InsideClimate News reporter David Hasemyer is co-author of the Dilbit Disaster: Inside the Biggest Oil Spill You've Never Heard Of, which won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for National Reporting, was a finalist in the 2012 Scripps Howard Awards for Environmental Reporting and won an honorable mention in the 2012 John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. Prior to joining InsideClimate News, he was a freelance journalist whose career included an award-winning tenure at the San Diego Union-Tribune as an investigative reporter. Hasemyer's work has been recognized by the Associated Press, the Society for Professional Journalists, the Society of American Business Editors and Writers and the California Newspaper Publishers Association. He has also been a finalist for the Gerald Loeb Award.
Among the articles Hasemyer researched and wrote for the Union-Tribune was a series about a 10-million ton pile of nuclear waste, a remnant of the uranium-mining boom in the 1950s and '60s that threatened the Colorado River. Those stories have been widely credited as critical to the U. S. Department of Energy's decision in 2000 to move the pile away from the river. Hasemyer graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism.
Weakness in state regulations governing hazardous oil-and-gas waste have allowed the leftovers to be disposed of with little regard to the dangers they pose to human health and the environment, according to a recent study by the environmental organization Earthworks.
The report says states disregard the risks because of a decades-old federal regulation that allows oil-and-gas waste to be handled as non-hazardous material. Those rules, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1988, exempted the waste from the stricter disposal requirements required of hazardous substances and allowed the states to establish their own disposal standards.
In its report, "Wasting Away: Four states' failure to manage gas and oil field waste from the Marcellus and Utica Shale," Earthworks studied rules governing disposal of the often toxic waste––and the gaps in those regulations in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
The organization, which is often criticized by the industry as being consistently biased, concludes the EPA was wrong when it applied the non-hazardous label to oil-and-gas waste.
"Drilling waste harms the environment and health, even though states have a mandate to protect both," said Bruce Baizel, co-author of the report and Earthworks' energy program director.
"Their current 'see no evil' approach is part of the reason communities across the country are banning fracking altogether. States have a clear path forward: if the waste is dangerous and hazardous, stop pretending it isn't and treat it and track it like the problem it is."
Disposal of oil-and-gas waste has generated little attention, yet it puts people at risk of exposure to chemicals including benzene, which can cause cancer. It has escaped scrutiny as a factor in air and water pollution and a possible contributor to the acceleration of climate change.
Controversial climate contrarian and Harvard-Smithsonian scientist Wei-Hock "Willie" Soon has one more report to complete for a giant utility company that has pumped nearly a half-million dollars into his highly disputed research before the company cuts his funding.
The Southern Company, which generates power for nine states––largely from coal––has decided it will no longer fund Soon's work, which claims the sun is the primary driver of global warming.
"Our agreement with the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory expires later this year and there are no plans to renew it," Southern spokesman Jack Bonnikson said in an email.
Soon is obligated to deliver one final report––"Solar Activity Variation on Multiple Timescales"––by November. Then no more.
Southern's decision comes at a time when the company finds itself in the midst of a firestorm of controversy surrounding revelations that Soon failed to divulge that fossil fuel interests were a primary source of funding for 11 studies published in nine scientific journals beginning in 2008.
It was bad news for California following annual snowpack measurements throughout the towering––and usually snow-covered––Sierra Nevada mountain range. There was very little snow.
On Wednesday, the Sierra snowpack held only 1.4 inches of water when 28.3 inches is normal for this time of year. The numbers foreshadow yet another gloomy year of drought in a state that depends on a steady stream of snowmelt to replenish its reservoirs and aquifers.
The snowpack numbers recorded at more than 300 locations in the Sierra are far worse than the end-of-season numbers since 1950, when record-keeping began. The previous worst years came last year and in 1977 when the snowpack held 7.1 inches of water.
The dismal number means there will be minimal runoff this spring in central and northern California streams and rivers.
The Sierra snowpack is vital to California. As much as one-third of the state's water supply comes from snowpack that melts and is ultimately captured in a series of reservoirs for use as drinking water and for agricultural irrigation. The state draws the remainder of its water from aquifers and the Colorado River.
Frank Varano knows what's coming. His land near Williamsport, Pa., abuts property that has been leased for gas exploration––and he's certain it will be fracked.
What is less certain is how that fracking could affect the air he breathes and the water he drinks.
That's why he welcomed the opportunity to have two Columbia University scientists test the air inside his house and the water in his well before fracking gets started late this year.
"I feel better having someone independent more than just having the industry tell me what's happening," Varano said. "I want to double-check whatever the industry tells me."
Last year an air monitor was set up inside his Lycoming County house, and water samples were taken from his well in advance of the drilling and fracking planned for the 10-acre site that sits 500 feet from his place.
Varano is one of 15 residents in Lycoming and Sullivan counties to allow geochemists Beizhan Yan and Steven Chillrud of Columbia's Earth Institute to test the air and water on their land before fracking proceeds. The two scientists want to establish a baseline of the quality of air and water and then continue monitoring as the operation progresses from drilling and fracking to functioning wells.
It's the best way to understand the risks people face when fracking––hydraulic fracturing––starts to encroach on their homes, the two scientists said.
"The data will provide an objective viewpoint to drive a more rational discussion," Chillrud said.
It's the height of tax season, when Texas tax preparer Lynn Buehring would usually be working horribly long hours to keep ahead of the crush of clients wanting to beat the April 15 filing deadline.
Not this year. After a more than a decade in business, Buehring has closed her Karnes County office.
Buehring said she was forced to shutter the business because noxious fumes from the dozens of oil-and-gas facilities that surround her rural home and office became so overpowering she could no longer work.
The unbearable odors also were driving away clients who couldn't stand to come to her office, she said.
"The smell and how it would make you sick...I just couldn't take it anymore," Buehring said.
So she notified her 85 clients that she was closing the Business Barn––so named because Buehring had established her office in a small red barn that sat in the yard of the ranch house she shares with her husband, Shelby.
"It was the hardest thing to do," she said. "But I had to do it."
NASA scientist Emily Wilson has big plans for a little gadget.
She has developed a suitcase-sized instrument that measures carbon dioxide and methane wafting into the atmosphere from ground level to four miles into the sky.
"I have a pretty big vision," Wilson said.
She wants to create a worldwide network of these portable monitors to track the two potent greenhouse gases that have been identified as major contributors to global warming.
One day, she said, she hopes these instruments will be used to establish a comprehensive inventory of greenhouse gas emissions around the world.
Yes, it's easier said than done, she acknowledged. But the 43-year-old optical physicist at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is determined––if not yet completely sure how––to make it happen.
"In order for there to be an absolute consensus on global warming there have to be global measurements that leave no opening for debate about what is happening," Wilson said.
It's been so bitter cold in New England this winter that it didn't surprise Dr. Mark R. Windt when one of his patients came in wheezing and complaining of shortness of breath.
The cold air had aggravated her asthma.
The daytime high temperatures sometimes weren't getting out of single digits.
"That is cold, COLD," said Windt, a specialist in allergies, immunology and pulmonology in North Hampton, N.H.
Scientists have attributed the frigid temperatures and historic snowfalls to storm tracks that have become stronger and more frequent because of increased greenhouse gas emissions that alter atmospheric conditions.
"There's no doubt climate change had an effect on my patient's asthma and is having an effect on the health of others," Windt said.
Windt and a majority of his colleagues in the American Thoracic Society who specialize in the treatment of respiratory illnesses are connecting some of their patients' disorders to climate change.
A recent survey by the society found that the majority of its members believe climate change is having a negative impact on the health of their patients. The survey was published in the February issue of the Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
When Stephen Mulkey was an environmental scientist at the University of Idaho in 2010, he agreed to serve on a panel opposite Wei-Hock Soon, the scientist at the center of a scandal over fossil-fuel industry funding of climate research.
Mulkey, the head of the college's environmental science program, advanced the scientific consensus that climate change is caused by burning of fossil fuels. He had the vast majority of climate scientists worldwide on his side.
But Soon, who promotes discredited science that the sun is the primary driver of global warming, had something stronger on his side in that debate: the imprimatur of Harvard University and the Smithsonian Institution.
Since 1997 Soon has been employed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. And that's how Mulkey remembers Soon’s introduction to the crowd in Boise for the seminar on global warming arranged by the Idaho Council on Industry and Environment, a non-profit organization that urges "the use of sound science and facts in shaping public policy."
The gravitas of Harvard-Smithsonian's credibility versus the University of Idaho's was a mismatch, recalled Mulkey, who is now president of Unity College in Maine and recently authored a blog post on the imbalance.
"The audience ate up what Soon had to say," said Mulkey, who described the group as pro-industry. "It's like, here's this Harvard scientist telling us all the other scientists are lying to us."