Fri, 2014-04-18 12:05Steve Horn
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Keystone XL Review Extended, Delaying Final Decision Until After 2014 Elections

Reuters and Politico broke a major story today that TransCanada's northern leg of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline will not be decided on until after the 2014 mid-term elections.

“The U.S. State Department will…extend the government comment period on the Keystone XL pipeline, likely postponing a final decision on the controversial project until after the November 4 midterm elections,” Reuters explained.

Secretary of State John Kerry and President Barack Obama have final say over whether the pipeline will be built because it crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Reporters learned of the decision after a call between high-level congressional staff and State Department officials. 

“The justification is the need to wait on continued litigation over a Nebraska court decision earlier this year, which threw part of the project’s route in doubt, two sources said today after a call between the State Department and congressional staff,” reported Politico.

In the end, the decision came down to politics, according to Politico, though there are no shortage of climate change and ecological concerns for the prospective pipeline.

“A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult decision on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats,” they reported.

Fri, 2014-04-18 10:28Steve Horn
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"Russia with Love": Alaska Gas Scandal is Out-of-Country, Not Out-of-State

A legal controversy — critics would say scandal — has erupted in Alaska's statehouse over the future of its natural gas bounty.

It's not so much an issue of the gas itself, but who gets to decide how it gets to market and where he or she resides.

The question of who owns Alaska's natural gas and where they're from, at least for now, has been off the table. More on that later.

At its core, the controversy centers around a public-private entity called the Alaska Gasline Development Corporation (AGDC) created on April 18, 2010 via House Bill 369 for the “purpose of planning, constructing, and financing in-state natural gas pipeline projects.” AGDC has a $400 million budget funded by taxpayers. 

AGDC was intially built to facilitate opening up the jointly-owned ExxonMobil-TransCanada Alaska Pipeline Project for business. That project was set to be both a liquefied natural gas (LNG) export pipeline coupled with a pipeline set to bring Alaskan gas to the Lower 48.    

Photo Credit: TransCanada

Things have changed drastically since 2010 in the U.S. gas market though, largely due to the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom. And with that, the Lower 48 segment of the Alaska Pipeline Project has become essentially obsolete.

Dreams of exporting massive amounts of Alaskan LNG to Asia, however, still remain. They were made much easier on April 14, when the Kenai LNG export facility received authorization to export gas from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Fri, 2014-04-18 06:00John Mashey
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Pseudoskeptics Are Not Skeptics

Fake skeptiocism is not genuine

Genuine scientific skepticism is not just the unmoving rejection of evolution or climate change by fake skeptics, called pseudoskeptics.  The real thing avoids premature conclusions, recognizes uncertainty, motivates searches for good data and causes real skeptics to change their minds,  as put succinctly by John Maynard Keynes:

“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

Thu, 2014-04-17 12:02Steve Horn
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Interview: Big Men Director Rachel Boynton on Oil, Ghana and "Responsible Capitalism"

The subtitle of the newly released documentary film Big Men is “everyone wants to be big” and to say the film covers a “big” topic is to put it mildly.

Executive produced by Brad Pitt and directed by Rachel Boynton, the film cuts to the heart of how the oil and gas industry works and pushes film-watchers to think about why that's the case. Ghana's burgeoning offshore fields — in particular, the Jubilee Field discovered in 2007 by Kosmos Energy — serve as the film's case study.

Image Credit: Ghana Oil Watch

Boynton worked on the film for more than half a decade, beginning the project in 2006 and completing it in 2013. During that time, the Canadian tar sands exploded, as did the U.S. hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) boom — meanwhile, halfway around the world, Ghana was having an offshore oil boom of its own.

Thu, 2014-04-17 08:00Julie Dermansky
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Insect Population Dwindling in Louisiana Marshlands Four Years After BP Blowout

Louisiana State University entomologist Linda Hooper-Bui has been studying the impact of the BP oil spill on insects and spiders for almost four years. She started her study shortly after the Macondo well blew out on April 20, 2010, before any oil washed up on shore. Her work documents the dwindling of the insect population in areas directly hit with the oil.

On April 9th, she returned to Bay Jimmy and Bay Baptiste, areas that were heavily impacted by the oil spill in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.

“Insects are the basis of the food chain. They are like nature's Twinkies,” Hooper-Bui says.

Her studies also monitor fish and birds, since they eat insects. She sweeps areas designated for her study by walking back and forth waving a net, catching whatever insects are present.  She then empties the net into alcohol, preserving the insects for testing. She takes note of the wind speed and temperature at each location and collects a sample of sediment to be tested for hydrocarbons.


Weathered oil found coating the surface of the marsh in Bay Baptiste, Louisiana on April 9, 2014. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Back in the lab, Hooper-Bui sorts insects by species. She sends some out for testing and stores the rest so other scientists can study them. The results of the test reveal the nutrients found in them, including carbon, nitrogen and sulfur. Knowing what the insects are eating helps her evaluate changes in the environment. She compares the data from sites that were oiled to those that were not.

Thu, 2014-04-17 05:00Sharon Kelly
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After Over a Decade of Fracking, Oversight of Industry's Radioactive Waste Still Lacking

It has been roughly twelve years since fracking launched the great shale rush in the U.S. and the biggest problem with the technology — how to safely dispose of the enormous quantities of toxic waste generated — remains unsolved.

In particular, regulators have struggled to fully understand or police the hazards posed by radioactivity found in fracking waste.

The most common form of radioactivity in shale waste comes from radium-226, which happens also to be an isotope that takes the longest to decay. To be exact, radium-226’s half-life of roughly 1,600 years means that well over a millennium and a half from now, more than half of the radium that fracking brings to the surface today will still be emitting dangerous radioactive particles.

Concern about the waste has taken on renewed urgency in light of a detailed report published in Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), a peer-reviewed scientific journal which is backed by the National Institutes of Health. The study concluded that worrisome and extensive gaps in federal and state oversight of this radioactivity problem still persist.

At the federal level, radioactive oil and gas waste is exempt from nearly all the regulatory processes the general public might expect would govern it,” the researchers wrote. “State laws are a patchwork.’”

This is not an entirely new finding. Several years ago, a New York Times investigative piece highlighted how the oil and gas industry routinely dumped radium-laced waste water into rivers. State regulators in Pennsylvania and the oil and gas industry adamantly denied there was a problem.

So what's changed? The recent academic study concludes that even several years later, worrisome oversight lapses remain. As such, the researchers wrote, there is continuing reason for concern.

We are troubled by people drinking water that [could potentially have] radium-226 in it,” David Brown, a public health toxicologist with the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, told the researchers (insert in original). “When somebody calls us and says ‘is it safe to drink our water,’ the answer is ‘I don’t know.’”

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