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States Drag Their Feet on Congressman's Frack Waste Investigation

Cartwright finds responses from Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia too little and too late.

Feb 17, 2015

A Pennsylvania congressman wanted to know how his state and two neighboring states oversee the disposal of the often toxic waste generated by fracking oil-and-gas wells.

Now, Matthew Cartwright has some answers, and he finds them late–and lacking.

Cartwright, a Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, launched the investigation in his state last October. A month later, he expanded his inquiry to Ohio and West Virginia. 

Responses from two states failed to provide substantive, detailed information to the congressman while one state has ignored the request.

Among the issues Cartwright raised:

  • How each state inspects oil-and-gas waste facilities.

  • What information the states require to pinpoint what's in the waste.

  • An explanation of the process for handling complaints regarding fracking waste disposal.

Answers to those questions are important for both residents and the environment in regions that are disposing of huge quantities of fracking waste, Cartwright said in an email interview.

"States continually argue that this is a state's issue and they can best handle it," Cartwright said. "We are simply asking states to please provide a little more insight into how they handle this issue and more importantly, how they enforce their own regulations.

Draft Treaty Aims for Fossil-Free Future With Many Pages, Few Answers

Dozens of competing ideas crowd the 86-page text, with sequences of options, and clauses nesting within clauses, like so many Russian dolls.

Feb 13, 2015

During a week of United Nations climate negotiations in Geneva, the draft of a new treaty got longer and more complex, rather than shorter and simpler as leaders had planned. That may nonetheless represent progress, according to participants and environmentalists.

Divestment Push Has More Small Investors Wanting Fossil-Free Portfolios

Highly publicized divestment campaigns targeting big-money investors have also motivated individuals 'to match up their money with their values.'

Feb 13, 2015

The other day, Leslie Samuelrich got a call from a financial adviser looking for investments that matched his clients' wishes. "I have two sisters who came in that inherited money from their dad,"  the adviser told her. "And they both absolutely do not want any of their money in fracking companies."

Other callers just say "I want to invest fossil fuel free," said Samuelrich, president of Green Century Capital Management, a 20-year-old company with two diversified mutual funds that exclude fossil fuel companies. "Those are the words they're using, so the divestment movement has resonated with people."

The increased business for Samuelrich and others offering fossil-free investments is a secondary benefit of the fast-growing divestment movement that has members hanging giant banners and staging protests, street theater, sit-ins and other actions as part of the first Global Divestment Day on Friday.

Hundreds of divestment campaigns are underway around the world, with most of them targeting big-money investors such as university endowments and pension funds. Some are targeting banks and governments that support harmful fossil fuel projects. Today, they are all trying to make themselves heard, from Alaska to Florida, and in Toronto, Sydney, Australia and many other major cities.

Their message is this: Climate change is an urgent and moral matter. Having investments in oil, natural gas and coal companies is a de facto endorsement of the companies' push for more supplies and their efforts to derail efforts to tackle climate change. The groups want investors to stop adding fossil fuel stocks and bonds to their portfolios, and to sell off existing fossil fuel holdings over a five-year period.

Such highly publicized campaigns may be aimed at mega-money managers, but combined with other climate change initiatives, they have helped convince a growing wave of smaller players and individuals to rethink their investments too.

Droughts Will Hammer U.S. West as 21st Century Unfolds

Human-caused global warming will create conditions more severe than any in past 1,000 years, new research shows.

Feb 12, 2015

As harsh as the current long-running California drought has been, conditions in the American West will substantially worsen in coming years, according to new research.

Later this century, the American Southwest and Central Plains are likely to experience catastrophic drought worse than any in the last millennium, according to research published today by scientists from NASA, the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and Cornell University. The hotter and dryer conditions will be "driven primarily" by human-caused climate change and could be so severe that communities will struggle to adapt, the study finds.

Eugene Wahl, a paleoclimatologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Boulder, Co., called the results "stunning."

Wisconsin Orders Up 'Frac Sand' Study in Response to Petition

Explosive growth of the frac sand industry has made the state No. 1 in the nation, raising health concerns and sparking activism.

Feb 12, 2015

Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources will soon study the myriad impacts of the state's frac sand boom, thanks in part to a petition written by the green group Midwest Environmental Advocates.

The last major state review of the industry was published in January 2012. Until now, regulators have denied repeated requests from concerned citizens for an updated version.

An environmental advocate presented the petition, with over 1,100 signatures, to the state’s Natural Resources Board on Oct. 29. Three months later, the board directed the Department of Natural Resources to complete a new frac sand study, called a "strategic analysis," and cited the petition as one of the reasons.

Sarah Williams, a Midwest Environmental Advocates lawyer who helped write the successful petition, was pleased—and "very surprised"—by the decision.

The next step, said Williams, is ensuring "this isn't just a paper exercise and the DNR provides an honest analysis." She said she hopes the 28-page petition collected from communities statewide is used as the study's starting point.

National Academy: Geoengineering No Substitute for Carbon Cuts

The idea of geoengineering to reverse climate change has been around since the 1960s. The two-volume NAS report says cutting GHGs is the only solution.

Feb 10, 2015

There's no quick fix for climate change and there won't be for decades to come. The world's only solution is to drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions—and immediately.

That's the takeaway from a new two-volume report out Feb. 10 from the National Research Council, the working arm of the National Academy of Sciences. The report examines whether governments could fight global warming through geoengineering, also known as climate engineering or climate intervention. The strategy involves removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere or modifying clouds or other Earth systems to reflect incoming sunlight to alter the world's climate artificially.  

"The top line message from the report is pretty clear: there's no climate engineering technology that would be a substitute for large-scale mitigation," said Simon Nicholson, co-director of American University's Forum for Climate Engineering Assessment who did not contribute to the report.

Natural Gas Pipeline Battle in Michigan Moves South

Battle-hardened veterans in six counties protest and win, crediting 'power of determined people.' Now three other counties are in the cross-hairs.

Feb 10, 2015

To a dogged Michigan township supervisor, the recent decision by a Texas company to scrap plans to run a natural gas pipeline across the property of hundreds of landowners shows that people can fight—and win.

Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones said she believes the voices of outraged residents were heard loud and clear by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners when it decided to abandon plans for its ET Rover pipeline in six central Michigan counties.

"Never underestimate the power of determined people," she said.

Climate Talks in Geneva Open to 'Urgency' Pleas, Muted Expectations

Modest but challenging goal of week-long talks is to produce a more "manageable and negotiable text" to form the basis of a new climate treaty.

Feb 9, 2015

With muted expectations for immediate progress but an increasing sense of urgency, United Nations negotiators convened Sunday in Geneva for a week of talks aimed at reaching a broad climate treaty by the end of this year.

Divestment Day Aims to Strengthen Global Reach of Fossil-Free Movement

So far an estimated 200 institutions worldwide, with combined investment assets of more than $50 billion, have committed to divest.

Feb 9, 2015

The fast-growing fossil fuel divestment movement is marshalling forces for this week's Global Divestment Day—an event organizers hope will strengthen the crusade's reach around the world and prove that it's "a force to be reckoned with."

Fossil Free, which has sister groups in Canada, Europe, Australia and New Zealand,  said divestment day will feature a day-long series of actions on Feb. 13 in the U.S. (which will be Feb. 14 in some regions). So far, the schedule includes 326 events spread across six continents and 48 countries, including flash-mobs, street theater, elaborate props, sit-ins, vigils, dancing, a huge parade of bicycles, social media blitzes and more.

"There are going to be folks in a multitude of countries demanding action on the climate in the form of divestment," said Jay Carmona, a California-based community divestment campaign manager with 350.org, a nonprofit group that sponsors the Fossil Free divestment campaign as well as other climate-related initiatives.

"We want to send one clear message, that now is the time to end the age of fossil fuels," Carmona said.

Yellowstone Oil Spills Expose Threat to Pipelines Under Rivers Nationwide

At the time the Poplar pipeline ruptured, about 110 feet of it was completely uncovered along the bottom of the Yellowstone River, exposing it to damage.

Feb 6, 2015

Bridger Pipeline LLC was so sure its Poplar oil line was safely buried below the Yellowstone River that it planned to wait five years to recheck it. But last month, 3.5 years later, the Poplar wasn't eight feet under the river anymore. It was substantially exposed on the river bottom—and leaking more than 30,000 gallons of oil upstream from Glendive, Montana.

An ExxonMobil pipeline wasn't buried deeply enough for the Yellowstone River, either. High floodwaters in 2011 uncovered the Silvertip pipe, leaving it defenseless against the fast-moving current and traveling debris. It broke apart in July, and sent 63,000 gallons of oil into the river near Laurel, Montana.

Both companies underestimated the river's power and its penchant for scouring away the earth that's covering and protecting their pipelines. That miscalculation led to the Exxon Silvertip spill and it's likely to be declared a significant factor, at a minimum, in the Poplar spill.

Such misjudgments have potentially troubling implications nationwide, since pipelines carrying crude oil and petroleum products pass beneath rivers and other bodies of water in more than 18,000 places across America. Many of them are buried only a few feet below the water.

"There were a lot of people who wanted to think that the last pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River in 2011 was a freak accident that would never happen again. After this most recent spill, no one believes that anymore," said Scott Bosse, Northern Rockies director for American Rivers. "The truth is, there are probably hundreds of pipelines across the country that are at considerable risk of rupturing under our rivers."