U.S. consulting with IEA on Iran

WASHINGTON, Feb. 29 (UPI) — The U.S. Energy Department is consulting with the International Energy Agency about the potential for an oil crisis with Iran, a spokeswoman said.

Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives last week called on the White House to tap into strategic oil reserves to lower gasoline prices. Retail gasoline prices in the United States are around $3.64 a gallon, an increase of more than 10 cents from last week, gasbuddy.com reports.

Iran in February announced a decision to halt crude oil deliveries to British and French markets, leading to higher oil prices as investors expressed worry about long-term trends. Oil prices account for about 70 percent of the prices at the pump.

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu was quoted by Bloomberg News as saying the White House was “concerned” about Iranian developments and “working” with the International Energy Agency.

The IEA last year called on member states to release strategic reserves to offset market disruptions brought on by the war in oil-rich Libya.

Energy Department spokeswoman Jen Stutsman told Bloomberg that Chu wasn’t specifically discussing “a potential release” of strategic reserves with the IEA.

“As we do in our normal course of business, we continue to work with the IEA to monitor global oil supplies and demand,” she said.

Canada gives preliminary OK for new pipeline

CALGARY, Alberta, Feb. 29 (UPI) — The Canadian government said it conditionally approved plans by a division of TransCanada to expand natural gas pipeline capacity in the country’s west.

The National Energy Board announced it approved of three natural gas loops in northeastern British Columbia and northwestern Alberta. The 69-mile loops make up the so-called Northwest Mainline Expansion Project submitted by NOVA Gas Transmission Ltd., TransCanada’s Alberta division.

The $325 million project will link natural gas supplies in the region to markets in Canada and the United States, the NEB said.

“The NEB’s approval of this project is contingent on conditions that (NOVA) must meet,” the agency said in a statement. “The conditions relate to pipeline integrity, the protection of the environment, protection and monitoring of caribou habitat, and matters of public and Aboriginal consultation.”

The company estimates production from shale and conventional natural gas plays in the region could reach around 3.5 million cubic feet per day by 2025.

Mongolia to tap wind power

ULAN BATOR, Mongolia, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Construction on Mongolia’s first wind farm is to start next month.

The $100 million Salkhit — “windy mountain” — project, 40 miles southeast of Ulan Bator, Mongolia’s capital city, is expected to generate nearly 5 percent of Mongolia’s current electricity demands.

Scheduled to be fully commissioned by the end of the year, Salkhit will be the third-largest power plant in the country and produce about 168.5 million kilowatt hours of electricity, while avoiding 185,500 tons of carbon emissions, said developer Mongolian investment firm Newcom Group.

Under an agreement signed last November with Newcom, GE will supply 1.6 megawatt wind turbines for the project.

About the size of Alaska, Mongolia has a vast untapped potential for wind energy, via its sparsely populated plains and wind corridor along the Gobi desert. It now has about 800 megawatts of installed wind power capacity.

Data from the National Renewable Energy Center of Mongolia indicate the country has enough good-to-excellent wind resources to produce more than 2,550 terawatt hours per year. That estimate increases to more than 8,123 terawatt hours annually when moderate-level wind resources and rural power capabilities are included.

The South Gobi region is estimated to have more than 300,000 megawatts of wind power potential.

One of the fastest-growing economies in the world, fueled by exploration of its rich natural resources such as coal and copper, Mongolia’s electricity demand is expected to double in 15 years.

“People always explain to me that 80 percent of our territory is covered with coal. Well, yes, but 100 percent is covered with wind,” Newcom Chief Executive Officer Bayanjargal Byambasaikhan told The New York Times.

Because it is Mongolia’s first major wind power project, he said Salkhit experienced some delays while new legal and regulatory frameworks were developed and it has cost nearly 40 percent more than a comparable project in the United States.

“The rest of the energy sector is all state-owned. We are essentially breaking a monopoly,” Byambasaikhan said, adding that he is confident the facility will run smoothly and he aims to boost wind capacity in the country 20 times by 2025.

GE has said that its participation in Salkhit underscores the company’s “commitment to grow in one of the most challenging yet fastest-growing emerging regions.” Last May, GE opened a representative office in Ulan Bator.

In 2010 GE and Newcom signed an agreement to explore alliances in key areas such as energy, water, mining, aviation, railway, lighting and healthcare.

Scotland funds small green technology

EDINBURGH, Scotland, Feb. 29 (UPI) — The more than $5 million available in research funding would help Scottish businesses develop low-carbon technology, the Scottish government said.

Scottish officials announced that they awarded $5.4 million in development funds to six university programs aimed at developing low-carbon technologies, products and services for up to 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the country.

“Collectively they form a comprehensive, coherent and integrated work program that will increase the extent of quality of knowledge exchange with industry,” Scottish Finance Secretary John Swinney said in a statement.

Scotland has some of the most ambitious renewable energy targets in Europe. The government aims to meet 100 percent of the electricity demand through renewable energy resources by 2020.

The Scottish government of First Minister Alex Salmond announced plans for a referendum for independence by 2014. He added that an independent Scotland would be able to export as much as half of the electricity it generates by 2020.

Britain, Bangladesh team for renewables

LONDON, Feb. 29 (UPI) — British officials announced they signed a memorandum of understanding with Bangladesh to encourage the development of renewable energy projects.

The British Department of Energy and Climate Change announced the MOU with the Bangladeshi government. It aims to team British universities and institutes with Bangladeshi counterparts to develop research projects on renewable energy.

“International collaboration on research is vital to make renewable energy viable for developing countries and help tackle climate change,” British Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said in a statement.

Experts working for the United Nations called on Bangladesh to ensure adequate safeguards are in place should a permit for an open-pit coal mine be approved. The envoys expressed concern that plans for the mine in northwestern Bangladesh could displace more than 200,000 people.

U.N. experts said the mine would destroy as much as 12,000 hectares of agricultural land. The mine would extract more than 570 million tons of coal over 36 years.

London said Bangladesh has experienced sustained economic growth for more than 10 years and now has important decisions to make regarding its energy sector.

Kiev wants big players in shale reserves

KIEV, Ukraine, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Ukraine aims to attract “big international companies” to its lucrative natural gas fields during an auction, a natural resources official said.

Ukraine officials said they would auction the rights to around 70 percent of the production from two natural gas deposits in the country.

“The tender will take place by April 23,” State Geology and Resources Service spokeswoman Maryna Pekarchuk told Bloomberg News. “We expect big international companies to participate.”

U.S. supermajor Exxon Mobil signed a deal with state-run energy company Naftogaz last year. Other major energy companies expressing interest include Italy’s Eni and Royal Dutch Shell.

Anglo-Russian energy company TNK-BP, a joint venture between BP and Russian billionaires, also has plans to bid for shale gas licenses in Ukraine.

Ukraine consumed more than 1.8 trillion cubic feet of Russian gas in 2010 and energy ties between the countries looms large in regional energy security matters. As much as 80 percent of Russia’s gas heads through Ukraine’s pipeline system en route to Europe.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates Ukraine has as much as 42 trillion cubic feet of shale natural gas.

Gazprom discusses South Stream contracts

MOSCOW, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Russian officials met with directors to discuss the environmental impact and engineering design contracts for the South Stream pipeline, said Gazprom.

Russian natural gas company Gazprom officials met with top executives from the South Stream project, including the project’s director, Marcel Kramer, in Moscow.

“Special attention was paid to selection of contractors for the environmental impact assessment and front-end engineering design,” Gazprom said in a statement.

South Stream is a planned natural gas pipeline meant to diversity to Russian gas export options. Around 80 percent of Russian gas heads through the gas transit system in Ukraine and South Stream would avoid that territory by passing through the Black Sea to southern European markets.

The pipeline is designed to carry as much as 2.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas to Europe each year. A final investment decision is expected by November and construction should begin in December, Gazprom said.

Natural gas supplies should start moving through South Stream by late 2015.

Rena officers plead guilty

WELLINGTON, New Zealand, Feb. 29 (UPI) — The New Zealand government said the master and second officer of the stricken cargo vessel Rena pleaded guilty to 10 of the 11 charges they faced.

Maritime New Zealand announced both officers pleaded guilty to all but one of the charges. The second officer, whose name was withheld, pleaded innocent to a charge relating to the “discharge of harmful substances from ships or offshore installations.”

Rena struck a reef off the coast of New Zealand in October. It broke apart earlier this year and salvage teams are working to get the remaining containers off the vessel.

The ship spilled around 2,000 barrels of oil into the sea when it hit the reef. MNZ, the agency responding to the disaster, had removed most of the oil from the Rena by December.

The most serious charge, attempting to obstruct justice by altering ship’s documents before the grounding, carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The Rena’s master faces four of those charges while the second officer faces three.

Both men face sentencing May 25.

Mercosur keen to profit from Arab markets

BRASILIA, Brazil, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Latin America’s Mercosur trade bloc is keen to profit from Arab cash investments and expanding consumer markets while talks with the European Union on a free trade agreement remain stalled, officials said.

Brazilian government ministers have been wooing Arab investors after a visit to the United Arab Emirates and plans for similar initiatives in other oil-rich Arab states in the Persian Gulf region.

A Mercosur-Arab trade deal is far from sealed but Brazil made a promising start, winning pledges of Arab direct investments in the country and greater access to the gulf’s consumer markets.

Brazil has been cultivating the Arab region for decades and ran a lucrative arms trade with former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s 1980s conflict with Iran.

Despite winning new concessions, however, Brazil ruled out an early deal on Arab petrochemical exports to Latin America, a key topic for Persian Gulf states seeking markets for their refineries.

A Mercosur deal with the GCC region, if finalized, would require parliamentary approval from each of the member states in the trade pact, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay as full members and Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru as associates.

Venezuela, a full member, is awaiting Paraguayan ratification of its membership but is seen in both the Persian Gulf and Europe as a lucrative consumer market for both Arab and European exporters.

Brazilian Trade and Industry Minister Fernando Pimentel said after talks in Dubai both sides stand to benefit from a deal but free trade agreements between Arab states and Mercosur member states may take time.

“Brazil’s intention is to sign (a trade agreement) as quickly as possible but it cannot speak on behalf of the whole Mercosur,” he said. “The matter must pass the parliaments of those four countries before it can be signed,” Pimentel said, referring to founding members Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and Brazil.

He couldn’t say how soon Mercosur and the GCC would sign a trade agreement.

More than 10 percent of $60 billion in international investment channeled into Brazil last year is believed to be from Arab countries, officials said.

The Brazilian government says it will spend $403.5 billion on infrastructure projects through 2014, when it is the host country for the FIFA World Cup. Pimentel said the investment was needed to keep pace between Brazil’s export income and inward investment ratio and the facilities on ground to handle those large sums of cash.

At present, the Brazilian economic and financial infrastructure is struggling to cope with the virtual flood of cash.

Brazilian business and industrial sectors complain of red tape and inefficient customs clearance procedures.

Senior Brazilian officials said developing closer financial and trade links with the cash-rich Arab region was part of a national strategy to shield the economy from any potential fallout of the eurozone crisis.

More Brazilian companies are set to open offices in Dubai, officials said.

In the meantime, free trade talks with Europe remain stalled, partly a response to the eurozone crisis.

A European Commission report on trade talks with Mercosur accused the Latin American trade pact members of protectionist policies and singled out Argentina and Brazil for criticism.

“With protectionism as an ever present threat, we need to ensure that trade continues to be open to promote growth and jobs,” EC Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said.

The report said there were “no improvements” in the protectionism outlook in Mercosur countries. However, it said, talks could resolve existing issues and even lead to a much-awaited free trade treaty between the two blocs.

EU urges quicker energy market reforms

BRUSSELS, Feb. 29 (UPI) — Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania, Slovakia and Estonia are moving too slowly in implementing energy market reforms, the EU says.

The European Commission warned the countries Monday they could be subject to fines imposed by the European Court of Justice if they don’t move more quickly to implement the electricity and natural gas market liberalization measures included in the EU’s Third Energy Package.

The deadline for each of the 27 EU member states to “transpose” the binding directives into national law was March 2011 — one month after the EU heads of state agreed on the need to complete the reforms by 2014.

The energy package seeks to “unbundle” vertically integrated energy companies that control both supplies and transmission networks, thus allowing rival suppliers unfettered access to a single European energy market and providing choices for customers.

The aim is to free European consumers from monopolies such as Russia’s Gazprom, which can virtually name their prices for energy by controlling the distribution infrastructures in local markets.

Brussels says privatizing distribution networks will strengthen the independence and powers of national regulators as well as improve “the functioning of retail markets to the benefit of consumers.”

But the rollout of the Third Energy Package has been slow as some EU members balk at breaking up their energy monopolies, thus exposing their own markets to greater competition.

“As to date Bulgaria, Cyprus, Spain, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Romania and Slovakia have not informed the commission of any transposition measures for the (gas and electricity) directives and Estonia has not done so as regards the gas directive,” an EU statement said.

Consequently, the commission said it sent 15 “reasoned opinions” to the eight member states urging them to “comply with their legal obligation” and giving them two months to respond before referring the cases to the European Court of Justice for possible fines.

“Further steps” may be coming for countries that have only “partially transposed” the energy directives, it added.

The warning came only a week after the leaders of four of the cited nations — Spain, the Netherlands, Slovakia and Estonia — themselves called for the opening of European energy markets as a way to spur recovery from the debt crisis, the Financial Times noted.

Bulgaria’s energy ministry responded Monday by declaring the country is indeed in the process of transposing the EU directives into national legislation, the Sofia News Agency reported.

In a statement the government pointed out that amendments incorporating the directives into the Bulgarian Energy Act were adopted by the Cabinet and passed on to Parliament Jan. 23.

“It is expected that these amendments will be adopted within a month,” the ministry said, adding that the restructuring of the Bulgarian national electricity company NEK is also well along, with an operator for a spun-off grid system to be chosen soon.

The Bulgarian news agency reported the warnings from Brussels aren’t anything new: Many countries were late in adopting the EU’s second energy package as well, with the European Commission resorting to formal infringement procedures against nearly all of them.

Black holes’ effects on nearby stars eyed

GREENBELT, Md., Feb. 28 (UPI) — U.S. astronomers say they have identified a curious correlation between the mass of a galaxy’s central black hole and the velocity of stars around it.

A team led by Francesco Tombesi at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., said a type of outflow driven by the black hole appears to be both powerful enough and common enough to explain this link between a black hole’s mass and the movement of stars in a vast, roughly spherical structure known as a bulge surrounding it and beyond the boundary where matter is consumed by it.

Most large galaxies contain a central black hole, but galaxies hosting more massive black holes also possess those bulges that contain, on average, faster-moving stars.

This suggested some sort of feedback mechanism between a galaxy’s black hole and its star-formation processes, astronomers said, but they could not explain how a monster black hole’s activity, while strongly consuming surrounding matter in a region several times larger than our solar system, could influence a galaxy’s bulge, which encompasses regions roughly a million times larger.

“This was a real conundrum. Everything was pointing to super-massive black holes as somehow driving this connection, but only now are we beginning to understand how they do it,” Tombesi said.

The researchers examined 42 nearby active galaxies using the European Space Agency’s XMM-Newton satellite and found so-called “ultra-fast outflows” of gas and energetic particles, flows the astronomers have dubbed UFOs.

“Although slower than particle jets, UFOs possess much faster speeds than other types of galactic outflows, which makes them much more powerful,” Tombesi said.

“They have the potential to play a major role in transmitting feedback effects from a black hole into the galaxy at large.”

Keystone XL lacks wetland review

WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 (UPI) — There hasn’t been a study on the effects that part of the Keystone XL oil pipeline would have on southern wetland ecosystems, an advocacy group said.

Canadian pipeline company TransCanada has announced an intention to build a section of its Keystone XL from Cushing, Okla., to the southern Texas coast.

Noah Greenwald, a program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said there’s been no analysis on how that section would affect wetland ecosystems.

“The Obama administration should be willing to take a hard look at this project and make sure it follows laws that protect clean water, wetlands and endangered species,” he said in a statement.

U.S. President Barack Obama in January rejected TransCanada’s initial proposal, saying an “arbitrary” deadline imposed by Republican leaders didn’t give his administration enough time to study the project. The U.S. State Department, however, had issued a report in August 2011 that the project created “no significant impacts provided environmental protections measures were implemented.

TransCanada said it would reapply for a permit for the entire project and supplement its request with an alternative route in Nebraska as soon as that route is selected.

Nebraskans said initial plans would run through a key aquifer.

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, expressed frustration that only a portion of the project was planned.

“I am pleased to see TransCanada is moving forward but remain deeply disappointed that construction of the full pipeline has not been approved after more than three years of stringent environmental review,” he said in a statement.

TransCanada needs U.S. federal approval because the pipeline could cross the U.S.-Canadian border.

London passes more cash to wind sector

LONDON, Feb. 28 (UPI) — The British government awarded a local engineering company with a $1.9 million grant to develop certain components needed for wind turbines.

David Brown Gear Systems won the grant to develop a wind turbine gearbox slated for Samsung wind turbines. It’s the first company to receive a grant from the British Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Offshore Wind Components Technologies Innovation scheme.

“This cash shows we are really shifting gear when it comes to supporting innovation and offshore wind,” Energy and Climate Change Minister Greg Barker said.

“Making wind turbines more efficient is common sense and will help bring down the costs making them more attractive to build and helping us increase the amount of electricity we get from clean, green sources.”

The United Kingdom is leading the world in offshore wind development. A report in The Guardian newspaper in London, however, suggests the appetite for wind energy is diminishing because of concerns over costs and subsidies.

British Energy Secretary Ed Davey, in a response to the newspaper, said wind technology was one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy and subsidies would be cut to reflect lower costs.

“A responsible energy policy for this country is one that rules in all of the key low-carbon technologies to help us keep the lights on and emissions down,” he said. “Ruling any of them out would be folly.”

Officials worried by Google privacy policy

WASHINGTON, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Attorneys general in 36 states say they’re concerned over the implications of Google’s new privacy policy, especially for users of Android-powered smartphones.

They’ve sent a strongly worded letter to Google Chief Executive Officer Larry Page questioning the company’s commitment to consumer privacy, saying the changes in Google’s policy would force Internet users to share personal data without a method to opt out, Computerworld reported Friday.

Google’s new policy, set to go into effect March 1, will bring together user data from services like YouTube, Gmail and Google search into a single merged profile for each user of those services.

Google said the changes will allow it to deliver better and more targeted services for users of its products. The company said users who do not like the new policy can simply stop using its services.

That did not sit well with the attorneys general.

“Google’s new privacy policy goes against a respect for privacy that Google has carefully cultivated as a way to attract consumers,” their letter to Google said.

“It rings hollow to call [the ability of users] to exit the Google products ecosystem a ‘choice’ in an Internet economy where the clear majority of all Internet users use — and frequently rely on — at least one Google product on a regular basis.”

The letter highlighted the potential problems the new privacy policy will have on Android-powered smartphone users, saying many of them will find it “virtually impossible” to escape the policy without ditching their phones.

“No doubt, many of these consumers bought an Android-powered phone in reliance on Google’s existing privacy policy,” which contains the ability of users to give their informed consent to privacy changes, the letter said.

Wind farm on hold over bald eagle concerns

RED WING, Minn., Feb. 24 (UPI) — Minnesota regulators say they’ve delayed a proposed wind farm since the developer failed to produce an adequate plan to protect bald eagles and other creatures.

The Public Utilities Commission voted Thursday to deny the plan, demanding that AWA Goodhue Wind, owned by Texas billionaire T. Boone Pickens, provide better research on how many eagles and bats fly through or near the site located in prime hunting and nesting territory.

“I don’t think that the American people are ready to watch Minnesota’s nesting bald eagles be destroyed on behalf of a Texas millionaire,” said Mary Hartman, one of a number of local residents of Red Wing who have been fighting the 48-turbine farm for years.

The commission’s decision highlights an emerging conflict between a demand for clean energy and growing evidence wind farms can kill hundreds of thousands of birds and bats a year.

The Red Wing wind farm has drawn national attention from conservation groups concerned about the impact of such installations.

“This is one of the hottest fights in the nation,” said Kelly Fuller, wind campaign coordinator for the American Bird Conservancy.

“The public cares deeply about bald eagles,” Fuller said. “I’ve never met anyone who thinks it’s a good idea to kill bald eagles. They are special birds.”

Commissioners said they want AWA Goodhue Wind to do survey research on bats and birds and coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Then, they said, the company could re-apply in about a year.

Analysts: Android apps cost too much

PALO ALTO, Calif., Feb. 24 (UPI) — Software apps in Google’s Android Market are overpriced and that’s a concern for both U.S. users and developers, a Web tech site reports analysts as saying.

Experts at Canalys said top paid-for apps from the Android Market cost more than their equivalents on the Apple store, theinquirer.net reported Friday.

Canalys conducted its study in the United States and found purchasing the top 100 paid-for apps in the Android store would cost $374.37 while doing the same on the Apple App Store would cost only $147.

The high price facing users could mean developers might also suffer as Android smartphone owners could be less likely to buy apps, Canalys said.

“That developers can apparently charge more for their apps on Android and make it into the top paid list is clearly a positive,” said Rachel Lashford, Canalys managing director for mobile.

“But the reality is that with fewer people willing to purchase apps on Android than on iOS today, there is more of a necessity to do so,” she said.

Developers should pursue “more aggressive price competition” and try to tempt users that have resisted paid-for apps in favor of free alternatives, she said.

“Selling more apps at higher prices is the Holy Grail for developers, but achieving big volumes of paid apps on Android is no small challenge.”

Apple acquires app search company Chomp

CUPERTINO, Calif., Feb. 24 (UPI) — Apple Inc. said it has acquired app-search engine Chomp, absorbing its specialists and technology intended to make it easier to locate apps.

Apple is believed to have made the move to help consumers find and buy apps as the company’s app store has grown to more than 550,000 titles, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Analysts say Apple’s existing app-store search capability is fairly basic and developers sometimes complain of the difficulty in getting their apps discovered without being featured by Apple.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment on the acquisition beyond confirming the company occasionally buys technology companies and “generally doesn’t discuss its purpose or plans,” the Journal reported.

Chomp operates its search service for apps built for Google Inc.’s Android operating system but it was unclear if that would continue after its acquisition by Apple, analysts said.

Drought may have ended Maya civilization

MEXICO CITY, Feb. 24 (UPI) — Relatively mild drought may have caused the collapse of the classic Maya civilization in what is now southern Mexico and Guatemala, researchers say.

It had long been believed that prolonged severe drought caused the collapse of the civilization in around 950 A.D, but Mexican and British researchers now think seasonal water supplies in the region could have been exhausted by a small but sustained drop in rainfall.

Researchers from Britain’s University of Southampton collaborated in the research with the Yucatan Center for Scientific Research in southern Mexico.

Analyzing estimates of rainfall and evaporation rates between 800 and 950 A.D., when the Maya civilization went into sharp decline, they found a relatively modest decline in rainfall was enough to deplete freshwater storage systems in the Yucatan lowlands, where there are no rivers, the BBC reported Friday.

“These reductions amount to only 25 to 40 percent in annual rainfall, but they were large enough for evaporation to become dominant over rainfall, and open water was rapidly reduced,” Professor Eelco Rohling of Southampton University said.

“Societal disruptions and abandonment of cities are likely consequences of critical water shortages, especially because there seems to have been a rapid repetition of multi-year droughts,” he said.

Archaeologists have long argued over the collapse of the classic Maya civilization, with other studies blaming social unrest, disease and deforestation for its demise.

Moth infesting Italian vineyards

ROME, Feb. 24 (UPI) — A moth infesting vineyards across northern Italy is a previously unknown species of an insect known as a leafminer, scientists say.

First discovered by Italian researchers in 2006, the pest was not identified until examination of the insect’s genetic code showed it to be a new species.

The Italian scientists had turned to insect expert Erik van Nieukerken from the Netherlands Center for Biodiversity in Leiden for help.

“We first turned to the [scientific] literature to find out what was already known, which was appallingly little for this group [of moths],” van Nieukerken told the BBC.

A method known as DNA bar coding was employed to look at a section of the pest’s genetic code.

“I figured out that this one, despite being quite common in North America, had no name,” van Nieukerken said.

The new species, dubbed Antispila oinophylla, had previously been confused with a similar North American species that feeds on Virginia creeper.

However, the genetic studies revealed it to be a different species with a taste for grapevines. In its native range across eastern North America, researchers said, it feeds on several species of wild grapes.

Van Nieukerken said it would have been easy for the insect’s cocoons containing larvae to be accidentally transported to Europe with plant material.

“They’re very small and exactly the same color as the leaves,” he told BBC Nature. “So if you were carrying plants, you would probably not notice them.”

New measures to battle invasive Asian carp

CHICAGO, Feb. 24 (UPI) — The Obama administration says the battle against invasive Asian carp, which have overwhelmed native U.S. fish populations, will get more aggressive this year.

“The 2012 framework will strengthen our defenses against Asian carp, moving even more innovative carp control projects from research into implementation,” said John Goss, Asian carp director for the White House Council on Environmental Quality.

New measures could include female fish urine intended to lure male carp to traps, fish toxin distributed inside specially tailored nano-matrices and a large underwater gun meant to deter intrepid carp headed toward the Great Lakes from the Mississippi and Illinois rivers, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday.

Administration officials said $51.5 million will be allocated to monitor and control the invasive species that has been making a 30-year trek through U.S. rivers toward Lake Michigan.

Sonar will be installed on electric barriers in Chicago canals that connect rivers to the lake for better monitoring of carp, they said, and a gun that shoots a high-energy pulse of water to deter fish was successfully tested last year.

Officials said they expect to field test nano-sized fish toxins to see if specially designed capsules holding the toxin will allow them to selectively kill Asian carp.

Rhino horn smuggling ring cracked

LOS ANGELES, Feb. 24 (UPI) — U.S. authorities say they’ve cracked an international smuggling ring dealing in rhinoceros horns, sold at high prices in Asia for supposed cancer-curing powers.

Federal agents and local enforcement officers raided homes and businesses and made several arrests in a dozen states, officials said.

“By taking out this ring of rhino horn traffickers, we have shut down a major source of black market horn and dealt a serious blow to rhino horn smuggling both in the United States and globally,” U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe told the Los Angeles Times.

A global run on the rare horns from black and white rhinos, which fetch huge prices of more than $20,000 a pound when sold in places like Vietnam and China, has led to an increase in poaching in Africa.

In the United States, authorities said, traders are obtaining and illegally transporting horns from auction houses, antique shops and hunters’ trophy walls.

A misconception they can cure cancer makes them “worth more than crack, heroin or gold, pound for pound,” said Crawford Allan, North American director of TRAFFIC, which monitors wildlife trade.