Archive | Environmental

Fracking earthquakes

Oh, what’s a few earth tremors when it comes to sucking gas out of the earth? These anti-fracking types just need to count their blessings:

CLEVELAND (AP) – A northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling almost certainly caused a series of 11 minor quakes in the Youngstown area since last spring, a seismologist investigating the quakes said Monday.

Research is continuing on the now-shuttered injection well at Youngstown and seismic activity, but it might take a year for the wastewater-related rumblings in the earth to dissipate, said John Armbruster of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, N.Y.

Brine wastewater dumped in wells comes from drilling operations, including the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale that has been a source of concern among environmental groups and some property owners. Injection wells have also been suspected in quakes in Astabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.

Thousands of gallons of brine were injected daily into the Youngstown well that opened in 2010 until its owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC, agreed Friday to stop injecting the waste into the earth as a precaution while authorities assessed any potential links to the quakes.

After the latest and largest quake Saturday at 4.0 magnitude, state officials announced their beliefs that injecting wastewater near a fault line had created enough pressure to cause seismic activity. They said four inactive wells within a five-mile radius of the Youngstown well would remain closed. But they also stressed that injection wells are different from drilling wells that employ fracking.

Armbruster said Monday he expects more quakes will occur despite the shutdown of the Youngstown well.
“The earthquakes will trickle on as a kind of a cascading process once you’ve caused them to occur,” he said. “This one year of pumping is a pulse that has been pushed into the ground, and it’s going to be spreading out for at least a year.”

The quakes began last March with the most recent on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve each occurring within 100 meters of the injection well. The Saturday quake in McDonald, outside of Youngstown, caused no serious injuries or property damage.

Youngstown Democrat Rep. Robert Hagan on Monday renewed his call for a moratorium on fracking and well injection disposal to allow a review of safety issues.

“If it’s safe, I want to do it,” he said in a telephone interview. “If it’s not, I don’t want to be part and parcel to destruction of the environment and the fake promise of jobs.”

He said a moratorium “really is what we should be doing, mostly toward the injection wells, but we should be asking questions on drilling itself.”

Blocked

It’s a win for drivers, all right – the moneyed interests that drive everything these days:

FRESNO, Calif. — A federal judge blocked California from enforcing its first-in-the-nation mandate for cleaner, low-carbon fuels on Thursday, saying the rules favor biofuels produced in the state.

The lawsuit challenging the state regulations, which were adopted as part of California’s landmark 2006 global warming law, was filed in federal court last year by a coalition that includes the National Petrochemical & Refiners Association and the Consumer Energy Alliance.

Fresno-based U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence O’Neill’s written ruling Thursday said the low-carbon fuel rules violated the U.S. Constitution’s commerce clause by discriminating against crude oil and biofuels producers located outside California.

Out-of-state fuels producers hailed the decision as a win for California drivers.

GMO

Oops!

(AP) One of the nation’s most widely planted crops — a genetically engineered corn plant that makes its own insecticide — may be losing its effectiveness because a major pest appears to be developing resistance more quickly than scientists expected.

The U.S. food supply is not in any immediate danger because the problem remains isolated. But scientists fear potentially risky farming practices could be blunting the hybrid’s sophisticated weaponry.

When it was introduced in 2003, so-called Bt corn seemed like the answer to farmers’ dreams: It would allow growers to bring in bountiful harvests using fewer chemicals because the corn naturally produces a toxin that poisons western corn rootworms. The hybrid was such a swift success that it and similar varieties now account for 65 percent of all U.S. corn acres — grain that ends up in thousands of everyday foods such as cereal, sweeteners and cooking oil.

But over the last few summers, rootworms have feasted on the roots of Bt corn in parts of four Midwestern states, suggesting that some of the insects are becoming resistant to the crop’s pest-fighting powers.

Scientists say the problem could be partly the result of farmers who’ve planted Bt corn year after year in the same fields.

Most farmers rotate corn with other crops in a practice long used to curb the spread of pests, but some have abandoned rotation because they need extra grain for livestock or because they have grain contracts with ethanol producers. Other farmers have eschewed the practice to cash in on high corn prices, which hit a record in June.

Uh oh

This is awful news, isn’t it? Not to mention what it means for exposed humans:

SEATTLE — Scientists in Alaska are investigating whether local seals are being sickened by radiation from Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

Scores of ring seals have washed up on Alaska’s Arctic coastline since July, suffering or killed by a mysterious disease marked by bleeding lesions on the hind flippers, irritated skin around the nose and eyes and patchy hair loss on the animals’ fur coats.

Biologists at first thought the seals were suffering from a virus, but they have so far been unable to identify one, and tests are now underway to find out if radiation is a factor.

“We recently received samples of seal tissue from diseased animals captured near St. Lawrence Island with a request to examine the material for radioactivity,” said John Kelley, Professor Emeritus at the Institute of Marine Science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Credit where it’s due on mercury ruling

David Roberts of Grist does a nice job of summing up the importance of the new EPA rule regarding the emission of mercury and other toxins from coal- and oil-fired power plants:

… This one is a Big Deal. It’s worth lifting our heads out of the news cycle and taking a moment to appreciate that history is being made. Finally controlling mercury and toxics will be an advance on par with getting lead out of gasoline. It will save save tens of thousands of lives every year and prevent birth defects, learning disabilities, and respiratory diseases. It will make America a more decent, just, and humane place to live.

More here.

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