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Canadian tar-sands exec: ‘We do need Keystone’

Tar sands developments such as this one, in Northern Alberta, could be expanded if Keystone XL is approved.
Shutterstock / Christopher Kolaczan
Tar-sands developments such as this one, in northern Alberta, could be expanded if Keystone XL is approved.

The U.S. State Department has curiously asserted that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline wouldn't significantly affect the development of tar-sands fields in Alberta, Canada. But that assertion is being contradicted by a big player in the Canadian tar-sands industry.

Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd., told the Toronto Globe and Mail that "we do need Keystone" to be built if the industry is to increase its oil extraction in Alberta. Here's the quote in the context of the article:

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Hawaii could be hit by more hurricanes as climate changes

Hurricane Iniki performed a historically rare feat when it made landfall on Kauai in September 1992
NOAA via University of Hawaii
Hurricane Iniki performed a rare feat when it made landfall on Kauai in September 1992.

Despite living on a mere smattering of volcanic rocks in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, Hawaiians haven't needed to worry too much about hurricanes. Just two such storms have hit the state in the past 30 years. But as the climate is changing, so too are the hurricane dangers facing the Aloha State.

New research suggests that the Pacific Ocean hurricanes of the future will be more rare than they are today, but the occasional ones that do get whipped into existence will be stronger and will wander farther across the sea. The number of such storms making it all the way to Hawaii is set to double or perhaps triple by the end of the century, according to a new paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change.

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Why haven’t the big green groups divested from fossil fuels?

dollar bill dripping with oil
Dirty money.

Colleges and universities have started to do it. Cities like San Francisco and Seattle have started to do it. But many of the biggest environmental and conservation groups in the U.S. still haven't made any moves to dump their investments in oil, gas, and coal companies, reports Naomi Klein in The Nation:

One would assume that green groups would want to make absolutely sure that the money they have raised in the name of saving the planet is not being invested in the companies whose business model requires cooking said planet, and which have been sabotaging all attempts at serious climate action for more than two decades.

But in some cases at least, that was a false assumption. ...

Conservation International, notorious for its partnerships with oil companies and other bad actors (the CEO of Northrop Grumman is on its board, for God’s sake), has close to $22 million invested in publicly traded securities and, according to a spokesperson, “We do not have any explicit policy prohibiting investment in energy companies.” The same goes for the Ocean Conservancy, which has $14.4 million invested in publicly traded securities, including hundreds of thousands in “energy,” “materials” and “utilities” holdings. A spokesperson confirmed in writing that the organization does “not have an environmental or social screen investment policy.”

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Will natural-gas cars start to catch on?

Honda's natural gas-powered Civic.
Wikipedia / Mariordo
Honda's natural-gas-powered Civic.

Could the U.S. boom in natural gas lead to a boom in natural-gas cars? It can cost as little as $1 a gallon to fill them up in the U.S., says Bloomberg Businessweek, and there could be 25 million of them on roads worldwide by 2019.

To provide demand for a swelling supply of natural gas, the rush is on for investors, entrepreneurs, and the auto and energy industries to figure out how to power our transportation fleet with this abundant and relatively cleaner-burning fuel. Bloomberg reports:

Commercial vehicles, which generally rack up two or more times the annual mileage of consumer cars, are going first. In the last year many companies, including GE, UPS, FedEx, AT&T, PepsiCo, and Waste Management, the biggest trash hauler in the U.S., have announced plans to begin or expand conversions of their fleets to natural gas. Cities such as Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Fort Worth, Dallas, and San Francisco all have CNG [compressed natural gas] bus fleets. Large fleets of airport shuttles are converting as well.

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Study: When Republicans understand climate science, they support climate action

What happens when Republicans start to understand climate change?
Shutterstock
What happens when Republicans start to understand climate change?

Republican voters are told over and over by Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and GOP leaders in Congress that climate change is a sham, a scare campaign orchestrated by scientists with liberal agendas. Ergo, Republicans are less likely than others to believe that fossil-fuel burning is changing the climate. It stands to reason, therefore, that they are less likely to support efforts to tackle the problem.

But once Republicans come to understand that the world is indeed imperiled by global warming, they begin to support government actions to try to rein in greenhouse gas emissions.

That's the conclusion of a new study published in the journal Climatic Change. Researchers analyzed the results of a 2012 Gallup poll that asked around 1,000 Americans about their climate change views. From a Michigan State University press release:

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Big Coal loses out in Indiana, despite employing two state lawmakers

Matt Ubelhor is a Peabody Energy executive and an Indiana lawmakers. Where do his allegiances lie?
Indiana state
Rep. Matt Ubelhor moonlights as a Peabody Energy employee. Or is it the other way around?

Tough break for the coal industry in Indiana. Plans to build a $2.8 billion plant in Rockport to convert coal into synthetic natural gas have been doomed by new safeguards that protect ratepayers.

That's despite the best efforts of two senior coal industry executives who serve as lawmakers in the state legislature. There, they had tried, unethically and unsuccessfully, to prevent their colleagues from imposing the new standards, which will protect the state's gas and electricity customers from being ripped off.

Former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’ (R) administration signed a deal with the plant developers in 2011, which Indiana University researchers found would leave the state's ratepayers on the hook for all of the financial risks associated with the project. The researchers concluded [PDF] that the project would hurt the state's economy in the long run.

The deal was negotiated when natural gas prices were much higher than they are today, and when coal-to-gas technology was seen as being more lucrative. A court has ordered that the contract must be amended, and the newly approved state legislation will trigger a tough review before any amended deal can be signed.

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Weird wintry weather and the climate-change link

May snow in Boulder, Colo.
Kara Brugman
May snow in Boulder, Colo.

It was high time to pass around a few cold ones in the shade of an awning in Amarillo, Texas, just a few days ago. Now it's time to hunker inside, drink whiskey neat, and play charades.

The city broke a heat record on April 30, reaching a scorching hot 97 degrees. Then it got hit by unseasonably cold weather that has swept through the nation's heartland. A couple days after reaching 97, the temperature bottomed out at 33 degrees, with the cold snap bringing some snow.

The topsy-turvy weather in Amarillo is emblematic of the climatic incoherence reigning across the country. The coasts are basking in spring weather while the Rockies, Great Plains, and Midwest are being smacked by snow storms.

The unseasonably late chill appears to be one of many symptoms of the changing climate. But before we dive into that, let's take a look at the extraordinary weather pummeling the Midwest. From The Weather Channel:

Read more: Climate & Energy

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Court says N.Y. town can outlaw fracking

A bridge out of Dryden, N.Y. Frackers are welcome to take it.
Russ Nelson
A bridge leading out of Dryden, N.Y. Frackers are welcome to use it.

A small New York town prevailed Thursday in a court battle against the energy industry, which wants to frack the ground beneath the townsfolk's feet despite a local law that forbids the practice.

A moratorium is in place on fracking in New York, but Dryden and dozens of other municipalities around the state have passed local ordinances banning the practice in case the state prohibition is lifted. Drillers argued in court that the town's fracking ban violated state law (a law unrelated to the moratorium), and that they should be allowed to drill for gas there despite the locals' wishes.

A state trial court judge ruled last year in favor of Dryden. That ruling was appealed, and, on Thursday, Dryden, with the support of public-interest law firm Earthjustice, prevailed again in a state appeals court. Attorneys for Norwegian company Norse Energy Corp. vowed to appeal the latest ruling to a higher state court. That means the dozens of local fracking bans in New York aren't safe just yet -- but the two legal victories so far are a  promising sign.

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Fracking threatens to escalate the West’s water wars

dry lakebed
Patrick Emerson

One of fracking's few but feverishly touted upsides is that the natural-gas boom it's spurred could help America move toward energy independence; it's a crucial piece of Obama's “all-of-the-above” energy strategy. But in building up our fuel supply, fracking threatens our supply of another crucial natural resource – water.

A new report from nonprofit Ceres (which maintains a neutral position on fracking in general) reveals that nearly half of the country's fracking wells are located in water-stressed regions -- in particular Texas and Colorado, where 92 percent of fracking wells are in extremely high-water-stress regions. Ceres compiled its report using data from the World Resources Institute -- which considers an area extremely water-stressed if 80 percent of its available water supply is already allocated for municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses -- and FracFocus.org, a voluntary national registry of fracking wells' locations and water usage.

FracFocus shows that between January 2011 and September 2012, the 25,450 wells in its database used 65.8 billion gallons of water, or the amount of water 2.5 million Americans use in a year. Because the site doesn't have data for every single well in the country, fracking's total water impact is likely even higher.

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Atlantic coastal waters are the hottest since measurements began

A view of warming waters, from Cape Cod
Shutterstock
A view of warming waters, from Cape Cod.

Would you like some broiled flounder with your serving of climate apocalypse?

Well, you're going to have to broil it yourself, because record-breaking temperatures in the Atlantic Ocean are driving the fish away from fast-heating waters toward more hospitable depths and latitudes.

The Atlantic Ocean's surface temperatures from Maine to North Carolina broke records last year, reaching an average of 57.2°F, nearly three degrees warmer than the average of the past 30 years.

That's according to new data published by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which says the jump in average temperature from 2011 to 2012 was the largest recorded one-year spike in the marine region, which is known as the Northeast Shelf Ecosystem. Last year's average temperature was also the highest recorded there since measurements began 150 years ago.

Read more: Climate & Energy