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Today's Climate

April 21, 2014

(Washington Post)
The State Department announced last week that it was extending the Keystone XL pipeline's five-year stay in purgatory—this time, indefinitely. A departmental review scheduled to end in May has been pushed back while the Nebraska Supreme Court decides a case that could affect the pipeline's path. It seems unlikely that the issue will be resolved before polls are cast in the 2014 midterms, meaning another controversial policy that could affect this year's closest Senate races is in limbo.
The Obama administration's announcement Friday that it was delaying a ruling on the Keystone XL oil pipeline drew an angry reaction from supporters of the $5.4 billion project, including some who said it was designed to push the issue beyond the November election. "This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable," Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said in a statement that called the move "nothing short of an indefinite delay."
Just a few miles from the spot where Enbridge Inc plans to build a massive marine terminal for its Northern Gateway oil pipeline, Gerald Amos checks crab traps and explains why no concession from the company could win his support for the project.
(New York Times)
From Mauritius to Manitoba, climate change is slowly moving from the headlines to the classroom. Schools around the world are beginning to tackle the difficult issue of global warming, teaching students how the planet is changing and encouraging them to think about what they can do to help slow that process. Strapped school budgets, concerns about overburdening teachers and political opposition to what in some places is a contentious subject have complicated the spread of lessons on climate change.
(Washington Post)
The geological marvel known to Texas oilmen as the Eagle Ford Shale Play is buried deep underground, but at night you can see its outline from space in a twinkling arc that sweeps south of San Antonio toward the Rio Grande. The light radiates from thousands of surface-level gas flares and drilling rigs. It is the glow of one of the most extravagant oil bonanzas in American history, the result of the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
(Al Jazeera America)
Supporters of the oil and gas industry are urging a three-member, governor-appointed task force in Kansas to avoid jumping to conclusions in its study of whether fracking is causing a rise in earthquakes across the south-central region of the state. Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is a method of oil and gas extraction where a mix of water, sand and chemicals is shot into the ground at high pressure to release fossil fuels.
(Minneapolis Star Tribune)
More than 5,000 Minnesotans have signed a petition calling on Gov.Mark Dayton to enact a two-year moratorium on frac sand mining in southeastern Minnesota.
(Oregon Live)
The volume of oil hauled on Oregon's rails increased 250 percent in 2013. A sharp increase in crude shipments along a rail route through Portland, Scappoose, St. Helens and Rainier drove the jump. In 2013, 19,065 tank cars moved more than 11 million barrels of oil through Oregon, according to annual reports that railroad companies submitted to the Oregon Department of Transportation. That's up from the 5,491 cars that moved 2.9 million barrels in 2012.
(Think Progress)
Spring should be a time of renewal and hope, especially after such a long and relentless winter. But for residents of Lac-Mégantic and the surrounding areas, the melting snow is once again revealing the charred rubble of a ghost town and stirring up the crude oil that had for months been out of sight—if not out of mind—at the bottom of icy rivers.
(Charlotte Observer)
Coal ash, infamous for its recent splash into the Dan River, also lies along Charlotte's outerbelt. It's next to a Huntersville car dealership and under a Lowe's store in Mooresville.
(Midwest Energy News)
Feeling that elected officials have betrayed them in the battle over piles of petroleum coke on the Southeast Side of Chicago, residents have vowed to take the fight to the streets and into their own hands. In unseasonably frigid temperatures at a local park Tuesday evening, they discussed a march planned for April 26, ongoing protests and the idea of boycotting BP, whose Whiting, Indiana refinery is the source of the "petcoke" piling up along the Calumet River.
An ongoing U.S. Department of Energy-backed research project led by a U.S. Navy scientist predicts that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice cover as early as 2016 - 84 years ahead of conventional model projections. The project, based out of the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School's Department of Oceanography, uses complex modelling techniques that make its projections more accurate than others.
(USA Today)
With the click of a computer mouse, the potential risks of rising sea levels will soon be searchable—by ZIP code—for all U.S. coastal communities. An online mapping tool will show how much sea levels are expected to rise in each area, as well as the number of residents and buildings that could be flooded. Initially launched in March 2012 for New York, New Jersey and Florida, it will expand to cover New England on Wednesday, the Pacific states later this spring and the rest of the coastal U.S. by the end of summer.

April 18, 2014

(National Journal)
On a flat, roughly one-acre square cut into a hilltop in the rolling farmlands, four natural-gas wells sit adjacent boxy machines that separate wastewater and hydrocarbons sucked from the ground over two square miles. Attached to those boxes are gauges small enough to easily escape notice. But they're of outsize importance: They measure methane—a greenhouse gas over 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide—and other emissions. Controlling methane is key to lowering the climate footprint of the natural-gas industry and its efforts to sell itself as the environmentally friendly fossil fuel.
Four years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, oil is still washing up on the long sandy beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and some islanders are fed up with hearing from BP that the crisis is over. Jules Melancon, the last remaining oyster fisherman on an island dotted with colorful houses on stilts, says he has not found a single oyster alive in his leases in the area since the leak and relies on an onshore oyster nursery to make a living. He and others in the southern U.S. state say compensation has been paid unevenly and lawyers have taken big cuts.
(The Hill)
Tom Steyer is vowing to throw his political weight and money behind any lawmaker in Congress who comes under attack for opposing the Keystone XL pipeline.The billionaire hedge fund manager turned environmental activist penned an open letter on Thursday, pledging to utilize his primarily self-funded super-PAC, NextGen Climate Action, to back members of Congress that face attack from pro-Keystone XL groups heading into the midterms.
Coal, the former king of American energy, is making a comeback after being left for dead in favor of cleaner-burning natural gas. For years coal has been losing market share as the American fracking boom created a flood of cheap and abundant natural gas. But natural gas prices have edged upward, and the frigid winter created unprecedented energy demands. Power plants have increasingly been turning to coal as the solution. There's serious doubt whether the resurgence in coal can last in America with stricter environmental rules coming. But the global outlook for coal is bright, and U.S. coal producers hope to take advantage by increasing exports to other countries hungry for cheap energy. The International Energy Agency believes coal will be the No. 1 fuel for meeting the worldwide increase in energy demand.
How much global warming will we get in the future? That largely depends on how much extra carbon-dioxide humans put in the atmosphere. And that—in large part—hinges on how much coal China ends up burning in the years ahead. China has been growing rapidly—and with 1.3 billion people, it needs a staggering amount of energy. Currently, 65 percent of that energy comes from coal, the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels. That's a huge deal: Over the last decade, fully half of the global increase in carbon-dioxide emissions has come from growth in China's coal consumption.
In an apparent effort to kickstart agency action on updating permissible exposure limits for hundreds of chemicals, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration asked the White House April 15 to approve a request to gather information on ways to address chemical exposure. OSHA cited widespread agreement that the majority of the agency's exposure limits are decades out-of-date and need revising. But agency attempts have gone nowhere since a 1992 appeals court decision scuttled a blanket measure on exposure limits for nearly 400 chemicals.
(VT Digger)
Global technology giant IBM has joined the opposition to a Vermont proposal to regulate chemicals in children's products that the state's health department considers harmful. Big Blue was part of a chorus of major industries against the plan, a list that includes the Toy Industry Association, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Burton Snowboards, Keurig Green Mountain and Wal-Mart. "If you're going to be considering potentially taking away somebody's livelihood, we need to be sure there's an actual harm, an actual exposure and a risk from those products," Janet Doyle, a representative for IBM, told the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Committee.
The U.S. shale oil boom is putting millions of tons of sand onto North American railroads, enabling carriers to pack trains full instead of hauling just a handful of cars at a time. With help from Union Pacific Corp. (UNP) and Warren Buffett's BNSF Railway Co., the sleepy silica sand industry that once mostly supplied glassmakers now ships more than 20 million tons of the material a year. Buyers including Halliburton Co. (HAL) and Schlumberger Ltd. (SLB) use the sand in hydraulic fracturing at oil fields in Texas and North Dakota.
Today, farmers and ranchers can freely do any number of things on their property affecting rivers, creeks and wetlands that no other sector could undertake without going to the federal government for permission. Agriculture is different, Congress decided when passing the 1972 Clean Water Act. For the most part, the people who grow the country's food can plow their fields, build roads, spread fertilizer and drain water off their crops without needing a permit for filling in wetlands or washing pollutants into streams. And under a major regulatory proposal being pushed by U.S. EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers that has drawn a harsh backlash from some of the country's most powerful farm groups, none of this would change.

April 17, 2014

(Washington Post)
On Tuesday night, BP said that the "active cleanup" of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill had been brought "to a close." Later Tuesday night, the Coast Guard said the response to the spill isn't over yet, "not by a long shot." The dueling news releases came out just before the fourth anniversary of the April 20, 2010, blowout on BP's Macondo well. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig caught fire and sank, 11 workers were killed and more than 4 million barrels of crude spilled into the gulf.
(The Hill)
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) on Wednesday urged Secretary of State John Kerry to face the "reality of climate change" and reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline.In formal comments submitted to the State Department for its final review of the $5.4 billion project, the two Democrats admitted that Kerry will upset people no matter what call he makes on the oil-sands pipeline. "Here, the choice is between business-as-usual and facing up to the reality of climate change. Whichever decision you make, some Americans will be unhappy with the outcome," the two lawmakers wrote in the letter. "But sometimes the most critical decisions are difficult precisely because there is so much at stake."
(StateImpact Texas)
Trucks and bulldozers are still working here, the site of an explosion a year ago today. A deadly blast tore through this small community, killing fifteen and injuring hundreds. Homes and schools were destroyed, with the damage estimated to be over a hundred million dollars. There's a lone charred tree that still stands at the location of the blast, but other than that, the site is mostly empty. Crosses and memorials that read "West strong" and "West is the Best" line the road. The explosion at the West fertilizer plant was one of the worst industrial disasters in Texas history. So what’s Texas doing to prevent it from happening again? "Well, technically, nothing has been done," says state Rep. Joe Pickett (D-El Paso), chair of the House Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee.
(Huffington Post)
A new study released Wednesday finds there are almost 10,000 schools across the country located within a mile of a chemical facility. The research was released ahead of the April 17 anniversary of an explosion at a West, Texas, fertilizer plant, which killed 15 people and injured hundreds of others. The explosion left many people wondering why schools and homes were located so close to the plant. The report finds that 4.6 million children attend a school located within a mile of a facility that stores potentially risky chemicals.
Democrats are exploring a new attack line against the Koch brothers and Republican allies, telling voters the billionaire energy executives want to let home flood insurance premiums soar to help corporate America. It's a potentially potent message in coastal states such as Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina, where U.S. Senate elections in November are critical in the fight for control of the chamber. The flood insurance debate also has surfaced in Mississippi, where it may harm a Senate candidate aligned with the limited-government Tea Party movement who is pursuing a primary challenge against a Republican incumbent.
(Midwest Energy News)
Feeling that elected officials have betrayed them in the battle over piles of petroleum coke on the Southeast Side of Chicago, residents have vowed to take the fight to the streets and into their own hands. In unseasonably frigid temperatures at a local park Tuesday evening, they discussed a march planned for April 26, ongoing protests and the idea of boycotting BP, whose Whiting, Indiana refinery is the source of the "petcoke" piling up along the Calumet River.
(The Louisiana Weekly)
Domestic oil refiners can learn from Europe as pressure grows to reduce accidents at plants in Louisiana and the nation, safety experts say. After a string of disasters, President Obama issued an executive order last August to improve chemical facility safety. A year before his directive, a fire at Chevron Corp.'s refinery in Richmond, Ca., filled the air with black smoke and particles, sending 15,000 people in search of medical attention. An April 2010 explosion at Tesoro's refinery in Anacortes, Wa., killed seven workers.
(StateImpact Pennsylvania)
How is Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling affecting Pennsylvania's state forests? A new report released Wednesday by the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources offers mixed results. "First and foremost is that shale-gas production on state forest lands is neither benign nor catastrophic," Dan Devlin, acting deputy secretary for Parks and Forestry, wrote in the preface. "There are clearly impacts and tradeoffs associated with this activity. The question is what tradeoffs are acceptable."