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.
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.
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This past June was the warmest ever recorded by scientists since record keeping began in the 19th century. The average surface temperature of the earth was 61.2 degrees Fahrenheit, up 1.3 degrees from the 20th century's typical June.
May 2014 set a comparable new record. That month, too, the planet's average surface temperature was about 1.3 degrees above the normal warmth of May.
It's reasonable to expect that the whole year may end up with the warmest surface temperatures ever recorded—especially if El Niño, the periodic shifting of warm waters in the Pacific now thought to be incipient, develops robustly.
On the face of it, data like this, reported Monday by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, might seem powerful enough evidence that climate change has indeed arrived, as is widely accepted by mainstream scientists.
But lately, climate scientists have felt the need to explore the emerging evidence in more sophisticated ways.
This report is part of a joint project by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity.
Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it's hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.
A group of scientists from Pennsylvania and neighboring states have stepped in to fill this gap by forming a nonprofit—apparently the first of its kind in the United States—that provides free health consultations to local families near drilling sites. Instead of waiting years or even decades for long-term studies to emerge, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is using the best available science to help people deal with their ailments.
"As far as unconventional natural gas drilling goes, we are the public health service of the United States right now," said Michael Kelly, the media liaison for the EHP.
David Brown, a toxicologist and the group's co-founder, said government agencies haven't done enough to study, analyze and mitigate the risks people face from drilling.
When the people of Longmont voted in 2012 to ban fracking in their Colorado community, they knew it would put them in the cross hairs of powerful oil and gas interests.
The City Council had already been sued by the industry's trade group as well as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state's oil and gas regulator, for trying to restrict the controversial drilling technique.