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Today's Climate

April 18, 2014

(National Journal)
BUFFALO TOWNSHIP, Pa.—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. And so Matt Pitzarella, spokesman for natural-gas producer Range Resources, is eager to point out the emissions gauge, and especially eager to point out its results. "Methane levels—zero percent," he says. "You have no issues, nothing coming out." But overall industry methane emissions across the complex gas-development chain are hardly zero, either in Pennsylvania or nationwide. Their size, however, is a matter of fierce dispute and ongoing research.
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.
WASHINGTON — 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. Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/04/17/224755/old-school-coal-is-making-a-comeback.html#storylink=cpy Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/04/17/224755/old-school-coal-is-making-a-comeback.html#storylink=cpy
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 halfof the global increase in carbon-dioxide emissions has come from growth in China's coal consumption.
(Bloomberg BNA)
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)
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.
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

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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.