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Q&A: Why First Nations Are Stopping Enbridge's Tar Sands Pipeline

'We're serious about our economy. We want to make sure that it's self-sufficient and doesn't harm the environment—so it lasts forever.'

Jul 31, 2014

British Columbia's First Nations have fought the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands pipeline that would cross their land for years, and they have no intention of letting up just because the federal government recently approved it. They've ignored the wishes of Canadian Prime Minister Harper, shrugged off oil industry promises of local jobs, and rejected offers of part ownership in what could be a lucrative and long-lived project.

In short, they've been impervious to the kinds of political pressure and financial enticements that routinely succeed in smoothing the way for oil-related projects in the United States. How come?

A big part of the defiance comes from the Coastal First Nations, an alliance of aboriginal groups in British Columbia that has no interest in allowing diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands to pass through their territories or get shipped through their fishing grounds. The environment is too important to their culture, to their economy and to a succession of generations to come.

A Public Wiki Shines Light on North America's 4 Million Oil & Gas Wells

'We're not doing anything the regulators can't do themselves if they were so inclined,' says the founder of WellWiki.

Jul 30, 2014

When residents of America's fracking communities want to know if a particular oil or gas well in their neighborhood has a good environmental track record, they usually face the cumbersome task of searching through state records, which can take hours.

Now, a new website called WellWiki is trying to eliminate that frustration by making user-friendly data just a click away. Created by Joel Gehman, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta's business school, WellWiki currently lists data on more than 250,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 1859.

But Pennsylvania is just the beginning. Gehman plans to expand the site, which was launched in March, to cover all North American wells drilled since 1859—about four million. He expects to add data about West Virignia, Ohio and New York by September. 

The goal is for WellWiki to grow into "the Wikipedia of everything oil and gas-related," Gehman said.

FERC Commissioners at Hearing Agree on Need for U.S. Climate Action

In a surprise, several FERC commissioners at a Tuesday hearing went easy on EPA's new power plant rule, and all supported global warming action.

Jul 30, 2014

There are many reasons why members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the regulator of the nation's electric grid, might bristle at the Obama administration's new climate rule for power plants.

It could happen out of dismay at the complexity of a regulatory scheme that the Environmental Protection Agency proposed—but FERC must help untangle. It could stem from sympathy for power plant companies, which the agency is charged with not just regulating, but also nurturing. It could be as simple as protecting bureaucratic turf.

But at a hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Tuesday, Republican lawmakers who were counting on the commission to bolster their case against the rule, heard just as much sympathy for the EPA as hostility.



White House: $150 Billion a Year Will Be Cost of Climate Inaction

Damage to public health and biodiversity, as well as physical impacts from rising seas and more severe storms, droughts and wildfires will add up quickly.

Jul 29, 2014

Seeking to blunt Congressional criticism of its climate agenda, and in particular its new power plant rule, the White House released a report on Tuesday that argues the world could face severe economic consequences if it doesn't act now to curb global warming.

Allowing warming to pass safe levels and reach 3 degrees Celsius could cause damage amounting to 0.9 percent of global economic output each year, according to the new report from the White House's Council of Economic Advisers, a three-member group that counsels the president on economic policy.

That level of warming would cost the United States about $150 billion a year in today's dollars. It will come in the form of damage to public health and biodiversity, as well as physical impacts from rising seas and more severe storms, droughts and wildfires.



InsideClimate News Responds to Steve Everley of Energy in Depth

The ploy to manufacture an imaginary public enemy called the 'anti-fracking industry' is not a substitute for controlling fracking's toxic air emissions.

Jul 29, 2014

Last week an oil and gas industry public relations front group called Energy in Depth published a lengthy criticism of InsideClimate News and our partner for the past year, the Center for Public Integrity, of stories we've been publishing together about toxic air emissions from unconventional gas and oil production in Texas.

We believe we've aroused the group's displeasure because our work shines an unwelcome spotlight on these toxic air emissions and the manner in which they are released, with little regulation or regard for neighboring homes and communities. As our stories point out, regulators in Texas claim that the emissions are within safe levels, even though they don't have enough data to make that assertion. Our investigations have also shown that people who believe they have been sickened by the nearby emissions are left to fend for themselves.

Energy in Depth did not dispute the evidence we presented. Instead, it published a litany of allegations charging journalistic malfeasance. Not one of the allegations touched on the substance of our reporting, which is based on interviews with more than 30 scientists and technical experts, including some who work for the industry.

Obama Coal Sales to Cost Society Billions in Global-Warming Damage, Study Says

Greenpeace estimates that coal leases approved under Obama would impose future costs of between $52 billion and $530 billion.

Jul 28, 2014

The global-warming damage caused by burning coal leased from federal lands under President Obama will eventually cost society tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars—far outweighing any economic benefit of coal leasing to taxpayers, a Greenpeace report concludes.

The leasing program charges companies only about a dollar a ton on average to mine coal, but the pollution from each ton burned is estimated to cost between $22 and $237, Greenpeace said.

The report uses the federal government's method of estimating the social cost of carbon, or SCC. The SCC is a calculation devised by economists to express in today's dollars the price future generations ultimately pay for the damages caused by carbon pollution.



Maine Port Votes to Block Tar Sands Exports. But Will It Matter?

South Portland’s Clear Skies Ordinance may block pipeline plan, but industry vows political and legal fight and may have other options.

Jul 28, 2014

Environmentalists claimed victory last week when a small coastal town in Maine voted to block heavy crude exports from its harbor. The South Portland city council's decision is the result a long-running campaign by green groups to prevent the flow of oil from Canadian tar sands through a pipeline to the port.

While petroleum industry groups have vowed a political and legal fight to overturn the town's ban, securities analysts dismissed the significance of the measure, known as the Clear Skies Ordinance, altogether. They argued that there are other routes to get the oil to the East Coast.

"It is a hollow victory, almost meaningless," said David McColl, an analyst who focuses on oil sands and pipelines for the investment research company Morningstar.

Obama's Safer Oil Train Plan Faces Rulemaking Hurdles

It could take more than three years to fully halt the shipment of the most flammable liquids in the most dangerous rail cars.

Jul 25, 2014

The Obama Administration's proposal Wednesday for making oil-laden railcars safer runs 203 pages and includes a host of new rules for carrying flammable fuels by train—but they come with caveats.

The most important caveat is that they're not final regulations, and it's not uncommon for proposed safety requirements to get weakened and postponed following objections from the industries involved.

What comes next is a 60-day period for accepting comments from the public and the various industries that will be affected by the Department of Transportation's proposed rules. Then the government has to issue the final versions and give the industries time to comply. It could take more than three years to fully halt the shipment of the most flammable liquids in the most dangerous railcars.

The government's "comprehensive rulemaking proposal" also leaves two critical elements unsettled. The DOT offers three different safety standards for making new oil railcars stronger—and asks for public comments on which one should prevail. The agency also offers several variations on rail speed limits, leaving that issue unresolved.

Colorado: Judge Strikes Down Town's Fracking Ban

Sixty percent of Longmont, Colo. voters favored the ban in a 2012 ballot measure. Activists say they will appeal.

Jul 25, 2014

A Colorado court has ruled that the city of Longmont's ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is invalid.

The Boulder suburb—and the affiliated local and environmental groups that later joined the case—now have 44 days to appeal the decision. During that time, fracking will be prohibited across Longmont's 22 square miles.

The city has not yet decided whether to appeal. However, the activist groups supporting the ban will appeal, according to their attorney from the Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law.

Kaye Fissinger, a Longmont resident who had worked on the town's frack-ban campaign, previously told InsideClimate News: "We are going to take it all the way to the [state] Supreme Court."

Longmont, a middle-class community of 86,000, is one of the first Colorado cities to push back against the controversial practice of oil and gas extraction that has becoming increasing popular in the state, and nationwide. Around 60 percent of the voters favored the ban in a November 2012 ballot measure. The town has already spent more than $61,000 in legal fees to protect the ban.

Runaround: Three Months of Correspondence With the EPA

EPA's non-responsiveness in the Texas air pollution story is troubling because it keeps taxpayers in the dark about a critical issue.

By Lisa Song and Jim Morris

Jul 24, 2014

For more than a year, InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity have been reporting on air pollution caused by the fracking boom in the Eagle Ford Shale of South Texas. Despite hundreds of complaints from residents, many of them about noxious air emissions, we discovered that the state knows almost nothing about the extent of the pollution and rarely fines companies for breaking emission laws. On our 11 trips to Texas we encountered many residents who asked what seemed to be a reasonable question: If a state regulatory agency—in this case the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality—isn't doing much to curb the industry's air pollution, why isn't the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stepping in? The EPA, after all, is ultimately responsible for enforcing the federal Clean Air Act.

In February, after we published our first stories on the Eagle Ford, we began trying to answer that question by seeking on-the-record interviews with EPA officials in Washington, D.C., and Texas. Five months later, no such interviews have been granted.

Instead, EPA press officers have told us to put our questions in writing, an increasingly common response from federal agencies under the Obama administration. The process usually goes like this: A journalist calls the press office to schedule an interview but instead is told to submit written questions. Once these are in, a press officer gets answers from scientists or other officials and then crafts a written response. In most cases, nobody involved in the process—not even the EPA press officers—will agree to be quoted by name.