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John Upton's Posts


Millions of dolphins could be hurt as oil industry blasts along East Coast

Atlantic spotted dolphin
Simon du Vintage

The Obama administration tentatively gave its environmental blessing to oil industry plans to look for new deposits in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast. Recommendations outlined Thursday in a long-awaited environmental report by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management came as music to the ears of drilling companies.

But the air guns that the industry plans to use in its hunt for underwater oil fields won't sound so sweet to the staggering numbers of dolphins and whales that could end up being maimed.

The oil industry wants to drill along the East Coast, but the last surveys of oil deposits in coastal Atlantic areas were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s using technology that's now obsolete. So now industry wants to survey with more modern techniques, which McClatchy news service describes this way: "The seismic tests involve vessels towing an array of air guns that blast compressed air underwater, sending intense sound waves to the bottom of the ocean. The booms are repeated every 10 seconds or so for days or weeks."

Thirty-four marine mammal species, which use sound to navigate, could be harmed by the seismic testing, and some of the animals could be killed. "By failing to consider relevant science, the Obama administration’s decision could be a death sentence for many marine mammals, needlessly turning the Atlantic Ocean into a blast zone," said Jacqueline Savitz with the nonprofit Oceana. "In its rush to finalize this proposal, the Obama administration is failing to consider the cumulative impacts that these repeated dynamite-like blasts will have on vital behaviors like mating, feeding, breathing, communicating and navigating."


America’s first carbon-trading program can boast some impressive numbers


How do you turn $1 billion into $2 billion, all the while helping to slow down global warming? By capping carbon dioxide pollution and charging for emissions permits, then plowing the revenues into clean energy and energy-efficiency programs.

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a carbon-trading program that covers nine Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states, charged power plants about $1 billion for the right to pollute the climate from 2009 to 2012. Of that, $707 million has so far been invested into green programs, and $93 million has been transferred into states' general funds, according to a new RGGI report.

Two-thirds of the investments have been used to help utility customers cut back on the amount of power that they use. Those efficiency improvements are eventually expected to save 800,000 households and 12,000 businesses more than $1.8 billion in energy bills.


You might see fewer oil trains on the tracks, thanks to a new emergency order

Oil-hauling train
U.S. Department of Transportation

The rash of exploding railcars across North America was treated with a dash of regulatory tonic this week.

Citing an "imminent hazard" of explosion and fire posed by trains hauling crude, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring more thorough testing of oil before it's shipped. The department is especially concerned about oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana, as it's been found to be particularly explosive. The order also bars shipping oil in weak railcars designed for less hazardous materials.

The move could slow train shipments of oil from the Bakken shale and from Canada's tar sands. Bloomberg reports:


Feds will help honeybees find food

A bee on pastureland

The U.S. government estimates that honeybees provide $15 billion worth of pollination services to America's farms every year. So it's throwing $3 million at them in the Midwest, announcing a new effort to help farmers and ranchers grow plants that furnish bees with healthier diets.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will use the funds "to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment." The pollen and nectar will come from such sources as cover crops and high-quality pastures.

It's another little step by the government to boost hives' chances of survival. Forcing bees to subsist on the pollen and nectar of crops alone can leave them sickly.

"It's a win for the livestock guys, and it's a win for the managed honeybee population," USDA official Jason Weller told Al Jazeera. "And it's a win then for orchardists and other specialty crop producers across the nation because then you're going to have a healthier, more robust bee population that then goes out and helps pollinate important crops."

Read more: Food, Politics


L.A. and California lawmakers move to impose fracking moratoriums

Hollywood sign
Matt' Johnson

Leaders in Los Angeles seem to have been paying attention to Hollywood. A little more than a year after the release of Promised Land, a movie about the dangers of fracking starring Matt Damon, members of L.A. City Council are trying to ban hydraulic fracturing.

"Fracking and other unconventional drilling is happening here in Los Angeles, and without the oversight and review to keep our neighborhoods safe," Councilman Mike Bonin said during a committee hearing on Tuesday. Here's more from the L.A. Times:


Carbon dioxide pollution just killed 10 million scallops

scallops with chili

Scallops go well with loads of chili and an after-dinner dose of antacid. It's just too bad we can't share our post-gluttony medicine with the oceans that produce our mollusk feasts.

A scallops producer on Vancouver Island in British Columbia just lost three years' worth of product to high acidity levels. The disaster, which cost the company $10 million and could lead to its closure, is the latest vicious reminder of the submarine impacts of our fossil fuel–heavy energy appetites. As carbon dioxide is soaked up by the oceans, it reacts with water to produce bicarbonate and carbonic acid, increasing ocean acidity. 

The Parksville Qualicum Beach News has the latest shellfish-shriveling scoop:


Frack-happy Colorado clamps down on methane pollution

Smoggy Denver
Rick Kimpel
Cutting back on methane leaks could help reduce Denver's infamous smog.

Frackers and other companies that handle natural gas will have to start being at least a little bit neighborly in Colorado, where new rules will force them to clamp down on methane leaks from wells, tanks, and pipelines.

When methane (natural gas is pretty much just methane) escapes during drilling and transportation, it fuels ozone pollution and global warming. Methane concentrations in the atmosphere are rising, and methane leaks are a major problem in the U.S. By one recent estimate, the U.S. EPA has understated the problem by a half.

To start trying to tackle the problem, Colorado's air quality commission voted 8-1 on Sunday to adopt the nation's first state regulations dealing with methane leaks -- regulations that the Natural Resources Defense Council had previously described as "common-sense measures to reduce harmful pollution." Volatile organic compounds will also be regulated under the new rules. Reuters explains:


Big polluters tell Supreme Court they’re worried for Chinese restaurateurs

Thomas Hawk

The country's worst climate polluters don't want to have their carbon dioxide emissions reined in by the federal government. They've already tried and failed to convince the Supreme Court that the Clean Air Act doesn't apply to CO2. So in court on Monday, they claimed to be worried that the EPA could, theoretically, crack down on CO2 produced by everything from Dunkin' Donuts stores and Chinese restaurants to high school football games. And that would be crazy, so the EPA's authority to regulate CO2 should be curbed.

The attorney representing conservative states, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and major polluters argued before the Supreme Court that the Obama administration erred when it set up a regulatory framework under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources of carbon dioxide, deciding to regulate emissions from major polluters like power plants and factories but not from tens of millions of small operations. The conservative coalition contends that a correct interpretation of the law should see smalltime polluters subjected to the same rules as big polluters -- which everyone agrees would be absurd. So the polluters' attorney told the Supreme Court that Congress should be called on to set new CO2-pollution rules -- that it shouldn't be up to the EPA to decide who is and who isn't subject to such rules.


Oil is spilling from trains, pipelines … and now barges

New Orleans
The Mississippi River in New Orleans.

The oil industry is a champion of innovation. When it comes to finding new ways of sullying the environment, its resourcefulness knows no bounds.

An oil-hauling barge collided with a vessel pushing grain in the Mississippi River on Saturday, causing an estimated 31,500 gallons of crude to leak through a tear in its hull. The accident closed 65 miles of the already disgustingly polluted waterway upstream from the Port of New Orleans for two days while workers tried to contain and suck up the spilled oil.

The accident highlighted a little-noted side effect of the continent's oil boom. Not only is crude being ferried from drilling operations to refineries in leaky pipelines and explosion-prone trains -- it's also being moved over water bodies with growing frequency. Bloomberg reports:


World’s biggest offshore wind farm won’t expand because of birds

Red-throated loon

The red-throated diver is a "species of least concern" as far as the International Union for Conservation of Nature is concerned -- there might be a half million of the migratory waterfowl across the globe. But in an estuary east of London, environmental protections for the species have become a major concern for wind energy developers.

So much so that a consortium of utilities has ditched plans to expand what is already the world's biggest offshore wind farm, worried that it wouldn't be able to satisfy government requirements that the local red-throated diver population be protected from further harm.

Phase 1 of the London Array is already complete -- and generating as much as 630 megawatts of electricity. Phase 2, which would have boosted electricity production at the sprawling site by more than a half, will not move forward as originally planned.