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Guest Writer's articles

Health Worries Pervade North Texas Fracking Zone

For years Texas regulators shrugged off health complaints by residents of drilling-intensive areas. Now new research suggests proximity can pose risks.

By Jamie Smith Hopkins

Dec 11, 2014

DALLAS—Propped up on a hospital bed, Taylor Ishee listened as his mother shared a conviction that choked her up. His rare cancer had a cause, she believes, and it wasn't genetics.

Others in Texas have drawn the same conclusions about their confounding illnesses. Jana DeGrand, who suffered a heart attack and needed both her gallbladder and her appendix removed. Rebecca Williams, fighting off unexplained rashes, sharp headaches and repeated bouts of pneumonia. Maile Bush, who needed surgery for a sinus infection four rounds of antibiotics couldn't heal. Annette Wilkes, whose own severe sinus infections were followed by two autoimmune diseases.

They all lived for years atop the gas-rich Barnett Shale in North Texas, birthplace of modern hydraulic fracturing. And they all believe exposure to natural gas development triggered their health problems.

"I've been trying to sell my house," said Williams, a registered nurse, "because I've got to get out of here or I'm going to die."

Texas regulators and politicians have shrugged off such complaints for years. The leap from suspected environmental exposure to definitive proof of harm is a difficult one, and they insist they've found no cause for concern. Officials in other states have said the same thing as hydraulic fracturing—known as fracking—moved beyond Texas and opened up lucrative oil and gas deposits across the country.

But scientific research—coming out now after years of sparse information—suggests that proximity could pose risks.

Plant Expansions Fueled by Shale Boom to Boost Greenhouse Gas, Toxic Emissions

Motivated by an abundance of gas, at least 120 petrochemical facilities are planned around the U.S.—equivalent in CO2 emissions to 28 coal plants.

By Talia Buford

Dec 10, 2014

WESTLAKE, La. — Stacey Ryan already knows where he'll be buried. 

It will be in Perkins Cemetery, the same place his mother and father were laid to rest after dying from cancer. It's where his aunts, uncles, grandfather and great-grandfather are interred, having been felled by various malignancies, diabetes, and ailments of the heart, respiratory system and pancreas. Most of Ryan's family is there, along with almost everyone else who ever died in Mossville, an unincorporated area founded by freed slaves.

Soon, the cemetery may be all that is left. 

Sasol North America, the domestic division of a South Africa-based energy and chemical company, has begun offering voluntary buyouts to many of the 300 or so remaining inhabitants of Mossville. Some properties may be expropriated come February. By 2018, the land Ryan and other holdouts have fought to keep will be consumed by an $8.1 billion ethane cracker and a multibillion-dollar gas-to-liquids facility, a massive addition to a plant Sasol already operates nearby.

The state of Louisiana says it will allow the facility to release up to 10.6 million tons of greenhouse gases and 3,275 tons of volatile organic compounds such as benzene, a carcinogen, into the atmosphere each year. This is on top of the 963 tons of pollutants that were discharged into the air by Sasol and other companies within the 70669 ZIP code last year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"With the plans they have," Ryan said, "Mossville just sits in the way."

Full Video - Documentary of 'Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World'

'Polar bears are a harbinger of things to come to all of us if we don't change our ways.'

By VICE and InsideClimate News

Dec 6, 2014

More than a year ago, InsideClimate News set out to tell the story of seven American hikers who went on a wilderness adventure into Canada's Arctic and came back with a harrowing story after one of them was brutally attacked by a polar bear.

The result was "Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World," an e-book we released last month.

VIDEO - Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World, Part 3

'This isn't just about polar bears. Ultimately, unabated warming will affect every ecosystem, every species that we're concerned about...including us.'

By VICE and InsideClimate News

Dec 4, 2014

More than a year ago, InsideClimate News set out to tell the story of seven American hikers who went on a wilderness adventure into Canada's Arctic and came back with a harrowing story after one of them was brutally attacked by a polar bear.

The result was "Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World," an e-book we released last month.

As part of the project, ICN reporter Sabrina Shankman returned to the site of the attack with VICE, ICN's partner in the project, to explore how climate change is wreaking havoc on the polar bear population.

Here is Part 3 of the Vice documentary video, "Polar Bear Man." Watch Part 1. Watch Part 2.

Read a free excerpt of Meltdown here. Click here to get the full book on the ICN books app, or download as a Kindle Single.

VIDEO - Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World, Part 2

'We've been here for less than 10 minutes hiking, and we've already spotted a polar bear.'

By VICE and InsideClimate News

Dec 3, 2014

More than a year ago, InsideClimate News reporter Sabrina Shankman set out to tell the story of seven American hikers who went on a wilderness adventure into Canada's Arctic tundra—polar bear country—and came back with a harrowing story.

The result was "Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World," an e-book we released last month that shows what is happening right now to polar bears and people as climate change melts the Arctic.

Below is Part 2 of the documentary video "Polar Bear Man" produced by VICE, ICN's partner in this project. Watch Part 1.

Read a free excerpt of Meltdown here. Click here to get the full book on the ICN books app, or download as a Kindle Single.

VIDEO - Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World, Part 1

'Right where they camped, that is a polar bear highway.'

By VICE and InsideClimate News

Dec 2, 2014

More than a year ago, InsideClimate News reporter Sabrina Shankman set out to tell the story of seven American hikers who went on a wilderness adventure into Canada's Arctic tundra—polar bear country—and came back with a harrowing story.

The result was "Meltdown: Terror at the Top of the World," an e-book we released last month. 

Read a free excerpt of Meltdown here. Click here to get the full book on the ICN books app, or download as a Kindle Single.

Shankman also traveled with Vice, ICN's partner in this project, to report first-hand from the site where the hikers pitched their tents in the wilderness.

This is part one of the documentary video, "Polar Bear Man," produced by VICE.

Worldwide Effort on Clean Energy Is What's Needed, Not a Carbon Price

OP-ED: 'Displacing fossil fuels won’t be easy. But it will be profitable once governments intervene.'

By Carl Pope

Nov 17, 2014

Carl Pope, a veteran leader of the environmental movement, is the former executive director and chairman of the Sierra Club.

The joint announcement between the U.S. and China of ambitious national commitments they plan to lay on the table for the Paris climate summit in December 2015 could indeed generate  momentum and reverse the climate tragedy—but only if governments and climate advocates shift their framing of the climate challenge.

The dominant story line remains that reducing emissions will be an economic burden, because fossil fuels are cheap, and clean replacements are expensive. This was true when the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997. Climate diplomacy therefore focused on who would bear the burden of a more costly low-carbon economy. Environmentalists' main climate solution was to raise the cost of fossil energy by pricing carbon—and that argument gave coal and oil interests all the ammunition they needed to block climate progress.

Poor countries argued, reasonably, that the rich had created the problem, and therefore should pay for any expensive solution. But the rich nations were unwilling to make the needed sacrifice, fearing higher energy prices would favor their economic rivals, China and India. So climate diplomacy stalled—the Copenhagen climate summit in 2009 failed to reach a meaningful deal, and things were not looking much brighter for Paris next year.

The U.S.-China announcement signals a potential thaw, and has rightly been hailed.

But if you look at the numbers that Presidents Obama and Xi laid on the table, a huge problem emerges.

5-State Study Finds Unsafe Levels of Airborne Chemicals Near Oil and Gas Sites

Peer-reviewed results show 'potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures' that can make people feel ill and raise cancer risk.

By Jamie Smith Hopkins

Oct 30, 2014

Dirk DeTurck had a years-old rash that wouldn't go away, his wife's hair came out in chunks and any time they lingered outside their house for more than an hour, splitting headaches set in.

They were certain the cause was simply breathing the air in Greenbrier, Arkansas, the rural community to which they'd retired a decade ago. They blamed the gas wells all around them. But state officials didn't investigate.

So DeTurck leapt at the chance to help with research that posed a pressing question: What's in the air near oil and gas production sites?

The answer—in many of the areas monitored for the peer-reviewed study, published today in the journal Environmental Health—is "potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures" that can make people feel ill and raise their risk of cancer.

"The implications for health effects are just enormous," said David O. Carpenter, the paper's senior author and director of the University at Albany's Institute for Health and the Environment.

Germans Line Up Against Fracking, Spurred by Fears of a U.S.-Style Boom

To try to distance itself from U.S. fracking policies, the German government has proposed a ban on fracking for shale gas, but not fracking for tight gas.

By Catherine Stupp

Oct 14, 2014

BERLIN—In Germany debate is raging over whether to allow fracking, and America's example is serving as the cautionary tale for both supporters and critics.

Germany's biggest energy companies and some politicians are using the U.S. drilling boom to argue the country would benefit from tapping shale gas buried under two of its 16 states. Supporters say Germany must greenlight fracking—especially as calls intensify to end dependency on Russia, which supplies a third of Germany's oil and gas. 

Meanwhile, environmentalists and others see the United States as a warning of what may be in store if Germany embraces fracking—but for them the lessons from America involve air, water and climate change pollution. The "negative effects connected" to U.S. fracking are "worth gold" to German activists, said Andy Gheorghiu, a member of the citizens' protest group Fracking Free Hesse.

Critics worry mainly that developing natural gas production would undercut the Energiewende, Germany's shift away from fossil fuels and nuclear to renewable energy. Environmentalism is deeply ingrained in German society and public protests helped prompt the law. Today solar panels and windmills form a distinctive part of the country's landscape. But this transformation came at a cost: In 2013, Germany's household electricity prices became the second highest in the European Union due to clean energy subsidies and high taxes. Despite that, the Energiewende remains widely popular.

VIDEO - In Fracking's Wake: Vast Open Pits of Chemical Sludge

'A lot of people are worried about the water, and about the smell, and of course what's going up into the air.'

By Eleanor Bell, Center for Public Integrity

Oct 2, 2014

As oil and gas drilling spreads across the United States, scant attention has been paid to air emissions from the waste the boom has created.