It's been two years since a broken 1940s ExxonMobil pipeline flooded an Arkansas neighborhood with Canada's heaviest oil, and the ripple effects of the spill have made it to Washington D.C., where regulators are poised to end decades of complacency by addressing the dangers of older pipelines across the country.
For the first time, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is floating what could become a new regulation to address problematic vintage pipe and other obvious risks that were factors in the rupture of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Ark.
"The Pegasus spill seemed to be a tipping point," said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog group. "PHMSA is now telling pipeline companies, 'here's what you should think about if you have older pipelines, and when you should replace them,'—and you never would have heard that coming out of their mouths before Mayflower."
The effort by PHMSA is in the early stages, and there's no guarantee that it will result in new mandatory measures for pipeline owners. But if the rule takes effect, about 95 percent of all hazardous liquid pipelines would be subject to stricter safety verification because of their age, location or other factors, according to PHMSA. Separately, new guidelines just for pre-1970 pipelines could affect more than half of the nation's 484,000 miles of pipelines carrying natural gas and hazardous liquids such as oil and gasoline.
The ExxonMobil line was made from pipe that was manufactured nearly 70 years ago and widely known to be prone to dangerous cracking along its lengthwise seams. The line had split open or leaked nearly a dozen times during the oil company's own testing a few years before the spill. Despite those factors, ExxonMobil gave little weight to the threat of cracks or seam failure in its testing, spill prevention and maintenance plans for the Pegasus, according to PHMSA.
Mexico promised on Friday that its emissions of greenhouse gases will peak by 2026 and then begin to decline, making it the first developing country to present a formal climate pledge under a United Nations process that is meant to rope in all the world’s nations, rich and poor.
Mexico’s pledge is a major milestone on the road to Paris, where by the end of this year the UN wants to complete a comprehensive climate pact.
Negotiators agreed in Lima last year that countries that are ready should declare their goals, known as Individually Determined National Contributions, or INDC’s, by March 31. They urged all nations to announce fair and ambitious goals well before the final December talks in Paris.
Democratic Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, one of the most vocal and active climate leaders on Capitol Hill, announced Friday morning he would not seek re-election in 2016.
The Senate minority leader's retirement is a major loss for the climate movement, several political and environmental experts told InsideClimate News.
Reid, 75, has championed dozens of environmental initiatives during his five terms in office, including designating more than 3 million acres of federally protected wilderness, promoting renewable energy, and thwarting three new coal-fired power plant projects in his home state. In recent years, he's become an outspoken advocate for climate action, calling global warming, "one of the greatest challenges of our time."
Copenhagen and Melbourne have committed to the most aggressive carbon reduction goals on the planet.
Now those two cities––homes to 4.5 million people––have been joined by a perhaps unlikely companion on the fast track to carbon neutrality: the Colorado college town of Fort Collins, home to 150,000.
Earlier this month, the city approved new targets to reduce emissions 80 percent by 2030 and become carbon neutral by 2050. Those goals place Fort Collins among a handful of cities playing a prominent role on the world stage in combating climate change.
"In terms of their level of ambition, they're among the leading cities trying to tackle climate change," said Paula Kirk, an associate in the energy consulting group at Arup, a firm that routinely advises business and government on sustainability issues.
At least 228 cities have voluntarily set goals to reduce emissions, according to the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group, an organization that encourages cities to confront climate change. These cities vary widely in the targets that they've set––from a 10 percent reduction over five years to carbon neutrality over 35 years.
Fort Collins' six city council members, who are chosen in nonpartisan elections, voted unanimously to approve the revised goals. Although the council members don't have an official party affiliation, at least two of them identify as Republicans. The city's mayor, Karen Weitkunat, is also Republican.
The edges of Antarctica's ice sheets have been thinning at a rapid rate over the past decade—up to 70 percent faster than average in some spots—due to warming oceans and air.
Known technically as ice shelves, these edges float just offshore in bays or fjords and act as barriers that keep larger, land-based ice sheets from slipping into the ocean. Once they are gone, there will be nothing to hold back the continent-sized ice masses from sliding into the warmer oceans and melting, raising sea levels precipitously.
According to a new study published in the journal Science this week, this could happen by the end of the century.
"Within a lifetime of people who read this story, many of these shelves will be gone," said Andrew Shepherd, a polar scientist at the University of Leeds who reviewed the study before publication. "This is real, rapid environmental change. These shelves have been around for 10,000 years. It is a classic example of how drastically you can disturb the planet with small changes."
For the second year in a row, automakers in 2013 surpassed the ambitious fuel-efficiency and emission-reduction demands of federal regulators, the Environmental Protection Agency reported Thursday. The rules, first set in 2010, are meant to double the performance of American cars by the year 2025.
On average, the industry beat the annual goal for greenhouse gas emissions by 12 grams per vehicle-mile traveled, slightly better than the year before, the report said.
Will Maryland soon close its borders to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking?
The state's House of Delegates voted 94-45 Tuesday in favor of legislation that seeks a three-year ban on fracking, the controversial practice for extracting oil-and-gas reserves.
The largely Democrat-backed measure is now under review by the Senate Committee on Education, Health and Environmental Affairs. There's no set timeline for a vote in the Senate, where it's unclear if there's enough support to pass the bill.
If this bill becomes law, "we believe it will lead to Maryland not allowing fracking" permanently, following in the footsteps of New York, said Ryanne Waters, a spokeswoman for the environmental advocacy group Food and Water Watch, which has campaigned against fracking in Maryland.
In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking after a state study determined there is insufficient data available to conclude it would be safe. Fracking currently takes place in 22 states. Waters said that the New York decision has given the anti-fracking movement nationwide "more steam” and “more credibility."
Government officials last week blocked a groundbreaking shareholder proposal on climate change from going to a vote at ExxonMobil. The move has confounded proponents, because the decision came just five days after the same agency cleared a similar resolution for Chevron's shareholder ballot.
"I'm completely baffled, frankly," said Natasha Lamb, director of equity research and shareholder engagement at wealth manager Arjuna Capital, lead sponsor of the ExxonMobil resolution. "The proposals are virtually identical."
The Chevron and Exxon rulings came from two different attorney-advisers at the Securities and Exchange Commission. The agency provides guidance to public companies that seek to exclude shareholder resolutions from the annual ballots distributed each year to vote on board directors, among other things.
Both of the resolutions at issue cite the threat from climate change as a reason to rein in spending on risky exploration projects in ultra-deep water, the Arctic and Canada's oil sands. They argue that those projects at Exxon and Chevron are chasing reserves that might become unsellable—or stranded—in a carbon-constrained world and in low-oil-price scenarios. The resolutions say the prudent course is for the companies to return that cash to shareholders instead, via dividends (Chevron) or a combination of dividends and share buybacks (Exxon).
The investigative series "Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie," by InsideClimate News in collaboration with the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel, was awarded first place by the Association of Health Care Journalists.
The series, by ICN reporters Lisa Song and David Hasemyer along with Jim Morris of CPI, capped an eight-month investigation into the toxic chemicals released into the air by hydraulic fracturing, highlighting the public health threats of the fracking boom.
Harvard's fossil fuel divestment movement recently hit a snag.
Last week, a Massachusetts court dismissed a novel lawsuit brought by seven Harvard students seeking to make the university in Cambridge, Mass., divest its $36.4 billion endowment of holdings in major coal, oil and natural gas companies.
The students made two claims in the lawsuit. The first claim, filed on behalf of themselves, argued that divestment is justified under their interpretation of the school's charter. The second claim, filed on behalf of future generations—people whose "future health, safety and welfare depends on current efforts to slow the pace" of man-made climate change—argued that the school was intentionally investing in a known dangerous activity and should be stopped.