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Month: December 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Russian river runs red repeatedly

Several large web outlets have shared the astounding pictures of the Daldykan river in the Russian Arctic city of Norilsk that has turned blood red. And it?s not the first time. Locals have posted the pictures on Instagram that has caused the international concern prompting an investigation by Russian officials. We wonder if it did not make the worldwide press if they would have bothered.


The river runs alongside a metal mine and plant. Processing the metals from the ore requires smelters that burn (oxidize) the rock, removing the valuable stuff (nickel and associated rare metals) and leaving concentrated waste, typically consisting of fine-grained iron oxide mixed with water to form a slurry which are dumped into ponds. The waste ponds breach or leak, dumping sediment into the river turning it red. The Verge reported that it happens in other nickel mining areas as well. The sediment eventually settles to the bottom and along banks and the water returns to normal color, as it apparently now has.

Instagram brought the vivid event to the public worldwide.

Instagram brought the vivid event to the public worldwide.

Avoid the hype from panic-inducing End Times sites and read the piece from the New York Times that explains that this is caused by lack of strong environmental requirements.

The metal smelters in this ore-rich region produce copious amounts of copper, one-fifth of the world?s nickel ? a key alloy in stainless steel ? and half of the global supply of palladium, a precious metal nearly as valuable as platinum.

The ore also contains iron, but that red-hued element is far less valuable than the precious metals extracted along with it, and is generally discarded in slurry ponds.

That iron slurry is the most likely source of the discoloration in the ?blood river,? environmental groups and Russian environmental regulators said, attributing the red hue to iron oxide, better known as rust.

Is it bad? Yes. The high iron and probably very low pH means that conditions in the river are poor for aquatic life; there is almost certainly none of the original diversity of biota present in this river. The water is certainly not potable (drinkable) even though the article notes it?s not dangerous to humans. Iron bacteria probably won?t kill you but it will make you ill.

Past red river events were caused by red dye or ink from industrial leaks or discharges. That?s what we have environmental regs for, folks. Don?t knock ?em. (Our waterways usually turn weird colors only on purpose.)

More red river valley events:

2011 ? Chinese river runs blood red due to red dye discharge.

2012 ? Yangtze river also in China, red from possible sediment.

2012 ? Beirut, Lebanon. Looks like red dye.

2014 ? Northampton, England. Red ink.

Here a link to it council

EU indecision on UN Secretary General choice plays to Russia?s advantage

40th plenary meeting of the General Assembly 67th session

The race to replace Ban Ki-moon as United Nations Secretary-General in 2017 is an awful muddle, yet it may still culminate in victory for a well-qualified European.  The current frontrunner is former Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Guterres, but European Commission Vice President Kristalina Georgieva seems poised to make a last-minute entry into the race later this month.

Both would be credible winners.  But the contest has cast a harsh light on the EU?s lack of diplomatic cohesion.  The choice of Secretary-General is no trivial matter for Europeans.  From Mali to Syria, UN peacekeepers, mediators and aid officials are struggling to manage conflicts and refugee flows on the EU?s southern flank. But while the Security Council is supposed to start a decisive round of polls to home in on the final choice for the next Secretary-General in early October, EU members remain divided over whom to support.

This is playing to the advantage of Russia which, like the other permanent members of the Security Council, holds the power to veto any candidate.  Moscow has demonstrated an impressive capacity to manipulate UN rules to get its way over the Syrian crisis since 2011, as I noted in an ECFR paper last year, and it is playing a similarly sharp game over the Secretary-Generalship.  The race may climax with President Vladimir Putin making the final choice between Guterres and Georgieva ? or blocking both and forcing the Security Council to hunt for a compromise candidate.

This situation arises from two quirks of UN tradition.  One is a convention that the post of Secretary-General rotates between different regions.  The second is that ?Eastern Europe?, an area consisting of former members of the USSR and the Warsaw Pact, is still treated as a distinct region in UN diplomacy a quarter century after the end of the Cold War.  No Eastern European has ever been Secretary-General.  As the end of Ban?s tenure came into view, a host of politicians and diplomats from the region floated their candidacies, making it difficult for a single European champion to emerge early on.

To continue reading, please visit the website of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

(Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas)



About the Author

Richard Gowan is an associate fellow at ECFR, concentrating on United Nations affairs. He is based at the Center on International Cooperation at New York University, where he works on peacekeeping and multilateral security institutions. He is the associate director of the center?s Managing Global Order programme. Before joining New York University in 2005, he worked as Europe Programme Officer at the Foreign Policy Centre in London. Between 2005 and 2006, he coordinated the development of the first Annual Review of Global Peace Operations, the most comprehensive public domain source of data and analysis on the subject of peace operations. He has acted as a consultant to the UN Secretariat and the UK Department for International Development, he writes frequently for E!Sharp, The Globalist, and other international affairs magazines, and he has broadcast widely on channels such as CNN and BBC.

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The Not So Wonderful Land Of Oz

September 20th, 2016 12:00pm Posted In: Environment, Natural Gas News, LNG, Featured Articles, Regulation, Asia, Natural Gas News Asia, Australia

Restrictions on fracking and the low oil price have taken the shine off Australia?s bright future for gas since its pioneering coalbed methane-LNG projects began.

Uncertainty continues to cloud the Australian domestic gas market, as the reliability of future gas supply is challenged by LNG export projects, regulatory restrictions ? three states and the Northern Territory have come out against hydraulic fracturing, provisionally or permanently ? and the universal exploration decline.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) revealed that total petroleum exploration expenditure fell 19.4% to $318.4mn in the June quarter.

According to the agency, exploration expenditure on production leases fell 31.2% and exploration expenditure on all other areas fell 12.7%. Western Australia saw the largest fall in exploration, down 14.9%. While onshore exploration expenditure fell 35.1% to $62.0mn, the trend estimate for offshore exploration spending fell 13.2% to $259.8mn. 

The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (Appea) CEO Malcolm Roberts said data confirmed that oil and gas exploration onshore and offshore Australia is in free fall.

Audrey Raj

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EC Looks at Engie’s Lux Tax Deals

The European Commission has opened an in-depth investigation into Luxembourg’s tax treatment of the GDF Suez group (now Engie), it said September 19. The competition directorate is concerned that several tax rulings issued by Luxembourg may have given GDF Suez an unfair advantage over other companies, in breach of EU state aid rules.

Some of the rulings are as much as a decade old but only in the last few years have all member states agreed to open up these confidential agreements for review by the EC. These are bearing fruit, such as the discovery of the generous tax treatment that US Apple received at the hands of Ireland, worth some ?13bn ($14.5bn).

The rulings concern loans that can be converted into equity and bear zero interest for the lender. One convertible loan was granted in 2009 by LNG Luxembourg (lender) to GDF Suez LNG Supply (borrower); the other in 2011 by Electrabel Invest Luxembourg (lender) to GDF Suez Treasury Management (borrower).

How the EC sees it (Source: EC)

The EC will assess in particular whether Luxembourg tax authorities selectively derogated from provisions of national tax law in tax rulings issued to GDF Suez but not other companies. “They appear to treat the same financial transaction between companies of GDF Suez in an inconsistent way, both as debt and as equity. The Commission considers at this stage that the treatment endorsed in the tax rulings resulted in tax benefits in favour of GDF Suez, which are not available to other companies subject to the same national taxation rules in Luxembourg,” it said.

“A single company cannot have the best of two worlds for one and the same transaction. Therefore, we will look carefully at tax rulings issued by Luxembourg to GDF Suez. They seem to contradict national taxation rules and allow GDF Suez to pay less tax than other companies.” 

A spokeswoman told NGW that it could not say how much money was involved in this case. Engie did not comment at time of press.

William Powell 

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Bulgaria?s Special Criminal Court begins hearing first terrorism trial

gavel Jason Morrison

Bulgaria?s Special Criminal Court has begun hearing its first case involving charges of terrorism, laid against three Syrians that prosecutors allege intended to join Daesh and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The three Syrian men, aged between 22 and 25 and who had been given refugee status by Germany, have suspended sentences for illegally crossing the border.

At the court sitting on September 19, evidence against the accused was given by a witness whose identity was not disclosed.

In evidence in the trial, prosecutors are relying mainly on photos in the accuseds? phones and in the phones? messaging systems.

For the full story, please click here.

(Photo: Jason Morrison/



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Bulgarian PM slams Russian MP?s ?I?ll buy Bulgaria? comment

boiko borissov

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borissov has sharply condemned a comment by Russian MP Pyotr Tolstoy who said that he would ?will buy all of Bulgaria? having already bought half its coastline.

Borissov, speaking at a September 20 Cabinet meeting, said that Bulgaria had existed for 1300 years and ?no one had bought us?.

?Yes, we have had many traitors in our history and we pay for such treachery. But again we are showing that we fulfil our statutory obligations,? Borissov said.

A day earlier, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Daniel Mitov said that Tolstoy?s statement was ?arrogant, totally wrong and did not contribute in any way to the development of bilateral relations?.

In a Facebook post, Mitov said that he expected that Russia?s official institutions would distance themselves from Tolstoy?s comments.

Tolstoy became a member of Russia?s parliament on the ticket of Vladimir Putin?s United Russia party in elections on September 18.

Formerly a presenter on Kremlin-controlled Purvi Kanal television station, Tolstoy, responded to a Bulgarian National Television journalist saying, ?we hope, that if he is elected to the Duma, that he will maintain a benevolent policy towards by Bulgaria? by saying, ?Of course. I?ll just buy it all. We have already bought half the coastline?.

Tolstoy, grandson of the writer Leo Tolstoy, sparked outrage in many parts of the Bulgarian spectrum with the comment.

In recent years, Bulgaria?s Black Sea coastline property market was dominated by purchases by Russians, who took the place on the property market of Brits and Irish citizens who largely left after the start of the 2008 global financial and economic crisis. More lately, there has been a downturn in Russian activity on the property market following Russia?s economic woes as the rouble was driven downwards by a falling oil market and the effect of sanctions imposed by the EU in response to the Kremlin?s illegal annexation of Crimea.

An EU member, Bulgaria has supported those sanctions, even though they represent a cost to its economy. Borissov recently ordered Mitov to restore the level of relations with Russia.



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Latest purported photo of ?Nessie? appears to be seals

The Sun (UK) tabloid is well known for paying for exclusive photographs to publish with sensational stories about celebrities, ghosts and monsters. The latest is a new photo of Loch Ness which, if really taken in the Loch, shows three playful seals near shore. Normally, we don?t link to tabloids like the Sun but this pic is interesting and tells a story in it?s own right, one that is a bit more complicated than ?It?s Nessie!?

Here is the photograph so we can examine what it actually may be.


Credit: Ian Bremner

As you can see, the shallow water in the foreground looks to be shoreline so the creature(s) are not that far away. Let?s zoom in on the head.


This is a very good match to a seal. Here is a grey seal in comparison. The image may not be clear enough to determine what type of seal though experts may be able to based on the shape of the head.


The photographer, Ian Bremner, says he didn?t notice the object(s) in the picture until later. He says he took it ?between the villages of Dores and Inverfarigaig? but there is no discerning features to be able to tell. Hmm? It seems very strange he did not notice this object since it?s in focus. Bremner also invoked the avowal of prior skepticism, saying he was skeptical, until now. That is a common attempt to bolster credibility and sound rational. Though this clearly looks like a row of seals, and the article DOES note this, Bremner is not willing to accept that so easily:

?I suppose it could be seals ? but I?m not so sure. The more I think about it, the more I think it could be Nessie.?

I don?t wonder why?

Could Nessie be a seal or a group of seals? It?s plausible. Researcher Dick Raynor has documented seals in the Loch before. He filmed one in 1999. Another had been photographed and documented in 1984-5 and several reports exist prior to that. But Raynor thinks this particular photo is suspicious: ?We don?t have shallows showing brown beyond blue areas. The left hand bit does resemble a seal.?

Well, I?m calling seal(s) on this one but the question remains if it was doctored or really taken in Loch Ness. Evidence does not currently support the latter. Nessie itself is a legend, it is not one animal but collection of reports from many people that popular culture has crafted into a great story. Reports of Nessie have certainly been misinterpretations of seals, birds, fish, logs, other swimming animals, waves and wakes, etc., but not a new species or living plesiosaur. This picture is certainly not convincing of anything other than guaranteed publicity for the Sun. Too bad.

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Bulgaria?s Central Election Commission begins registering presidential election candidates

vote voting election podtepeto com

Bulgaria?s Central Election Commission opened on September 19 the process of registering candidates for the country?s November 6 2016 presidential elections.

The registration process for candidates for president and vice-president continues until October 4.

The first day saw the registration, in the name of an ?initiative committee? of Bulgarian Socialist Party presidential candidate Roumen Radev and vice-presidential candidate Iliyana Yotova. The committee is headed by BSP MP Stefan Danailov.

Prime Minister Boiko Borissov?s centre-right GERB party, the largest party in the National Assembly and the majority partner in the coalition government, has not named its presidential candidate but has said that it will do so by October 2, shortly before the deadline for registration.

The third-largest party in Parliament, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, has not yet made clear whether it will register a candidate or, if so, who it will be.

This past weekend, MRF leader Mustafa Karaday said that the party?s founder and long-time leader Ahmed Dogan ?fits the profile? of a good presidential candidate, saying that this profile was of someone who was a unifier, pro-Nato and non-partisan. Karaday said that the party had several potential candidates that fit this profile.

The National Assembly?s fourth-largest group, centre-right coalition the Reformist Bloc, is nominating former economy and energy minister Traicho Traikov for president, with General Subi Subev as its vice-presidential candidate.

The fifth-largest parliamentary group, the nationalist Patriotic Front ? a partner in the coalition government ? has got together with Volen Siderov?s Ataka, one of the two smallest parties in the National Assembly, to nominate a joint ticket of the PF?s Krassimir Karakachanov for president, with Ataka?s Yavor Notev as vice-presidential candidate.

As a footnote, amid a pre-election saga that has seen overall tardiness and difficulty among parties in naming candidates, the PF-Ataka ticket was the first announced among the parliamentary groups.

Georgi Purvanov?s ABC, which matches Ataka in having 11 MPs and thus is the other of the two smallest parliamentary groups, has nominated former cabinet minister Ivailo Kalfin as its presidential candidate. Kalfin was the BSP ?s presidential candidate in 2011, losing at the second round to GERB nominee Rossen Plevneliev.

Nominations by parties not represented in the National Assembly include the joint ticket of socialist splinter party Movement 21 and the National Movement for Stability and Progress of Movement 21 leader Tatyana Doncheva, formerly a BSP MP, as its presidential candidate, with the NSMP?s Mincho Spasov as vice-presidential candidate.

On November 6, Bulgarians are being asked to choose a successor to President Plevneliev, who has said that he is not available to stand for a second term. If no candidate wins a 50+1 victory on November 6, a second round will be held on November 13.

Bulgaria?s constitution says that to be eligible to stand in a presidential election, a candidate must be a natural-born Bulgarian citizen aged over 40 and qualified for election to the National Assembly, and must have resided in Bulgaria for the five years preceding the election. There is a two-term limit. Barring resignation, death, grave illness or impeachment, the President remains in office for five years.

The presidential election vote on November 6 is to be held simultaneously with a national referendum on three questions, including whether voting in elections and national referendums should be compulsory. The National Assembly has already legislated on this issue, making it compulsory to vote in elections and referendums, with the penalty of having the franchise withdrawn if an eligible voter fails to go to the ballot box in two consecutive elections of the same type.

This past weekend, a spokesperson for the Central Election Commission said that voting in the presidential elections would be compulsory, but voting in the referendum would not be, because the referendum was being held on the basis of a public petition.



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Plovdiv District Court dismisses chief architect over ?Tobacco Town? demolition bid

The former tobacco warehouse at 8 Odrin Street, Plovdiv, photographed on August 22 2016, more than five months after an attempt to demolish it. Photo: (c) Clive Leviev-Sawyer

The District Court in Bulgaria?s second city Plovdiv upheld on September 19 an application by the Regional Prosecutor?s Office to remove from office Chief Architect Roumen Roussev, who is facing criminal charges in connection with the attempted demolition of a former tobacco warehouse in Plovdiv?s historic ?Tobacco Town? precinct.

The court agreed that if Roussev remained in office, he could obstruct the invetigation and influence witnesses.

Roussev, along with the representative of the owners of the building in Plovdiv?s Odrin Street, face a series of criminal charges in connection with the March 2016 allegedly illegal attempt at demolishing the warehouse, a monument of culture dating back to the early 20th century when Plovdiv had a key role in the Balkan tobacco trade.

The Plovdiv Regional Prosecutor?s Office announced the court application on September 16, saying that it was being brought in the light of evidence gathered during pre-trial proceedings.

This evidence related to, among other things, the building permit for the Odrin Street property and an ongoing investigation into corruption regarding the issuing of building permits and changing of building plans. The pre-trial investigation was continuing, the Prosecutor?s Office said.

The court agreed that there was objective evidence that the accused, if left in office, could have a direct and indirect impact on witnesses employed in the same office and creat obstacles to the collection of the necessary documentary evidence held by the municipal administration.

The ruling is not final and is subject to appeal in the Plovdiv Appeal Court.

Plovdiv chief architect Roumen Roussev. Photo:

Plovdiv chief architect Roumen Roussev. Photo:

Counsel for Roussev said that the decision would be taken on appeal. He expressed astonishment that the application for Roussev?s removal was lodged in September rather than in March, and how it was that only now there was an argument that Roussev could influence staff and obstruct the investigation, although so far there had been no such danger.

Roussev?s lawyer said that Roussev had co-operated fully and voluntarily with the investigation. As a person and as a professional, Roussev had put no pressure on staff regarding the investigation, he said.

The March 2016 attempted demolition caused public outrage in Plovdiv and throughout Bulgaria. The demolition machines were stopped by Plovdiv residents who obstructed them and then by police acting on official orders.

Culture Minister Vezdhi Rashidov has issued an order for the owners to reconstruct the damaged building.

Public outrage about the fate of ?Tobacco Town?, one of the assets that the city pointed to in its successful application to be named European Capital of Culture 2019, flared again when, in August, three other ?Tobacco Town? warehouses were gutted in a huge fire.

A homeless man has been arrested and face charges of arson in connection with the August fires. He denies wrongdoing.

(Main photo, of the Odrin Street warehouse that was the subject of the attempted demolition in March, as seen in August: Clive Leviev-Sawyer)



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Chinese Belgian grid vote looms

September 19th, 2016 11:10am Posted In: Pipelines, Natural Gas News, News By Country, Belgium, Infrastructure, Corporate, Mergers & Acquisitions, Political, Investments, Natural Gas News Europe, EU

China?s State Grid Corp won a tender this year to buy 14% of Eandis, Belgium?s biggest gas and power distribution grids, through its subsidiary State Grid Europe. Shareholders are to vote on the deal October 3, and it is likely to be a lively event.

From the board?s viewpoint, the Chinese choice was a no-brainer. Sgel had easily outbid other tenders such as the Dutch and Australian pension funds APG and Australian Super/IFM by offering ?830mn ($930mn), 71% more than the ?484.5mn book value for 14%.

Eandis operator (Credit: Eandis)

Eandis operates the electricity and natural gas grids and a few district heating grids in about 80% of the towns and villages in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium. Until last year, energy concern Engie owned 21% of Eandis but European Union law requires energy producers and suppliers to dispose of their stakes in energy transport and distribution. Belgian law applies this from 2018. Few of the other shareholders ? towns, villages and the province of West Flanders ? were keen to buy Engie’s shares, however.

Opposition to the deal has become organised and alternative schemes have been put forward, including creating a co-operative, to keep all the profits in Belgium. But Eandis needs to invest and nobody else has come forward with such a large sum.

Koen Mortelmans

For more on this and other European energy investment news, please see the forthcoming issue of Natural Gas World, published on alternate Wednesdays.

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