On the morning of October 2, Stephen Maciejewski, an Audubon Pennsylvania volunteer, expected to tally a few dead birds in Philadelphia during their peak migration season. But instead, he found hundreds of dead birds, CNN reported.
"I've never seen anything like this," Maciejewski told CNN in October. "There were birds everywhere, and they were all dead."
Overnight, an estimated 1,000 to 1,500 birds collided with city buildings in a three-and-a-half block radius, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. Poor weather conditions and bright building lights were to blame for the city's largest mass-bird-collision event in 70 years, AP reported.
In response to growing concern about migratory birds and illuminated city skylines, a coalition of organizations are teaming up to form Lights Out Philly — a voluntary program aimed at preventing building collisions during spring and fall migrations.
The coalition, made up of the Audubon Mid-Atlantic, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, the Delaware Valley Ornithological Club and two local Audubon chapters, is calling on building managers and tenants to turn off unnecessary lights from April 1 through May 31 and from Aug. 15 to Nov. 15, between midnight and 6 a.m. according to the AP.
"We have some early adopters and the list is approaching 20 buildings, many of which are iconic and very recognizable members of the Philadelphia skyline, such as One and Two Liberty Place, Comcast Technology Center and Comcast Center, Mellon Bank Building and all of Brandywine Realty Trust's Center City and University City buildings," said Kristine Kiphorn, executive director of the Building Owners and Managers Association of Philadelphia, according to the AP.
"We get to do our part in the community to help preserve the bird population, and we get to conserve energy at the same time, saving money for our tenants and our assets."About 70 percent of North American birds are migratory — of them, more than 80 percent migrate at night, according to an op-ed in the Philadelphia Inquirer by Robert M. Peck, a senior fellow at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University, and Keith Russell, program manager of Urban Conservation at Audubon Pennsylvania. Bright lights can confuse and disorient migrating birds, causing them to fly into buildings.
"Many of the deaths that occur at night go unnoticed, cleaned up by vigilant maintenance crews before the morning commute begins. Fortunately, this is a problem that we can do something about," Peck and Russell wrote in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Simply turning lights off at night could reduce bird deaths by up to 80 percent, Lights Out Philly wrote in a release. The program could also reduce annual energy costs for building managers and tenants. In Toronto, for example, one municipal building under the Lights Out program saved more than $200,000 in a single year.
Up to one billion birds collide with U.S. buildings every year, according to Peck and Russell. Building collisions are a critical problem for some species that are also increasingly threatened by the changing climate.
"According to the most recent climate research conducted by Audubon, many of the 300-plus bird species that occur in Philadelphia, such as the Ovenbird and the Black-throated Blue Warbler, are among the hundreds of bird species that are now at an increased risk of extinction in North America because of climate change," Russell told Audubon.
"By participating in Bird Safe Philly's Lights Out program, Philadelphia will not only help to protect these birds by further reducing energy consumption, which can slow climate change, but by also reducing the nocturnal lighting that threatens so many of these birds."
Philadelphia is joining 33 other cities in the Lights Out program, including Boston, New York City, Atlanta and Washington D.C., the AP reported.
"We are heartened by all the efforts in our community to join together in this critical initiative to save so many birds from unnecessary harm and even death," Scott Cooper, president and CEO of the Academy of Natural Sciences, told The Philadelphia Inquirer. "A simple thing like turning out lights can help thousands of birds safely navigate our challenging urban environment."
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Art Zilleruelo's poetry is often inspired by nature. Growing up, he wandered the hills of rural Pennsylvania.
"It's still possible to do things like get lost in the woods here if you want to," he says. "It's still possible to find places where the night sky is completely unpolluted by artificial light."
But the region Zilleruelo is from is known more for coal than trees and stars. And in his recent book of poems, called "Toothsome," he grapples with this legacy.
He says the economic benefits of coal mining came with a big cost for many miners like his grandfather and great-grandfather.
"Both ended up succumbing to complications from what gets called black lung disease… which is the accumulation of coal sediment in the lungs," Zilleruelo says.
Strip mining has also scarred the earth. And in the town of Centralia, a coal mine fire has burned underground for more than 50 years.
In his poetry, such as this example from his new book, Zilleruelo wrestles with these losses and people's role in harming the climate and land.
"Who now can doubt that the earth hides fires
That the land can speak through many mouths
That some dark mountain husbandry
Has converted this forest to a larder
And these fields to an oven."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
In addition to taking precautions against the novel coronavirus, schools across the country find themselves needing to worry about a new scourge: legionella bacteria in their drinking water, according to The New York Times.
Recently, nine schools in Ohio and Pennsylvania found the harmful bacteria in their water. In Fox Chapel, PA, a suburb of Pittsburgh, four out of the town's six schools tested positive for the bacteria. Because the schools were unused for so long, nearly six months, the water just sat in the pipes and did not have a chance to move. That created a condition for the bacteria to thrive, according to WPXI News in Pittsburgh.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people get sick when they inhale mist that has the bacteria or they ingest water with the bacteria in it. It can cause severe pneumonia or lung infection, which is worrying when the nation is already grappling with COVID-19, an infectious disease that leads to severe pneumonia.
Similarly, schools outside of Dayton, Ohio found the bacteria in their water last week. In all of those cases, the outbreak was noticed in locations that were far from classrooms or drinking fountains, such as one faucet in a seldom used bathroom, according to Dayton Daily News.
"We would have capability to wash hands, we would provide drinking water, we have toilets that are working, and we have the ability to serve lunch," said superintendent Rob O'Leary, defending the district's decision to proceed with in-person instruction and to keep the schools open, as Dayton 24/7 reported.
O'Leary added that the school district ran disinfectant through all the school's water lines and cleaned the aerators on all of its faucets.
The Milton-Union school district, also in Ohio, received a federal grant to test its water over the summer. It found the bacteria in a drinking fountain and in two faucets on only the cold-water side, according to WHIO News in Ohio.
"Ice machines we tested it all," said Tim Swartztrauber, West Milton Water Supervisor and Chief Inspector to WHIO. "Luckily we did because we did find legionella. We tested every drinking fountain and we got it in a drinking fountain. Without that this probably would have been missed."
Swartztrauber added that they ran chlorine through the system to disinfect it and then flushed out the chlorine to make the water safe again.
Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil, environmental and ecological engineering at Purdue University in Indiana, was involved in the study at the Milton-Union schools and said it would not have been possible without the federal grant. That leaves a question of how many schools across the country are not testing their water because they don't have the funds to do it, according to The New York Times.
"If somebody contracts legionella and legionnaires disease the exposure can be fatal," Whelton said to WHIO. "So it is serious."
It's highly unusual for schools to go for such an extended time without use. Even during the summer months, there's often summer school, sports practice, and custodial work being done.
"Schools generally do not have a water management plan," Whelton said to the New York Times. "There's a myth that most do. They don't in my experience."
Whelton told The New York Times that the bacteria would likely show up with greater prevalence if schools actually conducted tests.
"If parents haven't heard from their schools about whether or not testing is being conducted, then they should start asking questions," he said.
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Sources tell the AP that the FBI is questioning current and former state employees about Governor Tom Wolf's administration's role in approving the Mariner East project, also owned by Dakota Access's owner Energy Transfer Partners. The bureau is looking to find out whether the state forced permits for construction through the environmental agency, and whether Wolf or his administration benefited from granting the permits.
“The FBI has begun a corruption investigation into how Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration came to issue permits for con… https://t.co/Mqb2Nu5mfr— Carrie (@Carrie)1573592650.0
The project has been plagued with delays, lawsuits and environmental fines and has faced serious local opposition since its start in 2017.
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By Peter Hart
Pennsylvania is home to more than 10,000 fracking wells, which forces communities to live with air pollution, water contamination and an array of health problems linked to drilling.
The frackers want to drill more wells, and the state's Democratic governor is not going to do anything to slow it down. But local communities are finding ways to fight back—and win.
The latest good news comes from Oakmont Borough, a small suburb of Pittsburgh along the Allegheny River. Residents there have waged a years-long battle against the fracking industry, which has been making a determined push into Allegheny County.
Fracking is a Desperate Industry Looking for New Profits
Here's why these companies are so eager to drill more wells: The fracking industry has problems turning a profit. The only way out for these financially stretched corporations is to double down—and that means moving to areas of the state that aren't as heavily fracked as some parts of western Pennsylvania.
Residents in Allegheny County have seen the havoc that fracking has created elsewhere, and they are determined to fight to keep it away from their schools and homes. Their tool of choice has been municipal zoning codes.
Putting Fracking Under Local Control
Every city or municipality creates a set of rules about what you can build, and where you can build it. Unfortunately, drilling companies often take advantage of the fact that many towns have not developed zoning ordinances that regulate fracking, or have outdated ordinances that do not address the issues facing their municipalities today. But if residents and local leaders get organized, they can put serious limits on the fracking industry before a well is approved.
That's what Food & Water Watch's Municipal Ordinance Project (MOP) is set up to do. We know that local officials in Allegheny County are the ones who should make the decisions about how to protect their own communities, and that safety and environmental concerns are front and center.
Oakmont Stands Up to Surveyors
Here's how it worked in Oakmont. In June 2017, a fracking company called Huntley & Huntley notified the borough that they were about to start 'seismic testing,' a process that involves setting off explosive charges in deep holes to measure the seismic waves, which can help indicate where gas may be trapped.
Oakmont residents didn't like the sound of that, and we worked together to pass an ordinance to regulate this intrusive process. Soon after, Huntley & Huntley reversed course, and announced that they weren't going to conduct the surveys as planned.
But they weren't going away—and resident groups like Citizens to Protect Oakmont were ready to go bigger. They started meeting that summer to craft an updated zoning ordinance that would offer some protection from drilling. By December, they offered a list of suggestions, including a 2,000-foot setback from residential property lines and the removal of fracking from the Light Industrial district of the borough.
The Borough Council, however, considered a weaker set of rules, which could have opened up residential areas to fracking. Local residents weren't having it; they were a force to be reckoned with at Council meetings, and in the end their tireless advocacy paid off: In February, the Council voted in support of the new ordinance.
What This Victory Means—Here and Elsewhere
This win is a testament to what is possible when neighbors come together to fight to protect their community. The fracking industry is desperate to find new places to drilling. If we want to stop them, we have get organized before the fracking starts."
Local leader Ed Grystar said it best: "The vote to approve Oakmont's Oil and Gas zoning ordinance is an example of the power of ordinary citizens organizing to protect the health and safety of their town. From the beginning in May 2017, we worked to change the narrative of what's acceptable by educating and mobilizing our neighbors."Residents in other parts of Pennsylvania are ready to follow Oakmont's lead.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has warned of a "multistate infestation" with the Asian longhorned tick—the first new tick species to enter the U.S. in 50 years.
New Jersey was the first state to report the Haemaphysalis longicornis on a sheep in August 2017. Since then, it has been found in Arkansas, Connecticut, Maryland, North Carolina, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, according to Friday's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
"The presence of H. longicornis in the United States represents a new and emerging disease threat," the report said.
The ticks were reported from 45 counties in nine states from August 2017 to September 2018.CDC
As EcoWatch previously mentioned, in Asia the species carries a disease that kills 15 percent of those infected, but no human diseases have been linked to the species in the U.S. since it was first found in New Jersey.
The CDC is currently working with public health, agricultural and academic experts to understand the possible threat posed by the insect.
"The full public health and agricultural impact of this tick discovery and spread is unknown," said Ben Beard, Ph.D., deputy director of CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in a press release. "In other parts of the world, the Asian longhorned tick can transmit many types of pathogens common in the United States. We are concerned that this tick, which can cause massive infestations on animals, on people, and in the environment, is spreading in the United States."
LiveScience further reported:
"In other parts of the world, longhorned ticks are known to spread diseases, including the bacterial infections babesiosis, ehrlichiosis, theileriosis and rickettsiosis, as well as certain viral diseases. In China and Japan, the longhorned tick transmits a disease called severe fever with thrombocytopenia syndrome (SFTS), which can be deadly."
The Asian longhorned tick is new to the United States and has the potential to spread germs. People should take ste… https://t.co/P34DHHTsTa— Dr. Robert R. Redfield (@Dr. Robert R. Redfield)1543591201.0
Unlike most tick species, a single female Asian longhorned tick can reproduce offspring without mating and lay up to 2,000 eggs at a time.
This means hundreds to thousands of ticks can be found on a single animal, person or in the environment, the CDC said.
Earlier this month, the CDC reported that in 2017, state and local health departments reported a record number of tickborne illnesses like Lyme disease.
"Tick-borne diseases like Lyme hit an all-time high this year, just as a new tick capable of spreading disease rears its ugly head," Connecticut U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal tweeted Friday in reaction to the report. "It's clear, urgent federal action is needed to fight the debilitating & growing public health threat of tick-borne diseases."
Tick-borne diseases like Lyme hit an all-time high this year, just as a new tick capable of spreading disease rears… https://t.co/U536hH5A5d— Richard Blumenthal (@Richard Blumenthal)1543594213.0
You can protect yourself from tick-borne diseases by using insect repellents, wearing protective gear and clothing, checking your body and clothing for ticks after returning from potentially tick-infested areas and showering soon after being outdoors, the CDC advises.
The CDC also advised livestock producers and pet owners to work with their veterinarians to maintain regular tick prevention and report any unknown tick species to their local department of agriculture.
Here's the agency's advice on what you should do if you think you have found an Asian longhorned tick:
- Remove any tick from people and animals as quickly as possible.
- Save the ticks in rubbing alcohol in a jar or a ziplock bag, then:
- Contact your health department about steps you can take to prevent tick bites and tickborne diseases.
- Contact a veterinarian for information about how to protect pets from ticks and tick bites.
- Contact your state agriculture department or local agricultural extension office about ticks on livestock or for tick identification.
Longhorned tick. Nymph and adult female, undersideCDC
By Sharon Kelly
The petrochemical industry anticipates spending a total of over $200 billion on factories, pipelines, and other infrastructure in the U.S. that will rely on shale gas, the American Chemistry Council announced in September. Construction is already underway at many sites.
This building spree would dramatically expand the Gulf Coast's petrochemical corridor (known locally as "Cancer Alley")—and establish a new plastics and petrochemical belt across states like Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
If those projects are completed, analysts predict the U.S. would flip from one of the world's highest-cost producers of plastics and chemicals to one of the cheapest, using raw materials and energy from fracked gas wells in states like Texas, West Virginia and Pennsylvania.
Those petrochemical plans could have profound consequences for a planet already showing signs of dangerous warming and a cascade of other impacts from climate change.
The gathering wave of construction comes as the Trump administration works to deregulate American industry and roll back pollution controls, putting the U.S. at odds with the rest of the world's efforts to slow climate change.
Trump announced in June 2017 that the U.S. had halted all implementation of the 2015 Paris agreement and intends to fully withdraw. America is now the world's only state refusing participation in the global agreement to curb climate change (after Syria, the final holdout, signed in November 2017).
This petrochemical industry expansion—much of it funded by foreign investors—makes America's refusal to participate in the Paris agreement all the more significant, because much of this new U.S. infrastructure would be built outside of the greenhouse gas agreement affecting the rest of the globe.
If American policy makers approve this wave of new plastics and petrochemical plants with little regard to curbing climate change and reducing fossil fuel use, environmentalists warn, they'll be greenlighting hundreds of billions of dollars of investment into projects at risk of becoming stranded assets.
From Rust Belt to Plastics Belt
Some of the largest and most expensive petrochemical projects in the U.S. are planned in the Rust Belt states of Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York, a region that has suffered for decades from the collapse of the domestic steel industry but that has relatively little experience with the kind of petrochemical complexes that are now primarily found on the Gulf Coast.
In November 2017, the China Energy Investment Corp., signed a Memorandum of Understanding with West Virginia that would result in the construction of $83.7 billion in plastics and petrochemicals projects over the next 20 years in that state alone—a huge slice of the $202.4 billion U.S. total. Those plans have run into snags due to trade disputes between the U.S. and China and a corruption probe, though Chinese officials said in late August that investment was moving forward.
The petrochemical industry's interest is spurred by the fact that the region's Marcellus and Utica shales contain significant supplies of so-called "wet gas." This wet gas often is treated as a footnote in discussions of fracking, which tend to focus on the methane gas, called "dry gas" by industry—and not the ethane, propane, butane and other hydrocarbons that also come from those same wells.
Those "wet" fossil fuels and chemical feedstocks are commonly referred to as "natural gas liquids," or NGLs, because they are delivered to customers condensed into a liquid form—like the liquid butane trapped in a Bic lighter, which expands into a stream of flammable gas when you flick that lighter on.
Ethane can represent a surprising amount of the fossil fuel from a fracked shale well, particularly in the Marcellus. For every 6,000 cubic feet of methane (the energy equivalent of the industry's standard 42 gallon barrel of oil), Marcellus wet gas wells can produce up to roughly 35 gallons of ethane, based on data reported by the American Oil and Gas Reporter in 2011.
And U.S. ethane production is projected to grow dramatically. By 2022, the region will produce roughly 800,000 barrels of ethane per day, up from 470,000 barrels a day in 2017, according to energy consultant RBN Energy.
That supply glut is driving down ethane prices in the Rust Belt.
"The lowest price ethane on the planet is here in this region," Brian Anderson, director of the West Virginia University Energy Institute, told the NEP Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction conference in Pittsburgh in June.
Chemicals and the Climate
Image projected onto Houston petrochemical plant during the Houston Toxic Tour, 2017.Backbone Campaign, CC BY 2.0
The petrochemical and plastics industries are notoriously polluting, not only when it comes to toxic air pollution and plastic waste, but also because of the industry's significant greenhouse gas footprint—affecting not only the U.S., but the entire world.
"The chemical and petrochemical sector is by far the largest industrial energy user, accounting for roughly 10 percent of total worldwide final energy demand and 7 percent of global [greenhouse gas] emissions," the International Energy Agency reported in 2013. Since then the numbers have crept up, with the IEA finding petrochemicals responsible for an additional percentage point of the world's total energy consumption in 2017.
Carbon emissions from petrochemical and plastics manufacturing are expected to grow 20 percent by 2030 (in other words, in just over a decade), the IEA concluded in a report released Oct. 5. A few days later, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned that by 2030, the world needs to have reduced its greenhouse gas pollution 45 percent from 2010 levels, in order to achieve the goal of limiting global warming to a less-catastrophic 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).
The petrochemicals industry has so far drawn relatively little attention from oil and gas analysts and policy makers. "Petrochemicals are one of the key blind spots in the global energy debate, especially given the influence they will exert on future energy trends," Dr. Fatih Birol, the IEA's executive director, said in a statement this month.
"In fact," he added, "our analysis shows they will have a greater influence on the future of oil demand than cars, trucks and aviation."
The new investments, which will rely on decades of continued fracking in the U.S, offer the oil and gas industry a serious hedge against competition from renewable energy, even in the event that climate policies push fossil fuel energy to the margins.
"Unlike refining, and ultimately unlike oil, which will see a moment when the growth will stop, we actually don't anticipate that with petrochemicals," Andrew Brown, upstream director for Royal Dutch Shell, told the San Antonio Express News in March.
The planned infrastructure could also help bail out the heavily indebted shale drilling industry financially by consuming vast amounts of fossil fuels, both for power and as a raw material.
The American Chemistry Council has linked 333 chemical industry projects, all announced since 2010, to shale gas—that is, gas that is produced using fracking. Forty-one percent of those projects are still in the planning phase as of September, according to the council, and 68 percent of the projects are linked to foreign investment.
State regulators in Texas and Louisiana have already issued permits that would allow a group of 74 petrochemical and liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects along the Gulf Coast to add 134 million tons of greenhouse gases a year to the atmosphere, an Environmental Integrity Project analysis found in September. The group said that was equal to the pollution from running 29 new coal power plants around the clock.
The expansion of plastics manufacturing in America also has environmentalists worried over a plastics pollution crisis. "We could be locking in decades of expanded plastics production at precisely the time the world is realizing we should use far less of it," Carroll Muffett, president of the U.S. Center for International Environmental Law, told The Guardian in December 2017.
This story is part of Fracking for Plastics, a DeSmog investigation into the proposed petrochemical build-out in the Rust Belt and the major players involved.
The petrochemical industry transforms ethane and other raw material into a huge range of products, including not only plastic, but also vinyl, fertilizers, Styrofoam, beauty products, chemicals and pesticides.
The petrochemicals industry itself straddles an uncomfortable fence when it comes to renewable energy and climate change. A significant portion of its revenue comes from "clean" technology sectors, as it provides materials used to make batteries and electric cars.
One report last year concluded that roughly 20 percent of the industry's revenue comes from products designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the American Chemistry Council cited the industry's role supplying "materials and technologies that improve energy efficiency and reduce emissions," as it opposed Trump's decision to drop out of the Paris agreement.
But petrochemical manufacturers are also heavily reliant on fossil fuels. They need them to power and supply a dreamed-of "manufacturing renaissance," as the ExxonMobil-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute explained as it pushed for Trump to abandon the Paris agreement.
Plans to use American shale gas would also link petrochemicals to the expansion of fracking, which carries its own environmental concerns. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's landmark study on fracking and drinking water concluded in 2016 that fracking has led to water contamination and poses continued risks to American water supplies.
In addition, though conversations about climate change usually focus on carbon emissions, the gas industry has such a bad methane leak problem that using natural gas can be even worse for the climate than burning coal.
Pittsburgh and Paris
Climate implications make a petrochemical build-out risky, not only from an environmental perspective, but also from a fiscal perspective, Mark Dixon, co-founder of NoPetroPA, which opposes fracking-based petrochemicals projects, told DeSmog.
One plant, Shell's $6 billion ethane "cracker" plant currently under construction in Beaver County, Pennsylvania, has permits to pump 2.25 million tons of CO2 equivalent per year into the air near Pittsburgh, roughly equal to the annual carbon pollution from 430,000 cars.
Industry advocates say the region can produce enough ethane to support up to seven more ethane cracker plants like Shell's.
"We're trying to drop our emissions 50 percent by 2030," Dixon said, referring to Pittsburgh's highly touted plans to comply with international climate targets despite the federal government's withdrawal from the Paris agreement. "The Shell cracker alone will decimate that."
A kayaker protests against Shell's cracker project outside the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in June 2018.Mark Dixon, CC BY 2.0
International negotiators met in Bangkok in September to hash out details on how the Paris agreement will be implemented. The U.S., which participated in talks despite the Trump administration's intention to withdraw from the accord, faced criticism over working to delay clarity over the agreement's financing (nonetheless, a top UN negotiator praised "good progress" from the talks).
While the Paris agreement is not directly binding, globally there has been discussion of using trade agreements and tariffs to pressure countries that fail to keep up with their carbon-cutting commitments.
In February, the European Union (EU) declared that it will not sign new trade agreements with any country that refuses to get on board with the Paris agreement.
"One of our main demands is that any country who signs a trade agreement with EU should implement the Paris agreement on the ground," France's foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told the French Parliament. "No Paris agreement, no trade agreement."
"They're already shooting across the bow, saying look, you've got to implement the Paris climate agreement," Dixon told DeSmog. "We could very well spend 10 years building an infrastructure to support fracking all over the region, crackers, ethane, plastics, everything, then have Europe say, 'sorry, you can't do that. You have to shut it down.'"
In other words, whether or not the U.S. puts its signature on the climate pact's dotted line, the pressure from trading partners to reduce greenhouse gas pollution—and the underlying concerns about the rapidly warming climate—could remain the same.
That said, while the U.S. is the only country to reject Paris on paper, it is far from the only country on track to miss its targets aimed at warding off catastrophic climate change. Only Morocco and The Gambia are projected to hit "Paris Agreement Compatible" targets, according to the Climate Action Tracker (whose rating tracker includes many major polluters but not all countries worldwide).
The EU itself currently earns a rating of "insufficient" from the group (China is ranked "highly insufficient," while the U.S. and four other nations earned the worst "critically insufficient" grade).
The next several years will determine the future of petrochemical production for decades to come, crucial years when it comes to the fate of the climate, if industry gets its timing right—particularly in the Rust Belt.
"The window to make this all work is not forever," Charles Schliebs of Stone Pier Capital Advisors told the NEP Northeast U.S. Petrochemical Construction conference in June. "It's maybe two to five years."
That means key decisions may be made while Donald Trump remains in office—though state and local regulators will also face important calls over permits and construction planning.
For some living near the center of the planned petrochemical expansion, the problem is readily apparent.
"We're not going to be able to double down on fossil fuels," Dixon said, "and comply with the Paris climate agreement."
The Link Between Fossil Fuels, Single-Use Plastics and Climate Change https://t.co/dNvbx9e4r9 @PlasticPollutes @GreenNewsDaily— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1525383607.0
Follow the DeSmog investigative series, Fracking for Plastics, and get your questions answered with the Field Guide to the Petrochemical and Plastics Industry.
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Tara Opsal and Stephanie Malin
Coloradans will vote on a ballot initiative in November that requires new oil and gas projects to be set back at least 2,500 feet from occupied buildings. If approved, the measure—known as both Initiative 97 and Proposition 112—would mark a major change from their state's current limits: 500 feet from homes and 1,000 feet from schools.
As sociologists who have researched oil and gas drilling in the communities that host it for the past seven years, we think this measure would provide local governments and Coloradans more say over where drilling occurs and enhance the rights of those who live near these sites.
Partly because fracking and related industrial processes often occurs close to homes, schools and other occupied buildings, the debate over Proposition 112 is contentious.
Opponents, especially those funded by industry groups, argue that stricter rules will mean less state tax revenue, job losses and weakened private property rights. Proponents express concerns about air pollution, earthquakes, water well contamination and explosions to explain why they want the public to have more sway.
But many state governments have tried to stymie the attempts of communities to gain this power. For example, Colorado's Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that local communities have no right to regulate where drilling occurs.
And industry-funded groups and the Colorado Farm Bureau, which represents farmers, ranchers and other agricultural interests, are countering this electoral effort to restrict drilling with their own measure. Known as Amendment 74, it would force any city or county government that limits drilling to compensate property owners if new setback rules were to lower property values or reduce revenue from fracking leases.
Regulations and Leasing
Members of the public and local governments have successfully challenged limits on local control over fracking in court before. For example, Pennsylvania's Supreme Court affirmed the power of communities to regulate the oil and gas industry locally when it ruled in 2016 that parts of a law known as Act 13 were unconstitutional.
In that instance, the court ruled against a provision that barred doctors from sharing information about possible toxic exposure if they were given access to industry information about the chemicals used in fracking. It also blocked the enforcement of a measure that allowed the use of eminent domain to site natural gas storage facilities.
But as far as we can tell, Colorado's ballot initiative marks the first time voters can potentially control the set-back distances of oil and gas facilities from rivers, homes, schools and other buildings in their communities.
Regulating oil and gas leases on private land is hard partly because they are privately negotiated contracts between companies and landowners. To learn more about what happens during these negotiations, we interviewed more than 100 Coloradans and Pennsylvanians about their experiences negotiating these drilling leases.
In our recently published study, we found that these people feel inconvenienced at best. Most told us they felt exploited and mistreated due to the leasing experience despite having made money off of leasing their land or mineral rights.
Some scholars who look at how drilling affects local communities argue that this process empowers private property owners because they play a direct role in deciding the terms of these negotiations. And some of these folks can even get rich from fracking lease earnings.
Certainly, landowners—including some of the people we interviewed—have earned income from these contracts, though the amounts can vary from a few dollars to thousands of dollars per acre. But the overwhelming majority of the Pennsylvanians and Coloradans who met with us in their kitchen tables, backyards and farms described feeling disempowered when they signed fracking leases.
"I knew zip about gas production," explained a man who operates a small-scale dairy farm in northeastern Pennsylvania and we are calling "Anderson" to honor our promise of confidentiality. "We had no time, we either made a decision to do it or not do it."
During private negotiations, landmen—the company representatives who try to convince people to sell or lease their land and mineral rights—discouraged neighbors from teaming up to get a better deal or even talking with one another about the terms they're considering, interviewees told us.
In some situations, when residents negotiated for better-than-average lease terms, landmen made them sign nondisclosure agreements that legally forbade sharing information.
Same Land, Different Owners
Occasionally in Pennsylvania and almost always in Colorado, these fracked properties belong to two or more parties. One owns the surface and someone else possesses the rights to whatever minerals lie beneath it.
And, in Colorado, surface landowners are legally required to provide mineral owners access to their resources.
Many people we interviewed owned land but not the rights to the minerals below it. With limited power to stave off drilling in their backyards or on their farms, the surface rights owners we interviewed said they felt like "sitting ducks" and "unprotected." They told us that they saw attempting to keep an oil and gas company off their land as "futile."
"John," a farmer who lives south of Denver, tried to fight the placement of a pipeline that split his farm into two less usable pieces. When he tried to fight the pipeline placement, he told us, he overheard industry representatives speculating that they simply needed to outspend his opposition.
When the people we interviewed owned the mineral rights tied to their property but did not want to lease them, an energy company could pursue them through a state statute allowing a practice known as "forced pooling" in both Pennsylvania and Colorado.
It makes leasing mineral rights mandatory, leaving landowners with no way to say no when a company wants to frack their property.
We also heard about the personal costs participants experienced after they signed leases. Ranchers explained they lost productive pastureland. Other residents believed they became ill because of air pollution. And many farmers described lasting damage to idyllic homesteads.
Even when these factors violated their leases or laws governing oil and gas practices, nearly all lease signers we interviewed told us they had a hard time getting oil and gas operators with whom they'd signed leases to address any violations of those contracts.
To "Connor," a homesteader in southern Colorado, the negotiation process felt "like having a second job." At times," he told us, "it was absolutely overwhelming. I think we did absolutely everything we could as private citizens to try and mitigate the impacts and in the end, it was futile."
3,000 Wells Shut Down in Colorado After Fatal House Explosion https://t.co/1itEkcKDEX @EcoWatch— DeSmogBlog (@DeSmogBlog)1493337303.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
Only 11 percent of the natural gas pipelines in Pennsylvania are disclosed through publicly-available maps, Pittsburgh NPR station WESA reported this week.
Pipeline companies are only required to disclose transmission lines, which make up a small fraction of the commonwealth's more than 89,000 pipelines. WESA's report comes a week after a pipeline explosion in Beaver County, Pennsylvania that destroyed a home and forced dozens to evacuate.
For a deeper dive:
By Sharon Kelly
Back in 2008, residents of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and surrounding areas received a notice in the mail advising them to drink bottled water instead of tap water—a move that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) internal memos at the time described as "one of the largest failures in U.S. history to supply clean drinking water to the public."
The culprit: wastewater from oil and gas drilling and coal mines. This included fracking wastewater that state officials had allowed to be dumped at local sewer plants—facilities incapable of removing the complex mix of chemicals, corrosive salts and radioactive materials from that kind of industrial waste before they piped the "treated" water back into Pennsylvania's rivers.
The levels of corrosive salt in some of the oil and gas wastewater was so high that at some sewage plants, it was suspected of killing off the "good bacteria" that removes fecal coliform and other dangerous bacteria from raw sewage.
Eight years after the Pittsburgh incident, in 2016, the EPA finished writing the rules that would stop that kind of failure from reoccurring, specifically forbidding sewage treatment plans from accepting untreated wastewater from fracked wells.
A few months earlier, the EPA had announced its long-awaited national study of the risks that fracking-related pollution posed to American drinking water supplies. That study specifically examined the impacts of using sewage plants and commercial wastewater plants to handle fracking waste. It made special note of the dangers of toxic chemicals called trihalomethanes that were created during the treatment process, as well as the likelihood that "radium, metals, and organic compounds can also be discharged."
Changing the Rules Again?
Now, the Trump administration's EPA is announcing that it wants to study the industry's wastewater all over again. The Trump-era study will examine oil and gas wastewater, asking, in the administration's words, "whether any potential federal regulations that may allow for broader discharge of treated produced water to surface waters are supported."
In other words, Trump's EPA is questioning whether the rules should be changed, allowing wastewater from oil and gas wells, including fracked wells, to make its way into America's rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs after some treatment.
The problem is that treating oil and gas waste from fracked wells remains particularly tricky because the industry is still allowed to keep secret information about which chemicals drillers use when injecting fluids to crack open shale formations to release oil and gas.
This situation means even the EPA doesn't know what exactly to test for if inspectors want to find out whether that treated wastewater is safe to re-enter American water supplies.
The EPA has long struggled with internal conflict between the agency's scientific experts and its political appointees, but that battle has taken on an entirely different dimension under its current leadership.
The problem is so severe that George W. Bush's EPA chief Christine Todd Whitman penned a column calling Administrator Scott Pruitt "unfit to run the EPA," adding that his proposals are "a surefire way to kill science at the agency."
Pruitt is also under multiple investigations for misconduct so glaring that The New York Times editorial board described him as "not just an industry lap dog but also … [a] small-time grifter." His personal grasp on basic science has been frequently questioned—perhaps in part because recently released internal EPA emails show that he has sought briefings from industry-funded science deniers while rejecting meetings with premier scientific organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
The EPA's May 2 announcement seems to have largely flown under the radar, generating virtually no press coverage outside of the industry trade press. Its timing could play into that. The announcement came just one day after two high-level EPA aides left the agency under ethics investigation.
In addition, most of the national press has been focused on Pruitt's ever-growing list of ethics and personal spending scandals: the first-class flights, bullet-proof desk and high-security motorcades to fancy restaurants, his sight-seeing trips and other apparent abuses of taxpayer funds.
While the press spotlight shines on those issues, Trump's EPA is moving to shake the foundations of protections for American drinking water supplies from contamination by oil and gas waste, opening the doors for the industry to sell its wastewater as a product instead of paying for its disposal.
"Currently, the majority of this wastewater is managed by disposing of it using a practice known as underground injection, where that water can no longer be accessed or used," Trump's EPA wrote in a release announcing the new study.
"Some states and stakeholders are asking whether it makes sense to continue to waste this water, particularly in water scarce areas of the country, and what steps would be necessary to treat and renew it for other purposes."
Not Just Fracking: Radioactivity and Brine
Treated oil and gas wastewater flows into a western Pennsylvania stream.Avner Vengosh, Duke University
The levels of pollution found in oil and gas wastewater can vary, depending on which heavy metals and radioactive materials are found in the ground where the well is drilled, whether the waste comes from a conventional oil and gas well or a fracked well where drillers mix large amounts of chemicals into the water, and how long after drilling and fracking the water rises up from the ground.
There's no set definition for many of the labels that the industry uses to describe that wastewater, to differentiate between "produced water" or "brine," for example.
When the EPA wrote its 2016 rules, officially known as the Oil and Gas Extraction Effluent Guidelines, the agency believed that no wastewater, whether from fracked wells or conventional, was still being trucked or piped to sewage treatment plants, but it turned out that some conventional oil and gas drillers in Pennsylvania had in fact kept on trucking. They objected and the EPA gave them until August 29, 2019 to stop their dumping.
An industry group has now filed a lawsuit, still pending, seeking to block the 2016 rules from applying to conventional oil and gas drillers.
Though public awareness of the hazards of fracking waste has grown over the past decade, oil and gas wastewater that has nothing to do with fracking can be heavily polluted as well. Conventional oil and gas wastewater, which the industry often calls brine, carries high levels of corrosive salts, and it has in some cases been linked to pollution problems similar to those associated with fracking.
For example, researchers have continued to find radioactive pollution in Pennsylvania's streambeds, just downstream from commercial treatment plants that accepted brine from conventional wells. (Unlike sewage treatment plants, commercial water treatment plants are designed to handle some industrial wastes.)
Radium levels up to 650 times higher than those upstream from the commercial treatment plants were found downstream of discharge pipes, according to a peer-reviewed study by Duke University published in January.
The sediments that the team, led by Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality at Duke, found in Pennsylvania's streambeds carried levels of radium as high as 25,000 Becquerels per kilogram (Bq/kg)—about eight times the threshold at which radioactive oilfield waste like sludge is considered "contaminated."
Radium mostly emits alpha radiation, which can be blocked by people's skin, and the health risks associated with radium stem primarily from drinking contaminated water or eating fish that lived in those polluted waters. Radium has a half-life of 1,600 years, meaning it persists in the environment for an unusually long time, and researchers were able to establish that the pollution occurred during the last three years.
"Despite the fact that conventional oil and gas wastewater is treated to reduce its radium content, we still found high levels of radioactive build-up in the stream sediments we sampled," Vengosh said. "Radium is attached to these sediments, and over time even a small amount of radium being discharged into a stream accumulates to generate high radioactivity in the stream sediments."
Trump's EPA wants to explore whether it makes sense to use more oil and gas wastewater instead of requiring it to be disposed. The main disposal method currently used in most states involves trapping that wastewater deep underground using injection wells, a practice that has led to earthquakes in Oklahoma, Texas and other states.
It's a significant problem given that the sheer volume of wastewater coming from the oil and gas industry is enormous, with one 2015 estimate putting it at over 800 billion gallons a year.
"In New Mexico's arid environment, conserving our resources by recycling produced water for more beneficial uses presents a significant economic development and water supply opportunity," New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department cabinet secretary Ken McQueen said in an EPA statement.
The industry has struggled to find effective treatment methods to recycle the volume of wastewater it generates, which is sometimes calls "produced water." That produced wastewater can be five to eight times saltier than ocean water, and those salts aren't simply the familiar table salt but are instead corrosive salts that lace the water from oil and gas wells.
Recycling wastewater not only raises concerns about spills, transportation and other logistical headaches, it also begs the question of what to do with the waste left over from the wastewater recycling process itself. That process can concentrate toxic and radioactive materials into highly contaminated sludges. And re-using the water for more drilling can also raise the levels of pollutants in that water which will ultimately have to be disposed somehow.
Trump's EPA is forging ahead with plans to re-open the question of what rules the industry will have to play by as it seeks to offload its waste.
"In the coming months, EPA plans to reach out to stakeholders—including states, industry, and nongovernmental organizations—to facilitate conversations," the agency's announcement states. "Following this study, EPA will determine if future agency actions are appropriate to further address oil and gas extraction wastewater."
Lawsuit Launched Against Trump EPA for Approving Fracking Waste Dumping Into Gulf of Mexico https://t.co/DZ6HFBxlLM… https://t.co/57CFf0qS9a— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1512860445.0
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
By Itai Vardi
A Pennsylvania state senator, who is responsible for a slew of legislation favoring the oil and gas industry, leases his own land to fracking companies, recent disclosure documents show. Last year, veteran lawmaker Gene Yaw of Lycoming County profited from royalties he received from several different drillers.
Yaw, who chairs the key senate environmental resources and energy committee, has been serving in the state legislature since 2008. In recent years he's positioned himself as a champion of the oil and gas industry by advancing various pro-industry measures. The counties in the district he represents, located squarely on top of the Marcellus Shale, have thousands of active oil and gas wells.
In late 2016, Yaw co-sponsored a bill to bolster the rights of property owners leasing their land to oil and gas developers. Soon after, he introduced the "Pennsylvania Natural Gas Expansion and Development Initiative," a bill that aims at dramatically expanding the production and transportation of natural gas in the state.
"We have an abundant natural resource beneath us," Yaw wrote in support of the bill, "which can be used to help consumers lower their energy heating costs." Earlier, Yaw half-jokingly told an audience at a midstream oil and gas conference that he's contemplating a bill to ban transporting gas into New York, given the state's own ban against hydraulic fracturing (fracking).
At the same time, Yaw benefits personally from Pennsylvania's fracking boom. According to his most recent financial disclosure, last year he received income from five different drilling companies: Anadarko, Statoil, Alta Marcellus Development, Mitsui E&P, and Chesapeake.
From Pennsylvania state Senator Gene Yaw's financial disclosure for 2017, showing income from drilling leases.
In 2013, a local reporter asked Yaw about land he leases in Lycoming County to Anadarko. The senator denied the lease poses a conflict of interest, noting that he leased the land before his election to the legislature. Yet as the most recent disclosure indicates, the number of oil and gas companies Yaw profits from has increased since he became a lawmaker.
According to Nick Troutman, a spokesperson for Yaw, the senator signed one lease about 12 to 15 years ago, before he entered the senate. The lessee, Anadarko, sold partial interests to other drillers, "transactions which are solely within the discretion of the lessee." Asked how much money Yaw made last year from the royalties, Troutman replied: "The amount of royalties, if any, is private and not subject to disclosure."
Nevertheless, Yaw benefits from the industry in another way. Outside of his political role, he is also an attorney at the Williamsport, Pennsylvania-based law firm McCormick, which, according to its website, engages in "gas company representation."
Yaw's spokesperson Troutman said questions about potential conflicts of interest are misplaced. "It takes 129 people to decide any legislative issues in Pennsylvania," he said, "So even if Sen. Yaw sponsors a bill, 128 others need to agree. Moreover, he is a citizen of the state. Every vote he makes potentially affects him, some on a daily basis, such as the increase in speed limits."
According to Troutman, "you'd have to bring lawmakers in from Maryland or New York if you want to get rid of potential conflicts because legislation affects everyone in the state and/or large groups of Pennsylvanians, some of whom may be lawmakers.
But for Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, an argument that every politician is essentially conflicted sounds unconvincing.
"It's an actual scandal when a legislator has a seemingly substantial, yet not fully disclosed, personal interest in fracking," Hauser said. "We not only need better disclosure rules, but we should compel office holders to recuse themselves from policy-making when they have a substantial conflict of interest."
As Hauser put it, "American representative democracy only works if policy outcomes are the result of the hashing out of competing notions of the public interest rather than individuals fighting to advance their bottom line."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
FERC Approves PennEast Pipeline: Opponents Look to Clean Water Act to Stop 'Dangerous and Unneeded' Project
A controversial natural gas pipeline project with a proposed route through New Jersey can move forward, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) ruled Friday.
Owners of the proposed $1.2 billion PennEast Pipeline, which would carry shale gas from Pennsylvania through New Jersey, said they are planning to begin construction this year following the certificate of public convenience granted by FERC on Friday.
Opponents of the project say the pipeline still needs to clear several hurdles at the state level, and point to New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who campaigned on an environment and clean energy agenda and spoke out against PennEast on the campaign trail. Activists along the nearly 120-mile route vowed to continue fighting against the pipeline, and protests are planned in New Jersey Monday in response to the decision.
"FERC is basically working for the pipeline companies rather than for the people they are supposed to represent," Jeff Tittel, New Jersey Sierra Club director, said in a statement. "It's shameful that FERC can approve a pipeline without even applications for state or federal permits. FERC is the 'Federal Expedited Rubberstamp Commission.'
"Now the fight begins," he added. "We will organize to stop this pipeline that people vigorously approve. PennEast has a long way to go and many permits to get. We also have a new Governor who opposes the project. We won't stop until we stop this dangerous and unneeded pipeline."
As reported by NJ Spotlight:
"'Now, the real environmental review begins—the ones that FERC did not do,' said Tom Gilbert, campaign director of ReThink Energy NJ and the New Jersey Conservation Foundation. He particularly cited the state's authority in issuing a 401 permit under the Clean Water Act.
'We don't see any way this pipeline can be built and meet those standards,' said Gilbert, noting the route of the project crosses 38 C-1 streams, the most pristine in the state. 'If they enforce regulations, this project won't pass muster.'"
Rover Pipeline Spills Another 150,000 Gallons of Drilling Fluid Into Ohio Wetlands https://t.co/xX9n9S9OIW… https://t.co/SN2OD4dvui— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1516227009.0
For a deeper dive: