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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
(AP)

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.

Ruptured Ohio Pipeline Could Have Been Leaking Since Late February

Mar 21, 2014
(WLWT)

Thousands of gallons of oil have been recovered from the pipeline leak in Colerain Township, and repair efforts can start because the break in the pipe has been found.

Crews continued their efforts to clean up the mess and minimize the environmental effects Thursday.

The work reached a milestone Monday night, as crews discovered the site of the leak. A 5-inch crack on the underside of the pipe caused approximately 10,000 gallons of oil to leak.

Officials said they cannot tell how long the leak had been going on, but residents said that they had been smelling oil since late February.

With the exact break site located, crews are working to make repairs, but that could take some time.

Troubling Milestone: CO2 Levels on Path to Cross 400 PPM for a Month

Mar 20, 2014
(Climate Central)

Last year, atmospheric carbon dioxide briefly crossed 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. However, it didn’t cross that threshold until mid-May. This year’s first 400 ppm reading came a full two months earlier this past week and the seeming inexorable upward march is likely to race past another milestone next month.

"We're already seeing values over 400. Probably we'll see values dwelling over 400 in April and May. It's just a matter of time before it stays over 400 forever," said Ralph Keeling in a blog post.

Keeling runs a carbon dioxide monitoring program for Scripps Institute of Oceanography, a position he took over from his father who started it. The program takes daily measurements from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii, which sits at 11,141 feet on a volcano’s northern flank. Measurements have been recorded there continuously since March 1958. They've risen steadily since the first measurement of 313 ppm as humans have continued to burn more fossil fuels.

The graph of those concentrations is known as the Keeling Curve, one of the most iconic images in science. In addition to showing a steady rise in carbon dioxide, the graph also shows the seasonal variations in the curve. In Northern Hemisphere spring, plants burst to life and suck carbon dioxide out of the air until they die off in the fall.

Calif. Officials Prepare for Worst as Historic Drought Deepens Wildfire Risk

Mar 20, 2014
(Guardian)

California is facing wildfires "outside of any normal bounds" as a historic drought turns drying brush and trees into a perfect tinderbox, officials have warned. The state recorded 665 wildfires from 1 January, about three times the average of 225 for this time of year, according to figures compiled by Cal Fire, the state's department of forestry and fire protection.

Each day without heavy rain deepened the risks of a catastrophic fire season and made it hard to deal with more wildfires if and when they broke out, officials warned. John Laird, the secretary for natural resources, told the Guardian: "This is going to be a fire season outside any normal bounds. Anything could happen at any time."

Although the wildfire season does not officially start until May in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, locals are adjusting to life on a year-round frontline.

"This is the first time it really hit home that we have this danger," said Annette Lambert, who lives with her husband and two young children on top of a thickly wooded slope with spectacular canyon views. More than 200 communities across the state, including those overlooking Auburn, were designated fire-risk zones in the drought.

Alberta Premier Alison Redford Resigns

Mar 20, 2014
(Wall Street Journal)

Alberta Premier Alison Redford said Wednesday she will resign as the Western Canadian province’s leader, leaving her longtime ruling party leaderless amid plunging public support levels and despite a booming economy driven by oil industry growth.

Ms. Redford, 49, has headed the centrist Progressive Conservatives since 2011, but has faced growing discontent stemming from questions about her use of public funds and a halting response from her government to criticism from opposition parties and, increasingly, the public at large.

Ms. Redford has been a tireless proponent of the energy industry, a key economic engine for the province and Canada as a whole. She visited Washington five times since becoming premier to lobby U.S. policy makers to approve the controversial Keystone XL project which would connect northern Alberta’s oil sands to the Gulf of Mexico.

Climate Change Is Putting World at Risk of Irreversible Changes, Scientists Warn in Rare Policy Intervention

Mar 18, 2014
(Guardian)

The world is at growing risk of "abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes" because of a warming climate, America's premier scientific society warned on Tuesday.

In a rare intervention into a policy debate, the American Association for the Advancement of Scientists urged Americans to act swiftly to reduce greenhouse gas emissions – and lower the risks of leaving a climate catastrophe for future generations.

"As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do," the AAAS said in a new report, What we know.

"But we consider it our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes, and responding now will lower the risks and costs of taking action."

The United Nations' climate science panel, the IPCC, will gather in Yokohama, Japan next week to release the second in a series of blockbuster reports, this time outlining how a changing climate is affecting rainfall and heat waves, sea level and the oceans, fisheries and food security.

But the AAAS scientists said they were releasing their own assessment ahead of time because they were concerned that Americans still failed to appreciate the gravity of climate change.

Despite "overwhelming evidence," the AAAS said Americans had failed to appreciate the seriousness of the risks posed by climate change, and had yet to mobilise at a pace and scale needed to avoid a climate catastrophe.

The scientists said they were hoping to persuade Americans to look at climate change as an issue of risk management. The society said it plans to send out scientists on speaking tours to try to begin a debate on managing those risks.

The report noted the climate is warming at almost unprecedented pace.

"The rate of climate change now may be as fast as any extended warming period over the past 65 million years, and it is projected to accelerate in the coming decades."

An 8F rise – among the most likely scenarios could make once rare extreme weather events – 100-year floods, droughts and heat waves – almost annual occurrences, the scientists said.

Other sudden systemic changes could lie ahead – such as large scale collapse of the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets, collapse of part of the Gulf Stream, loss of the Amazon rain forest, die-off of coral reefs, and mass extinctions.

"There is a risk of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes in the earth’s climate system with massively disruptive impacts," the report said.

The risks of such catastrophes would only grow over time – unless there was action to cut emissions, the scientists said.

Wyoming First State to Block Science Standards That Teach Climate Change

Mar 17, 2014
(Casper Star-Tribune)

Wyoming is the first state to block a new set of national science standards, but a week after Gov. Matt Mead signed off on the change, education advocates are still digesting what the action means for the state.

Some say the provision, which came through a last-minute budget footnote, blocks the state from considering any part of the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of K-12 standards developed by national science education groups and representatives from 26 states. Others, including the provision's author, say it prevents the wholesale adoption of the standards as they are written.