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SkyTruth's Top 10 Posts on Environmental Impacts of Large-Footprint Industrial Activities

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As we look forward to all that 2013 has in store, we also look back fondly on all that we have accomplished in 2012. So as we dive right into the new year, here are our "Top 10" most viewed blog posts from 2012.

10. Gas Drilling Time Series Analysis in Pennsylvania

Using aerial survey images from the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture's (USDA) National Agricultural Imaging Program (NAIP), we looked at the way new wells and infrastructure are changing the landscape in rural southwestern Pennsylvania. Using aerial images to track development of natural resources and compare with  information from state and industry sources is at the very core of what we do here at SkyTruth.

9. Wildfires and Gas Wells—Pine Ridge Fire, Colorado

As wildfire season kicked off in the Western U.S., we were particularly interested in the proximity of gas wells to active wildfires. While natural gas infrastructure is notoriously leaky, the Grand Junction Sentinel reported that gas operators in the Pine Ridge area shut in their wells as the fire approached so as not to risk adding to the blaze.

8. Before-After Aerial Photography Shows Damage, Shoreline Changes from Hurricane Sandy

In order to coordinate relief efforts and assess damages, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) coordinates aerial image surveys after natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. These images are made available to the public as soon as they are processed, and we compiled a few sets of images that illustrated the sheer power of the storm. While the twisted, submerged wreckage of a roller coaster hints at the power of the storm,  nothing quite tells the story like seeing the complete rearrangement of the landscape from our perspective in the sky.

7. Gas Well Blowout in the North Sea

A blowout at an off-shore rig drilling for natural gas in the Elgin field (located in the North Sea between Scotland and Norway) garnered some attention in March. The leak turned out to be on the rig itself, not underwater, but we observed some kind of spill on the surface around the rig. The spill is most likely gas condensate, a significant byproduct of drilling in that region of the North Sea.

6. Meet the Frack Family

Our next most popular post was not documenting a spill, but was about a fictitious Pennsylvania family. Based on data from a voluntary industry report about the chemicals used in a typical hydraulic fracturing job in the Marcellus Shale, we created a 3D visualization of volume of various chemicals used in the process. We also pointed out the substantial number of chemicals which industry claims are "trade secrets" and were not identified at all - symbolized by the large quantity of red barrels.

5. Water, Water, Everywhere: 20 Months of Frackwater in the U.S.

Following up on our work with voluntary industry reports on the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, we compiled all of the data voluntarily reported to the industry-funded disclosure website FracFocus.org. Adding up the millions of gallons of water, we found that it would take over 24 hours for all of the water reportedly used for hydraulic fracturing to flow over one of North America's Seven Natural wonders: Niagara Falls. This was also reposted to our partners at EcoWatch.org, where we used this calculation to represent Central Park covered by 240 feet of toxic waste-water.

4. Chevron Blowout and Rig Fire off Nigeria—Small Slick Visible on Radar Today

A blowout off the coast of Nigeria got some major attention, but thankfully the natural gas well did not produce as large a spill as was possible. We noted the heat of the burning rig on infrared composite images, but radar satellite images showed only a small slick. Not all of the data we use is available to the general public for free, but some images, such as this infrared composite, are freely available from NASA for anyone to look at.

3. SkyTruth Releases Fracking Chemical Database

We heavily promoted the release of our fracking chemical database to the national media and to our partners. This resource will greatly aid policy discussion about disclosure regulations and aid in research on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing across a wide-range of disciplines. While the database is most useful to researchers and decision makers, this database enables everyone to sign up for SkyTruth Alerts whenever new fracking chemical reports are uploaded to FracFocus.org.

2. Satellite Images Shows Heat From Chevron Drill Rig, Offshore Nigeria

Our most popular posts  are usually related to pollution incidents, and the rig fire off the coast of Nigeria in January was no exception. While our report on the 20th of January (#4 on this list) had more detailed analysis of the incident, this preliminary post gained over 500 more views. Not only do we have the capacity for detailed tracking of environmental incidents, rapid access to satellite images allows us to respond quickly to breaking news. Unfortunately, one of our best resources, the European Space Agency's Envisat, unexpectedly went silent in April. We are looking forward to the launch of its replacement, Sentinel 1, sometime this coming year. 

1. Bakken Shale-Oil Drilling and Flaring Lights Up the Night Sky

Our most viewed post of 2012 was nightime imagery of natural gas flaring in North Dakota's Bakken Oil Shale. Because the main focus of drilling in the Bakken is for highly profitable oil, most of the natural gas that's also being produced is flared off (burned) as a waste product. Much better options are to inject it back into the reservoir, or capture it for sale. After all, why are we drilling and fracking for natural gas in the Rockies and the mid-Atlantic, while we're just wasting it in North Dakota? Expect to see more from us on the issue of flaring in 2013 as we work with a new dataset of nighttime light detection from NASA.

 

New Zealand: As seen in an infrared composite image taken by NASA's Terra Satellite less then five hours after they became the first major city to welcome 2013. Using resources just like this, we will continue to keep a vigilant eye on the earth for years to come. Source: NASA MODIS

In 2013, SkyTruth will continue to provide up-to-date information on pollution incidents and reveal the truth about the environmental impacts of large-footprint industrial activities such as mining, drilling, commercial fishing, etc. In all of this, we work to support scientifically credible research and policy decisions that will help us understand and manage our planet's natural resources in the best way possible.

Visit EcoWatch’s ENERGY and FRACKING pages for more related news on this topic.

 

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Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Niq Steele / Getty Images

By Sherry H-Y. Chou, Aarti Sarwal and Neha S. Dangayach

The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

When a neurologist examined him, Tom was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes abnormal sensation and weakness due to delays in sending signals through the nerves. Usually reversible, in severe cases it can cause prolonged paralysis involving breathing muscles, require ventilator support and sometimes leave permanent neurological deficits. Early recognition by expert neurologists is key to proper treatment.

We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

Some patients may not seek timely medical care for neurological symptoms like prolonged headache, vision loss and new muscle weakness due to fear of getting exposed to virus in the emergency setting. People need to know that medical facilities have taken full precautions to protect patients. Seeking timely medical evaluation for neurological symptoms can help treat many of these diseases.

What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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Democratic presidential hopefuls Joe Biden and Senator Bernie Sanders greet each other with a safe elbow bump before the start of the Democratic Party 2020 presidential debate in a CNN Washington Bureau studio in Washington, DC on March 15, 2020. Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images

By Jake Johnson

Unity Task Forces formed by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders unveiled sweeping party platform recommendations Wednesday that—while falling short of progressive ambitions in a number of areas, from climate to healthcare—were applauded as important steps toward a bold and just policy agenda that matches the severity of the moment.

"We've moved the needle a lot, especially on environmental justice and upping Biden's ambition," said Sunrise Movement co-founder and executive director Varshini Prakash, a member of the Biden-Sanders Climate Task Force. "But there's still more work to do to push Democrats to act at the scale of the climate crisis."

The climate panel—co-chaired by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State John Kerry—recommended that the Democratic Party commit to "eliminating carbon pollution from power plants by 2035," massively expanding investments in clean energy sources, and "achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for all new buildings by 2030."

In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

The 110 pages of policy recommendations from the six eight-person Unity Task Forces on education, the economy, criminal justice, immigration, climate change, and healthcare are aimed at shaping negotiations over the 2020 Democratic platform at the party's convention next month.

Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.