Best of our wild blogs: 3 Oct 12

Exotic parrots and fishes; and feather star-crab
from Celebrating Singapore's BioDiversity!

TMSI @ St. John's Island 10th Anniversary Open House
from Peiyan.Photography

Slaty-Breasted Rail Behaviour
from Bird Ecology Study Group

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Shell seeks to expand plant on Bukom

Energy giant growing its presence in Asia as demand shifts to the East
Alvin Foo Straits Times 3 Oct 12;

ENERGY giant Royal Dutch Shell is looking at expanding the capacity of its ethylene cracker complex on Pulau Bukom by about 20 per cent, said a member of its executive committee.

The move comes as it is growing its presence in Asia as energy demand shifts from West to East.

Shell downstream director Mark Williams told The Straits Times recently: "We're studying the possibility of expanding, taking... the cracker from 800,000 tonnes per annum to a million. So that's roughly a 20 per cent expansion."

However, he added that a final investment decision had not yet been made.

The world-class ethylene cracker, which started up in March 2010, is the centrepiece of its US$3 billion (S$3.7 billion) Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex.

Mr Williams oversees Shell's downstream business, which includes refining, supply distribution, trading and marketing.

He is a member of Shell's executive committee, which operates under chief executive Peter Voser's direction and is responsible for the company's overall business and affairs.

Mr Williams predicts that the trend of volatile energy prices will continue in the coming years, as the pace of change of supply is quite slow relative to the speed at which demand grows or contracts.

He said: "This year, we've seen oil prices go from US$80 to US$120 in a few months. We expect that trend (of volatility) to continue."

Asia is expected to drive energy demand growth globally, owing to the region's population and economic expansion, said Mr Williams.

One can "easily" expect a doubling of energy consumption in Asia in the next 30 years, he said.

He added: "We see Asia as really leading in terms of the pace of energy demand growth globally. The developing economies, many of which are in Asia, are the engines of growth of energy demand globally. We clearly expect that trend to continue."

Asia is playing an increasingly significant role for Shell.

In August, it announced plans to build its seventh lubricants- blending plant in China. The Tianjin plant will have an initial capacity of 300 million litres a year, and will supply the northern China market.

Mr Williams said its trading in Asia for fuels and liquefied natural gas (LNG) is also growing.

He said: "We're trying to supply the market as aggressively as we can.

"The East is really the key to anchoring the demand that supports a lot of the prospects we have in other parts of the world."

The move to the East also means Shell has more staff headquartered in Singapore and China.

Mr Williams said: "The shifting of the business focus means we have to shift the centre of gravity of our staffing. We're working very hard to develop Asian talent in the company, and Singapore's a critical component of that.

"As we shift East, we want to participate as much as we can with local people."

Shell recently moved a number of senior positions to Asia for its fuels, lubricants and LNG businesses, said Mr Williams.

He added: "This is not a mass invasion, but bit by bit, we are growing our presence in the market."

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Keppel in talks to invest in Johor, Pengerang power plant

Deal with Petronas on gas-fired plant could provide electricity for Singapore
Anita Gabriel Straits Times 3 Oct 12;

KEPPEL Corp is in talks with Malaysian oil giant Petronas to invest in a new gas-fired power plant in Johor that could supply electricity to Singapore.

The deal would be the first investment involving a Singapore firm in Malaysia's domestically dominated power sector.

The Straits Times understands that Keppel could acquire a 30 per cent stake in the 1,200MW plant, part of a much larger petroleum and petrochemical project earmarked for Pengerang at the tip of Johor state.

"Keppel is constantly evaluating opportunities where it is able to grow its businesses," said a company spokesman yesterday.

Malaysia's power sector is dominated by state-owned utility Tenaga Nasional and domestic private sector firms. Tenaga Nasional generates nearly half of the country's power with independent power producers supplying the rest.

The new plant will primarily be used to supply the electricity needs of the mammoth RM60 billion (S$24 billion) Refinery and Petrochemicals Development (Rapid) project being built by Petronas in Pengerang but it can also supply power to Malaysia and Singapore.

The Pengerang plant could be a test case for Malaysia's energy sector where gas, which fuels 60 per cent of its power, is grudgingly subsidised by Petronas.

Petronas has demanded that gas subsidies, which amount to RM19 billion a year, be scrapped but that would push up electricity prices, something the government is not willing to commit to, particularly in an election period.

"The key question is at what price would the electricity from the Pengerang plant be sold to the national grid (in Malaysia)," said a Malaysian-based power analyst.

Selling electricity to Singapore may be relatively less of an issue as the terms would be based on prevailing market rates but there are still questions. "Commercially speaking, how do you sell electricity from one plant at different rates (to Malaysia and Singapore)?" asked the analyst.

The Rapid project is part of an ambitious RM120 billion plan to turn the sleepy fishing village of Pengerang into a global petroleum and petrochemical hub.

Work on the Petronas-led project is expected to start by the middle of next year with completion in 2016.

At first glance, the development looms as a rival to Singapore's huge petroleum and petrochemical sector but the participation of Keppel suggests otherwise.

"Singapore can view Penger-ang as a threat or an opportunity. There are bigger opportunities if it chooses to embrace it," said an observer.

The Pengerang project faces serious socioeconomic hurdles, given the dislocation of thousands of villagers who are not appeased by the compensation offered by the Malaysian government.

Mounting protests led by opposition political parties could pose a stumbling block, particularly as the general election looms and Johor is viewed as a key battleground for the ruling Barisan Nasional.

"It's always hard to please everyone. It's up to the government to have the determination to push this project through and settle these local issues to attract investments," said a market watcher.

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NTU to explore space options underground

It invites experts to come up with ideas for main campus in Jurong
Feng Zengkun Straits Times 3 Oct 12;

NANYANG Technological University has launched a research project to find out how to make use of its underground space.

Last week, it put out a call for help on an "underground space masterplan" for its sprawling Jurong campus.

It wants a team of geologists, architects and engineers to come up with ideas for a shallower, "deep basement" level, and for deeper underground space.

In its call for proposals, which closes next Tuesday, NTU said that the team would have eight months to produce a design of the underground blueprint.

This should include "2-D and 3-D planning and drawings in enough detail that the component parts in underground space can be easily understood by NTU", it said.

The design should also take into account existing buildings on campus and show "the pass ways from the surface to the underground structures".

Covering 200ha - about the size of 450 football fields - the university campus occupies about 0.2 per cent of Singapore's land.

When asked by The Straits Times about its call for proposals, the university declined to comment on the research project and its ideas for the space beneath its grounds. A spokesman would say only that "all available details are in (the) public document put out... to call for quotations from interested parties".

In 1999, a study commissioned by the Government and NTU found that at least part of the ground beneath NTU could be turned into rock caverns.

These could each hold "four levels at 3m spacing, plus an upper fifth level that can be utilised for technical installations".

They could be used for "car parking, offices, laboratories and libraries, and by combining two storey heights, they can accommodate lecture theatres and cinemas", the report said.

But Dr Ng Tiong Guan, 44, an executive director at civil and geotechnical consulting firm GeoEng Consultants, said a key challenge would be to minimise impact to existing buildings.

He said: "Digging under an existing building would undermine its foundations. You would have to transfer the load of the building to somewhere else."

Another crucial issue would be how to control the movement of groundwater so nearby buildings are not affected by the ground adjusting itself to the loss of water.

There are also fire safety concerns. In August, the Singapore Civil Defence Force sent a memo to engineering and architect associations here to set out new fire safety requirements for mega underground developments.

The measures included at least two exit shafts for each development, and protected corridors on each floor with fire-resistant walls and doors. It added: "As this kind of development is new, there may be areas we have not foreseen as possible fire safety concerns."

Besides NTU, other groups are also studying how to make better use of subterranean space.

The interest stems from Singapore's limited options for expansion, said Building and Construction Authority (BCA) chief executive John Keung in an interview with The Straits Times last month. He said: "You can build up, but there is a limit, because we have airports. You can reclaim, but there is also a limit, as you need to keep fairways and anchorages for your port."

The BCA set up the Singapore Geological Office in 2010 to carry out soil studies for future underground planning.

The Ministry of National Development is also exploring whether facilities such as reservoirs, power plants and landfills can be built underground to save land. A report is due at the end of next year.

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Malaysia: More wildlife encounters

Hidir Reduan New Straits Times 3 Oct 12;

'URBAN' ANIMALS: Wandering into human settlements due to rapid development

KUANTAN: INCIDENCES of public encounters with wild animals are becoming more regular in Pahang nowadays.

With rapid development squeezing forest buffer zones, more wildlife including monkey, tapir, elephant and crocodile are straying into human settlements.

Pahang Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) recorded 864 wild animal encounters last year compared with 695 reports in 2010.

Between January and August this year, 436 cases were recorded in the state.

State Perhilitan director Khairiah Mohd Sharif said animals entered human settlements and plantations when their natural food sources in the forest had dwindled.

In June last year, she said a 350kg tapir fell and became stuck in a drain in Taman Kempadang Perdana here. It was rescued and later released into the nearby jungle.

In June this year, a 50kg wild boar created havoc when it came into town. It was later shot dead by a Perhilitan officer.

More recently was the sighting of a sun bear in Kampung Pandan 2 here which caused panic among villagers, prompting the department to set a trap.

Malaysian Nature Society president Professor Dr Maketab Mohamed said the authorities needed to manage rapid development which would help to preserve the wildlife's natural habitat.

Wildlife biologist based in Sandakan, Wong Siew Te said deforestation and new human settlements often forced these animals to come out in search of food.

The 43-year-old sun bear expert said wild mammals like the sun bear were extremely shy and would run away from the slightest noise caused by human activities.

"In the United States and Japan, sun bears have emerged from their natural habitat to scavenge for food in human settlements."

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Indonesians eat beached whales in mass stranding

Straits Times 2 Oct 12;

Villagers look at dying pilot whale stranded on the shore of Savu island in East Nusa Tenggara province on Oct 2, 2012. Fourty-four pilot whales lay beached on the remote Savu island in a mass stranding that left at least 41 dead and several hacked to bits by locals, an official said. The whales beached themselves late on Oct 1 on the island, where there is a culture of whale hunting for consumption. -- PHOTO: AFP

SAVU, Indonesia (AFP) - Locals on a remote island in eastern Indonesia on Tuesday cut up several dead pilot whales for food after a mass stranding that killed at least 41 of the mammals, an official said.

A total of 44 pilot whales beached themselves on Monday on the island of Savu in East Nusa Tenggara province, where there is a culture of whale hunting for consumption.

"Locals have hacked into around 11 whales so far and will probably use the flesh for meat," Savu fishery office chief Dominggus Widu Hau said. "When local fishermen found them before midnight, they were all still alive. But it was already late and there were not enough people to help push them back in."

More than a dozen fishermen, navy and police officers were still struggling on Tuesday afternoon to keep the three surviving whales alive.

"We managed to push them back into the water, but they returned to the beach," Mr Hau said.

Jakarta Animal Aid Network identified the mammals, which lay stranded around 15r0m from the coastline, as pilot whales. Those beached were between two and five metres long, Mr Hau said.

Pilot whales commonly become stranded en masse since they stick together in large groups, especially if one is sick, according to marine biologists.

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World citizens worry about biodiversity loss

Catarina Chagas SciDev 2 Oct 12;

[RIO DE JANEIRO] A public consultation held simultaneously in 25 countries – 19 of them in the developing world – showed 84 per cent of participants believing that most people in the world were seriously affected by biodiversity loss.

The results of the consultation held on 15 September – organised mainly by the Danish environment ministry – are to be presented at the 11th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biodiversity being held in Hyderabad, India, this month (October).

Some 72 per cent of participants in 'World Wide Views on Biodiversity' thought that educating schoolchildren and the public on biodiversity issues was key to protecting nature and maintaining food security.

Aiming to engage ordinary citizens in policymaking for a healthy planet, 34 meetings were held in Brazil, Canada, China, Denmark, India, South Africa, Uganda, the US, Vietnam, Zambia and other countries. About 100 people selected for diverse backgrounds – gender, occupation, education and residential location – participated in each country.

Some 70 per cent of participants said they knew almost nothing about biodiversity before joining the project. Almost half of participants from the developing countries thought they were affected by biodiversity loss, while only 22 per cent of developed country participants thought the same.

"Biodiversity does not mean the same for everyone. For some it is an added value to their lives, for others it competes with their wish to be able to make a living from their farm land – even if they have a genuine wish to increase biodiversity," Lars Kl├╝ver, director of the Danish board of technology, an organiser, told SciDev.Net.

In Brazil, 88 people from 19 states took part in the discussion. Senator Rodrigo Rollemberg said at the session that this country had "an increasing responsibility" on biodiversity issues and that government can act together with the public to face them.

Alberto Pellegrini, a researcher at the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation in Rio de Janeiro told SciDev.Net that the participation of the public in science was essential. "It is very important that research agendas are defined not only by scientists but also by society."

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