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Flooding covered much of Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. Will Dickey / Florida Times-Union

Florida Faces 3 Toxic Crises Triggered by Flooding

By Dipika Kadaba

Ah, Florida—home to famous natural landscapes and amazing wildlife, but also to more than 20 million people and billion-dollar industries. Decades of booming development in Florida—all of it built in the path of Atlantic hurricanes—have brought to a head some toxic problems the state still struggles to solve. Every major flooding event, like the one following this year's Hurricane Irma, leaches toxic waste into people's homes and drinking water.

Florida is particularly vulnerable to storm surges and flooding from hurricanes like Irma. Scroll down to explore the natural disaster risks facing Florida and increasing its residents' toxic risks:

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Tyson Poultry Pleads Guilty to Clean Water Act Violations, Fish Deaths in Missouri

Tyson Foods, the nation's largest chicken producer, has taken "full responsibility" for accidentally releasing an acidic chemical used in chicken feed into the city of Monett, Missouri's wastewater treatment system that resulted in the deaths of more than 100,000 fish.

The poultry giant unit pleaded guilty on Wednesday in federal court in Springfield, Missouri on two criminal charges of violating the Clean Water Act that stemmed from discharges at its slaughter and processing facility in Monett, Missouri, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) said.

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EPA Delays Toxic Waste Rule for Coal-Fired Power Plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally delayed Wednesday implementation of an Obama-era rule regulating waste from coal-fired power plants. The rule sets specific limits on toxins like lead, arsenic and mercury in wastewater from power plants, potentially lowering pollution by 1.4 billion pounds a year and saving an estimated $500 million in public health benefits.

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Mural by Diego Rivera showing life in Aztec times in the city of Tenochtitlán. Wikimedia Commons

Nature Offers Solutions to Water Woes and Flood Risks

When the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlán in 1325, they built it on a large island on Lake Texcoco. Its eventual 200,000-plus inhabitants relied on canals, levees, dikes, floating gardens, aqueducts and bridges for defense, transportation, flood control, drinking water and food. After the Spaniards conquered the city in 1521, they drained the lake and built Mexico City over it.

The now-sprawling metropolis, with 100 times the number of inhabitants as Tenochtitlán at its peak, is fascinating, with lively culture, complex history and diverse architecture. It's also a mess. Water shortages, water contamination and wastewater issues add to the complications of crime, poverty and pollution. Drained and drying aquifers are causing the city to sink—almost 10 meters over the past century!

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Water stress levels are rising. Flickr / Asian Development Bank

7 Reasons We Face a Global Water Crisis

By Leah Schleifer

Droughts in Somalia. Water rationing in Rome. Flooding in Jakarta. It doesn't take a hydrologist to realize that there is a growing global water crisis. Each August, water experts, industry innovators and researchers gather in Stockholm for World Water Week to tackle the planet's most pressing water issues.

What are they up against this year? Here's a quick rundown on the growing global water crisis.

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Magnitude 4.2 earthquake shakes central Oklahoma on Wednesday night. USGS

8 Earthquakes Shake Oklahoma in 24 Hours

Several earthquakes have struck Oklahoma this week, including a magnitude 4.2 that hit the central part of the state on Wednesday night.

"The past 24 hours have had an uptick in earthquake numbers, with 8 quakes ranging from 2.6-4.2 magnitude occurring in Oklahoma," USGS tweeted.

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Kris Krüg / Flickr

Will the Gulf of Mexico Remain a Dumping Ground for Offshore Fracking Waste?

By Mike Ludwig

As the Trump administration moves to gut Obama-era clean water protections nationwide, an environmental group is warning the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that its draft pollution discharge permit for offshore drilling platforms in the Gulf of Mexico violates clean water laws because it allows operators to dump fracking chemicals and large volumes of drilling wastewater directly into the Gulf.

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Earthquakes with a magnitude of 3.0 and higher that struck Oklahoma in 2016. Photo credit: Earthquakes.ok.gov

Oklahoma Remains Nation's Human-Induced Earthquake Hotspot

Despite a crackdown on wastewater injection volumes, Oklahoma has once again been named the state with the highest risk of human-induced earthquakes, according to new seismicity maps released Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS).

Damage to buildings in Cushing, Oklahoma from a 5.0-magnitude earthquake on November 6, 2016. Dolan Paris, USGS

Geologists believe that these man-made quakes are triggered by wastewater from oil and gas operations being injected into deep underground wells. These fluids can cause pressure changes to faults and makes them more likely to move.

This process has been blamed for the Sooner State's alarming rise in seismic activity. Between 1980 and 2000, Oklahoma averaged only two earthquakes greater than or equal to magnitude 2.7—the level at which ground shaking can be felt—per year.

But in 2014, the numbers jumped to about 2,500 in 2014, 4,000 in 2015 and 2,500 in 2016.

The USGS said that the decline in 2016 quakes could be due to injection restrictions implemented by the state officials. According to Bloomberg, "State regulators aiming to curb the tremors have imposed new production rules cutting disposal volumes by about 800,000 barrels a day and limiting potential for future disposal by 2 million barrels a day."

However, even if there were fewer tremors last year, Oklahoma felt more 4.0+ quakes in 2016 than in any other year. Of the earthquakes last year, 21 were greater than magnitude 4.0 and three were greater than magnitude 5.0.

Some of the biggest quakes include a 5.0-magnitude temblor that struck Cushing, one of the largest oil hubs in the world, on Nov. 6. And the largest quake ever recorded in the state was a 5.8 that hit near Pawnee on Sept. 3.

Even with a decrease in wastewater injection volumes, the USGS determined that the 3.5 million people who live and work in areas of the central and eastern U.S. (CEUS) face significant potential for damaging shaking from induced seismicity in 2017. The majority of this population live in Oklahoma and southern Kansas.

Remarkably, man-made temblors have put this area's earthquake risk on par with another notoriously earthquake-prone state.

"The forecasted chance of damaging ground shaking in central Oklahoma is similar to that of natural earthquakes in high-hazard areas of California," the USGS said.

The researchers also found that an additional half million people in the CEUS face a significant chance of damage from natural earthquakes in 2017, bringing the total number of people at high risk from both natural and human-induced earthquakes to about four million.

"The good news is that the overall seismic hazard for this year is lower than in the 2016 forecast, but despite this decrease, there is still a significant likelihood for damaging ground shaking in the CEUS in the year ahead," said Mark Petersen, chief of the USGS National Seismic Hazard Mapping Project, in a statement.

"The forecast for induced and natural earthquakes in 2017 is hundreds of times higher than before induced seismicity rates rapidly increased around 2008," said Petersen. "Millions still face a significant chance of experiencing damaging earthquakes, and this could increase or decrease with industry practices, which are difficult to anticipate."

The USGS also identified the Colorado/New Mexico area known as the Raton Basin as another high hazard area in 2017.

"Most of the damage we forecast will be cracking of plaster or unreinforced masonry. However, stronger ground shaking could also occur in some areas, which could cause more significant damage," Petersen said.

In a statement published in the Los Angeles Times, Oklahoma Geological Survey's director Jeremy Boak said that both regulatory actions as well as falling petroleum prices "should result in further declines in the seismicity rate and limit future widespread seismic activity."

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which regulates oil and gas wells in the state, credited disposal rules for the drop in quakes, telling Bloomberg that it "serves to confirm the validity of the work done in Oklahoma to reduce earthquake risk, as well as the need for the effort to continue."

Katie Brown, a spokeswoman with a research and education program of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, told the Los Angeles Times that the reduced number of earthquakes "is a clear sign that the collaborative efforts between industry, scientists and regulators are working."

Fracking

1,650 Illegal Oil Wells Still Polluting California Aquifers

Gov. Jerry Brown's oil regulators failed to meet their own deadline Wednesday for shutting down 1,650 oil industry injection wells that are violating water-protection laws by dumping toxic fluid into protected California aquifers.

"Governor Brown's administration has decided not to protect our water from illegal contamination by the oil industry," said Hollin Kretzmann of the Center for Biological Diversity. "By failing to meet their own lax deadline for shutting down these polluting wells, state oil regulators have given Californians another reason not to trust a word they say."

All illegal oil-industry injection activities were supposed to be halted by Feb. 15, according to a promise made two years ago by California's Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources. The state could be imposing fines of up to $25,000 a day for every well that continues to operate in a protected aquifer.

But as of Wednesday, the state has shut just a portion of wells operating in aquifers that should be protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. State officials quietly announced the indefinite delay in enforcing the law in mid-January.

In March of 2015, state officials testifying before the California senate pledged to stick to the February deadline and other aspects of a schedule approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). John Laird, the state's Secretary of Natural Resources, told senators that the Brown administration was "fully committed to meeting these deadlines."

The promises came in the wake of admissions by the Brown administration that state regulators had let oil companies operate thousands of injection wells that have been dumping wastewater into scores of protected underground water supplies in Monterey, Ventura, Kern and other counties (see interactive map).

But instead of halting most of the illegal injections, state officials have moved forward with plans to exempt as many as 40 of these aquifers from water-protection laws. If these "aquifer exemption" applications are approved by the EPA, the oil industry would be allowed to make permanent use of these water supplies for the disposal of contaminated waste fluid.

"The Brown administration will go down in history for this failure to enforce the law and safeguard our water from oil industry pollution," Kretzmann said. "It's a shocking abdication of the governor's most fundamental duty to the people and environment of this state."

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