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Coal-Fired Politics: In Kentucky Senate Race, Bitter Rivals Woo a Dying Industry

Incumbent Sen. Mitch McConnell and challenger Alison Grimes are fighting over an industry that provides just .6 percent of Kentucky's jobs.

Oct 8, 2014

Coal has been an ever-present part of one of the most expensive and high profile midterm elections this year—the Kentucky Senate race between Republican incumbent Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes—despite its rapidly declining economic significance. 

Kentucky's newspapers and airwaves are full of ads from both candidates pledging to protect the industry and fight the Environmental Protect Agency's attempts to regulate its carbon emissions. Each candidates' statements have become popular political fodder for attack ads by SuperPACs on both sides of the aisle. As one local news channel put it, coal "has become the hot issue in the country's hottest political contest." 

But the industry that Grimes and McConnell have spent so much time and money fighting over is a bit of an illusion, several experts said. Coal has been dying for decades within Kentucky.

Under Pressure, Texas to Install Air Monitor in Heavily Fracked County

Investigation by ICN and the Center for Public Integrity helped spur Karnes County commissioners to think seriously about fracking's toxic air emissions.

By Lisa Song and David Hasemyer

Oct 7, 2014

Backed by results of a recent air-quality study, mounting pressure from local officials, news reports and the simmering discontent of residents, Texas regulators have decided to install an air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) will install the air monitor in Karnes County, the epicenter of one of the fastest-growing drilling regions in the nation. More than 10,000 oil and gas wells have been sunk in the region since 2008, and residents have complained of breathing difficulties and other health problems.

In February, an investigation by InsideClimate News, The Center for Public Integrity and the Weather Channel revealed that the TCEQ knows almost nothing about air quality in the area. The series, "Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil & Bad Air on the Texas Prairie," found that from September 1, 2009, through August 31, 2013, there was a 100-percent increase statewide in unplanned, toxic air releases associated with oil and gas production and that companies were rarely fined, even when inspections revealed they were operating equipment improperly.

In Fracking's Wake: Vast Open Pits of Chemical Sludge - MULTIMEDIA

By David Hasemyer and Zahra Hirji

Oct 6, 2014

Big Oil + Bad Air is an 18-month investigation by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity.

The latest installment tackles a little-covered issue: air emissions from the waste that America's drilling boom has created.

How Oil & Gas Waste Became Exempt From Federal Regulation: A Timeline

Key event was in 1988, when the EPA decided to classify most oil and gas waste as 'non hazardous,' even though it contains dangerous chemicals.

By Zahra Hirji and Paul Horn

Oct 6, 2014

In the small town of Nordheim, Texas, residents are trying to stop a commercial oil and gas waste facility proposed for a large plot of land less than a mile away. They worry that the Texas wind will carry toxic air emissions into the town and across the campus of the local school.

The residents' effort is hampered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's decision in 1988 to classify most oil and gas waste as "non hazardous," even though it contains chemicals, including benzene, that are known to cause health problems. The industry lobbied hard for the non-hazardous classification, arguing that the cost of treating the waste as hazardous would be exorbitant.

Here's a look at how the exemption came about, and a recent effort to repeal it.

Open Pits Offer Cheap Disposal for Fracking Sludge, but Health Worries Mount

A1988 federal rule exempts oil waste from a 'hazardous' designation, allowing for lax disposal methods that could expose people to dangerous emissions.

By David Hasemyer and Zahra Hirji

Oct 2, 2014

NORDHEIM, Texas—School Superintendent Kevin Wilson tugged at his oversized belt buckle and gestured toward a field less than a mile from Nordheim School, where 180 children attend kindergarten through 12th grade.

A commercial waste facility that will receive millions of barrels of toxic sludge from oil and gas production for disposal in enormous open-air pits is taking shape there, and Wilson worries that the ever-present Texas wind will carry traces of dangerous chemicals, including benzene, to the school.

"Many of these students live outside of where they could be exposed," said Wilson, a contemplative man with a soft Texas accent. "But we are busing them to the school, putting them in the direct path of something that could be harmful to them. It makes you think: Are we doing what's best for the students?"

Along with Nordheim's mayor and other angry residents, Wilson is trying to stop the 204-acre facility, but he faces an uphill battle. In Texas, as in most states, air emissions from oil and gas waste are among the least regulated, least monitored and least understood components in the extraction and production cycle. Although the wastewater and sludge can contain the same chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and other processes—chemicals known to affect human health—little has been done to measure waste emissions or determine their possible impact on nearby residents.Nordheim School Superintendent Kevin Wilson surveys the site of a proposed oil and gas waste facility. Credit: Eleanor Bell/Center for Public IntegrityNordheim School Superintendent Kevin Wilson surveys the site of a proposed oil and gas waste facility. Credit: Eleanor Bell/Center for Public Integrity

Obama Puts Climate Change High on the Agenda With Indian PM Modi

Meeting outcome highlights how tricky it will be to bring India on board a climate regime that calls for deep cuts in fossil fuel burning.

Oct 2, 2014

Perhaps nowhere in the world is the intersection between economic development and environmental responsibility more apparent than in India.

Like Africa, India needs to provide electricity to its impoverished villages in order to give its people opportunity to prosper. And India is already the third-highest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, behind only China and the United States. As its power supply grows, won't its greenhouse gas emissions?

Not necessarily. But it won't be easy to achieve development and decarbonization at the same time, a key to enlisting India in the global fight against the climate crisis.

So as President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi met for the first time in Washington, climate change was high on the agenda.

The two administrations highlighted several areas of agreement, in seven succinct paragraphs of an end-of-summit communique. Two sentences sufficed to outline the highlights of the meeting:



VIDEO - In Fracking's Wake: Vast Open Pits of Chemical Sludge

'A lot of people are worried about the water, and about the smell, and of course what's going up into the air.'

By Eleanor Bell, Center for Public Integrity

Oct 2, 2014

As oil and gas drilling spreads across the United States, scant attention has been paid to air emissions from the waste the boom has created.

GRAPHIC - Fracking's Waste Pit Emissions: The Big Unknown

Here's what we know about the potential health impacts of airborne chemicals released from fracking's vast waste pits.

By Paul Horn and Zahra Hirji

Oct 2, 2014

As oil and gas drilling spreads across the United States, scant attention has been paid to air emissions from the waste the boom has created. InsideClimate News and The Center for Public Integrity examine these emissions in the latest installment in their 18-month investigation, Big Oil and Bad Air on the Texas Prairie.

FEMA Will Require States to Examine Climate Risks in Disaster Planning

Two of the top three states to receive FEMA disaster grants through 2012 are led by governors who aren't convinced that climate change poses a threat.

Oct 1, 2014

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is about to make a significant shift in the way it handles climate change.

FEMA will soon require states to examine the impacts of global warming on their communities as a condition for receiving federal disaster preparedness funding, according to draft guidelines released by the agency earlier this month.

The move bucks the 35-year-old agency's longstanding trend of reacting to disasters fueled by climate change rather than preparing for them in advance, said policy analyst Rob Moore of the Natural Resources Defense Council. The decision could save FEMA a lot of money in the long run. Every dollar spent on disaster mitigation saves four dollars in disaster recovery, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. FEMA's budget has been stretched thin in recent years because of the increasing number of large-scale natural disasters, such as Superstorm Sandy and Hurricanes Katrina and Irene.

"This decision by FEMA is the first time any federal agency has made the consideration of climate impacts a requirement for planning," said Moore, who is director of the NRDC's water and climate team. "Hopefully this is a sign of things to come and that other agencies will soon follow suit."

In FERC's Approval of Gas Exports, Climate Effects Get Glossed Over

Environmental groups vow legal action after regulators approve an LNG export project without doing a rigorous environmental impact statement.

Oct 1, 2014

Environmental and community groups on Tuesday assailed federal approval of the Cove Point liquefied natural gas export project, arguing that regulators glossed over the climate change consequences. They vowed to challenge the decision through a regulatory appeal or in the courts.

"The groups that have been opposing this facility for more than a year have no intention of quitting and conceding this," said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, one of several nonprofit groups fighting the Lusby, Md. LNG project. "There are legal steps before us next."

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the Cove Point LNG export project late Monday. It imposed 79 conditions on its construction that regulators said would mitigate potential adverse environmental impacts. Those conditions were based on an environmental assessment of the project, a less-rigorous review than what is called for in an environmental impact statement.

FERC's action allows Dominion Cove Point to liquefy and export as much as 5.75 million metric tons of U.S. gas per year from the terminal. The commission said project owner Dominion Resources Inc. proposes to complete construction in time to begin exports in June 2017. In separate actions, the Department of Energy conditionally approved gas exports from the terminal to any country, providing there are no U.S. trade prohibitions.