A college town in southern Minnesota is taking action against the frac sand industry that's booming amid America's drilling revolution.
Winona, Minn. will become the first local government in the nation to monitor air pollution that may be escaping from mounds of sand being trucked through town for delivery to fracking fields in North Dakota and elsewhere.
The move puts the city of 28,000 people at the forefront of initial efforts to address the health effects of silica sand, an ingredient used in fracking that has been linked to lung disease. It is part of a larger trend to understand the various impacts of natural gas and oil development on communities.
The data Winona collects will be used to determine if the city is within pollution standards set by the federal and state government, and it could help other towns build a case for monitoring frac sand pollution.
"This is not a specific city's problem—it's a regional problem," said Jim Gurley, co-founder of the Winona-based grassroots group Citizens Against Silica Mining.
Republican state legislators in Wisconsin want to make it easier for companies to mine the "frac sand" under the state's farmland and forests and head off more stringent regulation on the booming and controversial industry.
The push sets up a showdown with local communities that are fighting to slow the pace of industrial frac sand mining, at least until its health and environmental effects are studied. And it propels Wisconsin—which has no natural gas or a single drilling rig—into the national fight over how to regulate fracking and related industries.
In three short years, dozens of small towns on Wisconsin's western edge have become an epicenter for mining silica sand, a necessary ingredient in the fracking process that has been implicated in thousands of cases of silicosis, a lung disease. It can take up to 10,000 tons of sand to frack a single well during its lifetime, and there are roughly 50 new wells being drilled in the United States every day.
An environmental organization with a $350 million war chest, a giant protest vessel, 28 activists and a rubber raft have succeeded in drawing Russian President Vladimir V. Putin into a very public global dispute.
Attention is now focused on the Greenpeace activists—who were arrested last month by Coast Guard agents for trying to hang a protest banner on an Arctic Ocean oil platform—and whether they will languish in prison for up to 15 years each on dubious piracy charges.
"They are obviously not pirates," Putin said in a speech to the International Arctic Forum last month. Yet Russian authorities so far seem to be throwing the book at the activists as international outrage grows to secure their freedom. Protests have been held at Russian consulates in about a half dozen cities worldwide to release the activists.
While the unfolding drama is now focused on issues of civil disobedience and human rights, underneath the uproar is a tangle of issues around Arctic drilling that Greenpeace has been campaigning to address for many years. And now it has secured the world's attention and a chance to spark a discussion—and the stakes are high.
Almost 75 percent of the nation's publicly traded companies are ignoring a three-year-old Securities and Exchange Commission requirement that they inform investors of the risks that climate change may pose to their bottom lines, according to a citizen researcher who has compiled what may be the country's biggest searchable database of climate risk disclosure.
The data, culled from the annual reports of 3,895 U.S. public companies listed on major stock exchanges, found that only 27 percent mentioned "climate change" or "global warming" in their most recent filing. Annual reports are the primary vehicle for companies to reveal to shareholders business risks and any other challenges they face.
The tally is the work of Lawrence Taylor, a 72-year-old retired database developer and entrepreneur, who said he has been following climate science and politics and felt compelled to do something about it. Sizing up corporations seemed a good place to start, he said.
A funny video that calls on the World Meteorological Organization to name hurricanes after climate deniers in Congress has struck a chord, or a nerve, with people around the world—going viral in the two weeks since it was first posted on YouTube.
"We are knocking at the door of 2 million views of the video in around one week—more than we could have hoped or expected for," Daniel Kessler, media campaigner for 350.org Action Fund, the climate activist group behind the viral video, said last week.
But the video has done more than generate views and cause a laugh. It has sparked over ten thousand comments on YouTube and other social sites debating the scientific evidence about climate threats and the merits of poking fun at climate science doubters—with slightly more than half favoring the video.