MoJo Author Feeds: Thomas Stackpole | Mother Jones Mother Jones logo en How Tens of Thousands of Americans Got Cheated Out of Their Mineral Rights <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>What if a gas company wanted to set up a fracking rig on your property? What if you found out that you couldn't say no? A <a href="" target="_blank">new report from Reuters</a> explains how tens of thousands of homeowners across America suddenly found themselves vulnerable to this nightmare scenario, as they discovered that their deeds cover their surface land but not the rights to the minerals beneath it. And as the American energy boom opens new land to extraction, homeowners from Florida to California to Washington to North Carolina have discovered that they unknowingly signed away the rights to what's under their property. And they might not be able to do anything about it.</p> <p>Mineral rights&mdash;the right to extract and profit from whatever is under the ground&mdash;are more and more commonly being separated from land deeds, and in many cases, sellers aren't legally required to disclose that the estates have been split. After reviewing property records in 25 states, Reuters&nbsp;found that D.R. Horton, the biggest home-builder&nbsp;in the US, "has separated&nbsp;the mineral rights from tens of thousands of homes in states where shale plays are either well under way or possible, including North Carolina, Alabama, Mississippi, Virginia, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Oklahoma, Utah, Idaho, Texas, Colorado, Washington, and California." When the rights are split from the property deed, homeowners not only have no say, they also don't see royalties from the drilling, which paid out more than $20 billion nationally in 2012.</p> <p>The impacts can go way beyond potentially having a well pad show up on your doorstep. <a href="" target="_blank">According to Reuters</a>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Loss of mineral rights isn&rsquo;t the only hit&nbsp;homeowners take. Property-tax assessments don&rsquo;t take into account severed mineral rights. And "lenders may not be willing to extend mortgage loans on property that&nbsp;is subject to intensive gas extraction activities," according to a report last year by the North Carolina Department of Justice.</p> <p>Wells Fargo, the nation&rsquo;s largest home&nbsp;lender, sometimes denies mortgages to&nbsp;homes encumbered by gas leases. And for&nbsp;the past year, Sovereign Bank has been including clauses in mortgages allowing it to declare borrowers in default if any part of the subsurface property has been "leased,&nbsp;assigned or otherwise transferred for use to&nbsp;extract minerals, oil or gas," according to a&nbsp;copy of the bank&rsquo;s mortgage addendum. If&nbsp;mineral rights are severed, "we would not&nbsp;move forward with financing a property,"&nbsp;said a bank spokeswoman.</p> <p>Insurance policies usually exclude damage from "industrial operations," and some&nbsp;companies are denying coverage altogether&nbsp;for homes where the mineral rights have&nbsp;been severed. &nbsp;Title insurance companies&nbsp;have been exempting anything to do with&nbsp;mineral rights from their policies, too.</p> </blockquote> <p>Landowners have pushed back with mixed results. The D.R. Horton returned mineral rights to a&nbsp;group of 700 angry homeowners in North Carolina after an inquiry by the state Department of Justice. But some individuals haven't been so lucky.&nbsp;Earlier this year, Martin Whiteman of West Virginia <a href="" target="_blank">lost an appeal</a> for an injunction and damages after <a href="" target="_blank">Chesapeake Appalachia</a>&mdash;a subsidiary of Chesapeake&nbsp;Energy&mdash;used ten acres of his 101 acre sheep farm to set up&nbsp;three wells&nbsp;and a series of disposal pits that rendered the land practically unusable. As the practice expands and more people discover that a few&nbsp;lines of legalese have radically changed the deal they thought they were getting, it's possible states will clarify how developers have to disclose this practice. Until then, it's buyer beware.</p> <p>The whole piece is worth a read. You can <a href="" target="_blank">find it here</a>.</p></body></html> MoJo Economy Energy Supreme Court Wed, 09 Oct 2013 20:14:39 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 236456 at Watch: Robots That Hunt Down Jellyfish and Destroy Them <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p></p><div align="center"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="360" src="//" width="640"></iframe></div> <p>Over the weekend&nbsp;the world's largest boiling-water nuclear reactor, Sweden's Oskarshamn plant, was paralyzed&nbsp;after a bloom of <a href="" target="_blank">moon jellyfish</a> clogged plant's cooling systems, forcing it to shut down. <a href=";_r=1&amp;" target="_blank">According to the <em>New York Times</em></a>, the&nbsp;jellyfish had been cleared out of the plant's pipes by Tuesday, and engineers are preparing to restart the reactor. Odd as it sounds, this is actually a pretty common problem&nbsp;(yes, really).&nbsp;</p> <p>"The last time this happened [at this plant] was in August 2005, when we had to shut down Oskarshamn-1 because of a jellyfish invasion," a spokesperson for EON SE, the company that co-owns the plant, <a href="" target="_blank">told&nbsp;<em>Bloomberg</em></a>. "<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">This situation is caused by a huge amount of jellyfish, just one is definitely not enough to cause problems." </span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">Jellyfish blooms&mdash;the term for giant swarms of jellyfish&mdash;have also been responsible for nuclear shut downs in <a href="" target="_blank">California</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Florida</a></span>,<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">Israel, Scotland</a>, <a href=";q=madras+atomic+power+station#v=snippet&amp;q=madras%20atomic%20power%20station&amp;f=false" target="_blank">India</a>, and Japan, where one plant has reported removing as much as 150 tons of jellyfish from its system&nbsp;<a href=";q=150+tons#v=snippet&amp;q=150%20tons&amp;f=false" target="_blank">in one day</a>. In 1999, a jellyfish bloom clogged the cooling system of a major coal-fired plant in the Philippines, leaving 40 million people without power. And in 2006, in a nigh unprecedented act of aggression, jellyfish in Brisbane, Australia, afflicted the massive nuclear-powered&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"><em>USS Ronald Reagan</em></a> with an <a href=";q=Acute+case+of+fouling#v=snippet&amp;q=Reagan&amp;f=false" target="_blank">"acute case of fouling</a>," clogging its cooling systems and forcing it to leave the harbor.</span></p> <p>Scientists at Korea's Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) have come up with one solution to the jellyfish problem: build robots to kill them. For the last three years, the team has been working to create robots that can travel the ocean, seeking out swarms of jellyfish using a camera and GPS. Once the jellyfish are located, the robots set about shredding the jellies with an underwater propeller, according to <a href=";req_BIDX=10&amp;req_BNM=ed_news&amp;pt=17&amp;req_VI=4488" target="_blank">KAIST</a> and <a href=";utm_medium=feed&amp;utm_campaign=Feed:+IeeeSpectrum+(IEEE+Spectrum)" target="_blank">IEEE</a> Spectrum.</p> <p>This is what the robots look like on the surface. They roam in a group of three:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/Formation%20Control%20by%20JEROS%20%281%29.jpg" style="height: 347px; width: 550px;"><div class="caption"><a href=";req_BIDX=10&amp;req_BNM=ed_news&amp;pt=17&amp;req_VI=4488" target="_blank">KAIST</a></div> </div> </div> <p>And the video at top is what they're doing beneath the surface, using a specialized net and propeller. Be warned, it's graphic.</p> <p>In preliminary tests, the robots could pulverize 2,000 pounds of jellyfish per hour, KAIST says. The team sees other uses for autonomous sea-faring robots, too, such as marine waste removal.</p> <p>Scientists&nbsp;<a href=";cpsidt=18876175" target="_blank">have found</a>&nbsp;that jellyfish are&nbsp;<a href=";userIsAuthenticated=false" target="_blank">surprisingly resilient</a> in the face of changing oceans. Though <a href="" target="_blank">ocean acidification</a>&mdash;caused by the uptick of carbon in the atmosphere being absorbed by the oceans&mdash;is <a href="" target="_blank">harming coral reefs</a> and&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">imperiling</a>&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">shellfish</a>, jellyfish are thriving. Prodigious blooms have decimated fish populations in the Gulf of Mexico, the Black Sea, and in southern Africa, where a 30,000 square-mile swarm has been described as a <a href="" target="_blank">"curtain of death" and&nbsp;"a stingy-slimy killing field."</a>&nbsp;Still, <a href="" target="_blank">some scientists argue</a>&nbsp;that jellyfish populations fluctuate naturally and that there hasn't actually been a significant increase.</p> <p>In&nbsp;<em><a href=";tag=thneyoreofbo-20&amp;linkCode=as2&amp;camp=1789&amp;creative=9325&amp;creativeASIN=022602010X" target="_blank">Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean</a></em>,&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">biologist&nbsp;</span>Lisa-ann<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&nbsp;</span>Gershwin <a href="" target="_blank">argues </a>that human activities are damaging the world's oceans and paving the way for a jellyfish explosion:</p> <blockquote> <p>We are creating a world more like the late Precambrian than the late 1800s&mdash;a world where jellyfish ruled the seas and organisms with shells didn&rsquo;t exist. We are creating a world where we humans may soon be unable to survive, or want to.</p> </blockquote> <p>The 1,400-megawatt unit at Oskarshamn should be back at full capacity sometime this week, <a href="" target="_blank">according to <em>National Geographic</em></a>. But if&nbsp;<em>Stung!</em>&acirc;&#128;&#139; is right, we might have much bigger problems to worry about soon. These jellyfish-shredding robots might just be our last, best hope.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Video Climate Change Climate Desk Science Tech Top Stories Thu, 03 Oct 2013 10:00:07 +0000 Maggie Severns and Thomas Stackpole 235796 at America's Nuke Plants Are in Trouble <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>America's fleet of nuclear power plants might be on the cusp of an industry crisis, according to an investigation by&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"><em>Inside Climate News</em></a> and <a href="" target="_blank">a recent report</a> from Vermont Law School's Institute for Energy and the Environment. The industry has been plagued by a streak of plant closures, which come as regulations, expensive upgrades,&nbsp;and newly cheap natural gas have made nuclear increasingly uncompetitive in the energy market. Plants in <a href="" target="_blank">Vermont</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">Wisconsin</a>, <a href="" target="_blank">California</a>, and <a href="" target="_blank">Florida</a>&mdash;the first plants to close in 15 years&mdash;have announced this year that&nbsp;they're shutting down. And more are on the chopping block. According to the report, the industry might shrink in the coming decades, sinking hopes of America being at the start of "nuclear renaissance."</p> <p>Six years ago, amidst tax credits and nuclear-friendly regulation,&nbsp;a flood of proposed nuclear projects appeared to be the end of the drought that followed the 1979 accident at Pennsylvania's Three Mile Island plant, when a partial meltdown stoked fears of a nuclear disaster and halted&nbsp;all new uranium power plant construction. But today, plans for more than half of the 28 new&nbsp;reactors that were proposed have been put on hold or canceled, and those that have gone ahead have suffered from delays and heaping budget overruns. Sixty-two percent of US plants have been operating for more than 30 years&mdash;and 20 percent for more than 40 years (the limit of their projected lifespan when they were built). And utility companies are becoming more reticent to pay for their expensive upgrades now that the natural gas boom has created a glut of cheap power.</p> <p>The newly announced closures are just part of the grim picture the nuclear industry is facing. A 2012 court ruling blocked new permits from being issued until the Nuclear Regulatory Commission can assess the risks of storing spent fuel at plant sites, and at least five projects that would boosted the output of existing plants have already been canceled this year. The projects that are continuing in Georgia, South Carolina, and Tennessee&nbsp;are beleaguered by delays and cost overruns.</p> <p>The <a href="" target="_blank">report from Vermont Law School's Mark Cooper</a>, a senior fellow at the school's Institute for Energy and Environment, paints an even more dire picture. "With little chance that the cost of new reactors will become competitive&nbsp;with low carbon alternatives in the time frame relevant for old reactor retirement&nbsp;decisions," the report intones, "attention will shift to the economics of keeping old reactors&nbsp;online, increasing their capacity and/or extending their lives." Of the 99 operating nuclear plants, the report says, "in terms of basic economics, there are three dozen reactors that are on the razor&rsquo;s edge."</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/NuclearPowerPlantsUSAMap900.jpeg"></div> <p>The culprit for nuclear's shrinking margins is the glut of cheap natural gas. When the nuclear renaissance was being prophesied in the mid 2000s, natural gas prices were more than four times what they are today. In this more competitive climate, David Lochbaum, director of the nuclear safety project at the&nbsp;Union of Concerned Scientists, <a href="" target="_blank">told </a><em><a href="" target="_blank">Inside Climate News</a>,</em>&nbsp;"you're basically one surprise away&mdash;one component [problem] away&mdash;from not having the economics favor you." Another major burden facing the industry, the question of what to do with reactor waste, and how to pay for it, is being argued by the Department of Energy <a href="" target="_blank">Wednesday morning</a>,&nbsp;defending <a href="" target="_blank">a fee it imposed for a future nuclear waste repository</a>.</p> <p>According to <em>Inside Climate News,</em>&nbsp;"the U.S. industry has weathered tough times before. A similar combination of economic stresses led to the closure of ten reactors in the mid-to-late 1990s, prompting the Department of Energy to predict that 50 reactors would be mothballed between 1995 and 2015." Despite the dire forecast, only 15 reactors were decommissioned since 1995.</p> <p>There is light on the horizon, however,&nbsp;for a new generation of nuclear plants that could run on the spent fuel from the current fleet (which surely beats <a href="" target="_blank">sprinkling it from airplanes</a>). According to a story in <a href=";_r=1&amp;partner=rss&amp;emc=rss" target="_blank">Wednesday's&nbsp;<em>New York Times</em></a>, Bill Gates has made this new breed of nuclear reactors a pet project. Terra Power, which is led by Gates and former&nbsp;Microsoft Chief Technology Officer Nathan Myhrvold, is shooting to build&nbsp;"a new kind of nuclear reactor that would be fueled by today&rsquo;s nuclear waste, supply all the electricity in the United States for the next 800 years and, possibly, cut the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation around the world," according to the&nbsp;<em>Times</em>. It's courting China as a lead partner for the $5 billion prototype project.</p> <p>Read the <a href="" target="_blank">whole <em>Inside Climate News</em>&nbsp;story here</a>.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Economy Energy Tech Wed, 25 Sep 2013 19:41:13 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 235081 at Will the EPA's New Carbon Regulations Kill Coal? <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>On Friday morning the Environmental Protection Agency released its standards for carbon emissions for new power plants, the first major milestone in&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">President Obama's second-term&nbsp;plan to fight climate change.</span>&nbsp;Detractors are already describing the regulations as a job-killing "salvo" in the supposed "war on coal."&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">The new rules, which are the first to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants,&nbsp;could&nbsp;effectively stop new coal-fired plants from being built</span>.</p> <p><a href="" target="_blank">The standards</a> will limit the number of pounds of carbon that can be released per unit of electricity produced, restricting gas plants bigger than 850 megawatts to&nbsp;1,000 pounds per megawatt hour, and coal-fired units and gas turbines smaller than 850 megawatts to 1,100 pounds. The average new gas plant already meets these standards, but advanced new&nbsp;coal plants produce more than 1,600 pounds per megawatt hour, so to meet the new benchmark, they'd have to substantially cut their carbon emissions (a comparable natural gas plant clocks about 790). To do this, they'd have to use a&nbsp;process called "carbon capture and storage" (<a href="" target="_blank">CCS</a>) in which carbon is separated from emissions. And according to experts, there's still a long way to go <a href="" target="_blank">before that's economically viable</a>.</p> <p>EPA chief Gina McCarthy&nbsp;says she doesn't see coal dying out, and at a&nbsp;hearing of the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday, she defended the yet-to-be-released rules. "On the basis of the information that we see and what is out in the market today and what is being contemplated today, that CCS technology is feasible," <a href="" target="_blank">she said</a>.&nbsp;"We believe coal will continue to represent a significant portion of the energy supply in the decades to come."</p> <p>But the skeptics aren't buying it. "We know that CCS costs billions of dollars," said Republican&nbsp;John Shimkus&nbsp;of Illinois <a href="" target="_blank">at the hearing</a>. "For these rules to be promulgated, we know we aren't going to have any new coal-fired power plants because of the costs of CCS." The&nbsp;American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, an industry group, argues&nbsp;that the regulations will actually hinder carbon capture technology. "The federal government&nbsp;should first focus on ensuring the coal industry can economically build second-generation plants rather than put a halt to the innovative progress made to date," said spokeswoman Laura Sheehan in a statement. "If&nbsp;the EPA acts as expected, the United States, which is the current global leader of carbon capture and storage&hellip;technology, will cede its ground and fall to the back of the innovation race."</p> <p>Coal is already falling behind though, and fast. "Even without CCS, the cost of a coal plant is more expensive than building a natural gas plant, given the low price of gas," says Howard Herzog, a senior research engineer at the MIT Energy Initiative. "People who have access to gas, they're going to build gas. This will make the economics even worse." For coal to compete with natural gas, Herzog says, the price of gas would have to have top $10 per million BTU&mdash;<a href="" target="_blank">roughly three times</a> the current price.</p> <p>"The natural gas boom is what changed the economics and is doing it to coal. It's not the EPA," says David Doniger, the policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's Climate and Clean Air program&nbsp;and former director of climate change policy at the EPA during the Clinton administration. "Power companies are basically agnostic about which power source they're using."&nbsp;</p> <p>Coal's dominance of the American energy market, which it has securely held for over 60 years, was most recently cemented in the 1970s, when the Powerplant and Industrial Fuel Use Act <a href="" target="_blank">curtailed the construction of oil- and gas-fired plants</a>&nbsp;after the 1973 oil crisis. But coal's market share&nbsp;has been gently declining since those restrictions were lifted&nbsp;in 1987&mdash;a trend which has rapidly accelerated in recent years with the glut of<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px;">&nbsp;newly-cheap, domestic natural&nbsp;gas</span>. According to the US Energy Information Administration, "between 2000 and 2012,&nbsp;natural gas generating capacity grew by 96%. By contrast, additions to coal capacity were relatively minor during that period, and petroleum-fired capacity declined by 12%." In 2012, coal power accounted for 37 percent of total US electricity generation, and natural gas accounted for 30.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/CoalNatGasElasticity%20copy_2.jpg"><div class="caption">Source: <a href="" target="_blank">US Energy Information Agency</a></div> </div> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">The new rules will only apply to new power plants. Carbon regulations for existing plants will be proposed in June 2014&nbsp;and finalized the following year. But older coal plants are already being squeezed by new EPA&nbsp;standards for mercury, arsenic, and other toxins, which go into effect in 2016, according to&nbsp;</span><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">Faith&nbsp;Bugel, a senior attorney with the Environmental Law &amp; Policy Center in Chicago.</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">If coal is being targeted, it's not completely without reason. In a <a href="" target="_blank">recent study</a> that identified the 100 power plants that produced the most carbon in the US, <a href="" target="_blank">98 were coal plants</a>. <a href="" target="_blank">Forty percent</a> of the country's carbon emissions currently come from power plants, with coal plants accounting for <a href="" target="_blank">more than half</a>.</span></p> <p>On Thursday, Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">to denounce</a> the forthcoming rules. "It's just the latest administration salvo in its never ending war on coal&mdash;a war against the very people who provide power and energy for our country,"&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">he said</a>. "Congress cannot sit idly by and let the EPA destroy a vital source of energy and a vital source of employment."</p> <p>But the NRDC's&nbsp;Doniger argues that coal's problems go far beyond the regulations. "They're economic losers who want to blame the EPA for their lack of competitiveness in the marketplace," he says. "If I'm tying to bench press 400 pounds and I can't do it, it doesn't matter if I'm trying to bench press 425."</p> <p>Coal power isn't likely to disappear anytime soon, however. And while Friday's&nbsp;standards may stop new coal-fired plants from being built, the rules for existing plants&mdash;which will be proposed next summer&mdash;might have a bigger impact. "If you're really going to impact climate change, you've got to significantly reduce the carbon you're producing," says Herzog, which means that "the<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;">&nbsp;systems that produce our electricity in the future have to produce an order of </span>magnitude<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;"> less carbon." Still, he says, "what we're doing here is a good first step."</span></p> <p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 2em;">*<em>This article was updated to reflect the numbers released by the EPA Friday morning.</em></span></p></body></html> Environment Climate Change Energy Regulatory Affairs Top Stories Fri, 20 Sep 2013 10:00:08 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 234661 at Watch: This Video Explains Almost Everything You Want to Know About Fracking <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="473" src="//" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Still trying to figure out what the big deal with fracking is? Hydraulic fracturing&mdash;fracking for short&mdash;is the controversial process that has fueled the new energy boom in the US, making it possible to tap reserves that had previously been too difficult and expensive to extract. It works by pumping millions of gallons of pressurized water, with sand and a cocktail of chemicals, into rock formations to create tiny cracks and release trapped oil and gas. It's been tied to&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank">earthquakes</a>&nbsp;and has led to a number of lawsuits, including one that resulted in a settlement agreement that barred <a href="" target="_blank">a seven-year-old</a>&nbsp;from ever talking about it. At the same time, fracking has also created a glut of cheap energy and is helping to push coal, and coal-fired power plants, out of the market.</p> <p>But for all the fighting about whether fracking is good or bad (and research has shown the more people know, <a href="" target="_blank">the more polarized they become</a>), many people don't understand&nbsp;what fracking actually&nbsp;<em>is</em>. The Munich-based design team <a href="" target="_blank">Kurzgesagt</a>&nbsp;has put together <a href="" target="_blank">a video</a> that explains why fracking&mdash;which has been around since the 1940s&mdash;just caught on in the last ten years, and why people are worried. The video, which was posted earlier this month, has gone viral, and racked up over one million views in less than 10 days.</p> <p>The video gets a lot right, but critics have also taken issue with a few of its claims. For example, the video states that fracking companies&nbsp;"say nothing about the precise composition of the chemical mixture but it is known that there are about 700 chemical agents which can be used in the process." Energy in Depth, an industry group, has <a href="" target="_blank">released a response</a> noting that&nbsp;companies&nbsp;<em>do</em> <a href="" target="_blank">disclose some information about chemicals</a> used in fracking. What that group doesn't&nbsp;mention, however, is that companies&nbsp;don't have to disclose chemicals that are designated as "trade secrets,"&nbsp;which is a <a href="" target="_blank">pretty serious exception</a>.</p> <p>Energy in Depth also quotes former EPA chief Lisa Jackson's testimony (among others) that "in no case have we made a definitive determination that the [fracturing] process has caused chemicals to enter groundwater." The key word here is "definitive"&mdash;there is a growing body of evidence that fracking&nbsp;can be linked to <a href="" target="_blank">increased levels of methane, propane, and ethane</a> in groundwater near fracking sites (likely due to faulty wells), and there are <a href="" target="_blank">plenty of reasons to question</a> whether pumping <a href="" target="_blank">billions of gallons</a> of toxic fluid into disposal wells is a good idea. (<em>ProPublica&nbsp;</em>has a couple of great, <a href="" target="_blank">long pieces</a> on <a href="" target="_blank">injection wells</a>.)</p></body></html> Blue Marble Climate Change Economy Fri, 13 Sep 2013 19:29:45 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 234181 at 1 Percent of America's Power Plants Emit 33 Percent of Energy Industry's Carbon <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>Less than 1 percent of US power plants produce nearly a third of the energy industry's carbon emissions, according to a <a href="" target="_blank">new report</a> released Tuesday. "If the 50 most-polluting U.S. power plants&nbsp;were an independent nation," reads the report from<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">&nbsp;Environment America Research &amp; Policy Center, an independent nonprofit,</span>&nbsp;"they would be&nbsp;the seventh-largest emitter of carbon dioxide&nbsp;in the world, behind Germany and ahead of South Korea." The vast majority of the top 100 offenders&mdash;98 of them in fact&mdash;are coal plants.</p> <p>The report, which comes in advance of a Environmental Protection Agency proposal on emissions standards for new power plants expected later this month, claims that cleaning up the biggest polluters could have an outsized impact on reducing greenhouse gases. A March EPA proposal suggested capping carbon production at 1,000 pounds of CO<sub>2</sub> per megawatt-hour produced for new plants. That's well below the 3,000 pounds of CO<sub>2</sub> per megawatt-hour the dirtiest existing plants produce. Standards for existing plants are in the works, too&mdash;the EPA's proposal is supposed to be submitted by June 2014 and finalized the following year.&nbsp;Even if the standards are weakened in the approval process, the average coal plant still produces more than twice as much carbon than allowed by the cap. That means new coal plants are&nbsp;"highly unlikely" to&nbsp;meet the EPA's target, according to the report.</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/carbon%20chart.jpg"><div class="caption">Source: Environment America Research &amp; Policy Center</div> </div> <p>Today, the 50 dirtiest plants in the United States&mdash;all coal-fired&mdash;account for 2 percent of the world's energy-related carbon pollution each year. That's equal to the annual emissions from half of America's <a href="" target="_blank">240 million cars</a>. The 100 dirtiest plants&mdash;a tiny fraction of the country's 6,000 power plants&mdash;account for a fifth of all US carbon emissions. According to the report, curbing the emissions of the worst offenders in the United States "is one of the most effective ways&nbsp;to reduce U.S. global warming pollution&hellip;reducing the risk that&nbsp;emissions will reach a level that triggers dangerous,&nbsp;irreversible climate change impacts."</p> <p>The United States has <a href="" target="_blank">been trending</a> <a href="" target="_blank">away from coal</a>, and a recent spate of <a href="" target="_blank">bankruptcies&nbsp;and closings</a> have thrown the future of coal-fired plants, and their potential for profit,&nbsp;into question. If the new EPA standards don't change the US energy landscape, it's possible that glut of <a href="" target="_blank">cheap natural gas</a> and looming expensive upgrades for coal plants <a href="" target="_blank">will</a>.</p> <p>Here are the top 10 dirtiest plants in the states, and their yearly emissions:</p> <ol><li>Georgia Power Co.'s&nbsp;Scherer Coal plant, Georgia (21.3<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">&nbsp;million metric tons)</span></li> <li>Alabama Power Co.'s James H. Miller Jr. plant, Alabama (20.7<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">&nbsp;million metric tons)</span></li> <li>Luminant Generation&nbsp;Company's Martin Lake plant, Texas (18.8 <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> <li>Union Electric Co.'s&nbsp;Labadie plant, Missouri (18.5 <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> <li>NRG Texas Power's W.A. Parish plant (17.8 <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> <li>Duke Energy Indiana Inc.'s Gibson plant (16.9 <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> <li>Ohio Power Co.'s General James M.&nbsp;Gavin plant (16.6&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> <li>FirstEnergy Generation Corp.'s&nbsp;FirstEnergy Bruce&nbsp;Mansfield plant (16.4&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> <li>Detroit Edison Co.'s Monroe plant&nbsp;(16.4 <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> <li>Salt River Project's&nbsp;Navajo plant&nbsp;(15.9 <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">million metric tons)</span></li> </ol><p><span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, Helevetica, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">&acirc;&#128;&#139;&acirc;&#128;&#139;You can see the full list <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.</span></p></body></html> Blue Marble Energy Top Stories Wed, 11 Sep 2013 17:09:28 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 233951 at Syrian Opposition: "We Don't Trust the Russians" <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>President Obama has <a href="" target="_blank">reportedly thrown</a> his support behind the Russian proposal for the Syrian regime to turn its chemical weapons over to the international community, <a href="" target="_blank">agreeing to talks</a> at the United Nations Security Council. But at a Tuesday morning press conference, representatives for the Syrian opposition made its position clear: "We don&rsquo;t trust the Russians."</p> <p>At the National Press Club in Washington, DC, members of the&nbsp;National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces, the chief political body representing the US-backed rebels, asked for greater monetary and material support from the US, and made the case that the opposition was still capable of overthrowing the regime of Bashar al-Assad. But most pointedly, Farah al-Atassi,&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">a Syrian Coalition member and president of the National Syrian Women Association, said that </span>Russia&rsquo;s close ties to the Assad regime have cost it any credibility in the negotiations. "After two and a half years of manipulating the Syrian revolution, of manipulating the situation on the ground, of aiding the regime with military weapons, with scuds, with money, with intelligence, with all of the support," she said, "we can&rsquo;t trust them."</p> <p>On Monday,&nbsp;Russia proposed a plan for Syria to turn its stockpile of chemical weapons over to the international community, after Secretary of State John Kerry said that was a possible option for avoiding a strike. The proposal has quickly gained momentum. The Assad regime embraced the proposal <a href="" target="_blank">Tuesday morning</a>, and by the afternoon, a bipartisan group of <a href="" target="_blank">eight senators</a> were drafting a Congressional resolution to give the United Nations time to take control of Syria's chemical weapons. The plan calls for them to be confiscated&nbsp;and ultimately destroyed, and <a href="" target="_blank">could involve</a> Syria recognizing the international weapons ban.</p> <p>Russia has been a key supplier of arms and funds to the Assad&nbsp;regime, in addition to&nbsp;providing political cover, previously <a href="" target="_blank">threatening to veto</a> any plan for intervention at the UN Security Council.</p> <p>"They&rsquo;ve become part of the problem. They&rsquo;re not part of the solution," said al-Atassi.&nbsp;"We will wait,&nbsp;and work according to the Syrian revolution&rsquo;s interest. That will be our answer."</p></body></html> MoJo Foreign Policy International Military Syria Tue, 10 Sep 2013 19:15:44 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 233876 at To Sell Books Nowadays, You've Gotta Rock <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>It's possible that every journalist secretly wants to be a rockstar. More than a few probably fancy that they're not far off. But Jon Mooallem, the magazine writer whose <a href="" target="_blank">quirky</a> <a href="" target="_blank">and</a> <a href="" target="_blank">invariably</a> <a href="" target="_blank">surprising</a> work includes the recent book,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"><em>Wild Ones</em></a>, has done one better: He got himself a band. Starting Wednesday, Mooallem&nbsp;is shaking up the lonely book-tour paradigm and hitting the road with Black Prairie, a Decemberists side project that recorded a <em>Wild Ones</em> companion album. It's called <em>Wild Ones:</em>&nbsp;<em>A Musical Score for the Things That You Might See in Your Head When You Reflect on Certain Characters and Incidents That You Read About in the Book</em>.</p> <p>The&nbsp;<em>Wild Ones Live!</em> <a href="" target="_blank">tour</a>, Mooallem told me, tells the true story of William Temple&nbsp;Hornaday, an "eccentric, blustering taxidermist who winds up helping to invent modern environmentalism as we know it" alongside tales of "turtles and polar bears and a man dancing with a bird." Mooallem reads and Black Prairie scores the reading, resulting in what Mooallem and Black Prairie cofounder/dobro player Chris Funk describe as a mashup of radio, opera, musical, and rock and roll show.&nbsp;<em>Wild Ones</em> (the book) unpacks our odd and evolving relationship with the natural world and our often-Herculean attempts to preserve it&mdash;Mooallem zooms in on three species: the polar bear, Lange's metalmark&nbsp;butterfly, and the whooping crane. But in the end, the book is more about us than about the animals. (Maddie Oatman writes more about it <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.)</p> <p>"When you're reporting something and living through these things, you have an emotional response, and you use the writing to try to create that in people reading it," Mooallem says. But with the band behind him, "it's almost like a left-brain, right-brain thing&mdash;I'm&nbsp;telling you a story, then you're getting all these emotional cues from the band."</p> <p>As the telling unfolds, Mooallem and the musicians rotate in and out of the spotlight. "It evokes old-time radio theater, in the sense that there are these character voices," Funk says. "It's an impressionistic way of bringing a book to life."</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/media/2013/09/wild-ones-live-jon-mooallem-black-prairie"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Media Books Media Music Top Stories Mon, 09 Sep 2013 10:00:09 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 233671 at Gulf Refineries Don't Care About the Keystone XL Pipeline, But Here's Why it Still Matters. <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>US refineries on the Gulf that had been anticipating a boom from Canada's Alberta tar sands via the planned Keystone XL pipeline&nbsp;are becoming apathetic about the mired pipeline's future, <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">according to Wednesday's&nbsp;</span><em style="line-height: 24px; ">Wall Street Journal</em>. As the domestic US oil boom has kept refineries busy and rail and <a href="" target="_blank">new pipelines</a> have filled the shipping gap that Keystone would have filled, the refineries on the Gulf that had been waiting to process the Canadian heavy crude <span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">"increasingly doubt that the controversial Keystone XL pipeline expansion will ever be built" and "don't particularly care."</span> But does that mean that&nbsp;<span style="font-family: Verdana, Arial, sans-serif; line-height: 24px; ">the 830,000 barrels of heavy crude that would have streamed through the XL pipeline have become irrelevant? Not quite. The pipeline is still the best hope for Canadian tar sands to make it to refineries. Without it, Alberta's surging&nbsp;industry might find itself choked with no way to move all the oil it produces.</span></p> <p>According to the&nbsp;<em>Wall Street Journal</em>:</p> <blockquote> <p>Railroads are carrying soaring amounts of crude from Canada down to refineries along the U.S. Gulf Coast, reducing the need for the TransCanada Corp. project, which is still awaiting approval from the U.S. government after two years of delays.</p> <p>Meanwhile, a rival pipeline company, Enbridge Inc.,&nbsp;is expanding existing pipes to carry Canadian crude south&mdash;and it doesn't need federal permission because it's using existing pipeline rights of way. In addition, so much oil is sloshing around the U.S. from its own wells that refiners don't need lots more heavy crude from the north to keep busy.</p> <p>"Keystone XL has been back-burnered for so long that any relevant parties have been able to make plans as though the project never even existed in the first place," says Sam Margolin, an analyst at Cowen &amp; Co.</p> </blockquote> <p>The domestic oil boom&nbsp;from sources like North Dakota's Bakken&nbsp;region and the sudden glut of tar sands oil coming out of Alberta have overwhelmed existing pipelines, creating bottlenecks and forcing oil companies to find other ways to move oil from wells to refineries. Between 2011 and 2012, shipments to refineries by truck rose by 38 percent, barge transport increased by 53 percent, and rail <a href="" target="_blank">shipments quadrupled</a>.</p> <p>The hitch is that Canada is still staring down a massive planned increase in tar sands production&mdash;and without Keystone XL being built, it might not be able to move the oil out of Alberta fast enough to keep pace with production. Canadian tar sands produced 1.8 million barrels per day in 2012, and are hoping to crank that up to about 5 million per day by 2030. In fact, Alberta could pass that milestone <a href="" target="_blank">as soon as 2016</a>.</p></body></html> Blue Marble Economy Energy Wed, 04 Sep 2013 15:58:24 +0000 Thomas Stackpole 233391 at Bombing Syria: A Running Guide to the Debate <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" ""> <html><body><p>When President Barack Obama <a href="" target="_blank">announced</a> that he would seek congressional authorization for a limited military strike against the Syrian regime in retaliation for its presumed use of chemical weapons, he turned the ongoing op-ed tussle over Syria into an official <a href="" target="_blank">debate</a>. Since the August 21 <a href="" target="_blank">chemical</a> <a href="" target="_blank">weapons</a> attack outside <a href="" target="_blank">Damascus</a>, foreign policy experts, columnists, cable news commentators, bloggers, and others have been arguing over what to do about Syria, and it was hard to know how much any of this policy wonk combat mattered because the decision appeared to rest with one man, the commander in chief. But with Obama recognizing Congress' role in war-related decision-making, the ensuing debate in the House and Senate&mdash;and the external, surrounding debate that could well affect congressional deliberations&mdash;will shape how the United States responds to events in <a href="" target="_blank">Syria</a>.</p> <p>Below is our running guide to the Syria debate raging on and off Capitol Hill. As Congress moves toward a vote, we will track commentary within Congress and within the commentariat, and gather it in one handy place. <strong>(To jump to the latest updates, <a href="#link13">click here</a>.)</strong></p> <p><strong>Helping Syria could destroy it.</strong> The day before Obama gave his Rose Garden statement calling for a congressional vote&mdash;and declaring the United States needed to hit Bashar al-Assad's regime to deter it and others from using chemical weapons&mdash;Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, published <a href="" target="_blank">a piece</a> in the <em>Washington Post</em> on Friday contending that an assault on Syria would do far more damage than good. Cook, who previously had recognized a case for intervention, wrote:</p> <blockquote> <p>The formidable U.S. armed forces could certainly damage Assad's considerably less potent military. But in an astonishing irony that only the conflict in Syria could produce, American and allied cruise missiles would be degrading the capability of the regime's military units to the benefit of the al-Qaeda-linked militants fighting Assad&mdash;the same militants whom U.S. drones are attacking regularly in places such as Yemen. Military strikes would also complicate Washington's longer-term desire to bring stability to a country that borders Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Jordan and Israel. Unlike Yugoslavia, which ripped itself apart in the 1990s, Syria has no obvious successor states, meaning there would be violence and instability in the heart of the Middle East for many years to come.</p> </blockquote> <p><strong>"It is on occasions like this that I am grateful that I am no longer a White House aide."</strong> Gary Sick, who served on the National Security Council during the Ford, Carter, and Reagan administrations, wrote this on his <a href="" target="_blank">Tumblr</a> on Saturday. He presents the White House's conundrum as such:</p> <blockquote> <p>Imagine that you are a White House adviser and you have been asked to calibrate a military intervention that will send an unmistakeable message to Assad that his use of CW was a serious error and persuade him that any such action in the future would be unacceptably costly to Syria generally and to the Assad government in particular.</p> <p>However, the attack should not change the fundamental balance of power in the civil war &mdash; specifically it should not empower the radical Sunni opposition forces that are potentially worse than Assad. The strike should not be so great that it inspires reckless behavior by other states or parties in the region &mdash; specifically it should not provoke retaliation, for example, by either Hezbollah or Syria against Israeli targets.</p> </blockquote> <p>Read the rest <a href="" target="_blank">here</a>.</p></body></html> <p style="font-size: 1.083em;"><a href="/politics/2013/09/syria-debate-congress-guide"><strong><em>Continue Reading &raquo;</em></strong></a></p> Politics Congress Foreign Policy Human Rights International Media Military Obama Top Stories Tue, 03 Sep 2013 17:57:14 +0000 Asawin Suebsaeng, Matt Connolly, and Thomas Stackpole 233281 at