Google Earth has added four years of new data along with high-resolution satellite imagery to its time-lapse feature, which is available to anyone who wants to see how the planet has changed since 1984. You'll see glaciers receding, cities growing and lakes shrinking.
Satellite data now ranges from 1984 to 2016 and includes more than 5 million satellite images from the past 32 years by five different satellites. Most of the images come from Landsat 8. Launched by NASA in 2013, it orbits 438 miles above the Earth, imaging the entire planet every 16 days. Additional images come from Sentinel-2, launched in 2015 by the European Space Agency to provide environmental monitoring.
Google combined these images into one cloud-free mosaic for each year. They are completely pannable and zoomable, and you can try it out for yourself with the Google Earth Engine time-lapse tour editor. Here's a sampling of some fascinating time-lapses provided by Google Earth Engine.
Watch how Fort McMurray has changed as tar sands oil development has grown. In May 2016, an out-of-control wildfire erupted in this area, causing the mass evacuation of 100,000 people:
This time-lapse reveals the rapid shrinkage of the Columbia Glacier in Alaska, which has retreated 10 miles since 1982:
The Aral Sea was once one of the four largest freshwater lakes in the world. By 2007, it had shrunk to one-tenth of its former size. Now, China's Poyang Lake is following the same fate:
Watch how Las Vegas has grown as Lake Mead has shrunk. A reservoir that serves 20 million people, it reached its lowest level ever in 2015:
China's city of Chongqing has grown to 30 million inhabitants, swallowing up the landscape:...
As tensions grow in North Dakota, with multiple eviction orders facing the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in their battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline, U.S. military veterans begin arriving at the Oceti Sakowin protest camp.
The 2,000 veterans, which include Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), plan to act as an unarmed militia and peaceful human shields to protect the Indigenous activists from police brutality.
"I signed up to serve my country and my people and I did that overseas," Indigenous U.S. Navy veteran Brandee Paisano told the CBC. "I didn't think I'd have to do it here, on this land, so here I am. This is what I need to be doing."
The "deployment" is officially planned for Dec. 4-7, but veterans who have arrived early have already taken their stand in front of the militarized police blockade stopping traffic into and out of the camp:
The "Veterans Stand for Standing Rock" action has garnered widespread support, with the National Nurses United (NNU) union sending $50,000 to fund their expenses and a popular fundraiser surpassing $1,000,000 Sunday morning.
"We salute the brave veterans who are standing up for the rights of the water protectors, and all of us who support this critical defense of the First Amendment right to assemble and protest without facing brutal and unwarranted attacks," said NNU co-president Jean Ross.
The generosity was striking, as officers from Morton County have subjected the Indigenous activists to extreme uses of force in recent days—including water cannons in subfreezing temperatures, mace, rubber bullets, and allegedly concussion grenades. One activist is still in danger of losing an arm after being struck with by what witnesses described as a concussion grenade thrown directly at her by police in riot gear.
"North Dakota taxpayers have already bankrolled the Morton County Sheriff Department with approximately ten million dollars for the suppression of peaceful water protectors. Despite this excessive financial support, Morton County officers are asking taxpayers to donate supplies," said the Indigenous Environmental Network and the Indigenous Peoples Power Project in a joint statement.
"The Oceti Sakowin camp is a prayer camp, and a resilient, self-sufficient community," the advocacy groups continued. "The camp is full of abundance—in spirit, in humanity, and in resources. Oceti Sakowin has enough to share. Generosity is an original teaching for the Lakota."
The Standing Rock Sioux Tribe also pushed back earlier this week against Dakota Access Pipeline company CEO Kelcy Warren, who has claimed that the pipeline would have been rerouted if only the tribe had spoken up sooner, with the release of a recording that showed the tribe had officially opposed the pipeline since at least 2014.
"[T]he recording provides audio from a Sept. 30, 2014, meeting in which Standing Rock officials expressed their opposition to the pipeline and raised concerns about its potential impact to sacred sites and their water supply—nearly two years before they raised similar objections in a federal lawsuit," the Bismarck Tribune reports.
The Indigenous activists (and journalists covering their fight) are already grappling with exaggerated criminal charges—which are often later thrown out in court.
The fines and charges are a tactic to dissuade and silence them, the water protectors say.
Yet the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and their allies remain firm in their commitment to their fight for clean water and traditional territory. The New York Times' Timothy Egan wrote Friday:
[M]any of the natives at Standing Rock are not bitter, and see this stand in spiritual terms.
"In the face of this we pray," Lyla June Johnston, a young Native leader, told me the day after the blizzards blew in. "In the face of this we love. In the face of this we forgive. Because the vast majority of water protectors know this is the greatest battle of all: to keep our hearts intact."
As CNN's Sara Sidner reported: "The only thing that's going to make protesters leave [...] is if the pipeline is stopped."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams....
We're going to be dealing with an onslaught of daily emergencies during the Donald Trump years. Already it's begun—if there's nothing going on (or in some cases when there is), our leader often begins the day with a tweet to stir the pot and suddenly we're debating whether burning the flag should lose you your citizenship.
These crises will get worse once he has power—from day to day we'll have to try and protect vulnerable immigrants or deal with the latest outrage from the white supremacist "alt-reich" or confront the latest self-dealing scandal in the upper reaches of the Tower. It will be a game (though not a fun one), for 48 months, of trying to preserve as many people and as much of the Constitution as possible.
Apollo 17's Blue Marble.NASA
And if we're very lucky, at the end of those four years, we might be able to go back to something that resembles normal life. Much damage will have been done in the meantime, but perhaps not irreparable damage. Obamacare will be gone, but something like it—maybe even something better—will be resurrectable. The suffering in the meantime will be real, but it won't make the problem harder to solve, assuming reason someday returns. That's, I guess, the good news: that someday normal life may resume.
But even that slight good news doesn't apply to the question of climate change. It's very likely that by the time Trump is done we'll have missed whatever opening still remains for slowing down the trajectory of global warming—we'll have crossed thresholds from which there's no return. In this case, the damage he's promising will be permanent, for two reasons.
The first is the most obvious: The adversary here is ultimately physics, which plays by its own rules. As we continue to heat the planet, we see that planet changing in ways that turn into feedback loops. If you make it hot enough to melt Arctic ice (and so far we've lost about half of our supply) then one of the side effects is removing a nice white mirror from the top of the planet. Instead of that mirror reflecting 80 percent of the sun's rays out to space, you've now got blue water that absorbs most of the incoming rays of the sun, amping up the heat. Oh, and as that water warms, the methane frozen in its depths eventually begins to melt—and methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Even if, someday, we get a president back in power who's willing to try and turn down the coal, gas and oil burning, there will be nothing we can do about that melting methane. Some things are forever, or at least for geologic time.
There's another reason too, however, and that's that the international political mechanisms Trump wants to smash can't easily be assembled again, even with lots of future good will. It took immense diplomatic efforts to reach the Paris climate accords—25 years of negotiating with endless setbacks. The agreement itself is a jury-rigged kludge, but at least it provides a mechanism for action. It depends on each country voluntarily doing its part, though, and if the biggest historic source of the planet's carbon decides not to play, it's easy to guess that an awful lot of other leaders will decide that they'd just as soon give in to their fossil fuel interests too.
So Trump is preparing to make a massive bet: a bet that the scientific consensus about climate change is wrong, and that the other 191 nations of the world are wrong as well. It's a bet based on literally nothing—when The New York Times asked him about global warming, he started mumbling about a physicist uncle of his who died in 1985. The job—and it may not be a possible job—is for the rest of us to figure out how to make the inevitable loss of this bet as painless as possible.
It demands fierce resistance to his silliness—clearly his people are going to kill Obama's Clean Power Plan, but perhaps they can be shamed into simply ignoring but not formally abrogating the Paris accords. This is work not just for activists, but for the elites that Trump actually listens to. Here's where we need what's left of the establishment to be weighing in: Fortune 500 executives, Wall Streeters—anyone who knows how stupid a bet this is.
But we also need to be working hard on other levels. The fossil fuel industry is celebrating Trump's election, and rightly so—but we can continue to make their lives at least a little difficult, through campaigns like fossil fuel divestment and through fighting every pipeline and every coal port. The federal battles will obviously be harder, and we may lose even victories like Keystone. But there are many levers of power, and the ones closer to home are often easier to pull.
We also have to work at state and local levels to support what we want. The last election, terrible as it was, showed that renewable energy is popular even in red states—Florida utilities lost their bid to sideline solar energy, for instance. The hope is that we can keep the buildout of sun and wind, which is beginning to acquire real momentum, on track; if so, costs will keep falling to the point where simple economics may overrule even Trumpish ideology.
And of course we have to keep communicating, all the time, about the crisis—using the constant stream of signals from the natural world to help people understand the folly of our stance. As I write this, the Smoky Mountain town of Gatlinburg is on fire, with big hotels turned to ash at the end of a devastating drought. Mother Nature will provide us an endless string of teachable moments, and some of them will break through—it's worth remembering that the Bush administration fell from favor as much because of Katrina as Iraq.
None of these efforts will prevent massive, and perhaps fatal, damage to the effort to constrain climate change. It's quite possible, as many scientists said the day after the election, that we've lost our best chance. But we don't know precisely how the physics will play out, and every ton of carbon we keep out of the atmosphere will help.
And amidst this long ongoing emergency, as I said at the beginning, we've got to help with all the daily crises. This winter may find climate activists spending as much time trying to block deportations as pipelines; we may have to live in a hot world, but we don't have to live in a jackbooted one, and the more community we can preserve, the more resilient our communities will be. It's hard not to despair—but then, it wasn't all that easy to be realistically hopeful about our climate even before Trump. This has always been a battle against great odds. They're just steeper now.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Moyers & Company....
The wildfires started Sunday from the Great Smoky Mountains and was carried by nearly 90mph winds into the city of Gatlinburg by Monday. Making matters worse, the strong winds also knocked over power lines, sparking even more fires. National Park Service spokeswoman Dana Soehn told CNN that investigators believe the fire started on a mountain trail and was "human caused."
As of Wednesday night, the main fire has only been 10 percent contained, fire commanders told NBC News.
More than 17,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains have been scorched, causing untold damage to wildlife and other natural resources.
"The Great Smoky Mountains are one of the most biologically diverse places in the United States, partly due to the geologically ancient nature of the landscape, as well as the wet and humid forests covering their slopes and hollows," Bruce Stein, associate vice president for conservation science and climate adaptation at the National Wildlife Federation,
"While fire is a natural phenomenon in Appalachian forests, these extreme, drought-fueled fires are not," Stein continued. "Rather, they are a glimpse into what many southeastern forests and communities will experience as climate change continues to intensify."
Indeed, much of the southeastern U.S. has been inundated by wildfires in recent weeks. Record-breaking drought and unseasonably warm temperatures have fueled the region's devastating wildfires.
As the New York Times pointed out, there's a clear connection between the wildfires and an ever-warming planet:
"The fires spread through Tennessee as much of the South has been enduring a crippling drought, even though rainfall this week offered some relief. The United States Drought Monitor reported last week that 60 percent of Tennessee was in 'exceptional' or 'extreme' drought, the two most severe ratings.
"Wildfires, once a seasonal phenomenon, have become a consistent threat, partly because climate change has resulted in drier winters and warmer springs, which combine to pull moisture off the ground and into the air."
A study in Nature Communications revealed that from 1979 to 2013, wildfire season has lengthened and the global area affected by wildfire has doubled. CNBC also reported that we are entering an era of "super fires" due to climate change causing hotter and drier weather.
"Based on what we know and in which direction the climate is going, yes, we can expect more frequent super fires," Marko Princevac, a fire expert at the University of California at Riverside, told CNBC. "There is scientific consensus that climate change will lead to much more intense fires, more dry areas."
The Tennessee wildfires have crept to Pigeon Forge, the home of singer and actress Dolly Parton's Dollywood. While the theme park was not damaged, Parton released a statement saying that she was heartbroken about the fire damage and had been "praying for all the families affected."
On Sunday, the Sevier County native released a public service announcement with Smokey Bear to promote wildfire preparedness amidst troubling drought conditions.
"This extended drought has resulted in high wildfire danger," Parton said. "As dry as it is, please help fire fighters avoid wildfires."
Update: This piece has been updated to reflect the raising death toll from the Tennessee wildfires, from seven to 11....
Today, solar power is everywhere. It's on your neighbor's roof and in tiny portable cellphone chargers. There are even solar powered roads. And as solar power heats up, prices are going down. In fact, over the past 40 years, the cost of solar has decreased by more than 99 percent!
But how did we get here? Ready for a quick history lesson on one of the world's fastest growing sources of energy?
You might find this hard to believe, but we can trace the idea of harnessing the power of the sun back to 1839. A bright (pun intended!) young French physicist named Edmond Becquerel discovered the photovoltaic effect—the creation of an electric current in a material after being exposed to light—while experimenting in his father's laboratory. Over the following hundred-plus years, scientists continued exploring this phenomenon, creating and patenting solar cells, using them to heat water and doing extensive research to increase the efficiency of solar energy.
The 1970s brought a period of change not only in the form of political and cultural upheaval, but also saw the rise of solar as a viable way to produce electricity. The first solar-powered calculator was commercialized, the Solar Energy Research Institute (now called the National Renewable Energy Laboratory) was established, and U.S. President Jimmy Carter installed solar panels on the White House for the first time. But it was also quite expensive, costing an average of $76 per watt in 1977.
But as advancements in the industry continued, the costs began to fall. Over the next 10 years, the price would drop sevenfold to less than $10 per watt, hitting a plateau in the late 1980s and early '90s.
Fast-forward to a few years later and solar technology was really hitting its stride as huge cost reductions were made in recent years, causing world leaders, governments, and the private sector to get on board and moving solar from a niche technology into the mainstream. Soon, regular people in communities all over the world were installing panels on their roofs and in numerous other applications thanks to the technology's improving economics and innovative incentives and financing models.
Which brings us to today, when solar power can cost a minuscule61 cents per watt.
In a relatively short period of time, it's become clear that an incredible future is ahead for this renewable source of energy. And as you might expect, the more the price falls, the more attractive it becomes. Forty years ago, the total global installation of solar was around 2 megawatts. Today, total global installation is closer to 224,000 megawatts.
And as we start down the road forward after the historic Paris agreement, we're noticing just how many countries are working to meet their carbon emissions reduction goals by going solar.
That's why we're hoping you will join us Dec. 5-6 for 24 Hours of Reality: The Road Forward as we travel the world for a look at how solar power is revolutionizing access to electricity in Mexico, Malaysia and Venezuela. We'll visit southeast Asia to meet a "solar monk" in Thailand and to South Africa, where sheep and solar live together on one solar PV farm. We'll even hear from oil-rich countries in the Middle East that are starting to prepare for a future beyond fossil fuels—and renewables like solar are becoming more and more cost effective.
Sign up today to receive reminders about these inspiring stories. We'll see you Dec. 5-6 for The Climate Reality Project's annual 24 Hours of Reality live event. You won't want to miss out!...
By Alexandra Rosenmann
Daily Show host Trevor Noah has an announcement on behalf of the Dakota Access Pipeline protesters at the Standing Rock Reservation.
"Native Americans were super friendly," Noah began the segment. "They're like, 'Hey, I'm not actually Indian, but I don't want to embarrass him in front of all of his ships,'" he joked, drawing on Christopher Columbus' infamous mistake. "I'll tell him later, what's the worst that could happen?"
Of course, it was Columbus' cluelessness that set a dangerous precedent for centuries to come.
"As you may have heard, since April of this year, Native Americans in North Dakota have been protesting over the Dakota Access Pipeline," Noah announced, noting that the pipeline project is a clear perpetuation of the U.S. screwing over Native Americans.
"The land is sacred to them and it's their land," Noah explained.
Protesters are also worried about the oil pipe leaking and contaminating their main water source.
"It's hella disrespectful to lay pipe in someone else's yard," Noah pointed out.
The protesters have been facing small armies of highly militarized police departments and have "endured dog attacks, tear gas, water cannons and Jill Stein" Noah explained, before blasting Kelcy Warren, the CEO behind the Dakota Access Pipeline. Noah then noted that the pipeline was actually originally positioned at Bismarck, which is 90 percent white, but then rerouted to the Standing Rock Reservation.
"This is pipeline is N-S-F-W: not safe for whites," Noah joked. "I joke, but I don't think it's racial. It's a numbers thing. More people live near Bismarck. If the pipeline is rooted there, it would have passed closer to more homes and needed to cross water sources more times. And because we love fossil fuels, the fact is the pipe has to go somewhere. What are we going to do? Just not use oil? Come on, that's just … possible."
Noah then issued an important plea to the country largely ignoring the issues at Standing Rock:
"Look, America has spent centuries moving native people's from place to place. Maybe just this one time you can be the ones who move."
Reposted with permission from our media associate AlterNet....
Researchers have discovered that bottlenose dolphins residing off the Florida Everglades have higher concentrations of mercury contamination than any other population of the mammals in the world.
Contamination levels of mercury (T-Hg) in Lower Florida Keys (LFK) and the Florida Coastal Everglades (FCE) dolphinsScience Direct
The study, published in the journal Environmental Pollution, examined the levels of mercury and other toxins in the sea creatures. According to the research, mercury concentrations in the skin of Florida Coastal Everglades dolphins (median 9314 ng g−1 dw) were about three times higher than Lower Florida Keys dolphins (median 2941 ng g−1 dw).
"These concentrations are the highest recorded in bottlenose dolphins in the southeastern USA, and may be explained, at least partially, by the biogeochemistry of the Everglades and mangrove sedimentary habitats that create favorable conditions for the retention of mercury and make it available at high concentrations for aquatic predators," the study abstract states.
The research team includes scientists from Florida International University (FIU), the University of Liège in Belgium, the University of Gronigen in the Netherlands and the Tropical Dolphin Research Foundation in the U.S.
It is unclear where exactly the mercury comes from but the scientists suspect it might stem from smoke stacks, nearby farming operations or from the area's numerous mangroves in Everglades National Park. As FIU News explained, when mangrove leaves drop into the water, mercury from the mangroves mixes with bacteria and is turned into methylmercury. Methylmercury is highly toxic and can travel up the food chain, as it collects in animal tissue in larger and larger amounts. (That's why predators like dolphins, swordfish and tuna have troubling levels of mercury.)
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
Dolphins that live in the Amazon and other mangrove forests also have elevated mercury levels, but the researchers were surprised to find that the mercury levels in Everglades dolphins were even higher.
"I couldn't believe those levels because that's the highest ever recorded," FIU marine scientist Jeremy Kiszka, a co-author of the study, told the Miami Herald. "It raises a lot of other questions."
The study is important because dolphins are a vital "sentinel species," meaning they shed light on oceanic and human health. So if a dolphin is swimming in contaminated waters, a person living by the same coastal waters might also be exposed to the same contamination. As the Miami Herald noted, researchers discovered last year that Indian River Lagoon dolphins had elevated mercury levels, reflecting the high levels of mercury in the nearby human population.
Similarly, since dolphins and humans eat the same kind of seafood, if a dolphin gets sick from eating toxic fish, a person who eats the same toxic fish might get sick too.
For humans, mercury can have a whole host of terrifying problems. As for what effects mercury has on dolphins, FIU News explained that the chemical can disrupt the animal's immune system and reproduction, making them more vulnerable to infection and disease.
"Mercury is one of the most neurotoxic elements in the universe," World Mercury Project president Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., who was not involved in the study, explained to EcoWatch. "The destruction of these extraordinary creatures is part of the cost of our deadly addiction to coal and chemicals. We shouldn't forget that these dolphins are accumulating these horrifying brain poisons from the same fish that our children eat."
The scientists are now trying to expand their study on other marine animals.
"Understanding the impact of pollutants on marine ecosystems, including from natural sources, is critical for conservation and management. Results obtained on bottlenose dolphins from the Everglades were surprising, but we now need to assess the effect of mercury on the health of dolphins and other species from the Everglades," Kiszka told FIU News. "This is a critical question for understanding the effects of pollutants on aquatic ecosystems, but also on humans, since we are also part of these ecosystems."
The Kamuthi solar plant in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu has vastly expanded the country's solar capacity. Based on Wiki-Solar's calculations, thanks to the new plant, India now claims the number three spot in terms of utility-scale solar, behind China and the U.S.
World's largest single location power project was commissioned by Adani Group in the town of Kamuthi in Tamil Nadu. Adani Group
The 648-megawatt Kamuthi plant went online this September and is considered the world's largest solar project in a single location. For comparison, the world's second largest solar plant, the Topaz Solar Farm in California, has a capacity of 550 megawatts.
"India has now leap-frogged the UK, as predicted, to become the world's third nation for the deployment of utility-scale solar," Wiki-Solar founder Philip Wolfe stated. "India still has a huge backlog of awarded tenders, which should enable it to close the gap with the USA and China in coming years."
As Alternative Energies writes, "over the next five years, India plans to build a number of 25 extra large solar power plants with a generation capacity between 500 and 1,000 MW."
"The success of India's solar energy policy stems in part from the [Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission] national program, but also the extent to which many states are supporting this effort," Wolfe continued. "The majority of Indian states have now designated one or more 'solar parks' where priority is given both to allocation of land and to provision of high capacity connections."
This push towards clean power cannot come soon enough. Earlier this month, the air pollution in the nation's capital of New Delhi was literally off the charts, earning it the dubious title of "world's most polluted city." Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal declared the intense smog levels an "emergency situation," and ordered the shut down of 5,000 schools and halted construction operations for several days.
With the new plant in Kamuthi, India's total installed solar capacity has now crossed the important 10 gigawatt milestone, according to consultancy firm Bridge to India.
"The pace of sector activity has picked up tremendously in the last two years because of strong government support and increasing price competitiveness of solar power. India is expected to become the world's third biggest solar market from next year onwards after China and the US," Bridge to India stated.
In 2014, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced plans to increase India's solar power capacity to 100 gigawatts by 2022, a target that seems too ambitious for some.
"Many people are going to ask the obvious question—if we have taken more than 5 years to achieve 10 GW, can we reach 100 GW in another 5 years? It is a very steep target in our view," Bridge to India managing director Vinay Rustagi said. "But rather than quibble about the target, the important point is to acknowledge the transformational economic, environmental and social potential of solar technology and to create a conducive environment for its growth."
Aljazeera has published new footage of the Kamuthi facility that's spread across 10 square kilometers—or the equivalent of 60 Taj Mahals. The plant consists of 25,00,000 solar modules and can supply enough energy for 150,000 homes.
Adani Green Energy Ltd, built the impressive structure in only eight months thanks to the around-the-clock dedication of a 8,500-member team. Roughly 11 megawatts were installed in a day on average.
In September, Adani Group chairman Gautam Adani formally dedicated the solar structure to the nation.
"This is a momentous occasion for the state of Tamil Nadu as well as the entire country," he said. "We are extremely happy to dedicate this plant to the nation; a plant of this magnitude reinstates the country's ambitions of becoming one of the leading green energy producers in the world."...
By Mary Sweeters
President-Elect Donald Trump formally announced Thursday his support for the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. His transition team noted that his support for the pipeline "had nothing to do with his personal investments and everything to do with promoting policies that benefit all Americans."
Trump's May 2016 financial disclosure revealed significant stock holdings in Energy Transfer Partners, Exxon and Phillips 66, which owns 25 percent of the pipeline project. Kelcy Warren, the CEO of Energy Transfer Partners, donated hundreds of thousands to Trump, Trump Victory Fund and the Republican National Committee this year.
In supporting the Dakota Access Pipeline, Trump has shown us the crony capitalism that will run his administration. Trump owns stock in the companies behind the pipeline, and Energy Transfer Partners CEO Kelcy Warren's support for the pipeline with major contributions during his campaign, is the definition of corruption. The president of the United States should not be trading favors with oil and gas corporations.
For Trump to claim he supports the pipeline because it will benefit all Americans is wrong and deluded. Millions of people will lose access to a clean water supply, including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and the rest of America will face the impacts of catastrophic climate change from burning fossil fuels. The pipeline is good for Trump's wallet and his friends at Energy Transfer Partners and Phillips 66.
Trump's comments make it all the more important for President Obama to permanently protect Standing Rock immediately. The Army Corps of Engineers and Obama administration have the power to reject the pipeline for good and ensure Indigenous sovereignty is honored. It is clear that President-Elect Trump will ignore the rights and sovereignty afforded to Native American communities, but President Obama can still ensure the United States does the right thing for Standing Rock. It's time to stop the pipeline once and for all....
A stunning new report from Marketplace and APM Reports reveals that top U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials made critical, last-minute changes to the agency's major fracking assessment to soft-pedal clear evidence that the controversial drilling process contaminates the nation's water supplies.
Fracking operations in Dimock, Pennsylvania contaminated local water supplies. Flickr
We've already seen how fracking and drinking water do not mix, and even earlier versions of the EPA assessment said that spills are a problem. But on June 4, 2015, the agency released its executive summary and corresponding press materials with the misleading takeaway that "there is no evidence fracking has led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources."
The EPA's pro-fracking spin baffled many experts and scientists and contradicted what many landowners were seeing in their chemically laden water. Major media outlets also went with headlines that put fracking in the clear, such as the New York Times "Fracking Has Not Had Big Effect on Water Supply, E.P.A. Says While Noting Risks," NPR's "EPA Finds No Widespread Drinking Water Pollution From Fracking" and this CNN screenshot.
Big Oil and Gas, meanwhile, applauded the EPA's report, using it to push for more drilling. Erik Milito, a director at the American Petroleum Institute, told the New York Times that the EPA confirmed that "hydraulic fracturing is being done safely under the strong environmental stewardship of state regulators and industry best practices."
However, it is now evident that Obama administration EPA officials made eleventh hour edits to the report's top-line findings as well as corresponding press materials that clearly played down evidence of water contamination caused by fracking.
As Marketplace and APM Reports explained in their piece:
"It's not clear precisely who inserted or ordered the new phrasing. But emails acquired via the Freedom of Information Act show EPA officials, including press officers, met with key advisers to President Obama to discuss marketing strategy a month before the study's release. The emails also show EPA public relations people exchanging a flurry of messages between 4 and 11 p.m. on the eve of the study's release.
"The authenticity of the documents—before and after the changes—was confirmed independently by three people with knowledge of the study.
"In interviews with 19 people familiar with the research, some characterized the '(no) widespread, systemic' language as a 'bizarre conclusion' and 'irresponsible.' Others said they were 'surprised and disappointed' that top EPA officials used the phrase and said they had no idea it would become the headline until it came out."
The image below shows that the EPA's press release of the study—which condensed the 1,000 page report into the "not widespread, systemic" soundbite—were altered a day before the report was made public.
Draft press releases accompanying the EPA's long-awaited fracking assessment were changed to sound more fracking-friendly before the assessment was released. Marketplace
Conservation groups have long suspected some form of "political meddling" with the fracking contamination report.
"Enough is enough. We've suspected for months that the White House egregiously manipulated the headlines and summary findings of a draft study in order to obfuscate the details buried within—details confirming that fracking has caused numerous cases of water contamination," Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in response to the Marketplace report.
"Today's report confirms this political meddling," she added. "It's time for the administration to acknowledge its intervention in the crafting of the draft study, and issue a final version that clearly and conclusively highlights that fracking does indeed cause water contamination."
Hauter is calling on President Obama to meet with communities that are most harmed by fracking and other fossil fuel projects such as the heavily contested Dakota Access Pipeline that threatens to contaminate drinking water for the Standing Rock Sioux in North Dakota.
“Furthermore, before he leaves office, President Obama should meet with impacted individuals and hear directly their stories of suffering from serious health effects related to fracking," she said. "And he must protect communities directly in the path of future fossil fuel hazards. He must start by protecting the Standing Rock Sioux and taking the Dakota Access pipeline off the table for good."
EPA scientists are currently revising the study and taking comments from the public and the EPA's Science Advisory Board. The final version of the study is planned for release by the end of the year....