Lisa Song joined InsideClimate News in January 2011, where she reports on oil sands, pipeline safety and natural gas drilling. She helped write "The Dilbit Disaster" series, 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. She previously worked as a freelancer, contributing to High Country News, Scientific American and New Scientist. Song has degrees in environmental science and science writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
You can reach her by email at email@example.com.
A watchdog group alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
A watchdog group called the Climate Investigations Center alerted nine scientific journals Monday that studies they published most likely breached conflict-of-interest protocols. The studies in question were co-authored by Willlie Soon, a prominent climate-change skeptic whose work was funded by fossil fuel interests.
The letters grew out of the release Saturday of public records showing that Soon failed to disclose industry funding in 11 studies published by those journals.
Soon's 11 papers show a spectrum of perspectives, from full-fledged denial of human-caused global warming to articles that downplay the role of climate change in ecological impacts. Many of the studies argue that changes in solar activity are responsible for rising global temperatures. Without exception, they question the extent, severity, cause or existence of man-made climate change.
Summaries of the 11 studies are listed in the chart and detailed further below:
Methane is leaking from natural gas infrastructure in Boston and the surrounding region at rates two to three times higher than government estimates, scientists at Harvard University and other institutions found.
Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week, the researchers' paper is the first peer-reviewed study that quantifies emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from natural gas installations in urban areas—including pipelines, storage terminals and power plants. The amount of methane lost over a year in the study area is worth $90 million, the authors wrote.
The research, which was supported by federal and private funding, is part of an ongoing effort to assess methane emissions during natural gas production, transportation and consumption. The answers are crucial to understanding how the current shale gas boom contributes to climate change. Earlier this month, the White House issued the first national regulations to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
The early years of the shale boom came with a widely held assumption that the vast quantities of natural gas liberated through high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would help slow climate change by displacing coal-fired power plants and speeding the transition to a clean-energy future.
But that notion was seriously challenged as scientists began studying the life cycle of natural gas. Although natural-gas power plants emit fewer greenhouse gases than coal plants, the process of extracting, processing and transporting natural gas releases unknown amounts of methane into the air.
Because methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, the shale boom's net impact on climate change remains unclear. That uncertainty has widened the rift between fracking supporters and opponents, and was cited as one of the reasons behind New York's recent fracking ban.
It has also prompted a slew of scientific studies, many of which are scheduled for this year.
Fracking's impacts on air quality took the spotlight this year, fueled by new research and broad media coverage.
The modern shale boom has created a massive influx of oil-and-gas wells, compressor stations and other infrastructure that spew toxic chemicals and greenhouse gases into the air. The consequences for public health and climate change are increasingly recognized as serious issues, on par with the water contamination concerns that once dominated debates over the pros and cons of fracking.
In mid-December, New York banned high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, within its borders, effectively closing off the state's shale gas resources to producers. New York's decision was based on a public health review which cited various health risks including "air impacts that could affect respiratory health due to increased levels of particulate matter, diesel exhaust, or volatile organic chemicals."
The public got a rare glimpse into the covert and hardball strategies used by some oil and gas companies when a lobbyist's candid remarks were leaked to the New York Times and Bloomberg News last week. The leak made the lobbyist the victim of his own tactics.
The man was Richard Berman, president of the consulting firm Berman and Company, who pitched a roomful of energy executives in June to invest $2 to $3 million in an "offensive" campaign in Colorado called Big Green Radicals that seeks to discredit anti-fracking advocates.
"There is no sympathy for the oil and gas industry" and people don't like the word "fracking," Berman told his audience at the annual meeting of the Western Energy Alliance. So industry must go on the "offense" against environmental groups, destroy their credibility by airing the personal histories of "every single activist," diminish their moral authority and use humor to "minimize or marginalize" them.
The initial targets of the campaign were the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and Food and Water Watch.
Berman said the influx of money would be a "game-changer" and promised "total anonymity" to anyone who contributed. Donations would be processed through nonprofit organizations that aren't required to disclose donors.
Pennsylvania regulators used flawed methodology to conclude that air pollution from natural gas development doesn't cause health problems. The revelation has further eroded trust in an embattled state agency.
The news was first reported Monday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper cited court documents that show how air quality studies conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2010 and 2011 failed to analyze the health risks of 25 chemicals. The studies also didn't report some instances where high pollutant levels were detected.
The evidence came from statements of two DEP scientists who were deposed in a lawsuit.
Their depositions call into question the report's conclusion that the air sampling found no health risks from shale development.
The DEP "did not identify concentrations of any compound that would likely trigger air-related health issues associated with Marcellus Shale drilling activities," the study's executive summary said.
A high-stakes battle over the nation's ozone pollution rule reached a new milestone last week when the Environmental Protection Agency submitted its latest proposed rule to the White House for review.
For years, EPA science advisers have been urging the administration to tighten the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to 60-70 ppb to protect public health. But they were repeatedly rebuffed: first in 2008, when the George W. Bush administration adopted the 75 ppb standard, and again in 2011, when President Obama abruptly halted a push from his own EPA to strengthen the rule.
Obama's move provoked fury from environmental and public health advocates who said he had caved to industry ahead of the 2012 elections. "This was the worst thing a Democratic president had ever done on our issues," said Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, at the time.
Now the administration is faced with the same decision: Earlier this year EPA scientists again recommended tightening the standard to 60–70 ppb, and on Oct. 8, EPA officials delivered the proposed rule to the White House Office of Management and Budget. The agency is under a court order to reveal the proposed standard to the public by Dec. 1 and finalize it next year.