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More fracking, more wastewater, more spills

This is a photo of an injection well. The orange thing is Earth. (Photo from celesteh.)

Maybe you should start filling random bottles around the house with water? From FuelFix:

Hydraulic fracturing, a process where a mixture of water, sand and chemicals are pumped underground under high pressure, could be polluting nearby surface water sources through five different ways, according to a Stony Brook University study.

The study found water could be contaminated by transportation spills, well casing leaks, leaks through fractured rock, drilling site surface discharge and wastewater disposal. The greatest contamination risks came from wastewater disposal.

“The used hydraulic fracturing fluid is transported to a wastewater treatment facility and discharged to streams,” according to the report. The researchers said those treatment facilities may not be equipped to handle the chemicals found in the used fracking wasterwater, leading to contaminated drinking water if it is released into nearby water sources, according to the report.

The report largely mirrors findings from ProPublica, which found that these are already leaking.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Panama Canal to add a lane, massively reduce fuel used for shipping

Granted, it cost 5,600 workers their lives and the U.S. had to encourage a revolution to make it happen, but the building of the Panama Canal dramatically reshaped how commerce moved around the world. Instead a long, dangerous trip around the southern tip of South America, ships could traverse a calm (tropical!) waterway. It brought new competition to the then-dominant railroad industry forcing price reductions for coast-to-coast transport.

It was completed almost a century ago, opening on August 15, 1914. In the intervening 98 years, ships have gotten bigger, the cargo load has grown, and the Panama Canal’s locks, which raise and lower ships, have become a chokepoint.

A ship navigates the canal, as seen on Google Maps.

So in 2014, during the canal’s centennial, Panama will open a third lane for transit, including a set of new, bigger locks.

When the third lane opens in late 2014, the canal’s capacity will more than double. Ships as long as 1,200 feet and up to 160 feet wide, with drafts as deep as 50 feet, will be able to transit. The largest vessels will carry as many as 13,200 containers, or at least double the dry weight of bulk cargo that can pass through today.

Panamax vessels [Ed.: ships built for the canal's current specifications] are long, slim and require a lot of water ballast to maintain balance. New mega-ships will be wider, more stable and will consume up to 16 percent less fuel -- meaning a smaller environmental footprint and lower costs for their operators.

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July 2012, the hottest month ever, in five charts

July was the hottest month in America ever recorded.

Click to embiggen.

Virginia had the hottest July ever; many other states were near their maximum, making the country's overall July its hottest.

We just ended the warmest 12-month period ever recorded.

Click to embiggen.

We are easily on track for the hottest year ever recorded.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The U.S. keeps passing more and more renewable energy milestones

So there's this new television show on NBC called Power Off or something that's been heavily advertised during the Olympics. (That's not it's name, but I can't be bothered to look it up. If you want to, go nuts.) The premise appears to be that the world loses all of its power. It's not clear why. So everyone runs around fighting with bows and arrows, because I guess guns use electricity now.

I raise that TV show both to make fun of it and to assuage any concerns that it might have prompted. Don't worry, America. We're getting better and better at making electricity.

Not sure what this image is, but it looks nice.

Example 1. California, a largish state west of where you are unless you're in California itself or in Oregon or Washington, is now generating 20 percent of its power from renewable sources.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Smart Minnesota public utility smartly votes to shutter coal plant

A municipal utility board in Rochester, Minn., voted last night to phase out its coal-fired power plant.

The municipal utility has sought to sell power from the 100-megawatt Silver Lake plant to the regional electricity grid, but in recent years it’s had an increasingly difficult time competing with natural gas and wind power. …

“This is a reflection of the impact the pricing of natural gas, the availability of wind energy and the economic downturn have had on the ability for utilities to dispatch the smaller coal units in to the market,” a consultant’s report to the utility said. …

Between 2004 and 2011, the cost of coal delivered to Minnesota increased on average 11.8 percent per year. Nationwide, the increase was 11.4 percent per year on average. Those costs reflect growing competition for resources with China, as well as rising mining costs that come with extracting coal from deeper mines.

“It’s not like you scoop out a nice even ice-cream scoop out of the ground. The geology is much more complicated than that, so as you go deeper … the costs are going up,” [Fresh Energy science policy director] Drake Hamilton said.


A pile of coal sits outside the Silver Lake power plant.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Typhoons and flooding soak Philippines and China

While the United States is gripped in its drought, east Asia has the opposite problem.

Photo courtesy of Juan Manila Express.

In Manila, Philippines, severe flooding after days of rain and unusually heavy monsoons have left the city swamped. The New York Times reports:

At least a third of this overpopulated capital and its suburbs were submerged on Tuesday as torrential rains battered the city and floodwaters poured in from almost all sides.

A silted lake in the south sent water coursing into an overflowing river that slices through Manila; water poured from the open floodgates of a dam to the north, and high tide brought flooding from the bay to the west. ...

More than 50 people have already died in more than a week of intense storms, monsoon rains and flooding, and at least 250,000 have been evacuated in just the past several days, officials said.

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Washington comes down with green fever, expected to survive

Two weeks ago, the Department of the Interior announced plans to open public land to renewable energy projects. Yesterday, it became public that the Department of Defense wanted in.

A memorandum of understanding between the two departments [PDF], signed July 20, outlines ways in which they'll collaborate in order to "enhance the energy security and reduce the energy costs" of Defense installations. The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

The military also has a "solar car," of which the less said, the better. (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.)

The U.S. Defense Department will encourage companies to build solar power plants and wind farms on 16 million acres of open land surrounding military bases, making each base less dependent on the nation's aging electricity grid.The plan, announced Monday, will help the military cut its $4 billion annual energy bill and help insulate bases from blackouts. About 13 million of the acres involved lie in Western states, primarily California, Arizona and Nevada. …

Solar, wind, geothermal and biomass facilities developed near military bases will be used primarily to power those facilities. But the projects will be big enough that the private companies that finance and build them will be able to sell some excess energy to other users.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Sophisticated energy markets maybe not great at Twitter

The international market that sets energy prices is a sophisticated system, informed by massive quantities of data and deep analysis, aimed at perfecting the balance of supply and demand. It is an elegant tool far beyond the comprehension of a layperson.

Crude-oil futures bounced up over $1 at one point Monday after a false Twitter rumor exposed the oil market's knee-jerk fear of Mideast turmoil.

That big green bar at center? From a tweet. Click to embiggen. (Image courtesy of ForexPros.)

The proper term for this is: derp.

A Twitter account claiming to represent Vladimir Kolokoltsev, the Russian interior minister, tweeted at 9:59 a.m. New York time that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad had been killed or injured, followed by two tweets claiming to confirm the death.

Between 10:15 a.m. and 10:45 a.m., futures for light, sweet crude rose from $90.82 to $91.99 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In the age of rapid-fire tweets, "a well-placed story can move the market, and that looks like what happened," said Phil Flynn, an analyst at Price Futures Group.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Video shows failed attempts to avert nuclear catastrophe after Japanese tsunami


Video via The Atlantic.

Unless you speak Japanese, it's not clear what this video is. You can see that it's a teleconference, with scores of people in various meeting rooms. As it goes on, you can pick up on obvious stress from the participants -- voices raised, exclamations in the background.

Cesium spread around Fukushima. Click to embiggen.

What you're watching is an excerpt of 150 hours of footage from the Tokyo Electric Power Company's (TEPCO) marathon conference following last year's earthquake and tsunami that knocked out the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. This snippet, from March 14, 2011, shows feeds from TEPCO's headquarters in Tokyo, a remote emergency-management site, and the company's three nuclear plants -- including Fukushima.

The Wall Street Journal explains what can be heard in the unedited recording.

[Y]ou can hear the voice of Fukushima Daiichi plant manager Masao Yoshida cracking as he alerts Tepco headquarters to the hydrogen explosion at reactor No. 3; the confused back-and-forth between plant and Tepco headquarters as they try to avert a meltdown at reactor No. 2 (they weren’t successful); and the grim tones of Tepco brass as they bring up the possibility of evacuating workers from the plant.

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Temperature increases result in economic decreases

A reliable indicator of economic turmoil. (Photo by Joe Chung.)

An increase in temperature has a measurable impact on national economic health. Imagine how terrible it would be if we were expecting temperatures to rise significantly over huge swaths of the world!

Even temporary rises in local temperatures significantly damage long-term economic growth in the world’s developing nations, according to a new study co-authored by an MIT economist.

Looking at weather data over the last half-century, the study finds that every 1-degree-Celsius increase in a poor country, over the course of a given year, reduces its economic growth by about 1.3 percentage points. …

One consequence of this, borne out in the data, is that the higher temperatures in a given year affect not only a country’s economic activity at the time, but its growth prospects far into the future; by the numbers, growth lagged following hot years.

Read more: Climate & Energy