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Meet Harold Hamm, the billionaire oil tycoon who’s advising Mitt Romney on energy

Photo by David Shankbone.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Harry Hamm, subject of a very warm profie in the Washington Post this weekend. (To be fair, I don't know that he goes by Harry, but the name "Harry Hamm" is hard to pass up, except at a diner.)

[T]he 66-year-old Hamm is a multibillionaire who could buy [his hometown of Lexington, Okla.] several times over. An early believer in the notion that the techniques of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing could be merged to unlock new layers of oil, he is the chief executive of Continental Resources, the leading exploration company in the booming Bakken Formation, which stretches across Montana, North Dakota and Saskatchewan. His 68 percent stake in the company is currently worth $7.7 billion, and Forbes recently ranked him the world’s 76th-richest person.

Harold Hamm, a figure who detoured from a Horatio Alger novel straight into Dallas. Be warned, humble reader: "His public relations person jokes that once people talk to the upbeat, personable oilman, they’re 'Hammanized.' Even many of his political foes say he’s hard not to like." Seems like that should have been "Hammered," but, fine. You meet the guy, you like him. Fair enough.

Well, I haven't met him. And based on this profile, he doesn't exactly seem like the sort of guy I'd like to hang out with.

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Fukushima butterflies show signs of mutation

If this news surprises you, you haven't watched a lot of B-movies.

Exposure to radioactive material released into the environment could have caused mutations in butterflies found in Japan, a study has suggested.

Scientists found an increase in leg, antennae and wing shape mutations among butterflies collected following the 2011 Fukushima accident.

These images of "representative morphological abnormalities" are from the study, published in Scientific Reports. From left to right, dented eyes, deformed left eye, deformed right palpus, and deformed wing shape. Click to embiggen.

The researchers collected pale grass blue butterflies from a variety of locations around the site of the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant.

By comparing mutations found on the butterflies collected from the different sites, the team found that areas with greater amounts of radiation in the environment were home to butterflies with much smaller wings and irregularly developed eyes.

"It has been believed that insects are very resistant to radiation," said lead researcher Joji Otaki from the University of the Ryukyus, Okinawa.

"In that sense, our results were unexpected," he told BBC News.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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Here’s what happens when water levels drop to scary lows

Last week, we outlined how the drought is depleting water reserves in American aquifers faster than expected. This is bad news over the long term, as some long-standing sources can take millennia to refill.

It is also bad news over the short term. From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

[Y]ou can add residential water wells to the list of casualties claimed by the Drought of 2012.

For months, farmers have been forced to drill deeper wells to water parched crops and feed livestock. But in recent weeks, homeowners across the state have reported that they can't perform basic tasks such as doing laundry or washing dishes, let alone even think about watering their flower beds. …

The depleted supply isn't just from the lack of rain, said Renee Bungart, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. The month of July was the hottest on record, which probably prompted residents to use more water.

The U.S. Geological Survey monitors water levels at wells around the state. Here's the state map. St. Louis is in the eastern part of the state, and we've labelled nearby monitoring wells.

Click to embiggen.
Read more: Climate & Energy

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Summer Arctic sea ice is going extinct 50% faster than predicted

In 2010, the European Union launched a satellite called CryoSat-2, with data analysis to be done by scientists at University College London (UCL). It had one task: determine the extent and thickness of sea ice. Previous satellites either couldn't gauge ice thickness or had trouble penetrating cloud cover. CryoSat-2 can do both.

"Before CryoSat, we could see summer ice coverage was dropping markedly in the Arctic," said [UCL professor Chris] Rapley. "But we only had glimpses of what was happening to ice thickness. Obviously if it was dropping as well, the loss of summer ice was even more significant. We needed to know what was happening -- and now CryoSat has given us the answer."

It just got in under the wire.

Ponds on the surface of Arctic ice. (Photo by NASA.)

Combining data from a predecessor to CryoSat (named, lamely, ICESat) with on-the-ground measurements, scientists calculated the amount of Arctic sea ice in winter 2004 at 17,000 cubic kilometers, and in summer, at 14,000.

The new measurements from CryoSat are much lower. Last winter, the amount was gauged at 14,000 -- equivalent to the summer total eight years ago. This summer, it's at 7,000, a 50 percent reduction.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The green take on Paul Ryan

Fans of R sounds, rejoice! Mitt Romney has made his pick: Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will be playing the role of Sarah Palin in this year's election. Unlike Palin at the time she was picked, though, a lot of people have heard of and covered Paul Ryan, which allows us to compile this little dossier.

Photo by Gage Skidmore.

First things first. Ryan is a seven-term member of the House of Representatives at the ripe old age of 42. He's from Janesville, Wis., where he still lives, and went to college at Miami University of Ohio.

In the House (and outside of it), he's primarily known as the architect of a hugely controversial budget proposal. Here's an overview; but the topline is a broad overhaul of social programs like Medicare and Social Security. You will hear about this plan every 14 minutes until Nov. 6, so we're going to focus on our core issues.

Meaning: energy and the environment. OnTheIssues.org provides a good overview:

Read more: Politics

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A moment of appreciation for activists taking a big step for a tiny bird

I get a fair number of press releases. Not as many as some, but a lot. I don't always read them (sorry!), and I normally wouldn't have read this one that I got in my email a little while ago. But I did.

It's titled: "Second Voyage to Move Endangered Millerbirds Departs Honolulu." Here's how it starts.

This is the guy right here. (Photo by Robby Kohley.)

To save one of the United States’ rarest bird species from extinction, a group of biologists set sail today for the remote northwestern Hawaiian island of Nihoa, where they will attempt to catch a group of endangered Millerbirds and move them to Laysan Island some 650 miles away.

It's the second time they've done this. A little further down:

“Everyone is excited and encouraged by the promising results of the first translocation, and looking forward to the second movement of birds,” said George Wallace, [American Bird Conservancy] Vice President for Oceans and Islands. “We have a talented and committed team of professionals on the project, and above all, we have Millerbirds! They have exceeded all our expectations so far by handling captivity well, eating readily, and adapting very rapidly to their new environment on Laysan.”

I find this entire thing enormously humbling -- particularly the enthusiasm.

Read more: Uncategorized

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There might be way more lead in your tap water than you think

Lead is vicious stuff. When inhaled or ingested, your body can't tell the difference between lead and calcium, so it tucks lead away in your bones -- making the bones weaker and being sucked back out into the bloodstream when the body is looking for calcium. Lead in the bloodstream can reduce a child's IQ. Reducing lead levels in children provides $213 billion in economic benefits per year. There have even been studies suggesting a correlation between reductions in lead levels and drops in crime rates.

We've nearly eliminated lead from all gasoline and removed it from paint -- two of the most common sources of it 40 years ago. But American University and NBC News found another common vector that's still in place: water systems.

Photo by Nic McPhee.

The problem stems, ironically, from the EPA's efforts to remove lead pipes from water conduits. The 1991 Lead and Copper Rule required that utilities test home water systems. If samples exceeded a certain level of lead, the utility had to reduce lead in the water either through a chemical process or by replacing lead service lines. That latter instance, in "partial pipe replacements," is where the problem arose.

The regulation began to derail as early as 1993, when the American Water Works Association (AWWA), which represents more than 4,000 public and privately owned water systems, sued EPA. The trade group argued that EPA had adopted the Lead and Copper Rule without proper notice about how it planned to define “control” of -- responsibility for -- the service lines. The group also claimed that utilities did not have authority to replace the sections of lines on private property, and that ordering them to do so exceeded EPA’s mandate. ...

[T]he agency amended its rule in 2000 to permit the utilities to perform so-called “partial pipe replacements,” from the water main to the private property line. In the vast majority of cases, homeowners would be responsible for paying to finish the job.

Few homeowners have done so, to their detriment.

Read more: Living

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California sees gas prices rise, electricity strained because of karma

Bad news for Californians who drive. All of you -- gas, electric, whatever.

Another depressing photograph of Californian squalor. (Photo by naotakem.)

An explosion Monday night at Chevron’s refinery in Richmond, Calif. -- the 13th-largest refinery in the U.S. -- knocked a significant chunk of the facility offline. And, sure enough, the Aug. 7 fire quickly resulted in a gas-price hike.

California gas prices from GasBuddy.com. Click to embiggen.

From AP:

The average price of regular gasoline jumped in California from $3.86 a gallon on Tuesday to $3.94 on Thursday, according to the website GasBuddy.com. ...

The Richmond refinery produces 16 percent of the region's daily gasoline supply. The fire knocked out a unit that makes a specialized blend of cleaner burning gasoline that satisfies air quality laws in California, Oregon and Washington.

Aha! It's because they were trying to make the gasoline "cleaner." If they hadn't done that, everything would be OK. Once again, green technology fails.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living

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As corn crops shrivel, Americans look to a savior: Facebook

Yes, it's this photo again.

This morning, the Department of Agriculture released new projections for the nation's crop output in 2012. In a word: withered.

From the New York Times:

This year’s corn yield is projected to be the lowest since 1995, according to an Agriculture Department report that sharply cut production estimates for some major crops because of damage from the nation’s worst drought in 56 years. …

After favorable spring weather, United States corn production had been projected to hit a record high, approaching nearly 15 billion bushels, as farmers had planted the most acreage since the late 1930s to capture profits from what were already the highest corn prices ever. ...

The new corn yield forecast was a bit worse than some private analysts had expected.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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Fingers in its ears and singing loudly, the Wall Street Journal reports on the hottest July ever

On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal posted an article about July being the hottest month in America's recorded history. As Columbia Journalism Review notes, the article didn't mention climate change once.

Behind the record temperatures was a dome of high pressure over the center of the country, which combined with a powerful drought to create the scorching temperatures, said Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at [the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's] National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C.

Oh, is that the cause, esteemed Wall Street Journal? One of those "heat domes"? Just quotin' Mr. Crouch, are we? Crouch also suggested to the Associated Press that the cause was a "double whammy of weather and climate change" -- something that hundreds of other media outlets ran with.

As Media Matters noted last week, the Journal has been downplaying threats to the environment since 1976. And while bad habits are hard to break, the paper's squirming attempts to downplay climate change have a distinct look-out-there's-something-behind-you! vibe, making them kind of amusing in a morbid way. It's like a shopkeeper who is caught in a deceit but refuses to admit it.

Read more: Climate & Energy