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Exxon Agrees to Disclose Fracking Risks

Apr 4, 2014
(Wall Street Journal)

Exxon Mobil Corp. agreed to publicly disclose more details on the risks of hydraulic fracturing of oil and gas wells, reversing a long-held opposition after negotiations with environmental groups and investors.

The Texas oil company's decision is the latest evidence of a shift by Exxon's top executives to address growing environmental worries about fracking, a contentious energy production technique in some North American communities.

Exxon's disclosures are a response to a shareholder proposal brought by the New York City comptroller and social-responsibility advocate As You Sow, which agreed to withdraw the measure ahead of the company's annual meeting next month.

The move is hardly a surrender to environmental interests, but does indicate a greater push by executives to press their case for oil and gas development at a time when public opposition to domestic drilling has unnerved some in the industry.

TransCanada Sets Deadline for Keystone Pipeline Easement Offers

Apr 3, 2014
(Lincoln Journal Star)

Landowners along the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline received letters Wednesday warning them that current easement offers will be pulled after May 14—and future offers will be significantly less lucrative.

TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based company seeking to build the pipeline, has made offers as high as $250,000, including up-front crop damage payments and land-use compensation.

After the deadline, the company said, compensation packages will be refigured to reflect actual land values and commodity prices.

TransCanada spokesman Shawn Howard said the deadline is a standard business practice, and the company has made efforts to negotiate in good faith.

Tar Sands Air Emissions Linked to Health Concerns, Alberta Report Says

Apr 1, 2014
(Globe and Mail)

In one of the first reports to link oil sands production to human health effects, a panel reporting to Alberta's energy regulator says odors from a heavy oil site in the northwestern part of the province have the potential to cause health issues.

Human health is a concern often cited by opponents of rapid oil sands development. But while other Alberta government entities have examined long-standing cancer concerns in the small First Nations community of Fort Chipewyan north of Fort McMurray, no study in that area has found a conclusive link to nearby oil-sands sites and human health. Last week, for instance, Alberta's chief medical officer of health said cancer rates in Fort Chipewyan are similar to those in the rest of the province.

Monday's panel report, which makes recommendations to the Alberta Energy Regulator, follows panel hearings in January on heavy-oil health concerns from residents of a small farming community south of Peace River.

Climate Change a Threat to Security, Food and Humankind, IPCC Report Says

Mar 31, 2014

A United Nations report raised the threat of climate change to a whole new level on Monday, warning of sweeping consequences to life and livelihood.

The report from the UN's intergovernmental panel on climate change concluded that climate change was already having effects in real time – melting sea ice and thawing permafrost in the Arctic, killing off coral reefs in the oceans, and leading to heat waves, heavy rains and mega-disasters.

And the worst was yet to come. Climate change posed a threat to global food stocks, and to human security, the blockbuster report said.

Monday's report was the most sobering so far from the UN climate panel and, scientists said, the most definitive. The report – a three year joint effort by more than 300 scientists – grew to 2,600 pages and 32 volumes.

The volume of scientific literature on the effects of climate change has doubled since the last report, and the findings make an increasingly detailed picture of how climate change – in tandem with existing fault lines such as poverty and inequality – poses a much more direct threat to life and livelihood.

This was reflected in the language. The summary mentioned the word “risk” more than 230 times, compared to just over 40 mentions seven years ago, according to a count by the Red Cross.

At the forefront of those risks was the potential for humanitarian crisis. The report catalogued some of the disasters that have been visited around the planet since 2000: killer heat waves in Europe, wildfires in Australia, and deadly floods in Pakistan.

“We are now in an era where climate change isn't some kind of future hypothetical,” said Chris Field, one of the two main authors of the report.

Those extreme weather events would take a disproportionate toll on poor, weak and elderly people. The scientists said governments did not have systems in place to protect those populations. “This would really be a severe challenge for some of the poorest communities and poorest countries in the world,” said Maggie Opondo, a geographer from the University of Nairobi and one of the authors.

The warning signs about climate change and extreme weather events have been accumulating over time. But this report struck out on relatively new ground by drawing a clear line connecting climate change to food scarcity, and conflict.

The report said climate change had already cut into the global food supply. Global crop yields were beginning to decline – especially for wheat – raising doubts as to whether production could keep up with population growth.

“It has now become evident in some parts of the world that the green revolution has reached a plateau,” Pachauri said.

The future looks even more grim. Under some scenarios, climate change could lead to dramatic drops in global wheat production as well as reductions in maize.

"Climate change is acting as a brake. We need yields to grow to meet growing demand, but already climate change is slowing those yields," said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton professor and an author of the report.

Other food sources are also under threat. Fish catches in some areas of the tropics are projected to fall by between 40% and 60%, according to the report.

The report also connected climate change to rising food prices and political instability, for instance the riots in Asia and Africa after food price shocks in 2008.

"The impacts are already evident in many places in the world. It is not something that is [only] going to happen in the future," said David Lobell, a professor at Stanford University's centre for food security, who devised the models.

"Almost everywhere you see the warming effects have a negative affect on wheat and there is a similar story for corn as well. These are not yet enormous effects but they show clearly that the trends are big enough to be important," Lobell said.

The report acknowledged that there were a few isolated areas where a longer growing season had been good for farming. But it played down the idea that there may be advantages to climate change as far as food production is concerned.

Overall, the report said, "Negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts." Scientists and campaigners pointed to the finding as a defining feature of the report.

The report also warned for the first time that climate change, combined with poverty and economic shocks, could lead to war and drive people to leave their homes.

With the catalogue of risks, the scientists said they hoped to persuade governments and the public that it was past time to cut greenhouse gas emissions and to plan for sea walls and other infrastructure that offer some protection for climate change.

“The one message that comes out of this is the world has to adapt and the world has to mitigate,” said Pachauri.

ExxonMobil Exec Says Additional Factor At Work in Pipeline Rupture

Mar 31, 2014
(Talk Business & Politics)

A year after the Mayflower oil spill, ExxonMobil executives are submitting a pipeline remediation plan to federal regulators that will include extraordinary integrity testing measures that may take more than a year to complete.

The oil and gas giant has also discovered additional factors that may have caused the pipeline to rupture.

In an exclusive interview with Talk Business & Politics, vice-president for U.S. Pipeline Operations Karen Tyrone said the Pegasus pipeline will be put through a "spike hydrostatic test," which will push water through the conduit at 1.39 times the maximum operating pressure to stress the pipe beyond any weak points.

"The purpose of a spike hydrotest is to reveal and eliminate any of these weak, original manufacturing defects that could ultimately be an integrity problem for you," Tyrone said. "It will be testing the pipeline beyond what it’s ever been tested before."

White House Unveils Strategy to Cut Methane Emissions

Mar 28, 2014
(The Hill)

The Obama administration is ordering federal agencies to take on emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane in an effort to fight climate change.

The sweeping interagency plan highlights new steps the administration will take to cut emissions across a number of industries, including energy and agriculture.

The long-awaited methane strategy provides no hard timeline for a proposed rule by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The agency will begin working on series of white papers this spring focused on significant sources of methane emissions, such as hydraulic fractured oil wells and natural-gas system leaks, said Dan Utech, top climate adviser to President Obama.

BP Confirms Oil Spill into Lake Michigan From Tar Sands Refinery

Mar 26, 2014
(Chicago Tribune)

Less than a year after BP started up a new unit to process Canadian tar sands at its Whiting refinery, the company reported today that a malfunction allowed a slug of crude oil into Lake Michigan a few miles away from the Chicago city limits.

It remains unclear how much oil spilled into the lake or how long the discharge continued. Workers at the refinery reported an oil sheen on the water about 4:30 p.m. Monday, and an official from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said the leak was plugged by the time he arrived at 9 p.m.

Mike Beslow, the EPA's emergency response coordinator, said there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs. The 68th Street water intake crib is about eight miles northwest of the spill site, but there were no signs of oil drifting in that direction.

Christie Improperly Pulled N.J. From Carbon Trading Pact, Court Rules

Mar 25, 2014
(The Record)

The Christie administration did not properly withdraw New Jersey from a multistate program designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, an appeals panel rule Tuesday.

But the ruling does not reinstate New Jersey into the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or RGGI. Instead, it ordered the state Department of Environmental Protection to formally repeal the regulations that secured membership in RGGI. That would require public input.

"The court ruled that the public needs to be involved." said Susan Kraham, an attorney who argued against the state on behalf of two advocacy groups, Environment New Jersey and the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Neither Governor Christie nor the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection can simply repeal state laws by fiat."

No End in Sight for Containing Galveston Bay Heavy Oil Spill

Mar 24, 2014
(Texas Tribune)

With no end in sight to containing a spill that may have dumped 150,000 gallons of fuel oil into Galveston Bay on Saturday, the hit to Texas' economy and environment is already huge—and sure to grow.

The 50-mile Houston Ship Channel, one of the world's biggest waterways for the transport of petroleum products, chemicals and other materials, remains shut down. Cruise ships can't depart from key ports. Galveston Bay's multibillion-dollar recreational and commercial fishing industry is off limits during a peak tourist season. And the scores of vulnerable species in Galveston Bay, most notably birds that are soon to begin their northward migration along the upper Texas coast, are at grave risk.

The type of oil that spilled—a marine fuel oil known as RMG 380—is black, sticky and particularly heavy. That means that instead of evaporating from the surface of the water like gasoline would, much of it will sink, persisting in the environment for months or even years. While this heavier oil is not acutely toxic, it can smother wildlife, to devastating effect.

North Dakota Pipeline Rupture Spills 34,000 Gallons of Crude

Mar 21, 2014

Cleanup workers have contained about 34,000 gallons of crude that spewed from a broken oil pipeline in northwestern North Dakota, state health officials said Friday.

North Dakota Water Quality Director Dennis Fewless said the breach occurred Thursday morning on Hiland Crude LLC's pipeline about 6 miles northeast of Alexander. A gasket on the above-ground pipeline appears to have failed near a compressor station, spewing about 800 barrels of crude, Fewless said. A barrel holds 42 gallons.

Fewless said about half the oil migrated off the site but has been contained and no water sources are threatened.