Best of our wild blogs: 30 Sep 11

Shell refinery fire at Bukom: aftermath
from wild shores of singapore

Plan B: Lively Tanah Merah
from wild shores of singapore

Nesting Grey Herons:11. A Strayed Juvenile
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Bukom fire extinguished

Damage forces Royal Dutch Shell to shut down its largest refinery
Leong Wee Keat Today Online 30 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE - The "erratic" fire that had plagued Royal Dutch Shell's 500,000-barrels-a-day refinery at Pulau Bukom for days was extinguished last night at around 11.30pm, more than 34 hours after the blaze begun on Wednesday afternoon.

While the company confirmed there were no more leaks, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) remained on standby last night as there were traces of vapour in the area.

The damage had been done: Shell has been forced to begin shutting down the refinery, its largest worldwide.

In a statement issued after the fire was put out, a Shell spokesperson said the company will continue to monitor the air quality at Pulau Bukom.

The spokesperson added: "Safety is our top priority. We are prepared to shut down all refinery units if this is considered necessary from a safety perspective, with the exception of utilities."

At a press conference held hours before the fire was put out, Shell vice-president of manufacturing operations Martijn Van Koten said the company was "going through the progressive shutdown of the refinery".

The company has shut several units in the vicinity of the fire, including a hydrocracker. A full shutdown will take two days.

According to Shell's preliminary investigation, the fire could have started during maintenance work but the company was unable to provide further details.

Hundreds of firefighters had worked round the clock to contain the fire and attempt to put it out: SCDF deployed more than 100 firefighters and 34 fire-fighting apparatus, as well as cooling jets to protect nearby tanks from the radiant heat.

Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) troops also joined SCDF and police officers in setting up command posts at the Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal. SAF assets on standby include a Super Puma helicopter and three navy fast crafts.

The Shell spokesperson explained that the affected area "has lengths of pipelines and connected pumps, and holds a mix of hydrocarbons".

The spokesperson added: "This was the reason for the erratic fire, sometimes waning and sometimes growing."

Explosions were heard at the refinery around noon yesterday and witnesses at the Pasir Panjang port and West Coast area said they saw more black smoke and fireballs shooting into the sky. "The fireball was 10, 20 metres in height," eyewitness Ben Koh told MediaCorp.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said the hazy skies yesterday were not linked to the fire at the refinery.

The three-hour PSI reading reached as high as 69 - considered within the "moderate" range - at 6pm yesterday.

On its website, NEA attributed this to smoke haze "being brought over from the fires in South Sumatra by the prevailing south or south-east winds".

Adding that it "has not detected the presence of any toxic gases on the mainland", NEA said: "Based on the prevailing wind conditions, slight haze can be expected over the next one to two days if the fires over southern Sumatra persist."

No further injuries were reported yesterday, and Shell said its six firefighters - who had suffered minor injuries - have returned to normal duties after receiving medical attention.

Purvin & Gertz managing consultant Victor Shum noted that, in July, a fire at Formosa Petrochemical Refinery in Taiwan had caused the facility to shut down for an extended period. It only started resuming operations this month, he added.

With more than 90 per cent of the refinery's output exported to markets in the region, Asian traders are expecting output to fall sharply.

Speaking before the fire was extinguished, Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang said: "I'm sure there will be a loss in dollar terms, which we will all regret, but that is not our priority at this time. Our priority at this time is to deal with the fire."

Fire at Pulau Bukom oil refinery extinguished
Channel NewsAsia 30 September 2011 0032 hrs

SINGAPORE: The fire at Pulau Bukom refinery has been extinguished, according to the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) and oil company Shell.

However, there are traces of fuel vapour, and firefighters are on stand-by to handle that or any other leaks.

SCDF said 34 of its vehicles and about 100 firefighters are currently at the scene.

Shell said its global fire consultants are also on-site to provide inputs to the team.

Shell's in-house global fire expert will also be in Singapore from Friday to provide assistance.

It said safety is a top priority and the company is prepared to shut down all refinery units, if necessary.

Other precautionary measures already taken include the monitoring of the air quality around Pulau Bukom four times a day, shutting down neighbouring units within the vicinity of the fire, and isolating the lines and cooling the tanks in the area to prevent entry of any fresh hydrocarbons.

The company said the affected area had lengths of pipelines and connected pumps, and holds a mix of hydrocarbons.

This was the reason for the erratic fire, sometimes waning and sometimes growing.

The smoke observed is from hydrocarbons not fully combusted.

Shell said its website will be regularly updated with the latest information whenever available.

- CNA/de

Shell may shut entire refinery at Pulau Bukom
Channel NewsAsia 29 September 2011 2041 hrs

SINGAPORE: As the fire at Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery continues, the company says it will shut down the whole facility if that's what it takes to put out the blaze completely.

A full shutdown will take two days.

The company has shut several units in the vicinity of the fire at the 500,000-barrels-a-day refinery including a hydrocracker, Shell said earlier.

Speaking at a media conference on Thursday evening, Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang said they are working to identify the source that is still feeding the fire which broke out on Wednesday afternoon.

The fire is confined to a pump house and a complex interconnected system of pipelines. The pipes are no longer in use but still contain fuel, which causes flares when the pipes open up under fire.

Shell Vice-President of Manufacturing Operations East, Martijn van Koten, said the fire is likely related to maintenance work that was being carried out at the time.

However, he declined to give details saying this would be pure speculation.

Shell said investigations will be carried out after the fire is put out, which remains its firm priority.

Mr van Koten said the strategy is to starve the fire and contain it in an area where it can be put out.

Fresh explosions were heard at the refinery around noon on Thursday.

Witnesses at the Pasir Panjang port and at West Coast said they saw more black smoke and fireballs shooting into the sky.

Ben Koh, an eyewitness at Pasir Panjang port, said: "The fireball was 10, 20 metres in height. After that I can see small flames, but ... from a small portion of the island."

He said the smoke got thicker, with the smell of petrol in the air. "It's not really that strong, but you can smell it," he added.

Shell said in a statement that it experienced a surge in the fire at the refinery around noon, but the fire remains contained.

It said the surge in the fire was caused by the remnants of light fuel components where the fire started.

The company said the smoke that several callers to the Channel NewsAsia news hotline said they saw was from hydrocarbons that are not fully combusted.

Shell said it is working closely with the SCDF, and its global fire consultants are also on site to provide input to the team.

In a separate statement earlier Thursday, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) said fire fighting operations are still underway, but the fire is contained within the bund wall.

SCDF said about 20 water jets are being used to carry out boundary cooling operations to prevent heat exposure to the nearby storage tanks.

Two SCDF fire engines were badly damaged by the fire and one fire engine sustained partial damage.

SCDF said early Thursday that it has about 100 fire fighters fighting the fire with six fire engines and 13 support vehicles.

About 250 essential Shell personnel are also on Pulau Bukom helping with the operations.

The company also said that the six Shell firefighters injured while fighting the initial outbreak have gone back to their normal duties following medical attention.

- CNA/cc/al/sf/ir

Shell begins shutdown
Oil giant takes precautionary action; declares erratic blaze extinguished
Leonard Lim, Amanda Tan & Jennani Durai Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

OIL giant Shell said that the fire at its refinery on Pulau Bukom was finally put out last night, ending a 35-hour drama of firefighters battling flames that would sometimes recede, only to return as fireballs.

In a statement sent out at 11.45pm, it said that the fire 'has been extinguished' but that there were still 'traces of fuel vapour'.

Shell is standing by with the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) to monitor the situation.

'We have this problem... and we really want to fix it.'

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore

At a press conference earlier at 7pm, Shell executives said that it had started a 'progressive shutdown' of the whole refinery, a process that will take two days.

In its midnight statement about the fire being put out, it said that it was 'prepared to shut down all refinery units if this is considered necessary from a safety perspective, with the exception of utilities'.

Thirteen fire engines, 21 support vehicles, and about 100 firefighters remained on Bukom, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force, which said that 'SCDF's resources are still on standby while Shell confirms that there are no more leaks'.

The Straits Times understands that flames were no longer visible at about 10pm, and the mood lifted among firefighters as the possibility of finally beating the blaze looked encouraging.

The cause of the fire - which began at 1.15pm on Wednesday in an area of crisscrossing and interconnecting pipes containing fuel compounds - has not been established.

Shell vice-president (manufacturing operations - east) Martijn van Koten said it could have started during maintenance work, but that going into any more details would be pure speculation.

Question marks remain over whether Shell's decision to shut down the plant progressively - to help pin down the source of the blaze - can now be reversed.

Shell's refinery - where crude oil is shipped in and then refined and distilled into petrochemicals like jet fuel - is its largest in the world, processing 500,000 barrels a day.

Ninety per cent of the products are exported to the Asia-Pacific region and beyond. But the company refused to speculate on how the fire could affect supply or the monetary loss it was facing.

Still, the news late last night was a welcome relief, with Shell and SCDF calling the fire 'erratic', 'complex' and 'unique' at the 7pm press conference.

'What we are encountering is multiple spots of fire, coming from exposed pipelines that had ruptured. This can be quite erratic,' said SCDF assistant commissioner Eric Yap.

Indeed, even after a fresh shift of firefighters replaced the initial 100 at 8am yesterday, three more fire engines and a support vehicle were sent to Pulau Bukom at 2pm.

For while the fire was contained within a 150m by 50m space, its unpredictable nature badly damaged two fire engines and caused partial damage to one.

No further injuries, however, have been reported apart from the superficial wounds to six Shell firefighters involved in initial efforts when the fire started.

They have recovered and returned to work, the company said yesterday.

A Singapore Armed Forces signals vehicle also arrived in the mid-afternoon at Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal, joining others from the police and the SCDF.

The Defence Ministry said SAF troops, including those from the 2nd People's Defence Force (2 PDF), were on standby.

Firefighters had succeeded in dousing much of the flames yesterday morning, but a sudden surge of oil components from a pipe fed the blaze and reversed their efforts.

Around noon, two hours after Shell said the fire was 'significantly reduced', explosions were heard in the Pasir Panjang area and plumes of black smoke wafted into the sky.

Workers on Pulau Bukom reported seeing a fireball and flames that reached 20m upwards.

The situation had improved about an hour later, but by then hundreds of workers who had reported for work at dawn were told to take the ferry back to the mainland.

Many were glued to their mobile phones as they arrived in Singapore after the 15-minute journey, reporting to loved ones that they were safe.

But despite the uncertainty as to whether they could return to the $4.1 billion Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex, hundreds turned up at the Pasir Panjang Ferry Terminal at about 6am yesterday to catch their regular ferry and report to work.

Mr Suresh Kumar, 38, said he had been working when he heard the smoke alarm go off on Wednesday.

'Then I saw fire that rose up three or four metres, and we all ran to the canteen to seek safety,' the Malaysian said.

There were some who had not heeded the alarm. Indian national Poon Kundran, 43, said some thought it was a drill as staff were used to an alarm test on Wednesdays around the same time.

He was among the last to be evacuated following the fire's surge at noon yesterday.

At the ferry terminal, supervisors gathered their employees and did a headcount, before busing them off to other places such as company headquarters or dormitories.

While most workers were calm - some even whipped out camera phones and stood alongside press photographers, snapping pictures of the smoke from the pier - some recognised the possibility that their lives might have been in danger.

'I heard about three explosions. I was scared and the flames shot up quite high. The whole place is oil, jet fuel. It can easily explode,' said Filipino Peter Taton, 27.

One Indian national, Mr Selvam, 27, who has lived in a residential area on Bukom for two years, spent Wednesday night tossing and turning in his bed due to fear.

He could not sleep, though his bunk is not located near the fire.

The safety of his staff was a topic that the chairman of Shell Companies in Singapore, Mr Lee Tzu Yang, stressed repeatedly at the start of yesterday's press conference.

Calling the fire 'extremely troubling', he added: 'We have this problem... and we really want to fix it.'

His hopes came to pass a few hours later.

Water being used to fight fire
It will be used till source of fire can be detected, but foam being put on standby: SCDF
Lin Wenjian & Jermyn Chow Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

WATER was being used to fight the fire that broke out at Shell's Pulau Bukom refinery, although foam was being put on standby, said the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) last night.

At a press conference, SCDF assistant commissioner Eric Yap said that water was being used until the source of the fire could be detected.

'Water is effective at this point in time to contain the fire within the bund area of the pump house,' he said.

'We will change our strategy the moment we are able to identify what is feeding the fire. We could use the option of foam if it is effective for that type of product that is on fire,' he said.

Shell Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang said Shell and SCDF were ready to tackle the fire because they had prepared materials and equipment from its own resources as well as that of the industry. 'Under our arrangements with our fellow industry players, we actually have had their support in terms of provision of tenders and foam and so on. So we are ready to act once we identify where it is that we need to apply,' he said.

The SCDF had responded to a call about the fire in Pulau Bukom - which is located 5km to the southwest of Singapore - at 1.18pm on Wednesday.

About 100 of its firefighters battled the blaze on Wednesday together with those from Shell's firefighting team. A new team of SCDF firefighters took their place yesterday. It is understood that at least four firefighters based in nearby Jurong Island were also brought in to help.

Explaining how the SCDF was fighting the blaze which was contained in an area about 150m by 50m, AC Yap said his officers had subdivided the area into small sectors, and had water jets trained on them: 'Each of the sector has some spots of fire.'

Of the efforts so far, he said: 'What is important for the moment given the erratic nature and the fact that there is a source feeding the fire, is to work with Shell to find out what's feeding the fire and to curtail the source of the heat so the fire can be effectively stopped.'

He added that it was 'encouraging' that the fire had been kept from the start to the pump house, which is confined in a bund.

Fire safety experts told The Straits Times petrochemical fires are usually put out using foam.

Former SCDF deputy commissioner Tan Jin Thong, 72, said using water to fight a petrochemical fire could result in a 'boil-over situation'.

'This means there will be an explosion,' he said.

'Water gets into the oil, and because water is heavier than oil, it sinks down. When the water turns into hot steam, it may blow out,' he said.

Other industry sources said a 'foam-water solution' to 'suffocate' the fire was one of the best options. They noted that fighting a petrochemical fire was a very tedious process, but pouring a foam-water solution over the fire to prevent oxygen from reaching it was the most reliable way to put it out.

Mr Tan, who was in the fire service for 37 years before retiring in 1999, said that water can, however, be used to create 'water curtains' to cool the surroundings and prevent the fire from spreading.

The experts said that a fire like that at Bukom would take a while to die down completely. This is because fluids in the pipes that are burning could continue to reach boiling point and vaporise. The vapours could then heat up and re-ignite again.

They noted that if the pipes have burst, fuel could still leak out and it would be too dangerous for anyone to fix the pipes. The only solution? To wait for the fuel to burn itself out.

In 1988, a blaze broke out at a refinery owned by the Singapore Refining Company on Pulau Merlimau after a naptha tank caught fire. It was the biggest offshore fire in Singapore's history. More than 500 firefighters were deployed to battle the flames before it was finally put out after six days.

No toxic gases detected in air samples, says NEA
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

WHEN sales executive Dias Cao woke up yesterday morning, he could not see beyond 100m when he looked outside the window of his 22nd-floor Clementi apartment.

'When I read about the fire in Pulau Bukom, I thought that could be part of the reason,' said Mr Cao, 28.

A fire broke out at oil giant Shell's refinery - its largest in the world - on the island on Wednesday.

Residents in Pasir Panjang, near Pulau Bukom, told The Straits Times that they noticed grey skies and an acrid smell in the air yesterday morning.

'There's been a slight haze for the past few days, so I thought it was the fires in Indonesia becoming worse,' said businessman Darren Neo, 29.

He said he realised there was a fire on Pulau Bukom after reading the newspapers.

'Maybe that could have been why the haze worsened so suddenly,' he said.

Late last night, the Singapore Civil Defence Force said the fire had been extinguished, adding, however, that were still traces of fuel vapour in the area.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) said smoke from the Pulau Bukom fire may have some effect on the air quality in western parts of Singapore - such as Jurong, Teban Gardens, West Coast and Pasir Panjang.

The NEA, which has collected air samples, said it has not detected the presence of toxic gases.

Shell said yesterday that the black smoke from the fires does not include toxic gases. It is monitoring the air quality on Pulau Bukom four times a day, and the readings have been within safety standards.

Scientists told The Straits Times that any health risk to people here depended on the nature of the fires.

'The longer the fires burn, the more likely it is that harmful gases may be released,' said Dr Fei Duan, an assistant professor in the division of thermal and fluids engineering at Nanyang Technological University.

He said these gases could include carbon monoxide, sulphur oxide and soot, which can be harmful to human health.

Nitrogen oxides in smoke and sulphur oxide are also a cause of acid rain, which can have detrimental effects on vegetation, health and buildings.

Associate Professor Balasubramanian Rajasekhara from the National University of Singapore's department of civil and environmental engineering added that weather often plays a crucial role in such situations.

Should the fire continue and emit large and tall smoke plumes, then particles such as soot will be able to travel a longer distance and potentially hit the city, given favourable wind conditions.

Pulau Bukom fire expected to cause significant supply disruption
Yvonne Chan Channel NewsAsia 29 September 2011 2221 hrs

SINGAPORE: Shell's biggest refinery worldwide is still burning near Singapore and is in the process of being shut down. The outbreak of fire at the petrochemical plant on Pulau Bukom is expected to cause significant supply disruption.

Tankers moored in the smoke-filled channel, 5 kilometres from Singapore, have been warned off the refinery in Pulau Bukom. Its shutdown will close half a million barrels-a-day of oil and petrochemical production. Petroleum product prices spiked in Asia as a result on Thursday.

Taking that much production out of the system will also affect wholesale prices in the Middle East.

Shailaja Nair, Managing Editor (Asia Central editing desk) of Platts, said: "Oman (crude prices) was very high yesterday but then Oman futures are going to be rolling off the board, that's tomorrow on the Dubai Mercantile exchange."

With over 90 per cent of the Shell refinery's output destined for regional export, traders are factoring in a sharp reduction in output. Although, supply flexibility will limit the disruption.

Victor Shum, Managing Consultant at Purvin & Gertz, said: "Back in late July, another major export oriented refinery in Asia, mainly Formosa petrochemical refinery in Taiwan was shut down because of a major fire.

"This month, it's starting to come back on and we're expecting it to run full swing in October. And so with Formosa refinery coming back on, there will be more products coming into the region."

But it is not just oil products that are affected. The shipping industry will also take a hit.

Ms Nair said: "That oil terminal is the busiest in Singapore. And it has 12 berths, it takes very large ships, including VLCC (Very Large Crude Carriers). What the shipping sources have said is that because of the fire, the ships have been asked to leave the berth. So berthing operations are said to be shut down. It's also going to see some effect on freight, because freight has been in the doldrums recently."

Closing production at Shell's refinery, may also spell better margins for the remaining refineries in the region.

Singapore has the second highest refining margins after the United States. What negative impact will this fiery incident have on Singapore and the region?

For now, Industry experts said it really depends on the extent of the damage done and the period for which Shell's refinery remains shut.


Shutdown unlikely to hit supply hard
But prices of some products like petrol may rise somewhat
Robin Chan Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

THE progressive shutdown of Shell's refinery is not likely to have a major impact on the supply and prices of most petrochemical products, analysts said yesterday.

Still, prices of some products including petrol may rise somewhat, they say.

On Wednesday, the oil giant shut down its key hydrocracker unit, which produces petrochemical products from crude oil such as petrol and kerosene, as well as fuel used in ships and aircraft.

'There won't be a severe shortage such that the region will experience a price spike. Certainly consumers in Singapore won't have a problem of not being able to buy petrol,' said Mr Victor Shum, managing consultant at energy consultancy Pervin and Gertz.

Mr Leong Wai Ho, economist at Barclays Capital, said that the shutdown's impact on manufacturing output and exports of petrochemicals from Singapore is also unlikely to be significant.

Petrochemical output makes up 3.5 per cent of total manufacturing here, he said.

The entire refinery, Shell's largest in the world, was in the process of being shut down, the oil company said yesterday, before the fire was reported to have been put out.

The refinery processes 500,000 barrels of crude oil each day and exports 90 per cent of its products.

Shell is likely to be able to support supply to its customers from other refineries around the world, analysts said.

Mr Lee Tzu Yang, chairman of Shell companies in Singapore, said that the company had not declared 'force majeure'. This refers to a clause in contracts where parties are freed from their obligations in extraordinary circumstances.

'We will work with our customers to try and meet their needs. We are very aware that our customers have concerns,' he said.

He added that the company will no doubt incur costs from the shutdown.

Mr Martijn van Koten, vice-president for manufacturing operations in the East and Middle East, said that the company could not disclose how much of its operating capacity had already been shut down.

Analysts said prices of distilled products such as petrol are most likely to rise. These analysts track 'cracks', or the difference in the price of crude oil and the price of the refined products such as petrol or ship fuel.

Ms Amrita Sen, commodities analyst at Barclays Capital in London, said: 'Refinery shutdowns can cause a tightness in the products market, especially if the refinery is as large as (500,000 million barrels a day) and a fairly sophisticated one.

'Parts of the crack will be supported, for instance in distillates, but it will depend on for how long it is shut down for. You would have seen Asian distillate cracks react positively.'

In July this year, Formosa Petrochemical, a major plant in Taiwan comparable to Shell's refinery here, suffered a shutdown due to a fire.

Mr Shum said: 'When Formosa was shut down for more than a month in summer, it was not a problem for the region then. And my hunch is Shell won't be shut down for more than a month or two.

'It will take a few days if nothing really serious has been damaged. But even if processing units are not damaged, there will be an investigation as to the cause of the fire, and I'm sure management will not rush to restart the refinery until the cause is identified.'

The hydrocracker unit also produces a feedstock, known as naphtha, used in processing other petrochemicals, and to make ethylene in another Shell plant nearby.

Traders were doubtful whether the fire and the reported damage to the tanks would have a significant impact on naphtha stocks at the refinery, said Platts, a provider of energy information.

Fire still rages, Shell ready to shut Bukom
Oil giant trying to 'starve' the fire; price of diesel futures rises amid concerns
Ronnie Lim Business Times 30 Sep 11;

(SINGAPORE) Shell - which has already started a two-day sequenced operation to shut down its 500,000 barrels of crude oil distillation capacity here - is prepared to go all the way and shut down its entire Bukom manufacturing site 'if need be', its Singapore chairman Lee Tzu Yang said.

This will allow it to better focus on its bid to put out a controlled, but still-blazing, fire which started on Wednesday afternoon. 'It's hard to run a refinery when you are also trying to fight a fire,' he explained.

The challenge is to put out the fire first, he stressed, acknowledging that the move to shut down its entire Singapore refinery will definitely result 'in (significant) losses in dollar terms'. But it is not about to count the costs just now, as staff safety, and killing the fire safely, are paramount.

'I'm glad that our staff are unscathed, except for a few with superficial injuries ... and although our entire staff came back today, we've taken a decision to operate only with essential staff,' Mr Lee said.

While Shell, 'as of now' hasn't yet declared force majeure on its supply contracts, Mr Lee did not rule out this happening. 'We are currently in discussions with our customers, who are concerned, to meet their needs,' he said.

Force majeure is a common clause in contracts that essentially frees both parties from liability or obligation when an extraordinary event or circumstance beyond the control of the parties, occurs.

The company earlier said that it expects to supply the Singapore market with products from storage here and in other refineries, while its regional refinery network, including in Malaysia and the Philippines, has been activated to help out with its external supplies to customers.

Mr Lee, who was speaking at a press conference last evening, explained that the move to shut down plants was necessary as the behaviour of the fire is 'quite erratic' as seen in yesterday morning's seemingly-controlled situation, followed by the fire flaring up again at noon.

This is because the fire is centred at a pumphouse with a complex of many pipes leading to light product tanks, where 'the moment one pipe is opened, it temporarily feeds the fire again'.

'While the fire is contained at the moment, our strategy is to starve the fire, so that we can put it out completely,' Martjin van Koten, Shell's vice-president for Manufacturing Operations East, said.

'Our prime focus is to put out the fire and not to keep the plants operating,' he stressed.

Already, Shell has shut down two plants which are located in the immediate vicinity of the fire, including a hydrocracker unit, which produces mainly diesel, and another thermal gas unit.

Additionally, it has now started shutting down three crude distillation plants, which are essentially the backbone of the Singapore refinery as they process crude oil into a slate of products, some of which in turn feed the sophisticated plants like the hydrocracker.

The sequenced process to shut down the CDUs has started and will take two days, Mr van Koten said.

This leaves just its catalytic cracker, which produces gasoline, and its brand-new Shell Eastern Petrochemical Complex's ethylene cracker still operating. While sited on adjoining, but-now-linked, Pulau Ular, they may also be shut down if need be, Mr Lee said. 'We have to go through (investigating) a complex system of feeds and interfeeds, so we have to do whatever it takes for the team to fight the fire,' he explained.

The impact of the CDU plant shutdowns by Shell is significant, given that its total 500,000 barrels per day refining capacity accounts for 36 per cent of Singapore's refining capacity of 1.395 million bpd, including at ExxonMobil (605,000 bpd) and Singapore Refining Company (290,000 bpd).

The fire was thought to be accidental and initially linked to a maintenance job. Last night's shocker from Shell helps answer big questions from concerned market players in Singapore's oil hub. They have been anxiously waiting to hear further word on how much the fire is going to hurt Shell's production and oil supplies from Singapore.

The price of diesel futures, as well as those for naphtha and fuel oil, were already seen shooting up in Asian swap trading yesterday.

One oil trader said: 'Certainly there will be a market reaction as Shell has a big facility with a lot of crude throughput and sophisticated units.'

When asked the best-case scenario on how long it expects to take to put out the fire, a senior Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer declined to specify a timeframe, saying: 'It's difficult to put a finger on this.'

More importantly, 'we will work with Shell engineers to establish the source that is feeding the fire, so as to be able to effectively put it out quickly and safely'.

What is encouraging so far is that it has managed to keep the fire contained within a bund area, he said.

Some 500 personnel, including 100 SCDF officers, are currently involved in fighting the fire round the clock, with Shell also bringing in an expert from overseas to help out. Under an industry-wide arrangement here, personnel and equipment from other companies, like ExxonMobil, are also there to help out.

Shell Shuts Singapore Refinery; Fire Finally Out
Luke Pachymuthu and Yaw Yan Chong PlanetArk 30 Sep 11;

Royal Dutch Shell Plc finally put out a blaze at its massive Singapore refinery after firefighters struggled to contain it for a day and a half, forcing the firm to start shutting its biggest plant worldwide.

The closure of the 500,000 barrel per day refinery, which makes up more than a third of Singapore's capacity, drove up benchmark fuel prices in the city-state, hub for Asian fuel trade. Officials said earlier on Thursday that they were shutting down all refining units and may shut the attached chemical complex.

The company said in a statement later that the fire, which had started at 0515 GMT on Wednesday, was extinguished, but that there were still traces of fuel vapor. It said it was prepared to shut down all units if necessary for safety, but gave no further details on operations.

"We are focused on safety, and are going through the progressive shutdown of the refinery," Martijn van Koten, vice president for manufacturing operations, told reporters at a briefing on Thursday.

Shutting down the entire refinery will take two days, van Koten said. Shell Singapore's chairman, Lee Tzu Yang, said that the company has not declared force majeure on product shipments.

The fire has proved difficult to douse, and Shell said it had regained in intensity at midday on Thursday.

It said the fire, being tackled by at least 100 firefighters on Bukom island off Singapore, could have started during maintenance work, although it was too early to tell.

Shipping sources have said vessels are not berthing at the refinery. One ship owner said his ship had to pull off from the loading berth at around 1000 GMT on Wednesday, more than 5 hours after the fire started, as a safety precaution.

"We had to cast off (from the berth) halfway through the loading," the shipping source said. "Our vessel is sitting at anchorage now, waiting for further instructions from Shell's terminal, but no indication has been given on when we can go back in."


Benchmark fuel prices across Asia are based on trade in Singapore, so interruptions in supply can trigger price moves out of proportion with the size of the refinery disruption.

Singapore's swaps market surged on Thursday, indicating traders expect tighter supplies even after Shell said it could continue to supply the market from storage and other refineries.

The premium of October gas oil swaps over November hit the highest for an inter-month spread in almost three years. Fuel oil and naphtha also rose to over seven-month peaks.

Shell said production units near the blaze remained shut, including a hydrocracking unit that helps make diesel.

Shell is operating its ethylene cracker normally using alternative feedstock. The unit is typically fed by products from the shut hydrocracker.

The smoke plume generated from the fire has not affected Singapore so far, the National Environment Agency said.

Shell said it continued to monitor pollution levels near the blaze, adding that these remained within acceptable levels.

(Additional reporting by Harry Suhartono, Alejandro Barbajosa, Seng Li Peng, Francis Kan and Jasmin Choo and Naveen Arul; Writing by Manash Goswami; Editing by Michael Urquhart, Simon Webb and Alden Bentley)

Video clips

29 Sep Explosion

29 Sep: Channel 5 report

28 Sep: Channel 5 report

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Haze returns to Singapore

NEA says it could last through the weekend
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

THE haze is back and could prevail during the weekend, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday.

The Pollutant Standards Index (PSI), which measures air quality here, spiked to 69 in the evening yesterday.

Air is unhealthy when the index passes 100.

The haze this year first appeared here earlier this month, although it cleared periodically due to shifting wind directions.

The NEA had forecast that the haze could return this week.

Yesterday, it said the reappearance was largely due to a growing number of fires in Sumatra, from about 50 on Sunday to more than 300 on Wednesday, the highest in two weeks.

It added that smoke from a fire in oil giant Shell's refinery in Pulau Bukom may affect the air quality in neighbourhoods in western Singapore such as Jurong, Teban Gardens, West Coast and Pasir Panjang, depending on wind conditions and efforts to douse the flames.

Yesterday's 24-hour average reading for the day showed that all parts of Singapore registered PSI figures in the 50s.

Doctors said patients with respiratory problems such as asthma should carry inhalers and avoid outdoor exercise.

Housewife Jane Liang, 43, who is asthmatic, said even the 'moderate' haze yesterday morning had caused her condition to worsen. 'My throat started feeling very uncomfortable. I had to close all the windows and sit next to a fan until I felt better,' added the Jurong East resident.

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan said on Tuesday that Singapore has offered to expand an existing project with Indonesia to combat the forest fires.

The collaboration is in Jambi, about 330km south of Singapore and one of the provinces in Sumatra worst hit by forest fires this year.

The project includes training officials and staff from non-governmental organisations to study satellite photos to identify plantations and companies responsible for the fires.

Indonesia has yet to respond to Singapore's offer.

The NEA said it would provide the haze forecast for Singapore for the next two weeks today.

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Where has all the flora gone?

Straits Times Forum 30 Sep 11;

MR LIM Poh Seng asks an intriguing question: Is the national flower becoming 'extinct' ('In search of Vanda Miss Joaquim'; Forum Online, Monday)?

Singapore's national flower is a sterile hybrid of two orchid species, both of which do not naturally occur in Singapore. It was the result of a cross made by Armenian horticulturist Agnes Joaquim in her garden, as described by pioneer botanist Henry Ridley.

I am not sure if 'extinction' seems to be an ecologically relevant concept to apply to it, but as this is our official national flower, Mr Lim's concerns are understandable.

As conservation scientists, we often ask: How many of Singapore's native plant species have become extinct? How many are in danger of becoming extinct?

The latest edition of Singapore's Red Data Book lists some 30 per cent of more than 2,000 plant species native to Singapore as nationally extinct. Many have been rediscovered in the following years, but many others remain rare - only a few of them exist in a few locations.

One particular native species of interest is the Singapore Kopsia. It is found only in the freshwater swamps of Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, and its flowers bear the Singapore colours: red and white.

Another species of interest is a climber known to be found only in Singapore and nowhere else, with the scientific name Spatholobus ridleyi.

If this climber becomes extinct in Singapore, it also means that it will disappear permanently from the face of the earth.

Unlike hybrid orchids that require artificial propagation, our native plant species are fully capable of reproducing and surviving on their own - if not for habitat destruction and disturbance by us humans.

Perhaps we should grow more native plants in all schools. This will enable our children to know and appreciate our gradually disappearing natural heritage.

Chong Kwek Yan

Time to firm up our national icons
Straits Times Forum 30 Sep 11;

BESIDES our national flower, Vanda Miss Joaquim, have we decided on other national icons?

I am given to understand that our national animal, bird and fish are the Merlion, Crimson Sunbird and the Peacock Bass respectively. Can the relevant authorities confirm this?

All along, I thought our national animal was the lion which is claimed also by other countries like Belgium, Bulgaria, Ethiopia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Britain. Unless we would like to claim another member of the cat family, the Kucinta or Singapore river cat.

The lion is appropriate given its association with Singapore's founding and name. It also has the characteristics of bravery. Our coat of arms bears a lion, and our currency bears the coat of arms too.

However, great thought must go towards selecting our national bird and fish if it is still not confirmed. A selection process where Singaporeans can give their suggestions could be initiated. A committee can then be formed to do the final selection.

For the national tree, could it be the Tembusu, since it is featured on our $5 note? Also it is quite common in Singapore and I do not think it will go extinct.

For schools that do not have a Tembusu tree, they should start growing at least one. In the old days, the trunk of this tree was used to make chopping boards because of its hardness. I am told germs cannot survive on the surface of these chopping boards. Boys can also use the branches to make catapults.

Once we have firmed up on our national icons, we should reflect them in our currency and stamps. This will help Singaporeans know what our national icons are, the values they represent and the stories behind them.

Lim Poh Seng

In search of Vanda Miss Joaquim
Straits Times Forum 26 Sep 11;

IS SINGAPORE'S national flower, the Vanda Miss Joaquim, becoming extinct? Is it difficult to grow?

The only place where I can see the national flower is at the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The Singapore Tourism Board or National Parks Board should provide a list of places where we can view the national flower.

We should grow the national flower in all schools. This will enable our children to know and appreciate our national flower.

Lim Poh Seng

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She nurtures love of nature in pupils

Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

A PRESCHOOL director who turned an ordinary garden into a stimulating arena where children could learn about nature was honoured at an awards ceremony yesterday.

Ms Josephyne Ho (right), 41, wanted pupils to have more class time outdoors so they could better grasp green issues. To breathe life into the grounds at EtonHouse Pre-School in Mountbatten, she put in more plants, a sunbird sanctuary and a butterfly garden.

'If children are detached from nature, they will find it hard later to appreciate why they have to save the environment,' she said.

The senior preschool director received an Outstanding Early Childhood Leader award from the Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports during the ceremony held at Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

Ms Ho, a former Singapore Airlines stewardess, said it was hard to convince the teachers when she took over at Mountbatten four years ago. Later, she realised one of their concerns was the lack of shade, so she had frames installed for creepers to grow on, which gave some relief from the sun.

EtonHouse teacher Joy Tan looks up to Ms Ho as a role model because of her hands-on approach. 'She doesn't expect us to implement new directions on our own. Instead, she works closely with us from the bottom up.'

The ministry also gave Outstanding Early Childhood Teacher awards to Ms Lim Poh Beng, 46, and Ms Siti Asjamiah Asmuri, 39, in the Child Care Teacher category, and to Ms Islinda Idris, 36, in the Infant Educarer category.

My First Skool at Kallang Bahru won the Early Childhood Innovation award, while Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura and Educa earned the Exemplary Early Childhood Employer award.

Ms Ho said she hopes her win will inspire other preschools to introduce green education. 'My work is not done - this is just the tip of the iceberg.'


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Punggol waterway ready next month

Walking, cycling paths plus a 'Heartwave Wall' of history
Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

A SCENIC man-made waterway that cuts a meandering path through the Punggol neighbourhood is due to be completed next month.

The 4.2km stretch contains an eco-drain that filters rainwater, but the Housing Board (HDB) has made it look as natural and attractive as possible.

My Waterway@Punggol, as it is called, will be lined with walking and cycle paths that connect the Serangoon and Punggol reservoirs.

There is also a 280m-long 'Heartwave Wall' decked in greenery and featuring stories from the area's history.

'We worked with consultants in order to incorporate vertical greening, and even water curtains,' said Mr Alan Tan, deputy managing director of the HDB's Building Research Institute.

An opening ceremony will be held on Oct 23.

Plans to turn Punggol into a waterfront town were first outlined in Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's 2007 National Day Rally speech.

The idea has taken root with Singaporeans, boosting demand for build-to-order flats there - even though they are more expensive than those in some other areas.

Waterway Terraces 1 was 12 times oversubscribed when it was launched in July last year.

Administrative assistant Fabian Lau, 24, bought a four-room unit in the development. He is now looking forward to morning jogs along the park connector when his new home is ready by 2015.

'One of the main reasons I bought the flat is because it's facing the water,' he said. 'The view is very good and it's definitely worth the higher price tag.'


My Waterway@Punggol to open from Oct 23
Channel NewsAsia 29 Sep 11;

SINGAPORE: Singapore's longest man-made waterway will be open to visitors from October 23.

The 4.2 kilometre-long My Waterway@Punggol features five bridges, bringing visitors closer to the water.

Punggol waterway was created out of barren land, and connects Punggol Reservoir to Serangoon Reservoir.

But the area has been given a facelift, making it a scenic spot for a slew of leisure activities.

Visitors can relive old memories of Punggol along the way, by stopping at this rest stop, which was an old bus stop in the area.

As the waterway is man-made, the challenge for the Housing & Development Board was how to keep the waterway clean and teeming with life.

This is done through a series of eco features - such as an eco-drain that cleanses surface run-off water before it is discharged into the waterway.

Aerators have also been installed to enhance the water quality.

- CNA/al

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Ageing population may hit GDP growth

Burden of supporting seniors may trim 2.5 points in a decade's time: Report
Elgin Toh Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

THE burden of supporting a greying population could shave as much as 2.5 percentage points off Singapore's per capita gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates in a decade's time.

That is the sobering projection made in a new report released by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) this month.

In a list of 12 Asian economies it analysed, Singapore looks set to be the worst-hit by shifting demographics, followed by Hong Kong (-2.2 per cent), Taiwan (-1.5 per cent), South Korea (-1.4 per cent) and Thailand (-0.9 per cent).

Japan was not included in the study.

In contrast, some economies will receive a growth fillip from their population trends, including Pakistan (0.8 per cent), India (0.5 per cent), the Philippines (0.4 per cent) and Indonesia (0.2 per cent).

Titled Asian Development Outlook 2011: Preparing For Demographic Transition, the report said an economy with a high share of two dependent groups - youth and the elderly - tends to save less, and hence grow more slowly.

'A child looks to his or her parents for material needs; a retired person relies on income from savings, transfers from his or her adult children, and pension benefits,' it said. With this in mind, the report sought to predict what the combined effect of old and young people on GDP growth per capita would be over the next 10 years and between 2021 and 2030.

For Singapore, the impact for the period lasting from 2011 to 2020 remains in the positive realm, but takes a sharp turn into the red for the decade that follows.

According to the ADB, elderly dependants account for much more of the negative impact (-2.4 per cent), compared to the young dependants (-0.1 per cent).

The report concluded that the challenge for countries is to 'act now' and find new ways to sustain long-term growth as well as strengthen the support systems for the elderly.

The bank's report comes hot on the heels of another forward-looking demographic study - by Singapore's Institute of Policy Studies - predicting that Singapore's population will start to shrink in 24 years if it shuts out immigrants.

Said CIMB economist Song Seng Wun: 'We have no need to panic, but neither should we ignore the problem, as some countries like Japan are doing.'

He said a 'straightforward solution' was to attract more immigrants, adding that productivity gains through skills upgrading and the better use of machines and tools would also help.

And while measures to improve fertility rates have met with limited success, UOB economist Alvin Liew said it is important to continue the fight on this front: 'We have seen examples of very advanced economies - especially the Scandinavian ones - that have been able to turn around their declining fertility.'

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WWF, Greenpeace Indonesia save Sumatran tigers and elephants

Antara 30 Sep 11;

Pekanbaru, Riau (ANTARA News) - The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) is cooperating with Greenpeace in saving the Sumatran tigers ("Panthera tigris sumatrae") and elephants ("Elephas maximus sumatranus") in Tesso Nillo National Park, Pelalawan, Riau.

Chief of WWF Flaying Squad Training, Tesso Nillo National Park (TNTN), Syamsuardi said on Thursday, the two organizations wished to save the forest environment which is constantly facing deforestation by forest industrial companies in Riau.

"We have the same mission. We both want to save the Sumatran tigers initiated by Greenpeace and Elephants by WWF," he said.

According to the mission, Syamsuardi said the tigers and elephants have a close relationship, both are forest sacred guardians.

"Elephants and tigers have the same mobility in the forests, so they have a very close relationship. Greenpeace and WWF also have a close relationship, we both want to save their habitats," he said.

Syamsuardi said to save the tigers and elephants needs an awareness and strong will on the part of all parties to protect the forests as their habitat because many companies are ruining the forests in Riau.

"We have to stay aware because those companies are like cats in front of us, but once are not guarded they will strike again," he said.

On the other hand, Coordinator of Greenpeace Campaign Rusmadaya said Greenpeace and WWF could help each other to save the forests from deforestation by HTI enterprises.

"We are also proud of this cooperation and we would help each other to save our forests which are getting depleted day by day," he said.

Twenty members of Greenpeace visit WWF Flaying Squad Training, TNTN, Riau to support the mission of the two organizations.

"We are wearing tiger printed uniforms named "mata harimau" (tiger eyes) to promote our mission," said Rusmadaya.

In TNTN, Greenpeace members are introduced to the elephants are conserved in the national park, they also interact and washed the elephants.

After visiting TNTN, Greenpeace will visit Bukit Tiga Puluh National Park, Indragirihulu District of Riau Province, national parks in Jambi Province and national parks in Palembang, South Sumatra.(*)

Editor: B Kunto Wibisono

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US and Indonesia announce $28.5 million debt swap to protect Borneo’s tropical forests

WWF 29 Sep 11;

Jakarta, Indonesia - The Nature Conservancy and WWF are joining with the Indonesian and US Governments today to sign a debt-for-nature swap agreement that will result in a new US$28.5 million investment to help protect tropical forests in three districts of Kalimantan, Indonesian Borneo.

The deal will create models for forest conservation and sustainable economic development in Borneo, the third-largest island in the world, home to unique species such as orangutans, gibbons, clouded leopards, “pygmy” elephants, hornbills, and up to 15,000 flowering plants.

The districts of Berau and Kutai Barat in East Kalimantan Province and Kapuas Hulu in West Kalimantan Province each contain carbon-rich tropical forest and vast biodiversity under threat from unsustainable natural resource extraction. These forests can serve as examples of sustainable development to the rest of Indonesia and the world.

“This is an important step forward in efforts to save one of the world’s richest forest ecosystems and provide economic security for the millions who depend on those forests,” said Tom Dillon, Senior VP for Field Programs at WWF in the United States. “Any way you look at it, this is a winning situation for Indonesia – enabling it to use these funds to protect globally spectacular biodiversity in the Heart of Borneo and fight climate change.”

Greg Fishbein, Managing Director for Forest Carbon at the Conservancy, added, “This deal will demonstrate how Indonesia can grow and create jobs in a smarter way that minimizes impact on the forest, improves the livelihoods of local communities, and ultimately allows the Government to achieve its twin goals of 7 percent economic growth and up to a 41 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020.”

Borneo – its territory shared by Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei – was once almost entirely forested, but between 1985 and 2005, the island lost an average of 2.1 million acres of forest every year. Only half of Kalimantan’s forest cover remains.

This forest destruction has impacted local communities – about eight million people live in West and East Kalimantan – who have lost a portion of their food, water, medicine, and building resources. Forest loss has also impacted the island’s thousands of plant and animal species, some found nowhere else on Earth.

The forests also contain vast amounts of carbon, which makes them a crucial part of President Yudhoyono’s pledge to fight climate change by reducing Indonesia’s carbon dioxide emissions by up to 41 percent by 2020. Forest loss, conversion of forests, and land use change in Indonesia are the largest sources of carbon pollution, accounting for over 60 percent of Indonesia’s total annual emissions.

Major threats to the forests and biodiversity of Borneo include expansion of oil palm plantations, illegal and unsustainable logging practices, and mining.

The debt swap will address these threats by investing in improved land-use planning to direct development to already degraded lands, improved management of protected areas, and other critical measures to reduce forest destruction, while supporting economic growth and local communities.

The swap will focus investment in three critical Districts. District Governments have tremendous influence on land-use decisions in Indonesia, and are of manageable scale to achieve near term results. Developing model programs across entire District boundaries, as partnerships of District, National and Provincial Governments, can help move Indonesia down a pathway towards national success.

The agreement is authorized under the US Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA), which allows countries such as Indonesia to re-direct debt to the U.S. to forest conservation purposes. WWF and the Conservancy each contributed US$2 million to the deal.

US, Indonesia announce $28.5 million debt swap for forests
Antara 3 Oct 11;

Jakarta ( ANTARA News) - The United States and Indonesia on signed a $28.5 million debt-for-nature swap agreement on Monday, the US Embassy here said in its official website on Monday.

The agreement was signed under the U.S. Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) of 1998 that will reduce Indonesia`s debt payments to the U.S. Government over the next eight years by nearly $28.5 million.

In return, the Government of Indonesia will commit these funds to support grants to protect and restore the country`s tropical forests in Kalimantan. This agreement, in partnership with World Wide Fund for Nature-Indonesia (WWF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC), will be the second TFCA debt-for-nature swap in Indonesia.

The first agreement was signed in 2009 and supports forest conservation activities on the island of Sumatra.

Both of these agreements contribute to the climate change and environment objectives of the US-Indonesia Comprehensive Partnership.

Kalimantan - Indonesian Borneo - historically has contained some of the world`s most remote and biologically-rich forests. There are presently up to 15,000 different flowering plants on Borneo and the island is home to a large number of treasured animal species such as orangutans, clouded leopards, and "pygmy" elephants.

The second Indonesia TFCA marks the 18th TFCA deal, following agreements with Bangladesh, Belize, Botswana, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica (two agreements), El Salvador, Guatemala, Indonesia (now two agreements), Jamaica, Panama (two agreements), Paraguay, Peru (two agreements), and the Philippines.(*)

Editor: Heru

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Climate Change: A sea change in Asia's response

Julian Hunt & J. Srinivasan, For The Straits Times 30 Sep 11;

A YEAR ago, the July and August 2010 floods in Pakistan affected about 20 million people and killed an estimated 2,000. Today, Pakistan is engulfed once more in waters after three months of heavy rain, with the United Nations estimating that more than 5.5 million people have been affected and almost 300 are officially reported dead.

Pakistan's floods highlight the vulnerability of much of Asia to climate change. Indeed, an increasingly prevailing view is that the impact of climate change could be worse in Asia than all social, health and conflict disasters of the past.

In particular, there is growing recognition that global warming is dangerously linked to several significant threats - not just natural disasters, but also energy, water and food shortages, as rising temperatures reduce productivity, and agricultural land is threatened by sea level rises and salinification of coastal areas.

Reflecting this heightened concern, Asian prime ministers, legislators and business leaders are increasingly supporting new climate-related legislation, investments and research. They are also leveraging their growing influence at the UN to help secure a comprehensive global warming deal.

This significant shift in Asian elite opinion has occurred even though many in the region acknowledge that it is unrealistic to expect total emissions from developed countries to be significantly reduced over the next few decades.

There are numerous ways in which a growing 'Asian consensus' on climate change manifests itself across the region.

First, low-lying islands and coastal areas: Concern over the future of these terrains - threatened by rising sea levels, and assaulted by more frequent intense rainfall and the occasional typhoon and tsunami - is leading affected countries to play a very active role in international negotiations. Singapore has even instituted a climate change secretariat in its Prime Minister's Office.

There is considerable momentum to find new technical solutions. In Bangalore, companies are solving acute water shortages by high-tech recycling and restoring depleted aquifers from the still plentiful monsoon rain.

Second, continental-scale Asian countries: Countries such as India and China, with dense centres of population and growing megacities, are thinking seriously about responses to dangerous rises in temperature. In China, for instance, there has been a rise in temperature of 2 deg C since 1950, and the rise is expected to be greater than 4 deg C by 2100 if global emissions continue on predicted trends. To help prevent the looming problems associated with this, Beijing is harnessing new technologies to set ambitious targets for reducing carbon emissions per unit of energy supplied by 40 to 45 per cent by 2020.

Within such continental-scale Asian economies, requirements for energy and food are increasing rapidly as standards of living grow. In India, these two requirements are competing with each other in some areas where large power stations, coal mining and biomass projects all take land from farmers, threatening food supplies and local political stability.

But this problem is mitigated by clean energy systems, such as wind power and the use of desert areas for direct solar production. Such projects are attracting international investment and funds for innovation.

Third, forests: Forests in Asia have been of concern since the 1920s when the Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore raised the alarm. Now the monitoring, conserving and responsible use of forests is regulated through national legislation, combined with the international funding arrangements of a UN programme to cut emissions resulting from deforestation in developing countries.

Politicians in the region now increasingly realise that deforestation causes short-term drops in rainfall, lowers agricultural productivity, and increases air pollution. Fortunately, areas of forest in India and China are now increasing again, although dense forest areas are still threatened in other Asian countries.

As encouraging as many of these initiatives are, the scale of the challenge means that debate in Asia is also turning to whether there are acceptable low-risk geo-engineering solutions to climate change.

In a recent Indo-German experiment in the Indian Ocean, iron particles were released to increase absorption of carbon dioxide, but so far without success. Teams are also planning experiments to release droplets high in the stratosphere to cut solar radiation.

The International Maritime Organisation is meeting to consider a trial on the release of iron particles. This brings to the fore the question of which international organisations should accept responsibility for regulating geo-engineering. Indeed, many in Asia already believe that wholly new approaches to international governance will be needed to obtain a consensus in the region to tackle these unprecedented challenges.

The first writer is visiting professor at Delft University of Technology and the Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre in Cambridge, England. The second writer is chairman of the Divecha Centre for Climate Change at the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore, India.

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Aerosol Particles Dry Out South Asian Monsoons: Study

Deborah Zabarenko PlanetArk 30 Sep 11;

Summer monsoons that provide up to 80 percent of the water South Asia needs have gotten drier in the past half century, possibly due to aerosol particles spewed by burning fossil fuels, climate scientists said on Thursday.

Monsoon rains are driven by looping air circulation patterns over India, and the aerosols appear to have interfered with these patterns, researchers reported in the journal Science.

Between 1950 and 1999, the drying was most pronounced in central-northern India, with a 10 percent drop in average June-September rainfall, the researchers said. The rest of India experienced a decrease of about 5 percent over the same period, they added.

This does not seem to be a direct consequence of greenhouse gas emissions, even though the burning of fossil fuels and biomass that produces the aerosol particles also emits climate-warming carbon dioxide, the researchers said.

Particle pollution can increase the risk of heart disease, lung cancer and asthma attacks and interfere with the growth and function of the lungs, according to the American Lung Association, which has fought to curb these emissions in the United States.

Over South Asia, aerosol particles have actually slowed down climate warming by reacting with sunlight and reflecting some of it back into space, said study co-author Yi Ming of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory in Princeton, New Jersey.

That same cooling effect tends to slow down the north-south air circulation that delivers the monsoon rains, Ming said in a telephone interview.

The Northern Hemisphere, including India, tends to emit more aerosol particles because it is more heavily developed than the Southern Hemisphere, Ming said. This could offer hope that the aerosol drying of the monsoon could be reversed.

This is because developed countries such as the United States and much of Europe have taken steps to cut down on particle pollution, which means less gets into the air.

Ming and his colleagues project that if India and other Asian countries continue to develop their economies, they too will cut back on particle emissions.

"The aerosol levels will be cut a lot out of concern for human health, like what happened in the U.S. and Europe," Ming said. "Once countries are rich enough, they want to clean their air."

This could begin to reverse the monsoon's drying trend in 20 to 30 years, he said. However, it would do nothing to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide associated with more developed economies, and dealing with that, Ming said, "will be a very difficult policy challenge."

(Editing by Will Dunham)

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Canada faces huge global warming costs

Michel Comte (AFP) Google News 29 Sep 11;

OTTAWA — The economic impact of climate change on Canada could climb to billions of dollars per year, according to a study published Thursday by a policy group that advises the Canadian government.

The report "Paying the Price: The Economic Impacts of Climate Change for Canada" by the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy estimates that warming-related costs may rise to $5 billion per year by 2020, and between $21 and $43 billion per year by 2050.

It points to a reduced timber supply, storm surges and flood damage due to rising sea levels in coastal areas and poorer air quality in cities leading to more hospital visits.

And it calls on Ottawa to invest more in generating and disseminating research and detailed analysis to help communities adapt to climate change to try to avoid some of the added costs.

Canada contributes less than 1.5 percent of global carbon emissions.

However, "increasing greenhouse gas emissions worldwide will exert a growing economic impact on our own country, exacting a rising price from Canadians as climate change impacts occur here at home," the study said.

"Climate change will be expensive for Canada and Canadians."

For example, warmer temperatures and higher levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere may accelerate forest growth in some areas.

However, the gains are expected to be more than offset by tree losses from increased forest fires, pests and extreme weather events including wind and ice storms.

Canada is home to almost 3.5 million square kilometers of forests, representing 10 percent of global forest cover. The forestry industry drives 1.7 percent of Canada's gross domestic product.

Losses in the sector due to climate change, the study concluded, could rise to $17 billion per year, with westernmost British Columbia province's forest-reliant economy likely suffering the most.

Low-lying and highly dense areas on the Pacific Coast, such as Vancouver, and Arctic regions such as Nunavut (which are experiencing the most dramatic rise in temperatures) also face the highest per capita costs of dwelling damage due to flooding, it said.

But the coastal areas of Prince Edward Island in the Atlantic Ocean are most at risk, said the report.

Flooding costs nationwide could top eight billion dollars per year by 2050, it concluded.

Finally, big cities such as Toronto and Vancouver are expected to experience more summer heat spells and worse air quality over the coming years, leading to more cardiovascular and respiratory woes.

Nationwide, fewer extreme cold days could reduce overall illnesses and deaths in winter, said the report. But some populations will face a greater risk of exposure to infectious diseases and diseases transmitted through water and food.

The magnitude of costs, it said, will depend on global emissions growth and Canadian economic and population growth.

Climate Change To Cost Canada Billions: Panel
David Ljunggren PlanetArk 30 Sep 11;

Climate change will cause damage in Canada equivalent to around 1 percent of GDP in 2050 as rising temperatures kill off forests, flood low-lying areas and cause more illnesses, an official panel said on Thursday.

The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy said Canada's Conservative government - criticized by green activists for not doing enough to fight global warming - should take measures to mitigate the effects of climate change, which most scientists blame on greenhouse gas emissions.

The north of Canada, the world's second largest country, is warming up at a much faster pace than the rest of the Earth.

"Climate change presents a growing, long-term economic burden for Canada," said the NRTEE, which the government set up in 1988 to provide advice on environmental issues.

According to the most likely scenario outlined by the panel, the damage done by global warming would be between 0.8 percent and 1 percent of GDP by 2050 and could hit almost 2.5 percent by 2075.

"The magnitude of costs depends upon a combination of two factors: global emissions growth and Canadian economic and population growth," the panel said.

Depending on how fast the world heats up and what actions Ottawa takes, the NRTEE said the damage in 2050 could range from C$21 billion ($20 billion) to C$43 billion a year.

The panel recommended several measures to help limit damage from climate change:

* enhance forest fire prevention, control pests, and plant climate-resilient tree species

* prohibit new construction in areas at risk of flooding in coastal areas

* install pollution control technologies to limit ozone formation.

Opposition legislators said the report showed the Conservatives needed to do much more to fight global warming.

"Our coastal communities, our forestry industry, and the health of Canadians will all suffer unless we take action right now. Yet this out-of-touch government has produced no plan to deal with the impact of climate change," said Laurin Liu of the official opposition New Democrats.

Environment Minister Peter Kent responded by saying the report showed the importance of adapting to climate change.

Canadians, he told legislators, wanted "a strong, stable, environmentally responsible ... government to take care of the environment, and that is exactly what we are doing".

The NRTEE said Canada would benefit from a global treaty that systematically reduced carbon emissions beyond 2012, when the first stage of the Kyoto Protocol expires.

Canada walked away from Kyoto after the Conservatives took power in 2006 and subsequently adopted a much more modest target for emissions cuts. John Bennett of the Sierra Club mocked Kent by condemning what he said was a "stubborn, deaf, environmentally irresponsible, antiquarian government".

The NRTEE largely dismissed the idea that global warming could help a northern country like Canada by reducing heating costs and making it easier to grow certain kinds of crops.

(Editing by Peter Galloway)

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