Six days before the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP is holding its 2011 annual general meeting (AGM) in London today, its first since the Gulf oil spill. The event is expected to be "a particularly bad-tempered affair," one BP shareholder tells Reuters, likely drawing crowds of angry BP bashers, from Louisiana fishermen and indigenous Canadians to disgruntled British workers and even its own investors — many of whom plan to vote against the company's annual report.
Perhaps the angriest of all attendees at today's AGM will be a group of Gulf Coast fishermen who bought shares in BP just to give them the right to attend the meeting. It was worth the trans-Atlantic trip, they say, to keep pressure on BP and to keep the disaster in the spotlight. "I am coming to articulate the anger of thousands of Gulf Coast residents whose lives and livelihoods have been destroyed while the BP board continues to prosper," one fourth-generation Texas fisherwoman tells the AP. The group is also unhappy about the slow pace of compensation from BP, adds Louisiana Oystermen Association President Byron Encalade. "We've not been made whole: Our fishing grounds have been depleted, our oysters are dead and we're not receiving the funds we need to support and sustain ourselves," he says. Meanwhile, the AFP reports the spill's aftermath still festers on Gulf shores, with crews actively cleaning 235 miles of coastline and planning to clean 300 more miles once tourism and nesting seasons end.
But BP's troubles don't stop at the oil spill — indigenous communities from Canada also plan to protest outside the meeting, venting their anger about BP's role in the extraction of tar sands for oil. So does a group of British workers who are involved in a dispute at a BP-owned biofuels plant in northern England. And to top it all off, many of BP's own shareholders are enraged that an $18 billion deal with Russian oil giant Rosneft appears close to collapsing, a move that was supposed to show that BP is moving forward with less reliance on U.S. oil fields. Others are upset about two BP executives receiving a total of $1.1 million in bonuses, as well as the re-election bid of BP safety official Bill Castell. "The vote on Bill Castell will be the real lightning rod, and it's probably rightly so," an investor tells Retuers.
Russia's Arctic foxes are being invaded by a growing horde of red foxes from the south, according to a new study in the journal Polar Biology, potentially a symptom of a warming climate. This phenomenon has already been reported in Sweden, but now for the first time scientists have seen it in Russia, too: a red fox bursting into an Arctic fox's den, forcing its smaller relative to flee and abandon its pups. Red and Arctic foxes are closely related, but where their ranges overlap, red foxes typically dominate the Arctic species, the BBC reports.
"We were surprised to meet a red fox in our study area on the Russian Arctic tundra because this species is very rare in such northern territories," researcher Anna Rodnikova tells the BBC. "It was strange to see that the [Arctic fox] mother was so afraid of the red fox that it didn't try to protect the pups, which probably were inside the den." Still, Rodnikova says it's unlikely the red fox killed the pups, and the researchers found no evidence of their remains. "The Arctic fox pups were most likely hiding in the burrow system while the red fox was present and abandoned the den area after the encounter," they wrote in the study.
Red foxes are 25 percent larger than Arctic foxes, but lack cold-climate adaptations like insulated coats and furry foot pads. Yet those adaptations may become less useful as temperatures in the Arctic continue to rise, and the study's authors say this newly observed encounter offers evidence that red foxes may be on the verge of an Arctic invasion. While Arctic foxes still number in the hundreds of thousands, they are seen as a key bellwether of climate change — at least indirectly. "We don't think that climate warming makes conditions directly more difficult for Arctic foxes," Rodnikova says. "Most likely climate warming allows red foxes to survive in severe northern conditions, so [they] have an opportunity to expand their range to the North where they dominate over Arctic foxes."
Making oil from algae rarely looks as appealing as when gasoline prices are high, and with the average U.S. price now up to $3.80 per gallon, it would seem to be a prime time for the biofuels industry — especially in the wake of last year's Gulf oil spill and ongoing turmoil in the Middle East. One nagging problem with algae oil has been its high demand for water, but according to a new study by researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, that demand can be drastically reduced just by carefully planning where the algae are grown.
"Algae has been a hot topic of biofuel discussions recently, but no one has taken such a detailed look at how much America could make — and how much water and land it would require — until now," says Mark Wigmosta, the study's lead author and a PNNL hydrologist. "This research provides the groundwork and initial estimates needed to better inform renewable energy decisions." The researchers found that algae can end up using much less water if they're grown in parts of the U.S. with the sunniest and most humid climates: the Gulf Coast, the Southeastern Seaboard and the Great Lakes. A total of 21 billion gallons of algae oil can be produced with American-grown algae, the researchers found, about 17 percent of the country's petroleum imports in 2008 for transportation fuels. They can also be grown within an area the size of South Carolina, but at a cost — growing the algae requires anywhere from 8.6 to 50.2 gallons of water per mile driven on the biofuel. Because fossil fuels don't need to be grown, they require much less water to produce, roughly 0.09 to 0.3 gallons of water per mile.
Still, algae's water demand goes down considerably when they're grown in the right, place, the researchers note, and they have distinct advantages over other biofuel sources. For example, they can produce more than 80 times more oil per hectare every year than corn. And unlike corn and soybeans, algae aren't already a widespread food source that must be divided between fuel producers and food producers. Plus, algae can even feed off water pollution or carbon emissions. "Algae could be part of the solution to the nation's energy puzzle — if we're smart about where we place growth ponds and the technical challenges to achieving commercial-scale algal biofuel production are met," Wigmosta says.
Drought-stricken Texans may have been praying for rain, but this probably isn't what they had in mind: A major tornado outbreak could be brewing for parts of the southern and central Plains, as well as the Deep South, CNN reports. It's part of a powerful thunderstorm system that's growing in the middle of the country, poised to strike from northeastern Texas to southeastern Kansas late this afternoon, before exploding across the Eastern Seaboard in the coming days. By Friday, severe weather will stretch from the Ohio Valley to the central Gulf Coast, AccuWeather reports.
Cities most at risk from "potentially devastating tornadoes" this afternoon (and later tonight) include Wichita, Kan.; Tulsa, Okla.; McAlester, Okla.; Springfield, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Paris, Texas; and Shreveport, La., according to AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski. The National Weather Service also warns that the storms will be capable of producing large hail, frequent lightning strikes, dangerous straight-line winds and even flash flooding.
The twister threat will fade from the Plains by Friday afternoon, at which point it will just be getting started for the Deep South — tornadoes are possible across northern Mississippi and Alabama and into middle Tennessee on Friday, CNN reports. The storm is then expected to move into Georgia and the Carolinas Friday night and Saturday morning, mainly with damaging winds and a few isolated tornadoes. (For tips about how to prepare for and survive a tornado, see MNN's feature on how tornadoes work
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Photo (protesters outside BP AGM in London): ZUMA Press
Photo (red fox running in snow): U.S. National Park Service
Photo (Botryococcus braunii algae): U.S. Energy Department
Photo (multiple lightning strikes): NASA Earth Observatory