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Oil Companies Fracking into Drinking Water Sources, Research Shows

Aug 13, 2014
(Los Angeles Times)

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Groups Accuse EPA of Muzzling Science Advisers

Aug 12, 2014
(AP)

Journalist and scientific organizations accused the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday of attempting to muzzle its independent scientific advisers by directing them to funnel all outside requests for information through agency officials.

In a letter Tuesday, groups representing journalists and scientists urged the EPA to allow advisory board members to talk directly to news reporters, Congress and other outside groups without first asking for permission from EPA officials. An April memo from the EPA's chief of staff said that "unsolicited contacts" need to be "appropriately managed" and that committee members should refrain from directly responding to requests about committees' efforts to advise the agency.

Democrats Increasingly Backing Oil and Gas Industry

Aug 11, 2014
(Wall Street Journal)

When House Republicans took up a measure to speed the government's reviews of applications to export natural gas, a move long sought by energy companies, the unexpected happened: The bill won "yes" votes from 47 Democrats.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Cory Gardner (R., Colo.), anticipated some Democratic backing, but not that much. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, who leads the Democrats' House campaign arm, was a yes, as was House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland. Both had voted to restrict oil and natural-gas exports in 2012.

The energy boom is shaping a new kind of Democrat in national politics, lawmakers who are giving greater support to the oil and gas industry even at the risk of alienating environmental groups, a core of the party's base.

EPA Must Explain Costs of Its Rules Better, Federal Watchdog Says

Aug 11, 2014
(Washington Examiner)

The Environmental Protection Agency needs to do a better job explaining and disclosing the data it uses to determine the costs of proposed regulations, particularly those regarding climate change, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Monday.

While the agency adhered to many of the guidelines outlined by the White House Office of Management and Budget when describing the economic effects of proposed rules and potential alternatives, the report said the information EPA used was "not always clear."

"As a result, EPA cannot ensure that its [regulatory impact analyses] adhere to OMB's guidance to provide the public with a clear understanding of its decision making," the report said.

Keystone XL Could Mean More Global Warming Emissions Than Estimated, Study Says

Aug 10, 2014
(Los Angeles Times)

Building the Keystone XL pipeline could lead to as much as four times more greenhouse gas emissions than the State Department has estimated for the controversial project, according to a new study published in Nature Climate Change that relies on different calculations about oil consumption.

Emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide became central to the Obama administration’s review of a federal permit for Keystone XL, after the president announced in June 2013 that he would let the project proceed only if "it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

Fracking Waste Tainted Groundwater and Soil at 4 Pennsylvania Sites

Aug 6, 2014
(Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Leaks of fracking waste water from three impoundments in Washington County have contaminated soil and groundwater, prompting the state to issue a violation notice at one site and increase monitoring and testing at another.

John Poister, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, said the problems at three of Range Resources Inc.'s nine Washington County impoundments have raised concerns and increased regulators’ scrutiny. The impoundments store flowback and waste water from multiple Marcellus Shale well drilling and fracking operations.

"We have had some discussions with Range about its impoundments," Mr. Poister said. "We are looking at them and discussing things with them."

Drilling Company Owner Gets 2-Plus Years for Dumping Frack Waste in River

Aug 6, 2014
(Cleveland Plain Dealer)

The owner of a Youngstown oil-and-gas-drilling company was sentenced Tuesday to 28 months in prison for ordering employees to dump tens of thousands of gallons of fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River.

U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent also fined Benedict Lupo, 64, of suburban Poland $25,000. Nugent rejected defense attorney Roger Synenberg's request for home detention and a harsh fine.

Synenberg said Lupo is frail and extremely ill, as he requires dialysis treatments daily and suffers from chronic pain and diabetes.

Beijing to Ban Coal Use to Curb Air Pollution, State Media Says

Aug 5, 2014
(Reuters)

Beijing will ban coal use in its six main districts by the end of 2020, state media cited the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau as saying, as the Chinese capital steps up efforts to combat air pollution.

Beijing and the surrounding area in China's northeast is often wreathed in noxious smog, which has been cited as a factor in high rates of lung cancer.

Dongcheng, Xicheng, Chaoyang, Haidian, Fengtai and Shijingshan districts will all stop using coal and coal products and shut down coal-fired power plants and other coal facilities, the official Xinhua news agency said on Monday.

Colorado: Anti-Fracking Ballot Initiatives Called Off With Last-Minute Deal

Aug 4, 2014
(KUSA)

Environmentalists and the governor's office struck a last-minute deal to withdraw all proposed ballot initiatives to restrict fracking for the November election, defusing a political time bomb that had driven a wedge between liberal and pro-business Democrats.

The deal, which Gov. John Hickenlooper (D-Colorado) has been attempting to broker for months, avoids a costly campaign battle over the issue and the potential of more restrictive measures against oil and gas drilling in the form of a ballot question.

Farming Practices and Climate Change at Root of Toledo Drinking Water Pollution

Aug 4, 2014
(Guardian)

The toxins that contaminated the water supply of the city of Toledo – leaving 400,000 people without access to safe drinking water for two days – were produced by a massive algae boom. But this is not a natural disaster.

Water problems in the Great Lakes – the world’s largest freshwater system – have spiked in the last three years, largely because of agricultural pollution. Toledo draws its drinking water from Lake Erie.

Residents were warned not to drink the water on Saturday, after inspectors at the city’s water treatment plant detected the toxin known as microcystin. The toxin is produced by microcystis, a harmful blue-green algae; it causes skin rashes and may result in vomiting and liver damage if ingested. It has been known to kill dogs and other animals and boiling the water does not fix the problem; it only concentrates the toxin.

The current bloom of microcystis is concentrated in Maumee Bay in Lake Erie’s western basin, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). A second, smaller bloom has appeared in Sandusky Bay.

The main cause for such algal blooms is an overload of phosphorus, which washes into lakes from commercial fertiliser used by farming operations as well as urban water-treatment centres. Hotter and longer summers also promote the spread of the blue-green scum.

The US government banned phosphorus in laundry detergents in 1988. That stopped the algal blooms for some time. But they came back to the Great Lakes in force in 2011 – forming a green scum that covered 5,000 square kilometres (1,900 sq miles) of water at its biggest extent – in the worst algal bloom in recorded history.

Scientists attribute the comeback in large part to changes in farming practices, including larger farms and different fertiliser practices, which send heavier loads of phosphorus into the lakes.

In the 1960s and 1970s, before the ban on phosphorus in laundry detergents, the main sources of phosphorus in Lake Erie were urban and industrial waste. Now it’s farming, which accounts for the vast majority of the phosphorus entering the lake through the Maumee River.

An Ohio state government task force found that Lake Erie received the most phosphorus of any of the Great Lakes – 44% of the total for all of the lakes. Two-thirds of that phosphorus came from crop land, with an average load of 1.43lbs per acre, the report found.

There is evidence also that a particular kind of fertiliser could be the main driver of the toxic algal blooms. Researchers from Heidelberg University say there has been a rise in dissolved reactive phosphorus, which is soluble in water and is more available to promote algal growth. The researchers found a decline in the other form of the nutrient, particulate phosphorus, over the same time period.

Circle of Blue, in a major research project on Lake Erie algal blooms, also found a potential link to a switch to no-till farming in nearby farms.

Lake Erie has also grown more susceptible to the algal blooms because of invasive species and climate change. Heavy rains in spring and early summer – a critical time for algal bloom formation – cause more phosphorus to enter the lake through agricultural runoff. Hotter temperatures then cause the blooms to spread.

The NOAA, which has been tracking harmful blooms, forecast a larger than average outbreak of toxic algae this year – although it was expected to fall short of the 2011 record.