The Obama Administration's proposal Wednesday for making oil-laden railcars safer runs 203 pages and includes a host of new rules for carrying flammable fuels by train—but they come with caveats.
The most important caveat is that they're not final regulations, and it's not uncommon for proposed safety requirements to get weakened and postponed following objections from the industries involved.
What comes next is a 60-day period for accepting comments from the public and the various industries that will be affected by the Department of Transportation's proposed rules. Then the government has to issue the final versions and give the industries time to comply. It could take more than three years to fully halt the shipment of the most flammable liquids in the most dangerous railcars.
The government's "comprehensive rulemaking proposal" also leaves two critical elements unsettled. The DOT offers three different safety standards for making new oil railcars stronger—and asks for public comments on which one should prevail. The agency also offers several variations on rail speed limits, leaving that issue unresolved.
This past June was the warmest ever recorded by scientists since record keeping began in the 19th century. The average surface temperature of the earth was 61.2 degrees Fahrenheit, up 1.3 degrees from the 20th century's typical June.
May 2014 set a comparable new record. That month, too, the planet's average surface temperature was about 1.3 degrees above the normal warmth of May.
It's reasonable to expect that the whole year may end up with the warmest surface temperatures ever recorded—especially if El Niño, the periodic shifting of warm waters in the Pacific now thought to be incipient, develops robustly.
On the face of it, data like this, reported Monday by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, might seem powerful enough evidence that climate change has indeed arrived, as is widely accepted by mainstream scientists.
But lately, climate scientists have felt the need to explore the emerging evidence in more sophisticated ways.
This report is part of a joint project by InsideClimate News and the Center for Public Integrity.
Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it's hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.
A group of scientists from Pennsylvania and neighboring states have stepped in to fill this gap by forming a nonprofit—apparently the first of its kind in the United States—that provides free health consultations to local families near drilling sites. Instead of waiting years or even decades for long-term studies to emerge, the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project (SWPA-EHP) is using the best available science to help people deal with their ailments.
"As far as unconventional natural gas drilling goes, we are the public health service of the United States right now," said Michael Kelly, the media liaison for the EHP.
David Brown, a toxicologist and the group's co-founder, said government agencies haven't done enough to study, analyze and mitigate the risks people face from drilling.
When the people of Longmont voted in 2012 to ban fracking in their Colorado community, they knew it would put them in the cross hairs of powerful oil and gas interests.
The City Council had already been sued by the industry's trade group as well as the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, the state's oil and gas regulator, for trying to restrict the controversial drilling technique.
This report is part of a joint project by the Center for Public Integrity and InsideClimate News.
BISMARCK, N.D.— North Dakota's Heritage Center makes for a jarring sight in this Midwestern prairie capital. The newly-expanded museum consists of four interlocking cubes of stone, steel and glass, a gleaming architectural statement poking out of the otherwise drab Capitol grounds. Each cube features a gallery devoted to an era of North Dakota’s history, but the state’s present is everywhere.
The legislature approved the dramatic $52 million expansion in 2009, but required the museum to come up with $12 million of that to supplement state money, and more than half has come from energy companies—including a $1.8 million gift from Continental Resources Inc. that put its name on one of the galleries. The gifts have "given us a chance to do some things that we've never really had a chance to do," said Merl Paaverud, director of the State Historical Society.
Oil development has transformed this state to the point where it's hard to find a place or person that hasn't been touched by the boom. Energy companies have drilled more than 8,000 wells into western North Dakota's rugged prairie since the beginning of 2010, quadrupling the state's oil production. From July 2011 through June 2013, the state collected $4 billion in oil taxes, and is expecting a $1 billion surplus for the current biennium, not including an oil-funded sovereign wealth fund that will approach a balance of $3 billion. North Dakota is in the uncommon position of facing a labor shortage, spurring a state-run campaign to attract workers, paid for in part by Hess Corp.
In addition to the tax revenue they've brought, the oil companies have showered the state with additional money—new millions for universities, museums, hospitals and other charitable causes. They've also given hundreds of thousands to politicians, making the sector the largest single source of those contributions. The oil industry is the top contributor to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, and gave money in all but 10 of the 75 legislative races held in 2012.
"I don't think most people know how pervasive the influence of the oil industry is in the Capitol," said Jim Fuglie, a former state tourism director and former head of the state Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party. "Nothing this big has happened since homestead days. This is a game changer for North Dakota."
Germany leads the world in harnessing the benefits of energy efficiency, followed by Italy, the European Union, China and France, according to a new ranking of the world's 16 largest economies. The United States was near the bottom, placing 13th.
In early July, a million gallons of salty drilling waste spilled from a pipeline onto a steep hillside in western North Dakota's Fort Berthold Reservation. The waste—a byproduct of oil and gas production—has now reached a tributary of Lake Sakakawea, which provides drinking water to the reservation.
The oil industry called the accident a "saltwater" spill. But the liquid that entered the lake bears little resemblance to what's found in the ocean.
The industry's wastewater is five to eight times saltier than seawater, said Bill Kappel, a hydrogeologist emeritus at the U.S. Geological Survey. It's salty enough to sting the human tongue, and contains heavy metals in concentrations that might not meet drinking water standards. The briny mix can also include radioactive material. Heavy metals and radioactive materials are toxic at certain concentrations.
"You don't want to be drinking this stuff," Kappel said.
Virginia Palacios wants to empower the people of south Texas. She and her organization, the Austin office of the Environmental Defense Fund, want them to know they can make a difference in the face of the oil and gas boom that’s sweeping the Eagle Ford region.
In partnership with the Rio Grande International Study Center, Palacios has helped develop a series of workshops in five heavily impacted counties in the Eagle Ford, a 400-mile-long swath of oil and gas development that reaches from northeast Texas to the U.S.-Mexico border. The goal is to let residents know what resources are available if they believe they are being sickened by toxic emissions, or their water is becoming tainted or their wells are being drained.
People accustomed to a quiet rural lifestyle have found themselves in the middle of a bewildering hubbub of 18-wheel oil trucks, heavy equipment, day and night drilling, smoky flares and leaking emissions. Since 2008, more than 7,000 wells have been sunk and another 5,500 have been approved, making the Eagle Ford one of America’s most active drilling areas.
The Koch brothers built their first fortune on the particularly dirty form of oil mined in Alberta's tar sands, where they have been major players for 50 years, and remain deeply invested.
The key moment came in 1969, when Charles Koch secured full ownership of a heavy oil refinery in Minnesota. Almost forty years later he called the acquisition "one of the most significant events in the evolution of our company."
Below is an interactive timeline that tells the story of the Kochs' 50 years in the tar sands. It updates an in-depth story InsideClimate News published in 2012.
The libertarian conservative Koch brothers and the progressive liberal Tom Steyer are in a billionaire's showdown in the current election cycle, spending heavily in Congressional races across the country on their favorite candidates.
In an odd twist, the counterpunching last week was over culpability for carbon pollution.
The Koch brothers got to watch Steyer take an uppercut from an unexpected source—the New York Times. The paper took aim at Steyer—climate champion and Keystone XL pipeline foe—for having profited handsomely in the not-too-distant past from financing coal plants.
It was a bitter irony for Steyer's climate activist supporters that he emerged from the ring bruised as a carbon polluter. They blamed the Times for delivering the Kochs' sucker punch.
A blog called Powerline with ties to Charles and David, the activists said, was the source of the Times story, and they faulted the paper for doing a hit piece on a man who has repented his history with coal and has since made tackling climate change his life's goal.
Steyer's turnaround took moral courage, they argued, and asked: What about the Koch brothers? What is their history with global warming emissions?