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Sarah Laskow's Posts

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Political leaders lowballed Gulf oil spill estimates

In the first weeks after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, government scientists were scrambling to figure out how much oil was leaking from the well. These estimates kept being revised upwards as the scientists got more information -- and then revised downwards as politicians pressured them to make sunnier predictions. Correspondence obtained by the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) shows that political leaders in the White House and other government agencies pushed scientists to release lower estimates than they were comfortable with.

Read more: Oil, Politics

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Critical List: Sumatran elephants critically endangered; Al Gore goes on a cruise

Sumatran elephants are critically endangered.

Watch out for the solar flare that's supposed to hit Earth today! It's the strongest since 2005.

President Obama might pump increased domestic oil and gas production in his State of the Union.

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Government energy geeks: Fracking might not get us as far as we thought

Government energy geeks from the Energy Information Administration this morning released the abridged version of their Annual Energy Outlook. One of the most dramatic bits of the outlook for 2012 is that the EIA cut their estimate of "technically recoverable" shale gas almost in half, from 827 trillion cubic feet to 482 trillion cubic feet.

According to the EIA, the decline comes mostly from a lower estimate of resources in the Marcellus shale, the formation that underlies New York and Pennsylvania. The EIA cut its Marcellus estimate from 410 trillion cubic feet in 2011 to 141 trillion cubic feet this year.

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Capsized cruise ship could ruin pristine marine park

The reef-stricken cruise ship Costa Concordia managed to crash itself in one of the most pristine marine areas in the Mediterranean. Of course. And as the ship lists dangerously, threatening to fall further into the ocean and spill tons of oil, endangered species and other marine life are at risk.

The ship has 2,400 tons of oil on board; the BBC reports that it includes both light diesel oil and "clumpy and clingy" heavy fuel oil that's trickier to clean up.

The ship crashed off the island of Giglio, part of the Tuscan Archipelago National Park, which includes famous island like Elba and Montecristo. The area's kept so clean that visitors to Montecristo aren't even allowed to swim or fish near the island’s coast. Dolphins hang out here, as do fish (and fishermen who make their livelihood off Italy’s seafood). Endangered Mediterranean monk seals have also been spotted in this area.

Read more: Animals, Oil, Pollution

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Critical List: EU bans Iranian oil; snowy owls descend from Arctic

The European Union won't be importing any more oil from Iran.

President Obama's going to lay out an energy agenda on Tuesday at the State of the Union.

Thousands of snowy owls are descending from the Arctic to fly over places like Kansas and Missouri (and to deliver messages from Arctic Circle-based wizards, of course).

Rebecca Wodder, who was CEO of American Rivers, won't be Interior's assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks.

Beijing discovers that when your city's weather report includes astronomically high air pollution levels, it's not a great idea to then set off a ton of fireworks.

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‘Antibiotic-free’ pork has the same rate of antibiotic-resistant bacteria

We really do try to Pollan it up and do the whole “eat food, not too much, mostly plants" bit. But “mostly plants” obviously means “sometimes bacon.” And maybe the farmers' market wasn't open, so we bought that bacon at the store. Oh, but it was good bacon! "Raised without antibiotics" bacon! That's something, right?

Nope, not really, according to a new study from a group of University of Iowa scientists. This group tested 395 samples of pork from 36 stores in Iowa, Minnesota, and New Jersey. Of those, 6.6 percent had creepy, drug-resistant staph bacteria (shorthand: MRSA) on them. And there was no difference, statistically, between the normal pork products and the ones raised with alternative, antibiotic-free methods.

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Critical List: Vermont can’t shutter nuke plant; microbes turn seaweed into biofuel

The EPA will test water in Dimock, PA, and is delivering drinking water to four homes there.

Silly Vermont. You wanted to shut down a nuclear plant? Only the federal government can regulate nuclear power!

For biofuels, seaweed could be the new corn.

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Buckle up for more weather weirdness, America

Last year, the climate phenomenon La Niña messed with everyone's heads. La Niña conditions mean that the ocean temperature in the Equatorial Pacific Ocean are colder than usual, and this was responsible for (among other things) the uncannily warm winter that the Northeast has been having. Sorry, can't blame that on climate change! Yet.

NASA's climate-tracking satellites have picked up indications that this round of La Niña is peaking.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Microsoft’s ‘avoid ghetto’ app is kind of gross

Microsoft has come up with an app for people traveling by foot that will route them around areas with high crime rates. This function is being called the "avoid ghetto" feature (not by Microsoft, of course, because they're not that dense), and it's, uh, controversial.

As a person who sometimes walks around in cities at night by herself, I don't think this is a totally terrible idea: as Anna North writes at Jezebel, "women might find sex crime information useful when planning routes," although "since most rape victims already know their attackers, walking alone likely isn't when you're at the greatest risk." But as Next American City points out, the app has the potential to make high-crime areas worse by blacklisting them:

[T]his feature at best serves to maintain the status quo, highlighting the divide that separates blighted areas from thriving ones, and discouraging people from ever crossing it.

Steering pedestrians away from neglected areas only prolongs their “ghetto” status, denying the attention needed to fill storefronts with businesses and populate streets with enough people to counteract crime.

Read more: Cities

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TransCanada must hate Republicans right now

You know who is probably most peeved at Republicans for trying to score political points over the Keystone XL schedule? TransCanada. Because while Republicans’ huffing over the administration’s decision to 86 the pipeline permit will affect Obama about .00001 percent, TransCanada’s stock took a dive and now has the potential to become what analysts call “dead money” — just a really bad stock to invest in, basically.

TransCanada has already announced it’s going to reapply for a new pipeline route. But it’s hard to know whether the company means it when the CEO says "he expects [the Keystone XL pipeline’s new] review would be ‘expedited,’ allowing the firm to stick to its schedule.”

Read more: Oil, Politics