Tagged: pollution

Massive dead zones threaten the Atlantic Ocean

Dead zones in the Atlantic — so called because their lack of oxygen can’t sustain life — have been seen for the first time by scientists.

These areas of extremely low oxygen occurred in the tropical North Atlantic. The levels of oxygen were the lowest ever recorded in the open Atlantic. And while some microorganisms can live in these zones, most sea life can’t, which could lead to massive fish kills…

The oxygen levels found in the open North Atlantic had about 1/2 the concentrations scientists expected to see, lead-author Johannes Karstensen said…

Most dead zones are found near inhabited coastlines, after rivers carry fertilizers and other chemicals that cause algae blooms. When the algae die, they’re decomposed by bacteria that take up the oxygen.

The Atlantic dead zones, by contrast, appear to form in large (60 to 100 miles) eddies, “with the dead zone taking up the upper 100 meters or so,” explains Karstensen, a researcher at GEOMAR, the Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, in Kiel, Germany.

“The fast rotation of the eddies makes it very difficult to exchange oxygen across the boundary between the rotating current and the surrounding ocean. Moreover, the circulation creates a very shallow layer — of a few tens of meters — on top of the swirling water that supports intense plant growth similar to coastal algae blooms,” Karstensen said. “From our measurements, we estimated that the oxygen consumption within the eddies is some five times larger than in normal ocean conditions.”

“Given that the few dead zones we observed propagated less than 100 kilometers north of the Cape Verde archipelago, it is not unlikely that an open-ocean dead zone will hit the islands at some point. This could cause the coast to be flooded with low-oxygen water, which may put severe stress on the coastal ecosystems and may even provoke fish kills and the die-off of other marine life.”

But, hey, as long as there’s sufficient cheap labor available from the local unemployed to clean the hulls of every Cruise Line skyscraper pulling into souvenir harbors – why worry?

Obama tightens regulations on fracking chemicals disclosure – sort of

The Obama administration said Friday it is requiring companies that drill for oil and natural gas on federal lands to disclose chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing operations.

A rule to take effect in June also updates requirements for well construction and disposal of water and other fluids used in fracking, a drilling method that has prompted an ongoing boom in natural gas production.

The rule has been under consideration for more than three years, drawing criticism from the oil and gas industry and environmental groups. The industry fears the regulation could hinder the drilling boom, while some environmental groups worry that it could allow unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.

What crap writing/editing. It’s the absence of regulations that allows unsafe drilling techniques to pollute groundwater.

The final rule hews closely to a draft that has lingered since the Obama administration proposed it in May 2013. The rule relies on an online database used by at least 16 states to track the chemicals used in fracking operations. The website, FracFocus.org, was formed by industry and intergovernmental groups in 2011 and allows users to gather well-specific data on tens of thousands of drilling sites across the country.

Companies will have to disclose the chemicals they use within 30 days of the fracking operation.

While the new rule only applies to federal land – which makes up just one-tenth of natural gas drilling in the United States – the Obama administration is hoping the rule will serve as a model and set a new standard for hydraulic fracturing that states and other regulators will follow.

Brian Deese, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said…“Ultimately, this is an issue that is going to be decided in state capitals and localities as well as with the industry,” he said…

Thomas Pyle, president of the pro-industry Institute for Energy Research, said blah, blah, blah.

The League of Conservation Voters called the bill an important step forward to regulate fracking.

Even so, the group was disappointed with the continued reliance on FracFocus, which a spokeswoman described as an industry-run website.

Participation in FracFocus is voluntarily. So, the creeps using deleterious chemicals simply don’t participate.

FracFocus, right now, displays info on fewer than 95,000 oil and gas wells. The industry admits to approximately 441,000 fracked gas wells alone.

After three years of introspection, investigation and time-wasting the White House proposes tightening of regulations based on info from a single voluntary website. No requirements for compliance. And the regulations only apply to federal lands.

Window dressing.

The rest is left in the hands of state legislatures who will use their God-given states rights – and motivational handouts from oil and gas lobbyists – to do absolutely nothing.

Bridger’s Poplar pipeline spills into the Yellowstone River

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 9.33.56 PM
Bridger LLC – “We are committed to environmetal stewardship”

Bridger Pipeline LLC said on Monday it has shut the 42,000 barrel per day Poplar pipeline system after a weekend breach that sent as much as 1,200 barrels of crude oil into the Yellowstone River near Glendive, Montana.

The company said crews are now cleaning up the site after the leak on Saturday morning. Bridger estimates between 300 and 1,200 barrels spilled but could not say how much of the light crude flowed into the river.

The pipeline system runs from the Canadian border to Baker, Montana, where it meets the Butte pipeline. The Poplar system gathers crude from Bakken producers in eastern Montana and North Dakota. The company cannot yet say when the line will reopen or what caused the leak…

The spill is the second in the river in recent years. In 2011, Exxon Mobil Corp’s 40,000 bpd Silvertip pipeline in Montana ruptured underneath the river, releasing more than 1,000 barrels of crude and costing the company about $135 million to clean up…

Yup. The Yellowatone is a lovely river to fish. When you’re not concerned if the oil coating the fish is something other than olive oil.

When Reuters rolled out this article at 4:13 EST, they said no municipalities reported any problems with their water supplies. Well – the EPA has now shut down the water supply system for the town of Glendive, There is oil pollution in that system,, Federal, state and local agencies are working to secure a separate clean water supply for residents until the system can be flushed – and clean water from the river is available.

The screen shot at the top is from Bridger’s website. No mention of any oil spill in the Yellowstone River,

400ppm CO2 milestone already passed in the start of 2015


NASA’s Suomi NPP satellite photo

The new year has only just begun, but we’ve already recorded our first days with average carbon dioxide levels above 400 parts per million, potentially leading to many months in a row above this threshold, experts say.

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography records of atmospheric carbon dioxide levels show that Jan. 1 was the first day of the new year above that concentration, followed by Jan. 3 and Jan. 7. Daily averages have continued at this level or higher through Jan. 9, though they could continue to dance up and down around that mark due to day-to-day variations caused by weather systems. But even with those fluctuations, 2015 will likely see many months above 400 ppm, possibly starting with the very first month of the year…

The 400 ppm mark was first passed on May 9, 2013. In 2014, it happened two months earlier, in March. The average CO2 concentrations for March, April and June 2014 were all above 400 ppm, the first time that has been recorded. The peak CO2 measurement of 2014 was just shy of 402 ppm in May.

While the 400 ppm mark is somewhat symbolic (as the increase in warming between 399 ppm and 400 ppm is small), it is a large increase from pre-industrial CO2 concentrations, which were around 280 ppm. The progressively earlier occurrence of these high CO2 levels — not seen in somewhere between 800,000 and 15 million years — points to the inexorable buildup of heat-trapping gas in the atmosphere as human emissions continue unabated.

That increase in CO2 and other greenhouse gases has raised Earth’s average temperature by 1.6°F since the beginning of the 20th century. Some scientists say that to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, that warming needs to stay under 2°C, or 3.6°F…

The world’s plants can only pull so much CO2 out of the atmosphere in a given season, while human emissions keep rising. This is leaving an excess of about 2 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere every year, meaning the 400 ppm mark will keep occurring earlier and earlier. In just a year or two, carbon dioxide levels will likely be about 400 ppm year-round.

But, hey, Congressional Republicans, Tea Party Know-Nothings and other intellectual failures keep telling the world, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy!” Corporate profits are up. The four or five biggest banks in America need new wheelbarrows to truck their cash around.

And nothing else matters.

If North Dakota oil wells had a mirror image aboveground…

ND oil in the air
…This is what it would look like — Click to enlarge

More than 11,000 oil wells have been drilled in North Dakota since 2006, covering the state’s agricultural landscape. In all, almost 40,000 miles of well bores have been drilled underground to connect the fracking operations to surface wells. Laid end to end, they would circle the Earth about one and a half times.

On Sunday, The New York Times published a monthslong investigation by Deborah Sontag and Robert Gebeloff into North Dakota’s conflicted relationship with its booming oil industry. In the process of reporting that article, we obtained the locations of every oil drilling line of every well in the state.

The precise depths and directions of these remain out of sight for a very obvious reason: The drilling lines are underground. Here, we change that.

The illustrations shown here are accurate in every respect except one: We changed the vertical direction of each oil well bore to go above ground instead of below it. Otherwise, every bore line is shown precisely how it’s described by North Dakota’s Department of Mineral Resources.

Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy over lowered gasoline prices we’re all getting to enjoy. Why worry about air pollution when you can get in your car and drive to every sale in every brick-and-mortar store in your county over the weekend?

However – given my personal experience working for some of these profit-hungry creeps now awash in dollars as much as they are in oil – I could drive you into North Dakota blindfolded. And with the windows open in my pickup, you could tell when we were entering that oil field by the smell of what used to be clean air.

Oil spill and fire from derailed train in downtown Lynchburg, Virginia


About 15 train tanker cars carrying crude oil derailed Wednesday afternoon in Lynchburg, Va., plunging several of them into the James River, sparking a massive fire and spilling oil.

The derailment prompted evacuations in the downtown district near the railway for hours until the massive fire that spewed black, acrid smoke was extinguished. There were no reports of injuries or damage to nearby buildings.

Downstream more than 100 miles, a spokeswoman for the city of Richmond said utility officials stopped capturing water from the river as a precaution until the extent of environmental damage caused by the oil spill became clear. Instead, Richmond is relying on a backup canal for water…

CSX Transportation, which operated the Chicago-to-Virginia freight train, said the fire erupted from three punctured cars after the 2:30 p.m. derailment. In a statement, the company said it was sending safety and environmental experts to the scene…

Wednesday’s fire is the latest in a series involving trains carrying crude oil as the nation’s drilling boom fuels a surge in oil transportation. Fearful of seeing similar accidents in their own jurisdictions, some officials have called for tougher safety regulations for freight train operators.

A significant portion of the oil-carrying rolling stock on US railroads is about as out-of-date as the ideology of politicians who fight 24/7 against modernizing our railroad system. I’m not certain why they hate railroads so much. They certainly don’t give a damn about people killed or the pollution of environments around North America as a result of their idjit mentality.

Not that the owners of railway companies are spending much – yet – on updating the ancient tankers they’re using to haul boomtown oil from the Dakotas and elsewhere.

How tech can — and can’t — solve climate change, extinction

Somewhere around two hundred thousand years ago, a new primate emerges on Earth.

“The members of the species are not particularly swift or strong or fertile,” the New Yorker’s Elizabeth Kolbert writes in her new book, “The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History.” “They are, however, singularly resourceful.”

It is, of course, us — big-brained, small-browed genetic mutants clever enough to outcompete animals ten times our size and gradually fan out across the globe.

Eventually, humankind invents axes, engines, cities and strip malls. We tear down forests and dig up fuel from the ground.

Other times we excavate out of curiosity, traveling backward in time through the records of bones, fossils and rocks that eventually give up clues to mass tragedies in the ancient past. Huge portions of the world’s creatures disappeared in a geologic blink of the eye.

In fact, five blinks — so far. The reasons aren’t always settled in science, but strong possibilities for the various mass extinctions include a dramatic release of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, climatic shifts that tipped the globe into prolonged ice ages and a gigantic asteroid strike that kicked up enormous clouds of dust.

The early part of Kolbert’s new book is an exploration of this exploration of the past, telling the stories of scientists who worked to reconstruct this grim timeline of species loss. But mostly it’s scene setting for the real subject of the book, the one telegraphed in the title: The Sixth Extinction.

The salient characteristics of the latest epoch are that we appear to be living through it now — and causing it…

That’s the start. In between the start and finish there’s lots of important science stuff.

It’s not that I have a solution I’m trying to work toward and just haven’t said what it is. I don’t have a solution. It’s possible that massive thinking and massive effort will yield, not a solution, but a much better future than the one we seem to be heading toward.

Sherwood Rowland, one of the scientists who discovered ozone depleting chemicals and who recently died, had a couple of great lines, including one I quoted in the book. “The work is going well, but it looks like it might be the end of the world…”

The politics of the discussion is simple enough:

“What’s the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we’re willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true?”

The combination of know-nothings, The Party of No, idjits and Cowardly Lions in Congress aren’t even doing that much. RTFA for lots more about the book, what can and can’t be done – you already know who needs to be thrown out of Congress and state legislatures to achieve anything more than political babble.

Pentagon says climate change is a present danger — again!

Like the Olympics and leap year, the Quadrennial Defense Review comes at us every four years. A big-picture look by the US military at the threats they see out there, the QDR [.pdf] is a broad document, but you can read in it just how big the military thinks its mission is (global dominance, really). As part of that mission, the military tries to find a way to reduce the threats it sees, but what do you do about dirty air that we all create? You can’t go and bomb the highways to stop the cars from polluting.

The QDR is a straight shooter when it comes to climate change. It warns of devastation to “homes, land, and infrastructure” thanks to climate change, as well as threats to water and food supplies. The QDR says:

Climate change poses another significant challenge for the United States and the world at large. … The pressures caused by climate change will influence resource competition while placing additional burdens on economies, societies, and governance institutions around the world. These effects are threat multipliers that will aggravate stressors abroad such as poverty, environmental degradation, political instability, and social tensions – conditions that can enable terrorist activity and other forms of violence.

Note the complete lack of political equivocating. Climate change is a serious problem, the Pentagon says. That’s a refreshing change from most of what comes out of DC, but it is awfully similar to what the QDR said in the 2010 version.

There is no mention of bombing highways, but the QDR does say the Department of Defense, “will employ creative ways to address the impact of climate change.” As we’ve seen in the past, the DoD has expressed an interest in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicles, but those purchases may have been made for more financial reasons. As clear as the DoD is on the affects of climate change, it is also familiar with paying up to $400 for a gallon of gas in certain situations, so any reduction in fuel use can be good for the air and the defense budget.

We can expect this to have the same effect on Congress as acid rain rolling off a Confederate tin roof. Tea Bag Republicans and Blue Dog Democrats dedicate about as much time to sound science as the average drug dealer does to reading up on the dangers of hydrocodone.

Still – this is another tool for the oh-so-slowly expanding number of courageous progressive voices who’ve managed to tuck into some corner of elected officialdom. Who knows? One of these days a significant number of Americans may wander into the pages, page-views or news segments that make it onto cable TV or a corner of the Web that actually considers science of more use than a rain dance in Tucson. They may even be old enough to vote and living in a state where that is still permitted.

NC grand jury launches criminal probe of coal ash spill


Click to enlarge — Coal ash swirling in the Dan RiverAP Photo/Gerry Broome

The pressure on Duke Energy over its coal ash practices has intensified as federal authorities revealed a criminal investigation of a “suspected felony” surrounding a Feb. 2 ash spill on North Carolina’s Dan River.

Duke and the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources confirmed Thursday that they were subpoenaed to produce records before a federal grand jury that will meet in Raleigh next month.

The DENR subpoena demanded documents, including correspondence with Duke, since January 2010. It seeks records linked to the broken stormwater pipe that funneled up to 39,000 tons of ash – Duke’s updated estimate – and on other discharges and seepage from the site.

A criminal prosecution under the Clean Water Act could expose its target, including individuals, to fines triple the size of civil penalties, environmental law experts say, and potentially send somebody to prison.

Winning a conviction, they say, would hinge on whether the government could show prior knowledge of laws being broken or negligence…

Lawsuits DENR filed last year against Duke, under pressure from environmental groups, say the company broke the law with illegal discharges from its ash ponds at all 14 coal-fired power plants in North Carolina.

That’s proof that both the state and Duke knew of violations at the Dan River plant, said Frank Holleman, an attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center. The center represents advocacy groups, including the Charlotte-based Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation, that have challenged Duke over ash in court…

Duke stores 106 million tons of ash at its North Carolina plants, including 84 million tons in ponds. The company actively used 13 active ash ponds in the state as of November, and had 18 more that were semi-active or retired…

Duke’s critics have blamed both Duke and DENR under Gov. Pat McCrory, a former Duke executive, for not aggressively addressing ash problems.

The election reform group Democracy North Carolina reported Thursday that, as Duke faced state lawsuits over ash last year, the company contributed more than $400,000 to state and national political committees for Republican lawmakers, including McCrory.

Yes, election reform means follow the money and shut off the spigot. Corporations intent on maximizing profits don’t really care which of the two parties they’re buying off.

It’s useful to have close allies like the Republican Party in power. They probably won’t have to pay as much for the pimping that takes place. But, a significant chunk of our career politicians can’t be trusted to carry a glass of water to a puppy dying of thirst – without charging a little extra for their effort, setting a little aside for lobbying about drinking water when they leave office.