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Thu, 2014-08-07 10:56Mike G
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Four Years Later, Systemic Failures That Led To Gas Pipeline Explosion Revealed

Last Monday, the mayor of San Bruno stood on the steps of the California Public Utilities Commission offices in San Francisco and called for a complete overhaul of the state agency, including the firing of key CPUC officials.

The next day, a federal grand jury indicted PG&E on charges related to its handling of the 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that destroyed 38 homes and killed eight people.

Mayor Jim Ruane says that emails exchanged between staff at the CPUC and employees of PG&E in the wake of the disaster show that a far-too-cozy relationship exists between the state agency and the public utility it is supposed to regulate.

PG&E has made illegal efforts to influence the CPUC decisions makers to protect the utility's financial interests,” Ruane said. “Sadly and shockingly, the CPUC has participated in the illegal conduct.”

Some 7,000 pages of emails were released to San Bruno by the CPUC only after the city filed a lawsuit to gain access to the documents.

City manager Connie Jackson says that the emails provide further evidence to support the official conclusions of the investigation carried out by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

“The NTSB produced a report within one year of the explosion that exhaustively demonstrated a number of conclusions and recommendations for correction in the wake of the explosion,” Jackson says. “And among the things they identified as a key causal factor related to the explosion was what they described as a too-cozy relationship between the regulator and the utility. These emails demonstrate that that is in fact true.”

Specifically, Jackson says that CPUC President Mike Peevey engaged in illegal ex parte communications with PG&E. “We are continuing to call for the removal, or minimally the recusal, of President Peevey,” Jackson says.

Peevey is not alone in being implicated for having engaged in illegal communications with PG&E employees who were responsible for the company's response to the disaster. As KTVU reported, one email, “from no less than PG&E's head of regulatory relations to a CPUC administrative law judge, ends with 'love you.'”

Tue, 2014-08-05 17:11Mike G
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Nearly 70% Of Minority Voters In US Want Immediate Action on Climate

A poll commissioned by Green For All and released last week found that 68% of minority voters in key battleground states see climate change as an immediate threat that needs to be dealt with now.

Some 70% said they are more likely to vote for candidates “willing to expand resources to tackle the issue and grow new industries over those arguing that addressing climate change will cost jobs and hurt our economy.”

Just how that compares to the rest of the population is difficult to determine, but it is clear that that's a higher rate of concern about the climate than the American population at large.

A Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this year found that just 29% of Americans felt climate change should be a top priority for President Obama and Congress, ranking it second to last out of 20 issues tested.

While the Green For All poll doesn't speak directly to the question of why minorities might be more likely to be concerned about climate change and other environmental problems like air and water pollution, executive director Nikki Silvestri says, “We understand the urgency of these threats because we experience the effects every single day.”

Indeed, 68% of African Americans live within 30 miles of a coal-fired power plant, compared to 56% of white Americans. 

Fri, 2014-08-01 06:00Mike G
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Fracking Is Making California’s Drought Worse, Say Activists

California is in the middle of an epic water shortage, with nearly 80% of the state experiencing “extreme or exceptional” drought conditions. Check out this animated map to get a sense of how extensively the drought has impacted the Golden State.

Things have gotten so bad that California enlisted Lady Gaga to record a public service announcement (PSA)

Given the situation, anti-fracking activists say it’s time for Governor Jerry Brown to put a stop to water-intensive fracking, claiming that the controversial oil and gas production method is exacerbating the problem.

“We’re talking about a triple threat to our water from fracking,” says Adam Scow, the California Director for Food & Water Watch.

The first threat: The fracking process requires a lot of water, which then becomes unsuitable for any other use.

While it’s true that fracking in California doesn’t require as much water as it does in Texas and Pennsylvania, Scow contends that any amount lost to fracking is unacceptable: “In the middle of the worst drought in 50 years, they’re taking 140,000 to 150,000 gallons of water out of the water cycle per frack job. They’re destroying that amount of water on a daily basis.”

It’s also possible that fracking fluid could leach into underground aquifers, and of course the toxic wastewater left over from fracking has to be disposed of somehow — and therein lies the second threat to California’s water supply.

The California Department of Gas and Geothermal Resources (known as DOGGR) recently ordered 11 fracked wells shut down over fears that they were contaminating potential sources of potable water. As many as 100 other fracking sites are under review, as well.


An unlined pit of unknown neon green fluid leading to a fracking injection well. This pit is in the middle of almond fields and chicken coops. Photo by Brooke Anderson.

Sun, 2014-07-27 09:00Mike G
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New Mexico Residents Fighting Back Against Kinder Morgan CO2 Pipeline With Their Own Health Impact Assessment

Not many locals even knew the Bureau of Land Management was holding a scoping meeting in Mountainair, New Mexico last December for the proposed Lobos CO2 Pipeline that would run through their community.

When the people of Mountainair did find out about what was proposed that day, many had concerns. BLM officials had laid out the route preferred by Kinder Morgan, which aims to build the 213-mile-long pipeline to get CO2 from Apache County, Arizona to Torrance County, New Mexico. From there, the Lobos CO2 pipeline would connect with the Cortez pipeline to deliver CO2 to oil wells in Texas. The route crosses tribal, private, state, and federal lands.

That’s when the locals started organizing themselves under the name Resistiendo: Resist the Lobos CO2 Pipeline. They networked with other concerned folks in the region, they packed a public information meeting in January, they submitted hundreds of comments pointing out a number of issues with the route: it would disrupt a sensitive desert ecosystem; a spill in the Rio Grande River would be disastrous for silvery minnow populations; it could impact nearby Native American cultural sites, including Salinas Pueblo Missions National Monument; it crossed agricultural lands; in some cases, the route proposed by the company passed within just 100 feet of people’s homes.

Kinder Morgan wasn’t making any friends by throwing around threats to use eminent domain against landowners who refused to let the company’s workers survey their land. And many locals felt the BLM was not on their side.

“It felt like the BLM were advocates for Kinder Morgan, that this was a done deal and just the particulars needed to be worked out,” says Linda Filippi, who works with Resistiendo.

Local activists were forced to find another way of making their voices heard. Together with the Partnership for a Healthy Torrance Community and the New Mexico Department of Health, the group is working with an outside firm, Human Impact Partners of Oakland, California, to perform their own Health Impact Assessment (HIA) as a supplement to the BLM’s environmental impact statement (EIS).

Local activists conducting their own health assessment on a project that will impact their community is a novel but potentially effective way of reclaiming, at least in part, a review process that often favors polluter interests over people and planet.

Fri, 2014-07-25 13:00Mike G
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States Led By Climate Deniers Stand To Gain The Most From New EPA Carbon Rule

A rising tide lifts all boats — even boats that, contrary to all evidence, openly doubt the moon's gravitational influence.

A new study released by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the Rhodium Group concludes that the EPA's proposed carbon rules for existing power plants will benefit states like Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma the most — states where climate denial is not just rampant but often a policy officially boosted by high-ranking officials.

In fact, Texas Governor Rick Perry, who once dismissed climate change as a “contrived phony mess that is falling apart,” led a group of Republican governors in blasting the EPA's regulation, which assigns states greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets and mandates that they devise a plan for achieving those cuts.

The group sent a letter to President Obama decrying the regulations as bad for the economy. “This is such a dangerous overreach in terms of the potential threat to our economy,” Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal said.

But as the New York Times reports:

The study… concluded that the regulation would cut demand for electricity from coal — the nation’s largest source of carbon pollution — but create robust new demand for natural gas, which has just half the carbon footprint of coal. It found that the demand for natural gas would, in turn, drive job creation, corporate revenue and government royalties in states that produce it, which, in addition to Oklahoma and Texas, include Arkansas and Louisiana.


States like Wyoming and Kentucky that have economies still largely dependent on coal production will certainly take a hit. But these are the growing pains of the emerging clean energy economy, and polls show not only that a “lopsided and bipartisan majority of Americans support federal limits on greenhouse gas emissions” but also that Americans are “willing to stomach a higher energy bill to pay for it.”

Mon, 2014-07-21 14:07Mike G
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California Orders Emergency Shutdown Of Fracking Wastewater Injection Sites Over Fears of Contaminated Aquifers

California officials ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites in Kern County earlier this month, fearing they may be contaminating sources of drinking water that are sorely needed in the drought-stricken state.

No contamination has actually been found in any drinking or irrigation water, but, according to The Bakersfield Californian, “Pollution has not been ruled out… as regulators conduct site inspections and await test results and other information from the companies” that were operating the injection sites.

State officials are reviewing not just the 11 wells that were ordered to be shut down but as many as 100 more in northeast and east Bakersfield, CA over fears that fracking fluids and “produced waters” (the toxic and potentially radioactive fluids that come up with oil) may be leeching into potential sources of potable water.


As ProPublica reported, California's Division of Oil and Gas and Geothermal Resources issued the shutdown orders on July 7 to seven different energy companies, saying that they may have injected wastewater into aquifers that could be a source of drinking water, which “poses danger to life, health, property, and natural resources.”

A review of wastewater injections sites is long overdue in California. The state had exempted as many as 100 aquifers from environmental protection after they were found to contain water unfit for consumption or to be too deep to make their use feasible. But a 2011 report released by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found significant shortcomings with how the state was managing its wastewater injection program:

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