A new report out today finds that enforcement of environmental infractions by companies in the Alberta oil sands are 17 times lower than similar infractions reported to the United State's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The report [PDF], authored by the environmental nonprofit Global Forest Watch, looked at more than 15 years of data on recorded environmental mishaps by oil sand's companies, tracking the follow-up actions taken and the final verdict on fines. The findings are shocking and come at a very inconvenient time for government and industry supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline project that would greatly increase tar sands processing and shipments to …
Think about this: Have you spent a day out on the water this summer? Swimming? Fishing? Boating? Well believe it or not, for decades, power plants have been allowed to dump toxic pollution into our nation's waterways, with almost no limits. Coal plants have become by far the largest source of toxic water pollution in the country! If you're like me and love to take your family swimming, fishing, and boating, you know how much is at stake. (Click the graphic at the left to see more details) Today the Sierra Club joined a coalition in releasing a report (PDF) …
Solar energy production in the U.S. jumped by 49 percent last year, and wind energy by more than 16 percent.
But these clean sources of energy are still just thin lines on this cool flowchart that shows how America's energy was produced in 2012, reminding us how much work lies ahead in shifting to a renewable and clean economy:
[W]ind power [increased from] from 1.17 quads produced in 2011 up to 1.36 quads in 2012. New wind farms continue to come on line with bigger, more efficient turbines that have been developed in response to government-sponsored incentives to invest in renewable energy.
In November 2002, a small group of scientists gathered at the University of Kansas with one clear mission. The topic at hand: an industrial chemical called n-propyl bromide, or nPB. Their goal, according to the conference agenda and meeting notes, was to design a “research program needed to establish nPB as a safe product.”
“It was clear almost from the beginning that the meeting was not about science,” said Kim Boekelheide, an attendee of the conference and a pathology professor from Brown University. Three days after the conference, Boekelheide wrote a letter to the Kansas researchers asking that his name “not be used in any documents prepared or submitted regarding this activity.”
In the decade after that fateful meeting, nPB grew vastly more popular. In furniture factories throughout the South, this chemical is the glue that bonds foam cushions in most office chairs and home couches. At local dry cleaners, it removes spots from delicate fabrics without getting them wet. Car mechanics use it for degreasing engine parts. The army uses it to waterproof bullets. Spray cans are sold online for household use.
Indeed, the scientists, convened in Kansas by EnviroTech, an Illinois-based company that markets products made from nPB, helped drive the 15-fold increase in nPB’s use from 1998 to 2012, primarily by pushing back against tighter oversight by regulators. The two scientists who played the biggest role in organizing the conference, Karl Rozman and John Doull, had already managed to get an EnviroTech advertising pamphlet published in a peer-reviewed journal, without disclosing who had funded the research. Rozman and Doull were outfitted with a $50,000 budget for the one-day event, and were also paid over $100,000 by EnviroTech to produce research suggesting that concerns about nPB’s health impacts were overblown.
But as nPB found its way into more and more American workplaces, it became clear that something was truly wrong. Across the U.S., factory workers began showing up in local hospitals and emergency rooms, unable to walk and with no feeling in their arms or legs except for sporadic shooting pain or a pins-and-needles sensation. Over the past 15 years, hundreds of people exposed to nPB have been sickened [PDF], many of them left permanently disabled after breathing in the chemical’s fumes, federal records show.
The chemical, it turns out, is a potent neurotoxin that eats away at nerve endings.
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.
Despite the fact that their state is suffering from extreme climate change -- Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the lower 48, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency -- Alaska politicians haven't always led on this matter. Sarah Palin, for instance, is a notorious climate change denier. But I hoped Mayor Stubbs might be different. After all, he's extremely outspoken on Twitter, e.g.:
In a report released last week by the Asian Development Bank [PDF], Pakistan was pinpointed as "one of the most water-stressed countries in the world, not far from being classified, 'water-scarce.'" As water demand exceeds supply in the South Asian country, more and more water is being withdrawn from the nation's reservoirs, leaving them in a critically precarious position. According to the ADB, Pakistan's storage capacity, the amount of water it has on reserve in case of an emergency, is limited to a 30-day supply -- far below the recommended 1,000 days for countries with similar climates. Without meaningful action, a water crisis could push the country into further chaos.
Consider what a water shortage means for Pakistan. The last several years have seen the country plagued by chronic energy scarcities. Power outages lasting up to 18 hours a day are routine throughout the country, and they have had damaging effects on the economy and on the well-being of Pakistanis. Citizens frequently take to the streets, demanding a solution from their government in protests that often turn violent, worsening an already tumultuous political environment. Deficiencies of another precious natural resource, such as water, have the potential to intensify the already unstable situation in the country.
Early signs of the potential imbroglio that could transpire are already beginning to take shape. Late last week, residents in Abbottabad vowed to hold mass demonstrations if the local government was unable to address rampant water shortages in the city. The city has lacked sufficient water for the past month, with over 5,000 homes impacted in the hottest months of the year.
Take a gander at this map of the United States lit up like the burning face of the sun. It shows how hot America got from July 10-19, with maximum temperatures shown in appropriately incendiary shades:
Released on Friday by NOAA, the map shows the hellish days that preceded the nation's current meteorological bugbear: an "oppressively hot area of high pressure," to use the National Weather Service's language, that's now making eyeballs sweat on the East Coast. How nasty is it there? Here are a few indicators:
So many people were camped in front of their A/Cs on Friday that New York's power grid reached an all-time usage high. Reports Reuters: "The New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) forecast consumer demand use peaked at 33,955 megawatts on Friday, up from 33,450 MW on Thursday, breaking the state's all-time record of 33,939 MW set in 2006." To use the words of a woman in New York City, where the mercury hit 99, "It feels like I'm living inside of a dog's mouth."
America’s renewable energy boom could protect more lives and prevent more climate pollution if wind turbines and solar panels were being installed in different locations, a new study suggests.
Solar and wind energy is most valuable to society when it replaces coal burning. But most of the new solar and wind capacity is being installed outside America’s coal-powered states. It's going where the wind blows the hardest, where the sun shines the strongest, or where states have renewable energy mandates or incentives.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University compared the benefits of installing a wind turbine in 33,000 locations across America, factoring in the positive impact of reduced greenhouse gas emissions and avoided death and disease. They repeated the exercise with a solar panel, comparing nearly 1,000 potential locations.
Thirty percent of existing wind capacity is installed in Texas and California, where the combined health, environmental, and climate benefits from wind are among the lowest in the country. Less than 5% of existing wind capacity is in Indiana, Ohio, and West Virginia, where wind energy offers the greatest social benefits from displaced pollution. …
Thousands of barrels of tar-sands oil have been burbling up into forest areas for at least six weeks in Cold Lake, Alberta, and it seems that nobody knows how to staunch the flow.
An underground oil blowout at a big tar-sands operation run by Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. has caused spills at four different sites over the past few months. (This is different from the 100-acre spill in Alberta that we told you about last month, which was caused by a ruptured pipeline.)
Media and others have been blocked from visiting the sites, but the Toronto Star obtained documents and photographs about the ongoing disaster from a government scientist involved in the cleanup, who spoke to the reporter on condition of anonymity. The prognosis is sickening. From Friday’s article: