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Fri, 2011-11-04 07:38Farron Cousins
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IBM Launches 2nd Annual Smarter Cities Challenge

At a time when corporations’ misdeeds are under a bright spotlight (and rightfully so,) we needn’t overlook the few companies that are working to bring innovation and technology to cities across the planet in desperate need of modernization. One of those companies is IBM, which is currently working on its 2nd annual Smarter Cities Challenge.

The program for this year will include a $50 million grant to cities to help improve infrastructure, technology, and energy efficiency. From a press release on this year’s program:

This highly successful grant program provides select applicant cities with access to teams of elite IBM employees with expertise on a variety of urban-related matters, such as finance, sustainability, public safety, and citizen services. They devote weeks of their time analyzing unique opportunities and challenges facing municipalities, particularly within the context of today's challenging economic climate. After conferring with officials, citizens, businesses, academics and community leaders, the IBM teams recommend actions to make the delivery of services to citizens more efficient and innovative. Issues addressed include jobs, health, public safety, transportation, social services, recreation, education, energy, and sustainability.

Earlier this year, IBM’s Smarter Cities Challenge announced its 2011 grant winners, which included grants for much-needed environmental improvements in developing areas. For example, the city of Antofagasta, Chile received grants to help improve their irrigation systems, a social media infrastructure to voice environmental concerns, and an sustainable green energy program that will pull in government, academics, and private sector companies to help shift the city to cleaner, renewable energy programs.

Thu, 2011-11-03 17:31Farron Cousins
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Fracking Linked To Earthquakes In The U.S.

On the heels of yesterday’s report detailing Cuadrilla Resource’s admission that their fracking practices were responsible for small earthquakes in the U.K., new reports are surfacing that link fracking to earthquakes that occurred in January in Oklahoma. According to a new study by the Oklahoma Geological Survey [PDF], fracking is linked to 50 mini-earthquakes that occurred on January 18, 2011 in Oklahoma.

The NRDC describes the events as follows:

The occurrence of so-called “induced seismicity” – seismic activity caused by human actions – in conjunction with fluid injection or extraction operations is a well-documented phenomenon. However, induced earthquakes large enough to be felt at the surface have typically been associated with large scale injection or withdrawal of fluids, such as water injection wells, geothermal energy production, and oil and gas production. It was generally thought that the risk of inducing large earthquakes through hydraulic fracturing was very low, because of the comparatively small volumes of fluid injected and relatively short time-frame over which it occurs. As the controversy over hydraulic fracturing has heated up, however, researchers and the public have become increasingly interested in the potential for fracking to cause large earthquakes.

But this is hardly a new phenomenon. Studies show that fracking practices in the 1970s had caused similar seismic activity in Oklahoma, according to E&E News.

To date, none of the quakes have caused any deaths or any significant damages, but Grist echoed a great point from Joe Romm: “Would we tolerate this sort of impact from any other sort of industry? Would we tolerate it from a renewable energy industry? The answer there is no.”

As the pressure heats up over fracking, these seismic events will certainly become a cause for concern, and possibly even litigation, for citizens who are already unhappy with fracking activities occurring in their backyards.

Wed, 2011-11-02 12:02Farron Cousins
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UK Fracking Company Takes Partial Responsibility For Earthquakes

U.K.-based energy company Cuadrilla Resources** has finally admitted that their hydraulic fracturing activities were likely to blame for a series of small earthquakes that shook areas of Britain around fracking sites earlier this year. The company was the only energy company in the U.K. that used fracking to extract natural gas until the entire practice was put on hold in late Spring while the company and government officials investigated the cause of the earthquakes.

Cuadrilla claims in a new report that the earthquakes that occurred in April and May of this year were caused by an “unusual combination” of both geology and their fracking activities. However, they’ve assured officials that such a combination, and resulting earthquakes, were not likely to happen again. The Associated Press said, “But the report estimated that in the 'unlikely scenario,' that fracking kicked off another tremor, its maximum magnitude would be about 3 – meaning it would probably barely be felt if at all.”

DeSmogBlog covered the earthquakes earlier this year:

One earthquake occurred in April and measured a 2.3 on the Richter scale, and another occurred last week measuring 1.5 in magnitude. Both quakes happened at the same time and in the same location where the Cuadrilla Resources energy company was actively fracking gas wells. No significant damage was reported from either earthquake.

The British Geological Survey suggests that the earthquakes are a result of fracking, as gas and oil drilling has been known to cause small earthquakes in other areas of the world.

Fracking operations in the U.K. remain suspended as government officials continue investigating the earthquakes and review Cuadrilla’s report.

**DeSmogBlog contributor Graham Readfearn points out that Cuadrilla is 55 per cent owned by an Australian company, Lucas

Tue, 2011-11-01 14:21Farron Cousins
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New Lake Michigan Coal Ash Spill Raises Old Concerns

On Monday, a bluff surrounding a Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based power plant collapsed, sending a cascade of debris and coal ash waste from the power plant into Lake Michigan. No injuries were reported by We Energies, the company who owns the power plant, but the environmental assessment will likely be less optimistic. We Energies, a subsidiary of Wisconsin Energy Corporation (NYSE: WEC), has confirmed that the debris that made it into the river likely contained coal ash.

As of Monday afternoon, a “fuel sheen” appeared on the surface of Lake Michigan as a result of the bluff collapse. Cleanup crews from Clean Harbor were contracted by We Energies to help contain the spread of the sheen, and will be deploying about 1,500 feet of boom to help contain the waste on the surface. Shortly after the accident, residents living up to a mile away from the site along the lake were already reporting debris washing onshore.

As we have reported extensively in the past, coal ash contains countless toxic substances, including mercury, hexavalent chromium, arsenic, and cadmium. It has also been reported to be more radioactive as nuclear waste. In spite of these findings, the EPA has yet to issue any firm stance on whether or not coal ash will be regulated as a “toxic waste,” partly due to the fact that the coal industry has unleashed a cadre of lobbyists to Washington to fight to protect their coal ash interests.

The EPA’s delay in issuing a ruling on coal ash has allowed the Republican-controlled Congress to gain the upper hand on the issue. In early fall 2011, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation that would prohibit the EPA from regulating coal ash, and preventing them from classifying the substance as “hazardous.” Instead of EPA regulations, the bill would allow states to issue their own standards on coal ash and prevent any federal standards.

Sat, 2011-10-22 22:14Farron Cousins
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Harry Reid to Hillary Clinton: Drop Keystone XL Pipeline Plan

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline have gained a new ally in the fight to prevent this disastrous oil boondoggle from moving forward: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D–NV).

Earlier this month, Sen. Reid sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urging her to abandon the pipeline and instead focus on renewable energy. The Washington Post provided an excerpt of Reid’s letter to Clinton:

The proponents of this pipeline would be wiser to invest instead in job-creating clean energy projects, like renewable power, energy efficiency or advanced vehicles and fuels that would employ thousands of people in the United States rather than increasing our dependency on unsustainable supplies of dirty and polluting oil that could easily be exported.

This is the first time that Reid has publicly addressed the Keystone XL issue, and that signals a very powerful friend to the opponents of the pipeline. Already, some labor unions and Democratic lawmakers have thrown their support in favor of the pipeline, maintaining that the project would create much-needed jobs, despite evidence to the contrary.

Earlier this month, Congressman Henry Waxman (D–CA) called on the House Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate the Koch brothers' interests in the Keystone XL pipeline, as the majority of the members on the Energy Committee have received campaign contributions from Koch Industries and its employees.


The fact that Reid chose to single out Clinton on the issue shows that he is paying attention to the issue very closely. DeSmogBlog has put together some excellent pieces detailing Clinton’s ties to the lobbyists pushing the pipeline.

Tue, 2011-10-18 11:37Farron Cousins
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New Jersey Environmental Group Targets Anti-Environment Legislators With New Ad Campaign

Environment New Jersey has announced an aggressive new online advertising campaign to hold so-called “environment-friendly” state representatives accountable for their anti-environmental voting records. At issue are three representatives’ votes regarding a bill that would delay the clean up of toxic waste sites.

From Environment New Jersey’s press release:

The House of Representatives approved the “TRAIN” Act, which would indefinitely delay the clean-up of toxic power plant pollution; another bill (H.R. 2681) that prevents clean air standards that lower mercury and other toxic air pollution from cement plants; and a bill (H.R. 2250) that would prevents standards to reduce toxic pollution from industrial incinerators and boilers at power plants.


The “TRAIN” Act alone, if passed, could result in 139,500 lives lost due to smog, soot, and toxic air pollution. In New Jersey, it could result in over 3,200 lives lost due to air pollution. The health benefits delivered by the incinerator and boiler standards are as high as $54 billion annually, and the health benefits from cement standards will be as high as $18 billion annually.

All of these bills were voted on the heels of an Environment New Jersey report, “Danger in the Air,” that found New Jersey’s air to be some of the smoggiest in the country. The findings included that the North Jersey metropolitan area, including New York and Connecticut, ranked as the 5th smoggiest metropolitan area in the country this past summer.

The three state congressmen specifically targeted by the ads are Rep. Leonard Lance (R-7), Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-2) and Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-11). All three men claim to be friends of the environment, or at least boast of a moderate record on environmental issues, but their votes for the TRAIN Act prove otherwise.

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