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Today's Climate

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)
WEST, TX – 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.
(Bloomberg)
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.”
(Washington Post)
Studies dating back to the 1970s have pointed to a consistent pattern in who lives near the kinds of hazards --  toxic waste sites, landfills, congested highways -- that few of us would willingly choose as neighbors. The invariable answer: poor people and communities of color. This pattern of "environmental injustice" suggests that minorities may contend every day with disproportionate health risks from tailpipe exhaust or coal plant emissions. But these health risks are harder to quantify than, say, the number of power plants in a city.

April 16, 2014

(Reuters)
U.S. greenhouse gas emissions fell nearly 10 percent from 2005 to 2012, more than halfway toward the United States' 2020 target pledged at United Nations climate talks, according to the latest national emissions inventory. The report showed that emissions dropped 3.4 percent from 2012 to 2011, mostly due to a decrease in energy consumption and fuel switching from coal to natural gas.
(Bloomberg)
Alberta will likely implement energy efficiency measures and public transit when it revamps its climate-change policy to win support for its oil sector, the fastest-growing source of global warming in the country. The Canadian province plans to have new regulations on emissions "in the near future" and may include a higher carbon price and strategies for cities and consumers to increase energy efficiency and deploy more renewable energy, Robin Campbell, Alberta's environment minister, said in a phone interview.
(New York Times)
Jodi Ross, town manager in Westford, Mass., did not expect she would be threatened with arrest after she and her fire chief went onto the railroad tracks to find out why a train carrying liquid petroleum gas derailed on a bridge in February. But as they reached the accident site northwest of Boston, a manager for Pan Am Railways called the police, claiming she was trespassing on rail property. The cars were eventually put back on the tracks safely, but the incident underlined a reality for local officials dealing with railroads.
(Wall Street Journal (sub. req'd))
At a deserted gas station in a remote North Dakotan town, local officials recently found an unintended byproduct of the shale-oil boom: hundreds of garbage bags filled with mildly radioactive waste. These bags, which were discovered late February in Noonan, N.D., contained what are known as "oil socks": three-foot-long, snake-like filters made of absorbent fiber.
(Washington Post)
Former president Jimmy Carter has joined a group of Nobel laureates who oppose construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, warning President Obama and Secretary of State John F. Kerry, “You stand on the brink of making a choice that will define your legacy on one of the greatest challenges humanity has ever faced – climate change."
(Politico)
For years, the conventional wisdom in Washington has been that President Barack Obama will approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline—reasoning that the political upside of embracing the North American energy boom will outweigh outrage from environmentalists. But that wisdom could be wrong.
(Guardian)
If you can be sure of one thing, it's that oil companies didn't get the United Nations' latest memo on climate change: the world must urgently switch to clean, renewable energy. Over the next few decades, the U.N. report shows that a shift from fossil fuel extraction is the only way to prevent a complete destabilization of the planet – of which raging storms, droughts, and extreme weather are a taste of things to come.
(Bloomberg)
Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) and Noble Energy Inc. (NBL), Colorado's largest oil producers, are waging a media campaign to promote the benefits of hydraulic fracturing as residents push statewide measures to restrict the drilling technique as a threat to the environment. "It's all eyes on Colorado," said Jon Haubert, a spokesman for Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development, created by the energy companies to answer critics of fracking, which uses pressurized water, chemicals and sand to break rock formations. "The oil and gas industry hasn't done a good job of explaining fracking."
(National Journal)
In a decade, Pennsylvania has fracked its way from a minor energy player to one of the nation's largest suppliers of natural gas. But as impressive a feat as that is, the state's toughest challenge lies ahead: how to turn its energy boom into lasting wealth and welfare for its citizens. Most of the nation's largest energy states are trying to make that transition by way of a severance tax—a levy imposed on the value of the resource produced. When the tax is applied to natural-gas production, the more gas that comes out of the ground, the more money goes to the state.
(The Hill)
Federal agencies' practices regarding their obligations under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) are inconsistent, making it difficult to analyze government-wide impacts of the environmental review process, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded in a Tuesday report.
(Houston Chronicle)
Nearly four years after the massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP and the U.S. Coast Guard on Tuesday declared an end to cleanup operations that cost the company $14 billion and once covered 778 miles of shoreline on the Gulf Coast. The Coast Guard has finished its last patrols of the three remaining miles of beach that had been soaked in oil after a blowout at BP's Macondo well sent millions of barrels of crude into the ocean on April 20, 2010. The explosion killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig and the spill lasted more than 85 days.
(NPR)
Louisiana's coast is disappearing at the rate of about a football field an hour. Since the 1930s, the Gulf of Mexico has swallowed up an area the size of Delaware. You can see the water encroaching in Delacroix in St. Bernard Parish, less than an hour southeast of New Orleans. Here, a narrow crescent of land known locally as the "end of the world" is where the road abruptly comes to a dead end; in the distance, you see the tops of now-submerged trees.
(Think Progress)
Natural variability alone cannot explain the extreme weather pattern that has driven both the record-setting California drought and the cooler weather seen in the Midwest and East this winter, a major new study finds. We've reported before that climate scientists had predicted a decade ago that warming-driven Arctic ice loss would lead to worsening drought in California. In particular, they predicted it would lead to a "blocking pattern" that would shift the jet stream (and the rain it could bring) away from the state—in this case a "Ridiculously Resilient Ridge" of high pressure.

April 15, 2014

(Los Angeles Times)
Drilling operations at several natural gas wells in southwestern Pennsylvania released methane into the atmosphere at rates that were 100 to 1,000 times greater than federal regulators had estimated, new research shows. Using a plane that was specially equipped to measure greenhouse gas emissions in the air, scientists found that drilling activities at seven well pads in the booming Marcellus shale formation emitted 34 grams of methane per second, on average.
(Bloomberg)
Donny Williams didn't spend his weekend in Washington walking around the Tidal Basin taking in the cherry blossoms. He was training people how to get arrested.
(Think Progress)
Canada's energy industry has officially surpassed transportation as the largest producer of climate-change causing greenhouse gases, in no small part because of large increases in tar sands extraction, according to a government report quietly released Friday. In its overview of reported greenhouse gas emissions from industry facilities in the year 2012, Environment Canada said that oil and gas production now accounts for one quarter of Canada's greenhouse emissions, narrowly beating transportation.
(Denver Post)
Colorado Attorney General John Suthers was walking down Denver's 16th Street Mall recently when a Greenpeace activist asked if he'd like to ban fracking. It reflected the intensifying battle over how to balance public demands for a pristine environment and health versus ramped-up production of fossil fuels.
(Columbus Dispatch)
State officials now say a series of earthquakes that shook Mahoning County last month likely were caused by fracking, leading them to create the most stringent drilling rules in the nation, requiring seismic monitoring near fault lines and epicenters. Yesterday, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced the rules, which say that monitors must be placed at new drilling sites within 3 miles of known fault lines or areas that experienced an earthquake greater than magnitude 2.0.
(New Castle News)
Pennsylvania officials plan no action despite new Ohio rules on drilling that affect a seismically active area near the state line.The new rules, issued by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources last week, require that new gas and oil drilling permits within three miles of "a known fault or area of seismic activity greater than 2.0 magnitude" would require companies to install sensitive seismic monitors.
(The Courant)
State lawmakers worried about toxic byproducts from natural gas drilling wells in other states persuaded the legislature's judiciary committee Monday to approve a ban on "fracking" waste coming into Connecticut for storage or treatment. The panel voted 34-6 in favor of the measure, which now heads to the Senate.
(Globe and Mail)
Oil sands companies, which have benefited from years of low natural gas prices, are once again facing rising costs as the commodity they need to fuel much of their operations becomes more expensive. Increasing prices for natural gas hit hardest at projects that use steam to soften oil-rich bitumen deposits to the point where the bitumen can drain into wells from which it can be pumped to the surface. Natural gas is an unavoidable expense in these projects, because it is needed to heat water to create steam.