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‘My apartment vibrates’: New Yorkers fight noisy helicopter rides

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In this file photo taken on October 14, 2019 a helicopter flies past the Statue of Liberty as the sun sets in New York City
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After a period of blissful silence overhead due to the Covid-19 pandemic, New Yorkers are dealing again with a familiar problem: noisy helicopters.

“With the bigger helicopters, my apartment vibrates,” said Melissa Elstein, who campaigns to ban non-essential chopper flights.

“They pollute our air, creating noise pollution which has negative health impacts,” the 56-year-old told AFP.

New York regularly hums with the whirr of helicopters circling the skies as tourists eye the city from above during short, pricey, sightseeing tours.

They also transport wealthy residents keen to avoid traffic jams on their way to holiday homes by the beach in the plush Hamptons.

Elstein is far from the only New Yorker unhappy at the near-constant din caused by the tens of thousands of flights every year.

Last year, the city received 25,821 calls to its hotline complaining about helicopter noise, an increase from 10,359 in 2020.

The vast majority of complaints — 21,620 — came from Manhattan.

Some respite may be in the offing.

Earlier this month, the New York state legislature approved a bill that could see companies fined $10,000 a day for generating “unreasonable” noise levels.

If Governor Kathy Hochul signs it into law, it would be the first piece of state legislation to tackle noise pollution from the helicopters.

Senator Brad Hoylman, who sponsored the bill, said that “many New Yorkers can no longer work from home comfortably, enjoy a walk along the waterfront, or keep a napping child asleep because of the incessant noise and vibrations from non-essential helicopter use.”

He noted that one helicopter produces 43 times more carbon dioxide per hour than an average car.

“Helicopter noise is not just annoying, it’s detrimental to our health and our environment,” Hoylman said in a statement.

For Andy Rosenthal — president of Stop the Chop, an organization of volunteers seeking to ban non-essential helicopter flights — the legislation does not go far enough.

“It’s a good first step. (But) it is not what we had hoped for. The fight continues,” he said.

– ‘Background noise’ –

New York City has three active heliports: two in Midtown on the Hudson and East rivers, used for corporate and chartered flights, and another near Wall Street in lower Manhattan, from which tourist flights depart.

A 15-20 minute aerial view of New York costs a minimum of about $200 per tourist.

Amid complaints, the administration of then-mayor Bill de Blasio agreed with the industry to reduce the number of tourist flights per year from 60,000 to 30,000, starting in 2017.

They also restricted tourist rides departing New York City to airspace over the rivers surrounding Manhattan, banning them from soaring above land.

Sightseeing helicopters taking off from New Jersey are allowed to fly above Manhattan though, including Central Park.

Commuter flights leaving New York City are also permitted to fly directly over buildings.

“This is an industry that doesn’t have to exist, shouldn’t exist. (Just) for the convenience of the very few,” said Elstein.

Some residents, though, have become used to the sound and accept it as a fact of living in America’s bustling financial, cultural and tourism capital.

“It’s a background noise,” said Mark Roberge, who lives near the heliport at the southern tip of Manhattan.

“It seems to be part of the experience.”

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Thousands of sheep drown as Sudan ship sinks

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Only around 700 of the 15,800 sheep on board were rescued when the overloaded cargo vessel 'Badr 1' sank at Sudan's Suakin port on Sunday
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An overladen ship crammed with thousands of sheep sank Sunday in Sudan’s Red Sea port of Suakin drowning most animals on board but with all crew surviving, officials said.

The livestock vessel was exporting the animals from Sudan to Saudi Arabia when it sank after several thousand more animals were loaded on board than it was meant to carry.

“The ship, Badr 1, sank during the early hours of Sunday morning,” a senior Sudanese port official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “It was carrying 15,800 sheep, which was beyond its load limits.”

The official said the ship was supposed to carry only 9,000 sheep.

Another official, who said that all crew were rescued, raised concerns over the economic and environmental impact of the accident.

“The sunken ship will affect the port’s operation,” the official said. 

“It will also likely have an environmental impact due to the death of the large number of animals carried by the ship”.

Omar al-Khalifa, the head of the national exporters’ association, said the ship took several hours to sink at the pier — a window that meant it “could have been rescued.”

The total value of the lost livestock “is around 14 million Saudi riyals, the equivalent of four million dollars,” said Saleh Selim, the head of the association’s livestock division, confirming also that the sheep were loaded onto the vessel at Suakin port.

He said livestock owners recovered only around 700 sheep “but they were found very ill and we don’t expect them to live long.” 

Selim called for an investigation into the incident. 

Last month, a massive fire broke out in the cargo area of Suakin port, lasting hours and causing heavy damage. It was not clear what caused the blaze.

An investigation has been launched to determine the cause of the fire, but has yet to release its findings.

The historic port town of Suakin is no longer Sudan’s main foreign trade hub, a role which has been taken by Port Sudan, some 60 kilometres (40 miles) away along the Red Sea coast.

There have been moves to redevelop Suakin port, but a 2017 deal with Turkey to restore historic buildings and expand the docks was suspended after the ouster of longtime president Omar al-Bashir. 

Sudan remains gripped by a chronic economic crisis, which has deepened following last year’s military coup led by army chief Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

The military takeover triggered punitive measures, including aid cuts by Western governments, who demanded the restoration of the transitional administration installed after Bashir was toppled.

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Despite major gas deal, energy giant warns consumers to turn down heating

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France's TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne at a signing ceremony in Doha
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TotalEnergies chief Patrick Pouyanne hailed a deal to expand production in the world’s biggest natural gas field in Qatar but told AFP on Sunday that more projects are needed and consumers will still have to “turn down the heating” to ease the growing price crisis.

The chairman and chief executive of the French multinational that is one of the world’s most powerful energy companies said putting two billion dollars into a joint venture with Qatar Energy was the company’s response to doubts expressed after it ended investment in Russia.

The deal for a 6.25-percent stake in the North Field East project was announced Sunday barely two months after TotalEnergies said it would pump no more money into Russia where it has huge natural gas interests.

Pouyanne, who has headed TotalEnergie since 2018, told AFP the deal was part of a “success story” with Qatar, where it struck a first accord in 1986. 

“It comes at the right time. Some were asking the question what would TotalEnergies do in place of Russia? This is the answer,” he said in an interview.

“We have announced projects in the United States. We wanted another one. We have added Qatar to the portfolio.”

The company is determined to remain a leader in liquefied natural gas (LNG), he stressed.

Pouyanne said his company would help build a new LNG train, or production factory, for North Field East but the speed of recovering the $2-billion investment would depend on market prices.

– Consumers beware – 

Higher energy prices have gripped Europe with some governments wondering how they will get through the next winter without Russian supplies which are being cut because of the Ukraine war.

Qatar, one of the world’s top three natural gas producers with the United States and Australia, has warned it cannot send more in the short term.

Pouyanne said that consumers “who want electricity all the time”, must use less.

“What consumers can do is turn down the heating a bit in Europe. At the moment there is no heating because it is summer. But my advice is not too much air conditioning either,” he said.

Pouyanne also said more investment in production is needed to “bring prices down”.

The new natural gas complex in Qatar will only be ready at the end of 2025 or early 2026, he said. “We need more to stabilise the market. That’s important.”

TotalEnergies, like Qatar Energy, also wants more medium- and long-term contracts in Europe.

European governments have in recent years refused long-term deals so they can take advantage of market falls.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has forced them to change their policy and many have made approaches to Qatar in recent months.

Qatar is attractive, Pouyanne added, because it sells to China, Japan, South Korea and India in Asia, but can also provide Europe.

“Competitive production costs, liquefication costs that benefit from economies of scale and a good position, that is why Qatar has become a leader for liquefied natural gas.”

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TotalEnergies takes $2 billion foothold in Qatar’s giant gas expansion

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Qatar's Energy Minister and CEO of QatarEnergy Saad Sherida al-Kaabi (R) and French energy group TotalEnergies CEO Patrick Pouyanne attend a signing ceremony in Doha
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Qatar on Sunday named France’s TotalEnergies as its first foreign partner to expand the world’s largest natural gas field and eventually help ease Europe’s energy fears.

The French energy major will spend an estimated $2 billion for a 6.25-percent share of the giant North Field East project that will help Qatar increase its liquefied natural gas (LNG) production by more than 60 percent by 2027, TotalEnergies chief executive Patrick Pouyanne told AFP.

Qatar’s Energy Minister Saad Sherida al-Kaabi called the joint venture “a marriage more than an engagement” as it will last until 2054.

Other foreign firms will also take stakes in North Field with state-owned Qatar Energy (QE) but none will be bigger than TotalEnergies, said Kaabi, who did not reveal names.

Industry sources say ExxonMobil, Shell and ConocoPhillips are all in line to take part in the giant $28-billion expansion, that Qatar had originally wanted to finance alone.

“We have finished the selection process and we have signed the agreements,” Kaabi said, adding that names would be announced in the “near future”.

With European nations scrambling to find alternatives to Russian oil and gas, LNG from North Field is expected to start coming on line in 2026.

Pouyanne said the company’s biggest deal with Qatar would help make up for the company’s withdrawal from Russia in the wake of the Ukraine invasion.

“Some were asking the question what would TotalEnergies do in place of Russia, this is the answer,” Pouyanne told AFP.

“We have also announced projects in the United States, now we have added Qatar to the portfolio. We are number two in the world for natural gas and intend to stay there.”

– Hard bargain –

Without giving figures, Pouyanne indicated that Qatar had demanded a high price in the talks that started in 2019.

“Your team and yourself have been a very good defender of Qatar’s interests in this project,” he said in comments to the minister who is also the QE chief.

“Qatar Energy certainly drove a hard bargain. But for the biggest global LNG players like Shell and TotalEnergies, Qatar is too good to pass up. A stake in these LNG trains delivers scale, low-cost supply, great marketing opportunities, and a good partner,” said Ben Cahill, an energy security specialist at the Center for Security and International Studies in Washington.

Qatar is already one of the world’s top LNG producers, alongside the United States and Australia. 

QE estimates that North Field holds about 10 percent of the world’s known natural gas reserves.

The reserves extend under the sea into Iranian territory, where Tehran’s efforts to exploit its South Pars gas field have been hindered by international sanctions.

South Korea, Japan and China have become the main markets for Qatar’s LNG but since an energy crisis hit Europe last year, the Gulf state has helped Britain with extra supplies and also announced a cooperation deal with Germany.

Europe has in the past rejected the long-term deals that Qatar seeks for its energy but the Ukraine conflict has forced a change in attitude.

Qatar’s expansion “underlines its position as a leader in this industry”, said Bill Farren-Price, head of macro oil and gas research at the Enverus energy consultancy.

“With gas balances tight globally amid reduced Russian gas exports to Europe, LNG is a key and growing component in the energy transition and Qatar is determined to leverage its world-class North Field reserves to capture additional value through this deal.”

The Ukraine conflict has also injected a new urgency into efforts around the world to develop new sources.

Tanzania on Saturday signed a framework agreement with British and Norwegian energy giants Shell and Equinor towards implementing a $30-billion project to export its natural gas.

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