Last weekend, the world's largest boiling-water nuclear reactor, Sweden's Oskarshamn plant, was paralyzed after a bloom of moon jellyfish clogged plant's cooling systems, forcing it to shut down. According to the New York Times, the jellyfish had been cleared out of the plant's pipes by Tuesday, and engineers are preparing to restart the reactor. Odd as it sounds, this is actually a pretty common problem (yes, really).
Still trying to figure out what the big deal with fracking is? Hydraulic fracturing -- fracking for short -- is the controversial process that has fueled the new energy boom in the U.S., making it possible to tap reserves that had previously been too difficult and expensive to extract. It works by pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water, with sand and a cocktail of chemicals, into rock formations to create tiny cracks and release trapped oil and gas. It's been tied to earthquakes and has led to a number of lawsuits, including one that resulted in a settlement agreement that barred a 7-year-old from ever talking about it. At the same time, fracking has also created a glut of cheap energy and is helping to push coal, and coal-fired power plants, out of the market.
But for all the fighting about whether fracking is good or bad (and research has shown the more people know, the more polarized they become), many people don't understand what fracking actually is. The Munich-based design team Kurzgesagt has put together a video that explains why fracking -- which has been around since the 1940s -- just caught on in the last 10 years, and why people are worried. The video, which was posted earlier this month, has gone viral, and racked up over 1 million views in less than 10 days.
Beer lovers of America, you can breathe a sigh of relief. Michigan's Bell's Brewery won a decision against Enbridge Oil Thursday night that nixed a proposal the brewery claims would have shut it down for what could have been months. After almost five hours of deliberation, Comstock Township Planning Commission rejected Enbridge Oil's plan to drop an oil cleanup dredge pad in the lot next to the brewery -- and practically in the backyards of some 40 homeowners -- and proved that there is still some lingering good in the world.
Just how did the makers of Michigan's best known microbrews find themselves in a fight with one of the biggest oil companies in North America? The story starts in July 2010, when the Enbridge Oil pipeline near Marshall, Mich., ruptured, spilling more than 840,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude into the Kalamazoo River in the largest overland oil spill in U.S. history. Three years later, the U.S. EPA estimates there's still some 180,000 gallons of diluted bitumen clinging to the river bottom, and the agency has ordered the company to complete additional dredging. In July, when Enbridge plotted a holding site for the oil-contaminated muck, called a dredge pad, it stuck one next door to Bell's main brewery -- and that was something that Larry Bell, the brewery's owner, wasn't going to stand for.
"We were going to be downwind," says Bell. "It was going to contaminate our ingredients. It was going to contaminate our employees -- it would have put us out of production." He filed a lawsuit in late July after work had already begun on the site and says he's spent roughly $50,000 fighting for the site to be moved. According to a complaint filed by township supervisor Ann Nieuwenhuis in early July, "substantial work … occurred without Enbridge applying for and obtaining the necessary Township permits," squelching locals' chance to air their concerns. "Their MO is to set up next to people who can't fight 'em," says Bell. “They never bargained for setting up next to me."
On its first day of broadcasting, Al Jazeera America devoted 30 minutes to climate change -- more time than top shows on CNN and Fox News have given to this issue in the past four-and-a-half months, combined. In fact, the full half-hour (24 minutes, plus commercials) of broadcast of Inside Story was equal to about half of the coverage climate change received in 2012 from the nightly news on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, combined. For a network that promised to provide "unbiased, fact-based and in-depth, journalism," this seems like a promising start.
According to Media Matters, Al Jazeera's Inside Story had more coverage of climate change "than what was featured by CNN's Erin Burnett OutFront and Anderson Cooper 360 and Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor and Hannity combined in the past four and a half months." It was just behind the 32 minutes that MSNBC's Rachel Maddow has devoted over the same time period, though a long way back from Chris Hayes, who has spent a whopping hour and 42 minutes of his show on the subject since April 1 (not including a two-part documentary).
Last week, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Albertatar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, hit another snag: The State Department's Office of the Inspector General said that it is investigating a possible conflict-of-interest issue in the project's environmental impact study. The inspector general is probing whether the company that produced the environmental impact study, Environmental Resource Management, failed to disclose its past working relationship with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline. But while Keystone XL languishes, a rival pipeline plan is speeding through the approval process.
One of TransCanada's rivals, Enbridge Inc., has quietly been moving ahead with a slightly smaller pipeline project that could be piping 660,000 barrels of crude per day to the gulf by 2015. (The Keystone line would carry 700,000 barrels per day.) For environmentalists hoping that blocking the Keystone pipeline would choke the carbon-intensive development of the Canadian tar sands, the Enbridge Eastern Gulf pipeline would be a disaster.
Welcome to Portage County, Ohio, the biggest dumping ground for fracking waste in a state that is fast becoming the go-to destination for the byproducts of America's latest energy boom.
As fracking -- pumping a briny solution of water, lubricants, anti-bacterial agents, and a cocktail of other chemicals into underground shale formations at high pressure to fracture the rock and extract trapped natural gas -- has expanded in the Midwest, so has the need for disposing of used fracking fluid. That fracking waste can be recycled or processed at wastewater treatment facilities, much like sewage. But most of the waste -- 630 billion gallons, each year -- goes back into the ground, pumped into disposal wells, which are then capped and sealed. A bunch of it ends up underneath Portage County.
Nestled in the northeast corner of Ohio, about halfway between Cleveland and Youngstown, this 500-square-mile county pumped 2,358,371 million barrels -- almost 75 million gallons -- of fracking brine into 15 wells last year, driving enough liquid into the ground to fill a train of tanker cars that would stretch 37 miles. Most of the waste came from out of state.