Skip to content Skip to site navigation

John Upton's Posts


Fracking industry says fracking made you $1,200 richer last year

A money tree.
Want to get rich? Just take from the environment.

If you keep a close eye on energy news, you probably know by now that fracking for oil and natural gas is injecting $1,200 a year into the bank accounts of American households.

Fricking awesome, right? Go on out right now and buy that 65-inch plasma TV on credit -- you're good for it. Because of fracking.

Or maybe not.


Replacing poultry inspectors with factory workers might not be greatest idea, says GAO

Raw chicken
Let's hope this chicken was inspected by a government worker.

Who would you rather have check factory chickens for signs of illness and smears of crap — a USDA inspector or a factory employee?

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has long stationed its own inspectors along factory lines at poultry plants. But now it's preparing to reassign those workers to other tasks and allow the agricultural companies to inspect their own birds along processing lines, which would help speed up business operations.

Food-safety groups are raising alarms about the proposed shift, and a new government report indicates that they might well have reason to be concerned.

Read more: Food, Politics


Detroit’s dirty petcoke piles disappear, but where did they go?

petroleum coke
Detroit's Petroleum Coke Piles Facebook page
A petcoke pile in June.

The Koch brothers finally took their towering piles of tar-sands oil refinery waste away from Detroit.

But where did they send the stuff? That's a bit of a mystery.

Huge piles of petroleum coke started building up along the city's riverfront after a refinery began processing tar-sands oil from Canada in November. Koch Carbon, an affiliate of Koch Industries, peered into the dark mass and saw, ka-ching, opportunity, so it bought up all the waste.


Clean energy law reducing electricity costs in Ohio

Ohio is getting greener, and that's reducing the cost of power.

More than 1,000 renewable energy projects have been built in Ohio during the past five years -- part of a scramble by utilities to comply with the state's renewable energy standard. The biggest project, a wind farm, cost $600 million.

So how much are the state's electricity customers being forced to fork out for this flurry of climate-friendly construction activity?

Nada. Not even nada -- less than nada. An analysis [PDF] by the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio concludes that all those green energy projects have actually reduced the price of wholesale power in the state, albeit just a little bit.

It's true that such projects cost money to build. But, unlike fossil fuel–powered plants, their fuels -- solar radiation and wind -- are free. The lower long-term energy costs of all those clean power facilities has "suppressed" the market rate for dirtier forms of electricity in Ohio, the study found.


Illinois concedes kids maybe shouldn’t be brainwashed by Big Coal

Illinois Coal Mascot
via Midwest Energy News
This smiling lump of coal is shaped like Illinois.

In Illinois, teachers use cute cartoons of anthropomorphic coal to teach kids that our dirtiest fossil fuel is great.

But don't blame the teachers. Blame coal-industry lobbyists and the state government.

The Illinois Coal Technology Development Assistance Act calls for the promotion of coal in school curricula. A curriculum developed in 2004 to comply with that law blends coal-related lessons into math, geology, and economics classes and art and essay contests. (Jeff Biggers touched on this bizarre situation in a Grist post in 2009.)

Fortunately, there's now a gust of intellectual fresh air that could help clear Illinois classrooms of some of this nonsense. The state's Commerce Department, which oversees the coal education program, recently released a 400-page evaluation that recommends an overhaul. Midwest Energy News reports:


Fracking wastewater disposal triggered more than 100 earthquakes in Ohio

earthquake crack
Tom Wang

A single fracking wastewater well triggered 167 earthquakes in and around Youngstown, Ohio, during a single year of operation.

That's according to a study published in the Journal of Geophysical Research by Won-Young Kim, a researcher at Columbia University. Earthquakes had never been recorded at Youngstown before 2010. Then, at the end of that year, frackers started pumping their waste from Marcellus Shale drilling projects into the 9,200-foot deep Northstar 1 injection well. Within two weeks, the area had experienced its first quake.

From January 2011 to February 2012, the area was jangled by an average of nearly 12 earthquakes every month. Many of them were imperceptible to residents, but they grew in intensity over time and ranged up to a home-rattling magnitude-3.9 temblor on the final day of 2011. That was one day after the injection well was last used for dumping waste; the Ohio Department of Natural Resources had ordered it shut down because of the escalating flurry of earthquakes. By that time, 495,622 barrels of wastewater had been crammed into it.

After the injection well fell into disuse, the string of earthquakes quickly tapered away.


Oil refiners don’t care about Keystone XL anymore

Pipeline contruction
So many pipelines are being built and expanded in the U.S. that refiners have stopped caring whether Keystone XL gets the OK.

We've heard from the Canadian oil industry that the Keystone XL pipeline is essential for the expansion of tar-sands operations. But here in America, oil refiners are now saying they don't much care whether the damned thing ever gets built.

The U.S. has its own oil boom going on, thanks to fracking, and a lot of that oil is being transported by railcar. Meanwhile, existing pipelines from Canada to the U.S. are being expanded, a process that doesn't require new federal approvals.

The Wall Street Journal quotes a Valero executive saying that if the industry "just sat around and waited for Washington" to approve Keystone, "we'd never get anything done." More from that article:

U.S. companies that refine oil increasingly doubt that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline expansion will ever be built, and now they don't particularly care. ...

[R]efiners are moving ahead with other plans. Valero Energy Corp. had signed to receive oil from Keystone XL when the project was first announced and spent billions of dollars upgrading some of its U.S. Gulf Coast refineries to turn heavy Canadian crude into gasoline and diesel.

But it says it no longer considers the pipeline critical to its business. The company is now expanding rail terminals at its refineries in Benicia, Calif.; St. James, La.; and Quebec to receive more crude oil shipments, including heavy Canadian crude. Part of the reason is the long wait for Keystone. ...


Will the U.S. and New Zealand cave on plans for the world’s biggest marine reserve?

Russia is almost as far away from the Antarctic as you can get without climbing aboard a spaceship, but it still wants to make sure it can fish the living hell out of Antarctic waters.

Ross Sea
The Ross Sea in the Antarctic.

The U.S. and New Zealand have been pushing plans to create the world's largest marine reserve, 890,000 square miles in the Ross Sea, an Antarctic bay in the Southern Ocean teeming with spawning fish, whales, seals, penguins, and other wildlife.

But that proposal was thwarted by Russia during the last two meetings of the multi-nation Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources. (Russia also blocked a separate bid by Australia and Europe to establish a similar but slightly smaller chain of reserves nearby in East Antarctica.) Chile, China, Japan, Korea, and Norway, also members of the commission, share some of Russia’s concerns about the economic impacts of fishing restrictions in the Antarctic.

Now comes word that New Zealand will likely propose a smaller reserve to accommodate the Russians. From Fairfax NZ, which operates newspapers in New Zealand:

Read more: Politics


Fracking fights spread to Europe

Belcombe protest
Fracking protestors in Balcombe, England.

European leaders have been peering across the pond at the American fracking boom with envy, watching as the U.S. gives itself a powerful economic edge by trashing its environment to extract natural gas and oil. Now politicians and business leaders from England, Germany, and Holland to Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria have started to push "us too" energy policies.

But many European citizens are not so frack-happy. Some are taking to the streets in rage.

In England, furor has been centered in the bucolic West Sussex village of Balcombe, population 2,000, where a single drilling rig tapping an exploratory well has attracted an encampment of anti-fracking protestors. Dozens have been arrested, including a member of Parliament representing the Green Party. From The Washington Post:

The worries have not only rattled Balcombe’s many well-heeled residents, who have expressed their concerns with characteristic restraint — over tea, at parish council meetings and with knit-ins — but also brought out a louder army of environmental activists. They recently descended on this bucolic retreat wearing the mask of Guy Fawkes, the Briton who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605, shouting slogans and telling horror stories about the United States, where they believe fracking has caused earthquakes, water pollution and the rapid industrialization of areas that were formerly pristine. ...


Why are there pesticides and GMOs in our national wildlife refuges?

Crab Orchard
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - Midwest Region
A bald eagle nesting in Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Illinois.

You might think that national wildlife refuges would be places where wildlife could take refuge from the environmental insanity of modern American agriculture.

But you'd be wrong.

Birds, insects, and other wildlife are sharing refuges with genetically engineered crops and being exposed to poisonous pesticides.

A lawsuit [PDF] filed by environmental groups last week argues that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service's Midwestern division is violating federal law by allowing the use of pesticides and the planting of GMOs at wildlife refuges in four states without conducting thorough site-by-site environmental reviews.

Read more: Food