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John Upton's Posts


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.


Boston to order builders to adapt to climate change


Buildahs in Beantown will need to adapt to global wahming.

As the climate changes, the coastal city has decided that it won't put up with any more buildings that are prone to flood or overheat. From The Boston Globe:

City officials proposed new zoning rules Tuesday that would require developers of large new buildings in Boston to submit plans to deal with flooding, heat waves, and other potential complications of climate change as sea levels and temperatures are projected to rise.


Obama moves to block new coal plants abroad

Coal power station near Halle, Germany

The U.S. is set to virtually stamp out construction of new coal-fired power plants domestically, thanks to proposed climate regulations. And now it's setting its sights internationally.

The Obama administration said Tuesday it plans to use its influence with international lending bodies like the World Bank to curtail financial support for new coal power plants overseas. From Reuters:

The U.S. Treasury said it would only support funding for coal plants in the world's poorest countries if they have no other efficient or economical alternative for their energy needs.

For richer countries, it would only support coal plants that deploy carbon capture and sequestration, an advanced technology for reducing emissions that is not yet commercially viable. That essentially means the United States would limit coal funding to only the world's poorest for now.


Nebraska is a loser in the wind-energy boom

Grass blowing in Nebraska
Ben Carlisle

It's hard to find anywhere in America that's windier than Nebraska, where sweeping flat lands offer little to break up the gusts. So why isn't the state dotted with turbines?

The AP reports that the Cornhusker State is the nation's third windiest state, yet it ranks 26th in wind-energy generation. It trails neighboring Iowa, South Dakota, Wyoming, Colorado, and Kansas in producing wind power.

But some state lawmakers and officials are trying to do something about that. From the AP article:

Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha said he’s considering wind-energy legislation next year that would provide a tax credit to wind farms, similar to one offered by the federal government and other states.


Why is Antarctic sea ice expanding?

Bryan Kiechle

While ice cover in the Arctic continues its downward spiral, something counterintuitive is happening in the Antarctic.

The thin crust of sea ice floating around Antarctica expanded this year to cover more of the Southern Ocean than ever before recorded: 7.518 million square miles. That broke the previous record of 7.505 million square miles, which was set just last year, according to NASA.

"We set a record high winter maximum,” Walt Meier, a NASA glaciologist, said in announcing the findings. “Even though it is a record high, it is only 3.6 percent above the 1981 to 2010 average maximum."

Read more: Climate & Energy


Illinois is America’s nuclear waste capital

nuclear power plant

Nuclear power plants across the U.S. have nowhere to send their spent fuel, so they're storing it on site in ever-growing radioactive piles.

Bloomberg reports that no state is home to more of that nuclear waste than Illinois:

About 13 percent of America’s 70,000 metric tons of the radioactive waste is stashed in pools of water or in special casks at the atomic plants in Illinois that produced it, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a Washington-based industry group. That’s the most held in any state.