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Map: Obama's Offshore Drilling Plan

Southern states see a bonanza, environmentalists see mixed signals from Obama on climate change as moratorium ends after almost three decades.

Jan 28, 2015

The Obama administration announced plans Tuesday to open up parts of the Arctic and waters off the mid- and south Atlantic coasts to drilling. The contentious new plan, unveiled by the Interior Department, proposes 14 potential leases between 2017 and 2022 in parts of the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The leases open up drilling on nearly 80 percent of undiscovered, potentially recoverable resources off the nation’s outer continental shelf.

Drilling remains off-limits off the Pacific coast, where political opposition to offshore oil and gas exploration has long been fierce. Some areas of the Beaufort and Chukchi seas off the Alaskan coast—which the administration deemed "simply too special to develop"—have also been banned from leasing.  

Here's a map of the areas that were previously open to drilling and the new areas proposed for leasing. Click to enlarge.

Methane Leaks From Gas Pipelines Far Exceed Official Estimates, Harvard Study Finds

Boston-area infrastructure loses 2-3 times more gas than state authorities say, adding to evidence of downstream systems' role in greenhouse emissions.

Jan 28, 2015

Methane is leaking from natural gas infrastructure in Boston and the surrounding region at rates two to three times higher than government estimates, scientists at Harvard University and other institutions found.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week, the researchers' paper is the first peer-reviewed study that quantifies emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from natural gas installations in urban areas—including pipelines, storage terminals and power plants. The amount of methane lost over a year in the study area is worth $90 million, the authors wrote.

The research, which was supported by federal and private funding, is part of an ongoing effort to assess methane emissions during natural gas production, transportation and consumption. The answers are crucial to understanding how the current shale gas boom contributes to climate change. Earlier this month, the White House issued the first national regulations to curb methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.

Why Bigger Snowstorms Come With Global Warming

Amount of rain and snow falling in the heaviest precipitation events in the Northeast has jumped 71% in last half-century, consistent with climate change.

Jan 27, 2015

Winter storm Juno is expected to dump as much as 3 feet of snow across parts of New England early this week. Media outlets have already dubbed the storm "a massive blizzard of epic proportions." Schools closed their doors, grocery stores had their shelves stripped and governors announced travel bans along most of the storm's path.

But on social media, Juno is being pointed to as the latest evidence that global warming is not happening, or that it's even a hoax or scam—an assertion that scientists said couldn't be further from the truth.

"That claim is nonsensical," said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. "Yes, we have always had storms in the winter, but climate change is often the contributing factor that pushes these events over the edge to become record-breaking."

Here's why: As the oceans warm due to the burning of fossil fuels, the atmosphere above can hold more moisture, which in turn fuels the creation of the most intense precipitation events. The mid-Atlantic is currently 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. In the spring, summer and fall, that translates into more of the most intense rainstorms. In the winter, when that moisture-rich air hits cold temperatures on the continent, heavier snowfall results.

Lisa Murkowski and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

The collision over Alaska drilling, on top of the Keystone pipeline fight, does not bode well for bipartisan progress on energy and climate this year.

Jan 27, 2015

A few minutes after the Senate's minority Democrats refused on Monday to silence debate and move along legislation approving the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, took to the floor and vented her frustration.

"I'm just not in a very good mood right now," fumed Murkowski, who as the new chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee is managing the Keystone bill.

What had her riled up was not the surprising failure of her side to win over enough Democrats to ram it through the Senate this week and on to President Obama, who is expected to veto it.

Rather, it was another hot-button energy issue that she found "so infuriating": the Obama administration's proposal to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness, meaning no oil drilling there, as well as other anti-drilling steps the White House may take in Alaska and nearby waters. That, she said, amounted to economic warfare against her state.

"What is coming at my state, and the arrogance with which this administration is treating us, is something that will not stand," she warned.



Study Raises Concerns About Toxic Oil and Gas Emissions in California Air

An infrared camera, air sampling and surveys reveal that methane and toluene are among the contaminants showing up in Kern and Ventura counties.

Jan 26, 2015

The infrared video showed an eerie scene: waves of volatile chemicals floating from the vent pipes of an oil-and-gas processing plant in the Lost Hills region of Kern County, Calif. The gas wafting into the air looked like heat shimmering off asphalt on a hot summer's day.

The fumes are invisible to the naked eye, yet the special camera employed by researchers working with two environmental advocacy groups revealed the toxic emissions that flow from the facility every day it operates.

Based on the infrared camera video, air sampling and health surveys, a study by Earthworks and Clean Water Fund has concluded that the communities of Lost Hills and Upper Ojai in Ventura County are being exposed to dangerous air contaminants associated with oil-and-gas production.

These contaminants, which include toluene and methane, could pose a health risk based on long-term exposure, according to the 56-page report, "CALIFORNIANS AT RISK: An Analysis of Health Threats from Oil and Gas Pollution in Two Communities."

The findings also warn that people in other California communities could be subjected to similar emissions released during oil-and-gas development. The report says 5.4 million people, or 14 percent of California's population, live within one mile of a well.

Obama & Modi Link Zero Carbon and Zero Extreme Poverty

With the Paris treaty talks around the corner, there is a growing recognition that without addressing poverty, there is no way to address climate change.

Jan 26, 2015

At a news conference wrapping up President Obama's visit in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was asked whether he felt pressure from his guest to make a big pledge about tackling climate change, as China did a few months ago.

"India is an independent country," he replied, "and there is no pressure on us from any country or any person."

That might sound prickly, but what Modi said next might as well have come out of the mouth of Obama, a president who covets global warming progress as a jewel in his own crown.

India is under the same pressure as the rest of the world to defuse the climate crisis, Modi continued. And that means finding a way to achieve a global agreement on how to address the problem, not shrugging it off as someone else's responsibility.



Lessons From the Senate's Keystone XL Debate

The climate crisis is back on the Congressional agenda, but with a Congress that remains institutionally incapable of addressing the problem head on.

Jan 23, 2015

Nobody really needs a sense-of-the-Senate resolution to figure out whether climate change is real, or what is causing it.

So what can we learn from the past week or so of debate around the Keystone XL pipeline, and the shadow-boxing amendments it inspired?

One lesson seems to be that the climate crisis, with all its complicated energy policy baggage, is back on the Congressional agenda.

Another is that the Congress remains institutionally incapable of addressing the problem head on.

Hence the convoluted debate unfurling, ostensibly over whether the Keystone XL line, meant to carry high-carbon tar sands fuel from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast, is in the national interest.



Five Years after Enbridge Oil Spill, Landowners Await Spring Landscaping of Repaired Line

With the new $2.6 billion pipeline, Enbridge pledges to restore the landscape. But for at least one landowner, the emotional scars may never disappear.

Jan 23, 2015

For weeks, the earth shook regularly outside David Gallagher's house as the Canadian company Enbridge Inc. replaced its aging oil pipeline known as 6B.

The giant trenching tractors, bulldozers and trucks that once shook his house with the intensity of a small earthquake have disappeared and oil now pulses through the pipeline that runs 14 feet from his house near Ceresco, Mich.

The shaking stopped months ago, but Gallagher remains perhaps even more shaken by the emotional aftershocks of the experience.

Gallagher, a 45-year-old custom cabinet maker and interior contractor, said memories of living in the house will be spoiled by damage done to the land. His wife's parents built the house in 1973, five years after the original Line 6B had been buried under open farmland.

Now that the machines are gone, Enbridge has vowed to heal the landscape this spring with grass, trees and other native plants destroyed by the years of construction all along the course of the new 285-mile pipeline that stretches from Griffith, Ind. across southern Michigan to Sarnia, Ontario, Canada. Enbridge is deactivating the old Line 6B since the new $2.6 billion pipeline and infrastructure went fully operational late last year.

Ruptured Yellowstone Oil Pipeline Was Built With Faulty Welding in 1950s

Poor safety, defects may have added risks to pipeline that spilled up to 40,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River.

Jan 22, 2015

This article has been updated on Jan. 22 at 7:00 PM to reflect new information about the pipeline segment that failed.

The aging Poplar Pipeline that spilled oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana on Saturday was built with pipe made using faulty welding techniques, and its owner has had a series of spills on the line. These two factors put the pipeline at a higher risk for problems.

First, the pipeline's owner, Bridger Pipeline LLC, has had nearly double the number of incidents per mile of pipe than the average company with pipelines carrying oil, gas or other hazardous liquids over the last six years, according to data compiled by the Pipeline Safety Trust. Federal records suggest that most of Bridger's incidents occurred on the Poplar line and were preventable.

Obama Moves to Bring Order to Groups Dealing with Arctic Warming

President's decree calls for 'science-based decision making' as the Arctic warms twice as rapidly as rest of U.S.

Jan 22, 2015

As Senate votes were rolling in Wednesday—declaring climate change real, but denying mankind's role in it—President Barack Obama was issuing a different kind of decree. In the first executive order after his State of the Union address, the White House created the Arctic Executive Steering Committee, which will attempt to wrangle the numerous agencies in charge of Arctic programs and better coordinate their work in the face of climate change. 

"Over the past 60 years, climate change has caused the Alaskan Arctic to warm twice as rapidly as the rest of the United States," Obama said in the order, "and will continue to transform the Arctic as its consequences grow more severe."