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.
The Interior Department released long-awaited rules today for oil and gas wells on federal and tribal lands. Four years in the making, the regulations take aim at the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, an extraction technique used on 90 percent of the nation's wells.
The rules, which will go into effect in late June, focus on protecting water quality and wildlife, but do not regulate the industry's effects on climate change. However, the Obama administration is working on a separate set of regulations to address emissions of methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—from oil and gas wells.
Immediate reaction from environmental groups was a mixture of cautious praise and criticism. The oil and gas industry reacted almost instantly with two lawsuits challenging the regulations.
When Hurricane Floyd hit New Jersey in September 1999, 12-year-old Erika Navarro dashed out to her driveway to experience the storm firsthand. For at least 10 minutes she stood in the wind and pelting rain, watching the lake across the street flood its banks.
"It was just completely incredible," she recalled. "I had never seen that much rain falling from the sky, and never seen that much destruction from one event."
The hurricane cemented a lifelong fascination with natural disasters, and led Navarro into her current career as a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Washington, where she studies hurricane forecasting and how solar radiation affects the strength of hurricanes.
When a professor in her department recently asked Navarro to add her voice to More Than Scientists, a climate change public outreach project, Navarro leaped at the chance.
"I've always accepted [that] as a scientist…I have an obligation to reach out to the public," she said.
Under fire for accepting research grants from fossil fuel interests and failing to disclose all of them, climate skeptic Willie Soon challenged journalists last week to examine conflict-of-interest disclosures for mainstream climate scientists.
News reports of Soon's situation are "a shameless attempt to silence my scientific research and writings," he said in a statement issued through the Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank. After documents suggesting conflicts of interest in Soon's publications were made public last month, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) initiated an investigation of the funding sources of seven other mainly climate skeptic scientists.
InsideClimate News took up Soon's challenge. After interviewing experts on scientific research and climate denialism, we were not able to find a single case of a conventional climate scientist who had failed to disclose his or her sources of research funding, or who had granted rights of prior review of research results and anonymity to his or her funders, as Soon has done.
The main reason is that almost all the funding for mainstream climate research comes from government agencies, is awarded only after intense peer-reviewed competition, and is a matter of public record. Except for two grants from the Mount Wilson observatory, all of Willie Soon's research since 2002 was funded by fossil fuel interests, according to information provided to InsideClimate News by Soon's employer, the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
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."