An oil pipeline being built across the southern part of Michigan is drawing new scrutiny from state regulators who recently cited the pipeline's operator—Canadian-owned Enbridge, Inc.—for violating laws that protect Michigan's waterways.
The violations occurred when Enbridge allowed nearly all the water it was using to test the pipeline's strength to escape into a creek instead of capturing some of it for treatment—and when the company did not self-report the violation to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ), as required by law.
MDEQ officials told InsideClimate News they will now re-examine reports Enbridge filed after conducting similar tests on two other sections of the line. The new pipeline is supposed to replace Line 6B, which ruptured in 2010 and poured more than a million gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.
The reports are important because the agency relies on pipeline operators to follow regulations and to inform officials when things go wrong. Enbridge violated that trust, the state said, when it failed to abide by at least 11 terms of the permit that allowed the company to conduct the test. The violations included not having a qualified operator at the site to supervise the procedure and not properly analyzing the water it put back into the creek.
When Diane Wilson complained of headaches and coughs after an oil pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Ark., her doctor treated her for allergies.
When Genieve Long came down with nausea, rashes and a fever, her doctor couldn't provide a diagnosis.
When Ann Jarrell's 6-month-old grandson began wheezing, a doctor sent him home with asthma medication.
All three families live within a few hundred yards of the March 29 oil spill that sent more than 200,000 gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil through Mayflower. Their experiences offer a snapshot of the confusion surrounding the health impacts of the spill, an uncertainty created by limitations in the science, physicians' lack of training in environmental health and a communication gap between local health officials and the people they are meant to serve. Like families who lived near two other large oil spills—the June 2010 spill in Salt Lake City, Utah and the July 2010 spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River—they are still searching for answers.
As America's debate about global warming became politicized over the past half-decade, the controversy entered a new battleground: the nation's classrooms.
From coast to coast, school boards, teachers and parents became embroiled in disputes over whether or how to teach students about climate change. At the same time, dozens of "academic freedom bills" were filed in state legislatures mandating that equal time be given to teaching the belief that climate science isn't settled. And conservative organizations poured millions of dollars into developing educational materials and curricula to teach climate skepticism as a valid scientific proposition.
Standing front and center in the fight against these efforts is the National Center for Science Education, an Oakland-based non-profit group that helps to keep politics, religion and ideology out of science classrooms. Leading the group's 4,500 members—which include scientists, teachers, clergy and citizens—is Eugenie Scott, a physical anthropologist and author of the 2005 book Evolution vs. Creationism.
For nearly two years, refineries in the Midwest have been buying crude oil at steep discounts thanks to a glut of U.S. and Canadian oil. But drivers in the Midwest haven't seen a corresponding decrease in gasoline prices. In fact, they sometimes pay more at the pump than people in other parts of the country, even as windfall profits flow to BP, Koch Industries Inc. and other large Midwestern refiners.
"It's good to be a refiner," said Tom Kloza, chief oil analyst at the Oil Price Information Service, a company that tracks energy markets. "For 20 years, the rule of thumb was that if you made $5 a barrel east of the Rockies, that was a good profit for a refinery. Recently, we saw a period in the Midwest where refiners were making $40, or $50, or even $60 a barrel on gasoline."
The disparity of fortunes between Midwest refiners and consumers isn't a surprise to industry analysts.
In today's complex fuel market, retail gasoline prices are no longer just a reflection of the cost of oil. A host of other factors—such as refinery fires, power outages and damage from extreme weather events—now have an increasing impact, in part because there are fewer refineries fulfilling the nation's thirst for fuel.
In a long-awaited, 50-minute speech Tuesday President Obama made clear what his plans are for tackling climate change—except on one major issue.
No one could divine what Obama meant when he talked about the Keystone XL pipeline.
"Both pipeline proponents and pipeline haters cheered his remarks—an unusual reaction," Reuters wrote.
Obama's roughly 150 words (about a minute and a half) on the pipeline—his most noteworthy discussion of the project to date—have been parsed by media outlets and pundits across the globe. It was the first time Obama linked the Keystone XL decision to global warming. Because of that, some observers said the president seemed to be considering rejection of the pipeline—a claim that puts a stake through the heart of a common narrative that has Obama trading a Keystone XL approval for carbon cuts at existing power plants. Others saw the speech as a pipeline greenlight.
Diluted bitumen, a controversial form of heavy Canadian oil, poses no more risks to pipelines than conventional oil, according to a long-awaited report released Tuesday by the National Academy of Sciences.
But environmentalists and pipeline watchdogs said the study's scope was so narrow and its methodology so flawed that it does little to settle the controversy over whether diluted bitumen, or dilbit, is more dangerous to humans and the environment than the light, conventional crude oil that most U.S. pipelines were built to handle.
WASHINGTON—In soaring tones, President Obama on Tuesday set out a revamped climate agenda for his second term, seeking to breathe new life into priorities that have been slipping from his control since his early years in the Oval Office.
"The question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late," said Obama, who assembled a long menu of initiatives, large and small, that he can carry out without the support of Congress.
Mopping his brow in the sweltering heat, he declared: "I am here to say we need to act."
BROOKLYN, N.Y.—InsideClimate News this week launched a campaign to raise funds for an innovative national-local reporting collaboration with the Arkansas Times that will investigate the causes and consequences of the Exxon pipeline spill in Mayflower, Ark. on Mar. 29. The campaign is being run on ioby.org, an innovative, non-profit crowdfunding platform.
"We are appealing to our readers to help crowdfund this effort and show that modest donations can have a cumulative impact to improve the public interest," said David Sassoon, publisher of InsideClimate News. "When legacy big media can’t cover an important story like this one and give it the attention it deserves, citizens can still take ownership of the first amendment and make sure democracy's job gets done."
WASHINGTON—A new report from the U.S. Center for Naval Analyses and the London-based Royal United Services Institute, two of the NATO alliance's front-line strategy centers, recommends putting more effort into fighting global warming than securing reliable supplies of fossil fuels.
The authors call the habitual American fixation on winning energy independence through expanded North American production of oil and natural gas "misguided." They say the "only sustainable solution" to the problem of energy insecurity is not through more drilling, but through energy efficiency and renewable fuels, like biofuels to replace oil.
Despite the steady supplies provided by the current U.S. drilling boom, "the increased domestic production of oil and natural gas is not a panacea for the country's energy security dilemma," they say.
And in blunt language, they criticize American policymakers and legislators for refusing to accept the "robust" scientific evidence that emissions of carbon dioxide are already causing harmful global warming, and for refusing to take actions that, if taken swiftly, could ward off its worst effects.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to protect New York City from future superstorm Sandys and other climate-related threats is the most ambitious and scientifically accurate plan of its kind in the world. But as global warming intensifies and sea levels rise, even this strategy may not be enough to flood-proof the city for very long, experts say.
The climate adaptation plan, unveiled last week, would funnel $19.5 billion into more than 250 initiatives to reduce the city's vulnerability to coastal flooding and storm surge. It comes eight months after Sandy engulfed 1,000 miles of the Atlantic coastline—delivering a 14-foot storm surge to New York and crippling the nation's financial capital. The storm showed just how unprepared New York and other coastal cities are to handle flooding from weather disasters.