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Birthday, it’s ya birthday: Fracking technology turns 65

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Gather round, ladies and gentlemen, for today the technology behind hydraulic fracturing turns 65. We’d personally like to take this moment to remind all the fracking wells out there that they’re now eligible for a free beverage at Taco Bell. Get that Pepsi, girl! The American Petroleum Institute has thoughtfully organized a publicity campaign around this momentous occasion. In the spirit of birthdays being the time of year that we lie to ourselves to feel better about our lives, API’s "happy birthday, fracking!" press release is basically chock-full of fun falsehoods: “Americans have long been energy pioneers, from the 1800’s …

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Alabama wetland still infested with oil, four months after train accident

Aftermath of a arain derailment in Alabama
Public Herald
Cleaning up this oily mess turned out to be hard, so it looks like the railroad pretty much gave up.

The derailment and explosion of a train passing through Alabama wetlands in November helped bring attention to the dangers of hauling oil by rail. But the mess left behind after the explosion has been largely ignored.

The Associated Press recently visited the derailment site near the town of Aliceville and found "dark, smelly crude oil still oozing into the water." Waters around the oil spill's epicenter are lined with floating booms to help prevent the spread of surface oil, but environmentalists have detected toxic chemicals from the oil flowing downstream. And questions have been raised about a decision to rebuild damaged tracks without first removing all the oil that surrounded them. Here's more from the story:

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Judge rejects latest Koch-led bid to snuff out Cape Wind

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Wind won, and Bill Koch took another one in the crotch.

A U.S. District Court judge rejected a long-running legal effort by the Koch-funded Alliance for Nantucket Sound and other groups to strip the planned Cape Wind energy farm of its federal approvals, which have taken more than a decade to secure. Bill, a lesser-known Koch brother, has spent millions leading a battle against construction of the 130-turbine offshore wind array, which he says would mar his views of Nantucket Sound.

The alliance had alleged a laundry list of shortcomings in the federal government's approval process. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, this was the alliance's 15th legal challenge to the project, and the 15th to fail.

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I see London, I can't see France

Paris bans cars, makes transit free to fight air pollution

Paris skyline
Evan Bench

Air pollution is about as romantic as wilted flowers, chapped lips, and corked wine, so the record-setting smog that has settled over the City of Love in the past few days is definitely dampening the mood.

Unseasonably warm weather has triggered unprecedented air pollution levels in Paris. Over the weekend, the city responded by offering free public transportation and bike sharing. (Similar measures were taken throughout nearby Belguim, which also reduced speed limits.) But that wasn't enough to fix the problem, so Paris and 22 surrounding areas are taking more extreme steps, banning nearly half of vehicles from their roads.

Private cars and motorcycles with even registration numbers will be barred from the streets on Monday. Unless the air quality improves quickly and dramatically, odd registration numbers will be banned from the roads on Tuesday. Electric vehicles and hybrids will be exempted, as will any cars carrying at least three people. About 700 police officers will be stationed at checkpoints, handing out $31 (€22) fines to violators.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Will frackers cause California’s next big earthquake?

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The Ring of Fire, an earthquake-prone area around the edges of the Pacific Ocean, might not be the best spot for earth-rumbling fracking practices. But fracking is exploding in the ringside state of California, raising fears that the industry could trigger the next "big one."

More than half of the 1,553 active wastewater injection wells used by frackers in California are within 10 miles of a seismic fault that has ruptured within the past two centuries, according to a jarring new report. The fracking industry's habit of injecting its wastewater underground has been linked to earthquakes. (And Ohio officials are investigating whether fracking itself was enough to trigger temblors early this week.)

From the report:

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shakyground.org

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Blacking out America would be a cinch, because there’s not enough distributed solar

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Crippling America's old-fashioned electrical grid for a long period of time would be disturbingly easy. Saboteurs need only wait for a heat wave, and then knock out a factory plus a small number of the 55,000 electric-transmission substations that are scattered throughout the country.

That's according to the findings of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission analysis. "Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer," wrote FERC officials in a memo for a former chair of the agency.

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When in drought, Californian salmon take to the road

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Spring is typically the time when salmon in Northern California hightail it to the Pacific via freshwater streams. But now that the usual thoroughfares are starting to dry up, thanks to this winter's epic drought, U.S. Fish and Wildlife suggest the salmon do what Californians do best: Take the freeway.

Despite the recent storms, the state’s snowpack is still critically low, and unless this year's April showers are more like April monsoons it’s likely that rivers will still be too warm and shallow for salmon to make it from hatchery to sea for their seasonal spring migration. To get them over this hurdle, as many as 30 million fish will be loaded up on tanker trucks and driven the three hours between hatcheries near Red Bluff to San Pablo Bay.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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EPA gives BP a big “welcome back” kiss

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Congratulations and best wishes are in order for BP. The federal government has decided that the Gulf-wrecking corporation was rehabilitated during less than 16 months in the reformatory and is now ready to be released back into American society.

Of course, corporations can't be jailed, so BP's punishment for its "lack of integrity" in allowing the Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill was a multibillion-dollar fine and a ban on winning any new federal contracts, both imposed in late 2012.

On Thursday, following months of legal pressure from BP, the EPA lifted the ban. Reuters has the details:

The Environmental Protection Agency and BP said they reached an agreement ending the prohibition on bidding for federal contracts on everything from fuel supply contracts to offshore leases after the company committed to a set of safety, ethical and corporate governance requirements.

Shares of BP traded in the United States rose about 1 percent to $48.09 after the close of regular trading on the New York Stock Exchange, a sign investors were hopeful the company could now try to grow its U.S. offshore operations.

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Fracking halted at Ohio site following earthquakes

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Fracking began at a well in rural eastern Ohio last month. On Monday, parts of the surrounding Mahoning County started shaking, prompting state officials to shut down the operation, fearing it was responsible for what could be an unprecedented string of earthquakes linked to natural gas extraction.

Four earthquakes with magnitudes as high as 3 were felt Monday in Poland Township and in the village of Lowellville, sparking the immediate shutdown order. Another earthquake struck on Tuesday. Ohio oil and gas inspectors have been visiting the fracking site at the Carbon Limestone Landfill in Lowellville this week, trying to figure out whether it was responsible for the temblors.

“Out of an abundance of caution," a state official said, "we notified the only oil and gas operator in the area and ordered them to halt all operations until further assessment can take place."

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Americans respond to climate change by yawning at it, poll finds

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An outbreak of climate-related yawns appears to be afflicting the country that's done more than any other to warm the planet.

The results of a Gallup survey reveal just how little climate change raises Americans' anxiety levels. The research firm called 513 Americans last week and asked them how much they worry about 15 problems facing the nation. When it came to climate change, half said "a little" or "not at all."

Read more: Climate & Energy