HOUSTON, Texas—Fracking, the latest craze in the quest to produce oil and gas, has been blamed for environmental problems ranging from flammable tap water to minor earthquakes. Now a new risk is emerging: sand mining.
To squeeze hydrocarbons out of shale through hydraulic fracturing of the rock—the process known as fracking—producers need to pump an enormous amount of sand and other materials into the ground.
Obtaining the sand for this requires removing the top layer of earth over a sandstone deposit and using heavy equipment and large amounts of water to produce the fine grains.
According to some environmentalists and residents of affected areas, sand mining poses a threat to air and water quality.
Facing a shortage of the sand needed in fracking, oil and gas producer EOG Resources Inc got into this mining business to secure scare supplies and bring down costs.
But the company is facing big opposition to an operation planned in North Texas.
More Americans than last year believe the world is warming and the change is likely influenced by the Republican presidential debates, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Thursday.
The percentage of Americans who believe the Earth has been warming rose to 83 percent from 75 percent last year in the poll conducted Sept 8-12.
Republican presidential candidates, aside from Jon Huntsman, have mostly blasted the idea that emissions from burning fossil fuels and other human actions are warming the planet.
The current front-runner, Texas Governor Rick Perry, has accused scientists of manipulating climate data while Michele Bachmann has said climate change is a hoax.
As Americans watch Republicans debate the issue, they are forced to mull over what they think about global warming, said Jon Krosnick, a political science professor at Stanford University.
And what they think is also influenced by reports this year that global temperatures in 2010 were tied with 2005 to be the warmest year since the 1880s.
"That is exactly the kind of situation that will provoke the public to think about the issue in a way that they haven't before," Krosnick said about news reports on the Republicans denying climate change science.
The Environmental Protection Agency will miss an end-of-month target for proposing greenhouse gas regulations for power plants, the head of the EPA said on Wednesday.
The administration of President Barack Obama is under pressure from business to cut environmental regulation that critics say is hurting the economy, and last week Obama backtracked on smog plans.
The EPA is working on plans to limit greenhouse gases from power plants and oil refineries, and it had been targeting releasing some utility-focused proposals on September 30.
"Greenhouse gases for power plants is first on the docket," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said on the sidelines of an event in San Francisco. "Although we are not going to make the date at the end of the month, we are still working and will be shortly announcing a new schedule."
Japan will join the race to develop floating wind turbines to use in deepwater off its tsunami-stricken northern Pacific coast as it rethinks energy sources after the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
It aims to outpace the leaders in the sector in Europe, trade ministry official Masanori Sato said on Tuesday.
"In order to take lead in offshore wind power, we want domestic studies and developments to take place and manufacturers to boost capabilities," said Sato.
"From the viewpoint of supporting reconstruction and promoting wind power, we believe it is good to pursue research and development for offshore wind farms," he said.
In the next five years, Japan plans to spend 10 to 20 billion yen ($130 to $260 million) to install six or more floating turbines off the northeast coast. It will work with firms including Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Fuji Heavy Industries, Sato said.
Globally, Norway leads the way on floating turbines with a 2009 pilot project while other countries including Britain and Portugal have studied the technology.
Japan is compiling a third emergency budget likely to be more than 10 trillion yen ($130 billion) to rebuild its northeastern coast after the earthquake and tsunami hit in March, leaving 20,000 dead or missing and triggering the world's worst nuclear crisis in 25 years at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.
Last month its parliament enacted a bill to promote investment in renewables.
Relying more on natural gas than on coal would not significantly slow down the effects of climate change, even though direct carbon dioxide emissions would be less, a new study has found.
Burning coal emits far more climate-warming carbon dioxide than natural gas does, but it also releases lots of sulfates and other particles that block incoming sunlight and help cool the Earth, according to a study to be published in the peer-reviewed journal Climate Change Letters in October.
Using more natural gas for fuel could also produce leaks of methane, a heat-trapping greenhouse gas more than 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, study author Tom Wigley said in a statement.
"Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem," said Wigley, of the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of Adelaide in Australia.
"It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges," he said.
A global, partial shift from coal to natural gas would speed up global warming slightly through at least 2050, even with no methane leaks from natural gas operations. If there were substantial methane leaks, the acceleration of climate change would continue through as late as 2140, according to Wigley's computer simulations.
New York, N.Y.—September 6, 2011—SolveClimate News announced today that Susan White, formerly a senior editor at the investigative nonprofit ProPublica, will lead its newsroom in the newly created position of Executive Editor. Concurrent with her appointment, the news organization is changing its name to InsideClimate News, to better reflect the investigative mission it will pursue under her leadership.
White was the first senior editor hired by ProPublica when it started operating in 2008, and she helped edit the project that brought ProPublica its first Pulitzer Prize in 2010, about a New Orleans hospital stranded by flooding during Hurricane Katrina. In 2006, when she was working for The San Diego Union-Tribune, she was an editor on the Pulitzer Prize-winning reports that sent former U.S. Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham to prison for bribery. She also edited a project on immigration that was a 2004 Pulitzer finalist.
"We're thrilled that Susan is bringing her much-admired talent, experience and humanity here," said David Sassoon, founder and publisher of InsideClimate News. "In conversations spanning many months, we found a strong fit, and we're looking forward to making important contributions to the public understanding of energy and climate change, two of the defining issues of our time."
White edited ProPublica's coverage of natural gas drilling, which won a George Polk Award and other national honors. Two of the projects she edited for ProPublica are being honored with first place awards this year from the Society of Environmental Journalists. Prior to her three years at ProPublica, White was the Union-Tribune's writing coach, U.S.-Mexico border editor and enterprise editor.
Electric vehicles are on a roll, with charging stations popping up in cities nationwide, federal subsidies for car buyers and much anticipation around the rollout of new cars.
But proponents of another type of vehicle say they are quietly laying the groundwork for an alternative to the electric car, and they wish they were getting more attention and federal support.
Vehicles that run on compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel emit about a quarter less carbon dioxide than gasoline engines and very low levels of compounds harmful to public health. Filling up on natural gas currently costs about one fourth to one half as much as traditional gasoline per mile driven. Fueling a natural gas vehicle can take only five to 10 minutes, compared to up to eight hours to recharge an electric car, and vehicles can go much farther on a tank of CNG than an electric battery.
So natural gas companies and other proponents—including energy mogul T. Boone Pickens—are calling for a "level playing field" in terms of government subsidies and urging consumers and automakers to consider natural gas vehicles.
But while the fuel for CNG vehicles may be cheap, the infrastructure is not. It can cost more than $1 million to install a commercial natural gas fueling station, whereas an electric car can plug into a standard household outlet. Even a 480-volt fast-charging station, which can charge a Nissan Leaf's battery in under an hour, costs about $20,000.
Nebraska's governor urged U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday to block TransCanada's planned Keystone oil pipeline from Alberta to the Gulf Coast, saying it could hurt a regional water source.
The State Department could issue a presidential permit for the $7 billion project, which would boost U.S. dependence on Canada's controversial oil sands. Momentum for Keystone picked up last week after the department said the project would have only limited impact on the environment.
The State Department should deny the permit on the grounds that the line could put the Ogallala Aquifer at risk, the Midwestern state's governor, Dave Heineman, said in a letter to the president and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
The aquifer in Nebraska is a main source of water for farmlands in the Midwest.
The State Department said in last week's environmental review that an oil spill from the line would affect a limited area in Nebraska's Sand Hills region, which is part of the High Plains aquifer.
Heineman said he does not oppose pipelines in general, but disagreed about the risks.
"This resource is the lifeblood of Nebraska's agriculture industry," he said in the letter. "I am concerned that the proposed pipeline will potentially have detrimental effects on this valuable natural resource and Nebraska's economy."
Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns echoed Heineman's request. "The proposed route is the wrong route. It's clear to me, after traveling throughout the state, that most Nebraskans agree a better route is needed," Johanns said in a release.
The historic earthquake that shut down Dominion Resources Inc's North Anna nuclear plant in Virginia last week may have shaken the plant more than it was designed to withstand, the U.S. nuclear regulator said on Monday.
The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said it has dispatched a special team of inspectors to the Virginia plant that was rocked by the 5.8 magnitude earthquake last week, after initial reviews from Dominion indicated the ground motion may have exceeded the plant's design parameters.
The North Anna plant cannot be restarted until the operator can show that no "functional damage" occurred to equipment needed for the safe operation, the NRC said.
"The company and the NRC will continue to carefully evaluate information to determine if additional actions may be necessary," the regulator said in a statement.
After the earthquake last week, Dominion said the North Anna reactors, which entered service in 1978 and 1980, were designed for an earthquake of up to 6.2 magnitude, but the NRC does not use that scale to measure seismic design specifications. Instead, the commission looks at ground motion measurements.
Dominion spokesman Rick Zuercher said on Monday that more will be known about whether the quake exceeded the station's design by midweek as further analysis is done on seismic plates from the station's containment building.
A solar project heralded a year ago by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn as helping create "hundreds of sustainable, green-collar jobs and providing an economic boost to the entire state," has had trouble getting financing, and has drastically scaled back its short-term ambitions.
At the time, the proposed Rockford Solar Project in Rockford, Ill., was to have been the Midwest's largest solar farm, but Pin Ni, the chief executive of Wanxiang America, a leading partner in the joint venture building the facility, told Midwest Energy News that in terms of financing, "we're in the middle of nowhere."
The difficulty experienced by even Wanxiang, a company known in the business world for having deep pockets, may illustrate just how tough solar developers will find the Midwest, especially as the economy continues to struggle.