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First Air Monitor in Heart of Texas Fracking Boom Gets Delayed

The spot proposed for the 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor would have spoiled the view of a courthouse and is being relocated.

Nov 4, 2014

The installation of the first air monitor in the heart of the Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been delayed following a review of the proposed site by the Texas Historical Commission.

The location selected for the air monitor is on the grounds of the 90-year-old Karnes County courthouse of Karnes City, a community of slightly more than 3,000 in the center of the drilling hotbed. It was supposed to begin operating by the end of October.

But the spot proposed for the 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor with instruments reaching 32 feet into the sky would have spoiled the view of the picturesque building, said Chris Florance, director of public information and education for the commission.

"It was kind of right out there where everybody could see it," said Karnes County Judge Richard Butler, the county’s top executive.

From Drought Relief to Oil Revenues, 5 Climate-Related Ballots To Watch

Here's InsideClimate News' pick of the top ballot measures to watch on November 4.

By Katherine Bagley and John H. Cushman Jr.

Nov 3, 2014

A record number of anti-fracking measures are on the midterm ballots—but gas drilling isn't the only climate and environmental issue that will be put to voters on Tuesday.

Americans across the country will decide on everything from climate resiliency and drought relief to oil and gas taxes and wildlife protection.

Here's InsideClimate News' pick of the top five ballot measures to watch November 4:

Climate Hawk Gives Unbeatable Fred Upton a Run for His Oil Industry Money

'It is now possible, if not likely, that this could be one of the biggest surprises coming out of the Midwestern congressional races.'

Nov 3, 2014

The race in Michigan's 6th congressional district between incumbent Republican Congressman Fred Upton and Democrat Paul Clements has become surprisingly close—with Clements trailing the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Energy and Commerce by just a few points.

But until a few days ago, almost no one outside of the district was watching or involved in the race.

"It is now possible, if not likely, that this could be one of the biggest surprises coming out of the Midwestern congressional races," said Barry Rabe, an expert on the politics of climate change at the University of Michigan.

Upton was largely considered unbeatable thanks to his fourteen-term incumbency and ties to the fossil fuel industry, which has kept his campaign coffers full year after year. National environmental and political organizations like the League of Conservation Voters, the NRDC Action Fund and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee focused their efforts elsewhere. Even pollsters weren't tracking the race, at least not publicly.

IPCC Sounds Fresh Alarm as Fossil Fuel Interests Tighten Grip on Congress

The contrast between the increasingly partisan American political divide and the increasingly solid international scientific consensus couldn't be starker.

Nov 3, 2014

The leading international network of climate scientists is urging a rapid shift away from fossil fuels, just as allies of coal, oil and natural gas industries in the United States appear poised to tighten their grip on Congress—where opposition to cleaner energy is already entrenched.

That outcome of Tuesday's midterm election would spell trouble for advocates of a strong international climate accord. Treaty negotiations are supposed to pick up in the next few months and culminate in Paris just over a year from now.

This weekend, the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a synthesis report that sums up its years-long review of the climate crisis and what to do about it. The report called for the near-complete elimination of fossil fuel-burning by the end of the century. This, it said, is what is needed to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the most severe risks of man-made changes to the world's climate.

Nothing could be further from the agenda of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the coal-state Republican who on the eve of the election appears to have significantly better than even odds of becoming the next majority leader. (Though, as the IPCC might put it, until the last votes are tallied any forecast of which party will prevail deserves only "medium confidence.")

Even if the Republicans don't gain a majority in the Senate on Nov. 4, they are likely to gain strength in that chamber as well as in the House—an election outcome that would undermine President Obama's entire climate agenda, not just his influence in the Paris talks.



Exxon Fighting to Keep Public From Seeing 900,000 Pages of Documents in Oil Spill Lawsuit

Unprecedented secrecy in a class action suit that is seeking to determine if oil giant was negligent in upkeep of burst pipeline.

Oct 31, 2014

Oil giant ExxonMobil is seeking "unprecedented secrecy" by labeling nearly 900,000 pages of documents as confidential in a class action lawsuit over an oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas, an attorney said in a new court filing.

The attorney, Tom Thrash, said Exxon's blanket assertion of confidentiality prevents affected property owners and the public from learning whether Exxon had properly maintained and repaired the 1940s-era Pegasus oil pipeline at the heart of the case, and it has forced him to file his arguments under seal.

The 858-mile Pegasus, which stretches from Patoka, Ill. to Nederland, Texas, was carrying Canadian diluted bitumen (dilbit) when it burst open in Mayflower, Ark. on March 29, 2013. An estimated 210,000 gallons of thick oil oozed into a neighborhood and waterway, sickening residents and forcing the evacuation of 22 homes. Exxon later bought most of the houses because the owners didn't want to return.

Record Number of Anti-Fracking Measures on Nov. 4 Ballots

Outspent by industry 20-1 in some places, activists hope for victories in California, Ohio and Texas.

Oct 31, 2014
Fracking ban in Denton

Eight towns and counties across the country are taking their health and environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to the ballot boxes next week.

That's apparently a record number for a single election day, according to experts who spoke to InsideClimate News.

Fracking is "the number one political issue" related to energy this election, said Thad Kousser, a political science professor at the University of California San Diego.

The controversial process, which involves pumping a slurry of water, chemicals and sand down a well to crack open shale bedrock and extract oil and gas, has driven a surge in U.S. energy production, enriched property owners and created local jobs.

But there's a growing backlash against the industry: Opponents are concerned about air, water, waste, noise and light pollution, and they argue that regulations are too weak.

5-State Study Finds Unsafe Levels of Airborne Chemicals Near Oil and Gas Sites

Peer-reviewed results show 'potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures' that can make people feel ill and raise cancer risk.

By Jamie Smith Hopkins

Oct 30, 2014

Dirk DeTurck had a years-old rash that wouldn't go away, his wife's hair came out in chunks and any time they lingered outside their house for more than an hour, splitting headaches set in.

They were certain the cause was simply breathing the air in Greenbrier, Arkansas, the rural community to which they'd retired a decade ago. They blamed the gas wells all around them. But state officials didn't investigate.

So DeTurck leapt at the chance to help with research that posed a pressing question: What's in the air near oil and gas production sites?

The answer—in many of the areas monitored for the peer-reviewed study, published today in the journal Environmental Health—is "potentially dangerous compounds and chemical mixtures" that can make people feel ill and raise their risk of cancer.

"The implications for health effects are just enormous," said David O. Carpenter, the paper's senior author and director of the University at Albany's Institute for Health and the Environment.

In Pa.'s Governor Race, It's Drill, Baby, Drill...and Tax, Maybe, Tax

In the swing-state race largely seen as a microcosm for the nation, the issue of fracking's environmental impacts is largely a no-show.

By Katherine Bagley and Lisa Song

Oct 30, 2014

Fracking has become a prominent issue in this year's Pennsylvania gubernatorial election, energizing ads, debates and campaign appearances.

The argument isn't about whether to frack the state's abundant natural gas reserves or even how to do it safely—but how to make money doing it.

At the heart of the debate is whether to tax energy companies for extracting natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, a geologic formation rich in fossil fuels that runs underneath the western half of the state. Incumbent Republican Gov. Tom Corbett argues that a drilling tax would drive energy companies to abandon Pennsylvania's natural gas fields. Businessman Tom Wolf, Corbett's Democratic challenger, says a 5 percent  "severance tax" on the value of natural gas produced within its borders would provide desperately needed revenue—up to $1 billion annually—for the state's budget, and more specifically, its education fund.

Political opinion polls show the Democratic candidate winning the Nov. 4 election by approximately 20 points. If Wolf wins, it will mark the first time that an incumbent Pennsylvania governor has lost a re-election bid since the state began allowing second gubernatorial terms in the 1960s.

InsideClimate News Wins EPPY Award for Fracking Investigation 'Big Oil + Bad Air'

'Big Oil + Bad Air' reveals the dangers of releasing toxic chemicals into the air from oil and gas drilling.

By InsideClimate News

Oct 30, 2014

The journal Editor & Publisher announced Wednesday that InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel won a 2014 EPPY Award in the category of Best Investigative/Enterprise Feature on a Website for "Fracking the Eagle Ford Shale: Big Oil + Bad Air on the Texas Prairie." 

"Big Oil + Bad Air," by reporters Lisa Song and David Hasemyer of ICN and Jim Morris of CPI, is an eight-month investigation that reveals the dangers of releasing toxic chemicals into the air from oil and gas drilling. It exposes how little the Texas government knows about such pollution in its own state, and shows that the Texas legislature is intent on keeping it that way.

The Weather Channel produced an original video documentary to accompany the series.



Pennsylvania Congressman Launches Frack Waste Investigation as Concern Rises

The move follows a report by ICN and the Center for Public Integrity that documented how and why toxic oil and gas waste is virtually unregulated.

By David Hasemyer and Zahra Hirji

Oct 29, 2014

This story was updated on Oct. 30 at 2:15 AM EST to include comment from the environmental group Earthworks.

In a reflection of growing national concern about the disposal of oil and gas waste, a Pennsylvania congressman launched an investigation Wednesday into the way his state regulates the discarding of the unwanted, often toxic material.

Rep. Matthew Cartwright, a first-term Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, wants to know more about how the contaminated leftovers from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are regulated.

In an email exchange with InsideClimate News, Cartwright said "preliminary reports indicate there are big gaps in protections and oversight that the federal government might have to fill."

Fracking, the process of blasting a cocktail of water, chemicals and sand down a well to crack open shale bedrock to extract fossil fuel reserves, has transformed Pennsylvania into the third-largest state producer of natural gas behind Texas and Louisiana. In those two states and others, questions are increasingly being raised about waste disposal's threat to human health.

For the past 18 months, InsideClimate News and The Center for Public Integrity have been reporting on air pollution from oil and gas production in Texas, including at waste disposal facilities.