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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Oil company executive swears at analyst, tries to get recording off the internet

Encana is a Canadian oil and gas company that's seen its share of troubles in recent years, as oil and gas companies are wont to do. One of its wells in Colorado exploded last August, killing a worker. In 2009, the EPA found evidence that its fracking fluid was contaminating water in Wyoming. In December, we learned that Encana has a permit from the EPA to do a little aquifer polluting, prompting a bit of blowback for both company and agency.

Encana executives, therefore, will be forgiven for feeling a little frustrated. They're just trying to drill up oil and gas and sell it at a profit while letting your lungs and the atmosphere incur the cost of the pollution, is that so wrong? So when a reporter asked executives a question they found insulting, one responded more colorfully than would be generally recommended. From Reuters:

Encana Corp, Canada's largest natural gas producer, apologized on Thursday because one of its executives cursed after an analyst asked about whether new Canadian investment rules would prohibit its takeover by foreign state-owned entities.

When asked the question by Canaccord Genuity analyst Phil Skolnick, interim CEO Clayton Woitas said: "The answer would be no." Then, in a whispered comment that was clearly audible on a replay of the call, someone can be heard saying, "fucking asshole."

The good folks at Boing Boing got ahold of audio of the comment in question.

Clearly the company is obsessed with gas-filled orifices.

A fucking gashole in Pennsylvania
A fuckin' gashole in Pennsylvania.


International cops are on the pirate fishing case

pirate flag

Pirate fishing is an entertainingly named but actually terrible scourge of the oceans.

"It leaves communities without much needed food and income and the marine environment smashed and empty," according to Greenpeace, which has estimated that there are upwards of 1,000 illegal industrial-scale fishing ships at sea. "Pirate fishing compounds the global environmental damage from other destructive fisheries. Because they operate, quite literally, off the radar of any enforcement, the fishing techniques they use are destroying ocean life." The practice is rampant in Central America and parts of Europe and Africa.

But now the super-intimidating international policing ubergroup INTERPOL is convening for the first time ever to talk about policing these pirates at next week's International Fisheries Enforcement Conference in Lyon, France. "High-level Chiefs in the field of fisheries law enforcement are invited to join together with the aim of sharing expertise and strategies to prevent and combat fisheries crime," says INTERPOL.

Read more: Food


We are learning mosquitoes are basically invincible

monster mosquito

Mosquitoes are, at best, horrible annoyances. At worst? They are genocidal maniacs, responsible for more than half a million deaths a year, transmitting malaria and other diseases. Were causing extinction subject to popular vote, mosquitoes would win in a landslide.

All of that, relative to the moment, is the good news. Now, the bad.

Mosquitoes laugh at your so-called repellant.

Well, they don't laugh, as such, lacking the capacity for forced expulsion of air from their probosci and, likewise, any sense of humor. Point is, the most common chemical used to repel the little idiots is losing its effectiveness. From

A group of researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine discovered that three hours after an exposure to DEET, many Aedes aegypti mosquitoes were immune to the chemical, ignoring its typically noxious smell and attempting to land on irresistible human skin. …

So why did the mosquitoes, as a whole, overcome their dislike of DEET? Previous studies by this group and others have found particular mosquitoes with a genetic mutation that made them innately immune to DEET, but they say that this case is different, because they didn’t demonstrate this ability from the start.

They suspect, instead, that the insects’ antennae became less chemically sensitive to DEET over time, as evidenced by electroantennography on the mosquitoes’ odor receptors after each of the tests -- a phenomenon not unlike a person getting used to the smell of, say, the ocean or a manufacturing plant near his or her house.

In other words, all picnics should now be scheduled for two hours, 55 minutes in length.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Could extreme weather save farmers from extreme weather?

After a seriously dry run, some drought-stricken farmers have gotten a bit of a reprieve. Snow dumping this week on the country's potential future dust bowl is great news for suffering, parched wheat crops.


Reuters reports:

Nearly a foot or more of snow fell across key growing areas in Oklahoma and Kansas in the last 24 hours, and more was coming.

"I feel a lot better this morning," said Kansas wheat farmer Scott Van Allen, who has about 2,300 acres planted to winter wheat in south-central Kansas. "It snowed all night on us. I was getting very concerned with the lack of moisture we've had."

Well, Scott, here are some scientists to rain on your parade (except without any actual rain, sorry). This extreme weather isn't nearly extreme enough to make up for the other extreme weather.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


America thinks we need to fix the climate — after we deal with the deficit

Image (1) buildings-city-american-flags-flickr-thomas-hawk-500.jpg for post 43367

"Americans' Priorities," the graph is labelled. Underneath, four issues, and the extent to which Americans feel they require urgent action, as suggested to Pew Research. And so:

The most important issue for Congress to address this year, supported by 70 percent of Americans? The long-term deficit. Least urgent of the four? Climate change. Incorrect, America.

From USA Today:

There is bipartisan agreement on this: Dealing with the budget deficit is urgent.

That's a change. When Obama took office in 2009, during a cascading financial crisis, Americans put deficit reduction in the middle of a list of policy goals in a Pew poll. Now it has risen near the top. Seven of 10 Americans (including not only 81% of Republicans but also 65% of Democrats) say it is essential for the president and Congress to enact major deficit legislation this year. ...

When asked which of four issues was most pressing -- the deficit, guns, immigration or climate change -- 51% chose the deficit, three times that of any other issue. However, there were some significant differences by race and ethnicity. Hispanics were inclined to choose immigration as the most critical issue; African Americans chose guns.

Here's the breakdown on the urgency question by political party (compared to "everyone", which represents the entire pool of respondents).

Even most Democrats don't see an urgent need for action on climate change -- fewer than half say it's a priority for this year. That's astonishing.


Head of American Petroleum Institute doesn’t see a need to regulate carbon anymore

Last week, Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) announced that they will soon introduce comprehensive climate change legislation. It would make for an interesting debate in the Senate; it would be light years better than policy that exists currently. It also has literally no chance of passing either chamber.

Which has prompted the American Petroleum Institute's Jack Gerard to dig the bill a grave for the purposes of offering a dancefloor. From The Hill:

American Petroleum Institute CEO Jack Gerard said he did not expect the Senate to vote on the bill …

“I think no, it will not get to the floor, and I think the reason it won't get to the floor is the dynamics surrounding carbon has changed,” Gerard told E&E TV.

Specifically, Gerard cited increased use of natural gas, which has helped reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. over the past several years. However, don't worry: Gerard is still spectacularly wrong.

Jack Gerard (file photo)
Jack Gerard (file photo).


Gas prices are spiking, and it’s not clear why


Here's what gas prices have done over the last month:

gas price one month

This isn't an unprecedented rise; prices went up last February, too.

gas price one year

What's odd, though, is that the recent rise isn't tied to rising crude oil prices, the traditional reason prices fluctuate.

gas and crude price one month

So what's happening? The Washington Post dug into it, noting concerns over Middle East stability, lower production by OPEC, and the continuing high price of oil -- though crude prices dropped significantly yesterday.


You have no idea what that fish you’re eating is, so don’t pretend

This is, like, a swordfish or something
Matthew Kenrick
This is, like, a swordfish or something.

"Man, Europe," we think, shaking our heads with superiority. "Those weirdos are eating horse instead of beef. What a mixed-up, topsy-turvy continent." Shrugging, we then pick up our fish sandwiches from McDonald's or, if you're fancy, throw a little snapper on the grill.

And that's when the Fates play their little tricks. From The New York Times:

That tempting seafood delight glistening on the ice at the market, or sizzling at the restaurant table in its aromatic jacket of garlic and ginger? It may not be at all what you think, or indeed even close, according to a big new study of fish bought and genetically tested in 12 parts of the country -- in restaurants, markets and sushi bars -- by a nonprofit ocean protection group, Oceana.

In the 120 samples labeled red snapper and bought for testing nationwide, for example, 28 different species of fish were found, including 17 that were not even in the snapper family, according to the study, which was released Thursday.

The study also contained surprises about where consumers were most likely to be misled -- sushi bars topped the list in every city studied -- while grocery stores were most likely to be selling fish honestly. Restaurants ranked in the middle.

oceana mislabelling by outlet

This is not news in the sense that it is new. We've noted fish fraud a few times before. It is however news in the sense that 1) it is a new study conducted by Oceana (available here [PDF]) and 2) it considered new types of fish and 3) it was in the newspaper.

Read more: Food


Transit advocates stop cuts using civil rights legislation

Image (2) lynx-crowded.jpg for post 38017No justice, no ride to work! The vast majority of transit systems in the U.S. have cut service, raised fares, or both over the last two years, affecting those who rely on public transportation especially hard.

An article in the current issue of the Boston Review outlines the struggle for more justice and more buses:

For millions of American families, the commute to work is more than stressful: it can also be cripplingly costly. While the average family spends around 19 percent of its budget getting around, very low-income families (defined as families who make less than half of an area’s median income) can see as much as 55 percent of their earnings eaten up by transportation costs, according to a report by the Center for Transit-Oriented Development. ...

Read more: Cities


Laws banning harassment of cyclists spread like a wonderful virus

Cyclists may be the happiest commuters, but not when they're getting shit from passing drivers. Flashback to the summer of 2011, when Los Angeles passed an ordinance to make harassing cyclists a civil and suable infraction. Throw a thing at a cyclist and they can take you to court and seek damages -- revolutionary!

digable soul

L.A. City Council President Eric Garcetti at the time said, “If L.A. can do it, every city in the country can do it.”

Well, we're not quite there yet, but in the year and a half since L.A. passed its law, Washington, D.C., and the California cities of Berkeley, Sunnyvale, and Sebastopol have all passed similar ordinances. Healdsburg, Calif., is now considering one, too.

To be fair, Columbia, Mo., was actually the first city to enact an ordinance banning harassment of cyclists in 2009, but it didn't include the all-important civil infraction bit. L.A.'s law and those modeled after it make it possible for cyclists to take their harassers to civil court, where there is a lower burden of proof.

Read more: Cities