When a 65-year-old ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured on March 29 and spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in Mayflower, Ark., it opened the nation's eyes to the potential dangers lurking in the thousands of miles of aging and overlooked pipelines buried beneath neighborhoods and farms.
The spill also brought fresh attention to the debate over the proposed Keystone XL pipeline and the inherent risks of transporting Canadian tar sands across America's heartland. Exxon's Pegasus pipeline was carrying dilbit when it split open on Good Friday, the same type of tar sands oil that would run through the Keystone. A separate, much larger dilbit spill in Michigan is still being cleaned up more than three years later.
Little evidence remains of the chaotic scramble to stop the massive oil spill that fouled Michigan's Kalamazoo River in the summer of 2010, yet the full effects of the calamitous accident will likely remain unknown for years.
State environmental officials says it could be 2018 before they are ready to issue a final verdict on the damage done to the Kalamazoo after more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil poured into the river from a pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc.
At the same time, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is showing increasing irritation with Enbridge over its delay in meeting deadlines in the ongoing cleanup.
Federal officials want Enbridge to finish a massive dredging project and institute safeguards to prevent any oil remaining on the river bottom from washing downstream during spring flooding.
WASHINGTON—An independent Canadian federal panel on Thursday approved Enbridge's proposal to build a new pipeline from the tar sands of Alberta to the British Columbia coast, a significant gain in the industry's long campaign to find export markets for the nation's abundant but carbon-heavy form of crude oil.
The panel set 209 conditions on the project as a way to overcome environmental and safety concerns. Even that, it said, would not guarantee that there would be no environmental harm.
But its central message was that the economic interest in building the line was paramount—"that Canadians will be better off with this project than without it."
"We are of the view that opening Pacific Basin markets is important to the Canadian economy and society," the panel declared. "Societal and economic benefits can be expected from the project.
In the wake of Superstorm Sandy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a series of aggressive rebuilding initiatives to protect New Yorkers from future climate-related threats.
But less than a mile away in New Jersey, just across the Hudson River, political leaders reacted in a much different way.
To them, the October 2012 superstorm was just a rare event, not a preview of what scientists expect global warming to bring to the East Coast in the coming decades.
When asked in May about Sandy's connection with climate change, Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, said the question was "a distraction" and that global warming was an "esoteric" theory.
That philosophy has permeated New Jersey's post-Sandy recovery effort.
American cities on the frontline of climate action are quietly but dramatically shifting their approach—from primarily trying to limit global warming to coping with its impacts. They're building forested buffers to shelter homes from wildfires, considering concrete sea walls to restrain ocean waters and developing software to conserve water during drought.
Now, a new global initiative aims to make nearly a dozen of those cities into models that can spur urban resiliency around the world.
The Rockefeller Foundation, which launched its 100 Resilient Cities Network earlier this month, said that cities' ability to "withstand and bounce back" from climate and other disasters is crucial as more people move to metropolitan areas and as urban economies become inextricably linked.
"What happens in one part of the world can shake the stability of another," said spokeswoman Carey Meyers. "There's this interdependency, this need for cities to be stronger." By 2050, three-fourths of the world's population will live in cities, up from about 50 percent today and 10 percent a century ago.
WASHINGTON—The U.S. Energy Department has sharply cut its forecast for crude oil imports in the next several years, saying that domestic oil will replace imports at a much faster rate than it expected just a few months ago.
Imports in 2016 will be one million barrels a day lower than it projected in April, the department's Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Monday in its preliminary annual energy outlook for 2014 and beyond.
"With growth in both oil and natural gas production, we see the U.S. moving closer toward self-sufficiency, and there are some very interesting economic and geopolitical implications to all that," said Adam Sieminski, the EIA's administrator, at a briefing.
The rapidly changing energy picture could relieve some of the pressure on President Obama to approve one major new conduit for crude oil imports, the Keystone XL pipeline. If built, the project would carry 860,000 barrels a day of crude oil, mostly from Canada's tar sands, to U.S. refineries on the Texas coast, starting as early as 2016.
BERLIN, Germany—A decision 90 years ago by the people of Sacramento, Calif. to oust a private electric company and start a government-owned utility has been the unlikely inspiration for Berliners trying to wrest control of Germany's largest grid from a coal-fired utility.
While little known in America, the creation of Sacramento's Municipal Utility District was the model for a November referendum to give Berlin a municipal utility that would pump more clean energy into the grid. The 1923 vote in Sacramento helped the California city build a rare, green record—constructing the nation's first big solar plant, voting to shut down a nuclear reactor and approving a goal of slashing climate-changing emissions by 90 percent by 2050.
"Sacramento stopped nuclear with direct elections," said Stefan Taschner, spokesperson for Energietisch, the group behind the push to take over Berlin's grid. It provides the "best example of democratic control."
Berlin's referendum failed by a tiny margin—but it's not the end of the story. The contract to operate the grid expires at the end of next year, and the near-approval sent a strong message to the mayor and other officials that the city should buy the contract. The referendum needed 25 percent of Berlin's 2.5 million registered voters to pass; it missed that mark by less than 1 percent.
WASHINGTON—By asking John Podesta to come to the White House as a special counselor at a time of turmoil and tough choices, President Obama has created an unusually close tie to an outspoken critic of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Canadian tar sands it would carry.
Podesta is a Washington policy insider who was Bill Clinton's chief of staff and whose Center for American Progress, or CAP, is an influential voice of liberalism. He has kept climate change high on his agenda for years and will continue to do so in the White House, reported The New York Times, which broke the news of his new assignment.
His arrival comes just as the decision on TransCanada's proposal to build a controversial pipeline to deliver tar sands crude from Alberta across the midsection of the United States approaches a critical turning point: the completion of a final environmental impact statement by the State Department. That will be followed by a crucial 90-day period in which Obama must decide whether the pipeline is in the U.S. national interest.
Jerry Skinner stands in his garden, looking into the distance at the edge of a forested mountain. Amid the lush shades of green, a muddy brown strip of earth stands out. It's the telltale sign of a buried pipeline.
"The pipelines are all around this property," Skinner said. "When I came here, the county had an allure that it doesn't have anymore. I'm not sure I want to live here anymore."
Skinner is the resident naturalist at the Woodbourne Forest and Wildlife Preserve, a 650-acre forestland that runs through parts of northeastern Pennsylvania that are experiencing intensive gas drilling because of a hotly contested method called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Around his house, in the town of Dimock, gas wells have sprung up and a vast network of interconnected pipelines transports the gas underground. Skinner worries that as drilling activity heads deeper into forests and pipelines chop up large blocks of land, rare species native to Pennsylvania will be driven out.
In recent years, Pennsylvania has become ground zero for fracking, along with neighboring states that sit atop a large shale reserve known as the Marcellus Formation. Pennsylvania has more than 6,000 active gas wells, and Marcellus-related production has soared to 12 billion cubic feet per day, six times the production rate in 2009.
As Mayor Michael Bloomberg winds down his last month in office, his plan for protecting New York City from the threats of climate change has received an important boost. But there is still uncertainty over whether his successor, Bill de Blasio, has any interest in carrying forward Bloomberg's legacy on combating global warming.
New York last week was one of 33 cities worldwide selected to participate in the first round of the Rockefeller Foundation's 100 Resilient Cities Network. The initiative grants cities undetermined portions of a $100 million pot of money for hiring a "chief resilience officer" and developing long-term resiliency plans to assess and tackle risks they face from climate and other disasters.
New York is ahead of the curve on both issues. It already has a director of resiliency in the Mayor's Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, as well as a comprehensive strategy in its Special Initiative for Rebuilding and Resiliency (SIRR)—a $19.5 billion plan unveiled in June in response to Superstorm Sandy. The plan includes 257 initiatives spread across the city, about one-quarter of which could be completed before Bloomberg leaves office.