Archive for September, 2013

Slowing of Global Warming May Be Cold Comfort for the Oceans

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons

Pity the planet’s oceans. They have been doing more than their fair share in coping with humanity’s profligate dumping of carbon into the atmosphere and the consequent rise in global temperatures. The oceans have been serving as a buffer, masking the full impact of our species’ voracious need for energy. But their watery intervention seems to come at a tremendous cost.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report on Friday. The big headline news is that the report (the summary of which required unanimous agreement from member nations) provides “unequivocal” evidence that  the atmosphere and oceans have warmed since 1950, and that scientists are now “95 per cent certain” that humans are the “dominant cause”.

Prior to the report’s release, much had been made of the “pause” in global warming over the last fifteen years during which the earth’s temperature has not increased as much as predicted.   Climate change skeptics have been making hay with the discrepancy between climatologists’ predictions of ever increasing temperatures and the apparent leveling off the earth’s surface temperature over the last decade or so. An organized campaign by well-funded climate skeptics have seized on the apparent slowdown to try to discredit a theory supported by the overwhelming majority of climate scientists.

John Church, the IPCC scientist coordinating research on sea change dismissed any notion that the apparent hiatus in rising temperature indicated a slowdown in global warming itself.  Rather, the cause is likely attributable – at least in part – to the oceans absorbing the ever increasing heat. “Oceans can trap huge amounts of heat,” said Church. “But how much and for how long is unclear.” As Church describes the process, heat is being absorbed at deeper levels of the ocean, effectively masking the overall heat load we are asking the planet to take.

The IPCC report is hardly the first time the pause in global warming has been attributed to the oceans acting as giant heat sumps. A recent study in the journal Nature posited that the oceans are absorbing atmospheric heat, pausing the increase in global temperatures even as arctic ice continues to melt at a record pace. That conclusion was echoed in a detailed report by Zeke Hausfather for the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media which attributes the  slowdown in global surface temperatures at least in part on more heat going into the deep oceans.

But the heat load is not the only effect carbon is having on the oceans. The very chemistry of the seas is changing.

The Seattle Times, one of the last independent, family-owned major metropolitan newspapers, is running a remarkable series of investigative reports on ocean acidification. The profoundly unsettling articles describe ocean acidification as the lesser-known twin of climate change. Humanity is dumping 100 tons of carbon – the equivalent of a hopper car of coal – every second of the day, according to the Times report. The oceans are already 30% more acidic than they were just 30 years ago. All that carbon dioxide is scrambling marine life on a scale almost too big to fathom. The increasing acidity of the ocean waters can play havoc with crabs, squid, coral, oysters, and especially krill. Krill are the tiny crustaceans which form the base of the food chain in the world’s oceans. If krill populations collapse, the consequences for the entire ecosystem would be dire.

The Times details the growing alarm in Alaska over the threat to the state’s lucrative crab harvest. Experts warn that the entire fishery there could collapse in the coming decades barring a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

As Hausfather points out in his study, there is still much we don’t understand about the many different factors impacting Earth’s climate system. Nobody knows how much heat and carbon the oceans can safely absorb. But the effects of pouring carbon into them are already apparent. And warming water and increasing acidity are only the beginning. Perhaps the spookiest side effect I’ve seen discussed is the alarming growth in jellyfish populations around the globe. Yes, global climate change and ocean acidification are apparently causing massive increases in jellyfish populations, with decidedly unpleasant consequences for divers, beach combers, and other sea life. While acidification is killing off mollusks and krill, jellyfish, which have no hard shell, thrive in more acidic and warmer waters. They’re taking over the oceans.

Jellyfish appear on the menu in some parts of the world. The Chinese, in particular, have long considered them a delectable treat.

We may all end up eating jellyfish, by necessity if not choice. Get used to it.

The Times has performed an invaluable service by publishing its series on acidification, and you owe yourself the the time to read it. The first installment is here

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Clinker

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA). However, starting October 1, 2012 all EIS submissions must be made through e-NEPA. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

In the meantime, we’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

* * *

EIS No. 20130278, Final EIS, EPA, LA, Designation of the Atchafalaya River Bar Channel Ocean Dredged Material Disposal Site, Review Period Ends: 10/28/2013, Contact: Jessica Franks 214–665–8335. Website.

EIS No. 20130279, Draft EIS (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), BLM, ND, North Dakota Greater Sage-Grouse Draft Resource Management Plan Amendment, Comment Period Ends: 12/26/2013, Contact: Ruth Miller 406–896–5023. Website and website.

EIS No. 20130280, Draft EIS, BLM, NV, 3 Bars Ecosystem and Landscape Restoration Project, Comment Period Ends: 11/12/2013, Contact: Chad Lewis 775–635–4000. Website.

EIS No. 20130281, Final EIS, USFS, MT, Kootenai National Forest Land Management Plan Revision, Review Period Ends: 11/26/2013, Contact: Paul Bradford 406–293–6211. Website.

EIS No. 20130282, Final EIS, USFS, WY, Clinker Mining Addition Project, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forests and Thunder Basin National Grassland, Review Period Ends: 11/04/2013, Contact: Misty Hays 307–358–4690. The above project was inadvertently omitted from the Federal Register Notice published on 09/20/2013. Website.

EIS No. 20130283, Draft EIS, WAPA, USFS, 00, Reauthorization of Permits, Maintenance, and Vegetation Management on Western Area Power Administration Transmission Lines on Forest Service Lands, Comment Period Ends: 11/12/2013, Contact: Jim Hartman 720–962–7255. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Western Area Power Administration and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service are joint lead agencies for the above project. Website.

EIS No. 20130284, Draft Supplement (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), GSA, CA, San Ysidro Land Port of Entry Improvements Project, Comment Period Ends: 11/12/2013, Contact: Osmahn Kadri 415–522–3617. Website.

EIS No. 20130285, Final EIS (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), FHWA, FL, St. Johns River Crossing, Review Period Ends: 10/28/2013, Contact: Cathy Kendal 850–553–2225. Website.

EIS No. 20130286, Final EIS (Not yet available online – check back here for updates.), FHWA, FL, US 301 (SR 200) from CR 227 to CR 233, Review Period Ends: 10/29/2013, Contact: Joseph Sullivan 850–553–2248. Website.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130148, Draft Supplement, USACE, FL, Jacksonville Harbor Navigation, Comment Period Ends: 10/24/2013, Contact: Paul Stodola 904–232–3271 Revision to FR Notice Published 08/09/2013; Extending Comment Period from 09/30/2013 to 10/24/2013. Website.

EIS No. 20130252, Final EIS, USN, CA, Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing, Review Period Ends: 10/28/2013, Contact: Cory Scott 808–472–1420 Revision to FR Notice Published 08/30/2013; Extending the Review Period from 09/30/2013 to 10/28/2013, due to pages inadvertently omitted from the original filing. Website.

EIS No. 20130259, Final EIS, FTA, MD, Purple Line Draft Section 4(f) Evaluation, Review Period Ends: 10/21/2013, Contact: Daniel Koenig 202–219–3528 Revision to FR Notice Published 09/06/2013; Extending Review Period from 10/07/2013 to 10/21/2013. Website.

Log Skyscrapers

Photo by jeff_golden. All rights reserved.

Photo by jeff_golden. All rights reserved.

In a move that won’t come as a surprise to anyone who played with Lincoln Logs as a child, the New York Times reports this week on a major American architecture firm that’s begun designing tall buildings made predominantly out of wood. The firm in question, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, won’t be the first to take such an approach – smaller firms internationally have already begun building taller buildings (the largest is currently 10 stories high and can be found in Melbourne, Australia – building codes here currently restrict wooden buildings over four stories, though it’s likely that will change). But SO&M will bring a lot of domestic publicity to this more environmentally friendly method once the buildings start going up.
So: environmentally friendly how, exactly? According to the Times article and a report from earlier this year put together by the firm themselves, these wooden buildings (which average about 70 percent timber and 30 percent concrete) help reduce CO2 emissions because the wood can hold the carbon, while the production of steel and concrete releases it into the atmosphere. While lumber production in the US has gone down over the last decade (it sunk from 48,732 million board feet to 26 ,057 million between 2006 and 2009, according to a census report, but according to the article, Canada and the US together produce over 60 billion board feet of lumber a year, and the US has a lot of compromised ash borer-affected trees that could be put to good use. Find some more specific info on the firm’s designs here.

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Road Relocation

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA). However, starting October 1, 2012 all EIS submissions must be made through e-NEPA. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

In the meantime, we’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

* * *

EIS No. 20130273, Final EIS, USFS, WY, Mackey Road Relocation, Review Period Ends: 11/04/2013, Contact: Misty Hays 307–358–4690. Website.

EIS No. 20130274, Final EIS, USFS, OR, Galena Project, Review Period Ends: 11/04/2013, Contact: Dave Halemeier 541–575–3401. Website.

EIS No. 20130275, Final EIS, AFS, BLM, CO, San Juan National Forest and Proposed Tres Rios, Field Office Land and Resource Management Plan, Review Period Ends: 10/21/2013, Contact: Mark Lambert 970–385–1240. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management are joint lead agencies for the above project. Website.

EIS No. 20130276, Draft Supplement, USN, WA, Introduction of the P–8A Multi-Mission Aircraft into the U.S. Navy Fleet, Comment Period Ends: 11/04/2013, Contact: Cory Zahm 757–322–4347. Website.

EIS No. 20130277, Final Supplement (Not yet available online. Check back here for updates.), BLM, NV, Silver State Solar South Project Proposed Resource Management Plan Amendment, Review Period Ends: 10/21/2013, Contact: Nancy Christ 702–515–5136. Website.

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130227, Draft EIS, NASA, CA, Proposed Demolition and Environmental Cleanup Activities at Santa Susana Field Laboratory, Comment Period Ends: 10/01/2013, Contact: Allen Elliott 256–544–0662. Revision to FR Notice Published 08/02/2013; Extending Comment Period from 09/16/2013 to 0/01/2013. Website.

New Study by University of Texas Gives Fracking Advocates New Ammo

Bad news for fracking naysayers: it seems they may have lost a significant card in their deck, as a new study published early this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that the methane leaks from fracking sites, long cited as a major concern, may not be nearly as bad as anticipated by the EPA and others. The study, sponsored by both the Environmental Defense Fund (representing the belief that shale gas extracted from fracking may in fact be more environmentally sound and thus a better short term fuel solution than coal) and nine petroleum companies (whose participation is perhaps more dubious), concludes that the sum total of methane (a toxic greenhouse gas, as we all know by now) leaking from the 190 onshore natural gas sites and 500 wells surveyed in the study is decidedly lower than expected, while still certainly within the realm of “significant.”

What does this mean for the future of fracking? Well, the EPA has already imposed regulations requiring additional control over methane leaks, and many companies have already begun imposing stricter controls over escaped green house gases. However, as Peter’s post from yesterday points out, it would seem we still have a long way to go before reaching anywhere near “total control.”

 

Do We Have Your Attention Now?

via WikiMedia Commons

via WikiMedia Commons

Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully. – Samuel Johnson

Nobody ever said it would be easy. There’s lots of natural gas in the ground. We’ve been siphoning it up from the ground for years. But supplies dwindled as traditional fields yielded less and less gas. Fracking has brought a new production bonanza to states around the Union. Inevitably, protests have come hand in hand with increased production. This summer has been dubbed #FearlessSummer by environmentalists opposed to the extraction and carbon energy industries.

Fracking is dirty work. It can pollute ground water, endangering wells and agricultural water, and it produces a tremendous amount of waste. The byproduct of fracking is a wicked stew of proprietary chemicals and water used to force natural gas out of its ancient hiding places underground.

One of the sources of particular ire in the environmental circles is the seeming impunity with which energy companies have been able to pursue natural gas over hill and under dale. The companies rely on eminent domain to site their drilling rigs, and have been largely shielded from liability for environmental damage they have caused while feeding the country’s unquenchable demand for energy.

XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil settled with the Environmental Protection Agency over a 50 thousand gallon spill of fracking slurry at one of its storage tanks in Pennsylvania. Without admitting liability, it agreed to pay a $100,000 fine and implement a more rigorous waste water management regime. It also hauled away some 3,000 tons of contaminated soil.

All well and good as far as the Feds and XTO were concerned. Environmentalists,  not so much. Also not so pleased – the Pennsylvania state Attorney General. Last Tuesday, Attorney General Kathleen Kane filed criminal charges against XTO over the 2010 spill. Not civil. Criminal. That’s a first. No other Marcellus Shale production company has ever faced criminal charges.

Environmentalists are giddy over the prosecution, comparing it to the genteel supervision the company has received from state regulators. Energy industry representatives went ballistic, as well they might, accusing Kane of doing some polluting of her own – of the business environment – and sending a “chilling message” to the energy business.

But Kane’s office insists it wasn’t going off half-cocked. “The prosecutorial powers of this office are used carefully and with great consideration,” First Deputy Attorney General Adrian R. King Jr. said through a spokeswoman. “We closely examine the facts and the applicable law in each case and proceed accordingly.” And Kane’s office didn’t arrive at the charges by itself. It was a grand jury that handed down the charges.

Settlements like the one XTO reached with federal regulators are just a cost of doing business for an enormous company like ExxonMobil. Criminal charges, on the other hand, take the risk/benefit calculation to a whole new level. The Pennsylvania charges have ignited a furor and are sure to be fought by an industry red in tooth and claw. But as the good doctor observed to his friend Boswell, the gallows sharpens the mind. The prospect of standing in the dock is likely to do the same for the captains of the energy industry.

 

 

Last Week in Online Environmental Impact Statements: Waste Confidence

While Federal agencies are required to prepare Environmental Impact Statements in accordance with 40 CFR Part 1502, and to file the EISs with the EPA as specified in 40 CFR 1506.9, the EPA doesn’t yet provide a central repository for filing and viewing EISs electronically. Instead, each week they prepare a digest of the preceding week’s filed EISs, which is published every Friday in the Federal Register under the title, “Notice of Availability” (NOA). However, starting October 1, 2012 all EIS submissions must be made through e-NEPA. An EPA source says that as EISs begin to come in electronically, they will appear alongside EPA comments here.

In the meantime, we’ve done the dirty work for you. Below, we’ve located and linked to the EISs referenced in last week’s NOA. Please note that some of these documents can be very large, and may take a while to load.

You can read any available EPA comments on these EISs here.

* * *

EIS No. 20130263, Draft EIS, FHWA, NV, Pyramid Highway/US 395 Connection, Comment Period Ends: 11/12/2013, Contact: Abdelmoez Abdalla 775–687–1231. Website.

EIS No. 20130264, Final EIS, FHWA, CO, Interstate 25 Improvements through Pueblo, Review Period Ends: 10/15/2013, Contact: Chris Horn 720–963–3017. Website.

EIS No. 20130265, Final EIS, USFS, UT, Fishlake National Forest Oil and Gas Leasing Analysis Project, Review Period Ends: 10/21/2013, Contact: Rob Hamilton 435–896–1022. Website.

EIS No. 20130266, Draft EIS, USN, GU, The Mariana Islands Training and Testing, Comment Period Ends: 11/12/2013, Contact: John Van Name 808–471–1714. Website.

EIS No. 20130267, Final Supplement, USFS, CA, Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment (SNFPA), Review Period Ends: 11/18/2013, Contact: Donald Yasuda 916–640–1168. Website.

EIS No. 20130268, Final EIS, USFWS, WV, Proposed Issuance of an Incidental Take Permit For the Beech Ridge Energy Wind Project Habitat Conservation Plan, Review Period Ends: 10/15/2013, Contact: Laura Hill 304–636–6586. Website.

EIS No. 20130269, Draft EIS, NRC, 00, Generic—Waste Confidence, Comment Period Ends: 11/27/2013, Contact: Sarah Lopas 301–287–0675. Website.

EIS No. 20130270, Draft EIS, FHWA, OH, Cleveland Opportunity Corridor Project, Comment Period Ends: 10/28/2013, Contact: Naureen Dar 614–280–6846. Website.

EIS No. 20130271, Final EIS, HUD, NY, Halletts Point Rezoning, Review Period Ends: 10/15/2013, Contact: Robert Dobruskin 212–720–3423. Website.

EIS No. 20130272, Final EIS, USFS, AK, Greens Creek Mine Tailings Disposal Facility Expansion, Review Period Ends: 10/28/2013, Contact: Sarah Samuelson 907–789–6274. Website.

 

Amended Notices

EIS No. 20130159, Final Supplement, USACE, IN, Indianapolis North Flood Damage Reduction Project, Review Period Ends: 10/31/2013, Contact: Keith Keeney 502–315–6885 Revision to FR Notice Published 07/05/2013; Extending Comment Period from 09/06/2013 to 10/31/2013. Website.

EIS No. 20130260, Draft EIS, BIA, NV, Moapa Solar Energy Center, Comment Period Ends: 10/21/2013, Contact: Amy Heuslein 602–379–6750. Revision to FR Notice Published 09/06/2013; Correction to Comment Period—Change from 10/14/2013 to 10/21/2013 and Contact Phone Number should be 602–379–6750. Website.

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