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Video: Gulf of Mexico Oil Leak Has Been Going On for 10 Years, Is Far Worse than Company Claims

Posted By Lowell F. on April 20th, 2015

According to an Associated Press investigation, there’s been an oil spill going on in the Gulf of Mexico for “more than a decade.” That’s bad enough, but it gets worse.

Down to just one full-time employee, Taylor Energy Company exists for only one reason: to fight an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that has gone largely unnoticed, despite creating miles-long slicks for more than a decade.

The New Orleans-based company has downplayed the leak’s environmental impact, likening it to scores of minor spills and natural seeps that the Gulf routinely absorbs.

But an Associated Press investigation has revealed evidence that the spill is far worse than what Taylor — or the government — has publicly reported. Presented with AP’s findings, the Coast Guard provided a new leak estimate that is about 20 times greater than one recently touted by the company.

The question is, how many more such leaks and environmental disasters, courtesy of the fossil fuel industry, don’t we know about? Also, how bad has the damage been and will anyone ever be held accountable?

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New Study Shows Revenue-Neutral Carbon Tax Would Slash CO2 Emissions, Increase Jobs in Rhode Island

Posted By Lowell F. on April 6th, 2015

We have previously reported on studies by the policy-neutral economic modelers, Regional Economic Models, Inc. (REMI), on the potential economic and environmental impacts of revenue-neutral carbon taxes nationally, as well as in California, Massachusetts, and other states. The results have been consistent: increased economic activity and jobs; reduced carbon pollution. Now, REMI is out with a study of Rhode Island, the results of which – more jobs, a stronger economy, and significantly lower carbon pollution – are summarized in the graphic. A few more key points from this study include:

  • There were four scenarios considered, returning carbon tax revenues to the state in different ways, and in ALL four cases, there was an increase over the baseline in “the total number of jobs and [Gross State Product – GSP] in Rhode Island—mostly by reducing the importation of fossil energy and, therefore, keeping dollars local to create jobs and grow businesses in the Ocean State.”
  • A key point made by this study is that “a strong economy and environmental quality are not mutually exclusive.” To the contrary, these “environmental measures might have positive economic effects,” in part due to reduced fossil fuel imports (aka, “economic losses”).
  • In addition to the significant economic benefits Rhode Island would enjoy from implementation of a revenue-neutral carbon tax, the state would also see “20% to 30% [carbon dioxide emission] reductions from the baseline in the 2020s, and up to 30% to 50% reductions in the 2030s and out to 2040 from price and efficiency.”
  • Almost every economic sector (construction, health care, finance and insurance, real estate, retail trade, etc.) in Rhode Island would benefit from the carbon tax, with only utilities, manufacturing, transportation and warehousing seeing any signficant adverse impacts.  Overall, however, Rhode Island’s economy would benefit significantly, as there are many more sectors seeing a positive impact than a negative one from the carbon tax.

We’d just add that these results would almost certainly be applicable to most states in the country, except possibly in the short term for the few states  (e.g., Alaska) where fossil fuels make up a large share of the economy.  Our bet, though, is that even in those states, the long-term benefits of switching to a clean energy economy would far outweigh any adverse impacts from moving away from dirty energy. That is particularly the case given how fast the costs of clean energy have been falling, and are projected to continue falling, while fossil fuel costs will likely remain volatile for the foreseeable future.  Finally, of course, there are the crucial benefits that would result from slashing carbon pollution that is contributing to dangerous, potentially disastrous, global warming.  In sum, most states would benefit from a revenue-neutral carbon tax on purely economic grounds, but adding in the environmental beneifts makes it a huge winner in Rhode Island, and across the country.

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New Poll: Likely 2016 Voters Want Shift to Solar, Wind; Away from Coal, Oil

Posted By Lowell F. on January 16th, 2015

Despite the fossil fuel industry’s well-funded efforts over many years to turn the American public against clean energy, a new poll by Hart Research of likely 2016 voters finds overwhelming support for clean energy.  Check out the graphics below and see for yourself: likely 2016 voters want the federal government to rely more on solar power by a 71-point margin (80%-9%), and to rely more on wind power by a 59-point margin (73%-14%). In stark contrast, those same likely voters want the federal government to rely less on coal by a 34-point margin (55%-21%) and less on oil by a 29-points margin (53%-24%). You can’t much clearer than that.

Also note that likely 2016 voters overwhelmingly do NOT support anti-environmental policies such as weakening protections for our drinking water supplies and clean air; allowing oil and gas drilling in national forests/parks. Again, you can’t get much clearer than that. The question is, what will it take for anti-clean-energy, pro-fossil-fuel members of Congress get the message?

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Details of New York State Study Demonstrate Why Fracking’s Too Risky to Be Allowed

Posted By Lowell F. on December 30th, 2014

Over the years, we’ve talked a great deal about hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” on this blog. For instance, we’ve pointed out that  fracking contaminates water supplies, pollutes the air, uses huge amounts of (increasingly scarce) water, releases the potent greenhouse gas methane, contaminates the soil, destroys forests and wildlife habitats, and even triggers earthquakes. We’ve also pointed out the gap between the facts of fracking and the industry’s “don’t-worry-be-happy” propaganda, while noting the lack of oversight by federal and state authorities, and even cases where government outright did the fracking industry’s bidding — at the public’s expense.

That’s why we were encouraged recently to see New York State move to ban fracking, citing threats to public health and other concerns.  Media coverage of this decision varied in quality, with the Washington Post editorial page definitely falling into the “media fail” category (according to the Post’s flawed reasoning, New York state’s “outright ban is justified only by extreme caution”).  In fact, if the Washington Post editorial board had actually read the report by the New York State Department of Health (see A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development), they might not have made that argument.

In contrast to the Washington Post, we’ve taken some time to look at this thorough, rigorous report, and found it to be a powerful argument for why fracking is a serious risk — one we can and should do without.  Key points from this lengthy (176-page) study include:

  • There’s a great deal of uncertainty surrounding High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF): “…the science surrounding HVHF activity is limited, only just beginning to emerge, and largely suggests only hypotheses about potential public health impacts that need further evaluation…However, the existing studies also raise substantial questions about whether the risks of HVHF activities are sufficiently understood so that they can be adequately managed…Review demonstrates that there are significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF, the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impacts which could adversely affect public health.”
  • Air Impacts of HVHF: “Studies provide evidence of uncontrolled methane leakage, emissions of other volatile organic chemicals, and particulate matter from well pads and natural-gas infrastructure. State authorities in both Texas and Pennsylvania have documented methane leakage from natural gas infrastructure by the use of infrared cameras. A recent West Virginia study also determined that heavy vehicle traffic and trucks idling at well pads were the likely sources of intermittently high dust and benzene concentrations, sometimes observed at distances of at least 625 feet from the center of the well pad…These emissions have the potential to contribute to community odor problems, respiratory health impacts such as asthma exacerbations, and longer-term climate change impacts from methane accumulation in the atmosphere “
  • Water-quality impacts: “Studies have found evidence for underground migration of methane associated with faulty well construction…For example, a recent study identified groundwater contamination clusters that the authors determined were due to gas leakage from intermediate-depth strata through failures of annulus cement, faulty production casings, and underground gas well failure (Darrah, 2014). Shallow methanemigration has the potential to impact private drinking water wells, creating safety concerns due to explosions…Other studies suggest additional sources of potential water contamination, including surface spills and inadequate treatment and disposal of radioactive wastes…A recent review paper presented published data revealing evidence for stray gas contamination, surface water impacts, and the accumulation of radium isotopes in some disposal and spill sites…One recent study also suggests that chemical signals of brine from deep shale formations can potentially be detected in overlying groundwater aquifers…These contaminants have the potential to affect drinking water quality.”
  • Seismic impacts: “Recent evidence from studies in Ohio and Oklahoma suggest that HVHF can contribute to the induction of earthquakes during fracturing…Although the potential public health consequence of these relatively mild earthquakes is unknown, this evidence raises new concerns about this potential HVHF impact.”
  • Community impacts: There are numerous historical examples of the negative impact of rapid and concentrated increases in extractive resource development (e.g., energy, precious metals) resulting in indirect community impacts such as interference with quality-of-life (e.g., noise, odors), overburdened transportation and health infrastructure, and disproportionate increases in social problems, particularly in small isolated rural communities where local governments and infrastructure tend to be unprepared for rapid changes…Similar concerns have been raised in some communities where HVHF activity has increased rapidly.”
  • Health impacts: “One peer-reviewed study and one university report have presented data indicating statistical associations between some birth outcomes (low birth weight and some congenital defects) and residential proximity of the mother to well pads during pregnancy…Proximity to higher-density HVHF well pad development was associated with increased incidence of congenital heart defects and neural-tube defects in one of the studies…Several published reports present data from surveys of health complaints among residents living near HVHF activities. Commonly reported symptoms include skin rash or irritation, nausea or vomiting, abdominal pain, breathing difficulties or cough, nosebleeds, anxiety/stress, headache, dizziness, eye irritation, and throat irritation in people and farm animals within proximity to HVHF natural gas development.”
  • Bottom line: “…the relationships between HVHF environmental impacts and public health are complex and not fully understood. Comprehensive, longterm studies, and in particular longitudinal studies, that could contribute to the understanding of those relationships are either not yet completed or have yet to be initiated…While a guarantee of absolute safety is not possible, an assessment of the risk to public health must be supported by adequate scientific information to determine with confidence that the overall risk is sufficiently low to justify proceeding with HVHF in New York. The current scientific information is insufficient. Furthermore, it is clear from the existing literature and experience that HVHF activity has resulted in environmental impacts that are potentially adverse to public health. Until the science provides sufficient information to determine the level of risk to public health from HVHF and whether the risks can be adequately managed, HVHF should not proceed in New York State.”

In sum, we know that natural gas fracking is harmful and dangerous in a variety of ways, we’re just not sure exactly how harmful it is. Meanwhile, we know that clean energy – solar, wind, energy efficiency, etc. – is safe and economical. Which is why the argument that we should stick with natural gas (as  “bridge fuel” or whatever), while shortchanging clean energy, makes no sense whatsoever.

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New Poll Finds Overwhelming Support Nationally for EPA Clean Power Plan

Posted By Lowell F. on December 18th, 2014

New polling by Harstad Strategic Research, Inc. finds strong support for the proposed EPA carbon pollution reduction standards (aka, the “Clean Power Plan”). That includes two thirds of voters in important states like Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Louisiana and Virginia.  Support is across the board regionally (two thirds in both northern and southern states) and politically, with majorities of Republicans (53%), Independents (62%) and Democrats (87%) all on board.  So who’s opposed to these pollution reduction standards, other than the fossil fuel industry? Despite all the money they spend to deny climate science and promote fossil fuels, it turns out that only a small minority of the U.S. electorate is with them. So sad.

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