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John Upton's Posts


Accidents? What accidents? Shell’s Arctic drillers are ready to roll again

The Arctic

OK, so last year was a nightmare for the officials at Shell charged with figuring out how to plunder the Arctic for oil. Shell gets that. Both of the company's exploratory oil rigs in the region were damaged in accidents, wells were abandoned, a vice president lost his job, and the Obama administration prevented the company from resuming its Arctic work this year.

But Shell is delighted to announce that its problems have largely been fixed and it's ready to return to some American-controlled Arctic waters next year. From E&E Publishing:

In a teleconference with energy analysts, Shell Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry said the company will submit an exploration plan for the Chukchi "in the next few weeks." Shell officials added, however, that the company has not yet reached a final decision on drilling.


Leaked IPCC report: Humans are adapting — but hunger, homelessness, and violence lie ahead

Drought-afflicted cornfield

If you are anything like us, you're waiting for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to publish the next installment of its epically important assessment report with bated breath. Rejoice: The waiting is over, thanks to an intrepid sneak who leaked the doc ahead of schedule.

The latest leak gives us a peek at the second quarter of the most recent assessment (it's the fifth assessment report since 1990 by the world's leading climate change authority). The document, scheduled to be unveiled in March, deals with the severity of climate impacts and worldwide efforts to adapt to it.

Now, technically we're supposed to wait until the final draft is officially published before sharing its contents with you climate-news-hungry readers. But we just can't resist: Here is our summary of some of the upcoming report's key findings, accompanied by a boilerplate warning: Despite being marked "final draft," these conclusions could change between now and the official release in March.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Bill would boost renewables to 25 percent by 2025, has no chance in hell of passing

25 x 25

Most states in the union require utilities to generate a certain percentage of their electricity from renewable sources. A new bill in Congress would take that strategy national.

Sens. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) and Tom Udall (D-N.M.) -- cousins, as it happens -- introduced legislation this week that would require utilities across the country to generate a quarter of their electricity from wind, solar, and other renewable sources by 2025.

That’s right in line with Colorado's current renewable electricity standard, and it's modest compared to California's, which calls for utilities to get 33 percent of their electricity from renewables by 2020. Look abroad and it's more modest still: Germany generates 23 percent of electricity from renewable sources, with a goal of reaching 80 percent by 2050. Around the world, 138 countries have renewable energy goals or requirements in place.

“Clean energy creates jobs, spurs innovation, reduces global warming and makes us more energy independent,” said Mark Udall. “This common-sense proposal would extend Colorado’s successful effort to expand the use of renewable energy alongside natural gas and coal to the entire nation.”


Bangladesh’s biggest power plant will harm world’s biggest mangrove forest

Sundarbans National Park in Bangladesh

Burning coal is a surefire way of damaging the climate, and harming mangroves is a surefire way of worsening climate impacts. Which makes the planned construction of Bangladesh’s largest coal-fired power plant at the edge of the world’s biggest mangrove forest doubly troubling.

Construction is beginning on the 1,320-megawatt Rampal power plant less than 10 miles from the Sundarbans, the sweeping mangrove system that straddles Bangladesh and India, helping to protect an eastern chunk of the Subcontinent from floods and cyclones.

An estimated 20,000 people recently marched to protest the project. Scientists warn it will produce pollution that feeds acid rain over the mangroves and suck up vast quantities of the ecosystem's water.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Congress backtracking on law that aimed to reduce flood risks

New Jersey after Sandy
U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service - Northeast Region

Demolishing coastal habitats and replacing them with buildings is just asking for trouble. Mangroves, sand dunes, and other coastal ecosystems can buffer rising tides and storm surges. Homes, driveways, and roads, on the other hand -- well, they just flood.

Yet since the late 1960s, the federal government has been promoting the construction of homes in flood-vulnerable coastal areas through the National Flood Insurance Program. Under the NFIP, taxpayers subsidize the costs of insuring homes in flood-prone neighborhoods. The program has led to the demolition of coastal habitats and the construction of flood-vulnerable homes is coastal areas around the country.

Fortunately, lawmakers came to understand the folly of the nation's ways. Last year, by a 412 to 18 margin, Congress did something unusual: It passed a bill that went on to become law. The bill started raising flood insurance rates to something resembling market prices.

Unfortunately, now Congress wants to backtrack. Seems members didn't comprehend the scale of the problem they were trying to fix. The issue of unsuitable homes built on flood plains is so entrenched that the new law led to severe economic impacts for homeowners who were forced to foot greater shares of the insurance bills needed to protect their properties.

"All the houses, all the stores, all the businesses -- everything has to be raised six, eight, ten feet high," Mike O'Reilly, a resident of New York's Broad Channel Island, told CBS News during a protest last month that took place on land that was inundated after Superstorm Sandy struck the region. "If you don't comply with this impossible task, the insurance premiums are going to up $20,000-$30,000 a year."

Reacting to widespread anger, Congress is now scrambling to undo the program changes that it once so heartily supported.


Marcellus Shale fracking wells use 5 million gallons of water apiece

The Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania
Frackers are slurping this right up.

Forget about residents. Forget about fish. The streams and rivers of Pennsylvania and West Virginia are being heavily tapped to quench the growing thirst of the fracking industry.

According to a new report, each of the thousands of fracking wells drilled to draw gas and oil out of the Marcellus Shale formation in those two states uses an average of 4.1 to 5.6 million gallons of fresh water. That's more than the amount of water used by fracking wells in three other big shale formations around the country:

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.


Have we hit a “permanent slowdown” in the growth of global CO2 emissions?

"slow down" sign
Shutterstock/Leena Robinson

The world keeps making climate change worse, pumping out more greenhouse gases every year than the year before. But in an encouraging sign, the rate at which emissions are growing appears to be slowing down.

Global emissions hit 38 billion tons of carbon dioxide last year — up 1.1 percent from 2011. That’s bleak, but the glimmer of hope here is that emissions increased during the last decade by much more than that — by an average of 2.9 percent every year.

The slowdown is attributed to the worldwide growth of the renewables sector; to America's fracking boom (which produces cheap natural gas that's reducing coal use but also hobbling the growth of renewables); to new hydropower projects that are offsetting the use of coal in China; and to falling energy consumption and transportation in Europe triggered in part by a bad economy.

The latest annual estimate by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency and the European Commission's Joint Research Centre says this "may be the first sign of a more permanent slowdown in the increase in global CO2 emissions, and ultimately of declining global emissions."

Read more: Climate & Energy


The future of a big coal-export project will be decided by this small Washington community

Loading coal onto a ship

What say you on coal exports, Whatcom County?

Less than a week remains before what could be the most momentous council election in the Washington county's hitherto humble electoral history.

About 125,000 registered voters will have a say Tuesday on whether a $700 million shipping terminal will be built near Bellingham in the northwest corner of Washington state. The Gateway Pacific Terminal at Cherry Point would load 48 million tons of coal dug up in Montana and Wyoming every year onto ships bound for Asia. The county council will decide whether to issue critical permits for the proposed terminal, giving members enormous power that extends far beyond the county borders.

The large stakes are attracting a lot of attention to the rural community -- and a lot of big campaign contributions. Mother Jones reports:

The money pouring into four council seat races dwarfs anything ever seen in this county of lumberjacks, farmers, and banana slugs. Compared to fundraising during the last county election in 2011, money raised by council candidates and their allies has increased more than seven-fold, to roughly $1 million. Much of it comes from fossil fuel interests such as Cloud Peak Energy and Global Coal Sales, and, on the other side, from A-list environmentalists such as California billionaire Tom Steyer.


Italian mafia boss says pollution turned him into a police informant

the mob

The Italian mob didn’t just murder its enemies. With its illegal dumping of toxic waste, it also condemned people living in and around Naples to cancer.

As the Italian Senate investigates links between toxic dumping and cancer clusters, a former mob boss is claiming that his disgust with the pollution prompted him to become a police informant. From the BBC:

Two decades ago doctors noticed that the incidence of cancer in towns around Naples was on the rise. Since then, the number of tumours found in women has risen by 40%, and those in men by 47%.

As senators investigate a possible link to the mafia -- which secured lucrative contracts to dispose of waste, then dumped much of it illegally -- one ex-mafia boss, Carmine Schiavone, looks on with particular interest.

He was once at the very heart of the criminal network that sowed the land with poison. He knows how much damage the mafiosi have done. ...


Unregulated bumblebee trade threatens bumblebees

Rusty patched bumble bee
Dan Mullen

Though they're bigger, bumblebees tend to get overshadowed by European honeybees. We've all heard that honeybee colonies are collapsing, but did you know that the bumblebees that been have been pollinating America's native plants for millennia are also disappearing?

The U.S. government, though, treats them with equal disdain. It is not taking decisive steps to protect honeybees, and no one's yet been able to sting it into action to protect the bumbling variety either.

Still, activists keep trying. On Tuesday, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, and the Xerces Society for Invertebrate Conservation wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, urging the USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to regulate commercial trade in bumblebees.