Disaster

Sat, 2013-11-09 11:44Sharon Kelly
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Coast Guard Proposal to Allow Barges to Haul Fracking Wastewater Draws Fire From Environmentalists

The U.S. Coast Guard released plans that would allow wastewater from shale gas to be shipped via barge in the nation’s rivers and waterways on October 30 — and those rules have kicked up a storm of controversy. The proposal is drawing fire from locals and environmentalists along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers who say the Coast Guard failed to examine the environmental impacts of a spill and is only giving the public 30 days to comment on the plan.

Three million people get their water from the Ohio River, and further downstream, millions more rely on drinking water from the Mississippi. If the Coast Guard's proposed policy is approved, barges carrying 10,000 barrels of fracking wastewater would float downstream from northern Appalachia to Ohio, Texas and Louisiana.

Environmentalists say a spill could be disastrous, because the wastewater would contaminate drinking water and the complicated brew of contaminants in fracking waste, which include corrosive salts and radioactive materials, would be nearly impossible to clean up.

The billions of gallons of wastewater from fracking represent one of the biggest bottlenecks for the shale gas industry.

States atop the Marcellus shale are brimming with the stuff. Traditionally, oil and gas wastewater is disposed by pumping it underground using wastewater disposal wells, but the underground geology of northeastern states like Pennsylvania makes this far more difficult than in states like Texas, and Ohio has suffered a spate of earthquakes that federal researchers concluded were linked to these wastewater wells. The volumes of water used by drillers for the current shale gas boom are unprecedented.

Sat, 2013-07-13 06:00Farron Cousins
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Sharknado: Do Cheesy Sci-Fi Movies Cheapen Climate Change Discussion?

If you’ve spent any time on Twitter over the last 48 hours, you’re probably aware of the made-for-TV movie Sharknado that aired on the SyFy channel Thursday night.  It is exactly what the name suggests – a tornado filled with sharks that wreaks havoc upon Los Angeles.

Those of us who watched the movie (and I admit freely that I love horrible science fiction movies), were privy to scenes of sharks exploding out of sewer grates, surfers being eaten in one bite, and the unforgettable moment where the film’s main protagonist cuts his way out of the belly of a great white with a chainsaw that he inexplicably managed to start only after being swallowed by the beast. 

The tornadoes in the film were spawned by a massive hurricane that made landfall around Santa Monica.  And if you blinked, you may have missed the part where the hurricane, the first ever to hit California according to the film, was the direct result of “global warming.”

But here’s the problem – the fact that climate change is spawning more intense hurricanes, like the one depicted in the movie, is real.  The premise of it spawning tornadoes capable of sucking up sharks and hurling them at the public is not.  They have taken a legitimate, serious issue that should be of concern to the public and turned it into a joke.

I’m sure that no one was watching SharkNado and expecting it to be enlightening or scientifically accurate.  But it has the affect of dumbing down the public discourse on a matter that is actually more frightening than a tornado filled with man-eating sharks.

Wed, 2013-01-02 11:02Farron Cousins
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Wind Tax Credit Avoids The Fall Over The Fiscal Cliff

The U.S. government has managed to postpone financial calamity for a few months with the passage of a so-called “fiscal cliff” deal.  While the deal is hardly anything to celebrate in the larger scheme of things, it did provide a one-year extension for a critical clean energy mechanism – the wind energy production tax credit.

The credit has been in jeopardy since it was first introduced, with Republicans in Washington threatening to kill the tax credit, citing its estimated cost of $12.1 billion over the next decade as too costly.  However, the credit breaks down to a mere 2.2 cents per kilowatt hour of wind energy produced in America, making it one of the cheapest subsidies approved for energy projects.

The extension of the credit comes at the perfect time, as the United Nations recently released a report detailing the ways in which climate change could cause financial disasters across the globe.

Among the more dire warnings in the U.N. report is the threat of water scarcity, which could devastate commodity markets, as agriculture would take a massive hit and crops would be decimated.  So while the United States might have postponed the drop over the fiscal cliff, the threat of the environmental and climate change cliff is very real, and very much in need of addressing. 

The wind production credit extension will keep the tax credit alive for the year 2013, which wil help wind energy companies to resume growing and to hire back workers laid off in the past year. Its fate after that remains unclear.

Tue, 2012-09-25 00:28Sharon Kelly
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Oil and Gas Leases Create Conflicts for FEMA

As the shale gas boom has brought oil and gas drilling closer and closer to home for many Americans, banking and real estate experts have found that drilling may pose significant risks involving property values, homeowners, and mortgage lenders.

New documents obtained by DeSmogBlog show that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is the latest in a string of federal agencies and other major institutions that are now contending with the drilling boom’s impacts. And some landowners in Pennsylvania are now finding out that oil and gas development in their communities can cause unexpected difficulties – leading to new headaches for families who are already dealing with catastrophe.

Since the 1980’s, FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program has worked to minimize the harms caused by disasters like floods. The program also provides help to those in areas that see frequent earthquakes or wildfires, taking measures to cut down on the harm done to people and to property.

Americans often turn to this program when their homes have been flooded again and again. It is a program of last resort, helping to pull back development from areas that are prone to disasters.

Tue, 2012-09-11 10:37Farron Cousins
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As BP Tar Balls Litter Gulf Coast, Oil Giant Sells Off Gulf Of Mexico Assets

It’s been a little over two weeks since Hurricane Isaac struck the Gulf Coast, leaving flooding and wind damage in its wake. But one of the side effects of the storm that has gone largely under-reported are the tar balls that are now littering beaches all along the Gulf Coast.

Beaches from Louisiana to Florida have seen the toxic, sticky tar balls rolling in with the surf, and while some have questioned whether the tar balls are actually from BP’s Macondo well blowout, Auburn University researchers have confirmed today that they are a match.

The tar balls began washing up only days after the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo blaming BP’s gross negligence for the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion that killed 11 men and subsequently caused close to 5 million gallons of oil to leak into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the wake of the DOJ’s accusations, and the continuous presence of tar balls that are linked directly back to BP’s negligence, it comes as no surprise that the oil giant has decided to sell off billions of dollars worth of their assets in the Gulf of Mexico.

Mon, 2012-08-13 10:04Farron Cousins
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What To Expect When You’re Electing: Representative Paul Ryan

With the selection of Wisconsin Republican Representative Paul Ryan has his running mate, Mitt Romney has effectively pushed his campaign into the climate change denying fringe. While Romney hasn’t been considered a friend of the environment since he began running for national office, his tendency towards flip-flopping made some of his more extreme, anti-environment positions rather toothless. But Paul Ryan is someone that isn’t just all talk, and what he’s saying will be a disaster for our environment.

While Ryan isn’t necessarily a complete climate science denier, he is certainly classified as a “skeptic,” and oftentimes has used anecdotal evidence to say that we’re making too much of a fuss over something that may or may not be happening.

Let’s start by following the money on Rep. Paul Ryan. Since 1989, he has received $65,500 from Koch Industries, making them his sixth largest campaign donor. In total, he has pulled in a little over $244,000 from the oil and gas industries.

Those finances are clearly represented in his voting history in Congress. Here are a few of Ryan’s most anti-environment, pro-industry votes since being elected:

2000 – Voted against implementing Kyoto Protocol
2001 – Voted against raising fuel economy standards
2001 – Voted against barring oil drilling in ANWR
2003 – Voted to speed up “forest thinning” projects
2005 – Voted to deauthorize “critical habitats” for endangered species
2005 – Voted to speed up oil refinery permitting
2008 – Voted against environmental education grants
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for renewable energy
2008 – Voted against tax incentives for energy conservation
2009 – Voted against enforcing CO2 limits for air pollution
2011 – Voted NO on allowing EPA to regulate greenhouse gas emissions
2011 – Voted YES to opening up the Outer Continental Shelf for oil drilling
2011 – Voted to eliminate climate advisors for the president
2011 – Voted in favor of allowing Keystone XL Pipeline

Fri, 2012-07-06 17:11Farron Cousins
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FreedomWorks Fails Basic Math And Economics To Smear Renewable Energy Investments

The corporate funded, Libertarian/Conservative “think tank” FreedomWorks is doing their best to convince Americans that taxpayer-funded energy subsidies and loans are a waste of our resources. Of course, that doesn’t apply to the massive giveaways to the dirty energy industry, only to the federal loan programs established to invest in cleaner, renewable energy companies.

Touting the superiority of the so-called “free market” over the actions of the government, a recent report titled “Free Markets, or Government Knows Best?” by Wesley Coopersmith broke down the amount of money that the federal government has allocated to renewable energy projects, per the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and compared the amount of money given to the number of permanent jobs created by each company. Here’s what Coopersmith had to say:
  

Under the 1705 loan program, taking up half of the funding form the Loan Guarantee Program, 2,378 permanent jobs were claimed to be created. If you do the math right, this works out to costing the taxpayer $6.7 million per job created. I don’t know about you, but if it takes the government $6.7 million to create one permanent job, something is wrong.

The combined amount of money given to alternative energy companies, through the 1705 and 1703 Loan Programs, totals around $19.2 billion. According to the US DOE, 3,498 jobs have been or will be created because of these loans. This comes out to almost $5.5 million in cost per one permanent job created.

Unfortunately, these projected permanent jobs created are an overestimation, if you take away the jobs lost due to six of these companies going bankrupt. Solar Millennium Inc., LSP Energy LP, Ener1 Inc., Beacon Power Corp, Abound Solar, and Solyndra LLC combined have received over $3.5 billion from the Logan Program yet have produced zero jobs and hurt the fragile U.S. economy.
 

Coopersmith also provided a helpful chart that shows exactly how much money each (of a select few) company received and how many permanent jobs were created. For credibility purposes, Coopersmith even linked back to the U.S. government’s official website and used their own numbers on permanent jobs per company, as well as how much each received.

The problem with Coopersmith’s analysis is that he omitted several important numbers in his calculations. For example, he only lists the permanent jobs created by each company, failing to add in the number of construction jobs that would be created by each project. He also used the total amount of money that had been allocated to each company, not the amount that had actually been paid.
  

Fri, 2012-05-11 11:12Farron Cousins
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Greenpeace Uncovers Shocking Photos Of Gulf Of Mexico Oil Disaster

More than two years after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded and BP's well spewed millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, Greenpeace has finally been granted access to pictures that show the real impact of the oil on marine life. The pictures were obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request (FOIA) and show a very different side of the Gulf than what the media, BP, and the federal government have portrayed.

These images are among those obtained by Greenpeace:

Photobucket

Wed, 2011-09-14 15:02Farron Cousins
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Deepwater Horizon Still A Massive Headache For BP

The problems facing BP along the Gulf Coast continue to pile up. After more than a year of investigations, the U.S. Coast Guard has finally released their long-awaited assessment of last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion. Their conclusion was that the ultimate blame for the disaster rests squarely on BP’s shoulders.

The new report, put together by The Coast Guard-Bureau of Ocean Energy Management Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), was among the most exhaustive investigations to date, according to Reuters. The report claims that the decisions made by BP in the days before the rig explosion are what led to the catastrophe. Among those were BP’s decision to ignore the safeguarding of the cement plug, and the oil company’s decision to only use one type of cement to seal the well. The report also said that the location that BP chose for the casing was very poor, making it difficult to access in an emergency.

The new report does lay some blame at the feet of other companies involved, including Transocean and Halliburton, but they said that at the end of the day, BP was in charge of the decision-making process, and therefore they are the responsible party. This is a far cry from a recent report by Marshall Islands investigators, who recently pinned the blame for the disaster on the rig workers themselves, rather than the companies involved in the rig’s management. The new report is on par with other reports that also put most of the blame on BP.

Sat, 2011-04-23 11:53Farron Cousins
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Congressional Democrats Warn of Gas Fracking Dangers

Just days after an explosion rocked a hydraulic fracturing site in Pennsylvania, Congressional Democrats released a report detailing the dangers associated with fracking. Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have been investigating the dangers of fracking for years, and their new report has some startling new information about the risks, and which areas of the country are facing the biggest threats.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) summarized the major findings of the report as follows:

Over a five-year period from 2005-2009, companies used more than 2,500 hydraulic fracturing products containing 750 different chemicals and other components, including chemicals that are known or possible human carcinogens or are federally regulated because at certain levels they are known to be quite harmful to human health–such as benzene, lead, and diesel fuel.

Two fracking products contained hydrofluoric acid (hydrogen fluoride in water). According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “You could be exposed to hydrogen fluoride if it is used as a chemical terrorism agent.” Hydrofluoric acid can eat through hard rocks. According to the CDC, swallowing only a small amount of highly concentrated hydrofluoric acid or even splashes of hydrofluoric acid on the skin can be fatal. It can cause a wide range of very serious health effects.

Many of the fracking fluids contain chemical components that are listed as “proprietary” or “trade secret,” so the public cannot know what chemicals are being stored, used, or disposed of in their communities or near their drinking water sources.

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