The word is "ambition," and it's being voiced this summer with extra urgency by those who worry that the world's leaders won't soon commit themselves to measures strong enough to combat climate change.
In September, heads of state are to gather at a United Nations climate summit to cheer each other on. In December in Peru negotiators are supposed to produce a draft treaty binding the world to decades of steep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. And early next year each country is expected to spell out just how deeply it will cut its own global warming pollution. The hope is to have a deal done in Paris by the end of 2015.
It's a daunting timetable. But the way to keep on pace, experts warn, is not to lighten the load.
As the shale gas boom was making its way into Ohio in 2012, University of Cincinnati scientist Amy Townsend-Small began testing private water wells in Carroll County, the epicenter of the Utica Shale. Her project, which includes samples of more than 100 wells, is one of the few sustained efforts in the nation to evaluate drinking water quality before, during and after gas drilling.
Although it will likely be another year before Townsend-Small releases the results, her work offers a template for other communities worried about how drilling, fracking and producing unconventional natural gas might contaminate groundwater supplies.
Most residents test their water only after they suspect it has been polluted; few have the resources or foresight to conduct baseline testing prior to the drilling.
ExxonMobil could restart the northern leg of its Pegasus oil pipeline within a year, but the company's pre-startup tests could leave behind threats large enough to endanger the public, according to a review of Exxon's proposal.
Those details and others are laid out in Exxon's repair plan for the Pegasus northern segment, a document that was submitted to federal pipeline regulators at the end of March. The so-called "integrity verification and remedial work plan" was not publicly released, but InsideClimate News obtained a copy through a public records request.
Exxon plans to conduct stress tests on the pipeline to prove that it can be safely restarted. But the company also said if high-pressure tests trigger a significant number of pipeline failures, it might lower the pressures—a downgrade that could leave dangerous cracks in the pipe. The Pegasus split apart in Mayflower, Ark. in March 2013, and sent a flood of Canadian diluted bitumen into a neighborhood.
Along with 17 other journalists, I spent much of last week at the Shale Country Institute hosted by the Institute for Journalism & Natural Resources, which takes reporters into the field so they can better understand the subjects they're covering.
A federal judge has blocked a coal project in the wilds of Colorado because federal agencies failed to consider the future global-warming damages from burning fossil fuels.
U.S. District Court Judge R. Brooke Jackson's decision halts exploration proposed by Arch Coal that would have bulldozed six miles of roads on 1,700 untrammeled acres of public land.
When the agencies touted the supposed economic benefits of expanded coal mining in the Sunset Roadless Area, Jackson ruled, they should also have considered any global-warming costs.
The decision was a significant judicial endorsement of a policy tool known as the "social cost of carbon," which economists and climate scientist use to put a price in today's dollars on the damages from drought, flood, storm, fire, disease and so forth caused by future global warming due to our emissions from burning fossil fuels.
ALICE, Texas—Deputy Sheriff Hector Zertuche parked his pickup across the road from a gas and oil waste dump and watched through binoculars as a container truck unloaded a mountain of black sludge.
Zertuche, the environmental crimes officer for Jim Wells County, is the law here when it comes to oil and gas waste. The job has fallen to him, he said, because the state's environmental agencies don't effectively police the disposal of the industry's waste. It typically contains benzene and other chemicals found in hydraulic fracturing, along with heavy metals and other contaminants from deep within the earth.
Zertuche draws his authority from the Texas Oil and Gas Waste Haulers Act, which is part of the state Water Code and is rooted in laws enacted almost a century ago during an earlier oil boom. It allows him to issue citations for everything from spilling waste along highways to not having the proper disposal permits.
"I want to make a difference for the people who live here," Zertuche said recently, as he waited outside the 80-acre Eco Mud Disposal facility. "If I can make this a better place for people to live, then I have done my job."
Three years ago New Jersey's governor peremptorily walked out on the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, saying the novel cap-and-trade scheme for Northeast power plants wasn't right for his state.
Now Gov. Chris Christie finds himself under pressure from several forces—including the Obama administration and local grassroots groups—to return to RGGI's embrace.
"It's the obvious thing for New Jersey to do," said Seth Kaplan of the Conservation Law Foundation. "All you need to do is pick up the phone and say, 'whoops, sorry!'"
When the Environmental Protection Agency proposed new rules on June 2 cracking down on carbon dioxide emissions from existing fossil fuel plants, the agency suggested that one of the smartest ways for states to meet its targets would be to form multistate emissions markets –or to join existing ones, like RGGI. The flexibility to trade carbon allowances would lower compliance costs, the agency said.
Federal and state attorneys who sued ExxonMobil Corp. over its Arkansas pipeline spill have won court rulings to keep the lawsuit alive and to deny the company's attempt to limit the information it must provide in the case.
The rulings, which came earlier this month, represent a critical step forward for a case that has moved slowly since it was filed a year ago. The lawsuit, filed June 13, 2013 in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, Ark., accuses Exxon of violating federal and state air and water pollution laws as well as Arkansas' hazardous waste regulations.
U.S. District Judge Kristine G. Baker on June 9 rejected Exxon's request to have the lawsuit dismissed, concluding that the governments had sufficient grounds to proceed with the case. In a separate ruling, she ordered the oil company to provide opposing attorneys with overdue documents and other requested information by July 10. Baker also said that Exxon must disclose its current estimate for how much oil was spilled, and must comply with requests for information about the entire length of the 858-mile Pegasus pipeline, not just a portion of it.
The wild grass is only now beginning to hide the scar left by the giant ditch digger that gouged a trench though Ron Kardos' Oceola Township, Mich. pasture last year for an oil pipeline—but already Kardos is preparing for another onslaught of construction.
Earlier this week Kardos got a letter from Energy Transfer Partners, a Houston, Texas-based company, saying a subsidiary—ET Rover Pipeline Company LLC—intends to build an interstate pipeline to move natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale gas formations in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio to a terminal in Ontario, Canada.
The 365-mile Rover Pipeline will cross Ohio and Michigan and ultimately carry 3.25 billion cubic feet per day if plans are approved. Much of the line would follow the route of the oil pipeline that Alberta, Canada-based Enbridge, Inc. built on Kardos' property and that of other central Michigan residents. It replaced Enbridge's aging Line 6b, which ruptured in 2010 and spilled more than a million gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan's Kalamazoo River.
Forget that headline you saw yesterday, and the frenzy that followed it, about how U.S. companies are about to export domestic crude oil for the first time since the 1970s. That's not happening—at least not yet.
"It was a total exaggeration," said Fadel Gheit, senior oil analyst at Oppenheimer and Co. "People jumped to the conclusion that this is going to be the first step in the long-awaited lifting of the [oil] export ban."