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Booming U.S. Renewable Energy Sector Growing Faster Than Expected

The mainstreaming of renewable energy is happening even faster than projected.

According to the latest “Electric Power Monthly” report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which includes data through the end of 2014, some 13.91% of electricity generation in the U.S. last year was from renewable sources.

“Given current growth rates, especially for solar and wind, it is quite possible that renewable energy sources will reach, or exceed, 14% of the nation's electrical supply by the end of 2015,” noted Ken Bossong, executive director of the SUN DAY Campaign. “That is a level that EIA, only a few years ago, was forecasting would not be achieved until the year 2040.”

That number includes conventional hydroelectric power, which comes with severe environmental impacts of its own and is not generally considered a true “clean energy” source (the same can be said of biomass and biofuels, which is also included). So it’s worth noting that 2014 was the first year that electricity generation from non-hydropower renewable energy sources exceeded hydroelectric generation.

Wind energy continues to be the biggest clean energy source by far, supplying some 4.45% of 2014 electricity generation in the U.S. versus .45% from solar and .41% from geothermal. But solar is making great strides, seeing more than 100% growth last year while wind grew just 8.3% and geothermal by just 5.4%.

More California Oil Industry Wastewater Injection Wells Shut Down Over Fears Of Groundwater Contamination

The latest in the ongoing investigation into California regulators’ failure to protect residents from toxic oil industry waste streams has led to the closure of 12 more underground injection wells. The 12 wells that were shut down this week are all in the Central Valley region, ground zero for oil production in the state.

California has roughly 50,000 underground injection wells. State officials are investigating just over 2,500 of them to determine whether or not they are injecting toxic chemical-laden oil industry wastewater into aquifers containing usable water (or at least potentially usable water) that should have been protected under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

A coalition of environmental, health and public advocacy groups filed a legal petition with Governor Jerry Brown last week in an attempt to force an emergency moratorium on fracking after it was discovered that flowback, a fluid that rises to the top of a fracked well, contains alarmingly high levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals.

Fracking flowback is an increasingly prevalent component of the oil industry wastewater that is being injected into the state’s aquifers, as fracking is now used in up to half of all new wells drilled in California.

Prompted by an inquiry by the federal Environmental Protection Agency in 2011, state officials shut down 11 wastewater injection wells last year over similar concerns that they were polluting badly needed sources of water in a time of prolonged drought. It was later confirmed that 9 of those wells were in fact pumping wastewater into protected aquifers—some 3 billion gallons of wastewater, by one estimate.

Since then, the fallout has continued at a rapid pace, with a new revelation coming seemingly every other month. In just the past few months, for instance, the scope of the problem has ballooned from hundreds of injection wells allowed to dump oil industry wastewater into protected aquifers to thousands more wells permitted to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques such as acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

Legal Petition Seeks Emergency Moratorium On Fracking in California

A coalition of over 150 environmental, health, and public advocacy organizations in California filed a legal petition Thursday seeking to compel Governor Jerry Brown to issue an emergency moratorium on fracking in the state.

The proximate cause for the legal petition seems to be revelations that fracking flowback in California was found to contain dangerously high levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, toluene and hexavalent chromium. But evidence has been mounting for months that drastic measures are needed, as state regulators have utterly failed to protect residents from the oil and gas industry in California.

Flowback is a fluid that floats to the surface of fracked wells and is a key component of oil industry wastewater, which is most often disposed of by injecting it underground.

Over the past few months, however, it has come to light that regulators with California’s Division of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) allowed hundreds of injection wells to dump oil industry wastewater into aquifers that contain water clean enough to drink or that could be made drinkable, and hence should have been protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The agency also permitted thousands more wells to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques such as acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

USGS: Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells Are Causing Oklahoma Earthquakes

Some of the most heavily fracked parts of the US have experienced an unprecedented wave of earthquakes in recent years even though they’ve long been considered geologically stable. But the oil and gas industry is quick to reject any suggestion that fracking is to blame.

The United States Geological Survey, for its part, has said in the past that the injection of fracking wastewater into deep geologic formations was a likely cause of the increased seismic activity in Oklahoma.

Now the agency has made it official.

“Deep injection of wastewater is the primary cause of the dramatic rise in detected earthquakes and the corresponding increase in seismic hazard in the central U.S.,” the USGS said in a press release.

Several scientists and seismologists with the USGS, the University of Colorado at Boulder, the Oklahoma Geological Survey, and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have published a paper in the journal Science that calls for greater transparency from the oil and gas industry, as well as collaboration between industry, government, and the public, in order to mitigate the impacts of these “human-induced earthquakes.”

There were more earthquakes of magnitude 3 or higher in Oklahoma last year than in California. Several were of a magnitude greater than 5 and caused considerable damage.

The problem has become so prevalent that Oklahomans have started seeking earthquake insurance, which insurers used to dismiss with a laugh. But even as seismic activity increased since the rise of fracking in 2008, the industry and Oklahoma regulators took no meaningful action to protect residents, which is no surprise given how integral the oil and gas industry is to Oklahoma’s economy.

Fracking Flowback From California Oil Wells Found To Contain Dangerous Levels Of Carcinogenic and Toxic Chemicals

Adding to the already lengthy list of reasons to be concerned about the disposal of oil industry wastewater in California, the Center for Biological Diversity says it has found dangerous levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene and toluene in fracking flowback.

Flowback is a fluid that floats up to the surface of fracked wells that contains clays, dissolved metal ions and total dissolved solids (such as salt) in addition to chemical additives used in the fracking process.

As such, flowback is a component of oil industry wastewater, and one of the chief reasons why the wastewater must be disposed of in a very cautious manner.

In California, where the toxic and cancer-causing chemicals were found to be present in flowback by the CBD, oil industry wastewater is not, unfortunately, disposed of in a cautious manner.

The most common wastewater disposal method is to inject it underground. It was recently revealed that California regulators have allowed hundreds of injection wells to pump wastewater into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. Regulators also permitted thousands more wells to inject fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” techniques like acidization and cyclic steam injection into protected aquifers.

Public Interest Groups File FOIA Request To Compel Disclosure Of Crude Oil Export Ban Exceptions

Last month, DeSmogBlog broke the news that the Obama Administration was quietly letting oil companies export crude under the guise of “exceptions” to the crude oil export ban.

Now a coalition of public interest groups including Earthjustice, Oil Change International, and Sightline Institute says the public has a right to know what criteria the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) used in determining which crude oil streams were exempt from the ban, and has filed a Freedom Of Information Act request to find out.

With the price of oil cratering and that trend not likely to reverse soon thanks in large part to the glut of production in the US, oil companies are desperate to sell their crude on the global market, where it can potentially fetch higher prices. The catch, of course, is the crude oil export ban, a policy that’s been in place since 1975.

The oil industry has apparently decided that its usual means of influencing public policy—lobbying and advertising to sway public opinion in its favor—would take too much time and money, as Justin Mikulka wrote here on DeSmog.

So if you are the oil industry, you innovate. You call the oil you are producing condensate, get the regulators at the little known Bureau of Industry and Security to agree to not define what condensate actually is and then have them tell you that you as an industry are free to “self classify” your oil as condensate and export it.

Problem solved. Billions in profits made.

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