, there have been cases of fracking chemicals seeping into groundwater sources.

A local environmental organization, Treasure the Karoo Action Group, has filed a complaint against the Shell ads. The organization is worried that fracking in the sensitive semi-desert region will harm ecosystems there.

“It is critical that with an issue so important to South Africa as fracking that the public is not misled, as Shell clearly intended in its advertising,” says the Karoo Action Group’s Jonathan Deal in a statement. “We should not be led by the emotional calls and manufactured facts of such adverts.”

A Shell official, Bonang Mohale, countered: “The purpose of the advert was to provide information direct to the public to enable them to properly assess the nature of the proposed shale gas exploration in the Karoo.”

The advertising authority found four mistruths in Shell’s ads, confirmed four facts challenged by environmentalists, and withheld ruling on one matter.

Shell isn’t the only company interested in the gas reserves in this vast central African region. Several other companies have also applied for permits to use fracking there, but the government has halted all applications until it completes a study about the environmental consequences of fracking.

Agence France-Presse, 7/6; Reuters, 7/7


Leap Back from Extinction

The Arabian oryx, a desert antelope whose distinctive horns may have sparked the legend of the unicorn, has bounced back after being hunted almost to extinction.

photo of two oryx on a dunephoto courtesy Neekoh.fi, flickr

The last Oryx leucoryx in the wild was shot in 1972. After a 30-year captive breeding and reintroduction program, its population now stands at 1,000 individuals, the International Union for Conservation of Nature reported.

The reintroduction program demonstrated that captive oryx could adapt to harsh wild conditions, first in Oman and later in the deserts of Saudi Arabia, Israel, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Jordan. The oryx has now been moved from the “endangered” category to “vulnerable” on the Red List. This is the first time that a species that had been extinct in the wild has improved by three categories.

“To have brought the Arabian oryx back from the brink of extinction is a major feat and a true conservation success story, one which we hope will be repeated many times over for other threatened species,” says Razan Khalifa Al Mubarak, director general of the UAE’s Environment Agency in Abu Dhabi.

Known as Al Maha locally, the oryx features prominently in Arabic poetry and paintings. The creature can smell water from miles away, has wide hooves that let it easily navigate shifting sand, and lives in small herds of eight to 10 animals. When its long, slender horns that curve slightly at the tip are viewed in profile, they can appear as one, like the fabled unicorn. While the oryx doesn’t seem to show any particular interest in virgin maidens or exhibit the magical healing powers of its legendary counterpart, it has definitely pulled off a rather miraculous comeback.

AP, 6/16; AFP, 6/16

Barbie Dumped

A quick climate pop quiz: What country is the third biggest greenhouse gas emitter after China and the United States? Maybe it’s heavily industrialized Japan. Or oil and gas giant Russia. Perhaps rising power India. If you guessed any of those, you’d be wrong. The third largest emitter of man-made greenhouse gases is actually Indonesia – not because of its industry and vehicles, but due to the rampant deforestation occurring across the archipelago.

photo of Barbie and Ken dollsphoto courtesy MattelHe’s just not into you. Deforestation causes
couple to split, Greenpeace jokes.

Each year, according to Indonesian government figures, some 2.5 million acres of forest are cleared there. Much of the deforestation includes millennia-old peat bogs that release huge amounts of carbon dioxide when destroyed. The land is often cleared to make room for palm oil plantations, and the lumber cut in the process becomes everything from paper and packaging products to furniture.

Now, some environmental groups, taking a page from their successful playbooks of the past, are focusing on major brands’ connection to the Indonesia deforestation in an effort to slow the clearing.

In June, Greenpeace launched a high-profile campaign against Mattel, the world’s largest toy company, for using packaging made from Indonesian pulp. As Greenpeace climbers dropped giant banners off the company’s California headquarters and in central London, the group posted an online video in which an animated Ken doll breaks up with Barbie for her involvement in killing the orangutans and tigers that live in Indonesian rainforests. In the 90-second video, a frowning Ken says: “Barbie, it’s over. I don’t date girls who are into deforestation.” Within days more than 700,000 people around the world had seen the video, which was produced in 18 languages.

“Barbie is thrashing rainforests and pushing critically endangered wildlife, like tigers, toward extinction,” says Bustar Maitar, head of Greenpeace’s campaign to halt logging in Indonesia.

According to Greenpeace, lab tests and mapping data showed that some of Mattel’s packaging came from the paper firm Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), one of the biggest loggers in Indonesia.

Even as the campaign gained traction, Mattel denied the charges that it was involved in deforestation: “Mattel does not support deforestation nor does it contract directly with APP,” the company said in a statement posted on its Facebook page. “That said, we have directed our packaging suppliers to stop sourcing pulp from APP as we investigate the deforestation allegations.”

Mattel isn’t the only major company to get snared in allegations that its products are linked to rampant deforestation in Indonesia. Just weeks before the Ken-Barbie “breakup” went viral, another green group, Rainforest Action Network, accused Disney of printing children’s books on paper made from pulp supplied by APP. “The very creatures Disney features in its classic film The Jungle Book are threatened by the paper Disney’s children’s books are printed on,” Lafcadio Cortesi, Rainforest Action Network’s forest campaign director, said in a statement as two activists wearing Mickey and Minnie Mouse suits chained themselves to the entrance of the Disney studios in Los Angeles.

The protest at Disney came in the midst of a campaign by two Girl Scouts from Michigan to get the youth organization to stop putting Indonesian palm oil in its iconic cookies, which are a $700 million business. For several years, Girl Scouts Madison Vorva and Rhiannon Tomtishen have tried to get the 3.2 million-member organization to phase out palm oil. At first, the Girl Scouts leadership ignored Vorva and Tomtishen. But this spring – after a barrage of negative publicity and emails from Girl Scouts nationwide – the girls got a meeting at the organization’s national headquarters and a promise that the Kellogg’s subsidiary that makes the cookies will support palm oil producers who are transitioning to greener methods. “We think it’s a start,” Vorva says.

Reuters, 6/9; LA Times, 6/9; TIME, 5/31

Buried Treasure

The discovery of vast deposits of rare earth metals on the Pacific Ocean floor marks the latest bid by the Japanese to secure their own supply of the metals, which are critical in the production of solar panels, electric cars, and iPhones. But the feasibility of harvesting the metals from sea sludge is murky.

Prices of rare earth metals have skyrocketed over the last year as China, producer of some 97 percent of the global supply, has repeatedly clamped down on exports. Outside China, Japan is the largest consumer of the group of 17 metals, and the price jumps have hit it hard. Desperate to escape its neighbor’s erratic policies, the Japanese have been experimenting with rare earth recycling, and are trying to invest in rare earth exploration projects around the world.

So Japanese scientists’ recent discovery of an underwater bonanza – 80 billion to 100 billion tons of rare earth deposits at 78 locations in international waters around Hawai‘i and Tahiti – is being greeted with optimism by the high-tech nation. The deposits are larger than any found on solid ground. The US Geological Survey pegs current global reserves (found mainly in China, Russia, other former Soviet countries, and the United States) at just 110 million tons.

If Japan develops the deep-sea deposits, which government sources say could come into production within five to 10 years, it would be a major coup. “Just one square kilometer (0.4 square mile) of deposits will be able to provide one-fifth of the current global annual consumption,” says Yasuhiro Kato, an associate professor of earth science at the University of Tokyo.

But while Japanese scientists say it’s simply a matter of pumping up the material from the ocean floor and using acid to extract the rare earths from the mud, scientists and market analysts aren’t so sure. They point out that rare earths are notoriously tricky to process, and that development of the deposits, located two to four miles underneath the sea, would be costly.

“There’s a big difference between saying that the elements exist in large amounts and being able to appropriately, economically, and environmentally extract that material,” says Frank Sansone, oceanography professor at the University of Hawai‘i, Mānoa.

It’s not that we don’t know how to work in the deep sea, says John Wiltshire, director of the Hawai‘i Undersea Research Laboratory. Telegraph cables were first laid across the ocean floor 150 years ago, and at least three industries – telecommunications, oil drilling, and diamond mining – have become adept at deep-sea engineering. But, he says, just the startup costs could run from $1 to $2 billion.

Certainly there are mining companies that see value in the ocean floor. A handful of companies already mine diamonds in several hundred feet of water off the coast of Namibia. But with hundreds of companies exploring and developing rare earth deposits on solid ground, analysts say the value of mining the metals underwater remains unclear.

As Jon Hykawy, analyst for Byron Capital Markets, says: “Rare earths have become pricier, but they are by no means pushing the levels of the prices of really rare materials such as gold.”

Reuters, 7/7; Popular Mechanics, 7/8


Solar on Fire in UK

As any procrastinator knows, nothing would ever get done if it weren’t for the last minute. In the latest proof of that aphorism, businesses in Britain spent the first part of the year rushing to install photovoltaic systems before the government slashed commercial support tariffs for renewable energy. The results of the last minute scramble were impressive: Between March and June, installed capacity for photovoltaic plants in the UK rose by 56 percent, to 121.6 megawatts.

photo of a solar panel, a leaf resting on itphoto courtesy Oregon Department of TransportationInstalled photovoltaic capacity in the UK increased by more than 50 percent
in three months.

In April 2010, the British government instituted a feed-in tariff for homeowners and businesses that installed solar systems or anaerobic digestion systems (which break down organic material into methane gas and use the gas to produce power). A feed-in tariff is a program that pays businesses and homeowners directly for excess solar production at an agreed-upon price. Under the government’s feed-in tariff, homes producing their own power would receive up to 41 pence for every unit of electricity they generated – or up to £960 (US $1,380) a year for a household.

But in early 2011, the new Conservative government under David Cameron cut the feed-in tariffs for solar installations larger than 50 kilowatts, saying that too many large commercial plants would absorb government money that was designed to assist community projects and individual households.

With the clock ticking, businesses across the UK scrambled to complete larger projects before the August 1 expiration of the subsidies. In July alone, two of Britain’s largest solar plants were connected to the grid in Cornwall, the country’s sunniest region.

“While it’s been disappointing the government has decided not to support the large-scale solar sector going forward, the solar farms developed this summer will play a critical role in the supply of green energy in the UK,” says Conor McGuigan of Lightsource Renewable Energy, which helped build a 1.4 MW solar plant near Truro.

It’s about time.

Reuters, 7/ 29

North America

Free Trade Follies

To many environmentalists, a law to support renewable energy would sound like an ideal public policy – a way to spur clean technologies through government incentives. To Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, however, it’s “favoritism” – a violation of the rules set up by NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

In July, one of Pickens’ companies, Mesa Power Group, initiated a NAFTA complaint against Ontario’s Green Energy Act, passed in 2009. The Ontario law uses feed-in tariffs to pay generous, above-market rates to producers of wind or solar energy under 20-year, fixed-price contracts. So far, the program has lured US $21 billion in investment commitments to the province from Canadian and international investors, including Mesa Power, which specializes in renewable energy.

Pickens’ company cried foul after what it called a “last-minute” change to the Ontario law cost it the contracts for two large wind farms.

Mesa Power said its proposal for the two projects in the Bruce transmission region was high up the Ontario Power Authority’s list initially. However, in June, the power authority changed its rules to allow projects in a neighboring transmission region to connect to the Bruce area. These projects were then awarded a major chunk of the contracts. Mesa’s projects, which the company said could have been in operation by the end of 2012, did not get the contracts it applied for.

“Other projects that received contracts under the disputed rules will take years to complete and will require extensive planning of new, expensive, an unnecessarily long power lines,” says Cole Robertson, a Mesa executive.

This isn’t the first time that Ontario’s Green Power Act has run into trouble with free trade rules. In June, Japan challenged the province’s requirement that at least 60 percent of the equipment used in installations qualifying for the feed-in tariff be manufactured in Ontario. The Japanese asked the World Trade Organization to review whether the requirement gives an unfair advantage to local equipment makers.

Mesa’s NAFTA filing also objects to the “buy local” criteria and complains about the “preferential treatment” given to certain investors, including South Korea’s Samsung.

“This clear favoritism disadvantaged Mesa, as well as other wind developers, and clearly violates the spirit, goals, and objectives of the North American Free Trade Agreement,” Mesa’s Robertson said.

Canada’s Trade Department says it will “vigorously defend” the Ontario renewable energy law.

Reuters, 7/15

Oil and Water

In oil- and gas-rich Texas water has taken oil’s place as the most coveted resource – even for those drilling for oil.

photo of a farm building in a flat arid landscapephoto courtesy Patrick FellerThe drought in Texas has pitted farmers against the water-intensive oil and gas industry.

During the region’s most severe drought since 1895, drilling companies, which require millions of gallons of water for a single well, are in stiff competition with farmers who need water for their crops and livestock. The tug-of-war over water makes for a world-class climate change irony: A drought is hindering the retrieval of the very substance that is fueling the global warming that is likely playing a role in the historic dry-spell.

The water crisis in Texas highlights a continuing controversy over the impacts of an oil and gas production technique called hydraulic fracturing. Environmental groups are concerned the “fracking” method may pose a threat to groundwater supplies, while farmers in arid regions like south Texas worry about the growing competition for scarce water.

Fracking uses high-pressure jets of sand- and chemical-infused water to crack the rock that contains deposits of crude oil and gas. With the government rationing the water that is crucial to the fracking process, drillers have had to look to other sources, such as farmers, for water.

But farmers are reluctant to share. The drought has devastated their crops, with about 80 percent of the state’s winter wheat, 72 percent of its oats, and 36 percent of its corn classified as poor or very poor in June, according to the US Department of Agriculture.

One of Texas’s most popular drilling sites, the Eagle Ford Shale area, has a specific kind of geology that requires huge amounts of water to reach the oil trapped beneath the rock. Fracking a single Eagle Ford well requires as much as 13 million gallons of water – enough to meet the cooking, washing, and drinking needs of 240 adults for an entire year.

Such a high level of water usage during a historic drought is not endearing the drilling companies to their neighbors. Some fossil fuel companies have been trying to conserve and reduce the amount of water they use in their operations. Exxon Mobil has begun recycling fracking water for future drilling, and Anadarko Petroleum is replacing the dirt roads leading to its wells with limestone to preserve water that otherwise would be used to keep down the dust.

Even with these measures, however, the fact remains that about 94 percent of Texas was in a state of severe, extreme, or exceptional drought in June, according to the US Drought Monitor. Areas around the Rio Grande River, which supply much of the equipment and workers used in drilling, have received less than two inches of rain since October 2010, according to the National Weather Service.

But the oil and gas companies have not shown any willingness to stop drilling. A study released this summer estimates that demand for fracking water in the area will increase 10-fold by 2020, and double again by 2030 as companies continue to drill for more wells. Anadarko Petroleum plans to drill 200 more wells just this year.

“This is not the drilling your grandparents knew in west Texas,” said Sharon Wilson, an organizer for Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “It’s a heavy industrial activity with massive amounts of water and chemicals.”

Bloomberg News, 6/13

South America

Blockage Blocked

Here’s proof that direct action works: After some 2,000 Peruvians blocked roads and held mass protests for 36 days straight – from mid-May through June – the country’s government cancelled plans for a 2,000-megawatt dam on the Inambari River, a major Amazon tributary.

slice of an infographic mapSource: Conservation International. Tree illustration Tracy SaxbyThreatened Forests: click to view this infographic

The dam was to be built by the Brazilian EGASUR consortium (Southern Amazon Electrical Generation Company) at the corner of Puno, Cusco, and Madre de Dios states, 186 miles from the border with Brazil. It would have been the largest of six hydroelectric dams planned as part of a deal between Peru and Brazil for the generation of 6,000 megawatts of electricity.

“Although this resolution does not prevent the construction of all dams in the Inambari Basin, it is very important because it clearly cancels EGASUR’s participation,” says Aldo Santos of the local NGO Rural Educational Services. He says that in cancelling the dam, the government also agreed all future projects will be subject to prior consultation with local Indigenous communities. Santos says the requirement is “an important precedent.”

Affected communities have long opposed the Inambari Dam, which would have flooded 410 square kilometers of forest, including part of the Bahujan Sonene National Park buffer zone, and deprived more than 15,000 people of the agricultural lands that provide their livelihood. Flooding 120 kilometers of the recently built Inter-Oceanic Highway also would have severed access to markets and affected the economic development of the district.

The cancellation of the project is a blow to the Brazilian government. The $4.9 billion Inambari Dam was expected to be financed by the Brazilian National Development Bank and to be built by Brazilian construction companies. The Brazil Energy Expansion Plan for 2011-2020 includes a total of 7,000 megawatts of imported hydropower from the Peruvian Amazon.

The second proposed dam under the Brazil-Peru Agreement, the Pakitzapango Dam, was stopped in 2010 by an administrative legal action by the Central Ashaninka del Rio Ene, an Indigenous organization. Peruvian NGOs have demanded a public debate to review the Peru-Brazil Energy Agreement when the new Congress begins meeting.

“Even though the project is cancelled, we know that we have won the battle but not the war. We know there are too many interests behind construction of Inambari, especially the interests of the Brazilians and their energy thirst,” says Olga Cutipa, president of the Front to Defend the Inambari-San Gaban.

Although protesters have won several small victories, Peru’s Indigenous communities remain concerned about the impacts of mining, petroleum, and other large-scale infrastructure projects on their communal lands.

Projects proposed for the Amazon region include 52 hydroelectric plants, more than 2,500 miles of paved highway and canals stretching the same distance, seven railroads, over 50 petroleum leases, and 24,000 mining claims covering about 39,000 square miles.

ENS, 6/16; Indian Country Today, 6/20

The Usual Suspects

A spate of murders of forest activists in the Brazilian Amazon has left other environmental defenders unnerved and frustrated that the government’s investigation of the killings has gone nowhere.

The Brazilian Amazon has long been a lawless place where people who oppose logging face harassment, threats, and even death. Brazilians and international observers say that the violence is orchestrated by the powerful corporate interests that profit from forestry, industrial agriculture, and mining in the vast jungle. But as the recent murders show, the logging barons behind the crimes rarely face justice.

In late May, Claudio Ribeiro da Silva, 52, and his wife, Maria do Espirito Santo da Silva, 51, were shot dead in an ambush close their home in Nova Ipixuna, a small town in the northern state of Para. Since their murders, another three forest activists have been killed in Para. A fourth environmental activist was killed in the state of Rondonia.

The slain couple were members of the National Council of Gatherers, a group that collects natural foods and medicines from the Amazon. The Council was founded by martyred ecologist and rubber tapper Chico Mendes, who was murdered in 1988.

According to the Para prosecutor’s office, the Silvas’ murder “had a detail suggesting it was a typical hit: The killers cut off one of Juan Claudio’s ears.”

Junior, an agronomist who worked with the Silvas for two years and declined to give his last name for fear of retribution, said the couple had received death threats. “He was told things like, ‘Your days are numbered, get ready to be silenced forever,’” Junior says, while accusing “powerful landowners and forest companies” of ordering the murder.

Jose Battista – an attorney for the local branch of the Pastoral Land Commission, a group linked to the Catholic Church that defends poor rural workers – says that 125 people nationwide have death contracts on their heads. Thirty of them are in Para. The Silvas were among them. Since the start of the year, 20 more names have been added to the list of those under threat of murder. “In the Amazon region, hired killers do exist,” Battista says.

The day after the Silvas’ murder, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff promised that the perpetrators would be brought to justice. But so far the police have made no progress in the case. Locals say the atmosphere of impunity contributes to further forest clearing. “The absence of government has led to illegal deforestation,” says Valdimir Ferreira, a municipal councilor in Nova Ipixuna. “Jose Claudio started a fight, a war against the loggers and powerful farmers. That’s why I can say that his death was ordered by them.”

AFP, 6/19

Outer Space

Mining the Moon

We’ve mined the land. We’ve mined undersea. Where else can we wreak havoc but on the moon? Science fiction writers have visualized it often, now scientists, too, believe it may not be long before we start mining the moon.

Billions of tons of valuable resources – from water to gases to metals – have been detected on the moon. Governments and private companies are now exploring the ambiguous legalities and challenging technical details to figure how to reach, extract, and sell it all.

photo of the moon in three-quarter phasephoto courtesy NASAThe final frontier – for strip mining.

Of special interest are the vast quantities of the isotope helium-3 found on the moon, as well as in the atmosphere of planets like Jupiter. Helium-3 could come into high demand if physicists can ever figure out nuclear fusion, the basis of the sun’s energy. Nuclear fusion, scientists say, would produce vastly more energy than fission reactions, without the problem of radioactive waste. But the isotope is found in such low quantities on Earth that even though nuclear fusion doesn’t work yet, it’s still worth $16 million per 2.2 pounds.

Helium-3 could, in theory, be extracted from the moon through heating moon rock and collecting the gas, says Matthew Genge, lecturer in the Faculty of Engineering at Imperial College London. “Millions to hundreds of millions of tons, I should think, is readily accessible,” he says. “You can strip mine the moon and you can cook out the helium-3.” Helium-3 could produce about $4 billion of energy per ton of isotope. Some experts estimate that a single space-shuttle load could power the United States for a year.

Extraction doesn’t come cheap, though. According to Genge, it costs $25,000 per kilogram to lift things into space on a shuttle. Thus, whatever is mined in space will have to be in high-enough demand.

But there won’t be mining on the moon until there is a moon base. “It’s going to be a government that sets up a moon base, whether it be the Americans – who are going to have to plan this from scratch. Probably more likely the Chinese,” Genge says. NASA plans to have a permanent moon base by 2024. China, India, Russia, and the European Space Agency also have visions of building lunar bases.

Meanwhile, private companies have jumped into the fray. Texas-based Shackleton Energy has begun operations aimed at mining the moon within the next few years. The company’s plans involve melting the ice and converting the water into gaseous hydrogen and oxygen then condensing the gases into liquid hydrogen, oxygen, and hydrogen peroxide, all rocket fuels.

Shackleton CEO Dale Tietz says the water extracted would be used almost exclusively to make rocket fuel to power operations in Low Earth Orbit, such as space tourism. “We are a for-profit business enterprise moving forward, and so we are only going there really for one reason, and that is to mine, prospect mine, and harvest water for rocket propellant production,” Tietz says.

Since the governance of space resources is ambiguous, the latest space race could lead to conflicts. The UN’s 1967 Outer Space Treaty (OST) doesn’t ban the extraction of resources from space so long as mining stations don’t constitute de facto “occupation” of a part of outer space. The UN’s 1984 Moon Treaty sought to clarify space-mining rights, stating: “The Moon and its natural resources are the common heritage of mankind” and that use of the moon “shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries.” But the Soviet Union and the United States vetoed the treaty.

The moon supports no organic life, thus there would appear to be no ecological hazards associated with mining. Genge, however, speculates that strip mining could ruin the satellite’s unique geography. “If you’re mining enough of the moon, in the end the Man on the Moon disappears,” Genge says. “I can imagine that being an issue.”

International Business Times, 6/29; The Ecologist, 7/4.

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