The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!
By Andy Rowell
You would have thought that after being battered by two devastating hurricanes in recent weeks, which experts believe were fueled by warmer seas caused by climate change, even the most die-hard climate denier would think again.
But you would be wrong.
Human's impact on planet Earth is huge. Thanks to the work of environmentalist and photographer, J Henry Fair, we can now get a bird's-eye view of the world's ever-increasing demand for energy, eating habits and rampant consumerism that are degrading our planet.
Fair's book has received rave reviews from many, including Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org. "Think of these images as a surveillance camera for the planet, recording the biggest crimes against nature we've ever imagined," McKibben said. "Images like these will be the standards around which we muster."
The New York Times' Roberta Smith said, "The vivid color photographs of J Henry Fair lead an uneasy double life as potent records of environmental pollution and as ersatz evocations of abstract painting ... information and form work together, to devastating effect."
In the book, Fair's images are accompanied by detailed explanations from award-winning science writer, Lewis Smith.
"The overall message is clear," according to Fair. "It is up to us to accept a consumer responsibility and environmental awareness and to change our habits if we want to ensure a better world for future generations to enjoy."
For more information, visit Fair's Facebook page.
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
Four out of five large earthquakes in Southern California from 1900 to 1935 may be linked to the state's early oil boom, says a study written by two leading U.S. Geological Survey scientists published Tuesday in the Bulletin of the Seismological Society of America.
The 1933 Long Beach earthquake killed 120 and injured 500 people.J. B. Macelwane archives, Saint Louis University
The largest of these was the magnitude 6.4 Long Beach earthquake in 1933 that killed 120 people and caused $50 million in damages, measured in 1933 dollars. It occurred along the Newport-Inglewood Fault, as did a magnitude 4.9 quake in 1920 centered in Inglewood. Two other events—a 1929 earthquake in Whittier and a 1930 Santa Monica quake—were also associated with oil extraction, say the study's authors, Susan Hough and Morgan Page.
Unlike recent fracking-induced seismic events in Oklahoma and elsewhere, related to the injection of massive amounts of wastewater, the California quakes may have been caused by oil drilling.
"People would just pump oil and in some cases the ground would subside—fairly dramatically," Hough told the Los Angeles Times.
Oil was discovered in 1892 near the present site of Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles. By 1923, LA Basin oilfields accounted for 20 percent of the world's oil production. Indeed, it was the Newport-Inglewood Fault that trapped 30-million year old petroleum deposits that came to be drilled in the 20th century. Even today, dozens of oil derricks can be seen in Los Angeles, Long Beach and Huntington Beach, which was the epicenter of the 1933 earthquake.
Los Angeles oil field circa 1901Wikimedia
The researchers looked at documentation from the five large earthquakes in this period along with data on oil and gas production and well depth. They found that most of these quakes were located close to oil wells and occurred shortly after drilling started. Each of the wells was more than 3,200 feet deep—unusual for the time.
The study calls into question assumptions about Southern California's seismic activity. If four of these five events were induced by drilling, it may be that the LA Basin is not as naturally earthquake-prone as believed.
Because the technology for drilling in this area has changed substantially since the early 1900s, other studies have not found any earthquakes triggered by oil and gas extraction in recent decades. Nor does it change the basics of plate tectonics and the underlying dangers of a rupture along any of the major earthquake faults in the state.
By Andy Rowell
Conservationists and environmentalists in Australia are celebrating a major victory after the oil giant BP announced that it is abandoning its hugely controversial plans to drill for oil and gas in the Great Australian Bight.
The area, which is off the country's southern coast, is a marine park and home to one of the largest breeding populations of endangered southern right whales in the world.
BP had big plans for the Bight and had once boasted that the region could be as important to the oil industry as the Gulf of Mexico.
But BP had also been struggling to persuade Australia's regulator, National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, Nopsema, that it could safely drill in the highly ecologically sensitive region.
Three times the regulator has knocked back the company, the third being just last month, when it again found BP's environmental plans inadequate.
The company's plans have also long been opposed by the Wilderness Society and other groups. Speaking last year, the Society's South Australia's director Peter Owen said: "The Great Australian Bight is a haven for whales, boasting the world's most significant southern right whale nursery as well as many humpback, sperm, blue and beak whales."
Environmentalists have called on BP to abandon its plans saying that the area could not be put at risk from oil exploitation and that the company could never adequately clean up an oil spill.
Today their wish was granted. BP said it was pulling out due to costs and the low oil price.
Claire Fitzpatrick, BP's managing director for exploration and production, Australia said: "We have looked long and hard at our exploration plans for the Great Australian Bight but, in the current external environment, we will only pursue frontier exploration opportunities if they are competitive and aligned to our strategic goals."
She added: "After extensive and careful consideration, this has proven not to be the case for our project to explore in the Bight."
It is not surprising that today's decision by BP was welcomed by environmental groups.
Lyndon Schneiders, Wilderness Society national director said: "This decision shows that it's too expensive to establish the significant and costly risk management and clean up capacity infrastructure needed to protect our communities" from the enormous associated spill risks.
Greenpeace Australia oceans campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle was ecstatic too: "This will come as a huge relief to anyone whose business relies on clean, green seas in the Great Australian Bight, to the fishing communities, to the tourism industry and it is a huge victory for them."
The South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young added "BP have said goodbye to the Bight, I say good riddance to BP."
She added that the Greens had a bill before the Senate that would permanently protect the Great Australian Bight from oil and gas drilling. "It's time that bill was supported, so that this precious natural environment can be protected for generations to come," said Hanson-Young.
Indeed, the Wilderness Society is now urging other oil and gas companies, such as Chevron, Santos and Statoil, to follow BP's and exit the Blight. Peter Owen, the Society's South Australian director of has also now called on the government to rescind all other permits for oil and gas in the region.
However, Statoil, BP's partner is currently continuing with the project.
"The risk to the Bight is not entirely over," argues Greenpeace Australia oceans campaigner, Nathaniel Pelle. "There are still multiple oil and gas companies with titles in the Bight and it won't be over until all the oil and gas prospects have left."
By Dan Ritzman
Migrations are the heartbeat of life in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Groups of thousands of caribou course across the landscape as they complete the longest migration of any land animal in North America. Arctic terns appear to be avenging angels as they guard their nests on riverside gravel bars; these birds have traveled 12,000 miles from Antarctica to find the perfect nest spot and they will let you know you are not welcome nearby. And I just completed what has become my annual migration. For more than two decades I have been traveling north each summer to experience the endless daylight, vast landscapes and stunning wildlife of the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge.
Gwich'in leader Sarah James has been a strong voice for protection of the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd, the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge, for decades.
Photo credit: Carly Harmon
Point Thompson, the newest oil development in Prudhoe Bay looms just a few miles from the edge of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Photo credit: Dan Ritzman
A group of military veterans and military family members explore the edge of North America on the shores of the Arctic Ocean.
You don't have to be a scientist to see that the coastal plain is the biological heart of our nation's wildest refuge, but if you need the numbers—the coastal plain is the nesting ground for 200 species of birds (who traveled there from every state and six continents), the calving ground and nursery for the Porcupine caribou herd and the most important on-shore denning area in Alaska for polar bears.
Not every animal present on the coastal plain hightails it out once the snow begins to fall, some have amazing adaptations to allow them to overwinter in this severe climate. On my last trip this summer we discovered the skull of a musk ox, a prehistoric-looking shaggy critter that is able to survive the deep cold. A close examination of the skull showed the spiral nasal passages that allow the frozen air the animal breathes to travel further and have more time to warm up as to prevent perpetual brain freeze. Equally fascinating is one of my favorites, the Arctic Wooly Bear Caterpillar. These are the longest lived caterpillars on the planet. They spend 7-14 years as a caterpillar before metamorphosing into a moth. During that time they spend about seven to eight months of the year frozen like a caterpillar popsicle. The three to four months they are thawed out are spent busily munching on the Arctic tundra. It takes them all those "partial" years to store up enough energy to undergo their change.
It isn't just the wildlife that are uniquely adapted to living in this landscape; the Alaska Native peoples who live above the Arctic Circle are intimately connected to the land and its rhythms. Every year Alaska Natives harvest, process, distribute and consume millions of pounds of wild animals, fish and plants through an economy and way of life that has come to be termed "subsistence." Collectively, these varied subsistence activities constitute a way of being and relating to the world and thus comprise an essential component of Alaska Native identities and cultures.
The people and the wildlife of the Arctic Refuge are threatened by the double-whammy of climate change and oil development. Look at any of the recent maps that highlight where the world is warming the fastest and the Alaskan Arctic shows up as a fiery red blob. In fact the Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet. The effects of this can be seen and felt on the ground—less water, more shrubs and trees and I've even noticed the change in the different species of birds showing up in the high north. Most important, the sea ice is disappearing. This disappearance spells trouble for wildlife like polar bears and the Alaska Native peoples who rely on the ice to hunt. It also has caused an increase in coastal erosion and a number of villages in the Arctic will have to be relocated or risk being washed into the sea. Scientists are telling us that the loss of this ice is leading to the unusual weather patterns we are experiencing in the rest of the world. What happens in the Arctic doesn't stay in the Arctic.
The Canning River forms the western boundary of the northern portion of the Arctic Refuge, separating the land owned and managed by the state of Alaska around Prudhoe Bay from the coastal plain and other wildlands of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It had been three or four years since I had last floated the Canning to the mountains, across the 30 miles of coastal plain to the coast of the Arctic Ocean. This is one of my favorite rivers, delivering a wide array of landscapes and incredible wildlife from wolves and grizzly bears in the mountains and plains, to snowy owls, yellow billed loons, golden plovers and eiders in the delta and coast. This summer I was dismayed to see a new oil field development rising ominously out of the tundra. Point Thompson is the newest and easternmost expansion of Prudhoe Bay and sits just a dozen or so miles from the edge of the Arctic Refuge. With the flat topography of the coastal plain this industrial site mars the wild character of the land.
This was a wake-up call for me. During the Bush presidency millions of Americans took action to protect the refuge and convinced the decision makes in Washington DC to say no to drilling in the refuge. This place has felt safe from drilling for the past 10 years, but here is a brand new oil field knocking on the door of the coastal plain. Now is not the time to be complacent; now is the time for action.
As a wilderness guide I have had the honor and good fortune to be able to share this special place with adventurers from across the U.S. Over the years I've traveled through this landscape with teachers, machinists, conservationists, veterans, musicians, artists, people from all walks of life and all corners of the country. To a person they have been moved by what they experienced. And many of them have been moved to take action and reached out to key decision makers to say that the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge deserves to remain forever wild. A collection of their actions can be seen here.
But the Arctic Refuge doesn't just speak to the people who have had the chance to visit. Like the migratory birds, the idea, the wildness and spirit of the Arctic Refuge touches people in every state and over the years millions of Americans have let it be known that the coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge is too special to drill; it deserves permanent protection.
Now is the time, before the oil fields creep one inch closer to this treasured landscape, to raise our voices and protect the this place once and for all.
Dan Ritzman is the Alaska program director for Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign.
- Arctic National Wildlife Refuge | Defenders of Wildlife ›
- Climate Change Comes to the Arctic | Sierra Club ›
- The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - National Wildlife Federation ›
Yesterday's Denver Post has a very important story about the toll of oil and gas production on soil.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Soil sounds like a really boring topic. But, as the Soil Science Society of America says: "soils sustain life." According to the Society, "soil supports and nourishes the plants that we eat" and that livestock eat; soil "filters and purifies much of the water we drink;" "soils teem with microorganisms that have given us many life-saving medications;" and "protecting soil from erosion helps reduce the amount of air-borne dust we breathe."
According to the Post:
- At least 716,982 gallons (45 percent) of the petroleum chemicals spilled during the past decade have stayed in the ground after initial cleanup—contaminating soil, sometimes spreading into groundwater.
- Oil and gas drilling produces up to 500 tons of dirt from every new well, some of it soaked with hydrocarbons and laced with potentially toxic minerals and salts.
- Heavy trucks crush soil, "suffocating the delicate subsurface ecosystems that traditionally made Colorado's Front Range suitable for farming."
These impacts from the tens of thousands of wells in Colorado alone led a Colorado soil scientist to state that oil and gas operations are "like a death sentence for soil."
The Post points out that no federal or state agency has ever assessed the impact of the oil and gas boom on soil and on human health.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Pavillion-area citizens, landowners and environmental groups today condemned Gov. Mead’s (R-WY) announcement that the state is assuming control from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the investigation into groundwater contamination by fracking-enabled oil and gas development near Pavillion, WY.
In the announcement, the Governor congratulated EPA and Encana—the company operating in the Pavillion area—for working with him to “chart a positive course” for the investigation.
“We went to the EPA for help after the State of Wyoming and Encana refused to address the public health impacts of unbridled development in the Pavillion area," said Pavillion farmer John Fenton. "Now Encana has bought its way back in and is working with the state on a strategy to cover up the mess they’ve created."
"Our government’s priority is clearly to protect industry rather than Wyoming citizens, our health and our property values. Gov. Mead, the Obama administration and Encana have decided what is best for our community without consulting us,” Fenton continued. “We were presented with Mead’s vague plan at the same time it was released to the public. Unlike the other stakeholders, we bear the brunt of living in the toxic mess that has become our community, but our input has been thrown out with EPA’s investigation. This is a sad day for our country.”
This decision continues a nationwide pattern of Obama Administration walkbacks of the EPA investigations whose preliminary results indicate fracking-enabled oil and gas development presents real risks to public health and water. Similar actions have occurred in Parker County, TX, and Dimock, PA.
“It seems clear that the White House’s 'all of the above' energy policy means fracking’s impacts on communities are being ignored,” said Earthworks' energy program director Bruce Baizel. “All across the country, whether it’s Wyoming, or Texas or Pennsylvania, it appears the EPA is being politically pressured to back off sound science that shows fracking-enabled oil and gas development is a risk to public health. With these decisions, the Obama administration is creating more opposition to fracking, not less.”
“Gov. Mead said earlier this week that change should be driven by elected officials and agencies, not the people,” said Don Nelson, a farmer and rancher near Keene in western North Dakota, on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils.
“This attitude is exactly why those of us who have to live with drilling and fracking have so little confidence in our regulatory agencies and elected officials. They only listen to the oil and gas industry, not to the local people. The same is true in North Dakota. And now EPA is backing down too and another investigation into groundwater contamination from oil and gas development is being swept under the rug. Why would anyone believe the oil and gas industry or the state regulatory agencies when they say drilling and fracking are safe?”
Governor Mead’s announcement indicates that the state would cease peer review of EPA’s investigation, essentially ignoring it.
“The state of Wyoming is already on record, through action and inaction, as denying that Pavillion’s groundwater contamination is a cause for concern,” said area ag-producer Jeff Locker. “They are throwing out a conscientious science based study by EPA that cost the taxpayers millions of dollars. The Governor’s plan postpones any conclusions for at least another year. It’s hard to believe that they’re trying to get to the bottom of the problem, they’re hoping this whole thing just goes away.”
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers today, challenging its approval of an oil-industry proposal to build the first drilling site ever inside the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the first road into America’s largest roadless area. The lawsuit targets the agency’s approval of a destructive plan to expand oil development in Alaska's Colville River Delta.
“We’re deeply concerned that this project could kick the door open for industrial development in the reserve’s priceless habitat for caribou, birds and other wildlife,” said Deirdre McDonnell, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
The plan approved by the Army Corps allows ConocoPhillips to build a drilling site within the boundaries of the reserve and connect it by a road and bridge to oil infrastructure outside the reserve. Reversing an earlier decision, the Corps rejected an alternative that would have minimized impacts to the Colville Delta, which provides habitat for myriad migratory birds, overwintering fish, caribou and marine mammals—including endangered ringed and bearded seals and polar bears.
The approved plan would bring roads into the largest, most biologically rich river delta in America’s Arctic. The Colville Delta provides internationally significant habitat for hundreds of thousands of water birds, which migrate from four continents to spend their summers in the Arctic. Several species that are legally protected by the Endangered Species Act can be found in the area, including spectacled eiders and polar bears. The area is also important to yellow-billed loons, among America’s rarest birds and a candidate for federal protection.
When oil development was first proposed in the Colville Delta, the industry promised to use “roadless” development to minimize the impact to this unique national treasure.
“The oil industry promises to use cutting-edge technology in the Arctic to reduce impacts to sensitive habitat, but when push comes to shove, it opts for the cheapest methods and forgets about the wildlife,” said McDonnell.
A planned pipeline over one of the Colville River’s largest channels also increases the risk of a catastrophic oil spill when spring ice breakup leads to unpredictable conditions on the ice-choked river. Such a spill would be devastating to birds and could dump oil into the Beaufort Sea, vital habitat for endangered bowhead whales as well as threatened polar bears and ice seals.
Today’s lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Alaska, challenges the lack of environmental review for the expanded project and its impacts on endangered species—and the rejection of a less environmentally damaging alternative. In February several Alaska Natives also filed a lawsuit against the project.
Visit EcoWatch’s BIODIVERSITY page for more related news on this topic.
Concerns about the impact to local groundwater by massive water use—on a scale never before seen in Michigan fracking operations—are coming to a head, as the plan for Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc. to use 8.4 million gallons of water to fracture a single well has been stymied by a lack of water on site.
Instead, the company is trucking water—nearly 1 million gallons of it in just one week—from the City of Kalkaska’s water system to meet its needs. This one fracking operation today is using more water than Kalkaska is using for all its needs over the same time period.
The Westerman 1-29 HD1 gas/oil well, located on Wood Road in Rapid River Township, Kalkaska County, originally permitted to Chevron Michigan, LLC, is now being operated by Encana.
The permit issued by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) authorized one water well on the site. The estimated water required for the gas/oil well was 8.4 million gallons. That compares to about 10,000 gallons used to complete or “stimulate” wells in the traditional way—a massive increase in consumptive water use by the fracking industry compared to the past.
The Michigan Water Assessment Withdrawal Tool (WWAT) estimated that 900 gallons per minute could be removed safely from the site and would cause no adverse resource impact. As it turns out, there isn’t enough water available on the site to provide 900 gallons per minute, let alone be safely removed.
An additional eight water wells were drilled on the site but apparently they did not produce either. Starting on May 31, water began being removed from the Kalkaska municipal water system to frack the gas/oil well.
The municipal withdrawal did not come close to supplying the water necessary to complete the Westerman well, so on Saturday, another water well was drilled off site in the surrounding field.
That water well also failed to produce sufficient water and trucks running around the clock continued to haul more than 900,000 gallons of water from the Kalkaska municipal system over the weekend. At last report on June 4, the water was still being trucked to the well site from the municipal water supply.
“If the citizens of Michigan knew corporations were destroying hundreds of millions of gallons of Michigan water—water that is supposedly protected by government for use by all of us—they would be opposing this new kind of completion technique," stated Paul Brady, a local resident and leading contributor of respectmyplanet.org. "These deep shale unconventional wells are using massive amounts of water without adequate testing and solid data on aquifer capacity.”
Brady noted that the new fracking methods permanently remove water from Michigan’s watersheds. It is polluted with chemicals, shoved deep into the ground and never returned to the water cycle. Encana has stated in shareholder presentations that up to 500 wells are planned for Michigan. Five new wells were permitted in Excelsior Township last week that estimate using 152,000,000 gallons of water. Eight more permit applications are pending.
The water use for these types of wells in Michigan is unprecedented. There is no gas or oil play in the U.S. that is using this much water per well.
The Michigan DEQ has taken some steps recently to try and deal with the astounding amounts of water destroyed by modern fracking. But as of today, the primary tools that they are using to determine the adverse impact to our water are inadequate to even judge how much water is available in any given location (as demonstrated by the Westerman well situation), never mind how much can be safely removed. Michigan has no groundwater maps of this area; state officials don’t know how much water withdrawal our aquifers in Kalkaska County can support.
However, there is a way to find this out: Do a pump aquifer yield test. State officials should require this testing whenever withdrawals of this magnitude are proposed for any reason, not just oil and gas exploration.
“This is not about the gas and oil industry,” says Brady. “We wholeheartedly support the Michigan oil and gas worker: They are our neighbors, family and friends here in Kalkaska. We are confident local oil and gas workers value the water as much as we do.”
Elected officials often remind us that water is by far our most precious resource. They need to step in and ensure that such massive quantities are not misused in this manner, and that unsustainable well drilling is not allowed.
Visit EcoWatch’s FRACKING page for more related news on this topic.
By Tim Woody
The first news from Alaska’s North Slope reads like the beginning of a disaster movie. Oil workers on a drilling rig hit a pocket of gas and quickly evacuate to avoid the hazard of an explosion as gas bursts from the ground. The well is out of control and an estimated 42,000 gallons of drilling mud spills onto the Arctic tundra.
A day later, the well still is out of control as blowout experts make their way to the Arctic from Texas. This time, the well’s operators are lucky. Nobody dies, the gas doesn’t ignite, and no oil spills—not in the early stages, anyway. But this incident is an example of what a dangerous, complex and dirty business it is to drill for oil. Unforeseen things happen, like drill bits hitting gas pockets that “kick” violently and with great pressure. Workers lose control. And expert help can be very far away.
The Qugruk 2 well is less than two miles from the coast of the Arctic Ocean, and operated by a Spanish company called Repsol which is new to operating in Alaska but owns more than 100 offshore leases in the Chukchi Sea. What will happen when oil workers lose control of an offshore well and oil spews into pristine Arctic waters? Will the workers be able to evacuate if seas are rough, or helicopters can’t fly because of high winds? Will they call their friends in Texas to bring the blowout under control?
Stormy, icy seas are nothing like the dry desert oil fields of West Texas. They’re nothing like most regions of the world where the oil industry has had little success bringing blowouts under control in far more hospitable conditions.
Alaska is a different animal. After a 20,000-gallon oil spill in Alaska’s Cook Inlet, near Anchorage, in 1989, extensive moving ice prevented workers from even attempting a cleanup.
Despite what oil executives want us to believe, the industry doesn’t have the technology to recover spilled oil in the Arctic. They don’t have the scientific data to understand the ecosystem in the Arctic Ocean, or how it would be affected by drilling. And a late-summer blowout at an offshore well site would be catastrophic for fish and marine mammals, and the Alaska Natives who depend on them as a food source.
The Qugruk 2 blowout is a reminder of just how undeniably complicated and risky it is to drill for oil. That’s why sensitive places like the Arctic Ocean, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and the Teshekpuk Lake region of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska should be protected from the oil industry.
The next time there’s a blowout, Big Oil—and the Arctic—might not be as lucky.
For more information, click here.
This week, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) will vote on a bill that includes a measure to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. The Arctic Refuge is our greatest wilderness icon and is home to caribou, polar bears and hundreds of bird species that migrate to all 50 states and six continents. It's a pristine, intact ecosystem that is unparalleled in North America, and for the first time in six years, pro-drilling Representatives are pushing to open this amazing place to Big Oil's dirty, dangerous drills.