Keystone Pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota

CNN reports: A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone Pipeline in Marshall County, South Dakota, the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said.

Crews shut down the pipeline Thursday morning and officials are investigating the cause of the leak.

This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota, said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release — or 16,800 gallons — with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said.

About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday. [Continue reading…]

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America’s wildest place is open for business

Christopher Solomon writes: Several years ago a mapping expert pinpointed the most remote place in the Lower 48 states. The spot was in the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, 20 miles from the nearest road. Roman Dial read the news and wasn’t much impressed. To him, 20 miles — the distance a hungry man could walk in a long day — didn’t seem very remote at all.

Mr. Dial is a professor of biology and mathematics at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, and a National Geographic explorer. He decided to figure out the most remote place in the entire nation. His calculations led him to the northwest corner of Alaska, where the continent tilts toward the Arctic Ocean. The spot lay on the Ipnavik River on the North Slope, 119 miles west of the Haul Road (otherwise known as the Dalton Highway), which brings supplies and roughnecks to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay.

Judged by miles, Mr. Dial reckoned, the place was six times more isolated than that corner in Yellowstone. So he decided to walk there. On the journey he and his companion didn’t see anyone else for 24 days.

Their destination lay within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. NPR-A, as it is known, is the single largest parcel of public land in the United States. The reserve sprawls across nearly 23 million acres, which makes it larger than Maine or South Carolina or 10 other states. The reserve’s eastern border sits about 100 miles to the west of the more famous Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Separating the two like a thorn between roses lies the industrial sprawl of Prudhoe Bay.

If the reserve still doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone. Even Google Earth doesn’t know it, though the reserve is 10 times the size of Yellowstone. “It is the wildest place in America that you’ve never heard of,” as one conservationist recently told me.
Yet the reserve deserves attention, now more than ever. The Trump administration has declared the nation’s public lands and waters open for business, particularly to oil and gas companies. In its first six months the administration offered more onshore leases to energy companies to drill on public property than the Obama administration did in all of 2016, the secretary of interior, Ryan Zinke, boasted to the conservative Heritage Foundation in late September.

“Our goal is an America that is the strongest energy superpower that this world has ever known,” he told the group, and added, “the road to energy dominance goes through the great state of Alaska.”

Nowhere is this more evident than on the North Slope. In April, Mr. Trump signed an executive order aimed at lifting President Barack Obama’s closure of federal Arctic waters to drilling, a decision now being challenged in court. Both the administration and the Republican-held Congress are trying yet again to open the Arctic refuge for oil exploration, an effort that provoked a fierce battle a dozen years ago. [Continue reading…]

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New Delhi’s ‘gas chamber’ smog is so bad that United Airlines has suspended flying there

The Washington Post reports: Citing toxic smog that one official said has turned India’s capital city into a “gas chamber,” United Airlines has canceled flights to New Delhi until the air gets better.

At least in United’s eyes, the Indian capital’s smog concerns are on par with environmental disasters such as hurricanes and volcanoes — a risk to be avoided. The company said it was letting passengers switch flights without charge or helping them find seats on other carriers.

It was unclear if other airlines would follow suit. Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Etihad Airlines all compete for business to New Delhi, according to CNN Money.

An advisory on United’s website said travel to New Delhi was suspended through at least Monday. [Continue reading…]

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Michael Bloomberg’s ‘war on coal’ goes global with $50m fund

The Guardian reports: The battle to end coal-burning, backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg, is expanding out of the US and around the world in its bid to reduce the global warming threat posed by the most polluting fossil fuel.

Bloomberg, a UN special envoy on climate change and former mayor of New York city, has funded a $164m campaign in the US since 2010, during which time more than half the nation’s coal-fired power plants have been closed.

On Thursday, he announced a $50m (£38m) plan to expand the programme into Europe and then the rest of the world. The money will support grassroots campaigns, research on the health impacts of coal and legal action against coal plants that are breaking pollution rules.

Bloomberg is attending the global climate change summit in Bonn, Germany, where he is leading a group of states, cities and businesses pledging action in the US despite President Donald Trump’s opposition.

Coal burning still accounts for about 20% of all of the European Union’s carbon emissions, with Germany and Poland by far the biggest polluters. Bloomberg’s initiative aims to speed up the phase-out of coal by capitalising on the fast falling costs of renewable energy alternatives and rising concerns about air pollution. [Continue reading…]

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Criticized for ship holdings, Commerce Secretary Ross owns more than previously known and the deals continue

APM Reports reports: Six years ago, Wilbur Ross thought investing in ships would create valuable financial assets. Today, they’ve become risky political liabilities.

One shipping company is in a partnership with Russia, and another that the U.S. Commerce secretary partially owned is tied to China’s largest sovereign wealth fund. His chief of staff served on both boards. Now U.S. senators are calling for an investigation, and ethics experts demand he divest to prevent his policy decisions from being influenced by his business interests.

Ross won’t say how many ships he owns, and government disclosure laws give him the choice to keep the information secret.

An APM Reports investigation reveals Ross has financial ties to 36 previously undisclosed ships that are spread among at least nine companies. Combined with the Russia-tied company — Navigator Holdings Ltd. — Ross has a financial interest in at least 75 ships, most of which move oil and gas products across the globe. The value of those ships stands to grow as Ross negotiates trade deals on behalf of the U.S. and advises on U.S. infrastructure policy. And one fund linked to Ross was still buying and selling ships after Ross was confirmed as Commerce secretary. [Continue reading…]

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The world keeps installing renewable energy at record rates

Earther reports: The Trump administration may be doing everything in its power quell the tide of renewable energy, but the world is ready to ride the wave. According to a new report from the International Energy Agency (IEA), a combination of falling prices, rising investments and stronger government support outside the U.S. have sent solar and wind installations skyrocketing.

Last year, the IEA reports that more solar photovoltaic generating capacity was added to the globe’s energy mix than coal, gas or any other energy source. That strong growth helped ensure that renewables accounted for two-thirds of all capacity added to the world’s grid. That’s the equivalent of enough generating capacity to power 31 million American homes.

While fossil fuel plants continue to be added to the grid, they’re lagging behind wind and solar additions. Not only that, older coal and natural gas plants are being shuttered. The net result is that renewables now account for 24% of the world’s electricity generating capacity. [Continue reading…]

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There’s a dangerous bubble in the fossil-fuel economy, and the Trump administration is making it worse

Carolyn Kormann writes: Last year, shortly after the election, the coal baron Robert Murray received a phone call from President-elect Donald Trump. “He said, ‘Tell your coal miners I got their backs,’ ” Murray later reported to Fox News. “Then he said, ‘I love you, man.’ ” Murray, who is the chairman and C.E.O. of Murray Energy, the largest private coal company in the country, was one of the first fossil-fuel executives to support Trump’s candidacy. Prior to the Republican National Convention, he hosted a fund-raiser for Trump in Charleston, West Virginia, attracting nearly five hundred thousand dollars in donations and contributing hundreds of thousands more from his own pocket. “It was eight years of pure hell under the Democrat Party and Obama,” Murray recently told “Frontline.” He added, laughing into the camera, “But we won! It’s a wonderful victory!”

Now Murray and his ilk have scored another victory. Last Tuesday, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, filed a proposal with the Federal Register to formally repeal the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Finalized in 2015, the C.P.P. was designed to hasten state utilities’ adoption of renewable energy, improve air quality and public health across the nation, and, most notable, insure that the United States met its commitments under the Paris climate accord—a minimum twenty-six-per-cent reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2025, based on 2005 levels. In a statement on the proposed repeal, Pruitt criticized the plan’s “devastating effects” on the American people. “The CPP ignored states’ concerns and eroded longstanding and important partnerships,” he said. The day before, in a speech to a group of miners in Hazard, Kentucky, Pruitt had echoed Murray’s triumphalist tone, declaring, “The war on coal is over.”

There is little doubt that one of the “important partnerships” Pruitt had in mind was with Murray Energy. His current second-in-command at the E.P.A., Andrew Wheeler, was a lobbyist for the company until mid-August, and when Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma, Murray was a top donor to his super pac. The C.E.O. was also a co-plaintiff in eight of the fourteen lawsuits that Pruitt brought against the E.P.A. before Trump put him in charge of the agency. One involved the C.P.P. According to Murray and Pruitt’s interpretation, the plan was a classic case of governmental overreach; the E.P.A., they claimed, did not have the regulatory authority to impose emissions targets on individual states. Thanks largely to their efforts, the C.P.P. never actually went into effect. It remains tied up in federal court. [Continue reading…]

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The struggle to protect a tree at the heart of Hopi culture

By Stewart B. Koyiyumptewa and Chip Colwell

A rumbling, low boom unfurled over the land like a current of thunder. But it was a clear, cloudless day in northern Arizona. We realized the reverberation was the echo of an explosion—dynamite loosening the earth—and that the strip mine was finding its way toward a colossal seam of coal.

It was the fall of 2015, and the Kayenta Mine’s owners, Peabody Energy, the world’s largest coal company, had proposed to expand the mine into neighboring areas. If that were to happen, then the place we were standing on would one day be peeled open like a can of sardines to reveal the prize of shiny, midnight-black coal.

The Kayenta Mine has long been a source of controversy. Every year it ships millions of tons of coal by rail to the Navajo Generating Station northeast of the Grand Canyon. The power plant keeps air conditioners humming in Phoenix and Los Angeles, and lights shimmering in Las Vegas and beyond.

We were there as anthropologists with a team of researchers and Hopi elders to study the project’s potential impact on religious sites, archaeological remains, springs, and more. But at every stop, the elders talked about the juniper tree. The trees were so abundant—blanketing every hill that hasn’t been mined—that at first it seemed strange to be concerned about the potential loss of this plant. There were ancient Pueblo villages and graveyards to worry about. There were precious springs and rare songbirds.

But the elders kept returning to their fears for the junipers.

[Read more…]

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World’s first ‘negative emissions’ plant has begun operation — turning carbon dioxide into stone

Akshat Rathi writes: There’s a colorless, odorless, and largely benign gas that humanity just can’t get enough of. We produce 40 trillion kg of carbon dioxide each year, and we’re on track to cross a crucial emissions threshold that will cause global temperature rise to pass the dangerous 2°C limit set by the Paris climate agreement.

But, in hushed tones, climate scientists are already talking about a technology that could pull us back from the brink. It’s called direct-air capture, and it consists of machines that work like a tree does, sucking carbon dioxide (CO2) out from the air, but on steroids—capturing thousands of times more carbon in the same amount of time, and, hopefully, ensuring we don’t suffer climate catastrophe.

There are at least two reasons that, to date, conversations about direct air capture have been muted. First, climate scientists have hoped global carbon emissions would come under control, and we wouldn’t need direct air capture. But most experts believe that ship has sailed. That brings up the second issue: to date, all estimates suggest direct air capture would be exorbitantly expensive to deploy.

For the past decade, a group of entrepreneurs—partly funded by billionaires like Bill Gates of Microsoft, Edgar Bronfman Jr. of Warner Music, and the late Gary Comer of Land’s End—have been working to prove those estimates wrong. Three companies—Switzerland’s Climeworks, Canada’s Carbon Engineering, and the US’s Global Thermostat—are building machines that, at reasonable costs, can capture CO2 directly from the air. (A fourth company, Kilimanjaro Energy, closed shop due to a lack of funding.) [Continue reading…]

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EPA announces repeal of major Obama-era carbon emissions rule

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration announced Monday that it would take formal steps to repeal President Barack Obama’s signature policy to curb greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, setting up a bitter fight over the future of America’s efforts to tackle global warming.

At an event in eastern Kentucky, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said that his predecessors had departed from regulatory norms in crafting the Clean Power Plan, which was finalized in 2015 and would have pushed states to move away from coal in favor of sources of electricity that produce fewer carbon emissions.

“The war on coal is over,” Mr. Pruitt said. “Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., I will be signing a proposed rule to roll back the Clean Power Plan. No better place to make that announcement than Hazard, Kentucky.”

The repeal proposal, which will be filed in the Federal Register on Tuesday, fulfills a promise President Trump made to eradicate his predecessor’s environmental legacy. Eliminating the Clean Power Plan makes it less likely the United States can fulfill its promise as part of the Paris climate agreement to ratchet down emissions that are warming the planet and contributing to heat waves and sea-level rise. Mr. Trump has vowed to abandon that international accord. [Continue reading…]

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Interior Secretary Zinke invokes Teddy Roosevelt as model, but his public land policies don’t

File 20170926 11782 y7c1q
Public lands along the south fork of the Snake River in southeastern Idaho.
BLM, CC BY

By John Freemuth, Boise State University

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s recommendations to shrink four national monuments and allow fossil fuel development activities on others is just the latest sign that this administration sees natural resource use and extraction as the highest priority for public lands.

I direct the Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University, named for former Idaho Governor and Interior Secretary Cecil Andrus, who died on August 24, 2017 at age 85. One major focus of our research is wise use of public lands and collaborative land use decisions through conversations that give everyone affected a chance to voice their concerns. These values, which Andrus championed, align with mainstream conservation thinking.

Controversies over public lands and natural resources date back more than a century, with policies emphasizing development under some administrations and conservation under others. So the Trump administration’s focus on resource use is not new.

What I see as different this time is rhetoric that diverges completely from reality on the ground. We hear a lot about conservation and the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt, but see proposals to cut public land budgets, promote oil and gas development next to protected areas and open more sage grouse habitat to mining. Some observers have labeled Zinke’s conservation pledges “all hat and no cattle,” recalling the old adage for people who pose as cowboys by dressing the part. Put another way, to these folks, Zinke so far is “all Roosevelt hat and no Roosevelt action.”

[Read more…]

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China’s fossil fuel deadline shifts focus to electric car race

Bloomberg reports: China will set a deadline for automakers to end sales of fossil-fuel-powered vehicles, becoming the biggest market to do so in a move that will accelerate the push into the electric car market led by companies including BYD Co. and BAIC Motor Corp.

Xin Guobin, the vice minister of industry and information technology, said the government is working with other regulators on a timetable to end production and sales. The move will have a profound impact on the environment and growth of China’s auto industry, Xin said at an auto forum in Tianjin on Saturday.

The world’s second-biggest economy, which has vowed to cap its carbon emissions by 2030 and curb worsening air pollution, is the latest to join countries such as the U.K. and France seeking to phase out vehicles using gasoline and diesel. The looming ban on combustion-engine automobiles will goad both local and global automakers to focus on introducing more zero-emission electric cars to help clean up smog-choked major cities. [Continue reading…]

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ExxonMobil refineries are damaged in Hurricane Harvey, releasing hazardous pollutants

The Washington Post reports: ExxonMobil acknowledged Tuesday that Hurricane Harvey damaged two of its refineries, causing the release of hazardous pollutants.

The acknowledgment, in a regulatory filing with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, follows repeated complaints on Twitter of an “unbearable” chemical smell over parts of Houston. However, it was not immediately clear what caused the smell.

ExxonMobil said in the filings that a floating roof covering a tank at the company’s Baytown oil refinery sank in heavy rains, dipping below the surface of oil or other material stored there and causing unusually high emissions, especially of volatile organic compounds, a category of regulated chemicals. [Continue reading…]

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Exxon misled the public on climate change, study says

The New York Times reports: As Exxon Mobil responded to news reports in 2015 that said that the company had spread doubt about the risks of climate change despite its own extensive research in the field, it urged the public to “read the documents” for themselves.

Now two Harvard researchers have done just that, reviewing nearly 200 documents representing Exxon’s research and its public statements and concluding that the company “misled the public” about climate change even as its own scientists were recognizing greenhouse gas emissions as a risk to the planet.

The Harvard researchers — Naomi Oreskes, a professor of the history of science whose work has focused on the energy and tobacco industries, and Geoffrey Supran, a postdoctoral fellow — published their peer-reviewed paper in the journal Environmental Research Letters on Wednesday. They also published their findings in an Opinion article in Wednesday’s New York Times.

They found that Exxon’s climate change studies, published from 1977 to 2014, were in line with the scientific thinking of the time. Some 80 percent of the company’s research and internal communications acknowledged that climate change was real and was caused by humans.

But 80 percent of Exxon’s statements to the broader public, which reached a much larger audience, expressed doubt about climate change. [Continue reading…]

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Russian tanker completes Arctic passage without aid of icebreakers

The New York Times reports: A Russian-owned tanker, built to traverse the frozen waters of the Arctic, completed a journey in record time from Europe to Asia this month, auguring the future of shipping as global warming melts sea ice.

The Christophe de Margerie, a 984-foot tanker built specifically for the journey, became the first ship to complete the so-called Northern Sea Route without the aid of specialized ice-breaking vessels, the ship’s owner, Sovcomflot, said in a statement.

The journey was the culmination of a centuries-old navigational dream and of a decade-long plan by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whose government has indicated it plans to take political and economic advantage of changes to the Arctic’s climate.

“This is a big event in the opening up of the Arctic,” Mr. Putin said of the tanker’s maiden voyage this year.

The ship, transporting liquefied natural gas, completed the trip from Norway to South Korea Thursday of last week, in just 19 days, 30 percent faster than the regular route through the Suez Canal, the company said. [Continue reading…]

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100% renewable energy is now possible

Bill McKibben writes: The knock on environmentalists is that they’ve been better at opposing than proposing. Sure, being against overheating the planet or melting the ice caps should probably speak for itself—but it doesn’t give us a means. So it’s important news that the environmental movement seems to be rallying round a new flag. That standard bears a number: 100 percent.

It’s the call for the rapid conversion of energy systems around the country to 100 percent renewable power—a call for running the United States (and the world) on sun, wind and water. What Medicare for All is to the healthcare debate, or Fight for $15 is to the battle against inequality, 100% Renewable is to the struggle for the planet’s future. It’s how progressives will think about energy going forward—and though it started in northern Europe and Northern California, it’s a call that’s gaining traction outside the obvious green enclaves. In the last few months, cities as diverse as Atlanta and Salt Lake have taken the pledge.

No more half-measures. Barack Obama drove environmentalists crazy with his “all-of-the-above” energy policy, which treated sun and wind as two items on a menu that included coal, gas and oil. That is not good enough. Many scientists tell us that within a decade, at current rates, we’ll likely have put enough carbon in the atmosphere to warm the Earth past the Paris climate targets. Renewables—even the most rapid transition—won’t stop climate change, but getting off fossil fuel now might (there are no longer any guarantees) keep us from the level of damage that would shake civilization. [Continue reading…]

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Oil and gas industry fears Trump’s deregulation campaign may backfire

BuzzFeed reports: President Donald Trump’s aggressive drive to roll back environmental regulations is moving too fast even for some in the oil and gas industry.

Publicly, petroleum companies and their trade groups are cheering Trump’s efforts to undo former President Barack Obama’s environmental regulations, including restrictions on fracking-related pollution, pipeline permits and offshore drilling. But quietly, people in the industry are growing worried that deregulation could backfire on them, according to interviews with a dozen executives, lobbyists, lawyers and analysts.

Among their fears: Laxer rules could set the stage for an environmental disaster like 2010’s BP oil spill in the Gulf, which blackened the industry’s reputation and spurred a regulatory clampdown.

“Every industry wants regulations that make sense, but you don’t need to roll things back so far that it opens an opportunity for outsiders to criticize, or something bad happens,” said Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst at the investment firm Edward Jones.

A person at one oil and gas company expressed similar worries. “It’s not helpful if regulations are streamlined so as to allow something to happen — say, a methane explosion or a spill — and we’d be painted with it as an entire industry,” said the person, who requested anonymity to speak freely.

In addition, some large companies that have already spent money to comply with Obama-era regulations fear being undercut by unscrupulous competitors if the Trump administration reverses those rules. And an industry that prizes regulatory certainty is uneasy with Trump’s efforts to renegotiate lucrative trade deals like NAFTA and reorganize the agencies responsible for overseeing offshore drilling. [Continue reading…]

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