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Pass on Gas

Obama’s new gaseous release: A strategy to cut back on methane

Obama
White House

The White House released its strategy to cut methane emissions this morning -- President Obama’s latest sashay around Congress to pursue climate action (as part of the plan he announced in June).

Methane isn’t the most ubiquitous of greenhouse gases (that’d be good ‘ol CO2), but it is a potent one: The same amount of methane as CO2 has 20 times the impact in terms of future global warming over a 100-year period. While methane emissions have decreased by 11 percent since 1990, we’re still not in good shape: 50 percent more methane is leaking from oil and gas sites than previously thought and, without action, methane emissions are expected to increase through 2030 -- mostly thanks to fracking. So far the oil and gas industry has balked at the idea of regulating its methane leaks, saying that it might slow production down (we’ve all heard it before, but, man, frack you!).

Read more: Climate & Energy

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A high seas fishing ban scorecard: (Almost) everybody wins

tuna
Shutterstock

When it comes to fishing, most of the ocean is lawless. Fish in the high seas -- the half of the world's oceans that fall under the control of no single nation, because they're more than 200 miles from a coastline -- are being plundered with aplomb by fishing fleets that observe virtually no fish conservation rules.

Some very smart people think that might be a very stupid way of managing the world's fisheries. They say it's time for the world to ban fishing on the high seas.

Many of the world's brawniest fish and shark species migrate through these open waters, where they are being targeted and overfished. Bluefin tuna are becoming so rare that a single fish sold last year for $1.8 million.

Last month, McKinsey & Company director Martin Stuchtey suggested during an ocean summit that banning fishing on the high seas would cause an economic loss of about $2 for every person on the planet. But he said the benefits of more sustainable fisheries, if such a ban was imposed, would be worth about $4 per person, creating a net benefit of $2 apiece. From Business Insider:

Hard numbers reveal that today's fishing industry is not profitable, and as fleets work harder chasing fewer fish, the losses grow and stocks are further depleted in "a race to the bottom," the economist explained.

Stuchtey's numbers were approximations. But the results of a study published in the journal PLOS Biology this week put some flesh on the economist's back-of-the-envelope calculations. An economist and a biologist, both from California, modeled the effects of such a ban and concluded that the move could double the profitability of the world's fishing industries -- and boost overall fishing yields by 30 percent. It would also boost fish stock conservation and improve the sustainability of seafood supplies.

Read more: Food

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States struggling to understand frackquakes

earthquake
Shutterstock

Frackers have been triggering earthquakes across the country by injecting their wastewater at high pressure into disposal wells.

That much is certain. The U.S. Geological Survey has linked the practice to a sixfold increase in earthquakes in the central U.S. from 2001 to 2011. It's also possible that the very act of fracking has been causing some temblors.

What isn't certain, though, is what governments can do about it. Bloomberg reports on a new initiative that aims to manage some of those earth-shaking dangers:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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The Villages People

Oil workers and Jewish grandmas driving American metropolitan growth

metro_growth
Shutterstock

Looking for the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States? Follow the fracking -- or, alternatively, search for the top-rated golf club brunches on Yelp. The most recent U.S. census data, measuring urban growth between July 1, 2012 and July 1, 2013, showed that oil boomtowns and Southern retirement communities now get to sit at the popular table. The irony here, of course, is that there were never more unlikely candidates for said table than The Villages, Fla., or Fargo, N.D. This list paints a pretty bizarre picture of America's future, but at least it's interesting.

A couple of cities on this list -- Austin, for example -- actually seem like fun places to live for young people, but what’s most striking is that with the exception of The Villages, all of the top spots are filled by oil towns. That’s no coincidence. Last July, the New York Times published a study examining social mobility in metro areas across the United States. The places of greatest economic opportunity, according to the results, were concentrated in oil-rich regions: North Dakota, eastern Montana, western Texas.

Here’s a list of the top 10 fastest-growing metro areas, with the most likely reasons for their growth:

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Slick Vid

Here’s a shorebird’s-eye view of the Galveston oil spill

When an oil barge collided with a container ship on Saturday in Galveston, Texas, as many as 168,000 gallons of fuel were spilled into the estuary, threatening wildlife and shutting down the busy port for days.

Yadda yadda. Different spill, same old spill news.

Here’s a slightly different view than you might be used to, from Project Survival Media. Turns out that oil is less beautifully troubling, and more palpably gross, from the shorebird’s-eye view, where it churns in the waves like salad dressing gone wrong.

That lumpy goodness is probably IFO-380, or what's left after all the gas and diesel and kerosene have been taken out of crude oil. “It’s commonly referred to as bottom of the barrel stuff,” as Greg Pollack, a local oil spill prevention commissioner, told the Galveston Daily News. It usually floats near the surface, which is good for cleaning crews, but sometimes sinks when it gets close enough to shore to start picking up sediment. Unlike crude oil -- which is what spilled the last time this area got slicked, by Deepwater Horizon in 2010 -- this heavy fuel oil won’t evaporate, so leftovers may circulate far and wide.

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Grocery cartel

Mexican gangs learn that lime pays (also crime)

limes_and_gun_2
Shutterstock

“I could just kill for a margarita right now,” you sigh, apparently ignorant of the fact that it is March, and the consumption of an iced beverage is nothing short of an act of insanity. It’s also probably the middle of the workday, so that in itself should be cause for concern in most circles.

You’re also probably unaware that someone may have actually killed -- as in, committed murder -- for the limes that go in your hypothetical margarita. Cartels are invading the Mexican citrus trade, hijacking trucks, and forcibly taking over farms to sell the now-valuable fruit. Another day, another ring of organized criminals making the transition from eight balls to tasty treats!

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Congress successfully took the wind out of wind energy’s sails last year

wind energy
Shutterstock

America's fossil fuel-smitten Congress helped China blow the U.S. out of the water last year when it came to installing new wind energy farms.

A little more than 16 gigawatts of new wind capacity came online in China in 2013 -- nearly half of the 36 gigawatts installed around the world. Compare that with a little more than 1 gigawatt that was installed in the U.S. -- down alarmingly from 13 gigawatts the year before.

That means American wind installations plummeted in a single year despite the falling price of wind energy, which is becoming lower than the price of electricity produced by burning natural gas in some parts of the country.

Dude, where's our wind? Well, the latest figures were calculated by Navigant Research, and it blamed a "politically divided Congress" in a new paywalled report for the faltering wind growth in the U.S.

Congress allowed wind energy tax credits to blow away at the end of 2013 -- so why would 2013's installation figures be so bleak? According to the report, it was all about uncertainty. Lawmakers "failed to extend tax incentives in time to positively impact the 2013 development and construction cycle."

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Ohio lawmakers: All right, folks, we guess it’s OK for you to buy Teslas

Tesla sales center
Tesla

If you live in Ohio, your lawmakers are poised to allow you to purchase a Tesla from a sales center -- without forcing you to drive outside the borders of the Buckeye State to do your eco-friendly spending.

But legislative efforts to placate the Ohio Automobile Dealers Association will nonetheless cap the number of sales offices Tesla is allowed to operate inside the state at three -- and other auto manufacturers will be barred outright from hawking their wheel-spinning wares direct to buyers. Here's the news, courtesy of NJTV:

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Track star

Is this train the “little engine that could” for clean energy storage?

railcar_renewables_storage
ARES

In Greek mythology, the story of Sisyphus endlessly rolling a boulder uphill is meant to be a cautionary tale. Gravity, in this case, worked against the poor chump. But the smart folks at Advanced Rail Energy Storage North America (ARES) asked: Why not make gravity your friend? ARES has pioneered a train full of rocks that climbs up a hill, only to roll back down again and repeat the process, Sisyphus style. But instead of a metaphor of futility, this new train technology offers a breakthrough opportunity in clean energy storage. It isn't easy to find feasible solutions for storing grid-scale renewable energy loads for when the sun isn't shining or the wind isn't …

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BP’s newly upgraded refinery just spilled oil into Chicago’s water source

BP Whiting oil spill
Parker Wood / Coast Guard
Cleaning up after BP. Again.

Deepwater Horizawhatnow?

Less than a year after BP upgraded its Whiting refinery in northwestern Indiana to allow it to handle heavy Canadian tar-sands oil, causing petroleum coke to begin piling up in nearby Chicago, an industrial accident at the refinery has spewed some of that oil into Lake Michigan. The Chicago Tribune reports that it's not known how long the refinery was leaking or how much oil was spilled. The leak was reported at 4:30 p.m. and plugged by 9 p.m., when an EPA official arrived at the scene. More from the Tribune:

Mike Beslow, the EPA’s emergency response coordinator, said there appeared to be no negative effects on Lake Michigan, the source of drinking water for 7 million people in Chicago and the suburbs. The 68th Street water intake crib is about eight miles northwest of the spill site, but there were no signs of oil drifting in that direction.

Initial reports suggest that strong winds pushed most of the oil toward a sandy cove on BP’s property between the refinery and an Arcelor Mittal steel mill. A flyover Tuesday afternoon revealed no visible oil beyond booms laid on the water to prevent the oil from spreading, Beslow said.

The spill came at an ominous time, catching the attention of both of Illinois's U.S. senators. "[T]hree weeks ago, BP announced a plan to nearly double its processing of heavy crude oil at its BP Whiting Refinery," Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (R) said in a joint statement on Tuesday.