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First oil shale mine in U.S. is coming to Utah

Uinta Basin, Utah
Jim Davis / Utah Geological Survey
Utah's Uinta Basin before shale mining begins.

As if we didn't already have enough filthy, inefficient, unconventional oil-extraction techniques in use in North America, here's one more: oil shale mining.

A Utah company has received the go-ahead from the state’s water-quality department to begin operating the first commercial oil shale mine in North America.

Oil shale is not to be confused with shale oil, or shale gas, or oil sands. So what the hell is it? "Contrary to its name," explains Western Resource Advocates, "oil shale contains no petroleum but is instead a dense rock that has a waxy substance called kerogen tightly bound within it. When kerogen is heated to high temperatures, it liquefies, producing compounds that can eventually be refined into synthetic petroleum products."

Companies have mulled oil shale mining in the Mountain States for more than a century, but previous efforts have foundered as energy prices have been too low to justify the large expense associated with the complicated extraction process. Now Red Leaf Resources is ready to give oil shale another crack. Here's more from The Salt Lake Tribune:


Parisian artists gift-wrapped the inside of a subway car

Clea Polar and Gabriel Defrocourt

In Paris, a group of artists covered the interior of subway car in purple gift-wrapped paper, basically just because they thought it would be fun.

But the Paris metro authorities did not share the artists' sense that commuters might want to experience living inside a Christmas present, Atlantic Cities reports:

Alas, it seems Paris transport bosses don’t share their enthusiasm. As soon as staff realized what had happened, the train was taken out of service and stripped back to its normal un-festive state.

Read more: Cities, Living


Stick it to ‘em: Scientists call for labeling tar-sands oil

gas pump handles
Let's slap some labels on these puppies.

For the past four years, European Union officials have been mulling a labeling system that would require fuel companies to tell their customers how much carbon pollution is produced by each of the products they sell.

The idea is deeply unpopular with oil companies, which don't want their customers thinking about such things every time they fill up their tanks. It's also deeply unpopular with Canada. That's because the country's tar-sands oil is particularly dreadful for the climate, something the government would rather not have advertised. The oil companies and Canadian government have called the labeling idea unscientific.

But the idea is popular with an independent group of experts -- experts who are better qualified to determine whether or not something is "scientific." Those would be scientists.

Reuters reports that 53 scientists from such universities as Harvard, Stanford, and Columbia, as well as from European institutions, sent a letter urging the president of the European Commission "to press ahead with a plan to label tar sands as more polluting than other forms of oil, in defiance of intensive lobbying" from the Canadian government:


Watch a blizzard bury a backyard in snow in 15 seconds

We’re officially time-lapse video junkies, and this one of Blizzard Nemo from earlier this year is pretty cool. It’s only 15 seconds long, but an incredible amount of snow completely covers a Connecticut man's back patio, turning a table into a formidable snow mushroom. Grab your cocoa and get cozy for this one:

Read more: Living


Christmas lights have toxic chemicals all over them

Matty Farah

OnEarth’s Susan Cosier was upset to find that the Christmas lights her kid had been playing with were covered in toxic lead:

Sure, I’m aware that our everyday environment is full of toxic chemicals … But on Christmas lights? Really?

Yup, really, it turns out:

Read more: Living


Fracking company finds new way to screw over the environment

a no-fracking sign

Props are in order for Chesapeake Energy Corp., one of the country's biggest natural gas producers, for finding yet another way to make a big mess with fracking. This time, it was irresponsible construction practices.

Company subsidiary Chesapeake Appalachia will pay a near-record $3.2 million in federal penalties for clean water violations at fracking facilities in West Virginia. It will also spend $6.5 million more to restore 27 sites that it damaged with construction activities and pollution. From the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:


Icelandic elves block highway project


In Iceland, elves are a powerful political constituency. Possibly more powerful than the president. At the very least, they have the power to delay highway construction.

The AP reports that Icelandic elf advocates (along with environmentalists interested in more tangible creatures) are protesting a highway that's being built from "the tip of the Alftanes peninsula, where the president has a home" to the capital, Reykjavik. And the elves are winning. The project's on hold, and the country's Supreme Court is going to weigh in. The AP:

And it's not the first time issues about "Huldufolk," Icelandic for "hidden folk," have affected planning decisions. They occur so often that the road and coastal administration has come up with a stock media response for elf inquiries, which states in part that "issues have been settled by delaying the construction project at a certain point while the elves living there have supposedly moved on."

Read more: Living


These gorgeous time-lapse photographs make traffic lights look magical

Traffic lights aren’t usually a thing of beauty -- unless you’re late and they’re green as far as the eye can see. But with a little help from some fog, German photojournalist Lucas Zimmermann managed to turn stoplights into gorgeous works of art:

Lucas Zimmermann
Read more: Cities, Living


Domino’s now offers a (gross?) vegan pizza

Dan Lev, Domino’s

Get the door -- it’s mediocre stoner food, minus the meat! At least, it is if you live in Israel. Domino’s just rolled out a family-sized vegan pizza at its 50 locations in the country, thanks to massive demand on Facebook. (We KNEW Facebook was good for something!)

According to Ecorazzi:

The vegan pizza comes with a soy-based cheesy topping and veggies. It sells for 69.90 shekels ($19.91) ...

Yossi Elbaz, the CEO of the Israeli franchise, said it took six months to develop and taste-test the vegan version. “We’ve notified Domino’s Pizza’s world headquarters and they’re very pleased,” Elbaz said. “They’re waiting to see the results.”

Will it be any good? It's Domino's, so don't hold your breath. But who cares? It's vegan!

Before you get too excited, though, NPR’s food blog The Salt reports vegan Domino’s won’t show up in the U.S. anytime soon:

Read more: Food, Living


Pollen angels: The E.U.’s ban on bee-killing pesticides begins. Will it help?

A honeybee on a flower

On April 29, the day that the European Union voted to ban three of the most widely used pesticides in the world, I was at an insecticide industry conference in England having having tea and cookies. The ban on clothianidin, imidacloprid, and thiamethoxam -- collectively called neonicotinoids --  would begin on Dec. 1, and was specifically aimed at seeing if this class of pesticide was indeed making honeybees too stupid to find their way back to the hive, as some studies suggested. Delicious snacks aside, the mood in the conference room was apocalyptic. The panic persisted despite the fact that the …

Read more: Food