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Weakened fracking law signed in California

Sacramento
Shutterstock
California's Capitol.

Fracking will finally be regulated in California after Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed a bill that annoyed drillers but also left environmentalists despondent over its mediocrity.

At issue is a nascent effort to frack the Monterey Shale, believed to hold the nation’s largest on-shore oil deposit. (Frackers in the Northeast normally target natural gas; in California, fracking is for oil extraction.) One of 10 fracking-related bills introduced in the state legislature this year called for a five-year moratorium, which was watered down to a one-year stoppage, and then the bill died. It wasn’t alone: Eight other bills fell by the wayside until there was just one left standing: SB4, sponsored by state Sen. Fran Pavley (D).

Some environmentalists cautiously supported the bill until it was gutted at the last minute amid an oil-industry lobbying frenzy; language was dropped that would have effectively put all fracking on hold until environmental reviews were completed. That change led to a collapse in green support.

Al Jazeera explains the amended legislation:

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Chevron scores legal and PR victories in Ecuador pollution case

Between 1964 and 1990, Texaco drilled for oil in the Ecuadorian Amazon and left an outrageous mess, dumping 18.5 billion gallons of toxic sludge and wastewater into local waterways. Chevron, which acquired Texaco in 2001, was ordered by an Ecuadorian judge in 2011 to pay $19 billion for the damage. Chevron said, to paraphrase, "Eff you," and has been fighting the judgment ever since.

It’s little wonder, then, that Ecuador’s president is calling for a boycott of Chevron. In launching the “Chevron’s Dirty Hand” campaign last week, President Rafael Correa visited a rainforest area left polluted by the company, plunged his hand into a pool of oil, and held it up for members of the media to photograph.

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa raises an oil-coated hand.
Reuters/Guillermo Granja

A nice photo op, but Chevron is still winning the war.

Here are the latest legal developments from ABC News:

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Climate change expected to bring more thunder, hail, and tornadoes

Tornado
Jerry Bowley
Conditions are ripe for more tornadoes.

Hail-spitting, tornado-spawning thunderstorms are likely to occur more frequently in the U.S. as the climate changes.

That's according to new research that found the two main ingredients needed to produce these intense storms are likely to occur simultaneously with growing frequency as greenhouse-gas levels continue their meteoric rise.

The research could help explain this spring's remarkably deadly tornado season, though it doesn't explain the long calm that preceded it.

Severe thunderstorms typically occur when wind speeds high in the sky exceed those nearer the ground, and when there are also fast updrafts. As the climate changes, these two weather conditions will coincide more often, according to the results of modeling published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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As climate changes, polar bears switch to polluted food

Harp seals
Visit Greenland
A harp seal and her pup: adorable but chemical-laced prey for polar bears.

A warming world is a cruel world for polar bears. Not only is their terrain melting beneath their feet. Now comes news that climate change is pushing East Greenland's population to switch prey and increasingly eat types of seals that are loaded with chemical contaminants.

Polar bears living in East Greenland feed mainly on ringed seals, harp seals, and hooded seals. They may all sound the same to inexperienced seal-meat eaters like you and me. But these species of seals have different lifestyles that lead to different levels of chemical pollution in their meat.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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One failed project, another over budget, hint at carbon-capture challenges under EPA rules

Coal
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OK, but what are you going to do with the carbon after you've extracted the energy?

The EPA's new proposed power plant rules offer an unyielding compromise: If you want to burn coal in America in the 21st century, fine, but you have to clean up after yourself. The rules would basically make it impossible to open a new coal-powered facility unless it has carbon-capture-and-sequestration (CCS) technology that can keep some of its carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the air.

Despite an abundance of underground storage space where CO2 could conceivably be stashed, only a dozen or so carbon-capture projects are operating or under construction worldwide. And in a bad sign for any coal barons who might still be optimistic about the future of coal burning in the U.S., one of the world’s most ambitious carbon-capture efforts has just been abandoned in Norway. That development coincides with news of nearly billion-dollar cost overruns at another CCS project in Mississippi.

Reuters reports that Norway’s outgoing center-left government dropped its plans Friday for a CCS project that it had once likened in ambition to sending humans to the moon. It would have pumped CO2 from a natural gas plant at the industrial site of Mongstad deep underground:

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In wake of Colorado floods, officials start counting oil and gas spills

Colorado flooding
Lauryn McDowell
What's in the water?

As floodwaters recede following epic storms that hit the region around Boulder, Colo., a week ago, officials are trying to get a grasp on the extent of oil and gas pollution triggered by the deluge.

Oil spills and washed-out chemical tanks only add to the devastation of the unseasonable drenching, which killed 10 people. Another 200 are still unaccounted for, though that number is falling as phone and internet services come back online.

Nearly 1,900 oil and gas wells were shut down ahead of or amid the flooding, but that wasn’t enough to prevent contamination. On Friday, the state’s oil agency said [PDF] it was "tracking five notable releases" of oil and gas and "11 locations with visible evidence of a release, such as a sheen." It also reported "as many as two dozen tanks overturned."

More from the BBC:

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Typhoon and earthquake strike Fukushima

Gates of hell
Shutterstock
The trail to Fukushima.

Two and a half years ago, the Fukushima Daiichi power facility was knocked out by a tsunami and earthquake. Myriad troubles ensued. Then this week it was hit by a typhoon, flooding, and another earthquake. Can't a nuclear plant catch a break?

On Monday, Typhoon Man-yi smacked into Japan, causing flooding in some parts of the country, and new troubles at Fukushima.  From Agence France-Presse:

The operator of the leaking Fukushima nuclear plant said Tuesday that it dumped more than 1,000 tons of polluted water into the sea after a typhoon raked the facility. …

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Is this the beginning of the end for coal?

A train loaded with coal in Wyoming
Aaron Hockley
Coal is going off the tracks.

From a failed coal auction in Wyoming to slowing demand in China, times are tough for the world's dirtiest fossil fuel. And that's before we even get to EPA's new proposed power-plant rules.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management held an auction Thursday for the right to mine 167 million tons of coal from the 1,254-acre Hay Creek II coal tract in Campbell County, Wyo. The highest bid of $35 million, by Kiewit Mining Properties, was so low that the bureau rejected it. From Bloomberg:

The company’s offer was less than one-fifth what mining companies paid for similar deposits last year, and the lowest amount per ton since 1998. It didn’t meet the government’s estimate of fair value, the bureau said in a statement.

“The bottom has just dropped out of the market,” Mark Northam, director of the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources, said by telephone. “This represents a high degree of uncertainty about whether coal will stay robust in the future.”

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Ahead of IPCC report, fossil-fuel groups organize climate denial campaign

tiny man, huge megaphone
Shutterstock
If only they would shut up.

Watch out: A tsunami of stupidity is due to crash over the world next Friday.

That's when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release a summary of its big new climate assessment report, the first since 2007. But that's not the stupid part.

A global campaign funded by fossil-fuel interests has been steadily building to discredit the report. That's where the stupidity comes in. From The Guardian:

Organisations that dismiss the science behind climate change and oppose curbs on greenhouse gas pollution have made a big push to cloud the release of the IPCC report, the result of six years of work by hundreds of scientists.

Those efforts this week extended to promoting the fiction of a recovery in the decline of Arctic sea ice.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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California wins right to clamp down on carbon from gasoline, diesel

Gas pumps
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Pick your poison. Whatever your choice, it'll be cleaner in California.

California can finally begin forcing producers, refiners, and importers of gasoline and diesel to reduce their effect on the climate following a legal victory on Wednesday.

The state began crafting its Low Carbon Fuel Standard [PDF] in 2007 -- an effort to reduce the carbon footprint of fuels sold in the state by 10 percent. The carbon footprint is calculated by considering a wide array of factors, such as transportation of the fuels to gas stations and ways in which various biofuels are cultivated.

Energy interests sued, claiming out-of-state producers were put at an unfair disadvantage because importing fuel into California increased their climate impacts. And in 2011 they won -- a federal judge in Fresno said the fuel standard violated the Constitution's commerce clause. But on Wednesday that ruling was tossed out with a 2-1 decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. From the L.A. Times:

The decision allows the California Air Resources Board to begin implementing the law and restores the state's ability to punish fuel wholesalers and refineries that sell gasoline or biofuels with carbon footprints that exceed California's guidelines.