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New Safety Rules Proposed to Curb Oil Train Explosions And Spills

Jul 23, 2014
(AP)

Thousands of older rail tank cars that carry crude oil would be phased out within two years under regulations proposed Wednesday in response to a series of fiery train crashes over the past year, including a runaway oil train that exploded in the Quebec town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people.

Accident investigators have complained for decades that the cars are too easily punctured or ruptured, spilling their contents, when derailed.

The phase-in period for replacing or retrofitting the DOT-111 tank cars is shorter than the Canadian government's three-year phased plan. However, regulators left open the question of what kind of tank car will replace the old ones, saying they will choose later from among several proposals.

Obama Administration to Announce Stricter Oil Train Safety Standards

Jul 23, 2014
(Wall Street Journal)

The Obama administration will unveil Wednesday new rules proposing stricter safety standards on trains carrying flammable fuels, including oil and ethanol, according to a Capitol Hill source familiar with the pending regulation.

The rules, to be announced by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx, will include standards for tank cars, speed limits for trains carrying flammable fuels, brake standards and required testing for oil and other volatile liquids.

Railroads, oil companies and railcar owners have been expecting new federal rules meant to improve the safety of oil shipments in the wake of several fiery train accidents. The proposed regulation could impact several industries.

Wisconsin Oil Train Derailment Injures 2 People, Leads to Home Evacuations

Jul 22, 2014
(AP)

A Canadian National Railway Co. train struck another freight train as it rolled through a small village in southeastern Wisconsin, causing cars to derail, injuring two people and spilling thousands of gallons of fuel that prompted the evacuation of dozens of homes.

The southbound Canadian National train struck several Wisconsin & Southern Railroad cars around 8:30 p.m. Sunday at a rail crossing in Slinger, according to Patrick Waldron, a Canadian National spokesman.

Three engines and 10 railcars derailed, Slinger Fire Chief Rick Hanke said. Slinger is about 35 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

Maine City Approves Law Barring Tar Sands Oil

Jul 22, 2014
(Portland Press Herald)

The City Council gave final approval Monday night to controversial zoning changes that are expected to block the potential export of Canadian tar sands oil from the city's waterfront.

The South Portland Community Center gym erupted with cheers and applause when the council voted 6-1 in favor of a ban that may soon be challenged in court and at the ballot box if opponents move forward with threats of a lawsuit and a citizen-initiated referendum.

Councilor Tom Blake warned opponents against fighting the "will of the people," which could cost the city untold legal fees and "alienate yourselves even further."

World Breaks Monthly Heat Record 2 Times in a Row

Jul 21, 2014
(AP)

The globe is on a hot streak, setting a heat record in June. That's after the world broke a record in May.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that last month's average global temperature was 61.2 degrees, which is 1.3 degrees higher than the 20th century average. It beat 2010's old record by one-twentieth of a degree.

While one-twentieth of a degree doesn't sound like much, in temperature records it's like winning a horse race by several lengths, said NOAA climate monitoring chief Derek Arndt.

"We are living in the steroid era of the climate system," Arndt said.

Calif. Halts Injection of Fracking Waste Out Of Fear It's Contaminating Aquifers

Jul 19, 2014
(ProPublica)

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state's drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.

The state's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources on July 7 issued cease and desist orders to seven energy companies warning that they may be injecting their waste into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, and stating that their waste disposal "poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources." The orders were first reported by the Bakersfield Californian, and the state has confirmed with ProPublica that its investigation is expanding to look at additional wells.

The action comes as California's agriculture industry copes with a drought crisis that has emptied reservoirs and cost the state $2.2 billion this year alone. The lack of water has forced farmers across the state to supplement their water supply from underground aquifers, according to a study released this week by the University of California Davis.

The problem is that at least 100 of the state's aquifers were presumed to be useless for drinking and farming because the water was either of poor quality, or too deep underground to easily access. Years ago, the state exempted them from environmental protection and allowed the oil and gas industry to intentionally pollute them. But not all aquifers are exempted, and the system amounts to a patchwork of protected and unprotected water resources deep underground. Now, according to the cease and desist orders issued by the state, it appears that at least seven injection wells are likely pumping waste into fresh water aquifers protected by the law, and not other aquifers sacrificed by the state long ago.

"The aquifers in question with respect to the orders that have been issued are not exempt," said Ed Wilson, a spokesperson for the California Department of Conservation in an email.

A 2012 ProPublica investigation of more than 700,000 injection wells across the country found that wells were often poorly regulated and experienced high rates of failure, outcomes that were likely polluting underground water supplies that are supposed to be protected by federal law. That investigation also disclosed a little-known program overseen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that exempted more than 1,000 other drinking water aquifers from any sort of pollution protection at all, many of them in California.

Those are the aquifers at issue today. The exempted aquifers, according to documents the state filed with the U.S. EPA in 1981 and obtained by ProPublica, were poorly defined and ambiguously outlined. They were often identified by hand-drawn lines on a map, making it difficult to know today exactly which bodies of water were supposed to be protected, and by which aspects of the governing laws. Those exemptions and documents were signed by California Gov. Jerry Brown, who also was governor in 1981.

State officials emphasized to ProPublica that they will now order water testing and monitoring at the injection well sites in question. To date, they said, they have not yet found any of the more regulated aquifers to have been contaminated.

"We do not have any direct evidence any drinking water has been affected," wrote Steve Bohlen, the state oil and gas supervisor, in a statement to ProPublica.

Bohlen said his office was acting "out of an abundance of caution," and a spokesperson said that the state became aware of the problems through a review of facilities it was conducting according to California's fracking law passed late last year, which required the state to study fracking impacts and adopt regulations to address its risks, presumably including underground disposal.

California officials have long been under fire for their injection well practices, a waste disposal program that the state runs according to federal law and under a sort of license — called "primacy" — given to it by the EPA.

Australia’s Carbon Reversal Sets New Tone for Climate Treaty Talks

Jul 18, 2014
(Globe and Mail )

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's move to repeal his country's carbon tax provides an international boost for the Harper government, which has regularly attacked opponents who propose putting a price on emissions in Canada.

Australia’s reversal on carbon pricing comes at a critical time, just two months prior to a United Nations climate summit to be hosted by secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who is looking for countries to commit to post-2020 emission reductions and new policies to achieve those targets.

Environmental Group Accuses U.S. of Lobbying EU to Accept Tar Sands Oil

Jul 18, 2014
(IPS)

Newly publicized internal documents suggest that U.S. negotiators are working to permanently block a landmark regulatory proposal in the European Union aimed at addressing climate change, and instead to force European countries to import particularly dirty forms of oil.

Environmentalists, working off of documents released through open government requests, say U.S. trade representatives are responding to frustrations voiced by the oil and gas industry here. This week, U.S. and E.U. officials are in Brussels for the sixth round of talks towards what would be the world’s largest free-trade area, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

"These documents show that the U.S. is simply not interested in an open, transparent [negotiation] process," Bill Waren, a senior trade analyst with Friends of the Earth U.S., a watchdog group, told IPS. "Rather, U.S. representatives have been lobbying on the [E.U. regulatory proposal] in a way that reflects the interests of Chevron, ExxonMobil and others."

Australia Kills Off Its Climate Change Policy

Jul 17, 2014
(Guardian)

Australia's carbon price has been repealed, leaving the nation with no legislated policy to achieve even the minimum 5 percent greenhouse emissions reduction target it has inscribed in international agreements.

After eight years of bitter political debate, during which climate policy dominated three election campaigns and contributed to the demise of two prime ministers, after last week's Senate drama in which the repeal was again defeated and this week's lengthy last gasp debate, the Senate has now finally voted to make good Tony Abbott’s "pledge in blood" to "axe the tax."

The government was backed by seven of the new crossbench senators, including the three Palmer United party senators, Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm, Family First senator Bob Day, Motoring Enthusiast senator Ricky Muir, DLP senator John Madigan. Independent senator Nick Xenophon was unwell.

Only the Australian Labor party and the Greens voted against repealing the carbon pricing scheme they introduced, which came into effect two years ago.

Leader of the government in the Senate and former climate change minister Penny Wong said repealing the bills meant “this nation will have walked away from a credible and efficient response to climate change”.

Wong said the prime minister Tony Abbott had "staked his political career...on fearmongering and scaremongering and that is what this debate has been about for years."

"“I think future generations will look back on these bills and they will be appalled...at the short-sighted, opportunistic selfish politics of those opposite and Mr Abbott will go down as one of the most short-sighted, selfish and small people ever to occupy the office of prime minister."

Government backbencher Ian Macdonald accused opposition parties of being hypocrites for refusing to accept the will of the voters and said that while he had “an open mind”, he would like to point out that Brisbane had recently had its coldest day in 113 years.

Greens leader Christine Milne said it was "a vote for failure" amid interjections from government backbenchers that she should "get over it" because the parliament was "respecting the will of the Australian people."

Texas City Rejects Fracking Ban; Sends Issue to Voters This November

Jul 16, 2014
(AP)

The council governing a North Texas city that sits atop a large natural gas reserve rejected a bid early Wednesday morning to ban further permitting of hydraulic fracturing in the community after eight hours of public testimony.

Denton City Council members voted down the petition 5-2, sending the proposal to a public ballot in November.

Fracking involves blasting a mix of water, sand and chemicals deep into underground rock formations to release trapped oil and gas. While the method has long stirred concerns about its effects on the environment and human health, proponents argue that fracking can be done safely and is cleaner than other forms of energy extraction. And industry groups and state regulators had warned such a ban could be followed by litigation and a severe hit to Denton's economy.