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.
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.
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'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."
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.
President Obama will announce a series of climate change initiatives on Wednesday aimed at guarding the electricity supply; improving local planning for flooding, coastal erosion and storm surges; and better predicting landslide risks as sea levels rise and storms and droughts intensify.
The actions, involving a variety of federal agencies, were among the recommendations of the president’s State, Local and Tribal Leaders Task Force on Climate Preparedness, a group of 26 officials who have worked since November to develop the proposals.
One of the projects involves shoring up the power supply during climate catastrophes, and the Department of Agriculture on Wednesday will award $236.3 million to improve electricity infrastructure in the rural areas of eight states. A government study released in May concluded that climate change will strain utility companies’ ability to deliver power as extreme weather damages power lines and hotter temperatures drive surges in demand.
The Harper government's "ramp-up of anti-activist rhetoric," as it's been called, has drawn criticism in media and academic circles since 2012, but the targets themselves — environmental charities and others — have been muted and self-censored.
That's largely because they've been subject to new, high-stakes tax audits into their political activities that could strip them of their coveted charitable status.
But perhaps for the first time, some of their voices are being heard unfiltered.
An umbrella group of churches, which represents over half a billion Christians worldwide, has decided to pull its investments out of fossil fuel companies.
The move by the World Council of Churches, which has 345 member churches including the Church of England but not the Catholic church, was welcomed as a "major victory" by climate campaigners who have been calling on companies and institutions such as pension funds, universities and local governments to divest from coal, oil and gas.
In an article for the Guardian in April, Archbishop Desmond Tutu said that "people of conscience need to break their ties with corporations financing the injustice of climate change" and events sponsored by fossil fuel companies could even be boycotted.
Bill McKibben, the founder of climate campaign group 350.org, said in a statement: "The World Council of Churches reminds us that morality demands thinking as much about the future as about ourselves – and that there's no threat to the future greater than the unchecked burning of fossil fuels. This is a remarkable moment for the 590 million Christians in its member denominations: a huge percentage of humanity says today 'this far and no further'."
The report of the council's financy policy committee, published on Thursday on the final day of the council's central committee meeting in Geneva, says that: "The committee discussed the ethical investment criteria, and considered that the list of sectors in which the WCC does not invest should be extended to include fossil fuels."
350.org's European divestment coordinator, Tim Ratcliffe, said: “The World Council of Churches may be the most important commitment we’ve received yet."
It is not clear yet whether Thursday's decision will apply only to the council itself, which has a comparatively small investment fund, or its members as well, which have much larger investments.
The Church of England said it could not yet comment on what the decision meant for its own investments. The CoE has not moved yet to divest from fossil fuel companies but has set up a subgroup to take advice on climate change and investment.
In May, the UN's climate chief, Christiana Figueres, gave a speech to faith leaders at St Paul's cathedral in London, calling on them to show leadership on climate change. She also said religious groups should drop their investments in fossil fuels, and encourage their members to do the same.
The City Council overwhelmingly approved a first reading Wednesday night of a controversial proposal that would block tar sands oil from coming into the city.
The council voted 6-1 shortly after 11 p.m. in the South Portland Community Center gym, where nearly 500 citizens, energy company workers and others had gathered to show their support or opposition.
Councilors who supported the proposal called it a compromise alternative to the Waterfront Protection Ordinance that was narrowly defeated last November, saying the new proposal would protect existing jobs and industry.
Around 1 million gallons of saltwater has leaked from a North Dakota pipeline, some of it into a bay that leads to a lake that provides drinking water for an American Indian reservation, company and tribe officials said Wednesday.
Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Tex Hall told The Associated Press that an underground pipeline near Mandaree leaked about 24,000 barrels, or just over 1 million gallons, of saltwater near Bear Den Bay, a tributary of Lake Sakakawea. The Missouri River reservoir provides water to communities on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, occupied by the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara tribes in the heart of western North Dakota's booming oil patch.