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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Shell VP: Yeah, we’re gonna spill some oil in the Arctic

Your quote of the day comes from the BBC.

There's no sugar-coating this, I imagine there would be spills, and no spill is OK. But will there be a spill large enough to impact people's subsistence? My view is no, I don't believe that would happen.

That's Shell's Alaska vice president, Pete Slaiby, discussing the company's new, fraught drilling operations off the North Slope of Alaska. During the summer, the company had a near-daily series of screw-ups that did little to inspire confidence in its ability to successfully extract oil from the ocean floor without spilling it all over themselves and the ocean and the animals in the ocean and probably you, too, somehow. So I'm not sure if Slaiby's admission is a refreshing demonstration of realism or a heart-attack-inducing statement of indifference.

The Arctic Ocean, where drilling is probs no big deal.
artic pj
The Arctic Ocean, where drilling is probs no big deal.

I do however love his statement that, yeah, there'll be spills, but, don't worry: minor ones. How … does that work? The entire context for the BBC article is that Native populations in Alaska are nervous about the prospect of drilling and a spill.


Another miner death at a mine linked to Massey Energy

hand-holding-lump-of-coalA miner in West Virginia was killed last night.

From Ken Ward, Jr., at the Charleston Gazette:

The accident occurred at about 1:30 a.m. today at White Buck Coal Co.’s Pocahontas Mine near Rupert. This is a former Massey Energy operation now controlled by Alpha Natural Resources.

According to state officials, the miner was caught between a scoop and the continuous mining machine -- a type of accident that is becoming all too common in the coal-mining industry [PDF]. Unfortunately, we’re still waiting for the Obama administration to move on two regulatory proposals that would help prevent these sorts of fatal accidents.

State officials have identified the miner who was killed as Steve Odell of Mt. Nebo. He had three years of mining experience and was a certified electricial.

As Ward also notes, the White Buck mine was once run by David Craig Hughart, who this week pled guilty to two counts of conspiracy including one related to violations of health and safety standards.


Duke Energy CEO will step down because of how he iced the previous guy

Duke Energy headquarters. (Not pictured: the revolving doors.)
Duke Energy headquarters. (Not pictured: the revolving doors.)

You may remember the tenure of Bill Johnson as CEO of Duke Energy. It was a halcyon time for the corporation, that one day in July before Johnson was ousted by Jim Rogers.

There were some people who thought it was kind of weird that Johnson should serve one day, "resign," and take home $44 million for his hard work. People like the North Carolina Utilities Commission, which has now demanded that Rogers take a hike, too.

From the Associated Press:

Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers will step down as head of the largest U.S. electric utility by the end of 2013 as part of a settlement with the North Carolina utilities regulator that ends an investigation into the company's takeover of in-state rival Progress Energy. ...

Hours after the merger was completed July 2, Duke Energy's board ousted Progress Energy CEO Bill Johnson, who was supposed to take over the combined company. It had promised to keep him in place throughout the 18-month process of merging the two Fortune 500 energy companies headquartered in North Carolina. The deal created the nation's largest electric company. …

While Duke Energy denied wrongdoing, the utilities commission said the settlement includes the company issuing a statement acknowledging it has "fallen short of the commission's understanding of Duke's obligations" as a regulated utility.

The important/good/interesting news for the people of North Carolina: Duke will also use $25 million in merger-related savings to lower rates as opposed to paying stockholders.


New Jersey train derailment dumps chemicals into waterway

One of the reasons that Keystone XL has faced so much opposition is the threat of a leak. Nebraska forced TransCanada to reroute vast stretches of the proposed pipeline to avoid a key aquifer.

But no pipeline doesn't mean no leaks. As our Lisa Hymas noted yesterday, oil companies have massively increased rail use to bring oil to market. It's more costly, yes (think Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood), but it gets the job done … until those trains fall in waterways.

From the South Jersey Times:

Four railroad tank cars have been dumped into the Mantua Creek and are leaking vinyl chloride after the train bridge collapsed at about 7 a.m.

Ambulances are being sent to the Paulsboro Marine Terminal where approximately 18 people are reported to be experiencing breathing difficulties at 7:40 a.m.

Initial responders report seven cars overturned and derailed near the 200 block of East Jefferson Street, between North Delaware Street and the creek.


Your couch is poisoning you

Have you been sleeping on the couch to avoid your toxic mattress? Well, stop that. Because your couch is probably poisoning you right now. Unless you're at work, in which case right when you get home.

That's the takeaway from a new study in which scientists found flame-retardant chemicals linked to cancer in 85 percent of the couches they tested. New couches were actually worse, with 93 percent testing toxic. Almost a quarter of sofas tested positive for a chemical banned from kids' clothes in the 1970s, but still allowed in mattresses and car seats. Mother Jones reports:

Read more: Living


Toxic toys may be poisoning our best friends

My favorite people to buy holiday presents for are animal people. They are always so grateful! But sometimes maybe they shouldn't be.

A new study out of Texas Tech finds that the chemicals in hard plastic bumper dog toys readily leach into dogs' mouths.

digital ramble

Dogs' chewing action stresses the chemical bonds in the plastics that comprise their toys, allowing for the leaching of hormone-mimicking bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. From Environmental Health News:

“A lot of plastic products are used for dogs, so to understand the potential for some of the chemicals to leach out from toys is a new and important area of research,” said veterinarian Safdar Khan, senior director of toxicology research at the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ Poison Control Center in Illinois. Dr. Khan was not involved in the current study.

Philip Smith, a toxicologist at The Institute of Environmental and Human Health at Texas Tech, became interested in chemical exposures from bumpers after using them to train his own Labrador retrievers.

“Some of the dogs are exposed to plastic bumpers from the time they are born until the day they die."

Read more: Living


Fracking threatens farms and food safety

Some of our most fertile land for growing food also happens to be fertile land for blasting out tons of shale gas. You might guess who's already winning this battle.

Boris van Hoytema

The Nation reports on the effects of fracking pollution on America's farms, focusing on North Dakota cattle farmer Jackie Schilke, who farms atop Bakken Shale.

After fracking began at 32 sites within a couple miles of her ranch, Schilke's cattle started dropping dead and Schilke herself started suffering from poor health. Ambient air testing found high levels of a bunch of nasty chemical compounds associated with fracking, and with cancer and birth defects.

State health and agriculture officials acknowledged Schilke’s air and water tests but told her she had nothing to worry about. Her doctors, however, diagnosed her with neurotoxic damage and constricted airways. “I realized that this place is killing me and my cattle,” Schilke says. She began using inhalers and a nebulizer, switched to bottled water, and quit eating her own beef and the vegetables from her garden. (Schilke sells her cattle only to buyers who will finish raising them outside the shale area, where she presumes that any chemical contamination will clear after a few months.) “My health improved,” Schilke says, “but I thought, ‘Oh my God, what are we doing to this land?’”

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


Polar ice sheets are melting three times faster than during the ’90s

It's worse than we thought.

From U.S. News and World Report:

All of Earth's major polar ice sheets except one have been rapidly losing mass -- several gigatonnes per year -- since 1992, accounting for about 20 percent of global sea level rise, according to a new report by multiple experts.

Scientists say this is the "clearest evidence yet" of polar ice losses, with nearly two thirds of all ice loss coming from Greenland. The only region with an increasing ice mass is Eastern Antarctica; ice sheets in west Antarctica, Greenland, and the Antarctic peninsula are melting and have caused about a half inch global sea level rise since 1992. ...

Between 1992 and 2011, Greenland lost 152 gigatonnes of ice, West Antarctica lost 65 gigatonnes, and the Antarctic Peninsula lost 20 gigatonnes. East Antarctica gained about 14 gigatonnes of ice. A gigatonne is 1 billion metric tons.

The Antarctic peninsula.

That's a combined mass equal to about three times all biomass on the Earth. The half inch of ocean rise might also help explain the recent discovery that sea levels are increasing 60 percent faster than expected.

Read more: Climate & Energy


Americans on pace to spend a record amount of money on gas this year

Americans weren't paying more for gasoline this year, but we were buying a lot more of it. So the odds are good that 2012 will set a record for the amount of money spent on fuel.

Keep it flowing, America!

From the Los Angeles Times:

The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline in the U.S. this year never reached the highs seen in 2008, when the all-time record of $4.114 was reached. The 2012 average never even climbed as high as it was last year, when it hit $3.965, according to the Energy Department.

But fuel prices have been so consistently high in 2012 that American motorists are on pace to spend more on gasoline this year -- $483 billion, or $1.32 billion a day -- than they ever have before, according to the Oil Price Information Service in New Jersey.

That would break the old record for the amount of money spent by Americans on gasoline, set last year, by about $12 billion. That's in spite of the fact that the U.S. average topped out this year at $3.941 a gallon back in April.

Money well spent, to be sure.


Watch every hurricane that formed during the third-most-active season in history

Here, in just shy of four and a half minutes, is the entire 2012 hurricane season. Assuming, that is, that no tropical storms crop up in the next 36 hours or so; hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.

It's pretty, in its way. Humbling, watching the patterns and the flow of the clouds as they work their way slowly around the ocean. For the planet, Sandy was just another spinning formation, made and gone and forgotten.

For us, Sandy was the capstone to what the Capital Weather Gang notes was tied for the third-most-active hurricane season in history.

Read more: Climate & Energy