The lawsuit that state and federal officials in Arkansas filed last week against ExxonMobil is unusual, pipeline experts say, because government agencies usually wait much longer—sometimes even years—before filing lawsuits against companies involved in pipeline accidents.
Exxon's Pegasus pipeline ruptured on March 29, spilling at least 210,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into Mayflower, Ark. about 25 miles northwest of Little Rock.
"And this [the lawsuit] comes along three months after?" said Carl Weimer, executive director of the Pipeline Safety Trust, a nonprofit watchdog organization based in Bellingham, Wash. "There's something at work here we simply don't know about."
Philadelphia attorney Andy Levine, a former senior assistant regional counsel for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, described the legal strategy being pursued in Arkansas as "a head scratcher."
Since 2010, at least three ruptured pipelines have spilled oil into U.S. neighborhoods, forcing officials to decide quickly whether local residents would be harmed if they breathed the foul air. But because there are no clear federal guidelines saying if or when the public should be evacuated during an oil spill, health officials had to use a patchwork of scientific and regulatory data designed for other situations.
As a result, residents of the three communities received different levels of protection.
No houses were evacuated in Salt Lake City, Utah, where a ruptured pipeline leaked 33,000 gallons of medium grade crude oil before it was discovered on the morning of June 12, 2010. The oil ran down Red Butte Creek, past neighborhoods where windows were left open in the summer heat. The fumes, which are known to cause drowsiness, left some people so lethargic that they didn't wake up until after noon.
In Marshall, Mich. officials called for a voluntary evacuation after more than a million gallons of heavy Canadian crude spilled into the Kalamazoo River on July 25, 2010. But they agonized over the decision for four days before making that recommendation.
In Mayflower, Ark. authorities quickly evacuated 22 families after a broken pipeline leaked about 200,000 gallons of heavy crude on March 29, 2013. But people living in the same subdivision, just a few blocks away, were not asked to leave. Neither were the residents of the lakeside community where the oil eventually pooled and where the cleanup continues today.
Mainstream environmental groups in Illinois celebrated last month after state lawmakers approved a bill regulating fracking—a bill the environmental groups themselves had helped write in a unique collaboration with the fossil fuel industry and politicians.
Local grassroots groups, however, want fracking in Illinois stopped altogether, not simply regulated with legislation. They are not only protesting the law, but also their one-time allies.
"A lot of people feel betrayed and sold out," said Sandra Steingraber, an environmental health expert and Illinois native who has joined the anti-fracking grassroots campaign. For years, the grassroots groups had worked with mainstream organizations to persuade legislators to institute a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, she said. "Without consulting the grassroots, these compromise-oriented [mainstream] groups seemingly dropped the joint fight for a moratorium in favor of regulation written behind closed doors ... They were negotiating on our behalf without our permission."
BERLIN—The grand old building in downtown Berlin has seen some of the worst of German history: aerial bombing in World War II, a close-up view of the Berlin Wall, service as communist East Germany's highest court. But on May 24 an ornate conference room in the Ministry of Economics and Technology served as the setting for the delivery of a report card on a new and more hopeful chapter in Germany history: the country's ambitious effort to run its economy on non-polluting energy.
Germany has gone farther than any other large industrial economy in decarbonizing its power sector. Already it derives more than 20 percent of its electricity from clean sources, and it's aiming to reach 80 percent by 2050. But the sheer scale of its Energiewende, or "energy transition," has caused skeptics here and abroad to question whether those goals are really attainable.
In 2008, Virginia resident Ruth McElroy Amundsen took her first stab at using shareholder activism to spur action on climate change—she introduced a resolution that challenged Dominion Resources Inc., Virginia's largest emitter of greenhouse gases, to get more of its electricity from renewables.
Since then the 51-year-old NASA engineer and mother of two has helped spark a growing movement to pressure Dominion to respond to global warming concerns. Last month, the informal network of 20 activists achieved its biggest success yet: Shareholders representing nearly a quarter of Dominion's shares voted "yes" on a proposal to require the utility to report to investors on the financial risks that climate change poses to its business.
That wasn't enough to pass the resolution, but it was by far the highest number of "yes" votes ever cast for a climate resolution to Dominion. It was a surprising result, the activists say, because the company has been particularly resistant to climate and renewable energy policies.
WASHINGTON—The Obama administration has sharply increased its cost estimates for the global-warming damage caused by carbon dioxide emissions, a calculation that could significantly affect government policies about fossil fuel projects, including the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The new estimates could influence many other government actions, such as setting efficiency standards for appliances and industrial equipment and establishing emissions standards for new and existing power plants. It will also factor into the running debate on whether to impose a carbon tax or find some other way to put a price on carbon emissions.
At issue is what economists call "the social cost of carbon," a measurement of the price society ultimately pays for the damages caused by each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted. The higher the social cost, the more economic sense it makes to impose strict but expensive emission controls.
A central estimate in the range of possibilities presented in the administration's new calculations is that each additional ton of carbon dioxide emitted in the year 2020 will cost society $43—a number that rises in subsequent years, as the mounting pollution exacerbates the problem of global warming. That estimate is about 66 percent higher than the $26 per ton cost calculated back in 2010, when the administration issued its first set of estimates.
California is replacing oil with cleaner-burning fuels in cars and trucks, thanks to a landmark low-carbon fuel rule, according to a recent report. But the rule's fate is uncertain amid legal chaos and a shortfall in the production of clean biofuels.
The report, conducted by researchers at the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Davis, said California drivers saved more than two billion gallons of gasoline in the two years since the launch of the rule—about as much gas as the state uses in two months. The carbon emissions reduction is equal to taking half a million vehicles off the road.
Companies "are meeting and exceeding the standard," said Sonia Yeh, the report's lead author and a research scientist at the institute.
But the standard remains in legal limbo.
A Canadian company is repairing dozens of defects along the newly laid southern leg of the Keystone XL—the section of the oil pipeline that does not need approval from the U.S. State Department and is already under construction.
The Oklahoma-to-Texas pipeline is not yet operational, but landowners worry that the repairs hint at more serious problems that could someday lead to oil spills. The project will carry primarily Canadian oil—including diluted bitumen from Alberta's oil sands—from Cushing, Okla. to the Texas Gulf Coast.
David Whitley, who owns a small cattle ranch in Wood County, Texas, said he first heard about the repairs six weeks ago, when TransCanada—the company behind the project—asked to dig up a small section of the pipeline on his land for a visual inspection. Whitley said the work was described as part of a "random inspection."
Construction workers showed up with heavy equipment and dug a trench at least 30 feet long, he told InsideClimate News. They removed an eight-foot section of pipe and painted it with the words "DENT" and "CUT OUT." Later, Whitley said he found a construction checklist near the trench that labeled his property as work site 31 or 34. (He said the last digit was difficult to read.)
In a video produced by Public Citizen Texas, a nonprofit that opposes the pipeline, landowners say pipeline workers have told them there are at least 40 "anomalies" along a 60 or 70-mile stretch of the line in east Texas.
WASHINGTON—Dozens of leading scientists in the fields of climate change, public health and ecology have told the State Department that the findings of its draft assessment of the impacts of the Keystone XL pipeline are "without merit in many critical areas."
In unusually blunt advice, they urged the Obama administration to reject the pipeline as not being in the U.S. national interest.
"How is importing the world's highest carbon content crude consistent with national policy goals?" they asked. "Now is the time to make a serious commitment to place the United States on a lower carbon trajectory. If not now, when? If not here, where?"
Many of the 29 signatories, like retired NASA scientist James Hansen and Penn State professor of meteorology Michael Mann, are already well known for their opposition to the pipeline. Fourteen of the signatories were among a group of 18 leading climate scientists who wrote President Obama in January urging him not to approve the pipeline.
While all eyes are on TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline, another Canadian company is quietly building a 5,000-mile network of new and expanded pipelines that would achieve the same goal as the Keystone. In fact, the project by Enbridge, Inc., Canada's largest transporter of crude oil, would bring even more Canadian oil into the U.S. than the much-debated Keystone project.
Enbridge has already begun growing its existing pipeline infrastructure to increase the flow of Canadian and U.S.-produced oil into refineries and ports in the Midwest, Gulf Coast and Northeastern Canada. The company's plans have largely escaped public scrutiny, in part because its expansion has proceeded in many segments and phases.