New Satellite Data Reveals One of the Largest Methane Leaks in U.S. History
In February 2018, a blowout at a fracked natural gas well in Belmont County, Ohio forced around 100 nearby residents to flee their homes, as The New York Times reported. Now, a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Monday has revealed that the local incident had major implications for the global climate crisis.
Researchers used satellite data to determine that the blowout caused one of the largest methane leaks in U.S. history. It released more methane in around 20 days than the oil and gas industries of France, Norway and the Netherlands do in a year, Bloomberg News reported. The results raise questions about the ability of the oil and gas industry to control methane leaks.
"When I started working on methane, now about a decade ago, the standard line was: 'We've got it under control. We're managing it,'" study coauthor and Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) scientist Dr. Steven Hamburg told The New York Times. "But in fact, they didn't have the data. They didn't have it under control, because they didn't understand what was actually happening. And you can't manage what you don't measure."
The research is one example of how satellites can help accurately measure the problem. The paper's Holland and U.S.-based authors used data from the spaceborne Tropospheric Monitoring Instrument (TROPOMI) to determine that the well leaked methane at a rate of about 120 metric tons per hour, double the rate of leakage from the largest ever methane leak in U.S. history, which took place in 2015 at a California oil and gas storage facility. The satellite measurements also estimated that the leak spewed 60 kilotons of methane in total into the atmosphere, Stuff.co.nz reported. That's five times the amount estimated by ExxonMobil, whose subsidiary XTO Energy owns the well.
"We deeply regret this incident occurred and are committed to identifying and managing risks associated with our activities to prevent recurrence," ExxonMobil spokeswoman Julie King told Stuff.co.nz in an email. "We are eager to learn more about their study. ExxonMobil is working with government laboratories, universities, NGOs and other industry participants to identify the most cost-effective and best-performing technology, including satellites, that can be adopted by all producers to detect, repair and accurately measure methane."
The study also raises questions about the climate safety of fracking and natural gas. While burning natural gas only emits half the greenhouse gases that burning coal does, methane is as much as 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Methane leaks can therefore undermine the relative advantage of gas when it comes to lowering emissions.
The study's authors wrote that satellite measurements can help keep track of methane leaks that might otherwise be missed in calculating greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental groups are also increasingly embracing satellites as a tool. The EDF is even partnering with an aerospace company to build and launch a satellite dedicated to finding and monitoring methane leaks.
"We're entering a new era. With a single observation, a single overpass, we're able to see plumes of methane coming from large emission sources," satellite expert and study coauthor Ilse Aben told The New York Times. "That's something totally new that we were previously not able to do from space."
By Jessica Corbett
A leading environmental advocacy group marked Native American Heritage Month on Wednesday by urging President-elect Joe Biden, Vice President-elect Kamala Kamala Harris, and the entire incoming administration "to honor Indigenous sovereignty and immediately halt the Keystone XL, Dakota Access, and Line 3 pipelines."
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Returning the ‘Three Sisters’ – Corn, Beans and Squash – to Native American Farms Nourishes People, Land and Cultures
By Christina Gish Hill
Historians know that turkey and corn were part of the first Thanksgiving, when Wampanoag peoples shared a harvest meal with the pilgrims of Plymouth plantation in Massachusetts. And traditional Native American farming practices tell us that squash and beans likely were part of that 1621 dinner too.
Abundant Harvests<p>Historically, Native people throughout the Americas bred indigenous plant varieties specific to the growing conditions of their homelands. They selected seeds for many different traits, such as <a href="https://emergencemagazine.org/story/corn-tastes-better/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">flavor, texture and color</a>.</p><p>Native growers knew that planting corn, beans, squash and sunflowers together produced mutual benefits. Corn stalks created a trellis for beans to climb, and beans' twining vines secured the corn in high winds. They also certainly observed that corn and bean plants growing together tended to be healthier than when raised separately. Today we know the reason: Bacteria living on bean plant roots pull nitrogen – an essential plant nutrient – from the air and <a href="http://www.tilthalliance.org/learn/resources-1/almanac/october/octobermngg" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">convert it to a form that both beans and corn can use</a>.</p><p>Squash plants contributed by shading the ground with their broad leaves, preventing weeds from growing and retaining water in the soil. Heritage squash varieties also had spines that discouraged deer and raccoons from visiting the garden for a snack. And sunflowers planted around the edges of the garden created a natural fence, protecting other plants from wind and animals and attracting pollinators.</p><p>Interplanting these agricultural sisters produced bountiful harvests that sustained large Native communities and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/eam.2015.0016" target="_blank">spurred fruitful trade economies</a>. The first Europeans who reached the Americas were shocked at the abundant food crops they found. My research is exploring how, 200 years ago, Native American agriculturalists around the Great Lakes and along the Missouri and Red rivers fed fur traders with their diverse vegetable products.</p>
Displaced From the Land<p>As Euro-Americans settled permanently on the most fertile North American lands and acquired seeds that Native growers had carefully bred, they imposed policies that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1086/ahr/87.2.550" target="_blank">made Native farming practices impossible</a>. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the <a href="https://guides.loc.gov/indian-removal-act" target="_blank">Indian Removal Act</a>, which made it official U.S. policy to force Native peoples from their home locations, pushing them onto subpar lands.</p><p>On reservations, U.S. government officials discouraged Native women from cultivating anything larger than small garden plots and pressured Native men to practice Euro-American style monoculture. Allotment policies assigned small plots to nuclear families, further limiting Native Americans' access to land and preventing them from using communal farming practices.</p><p>Native children were forced to attend boarding schools, where they had no opportunity to <a href="https://doi.org/10.5749/jamerindieduc.57.1.0145" target="_blank">learn Native agriculture techniques or preservation and preparation of Indigenous foods</a>. Instead they were forced to eat Western foods, turning their palates away from their traditional preferences. Taken together, these policies <a href="https://kansaspress.ku.edu/978-0-7006-0802-7.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">almost entirely eradicated three sisters agriculture</a> from Native communities in the Midwest by the 1930s.</p>
Reviving Native Agriculture<p>Today Native people all over the U.S. are working diligently to <a href="https://www.oupress.com/books/15107980/indigenous-food-sovereignty-in-the-united-sta" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reclaim Indigenous varieties of corn, beans, squash, sunflowers and other crops</a>. This effort is important for many reasons.</p><p>Improving Native people's access to healthy, culturally appropriate foods will help lower rates of <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aian-diabetes/index.html" target="_blank">diabetes</a> and <a href="https://www.apa.org/pi/oema/resources/ethnicity-health/native-american/obesity" target="_blank">obesity</a>, which affect Native Americans at disproportionately high rates. Sharing traditional knowledge about agriculture is a way for elders to pass cultural information along to younger generations. Indigenous growing techniques also protect the lands that Native nations now inhabit, and can potentially benefit the wider ecosystems around them.</p>
By Jake Johnson
Amid reports that oil industry-friendly former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz remains under consideration to return to his old post in the incoming Biden administration, a diverse coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing for an "all-out push" to keep Moniz away from the White House and demand a cabinet willing to boldly confront the corporations responsible for the climate emergency.
Anger, anxiety, overwhelm … climate change can evoke intense feelings.
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An extremely rare North Atlantic right whale calf was found dead off the North Carolina coast on Friday.
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