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Philip Bump's Posts

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Drilling in the Arctic is a bad business decision

Quartz (a new business news website, not the rock) raises a good point about oil drilling in the Arctic: It's still much more expensive than drilling in most other places.

Little is known about the average cost of producing oil or gas in the Arctic, since none of the fields under scrutiny has been developed. But a geologist from the United States Geological Service who evaluated drilling in Greenland estimated that it would require prices of $100 to $300 a barrel and more to extract the larger volumes that are attracting company interest. That’s way above the marginal cost of existing oilfields.

Meanwhile, a boom is under way in less-expensive drilling locales—Mozambique, French Guiana and Angola among them, where break-even production costs are less than $70 a barrel. Given that plans for this drilling stretch into the 2020s, activity in the Arctic is likely to be far in the future.

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Explaining the ’100 million to die from climate change’ claim

The Reuters headline cuts to the chase: "100 mln will die by 2030 if world fails to act on climate - report."

The figure is amazing. 100 million people! With global population projected to be 8.3 billion by 2030, that’s one out of every 83 people — 1.2 percent of humanity -- albeit over two decades. It brings to mind images of the worst natural disasters -- flood waters ripping through Manhattan, typhoons destroying the Pacific Rim.

Wrong image. Think lung disease.

The 100 million figure comes from a report, the Climate Vulnerability Monitor, created by DARA International, an organization that works to "improv[e] the quality and effectiveness of aid for vulnerable populations suffering from conflict, disasters and climate change." The report measures 34 indicators of vulnerability to climate change and carbon-intensive economies -- drought, wildfires, air pollution, oil spills. (The full report is here [PDF].)

General vulnerability of various countries to climate change and carbon-based economies. Click to embiggen.

It's not shy about bold claims.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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EPA rules create $5 of good for each $1 they cost

Fox News rose to pollution's defense in July.

Four times as much money has been spent on ads promoting the fossil fuel industry during this presidential campaign than in defense of President Obama's efforts to increase clean energy production or to discuss global warming and air pollution. Four times as much. Some $153 million -- as of a few weeks ago.

An increasingly nervous Mitt Romney has turned to the imaginary "war on coal" to buttress his eroding position in Ohio. (A Times/Quinnipiac poll out today has Romney down 10 points in a state that is almost must-win.)

The "war on coal" argument, like the argument from fossil fuel companies, is that the president's policies on energy development hurt the economy, that the effort to reduce pollution from fossil fuels costs jobs. The argument is much more commonly made during debate on the House floor and at campaign rallies than it is by economists -- for good reason. It doesn't hold up.

Research released yesterday by the (admittedly left-leaning) Economic Policy Institute argues that the economic impacts of the Obama administration's (modest) efforts to reduce pollution uniformly produce much more economic benefit than cost. Specifically: for $26 billion in cost associated with pollution reduction, the country sees $144 billion in benefit -- a return of $5.50 on every dollar spent.

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New York postpones fracking decision to gather information on health impacts

An anti-fracking protest in Albany. (Photo by Citizen Action NY.)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) was expected to roll out new guidelines for fracking in the state shortly after Labor Day. Obviously, he hasn't. (We would have told you. We're pretty thorough on this stuff.)

The reason? The state wants more information on the possible health impacts of lifting the existing fracking moratorium. From the Associated Press:

New York's health commissioner and "qualified outside experts" will review the health impacts of shale gas drilling before a moratorium on the "fracking" extraction process is lifted, Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said [last week].

Martens said he has rejected calls from health and environmental groups for a health impact analysis by a university school of public health or other independent group, saying such a review is the job of government. Martens said he's asked Health Commissioner Nirav Shah to assess DEC's own health impact analysis. ...

Martens said his agency has been reviewing about 80,000 comments submitted on its environmental impact review and proposed regulations. Many of those comments focused on potential health impacts of fracking, which frees gas from shale by injecting a well with high volumes of water mixed with chemicals and sand.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Around the world in environmental news, newsreel-style

Gristmill News presents ...
[beeping sounds] Environment News From Around the World [more beeping sounds]

India
Floods in the northeastern part of India have displaced nearly 1.5 million people.

"Eighteen of 27 districts of Assam have been hit by floods with 1.4 million displaced and 11 people drowned in separated incidents in the past week," the Disaster Management agency said in a statement.

The floods, caused by relentless rains, marked the second round of massive flooding in two months to hit India's impoverished northeast and come towards the end of India's June-to-September monsoon season.

Nearly 130 people died and six million were displaced by floods in Assam state in July.

This is the region of the country that earlier this year saw a massive power blackout.

United Kingdom
Northern England has seen a month of rain in the past two days. From the Guardian:

Forecasters warn that up to 102mm (4in) more rain could fall on top of the steady downpour that has topped September's average rainfall in many areas in 24 hours, as a low front sticks stubbornly over the Pennines.

Parts of North Yorkshire have had 108mm (4.3in) since Sunday, compared with a usual total for the whole month of 47mm (1.9in).

Read more: Climate & Energy

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For sale: Ocean floor, ready for drillin’

This could all be yours.

If you're free on March 20, 2013, something to add to your calendar: The government is auctioning drilling leases for the Gulf of Mexico. Some 38 million acres in over 7,000 blocks will go up for bid.

According to the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore energy leases, the tracts on the auction block eventually could produce 460 million to 890 million barrels of oil. …

During the last central Gulf lease sale in June, energy companies offered more than $1.7 billion in high bids for more than 2.4 million acres. The spending was spurred by pent-up demand for the acreage, after a previous central Gulf lease sale was effectively canceled because of the 2010 oil spill.

All that delicious oil, yours for the extractin'. If, you know, you have millions and millions of dollars.

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Even as L.A. pollution drops, cars are giving kids asthma

Breathing well in Los Angeles is much easier than it used to be. Just try not to be a child near a freeway.

Last month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made an announcement: The presence of certain air pollutants in Los Angeles has dropped consistently over the past half-century. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) -- key contributors to the ozone that comprises smog -- have plummeted 98 percent since the 1960s. The list of ways that VOCs impact health is long. But even a big reduction in VOCs doesn't mean L.A.'s air is clean -- much less uniformly clean throughout the city.

The ideal freeway for kids' lungs. (Photo by m.joedicke.)

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) decided to figure out how air quality fluctuated throughout the city. Looking at the amount of ozone and nitrogen dioxide in the air, the NIEHS sampled air quality across Los Angeles. Its findings were stark [PDF].

We estimated that 27,100 cases of childhood asthma (8% of total) in [L.A. County] were at least partly attributable to pollution associated with residential location within 75 [meters] of a major road. As a result, a substantial proportion of asthma-related morbidity is a consequence of near-roadway pollution, even if symptoms are triggered by other factors. Benefits resulting from a 20% regional pollution reduction varied markedly depending on the associated change in near-roadway proximity.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Romney coal-miner ad provokes complaint to FEC

Progress Ohio, an advocacy group in the state, has filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission about the Mitt Romney ad featuring miners forced to attend a Romney rally.

This ad.

[The complaint alleges] that the owner of Murray Energy Corp. made an illegal corporate contribution to Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign by forcing his employees to attend an Aug. 14 rally at the Century coal mine in Beallsville, Ohio.

Brian Rothenberg, executive director of Progress Ohio, told reporters today that he would "be open" to dropping the complaint if the Romney campaign pulls a TV ad featuring several dozen coal-smudged miners on risers behind Romney at the event, or if it alters the ad to exclude the miners.

That's never going to happen, of course. This is just an attempt to call out Romney for an ad that's ridiculous. Which it is! But, come on. Romney's proud of the ad. He's probably happy to have the thing still in the news -- saves on having to buy air time for it. Besides, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Ohio will go for Obama, making the already-slight impact of the ad even less important.

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Ice isn’t the only thing melting in the Arctic

This is a melting ice cube, in case you forgot what "melting" is. (Photo by Steven DePolo.)

A recent estimate from climate researchers suggested that the melting of Arctic sea ice could result in the warming equivalent of 20 years of CO2 emissions, due largely to the loss of huge swaths of the color white. White, you'll remember from elementary school, reflects light -- including sunlight. More white means less absorbed heat.

Other researchers made another discovery: On-land snow is also white. From NPR:

A study by Canadian researchers finds that springtime snow is melting away even faster than Arctic ice. That also has profound implications for the Earth's climate.

Springtime snowmelt matters a lot: It determines when spring runoff comes out of the mountain to fill our rivers. And Chris Derksen at Environment Canada in Toronto says snow also reflects sunlight back into space, helping to keep the Earth from heating up too fast.

"When you remove the snow cover form the land surface, much as when you remove the sea ice from the ocean, you take away a highly reflective, bright surface, and you expose the bare land or tundra underneath, and that absorbs more solar energy," he says.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Amtrak high-speed train will be slightly higher speed for a little bit tonight

Photo by Travis.

The Acela, Amtrak's "high-speed" rail line, is not actually high speed, hence my putting that term in quotes. At least: it wasn't, until today, sort of.

New Jersey's senators are excited.

Today, U.S. Senators Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) applauded Amtrak for taking an important step to advance high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor by conducting a test run of high-speed trains in New Jersey. The initial test run is expected to take place tonight between Trenton and New Brunswick, where Amtrak will test its high-speed Acela Express equipment at 165 mph, which is 5 mph above the expected future maximum operating speed of 160 mph and 30 mph above the current maximum speed of 135 mph.

Trains in other (far better!) countries go up to 200 miles an hour, so that's not that great. But: Yeah! Alright! Faster Amtrak! A trip of 400 miles that used to take just under three hours will now take ... two and a half. And the 20-or-so-minute trip between Trenton and New Brunswick will be shortened by, like, five?