Massive Oil Spill Not Expected to Influence Nebraska's Decision on Keystone XL
UPDATE: The Nebraska Public Service Commission voted 3-2 to approve the mainline alternative route for the Keystone XL pipeline through the state. The commission rejected TransCanada's preferred route.
In her dissent, commission member Chrystal Rhoades said she was against the pipeline regardless of the route.
The Washington Post reported:
She said that the pipeline was not in the state's public interest, that jobs would not go to Nebraskans, that it would create "significant burdens" on landowners whose use of the pipeline corridor would be limited, and that she was still worried about the environmental impact.
"All human-made infrastructure degrades and fails over time," she wrote. "No infrastructure ever designed has lasted for eternity and there is no reason to believe this pipeline will be an exception." Rhoades acknowledged that the commission was not supposed to weigh the risks of spills, but she said the state's Department of Environmental Quality had included it in the record.
Pipeline opponents will likely challenge the decision in court.
Nebraska regulators will announce Monday whether pipeline operator TransCanada can build its proposed Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline across the state. The decision is the last regulatory hurdle for the highly contested $8 billion, 1,179-mile pipeline.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission will not factor in Thursday's 210,000-gallon spill from Transcanada's Keystone Pipeline, which leaked thousands of gallons of highly polluting tar sands oil on South Dakota farmland. That's because pipeline safety is a federal responsibility. Under a 2011 state law, the Public Service Commission is not allowed to factor in pipeline safety or spill risks. Rather, the five-member commission will decide on whether the pipeline's route is in the interests of the state of Nebraska.
"The commission's decision ... will be based on the evidence in the record," spokeswoman Deb Collins said on Friday.
But as Doug Hayes, a senior attorney for the Sierra Club's Environmental Law Program, pointed out to The Hill: "It's hard to believe they won't hear about this massive spill. It's one of the biggest concerns to Nebraskans."
The Commission is weighing whether to permit construction of the KXL, which will move more than 800,000 barrels of crude per day from Alberta, Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast via connecting pipelines. The pipeline will run through a dozen Nebraska counties.
However, as the Associated Press noted, the commission's choice is not just between a simple yes or no.
The commission could simply agree to TransCanada's “preferred route," but there are other options as well. They could also tweak the route, which would add years to the project's timeline, or choose between the company's "alternative" routes.
Nebraska Public Service Commission
And even if the commission outright denies the permit request, TransCanada has 60 days to revise and resubmit its proposal for another review under state law.
Finally, any group that presented arguments during the August hearings could appeal the commission's decision to a state district court.
Environmental groups have long battled against the proposed tar sands project, over fears it would lock in decades of increased climate pollution. A peer-reviewed study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found that extracting and refining oil sands crude from Canada produces 20 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than the same process for conventional American crude, Newsweek reported in 2015.
As the KXL's proposed route crosses the Ogallala Aquifer, a major underground deposit of fresh water, a spill could threaten waterways and drinking water sources.
Opponents also cite the potential contamination and destruction of Native American land.
In March, President Trump overturned President Obama's rejection of the KXL by signing an executive order to advance the project forward. Trump said that doing so would boost construction jobs but critics noted that it would only create 35 permanent jobs.
Native leaders, tribal council members, rural landowners, non-Native supporters and their allies are already gathering in South Dakota Monday morning to await the commission's decision. They will issue a response during a press conference immediately after the announcement. The press conference will be live-streamed here at 11:15 a.m. CT.
The gathering will also feature the signing of the International Treaty to Protect the Sacred against the pipeline and tar sands.
“Nothing has changed at all in our defense of land, air and water of the Oceti Sakowin Lands," said Faith Spotted Eagle, a member of the Yankton Sioux Nation. “If anything it has become more focused, stronger and more adamant after Standing Rock."
“It's clear that the Trump administration, through its dirty energy policies, is intent on destroying our homelands with no regard to any group; we are all seen as dispensable, taxable, and voiceless," she said. “The Native vote is the swing vote in South Dakota. Native and non-Natives are rising up for now, for the future and certainly for the coming elections."
EcoWatch will update this post with the Public Service Commission's announcement. Stay tuned.
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By Jason Bruck
Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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