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Company responsible for latest Gulf blowout complains about overregulation

The Hercules rig ablaze before the flames were snuffed out by nature.
Coast Guard via gCaptain
The Hercules rig ablaze before the flames were snuffed out.

You’ll never guess who spent the past several years arguing that the Obama administration should back off from its regulatory oversight of oil and gas drillers.

That would be James Noe, executive vice president of Hercules Offshore, Inc., which was operating a gas-drilling rig when it blew out and caught fire off the coast of Louisiana on Tuesday. It was just luck that the rig stopped burning on Thursday — sand and sediment plugged up the well hole, blocking the flow of leaking natural gas that had fueled the blaze.

From Fuel Fix:

[Noe] also is executive director of the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition, an advocacy group that just three months ago issued a statement that suggested regulators were being too tough on the industry. The group is comprised of exploration and development companies, drilling contractors and service companies.

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Halliburton admits it destroyed Deepwater Horizon evidence

Deepwater Horizon
U.S. Coast Guard

As emergency workers scrambled to control oil that was spreading from the Deepwater Horizon site in 2010, Halliburton had other damage-control priorities on its mind: The company was busily destroying the results of computer simulations that suggested it shared some blame for the disaster.

Federal prosecutors announced Thursday that the oil-industry giant had agreed to plead guilty to destroying evidence related to the 2010 blowout, explosion, and oil spill. It agreed to pay a $200,000 fine -- the maximum allowed under law. It also agreed to donate $55 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit founded by Congress in 1984 to hand out conservation grants.

The simulations that Halliburton workers destroyed contradicted the company's own claims that blame for the mechanical failures that led to the accident should be directed at BP -- not at itself. From The Washington Post:

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Antarctica’s permafrost is melting

Antarctic landscape
NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center
Antarctica.

Things are getting ugly on Earth's underside.

Antarctic permafrost, which had been weathering global warming far better than areas around the North Pole, is starting to give way. Scientists have recorded some of it melting at rates that are nearly comparable to those in the Arctic.

Scientists used time-lapse photography and LiDAR to track the retreat of an Antarctic ice cliff over a little more than a decade. They reported Wednesday in the journal Scientific Reports that the cliff was "backwasting rapidly." The permafrost that made up the cliff was found to be disappearing nearly 10 times more quickly than was the case during recent geological history. And the rate of melting is picking up pace. From the Los Angeles Times:

Cliff-face measurements of the buried ice in the four-mile-long Garwood Valley revealed melt rates that shifted from a creeping annual rate of about 40,000 cubic feet per year over six milleniums, to more than 402,000 cubic feet last year alone. ... (That’s a leap from the capacity of about eight standard railroad boxcars to 77.)

The scientists also monitored the weather at the cliff and found that rising air temperatures were not to blame for the melt. Rather, they think it was caused by growing amounts of dark debris on the surface of the ice and snow that absorbed the sun's rays.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Court tells Transocean to stop obstructing Deepwater Horizon investigation

Deepwater Horizon aflame
Sky Truth
Transocean doesn't want federal investigators getting to the bottom of this.

Yes, owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, you do have to cooperate with the federal government's investigation into the 2010 explosion and oil spill. The rest of us would like to see how such disasters could be avoided in the future.

That was the message sent by a U.S. Court of Appeals to Transocean, the world's largest offshore drilling company, ordering it to finally turn over long-sought documents to the Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB).

Transocean has been appealing some of CSB's subpoenas, arguing that the board lacks the authority to probe the disaster. CSB investigates industrial accidents, but Transocean says the rig explosion is outside the board's purview partly because the rig was not a "stationary source."

But the company was sharply rebuked by a three-judge panel for that reckless intransigence. From The Louisiana Record:

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China to spend big to clean up its air

China plans a five-year, $277 billion spending spree to clean up the country's killer air.

The government of the heavily polluted nation pledged to clean up its skies after air-pollution levels reached dizzying new heights early this year. The announcement coincides with other nascent environmental initiatives, such as a carbon-trading system to tackle climate change and, bizarrely, legal changes that could see serious polluters executed.

Beijing
Chris Aston
Filthy air in Beijing.

Many wondered whether the pledge to tackle air pollution was mere rhetoric, but this week's announcement suggests that China is taking the problem seriously. From Reuters:

The money is to be spent primarily in regions that have heavy air pollution and high levels of PM 2.5, the state-run China Daily newspaper quoted Wang Jinnan, vice-president of the Chinese Academy for Environmental Planning as saying. Wang helped draft the plan. ...

The new plan specifically targets northern China, particularly Beijing, Tianjin and Hebei province, where air pollution is especially serious, the newspaper said.

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Arctic methane escape could cost $60 trillion

ice and sea
Shutterstock
Beware of melting.

An almighty belch is building up deep in the belly of the Arctic, and it’s going to cost the world a pretty penny when it rips.

As the Arctic continues to melt, a 50-gigatonne reservoir of methane trapped in permafrost beneath the East Siberian Sea will be released -- perhaps steadily over five decades or perhaps during one sudden grandfatherly burp -- and that will cause an estimated $37 trillion to $60 trillion worth of damage. So say researchers in a commentary published Wednesday in the journal Nature.

Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas. "Higher methane concentrations in the atmosphere will accelerate global warming and hasten local changes in the Arctic, speeding up sea-ice retreat, reducing the reflection of solar energy and accelerating the melting of the Greenland ice sheet," the researchers write. "The ramifications will be felt far from the poles."

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Big Oil sued for destroying wetlands around Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana wetlands
Alicia Lee
Natural flood control in Louisiana.

Coastal Louisiana would like its wetlands back. It needs them to protect itself from rising seas and raging storms.

The agency charged with protecting New Orleans-area residents from floods is suing Big Oil, claiming it should repair damages that it caused to wetlands that once buffered the region from tidal surges.

The oil companies have recklessly torn out the marshes and plants that ringed the Gulf of Mexico as they laid pipelines and other infrastructure to serve their decades-long oil- and gas-drilling bonanza. From The New York Times:

The lawsuit, to be filed in civil district court in New Orleans by the board of the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, argues that the energy companies, including BP and Exxon Mobil, should be held responsible for fixing damage caused by cutting a network of thousands of miles of oil and gas access and pipeline canals through the wetlands. The suit alleges that the network functioned “as a mercilessly efficient, continuously expanding system of ecological destruction,” killing vegetation, eroding soil and allowing salt water to intrude into freshwater areas.

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Forget solar panels, here come building-integrated photovoltaics

solar shingles
Ben West
This roof doesn't have solar panels -- it has solar shingles.

Solar panels are becoming passé. Why put solar panels on top of building construction materials when you could just tap the power of the sun directly through the construction materials themselves?

Bloomberg reports on the rapid growth in building-integrated photovoltaics, or BIPV. These are solar powerharvesting cells that are incorporated into the walls, roofs, and windows of buildings -- integrated seamlessly instead of being bolted onto a finished building as an apparent afterthought:

From stadiums in Brazil to a bank headquarters in Britain, architects led by Norman Foster are integrating solar cells into the skin of buildings, helping the market for the technology triple within two years. ...

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Another drilling blowout in the Gulf, another explosion

Natural gas surrounding a drilling rig Tuesday before it exploded.
On Wings of Care
Natural gas billowing around a drilling rig Tuesday before it exploded.

An offshore natural-gas platform burned through the night off the coast of Louisiana following a blowout and explosion on Tuesday.

A drilling company was completing a sidetrack well 115 miles south of New Orleans on Tuesday morning, which likely means it was boring a new hole into an existing well, when gas began spewing uncontrollably from the seafloor. The rig's crew of 44 workers was evacuated as natural gas formed a sheen in the waters around it and billowed dangerously into the air.

Hours later, while everybody was at a safe distance, the gas ignited, triggering a conflagration that still had not been extinguished as of this writing.

From the AP:

No injuries were reported as a result of the fire, Eileen Angelico, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, told The Associated Press.

She said it wasn't known what caused the gas to ignite. It also wasn't clear early Wednesday how and when crews would attempt to extinguish the blaze. BSEE said earlier Tuesday that a firefighting vessel with water and foam capabilities had been dispatched to the scene.

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Mink will be trapped to right the wrongs of Exxon Valdez

Pigeon guillemots
Jerry Kirkhart
Pigeon guillemots, a kind of puffin.

Nearly a quarter of a century after the Exxon Valdez crashed and spewed 11 million gallons of crude into Prince William Sound, one species of seabird still has not recovered from the disaster. To help it recover, the federal government is proposing to get rid of lots of American minks. Allow us to explain.

Thousands of pigeon guillemots were killed by the Valdez disaster — some coated with oil, others poisoned by it for a decade afterward. The guillemots are the only marine bird still listed as “not recovering” from the accident; the local population is less than half what it was before the spill.

The birds used to flourish on the Naked Island group in the middle of the sound, but fewer than 100 remain there now. To boost that number back up to the pre-spill level of 1,000, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to trap most of the islands’ American minks — aquatic ferret-like creatures that feast on the birds’ chicks and eggs. If trapping doesn’t work, shooting the minks is the backup plan.

Read more: Climate & Energy