New England on ‘High Alert’ After Canadian Pipeline Reversal Approved

Friday, March 7, 2014 by Common Dreams

The tar sands oil industry scored a regulatory victory on Thursday when the Canadian National Energy Board approved a plan by energy giant Enbridge to reverse the flow of Canada’s ‘Line 9’ oil pipeline eastward from Ontario to Montreal.

Pipeline rupture report raises questions about TransCanada inspections

Feb 04, 2014 10:29 PM ET
Amber Hildebrandt, CBC News

A CBC News investigation has unearthed a critical report that the federal regulator effectively buried for several years about a rupture on a trouble-prone TransCanada natural gas pipeline.

On July 20, 2009, the Peace River Mainline in northern Alberta exploded, sending 50-metre-tall flames into the air and razing a two-hectare wooded area.

Members of Dene Tha’ First Nations community of Chateh, about 50 kilometres away from the site of the blast, also want to know why the report was not released until now.(Courtesy of Dene Tha’ First Nation)



Few people ever learned of the rupture — one of the largest in the past decade — other than the Dene Tha’ First Nation, whose traditional territory it happened on.

Cianbro remains committed to east-west highway project despite opposition, company official says

Bangor Daily News, Dec. 13, 2013

Plans for a proposed east-west highway continue to move forward despite a flurry of towns adopting measures to keep it away from their land, according to a leading proponent of the project.

Darryl Brown, the Cianbro Corp. project manager for the east-west highway, said there is still no mapped route to divulge, as he is still working with landowners and dealing with environmental issues.

Read More: //</a>

TransCanada Has Already Had To Fix 125 Dents and Sags in Southern Keystone Pipeline

CREDIT: Public Citizen

Synthetic crude oil hasn’t yet entered the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, but a report releasedTuesday by non-profit consumer rights group Public Citizen says the pipes are already bending, sagging and peeling to the point of a possible spill or leakage of toxic tar sands.

Drawing on the accounts of landowners, citizens and former workers of TransCanada, the report documents alleged construction problems and engineering code violations along the Texas portion of the pipeline, proved by what the group says is a staggering amount of excavations to correct dents and patch holes. Public Citizen is calling on the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration to review TransCanada’s construction quality assurance records for possible federal violations, and perform a complete re-testing of the pipeline to see if the repairs work.

“The government should investigate, and shouldn’t let crude flow until that is done,” Public Citizen’s Texas office director Tom Smith said in a statement. “Given the stakes — the potential for a catastrophic spill of hazardous crude along a pipeline that traverses hundreds of streams and rivers and comes within a few miles of some towns and cities — it would be irresponsible to allow the pipeline to start operating.”

One of the landowners cited in the study is David Whitley, a self-described “go-along guy” who owns an 80-acre plot of land in Texas which the pipeline crosses.

At first Whitley cooperated with TransCanada’s construction crew and did not dispute construction of the pipeline, deciding that “I wasn’t going to let it give me any more gray hairs,” Whitley said on a conference call with reporters. His attitude changed, however, when workers returned months after construction to do a visual inspection. The workers dug a hole in the ground of Whitley’s property, and he got his first look at Keystone.

“It changed my attitude seeing what was running underneath my property,” Whitley said, noting that there were two red marks on the pipeline that said “dented, cut out.” The pipeline, he said, was resting on a rock.

The report cites more than 125 excavations in 250 miles of possible problems with pipe that had been buried for months. The report says TransCanada is touting the excavation and subsequent pipe replacements as a demonstration of its commitment to safety, but Public Citizen’s report says the company is in danger of of repeating its tainted history of problems with pipeline construction and safety. From the report:

During the construction of Keystone I, TransCanada pledged to meet 50 special conditions. But more than 47 anomalies along the line in four states had to be retested, and the Keystone I line spilled 12 times in the first year of operation.

In July 2011, TransCanada’s Bison natural gas pipeline exploded within the first six months of operation, blowing out an approximate 40-foot section of pipe. TransCanada had been warned of potential quality problems with construction and inspection.

In the 1990s, Iroquois Pipeline Operations, a subsidiary of TransCanada Pipelines Ltd., and four senior executives pleaded guilty to knowingly violating environmental and safety provisions of the pipeline construction permit. Iroquois executives had promised a pipeline of exceptional safety. [It crosses the historic territory of Iroquois Confederacy thru present-day NY & CT!]

The report also calls on Congress to hold oversight hearings to make sure that PHMSA investigates and addresses the safety of the pipeline. Smith said PHMSA should perform two tests: A so-called “Hydro test,” which pressurizes the pipeline to levels higher than it would normally experience, and an “caliper inline inspection,” which would look for problems on the inside of the pipeline.

“The consequences of a failure would be grave,” Smith said. “Our goal is to try and make sure if it operates it is operated as safely as possible and that the line itself secures the product to make sure that we don’t create additional problems down the line.”





Pivotal Trans-Pacific Partnership Section Revealed

Wednesday, 13 November 2013 09:39

By | Press Release

Link to Article.

The TPP has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning because the Obama administration knows that the more people know about it, the more they will oppose the agreement. The release of the full Intellectual Property chapter today by Wiikileaks confims what had been suspected, the Obama administration has been an advocate for transnational corporate interests in the negotiations even though they run counter to the needs and desires of the public.

This is not surprising since we already knew that 600 corporate advisers were working with the US Trade Representative to draft the TPP.  This means that for nearly four years some of the top corporate lawyers have been inserting phrases, paragraphs and whole sections so the agreement suits the needs of corporate power, while undermining the interests of people and the planet.

Now from these documents we see that the US is isolated in its aggressive advocacy for transnational interests and that there are scores of areas still unresolved between the US and Pacific nations. The conclusion: the TPP cannot be saved.  It has been destroyed by secret corporate advocacy.  It needs to be rejected.  Trade needs to be negotiated with a new approach — transparency, participation of civil society throughout the process, full congressional review and participation, and a framework that starts with fair trade that puts people and the planet before profits.

Congress needs to reject Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority as these documents show the Obama administration has been misleading the people and the Congress while trying to bully other nations.  This flawed agreement and the secrecy essential to its becoming law need to be rejected.

For more on the TPP visit

From Wikileaks:

Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership AgreementToday, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.

The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP.

From Public Citizen:

Leaked Documents Reveal Obama Administration Push for Internet Freedom Limits, Terms That Raise Drug Prices in Closed-Door Trade Talks

U.S. Demands in Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Text, Published Today by WikiLeaks, Contradict Obama Policy and Public Opinion at Home and Abroad

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secret documents published today by WikiLeaks and analyzed by Public Citizen reveal that the Obama administration is demanding terms that would limit Internet freedom and access to lifesaving medicines throughout the Asia-Pacific region and bind Americans to the same bad rules, belying the administration’s stated commitments to reduce health care costs and advance free expression online, Public Citizen said today.

WikiLeaks published the complete draft of the Intellectual Property chapter for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed international commercial pact between the United States and 11 Asian and Latin American countries.

This piece was reprinted by Truthout with permission or license. It may not be reproduced in any form without permission or license from the source.

Toxic Algal Blooms And Warming Waters: The Climate Connection

September 30, 2013

SAMMAMISH, Wash. — A photograph displayed in Jacki and John Williford’s home commemorates a camping trip that would go down in family history.


The most memorable event from that outing in 2011 involved the mussels John and his two children collected from a dock near Sequim Bay State Park on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. The family took them back to their campsite and steamed them in white wine with garlic and oregano.


“It was really good. Like the best mussels in the whole wide world,” remembers their son Jaycee, now 7. “And they were huge.”


But his little sister’s memories of that day aren’t quite as fond.


“They had poison in them.” says 4-year-old Jessica as her parents look on. “They drinked the poisoned water.”


The mussels the Willifords ate around the campfire that night were indeed poisoned. But it was a natural type of poison. The shellfish had sucked up a toxin produced by a certain type of algae called dinophysis.


Dinophysis has been found around the world and documented in Northwest waters for decades. But scientists think it’s becoming more toxic as ocean conditions change, in part due to climate change.


Every year during the warmer months, blooms of algae dot Northwest waters. Some types of algae can release toxins, which poison shellfish and the people who might eat those shellfish.


In recent years, toxic algal blooms have been more potent and lasted longer. That has scientists trying to understand how our warming climate could be contributing to the problem.


But for the Willifords, the science is already hitting close to home.



First U.S. Case of Diarrhetic Shellfish Poisoning


The Williford’s encounter with what turned out to be diarrhetic shellfish poisoning wasn’t pretty. Soon after their youngest went to bed that night, Jacki and her husband John heard sounds of vomiting coming from the tent.


After a long night spent using pillowcases, towels and every spare article of clothing to clean up the mess, the Willifords decided to cut their vacation short, pack up their things and head home.


“It just broke your heart the next morning to have a 2-year-old sitting in her stroller with a cup and she would just be over there dry heaving into her cup,” Jacki Williford recalls. “I was like, how many two year olds can manage their own cup for throwing up?”


It turns out there wasn’t much public health officials could have done to prevent this family’s experience. The DSP toxin is expensive to detect –- and there had never been a confirmed DSP poisoning in the United States –- although it has made people in Europe and Japan sick.


The Washington Department of Health works with tribes and shellfish growers to test regularly for other naturally occurring toxins in shellfish. Other native algae produce toxins that can cause paralysis and amnesia.


It was only recently that dinophysis joined the ranks of algal troublemakers in the Northwest but it may be perfectly equipped to thrive in our changing waters.




‘Cellular Vampirism’


Neil Harrington watches the waters more closely than most. As a biologist for the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribe he monitors shellfish every week for toxic algae contamination. Today he’s taking samples from the very dock on Sequim Bay where the Willifords harvested their toxic shellfish in 2011.


Harrington pulls up a cage full of mussels and oysters and starts picking some out for sampling. These shellfish, alongside water samples from this site, will be taken back to his lab to test for algae-related toxins. Some samples will also be overnighted to the Department of Health lab in Shoreline, Wa., which is a clearinghouse for the latest information on shellfish bed closures.


Harrington is particularly curious about dinophysis. Unlike a lot of algae that just float around and photosynthesize until the water turns phosphorescent or red or green, dinophysis has two tails that allow it to swim through the water. That means it can photosynthesize like a plant and prey on other single-celled organisms.



“So it’s sort of cellular vampirism,” Harrington chuckles. “The analog on land would be a carnivorous plant … a sort of microshop of horrors.”


And this super bug is on the rise in Northwest waters.


Agal blooms and climate change
2012 DSP levels in Puget Sound.


Agal blooms and climate change
2012 DSP levels on Washington coast.


As more people move to the Northwest and more land is developed, more fertilizers and nutrients runoff into waterways.


“The more nutrients you add to a water body, the more algae there is,” Harrington says. “And the more algae you get the more chance there is that some of those algae will be harmful.”


Now add climate change to the equation. As we move into a warmer climate, scientists say, there will be a longer growth season for harmful algal blooms to flourish — both in the marine environment and fresh waterbodies.


Algae thrive in warmer waters. They also like it when snowmelt flushes fresh water into the marine environment.


That influx of fresh water makes for a nice layering effect and dinophysis knows how to use those conditions to their advantage.


“They can go to the surface into that fresher layer and photosynthesize during the day and then they can swim down and access nutrient-rich waters at night,” says Vera Trainer, an expert on harmful algae with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Seattle. “So we believe that there will potentially be an increase in them in the future.”


In an important paper published in 2008, Stephanie Moore, another expert on toxic algae with NOAA, highlighted the concerns in the scientific community about how ocean acidification, the ugly step-child of climate change, could contribute to the rise of toxic algal species. “A more acidic environment would favor, among others, the dinoflagellates — the group of phytoplankton to which most harmful algae belong,” Moore wrote. Vera Trainer, a co-author on the paper, suggests we may be entering a “dinoflagellate regime.”


Trainer’s department at NOAA has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars developing equipment that will monitor algae and toxins in the water column.


In the shellfish beds of Samish Bay south of Bellingham, Wash., Moore is beta testing the latest algae monitoring instrument. It’s called an Environmental Sample Processor and in about three hours, the ESP automatically collects water, analyzes the samples and sends a photograph that shows how many harmful algal species are present in the water at that moment.




Because of its speed and accuracy, Moore says the ESP has the potential to revolutionize harmful algae monitoring. “I would still be driving back from the site in that amount of time and wouldn’t be anywhere close to being able to report on the abundance of five harmful algal species,” Moore says. “So this is a huge advancement in our ability to keep tabs on what’s going on.”


With the ESP, Moore can get word to public health officials much more quickly.


Jerry Borchert is one of those public health officials. He’s the guy responsible for making sure all the shellfish harvested along Washington’s 800 miles of coast is safe to eat. The shellfish industry in the state generates $270 million annually.


At the Department of Health lab north of Seattle, Borchert works closely with his team to analyze thousands of shellfish samples every year. If the toxin levels are too high, he closes beaches to shellfishing.


This summer marked the first time he had to close beaches in south Puget Sound because of high levels of DSP toxin. But the trend, overall, has been upwards in recent decades.


“There’s more closures happening repeatedly,” Borchert says. “They’re starting earlier, they’re lasting longer. They’re happening during the winter time where they never used to occur. It is real. We are seeing more toxic blooms.”


The Department of Health is spending $80,000 per year, on top of its regular budget, to test for the toxin that causes diarrhetic shellfish poisoning. That’s what made the Williford family sick.


And it’s making Borchert’s life harder. He’s had to hire more staff, expand sampling sites and sample more throughout the year.


“Things are constantly changing but changing in a more negative fashion so I have to do more to be prepared for this and it’s ongoing,” Borchert says as his shoulders slump. He has a resigned, tired look in his eye.


“For every one thing we learn it seems to lead to 100 more questions,” he says.


This season the Department of Health closed shellfish beds in six counties around Puget Sound because of high levels of DSP. Fortunately, no one got sick.


But in the years to come, Borchert says he expects to be more and more busy.


Story and audio by Ashley Ahearn. Video and additional reporting by Katie Campbell. Photos as credited.



Oregon, Washington issue Columbia River fish warning

Originally published September 23, 2013Health officials in Oregon and Washington said Monday that people should protect themselves against mercury and PCB contamination by limiting consumption of certain fish species from a 150-mile section of the Columbia River.

The Oregon Health Authority and the Washington Department of Health said people should eat no more than one meal a week of resident fish — those that live year-round in the same place — between Bonneville and McNary dams. Resident species in the Columbia include bass, bluegill, yellow perch, crappie, walleye, carp, catfish, suckers and sturgeon.

A meal is defined as a piece of fish the size and thickness of one’s hand.

Officials also recommend not eating any resident fish taken between Bonneville Dam and Ruckel Creek, one mile upstream.

The advisory does not apply to migratory fish, such as salmon and steelhead, because they spend most of their time at sea.

“We’ve suspected for quite some time that there may be contamination in the Columbia River, and the thing that was missing was measured data,” said Dave Farrer, public health toxicologist for the Oregon Health Authority.

Only recently have researchers had the resources available to measure toxicity in Columbia River fish, he said.

The states said they’re unsure how long the advisory will last.


Polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, are toxic chemicals that do not break down in the environment. They were widely used in electronic components until they were banned in the Toxic Substances Control Act of 1976.

Officials advised against eating any resident fish caught near Bonneville Dam after researchers measured extraordinarily high levels of PCB contamination in resident fish there. The most contaminated sample measured 183 parts per million, Farrer said, and the threshold for an advisory is 0.047 ppm.

Upstream from Bonneville, mercury is the concern, Farrer said.

Mercury and PCBs build up over time. Developing fetuses, nursing infants and small children are most vulnerable to their negative health effects, so it’s especially important that women of child-bearing age heed the advisories, officials said.

Officials recommend pregnant women eat migratory fish for the beneficial protein, omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients.

“The message isn’t to not eat fish at all,” Farrer said. “We want people, especially pregnant women, to eat fish. We just want them to choose fish correctly. We hope these advisories are a good tool to help them.”

Monday’s announcement drew an immediate response from Northwest tribes, who called on state and federal leaders to find long-term solutions that improve water quality.

“The new advisories once again pass the burden of responsibility from industry and government to tribes and people in the region,” Yakama Nation Chairman Harry Smiskin said in a released statement. “Rather than addressing the contamination, we are being told to reduce our reliance on the Columbia River’s fish. This is unacceptable.

“The focus should not be ‘do not eat’ — it should be ‘clean up’ the Columbia River.”

The Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, which includes the Yakama Nation, has urged Washington and Idaho to beef up their water quality standards. Oregon adopted new rules in 2011 that are among the most stringent in the country.


Water compact: Klamath shows value of negotiation

Guest Editorial in Missoula, Montana

Michael Gale (Missoulian, Sept. 17) seems to think that events in Oregon’s Klamath Basin illustrate the danger of entering into a Flathead Reservation compact. Actually, the reverse is true.

Part of the problem is that Gale doesn’t really appear to know what happened on the Klamath. What actually happened is that the state of Oregon determined that the Klamath Tribes have a “time immemorial” right to in-stream flows on Klamath tributaries, which entitles them to make a call on irrigators using water from those streams. And in this very low water year, that’s what they did. When a senior water user shuts down a junior, there is no implication that the senior’s use of water is “more important” than the junior’s. All it means is the senior was there first. It may not lead to the best use of water, but that’s the way Western water law works.

It’s also important to note that the Klamath irrigators who were cut off this summer were not protected by any “paper agreements.” In fact, they declined to participate in the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, which seeks to assure that there is enough water, equitably shared, for both fish and agriculture. Other irrigators with rights junior to those of the tribes, who did enter into the agreement, have not had their water cut off.

Like the Klamath Tribes, the Salish and Kootenai tribes almost certainly have a valid claim to extensive time immemorial in-stream water rights. These rights are a matter of law and not a creation of the compact. On the contrary, under the compact, the tribes have agreed to exercise their rights in a way that protects existing junior users, including irrigators. The Klamath experience demonstrates the value of this kind of negotiated settlement, and the perils of rejecting it.

Sen. Dick Barrett,

Senate District 47,



Ocean of Change: Changing chemistry of seawater poses lethal threat to marine life

Published:  Sept. 22


Oregon fishermen tell stories of strange events on the Pacific Ocean that have made them shudder over the past half dozen years.

The Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery on the state’s north coast watched oyster larvae die en masse for three years in a row in the mid-2000s — depriving oyster farms along the entire West Coast of seed oysters.

Florence crabber Al Pazar saw baby octopuses, an inch or two long, climb up his crab lines to escape the sea waters in the 2005 season. When he pulled up his pots, the crab were dead.

Eugene fisherman Ryan Rogers, who drags in great piles of salmon on an Alaska purse seiner, has instead brought up nets full of jellyfish in recent years.

“Sometimes we’ll catch 4,000 or 5,000 pounds of jellyfish. They spray all around. We get stung,” he said. “It makes it difficult to bring your net in. You have to let it go and lose the salmon that are in your net.”

Scientists — including many at Oregon State University — are beginning to define the cause of these events. They call it ocean acidification and hypoxia.

Wind, currents and ocean chemistry conspire to create pools of corrosive waters that can be lethal to key commercial species in Northwest waters — and favorable to some nuisance species, such as jellyfish.

The die-off of coral reefs has been publicized everywhere from Australia to the Indian Ocean to the Caribbean. But less well known are the problems surfacing on the West Coast of North America — where people may have more cause to worry.

“Scientists are learning that ocean acidification is hitting waters off the West Coast earlier and harder than elsewhere on the planet,” Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber said recently.

Kitzhaber in August appointed five Oregon State University scientists to a multistate panel that’s charged with determining the extent, causes and effects of ocean acidification along the Pacific coast.

Acidification is a potential threat to shellfish and other marine life and also to thousands of jobs that depend on them, according to the governor, so the state needs a clearer understanding of what’s happening in Oregon’s waters.

Oyster growers, crabbers and fishermen have reported losses in the millions related to the strange events.

“Equally evil twin”

The precise cause is poorly understood but, study-by-study, experts in chemical and physical oceanography, biogeochemistry, marine biology, ecology and physiology are building a picture of the problem.

They theorize that acidification is spurred by a rapid increase in the amount of carbon dioxide taken up by the ocean, which sets off a chemical reaction that sours the waters. Scientists estimate that the world’s seas are 30 percent more acidic than they were before the industrial revolution 200 years ago.

Top marine ecologist Jane Lubchenco, who’s on leave from OSU to head the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, calls ocean acidification the “equally evil twin” of climate change. Both involve excess carbon dioxide and both are inhospitable to life.

Readings taken out in the center of the Pacific show fluctuations around an average that is stepping ever upward, said George Waldbusser, a professor of ocean ecology and biogeochemistry at OSU. But the coastline of Oregon and Washington see higher levels of acidity because deep ocean currents drive cold, acidified waters from the east Pacific to the west.

Each May and June, winds along the Oregon Coast switch directions and begin shoving warm surface waters away from the shore, and that allows upwellings of those cold deep waters, which are devoid of oxygen and dangerous to sea life.

Scientists call it “hypoxia,” which means devoid of oxygen. Fishermen call these areas “dead zones” because the sea life that can swim away does and those creatures that can’t die.

In 2006, a dead zone off Oregon covered 1,800 square miles of ocean and lasted for four months, according to an OSU report.

This and other “severe episodes” make Oregon an excellent research subject, OSU assistant professor Francis Chan said at the most recent meeting of the governor-appointed West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel.

Shells and brains

In the past half dozen years, science has focused on the effect of acidification on Northwest marine life, including oysters, pollock and tiny sea snails called pteropods.

Oyster larvae strain to make their protective shells in acidic waters and if the pH — scale of acidity and alkalinity in water — drops too low they die. Any other shell-building sea creature is vulnerable to the same problem.

“I am totally worried about it,” Portland-based Nature Conservancy ecologist Dick Vander Schaaf said. “You need to have juveniles to have more oysters. We’re very concerned about barnacles and their ability to form shells.”

Besides young oysters, shell builders include clams, abalone, scallops, sand dollars and sea stars. Crabs, too, build skeletons on the outside, so they could eventually be harmed.

Steve Rumrill, the shellfish program leader at the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, worries about razor clams, mussels, Dungeness crab and red sea urchins.

Acidification also affects tiny organisms that float in the waves and serve as feed stock for fish — of all sizes — and even whales.

Rumrill, for example, worries about the microscopic larval form of Dungeness crab, which hang in the water column and feed coho salmon and gray whales. And pteropods dissolve when sea water gets too acidic, studies show. They are a chief staple of pink salmon.

“We are really in the infancy of understanding the extent of this problem — and it’s one that’s going to outlast all of us,” Rumrill said.

An early study on how corrosive waters affect fish was done in Australia on clownfish, like Nemo. The orange-and-white fish normally stick close to protective reefs, but in acidic waters they wander, including into the jaws of predators.

Newport-based scientist Thomas Hurst ran tests on juvenile walleye pollock at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. In acid waters, their brain signals were so scrambled that they couldn’t seem to recognize their regular foods. The result ultimately may be bad news for surimi eaters.

For fishermen, the news is strange and unsettling. Newman’s Fish Co. owner Dwight Collins wearies of the trail of news stories that follow each new discovery.

“This whole climate change, and such, some days I don’t even want to read about it because it is so scary,” he said.

Whiskey Creek discovery

The big break in scientific understanding of ocean acidification, though, happened in an oyster hatchery on the north Oregon Coast over the past five years. Hatcheries raise larval oysters in mammoth tanks until they form shells and can be planted in the ocean to grow to harvestable size.

But the larvae at Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery at Netarts Bay, near Tillamook, inexplicably began dying at an alarming rate — 70 to 80 percent — each year for three years, said Waldbusser, the OSU professor.

The oyster die-offs at Whiskey Creek were dire for the entire $100 million West Coast oyster industry, he said.

“Most of the independent growers on the West Coast get their oyster larvae from that hatchery,” Waldbusser said.

“Growers would call up the hatchery and say, ‘We want seed’ and they had to tell them, ‘We don’t have any.’ Imagine if you were growing corn and you called up the seed supplier and they said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have any corn for you to grow.”

At first, the hatchery thought it was a disease that was killing the larvae. But treatments didn’t help. The hatchery’s scientist, Alan Barton, had a hunch that the acidity of the sea waters from Netarts Bay that supplied the hatchery’s tanks was killing the larvae.

He contacted OSU chemical oceanographer Burke Hales, who in 2010 lent the hatchery monitoring equipment that could test the acidity of the waters. Subsequent experiments found that treating the tank waters with sodium carbonate, basically Tums, reduced the larval deaths.

With OSU’s monitoring equipment, the hatchery learned to react when the pH started dropping into the acidic zone. Measurements over time helped it pinpoint hourly, daily and monthly fluctuations in acidity.

“Funny story,” Waldbusser said, when Hales asked for return of the (OSU) equipment for a research project, “the hatchery basically said, ‘Too bad we’re keeping it.’”

The hatchery’s misfortune brought critical insights to the scientists.

“There’s a window of time that (larvae) appear to be very sensitive to acidification, but if there is enough carbon dioxide in the water, even the later stages of larvae are going to be sensitive,” Waldbusser said. At some point on the pH scale, the shells of adult shellfish would be compromised, he said.

Washington takes note

The discovery in the Whiskey Creek tanks was the first straight-line connection between ocean acidification and damage to marine life — and demonstration of harm to a food source and an industry. Losses to oyster growers were on the order of $100 million, Waldbusser said.

“The work that we’ve been doing here in Oregon at the hatchery has helped really pave the way for a lot of other places to start addressing the issue,” he said. “I’m really proud of that work we’ve done.”

The Northwest shellfish industry — the bulk of it located on Puget Sound and Willapa Bay in Washington — took the lessons at Whiskey Creek to heart. In February 2012, then-Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed a Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification that wrote an action plan to combat the problem.

The Washington Legislature, based on the panel’s recommendations, invested $1.82 million in a new center on ocean acidification at the University of Washington to study the problem and aid shellfish growers.

But some oyster growers were too worried to wait around for science. Goose Point Oyster Co. in Willapa Bay, for example, didn’t want to rely on just the Whiskey Creek hatchery. The company, instead, built its own hatchery at Hilo, Hawaii, far away from upwellings and dead zones. When the seed oysters are ready, the company ships them home to Willapa Bay.

Search for solutions

The hunt for immediate ways to protect the Northwest shellfish industry is on.

Scientists want to be able to make short-term predictions about when acidification is on the rise so hatcheries can turn off their water intakes or otherwise protect their brood.

The Washington panel recommended a selective breeding program for shellfish aimed at creating new breeds of oysters that are resistant to acid waters.

Another strategy: oyster shell recycling.

In acidic waters, the shells, which contain calcium carbonate, slowly dissolve and buffer the waters around the seeded oysters — again it’s the “Tums effect,” Waldbusser said.

Shell recycling projects that collect shells from oyster houses and seafood processors have existed for years in Maryland, Virginia and most recently in Louisiana, where New Orleans restaurants contribute mountains of shells. Northwest oyster shells generally go to landfills.

The Washington panel debated introducing shell recycling to the Northwest, but there’s an issue that made participants wary. It’s herpes, basically, Waldbusser said. California oyster growers have been plagued with the virus, but it hasn’t spread to the Northwest.

Imported California oysters shells could get in the mix and infect Northwest oysters.

“It’s a real issue. You don’t want to contaminate or infect populations in Washington or Oregon,” Waldbusser said. Recyclers on the East Coast exposed recycled shells to sunlight for months before returning them to the sea, but that treatment is not yet proven to stop disease, Waldbusser said.

Overall, these short- term steps might help a bit with rising acidity — the Washington panel referred to them as “buying time.”

“But that’s only going to carry us so far,” Waldbusser said. “Fundamentally, at the base of it, we have to address carbon dioxide emissions. That’s not going to change.”

The increased carbon dioxide in the ocean is related to increasing concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, studies suggest.

Waldbusser is not prepared to pin the problem on climate change caused by greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels — mostly in car engines — but time will tell.

“There’s predictions that the timing and intensity of upwellings will become worse with climate change on our coast,” he said.

The Washington panel doesn’t mince words: It’s No. 1 conclusion is that carbon dioxide emissions are the most significant driver of ocean acidification.

The solutions are the same ones recommended for curbing climate change: large scale deployment of plug-in vehicles, car sharing, mileage-based insurance, low-carbon fuel standards, transportation planning, energy efficiency standards, weatherization and solar panels.


2013 Oregon drought calls for action on climate change

Posted: Sunday, September 22, 2013 

Almost 2,000 feet deep, Crater Lake is the deepest body of water in the United States, a beautiful gem of southern Oregon. Fed by overhead snow and rain, the lake is one of the cleanest and purest in the world. Gazing upon the breathtakingly bright blue waters of the lake is something you never forget.

But there is trouble in paradise. During the past 21 years, I have spent my summers living in Crater Lake National Park. Looking out my bedroom window, I noticed winters are becoming shorter, warmer and less snowy. It looks to me like it has been raining more and snowing less in the months of May, June, September, and October. This change in the weather has led me to become very worried about climate change.

The science confirms my observation. In 1931, rangers first began keeping track of the average annual snowfall at Crater Lake. Since then, the totals have been trending downward by decade from an average of 614 inches in the 1930s to about 455 inches last decade. Even more alarming, this last winter, 2012-13, Crater Lake received about 355 inches.

Climate researchers expect the trend to continue. They predict the Pacific Northwest will experience even less snow and warmer temperatures in the decades to come.

Most snow that falls in the park eventually leaves here to nourish the river sheds of southern Oregon such as the Klamath River Basin. Less snow falling in the park means less water is leaving the park to support southern Oregon cities, ranches, farms, and wildlife downstream.

According to the National Weather Service, Southern Oregon is currently under a persistent drought that may last until the end of October, if not longer. This spring, the USDA designated Klamath, Lake, Harney and Malheur counties as drought disaster counties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the Klamath Basin experienced the second driest January-through-March on record.

This current drought is an alarm bell telling us that it is time for Oregonians and Americans to stand up and take action on climate change.

The National Academy of Sciences, U.S. Department of Defense, American Meteorological Society, and even the Catholic Church all say climate change is real and caused by humans. According to NASA, over 97 percent of climate scientists agree on this.

It’s getting bad, but we can limit the damage if we choose.

Humans pump more than 90 million tons of carbon dioxide a day into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels, more than 33 billion tons each year. For over 150 years, scientists have known that CO2 traps the earth’s heat. Since the industrial revolution, we’ve increased the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by over 40 percent.

Earth now has a “fever,” and the global average surface temperature has increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.8 Celsius. The impact of climate change is felt worldwide by more extreme floods, heat waves, and droughts, like we are currently experiencing in southern Oregon.

One of our leading climate scientists, retired NASA climatologist Dr. James Hansen, says the best way to reduce the threat of climate change is for Congress to quickly pass carbon fee and dividend legislation.

A national carbon fee would tax fossil fuels — oil, coal, and natural gas — as they are extracted from the ground or arrive in port. This tax would cause fossil fuels to become increasingly expensive. At the same time, non-polluting renewable energy — solar, wind, and geothermal — would become increasingly attractive investments because of their relatively cheaper cost. Revenue from the carbon fee would be used to give Americans an evenly distributed dividend check to offset rising energy costs associated with the fee.

The beauty of Crater Lake National Park and surrounding southern Oregon, plus the current drought, should inspire us to do everything we can to limit the threat of climate change for ourselves, our children and our grandchildren.

The best way to limit future droughts threatening our farms, cattle ranches, salmon fisheries, and drinking water supply is to take action on climate change. That action, a national fee on carbon with revenue returned to households, will only happen if local Southern Oregon citizens tell our members of Congress, such as Congressman Greg Walden and U.S. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley, to make it so.