US oil field behind ethane emission uptick

An oil and natural gas field in the western United States is largely responsible for a global uptick of ethane emissions, according to a new study.

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The team led by researchers at the University of Michigan found that fossil fuel production at the Bakken Formation in North Dakota and Montana is emitting roughly 2 per cent of the ethane detected in the earth’s atmosphere.

Along with its chemical cousin methane, ethane is a hydrocarbon that is a significant component of natural gas. Once in the atmosphere, ethane reacts with sunlight to form ozone, which can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, especially in children and the elderly. Ethane can also harm agricultural crops. Ozone also ranks as the third-largest contributor to human-caused global warming after carbon dioxide and methane.

“We didn’t expect one region to have such a global influence,” said Eric Kort, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of climatic science at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

The study was launched after a mountaintop sensor in the European Alps began registering surprising spikes in ethane concentrations in the atmosphere starting in 2010, following decades of declines.

The increase, which has continued over the last five years, was noted at the same time new horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing techniques were fuelling a boom of oil and gas production from previously inaccessible shale rock formations in the United States.

Searching for the source of the ethane, an aircraft from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2014 sampled air from directly overhead and downwind of drilling rigs in the Bakken region. Those measurements showed ethane emissions far higher than what was being reported to the government by oil and gas companies.

The findings solve an atmospheric mystery – where that extra ethane was coming from, said Colm Sweeney, a study co-author from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

The researchers said other US oil and gas fields, especially the Eagle Ford in Texas, were also likely contributing to the global rise in ethane concentrations. Ethane gets into the air through leaks from drilling rigs, gas storage facilities and pipelines, as well as from intentional venting and gas burnoffs from extraction operations.

“We need to take these regions into account because it could really be impacting air quality in a way that might matter across North America,” Kort said.

Regulators at the Environmental Protection Agency were reviewing the study’s results.

There are other ways ethane gets into the atmosphere – including wildfires and natural seepage from underground gas reserves. But fossil fuel extraction is the dominant source, accounting for roughly 60 to 70 per cent of global emissions, according to a 2013 study from researchers at the University of California.

‘Monstrous’ violence in Syria as government excludes Aleppo from truce

A new “regime of calm” would begin from 1:00 a.

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m. on Saturday and last one day in the capital’s eastern Ghouta suburb and three days in the northern countryside of the coastal province of Latakia, the army said in a statement.

But by excluding the city of Aleppo, scene of the worst recent violence, the narrow truces were unlikely to resurrect a ceasefire and peace talks that have collapsed this week.

In the worst recent attack, an air strike destroyed a hospital in a rebel-held area overnight on Wednesday-Thursday. The French charity Medecins sans Frontieres, which supported the hospital, said on Friday the death toll had risen to at least 50, including six medics.

A Syrian military source said Aleppo was excluded from the newly announced truces “because in Aleppo there are terrorists who have not stopped hitting the city and its residents … There are a large number of martyrs in Aleppo, which is why the situation is different there”.

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Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted the officer in charge of a Russian ceasefire monitoring center as saying the truces meant all military action would cease in the covered areas.

Damascus described the truces as an attempt to salvage a wider “cessation of hostilities” agreement in place since February. That ceasefire, sponsored by Washington and Moscow, allowed peace talks to start but has all but completely collapsed in recent days along with the Geneva negotiations.

Violence was “soaring back to the levels we saw prior to the cessation of hostilities,” said United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein.

“There are deeply disturbing reports of military build-ups indicating preparations for a lethal escalation,” Zeid said in a statement that described a “monstrous disregard for civilian lives by all parties to the conflict”.

‘I dread more horror’

The United Nations has called on Moscow and Washington to help restore the ceasefire to prevent the collapse of peace talks, which broke up this week in Geneva with virtually no progress after the opposition walked out.

“The cessation of hostilities and the Geneva talks were the only game in town, and if they are abandoned now, I dread to think how much more horror we will see in Syria,” Zeid said.

The United States said on Friday that it was in discussions with Russia to renew the cessation of hostilities and was seeking a halt to fighting in Latakia and eastern Ghouta as a test case before trying to extend ceasefires throughout the country.

“We are in touch with the opposition and it is our expectation they will comply,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner said of the Latakia and Ghouta ceasefires.

Asked why the United States did not try to get a halt to the violence in Aleppo, Toner said, “In part it is a recognition that Aleppo is very complex and the fighting around there is indeed alarming. We need to start somewhere and we’re going to start with Latakia and east Ghouta.”

Aleppo, Syria’s largest city before the war, has been divided for years between rebel and government zones. Full control would be the most important prize for President Bashar al-Assad, who has been fighting to keep hold of his country throughout a five-year civil war. U.N. mediator Staffan de Mistura has said that up to 400,000 people have been killed.

Since Russia joined the war last year with air strikes against Assad’s enemies, battlefield momentum has shifted in the government’s favor.

Hundreds of thousands of people still live in rebel zones of Aleppo, and the countryside to the north includes the only stretch of the Turkish-Syrian border still in the hands of Assad’s main opponents, Arab Sunni Muslim rebel groups.

Opposition groups have accused the government of deliberately targeting civilians so they would abandon the area.

“The aim of what is happening in Aleppo now is to put pressure on us to accept the smallest demands and conditions proposed by Bashar al-Assad,” chief opposition negotiator Asaad al-Zoubi said in an interview with Al Jazeera television.

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“The truce which they are talking about today is so the regime can prepare its forces again, especially because it failed to take control of Aleppo.”

The leader of the opposition High Negotiations Committee, Riyad Hijab, wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon accusing the government of “horrifying daily massacres” and “the besiegement and starvation of cities, towns and villages”. He demanded the U.N. Security Council force Assad to stop.

Rebels have targeted government areas with aggressive shelling, which Damascus has said is proof that they are receiving weapons from abroad.

Air strikes, shelling

Commenting on the hospital air strike, International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Ewan Watson told Reuters in Geneva, “It is unacceptable … But it is up to an investigator and it is for a court to take that decision on whether it is a war crime or not.”

Late on Friday, the organization called for an immediate halt in the attacks, saying another four medical facilities on both sides of the frontlines in Aleppo had been damaged extensively.

“There can be no justification for these appalling acts of violence deliberately targeting hospitals and clinics, which are prohibited under International Humanitarian Law,” Marianne Gasser, head of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Syria, said in a statement.

“People keep dying in these attacks. There is no safe place anymore in Aleppo. Even in hospitals. For the sake of people in Aleppo, we call for all to stop this indiscriminate violence.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a British-based monitoring group, said air strikes and government shelling had killed at least 142 civilians including 21 children in rebel areas in the past eight days, while rebel shelling of government areas had killed 84 civilians including 14 children.

The Observatory said at least 11 civilians were killed on Friday in rebel areas and 13 in government areas. In the rebel-held zones, more were trapped under fallen buildings destroyed in helicopter strikes.

Bebars Mishal, a civil defense chief working in rebel-held areas of Aleppo, told Reuters there were a number of air attacks in the morning, many of them around mosques in rebel-held areas. Mishal said one hit a clinic in Aleppo’s Al-Marja district.

Syrian state media said a number of people had been killed and wounded and fires started during shelling of government-held quarters in Aleppo, which included a hit on a mosque as people were leaving Friday prayers.

Sharks face Broncos acid NRL test

After years of being there or thereabouts, Cronulla are being touted as the real deal in 2016 but are set to receive an acid test on Sunday against ladder leaders Brisbane.

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The Sharks’ NRL premiership window looks wide open with the inspired recruitment of James Maloney and Chad Townsend propelling them to their best form in years.

While they have based their game on their defensive resolve in years gone past, they have started the season as one of the best-attacking teams, and suddenly look like the complete package.

After eight games, they have scored 189 points, the third-best attacking start to a season after eight rounds in the club’s history, according to Fox Sports Stats.

They are also fourth in the competition for points scored (23.6 per game) and tries (3.9 per game).

A five-game winning streak has them inside the top four but whether they can go to the next level remains to be seen.

“They’re a much better team than they were last year,” Broncos coach Wayne Bennett said.

“And that’s what we’re all trying to be. They’ve got quality players and they are exciting players.”

It also shapes as a pressure test for the Broncos, who are without hooker Andrew McCullough (knee) and Adam Blair (suspension).

New Zealand international Kodi Nikorima gets his chance to start at No.9 with Travis Waddell to come onto the bench while Herman Ese’ese is also set to come into the 17.

“I think it’s just a good challenge, full stop,” Bennett said.

“They’re playing pretty good football and they’ll be keen to get to us …

“We’re always confident of who we put in the team and this is no different with Adam and Macca missing.”

STATS THAT MATTER:

* Brisbane have a strong defensive record so far this season, conceding the fewest points (10.1 per game), least tries (1.6 per game) and the second-fewest line breaks (2.4 per game)

* Cronulla have a poor history against Brisbane, winning just 19 of 50 matches (38 per cent)

* Brisbane winger Corey Oates has scored three tries in the opening 10 minutes of matches this season and has crossed for the opener in three games

Source: Fox Sports Stats

US strike on Afghan hospital in 2015 not a war crime: Pentagon

Forty-two people were killed and 37 were wounded during an October 3 strike that destroyed the hospital run by the international medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), known as Doctors Without Borders in English.

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An initial US investigation in November found that US forces had meant to target a different building in the city of Kunduz and were led off-track by a technical error in their aircraft’s mapping system.

“The investigation concluded that certain personnel failed to comply with the rules of engagement and the law of armed conflict,” General Joseph Votel, commander of US Central Command, said in a news briefing on Friday to release the final report. “However, the investigation did not conclude that these failures amounted to a war crime.”

This is because none of the service members were aware that they were striking a hospital, Votel said.

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The incident was caused by “unintentional human errors, process errors, and equipment failures,” he said. Fatigue and “high operational tempo” were also factors, he added.

MSG President Meinie Nicolai responded in a news release that the briefing amounted to “an admission of an uncontrolled military operation in a densely populated urban area, during which U.S. forces failed to follow the basic laws of war.”

MSF said the disciplinary action announced on Thursday against 16 service members over the air strike, including a general, was too light.

It is “out of proportion to the destruction of a protected medical facility,” MSF said.

The report said condolence payments had been made to more than 170 individuals and families and $5.7 million had been approved to reconstruct the MSF facility.

Votel said $3,000 had been paid for those injured, and $6,000 for those killed.

Many victims of the strike in Afghanistan said in interviews that they were unsatisfied with the findings and actions being taken by the United States.

“There’s a lot of talking without much happening,” said Obaidullah Nazari, who survived in the basement when his brother, a patient at the hospital, died in the attack.

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Votel said that even though fewer U.S. forces were on the ground than in previous years, he was comfortable with the ability of the military to evaluate risk factors.

The Obama administration plans to keep 5,500 troops in Afghanistan into 2017 for training and counter-terrorism operations, down from about 9,800 now.

The report said General John Campbell, who was then head of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, took action against 12 personnel involved in the strike.

“The actions included suspension and removal from command, letters of reprimand, formal counseling and extensive retraining,” the report said.

The other personnel were investigated by Votel.

Stuart blows up at NRL field goal decision

Canberra coach Ricky Stuart has blown up about the NRL bunker failing to penalise Penrith for setting up a wall that led to Peter Wallace’s game-winning field goal.

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Wallace nailed a 25 metre field goal in the 79th minute of their 19-18 win over the Raiders in Bathurst.

Referee Gavin Reynolds awarded the one-pointer, but called on the bunker to adjudicate whether Raiders forward Paul Vaughan was impeded from marker to chase down the attempt.

Review official Luke Patten stood by Reynolds’ decision, explaining that there was enough space for Vaughan to run through to put pressure on Wallace.

Stuart saw it differently.

“There’s a new rule this year in place where you’re not allowed to have blockers to impede a player that’s chasing down the kicker of a field goal. We had a player who was impeded by two blockers,” he said.

The Raiders coach was also upset with the referees for missing Panthers rake James Segeyaro being offside on his chargedown of Aidan Sezer’s attempt in the dying moments of the match.

“I didn’t see him onside. I saw him offside,” he said.

Stuart said he felt for the officials, who he believed lack the courage to penalise teams at the death.

“The referees should’ve actually went and ruled on what they seen, and set it up to the bloke up here,” he said.

“We’re really pushing them into the corner, the poor referees. I feel sorry for them because they’re that nervous and that petrified of making a decision, the poor buggers.”

Stuart also said that he prepared his team to face a Penrith side whose every game this year has gone down to the wire, but was frustrated that the game was decided by what he claimed was a wrong call.

“We should’ve kicked our field goal, I agree with that. But theirs wasn’t a field goal,” he said.

UN proposal seeks hospitals war protection

A proposed UN resolution that supporters hope will be adopted next week demands that all parties to conflicts protect medical personnel, hospitals and medical facilities against violence and attacks – and face justice if they don’t.

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The draft resolution circulated on Friday expresses deep concern that the number of attacks is increasing despite obligations under international law that combatants protect medical staff and facilities as well as the sick and wounded.

New Zealand’s UN ambassador Gerard van Bohemen, a co-author of the resolution, said the bombing of an important hospital in the Syrian city of Aleppo that killed more than 50 people on Wednesday including patients and staff “sadly demonstrates why the resolution is so timely”.

New Zealand’s UN Mission said the Security Council will vote on the resolution on Tuesday and members will be briefed by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the presidents of Doctors Without Borders and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The resolution – also drafted by elected Security Council members Spain, Egypt, Japan and Uruguay – would strongly condemn all violence, attacks and threats against the wounded and sick, medical personnel and medical facilities.

It reminds all governments and fighters that under international law any intentional attack against hospitals and places where the sick and wounded are collected is a war crime, and so are attacks intentionally directed against buildings, vehicles and personnel using the distinctive emblems of the Geneva Conventions including a red cross.

It strongly condemns “the prevailing impunity” for attacks and abuses against medical staff and facilities and strongly urges governments to conduct independent investigations of all violations.

Less errors key to Tactix netball revival

Coach Sue Hawkins says the Mainland Tactix are unpredictable again this season.

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Only now, it’s in a good way.

The Tactix face the Central Pulse in Porirua on Sunday in a clash of the two second-placed teams in the New Zealand conference.

Both share the same one win/one draw/two loss record and are seeking to make up ground on leaders the Southern Steel.

It’s almost bordering on a dizzying start for the Christchurch-based Tactix, the league’s perennial strugglers who managed just a solitary win last year.

Australian Hawkins says the difference in 2016 is already obvious.

“Our error rate last year was huge per game and it was unpredictable who was going to do it,” she told NZ Newswire.

“This year, we’ve nearly halved it.

“The reason is we’re fitter than we’ve ever been so we can sustain our skill to a higher level for longer.”

Hawkins said Monday’s last gasp 56-55 win over the Northern Mystics had injected her players with self-belief.

They were also buzzing about the form of their new shooting mix, with Silver Ferns goal shoot Bailey Mes thriving alongside Malawi international Mwai Kumwenda.

Hawkins says Kumwenda has proved a revelation when given a run at goal attack, where opposition defences aren’t sure what’s coming next.

“She’s unorthodox, you’re not really sure what she’s going to do, but she’s enjoying it,” she said.

“Mwayi and Bailey have a great understanding. They’re still building and I believe that they’re only going to get stronger.”

Hawkins expects the Pulse to be hungry for victory on their home court following a heavy loss last week to the Steel.

Lions face tough task against Swans

The Brisbane Lions are chalking up their heavy loss last week as a “bad day” but face a huge task in reversing their AFL fortunes against Sydney on Sunday.

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It’s been a tough start to the season as expected for the struggling Lions, culminating in their 53-point thumping at the hands of the Western Bulldogs last weekend.

Beaten in almost every department – crucially in their Achilles heel, contested football – coach Justin Leppitsch accused his players of getting ahead of themselves after their first win of the year the week before against Gold Coast.

The in-form Swans are heavy favourites to take care of Brisbane at the Gabba and Leppitsch knows they’ll need an instant turnaround from last week.

“It has always been a focus but we were poor in that area (contested football) on the weekend,” he said.

“(But) we all had a bad one, coaches included.

“Everyone has to leave the game and ask what could I have done better?

“It was just a bad day for us as a footy club – we want to rectify that. We haven’t had too many poor performances so far this year.”

Ruckman Stefan Martin, who will play his 100th AFL game, said playing in the comfort of their home ground will at least help the Lions get back in the right mindset.

“I think we play decent footy at the Gabba but when we travel we get paralysed a bit psychologically,” Martin said.

“We tend to get a bit passive whereas here we are aggressive, we have to make sure we play away as well as we do at home.”

The Lions have not beaten Sydney since 2009, with the Swans having notched a 4-1 record after five rounds.

Key defender Aliir Aliir, a Sudanese refugee, is in line to make his AFL debut for Sydney, while Brisbane has rested prized draftee Josh Schache has they look to ease the spearhead into his first season.

Promising midfielder Ben Keays, a product of Brisbane’s academy system, has also been handed a maiden chance at AFL level.

Former PNG opposition leader ‘over the moon’ after court rules Manus detention illegal

Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court has ruled Australia’s detention of asylum seekers on Manus Island is illegal and the two governments must end the detention of asylum seekers in PNG.

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The case was brought by former opposition leader Belden Namah in 2013. The initial case was rejected, before being relodged in 2014.

It centred on whether the memorandum of understanding between Australia and PNG to house Australian immigration detention facilities was in breach of the PNG constitution.

The lawyer acting for Mr Namah, Loani Henao, told SBS that the “decision is that Australia and PNG are to take steps forthwith not to breach further the constitutional rights of the asylum seekers”.

“Section 42 of PNG’s constitution, it guarantees freedom of persons entering the country, including foreigners. Unless the foreigner has broken some law of this country, then they will be subjected to detention or placed in custody,” he said.

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“The asylum seekers that have come in here are not of their own volition, but at the Australia and PNG governments’ own arrangement.

“They brought the asylum seekers into the country against their will and so (the asylum seekers) have not broken any Papua New Guinea law, yet they were kept in custody in the detention centre and that breaches Section 42 of our constitution.”

Mr Henao said the decision meant two Memorandum of Understandings signed between Australia and PNG in 2012 and 2013 setting up the Manus processing centre were “unconstitutional and have no effect”.

He said further action would be taken against the PNG government for contempt of court if it did not act quickly to implement today’s decision.

“They must demonstrate they are taking steps to give full effect to the orders of the Supreme Court,” he said.

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Mr Henao said Mr Namah was “over the moon” with the decision.

But in a statement to SBS, a spokesman for Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said the decision was made by PNG and Australia was not party to the proceedings.

“It does not alter Australia’s border protection policies – they remain unchanged,” the spokesman said.

“Those in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre found to be refugees are able to resettle in Papua New Guinea.

“Those found not to be refugees should return to their country of origin.

“People who have attempted to come illegally by boat and are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia.”

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The Australian Human Rights Commission has welcomed the court decision.

“This ruling is further confirmation that Australia’s detention policies are increasingly out of step with international norms,” said Commission President Professor Gillian Triggs.

“The Court’s decision affirms the Commission’s long-standing concern that the prolonged and indefinite detention of refugees and asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea may lead to breaches of our obligations under international law.”

Aurora Adams, Human Rights Campaigner for GetUp, told SBS the government needed to bring detainees to Australia.

“It is time to stop the abuse of vulnerable people who only ask for safety and the opportunity to rebuild their lives,” Ms Adams said.

“The moral case is clear, there is no justification for locking people in offshore prison camps indefinitely.”  

The Manus Island processing centre currently holds 850 men.

Another case brought by the detainees themselves, challenging the legitimacy of their detention, is still before the courts.

Read the decision here:

Freo face balancing act, says coach Lyon

Fremantle coach Ross Lyon concedes he’s facing a delicate balancing act after collecting an unwanted AFL record.

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The Dockers slipped to a 33-point loss to Adelaide on Saturday – their sixth consecutive defeat in a grim season.

The Crows’ 14.13 (97) to 8.16 (64) win at Adelaide Oval gives Fremantle an inglorious record: they’re the first club in AFL history to finish minor premiers the previous year and start the next season with six straight losses.

“I have always coached with huge expectation – there was coming in this year,” Lyon said.

“Clearly we have disappointed so then you have to realign and think `where are we at?’.”

Lyon said the realignment was delicate – regenerating the Dockers while not disrespecting seasoned campaigners.

“It’s hard to keep your full integrity for selection but as long as our young players are giving great effort and trying their hardest, then you can pick them,” he said.

“You have got to be careful when you’re picking a team that you keep integrity because you can’t value things and say you value things, and then pick people that aren’t exhibiting those values.”

Lyon said he remained enthusiastic despite the Dockers’ unheralded predicament.

“Every day I wake up, I see opportunity … I see possibility,” he said.

“And everything starts with possibility. See where you want to be and get into action and keep the action until you achieve.

“How long that takes, I don’t know. But I know that model works.”

What didn’t work for Lyon’s Dockers on Saturday was kicking at goal – Freo were a wasteful 3.14 at three quarter-time, 32 points behind the Crows.

“The scoreboard didn’t reflect how well we were going,” he said.

The frequent misses gifted the Crows control en route to a fourth win of the season.

“We played an opposition that was desperate, was coming off a poor start to the season,” Adelaide coach Don Pyke said.

“And whilst we maybe didn’t play to the standard we wanted to play to, it was really pleasing we found a way (to win).”

Adelaide ace Eddie Betts kicked four goals and vice-captain Rory Sloane was influential with 31 disposals but what pleased Pyke most was the spread of contributors – the Crows had 18 players who collected more than 15 disposals.

“We are not relying on one or two players to get it done and I’m seeing as a real strength,” Pyke said.