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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


New York hires seismologist with fracking industry ties to do fracking research


New York state's tortuous, interminable process of deciding whether or not to approve fracking continues; it slowly lifts one foot out of molasses, considers it for an hour or two, and then places it down again with a squelch one centimeter in front of the other foot. The last microstep we reported on was actually a step backward, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) moved to restart the state's analysis of fracking's health effects.

But now a real step: New York has hired a geologist to conduct a study of the seismological repercussions of fracking. As you may recall, drilling into shale and breaking it apart with high-pressure water has been linked to earthquakes. So the state is looking into that, since the very last thing New York wants is to be any more like California. The man hired for the job, to ensure that New York doesn't crumble into the sea if it allows fracking? A guy who used to work for fracking companies.

From Bloomberg:

Robert Jacobi was picked by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a seismology study as part of its environmental review of the drilling process known as fracking, Lisa King, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. Jacobi is a University at Buffalo professor and has advised drillers for two decades. …

Jacobi, who has taught at the state university for more than 30 years, has advised various gas drillers since 1994, according to a resume released by the university. He has been a senior geology adviser for Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp., a natural gas drilling company, since last year.


Former Interior Secretary Babbitt calls for one acre of conservation for every acre of oil exploration

Bruce Babbitt looks like this.
Bruce Babbitt looks like this.

Since all anyone is talking about today is the secretary of the interior, let's check in on Bruce Babbitt, who served in that position under President Clinton. What does he think about the state of the world, etc.? Any thoughts on the use of public land for oil exploration versus conserving it for the future, and perhaps any suggestions on how those uses should be balanced, ratio-wise?

From online internet website

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt pressed President Barack Obama on Tuesday to set aside an acre of public land for conservation for every acre that is leased for oil and gas development. …

Over the past four years, he said, industry has leased more than 6 million acres compared with the 2.6 million acres that have been permanently protected. “In the Obama era, land conservation is again falling behind,” he said. “This lopsided public-land administration in favor of the oil and gas industry shouldn’t continue.”

Alright. Sounds like a plan. A brand new plan, for Obama to look at.

Babbitt made a similar plea to Obama when he spoke at the press club in June 2011 on the 105th anniversary of the [Antiquities Act]. During that speech, he mocked “munchkins” at the White House for backing down from what he dubbed an assault from Republicans over the issue.

Oh. Not new. But at least he dropped the weird Wizard of Oz analogy this time.


Don’t worry about BP; it’s going to be fine

BP's logo is of an offshore rig exploding with money.
BP's logo is of an offshore rig exploding with money.

"BP" used to stand for "British Petroleum," presumably until Britain got embarrassed. Well, not really -- although British people weren't very happy about people calling the company British Petroleum after its Gulf rig exploded and leaked and killed mammals of various types.

Anyway, here's News About BP and Money and the Government, our new feature about BP and money and the government, part one in a series of one.

BP made a lot of money last year.

Big surprise. Annual profits for the company were $11.6 billion, only six or seven times what the average U.S. household makes (over the course of 33,000 years).

And of course we'll bring back our favorite tool to make this figure hit home:

But not as much as states think it should pay for the Gulf spill.

BP doesn't want to be rude or disrespectful, of course, but it thinks that the amount of money sought by state and local governments over the Deepwater Horizon disaster is a tad steep. From Reuters:


Let the speculation begin: Obama to talk climate at State of the Union

A line from a New York magazine article from three years ago has stuck with me: "We spend more time talking about what we think we’ll think than what we thought." Or: Speculation prior to an event is nearly limitless; reflection afterward, brief.

And so, with six days until the president's State of the Union address, speculation has begun. What will he say? What should he say? How strong or weak will what he says be? What’s the over/under on number of times Obama says “climate,” and how many times would he have to say it to fix the warming globe?

Obama delivers the 2010 State of the Union
Obama delivers the 2010 State of the Union.

The Wall Street Journal thinks it will come up.

President Barack Obama in next week's State of the Union speech will lay out a renewed effort to combat climate change that is expected to include using his authority to curb emissions from existing power plants, people who have talked to the administration about its plans said. …


Obama taps Sally Jewell, CEO of REI, for Interior post

Jewell, at an event in 2011
Jewell, at an event in 2011.

Meet your likely new secretary of the interior, Sally Jewell. Those of you who have been reading Grist since 2007 have met her already.

Jewell is the CEO of REI, which is a company that I will bet $2.6 million you are familiar with. But more relevantly, Jewell is also a recognized environmentalist. From The New York Times:

Ms. Jewell, a native of the Seattle area and a graduate of the University of Washington with a degree in mechanical engineering, has been a lifelong outdoors enthusiast. As a child she sailed in Puget Sound and camped throughout the Pacific Northwest, according to a 2005 profile in the Seattle Times. ...

She received the 2009 Rachel Carson Award for environmental conservation from the Audubon Society; the 2008 Nonprofit Director of the Year award from the National Association of Corporate Directors, and The Green Globe-Environmental Catalyst Award from King County, Wash., among others.

She is expected to face vigorous questioning during confirmation hearings about her approach to resource development on public lands.

Which reminds me. I should also mention what Jewell did before working at REI. She was a banker. And before that? Take it away, Politico.


Seattle and San Francisco consider divesting from fossil fuels

protest: "coal divestment now"

The divestment campaign that began in late 2012 has grown up so quickly! It seemed like just yesterday that Bill McKibben et al were convincing colleges to pull their money out of the fossil fuel industry and in turn feel much better about their moral selves.

Now the movement's graduated and moved on to lobbying municipal governments to do the same. So far Seattle and San Francisco's city employee pension funds are both looking at divesting from fossil fuel companies.

From the Financial Times:

If the Seattle retirement scheme were to divest from such companies completely, it would be the first to take such a step, said Stephanie Pfeifer of the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change, which represents some of Europe's largest pension funds and asset managers.

Mindy Lubber, president of the US-based Ceres investor advocacy group, agreed, saying the move underlined the mounting push for investors to acknowledge the long-term risk of investing in fossil fuel companies, as policies to curb climate change keep emerging.

"The divestment movement without question is re-raising the question of whether fossil fuel companies are the best investment and I think over time they're not going to be," she said.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


We’re on the verge of a scary undersea gold rush

Two of the most popular shows on cable television right now are about digging for gold. Exciting! Gold! One of these shows, the Discovery Channel's Bering Sea Gold, focuses on the human difficulties and dangers of digging for gold under the sea floor off the coast of Alaska.

This pursuit of material mineral riches seems like it might be a bad idea for these individuals, especially that dude with the bloody hand. But when the gold is even deeper under the sea, digging it up could be an even worse idea. And at today's inflated gold prices, digging up the ocean will be as lucrative as it could be destructive.

National Geographic’s feature story on deep-sea mineral mining sets up a scary proposition for the Solwara 1 site in Papua New Guinea especially, where one company hopes to blaze a path into the deep with new mining technologies that could allow for the scooping up of billions if not trillions of dollars worth of deep-sea minerals.

[A] fledgling deep-sea mining industry faces a host of challenges before it can claim the precious minerals, from the need for new mining technology and serious capital to the concerns of conservationists, fishers, and coastal residents.

The roadblocks are coming into view in the coastal waters of Papua New Guinea, where the seafloor contains copper, zinc, and gold deposits worth hundreds of millions of dollars and where one company, Nautilus Minerals, hopes to launch the world's first deep-sea mining operation ...

Samantha Smith, Nautilus's vice president for corporate social responsibility, says that ocean floor mining is safer, cleaner, and more environmentally friendly than its terrestrial counterpart.

"There are no mountains that need to be removed to get to the ore body," she says. "There's a potential to have a lot less waste ... No people need to be displaced. Shouldn't we as a society consider such an option?"


Huge paper company promises to stop being deforesting jerks

Image (1) sumatran-tiger_h200.jpg for post 22288Over the last 20 years, a third of the forest cover on the Indonesian island of Sumatra -- home to endangered tigers and orangutans -- was destroyed. The clear-cutting of the rainforest helped make Indonesia the world's fourth-biggest carbon emitter. And much of it was done in the name of paper -- Asia Pulp & Paper, to be exact. But not anymore. From The Washington Post:

Asia Pulp & Paper, the third-largest pulp and paper company in the world, announced Tuesday that it is halting operations in Indonesia’s natural rain forests, a victory for advocates who have been negotiating with the company for the past year.

The Singapore-based company, which controls logging concessions spanning nearly 6.4 million acres in Indonesia, said it also has agreed to protect forested peatland, which stores massive amounts of carbon, and to work with indigenous communities to protect their native land. ...

Aida Greenbury, the firm’s managing director for sustainability, said that a coalition of environmentalists, customers and some of the firm’s own employees had pushed for an end to native forest logging.

“We heard very loud and clear what they want us to do,” she said. “It is an investment for the sustainability of our business, not only an investment in the environment and the social impact we’re creating.”

Here's more from the righteous rabble-rousers at Greenpeace, who worked with the World Wildlife Fund and the Rainforest Action Network to shove APP's clear-cutters out of the forests:


Find out which facilities near you are doing the most damage to the climate!


In 2011, American industry produced the equivalent of 3.3 billion tons of CO2 emissions -- 10.5 tons for every resident of these United States. Two-thirds of those emissions were from power plants, by which we of course mean fossil fuel power plants.

That's the topline summary of the EPA's new report on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions -- the second time the agency has completed such a survey. The good news is that the GHG emission number from power plants is going down. From The Hill:

In all, 8,000 facilities across nine industry sectors put 3.3 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions into the air in 2011. Power plants accounted for about 2.2 billion of those tons.

EPA said that was a 4.6 percent decrease from power plants compared with 2010, which it attributed to growing reliance on natural gas and renewable energy for electricity generation.

Those emissions could drop even more in the future, as low natural gas prices, expanded renewable electricity generation and an abnormally warm winter last year curbed coal-fired generation. …

EPA released its first report from the program last year, when it considered 2010 emissions from 29 sources. Emissions from those sources fell 3 percent in 2011.

Petroleum and natural gas systems were the second greatest emitters, clocking in at 225 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions. Refineries ranked third, at 182 million tons.

What's really cool is the EPA's interactive map, which lets you zoom in to regions and see what polluters are in any given neighborhood. You can also see where certain types of polluters are more common. Here is pollution from refineries, by state:


Bike bans declared unconstitutional in Colorado, introduced in Missouri

no_bikes_flickr_richard_drdul_616.jpgBike happy, cyclists, and bike free! The Colorado Supreme Court this week overturned a ban on bikes in the town of Black Hawk, where since June 2010 cycling citizens have been forced to walk their bikes through downtown's narrow roads or face $68 tickets. From The Denver Post:

Black Hawk's ban forced cyclists to walk their bikes through the city's casino-lined streets on the southern end of the famed Peak to Peak Highway, a high-country scenic by-way popular with road cyclists. ...

Black Hawk had argued that its home-rule status allowed it to script its own traffic laws. The city said the 2009 state law that required vehicles to give cyclists a 3-foot berth was unmanageable for gambler-toting tour buses and casino delivery trucks navigating Black Hawk's narrow streets. So the city's leaders chose to ban bikes. ...

The Supreme Court ruled the issue was not just local but impacted state residents. The court noted that municipalities can ban bikes -- Denver prohibits pedalers on the 16th Street Mall, as does Boulder on a stretch of Pearl Street -- but it must provide alternate routes within 450 feet, as required by state law.

The city's statement on Monday said it would "look for alternatives" to address safety concerns but would not develop an alternate bike path. "The city has no plans to construct any special accommodations to address this issue."

I wonder if Missouri State Rep. Rick Brattin (R) reads the Colorado news? Maybe he should! The state legislator is planning to introduce a bill to ban bicycling on at least some state roads. From the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation:

Read more: Living, Politics