July 28 News: Exxon’s Oil on 60% of Yellowstone River Shore; California Poll Shows Huge Public Support for Green Energy

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

Montana spill tally: Oil on about 60% of shoreline

Teams tallying damage from an Exxon Mobil Corp. oil spill into the Yellowstone River have found contamination along roughly 60 percent of shoreline that’s been inspected downstream from the pipeline break, Montana’s chief environmental regulator said.

The tally released Tuesday by Montana Department of Environmental Quality director Richard Opper offers one the first clear gauges of the scope of the spill after weeks of high water slowed access to fouled areas.

Just over 40 percent of shoreline inspected to date had light to very light oil. Seventeen percent had moderate oil. Just 1 percent was heavily contaminated.

The state says the July 1 spill, which came amid flooding from mountain snowmelt, dumped up to 1,200 barrels of oil, or 54,000 gallons, into the Yellowstone near Laurel. Exxon Mobil says it lost 1,000 barrels.

The investigation into what caused the pipeline to break could take months. Meanwhile, more than 800 cleanup workers and support personnel are involved in mopping up the spill.

Green energy: California poll finds overwhelming support

A new statewide survey of environment issues conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California found more residents favor climate change policy, want to cut greenhouse gas emissions and believe they are already experiencing the effects of global warming.

“This is a clear mandate that people want to move beyond dirty energy,” said David Graham-Caso, Los Angeles Sierra Club spokesman.

The survey, the 11th since 2000, sampled more than 2,500 people and found Californians are strongly supportive of policies that encourage fuel efficiency and renewable energy, according to Mark Baldassare, president and CEO of PPIC.

Most survey takers (67%) support the state’s law reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Across the board, state residents agree that automakers should be required to improve fuel efficiency standards (90% Democrats, 81% independents, and 76% Republicans).

They also overwhelmingly favor (79%) government regulation of the release of greenhouse gases from sources such as power plants, cars and factories to reduce global warming. While 79% favor greenhouse gas regulations, they are split between a cap and trade system (54% in favor) and a carbon tax (60% in favor).

Automakers, Obama administration agree on fuel efficiency standards through 2025

The Obama administration and major auto manufacturers have reached a deal to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks between 2017 and 2025, resolving a contentious negotiation over how to cut vehicles’ greenhouse gas emissions.

The agreement would require U.S. vehicle fleets to average 54.5 miles per gallon or 163 grams per mile of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2025, which represents a 50 percent cut in greenhouse gases and a 40 percent reduction in fuel consumption compared with today’s vehicles, according to sources briefed on the matter.

While the proposal falls short of the 62-mpg standard that environmental and public health groups had lobbied for, it represents a significant step in federal curbs on tailpipe pollution.

It would require a 5 percent annual improvement rate for cars between 2017 and 2025. Light trucks would be required to have a 3.5 percent yearly efficiency improvement between 2017 and 2021, rising to 5 percent between 2022 and 2025, according to the sources, who asked not to be named because the details have not been announced publicly.

Climate unit releases virtually all remaining data

The University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit, target of “ClimateGate”, has released nearly all its remaining data on temperature measurements following a freedom of information bid.

The unit works with the UK Met Office to compile one of the world’s most used records of global temperature change.

Most temperature data was already available, but critics of climate science want everything public.

Data from Trinidad and Tobago is being released against the country’s wishes.

Following the latest release, raw data from virtually all of the world’s 5,000-plus weather stations is freely available.

The only exceptions concern 19 weather stations in Poland, for which the Polish national weather service has declined to release data, for reasons it has not elaborated.

The requests were made two years ago by Jonathan Jones, a quantum computing specialist at Oxford University, and Don Keiller, a biologist at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge.

They demanded that the Climatic Research Unit (CRU) release data that had been sent to other researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, concerning weather stations from 30 degrees north to 40 degrees south of the equator – a belt around the world.

“It was very much a matter of principle,” Dr Jones told BBC News

“This dataset wasn’t particularly interesting, but we thought the data in general should be available, and we thought people shouldn’t have to make FoI requests for it.

“So when earlier requests were turned down by the University of East Anglia (UEA) on what I thought were foolish grounds, I decided to push this to the limit.”

Electric car motorway charging network opens in the UK

Electric car drivers in the UK are being offered the chance to break free of the city and hit the open road.

Green energy firm Ecotricity has launched the world’s first national motorway charging network for electric vehicles.

It has installed free power points at 12 Welcome Break service stations, with 17 more promised later in the year.

Until now, a lack of charging points between towns and cities has made longer journeys impractical.

“There’s a bit of the chicken and egg situation going on,” said Ecotricity founder Dale Vince.

“People are not buying electric cars because they’re not sure about charging, and people aren’t putting charging points up because [not many are] buying electric cars.”

Huge Arctic fire hints at new climate cue

An exceptional wildfire in northern Alaska in 2007 put as much carbon into the air as the entire Arctic tundra absorbs in a year, scientists say.

The Anaktuvuk River fire burned across more than 1,000 sq km (400 sq miles), doubling the extent of Alaskan tundra visited by fire since 1950.

With the Arctic warming fast, the team suggests in the journal Nature that fires could become more common.

If that happens, it could create a new climate feedback, they say.

Fires in the tundra are uncommon because the ground is covered in snow and ice for large periods of the year.

Temperatures are low even in summer, and the ground can also remain wet after the ice has melted.

But 2007 saw unusually warm and dry conditions across much of the Arctic – resulting, among other things, in spectacularly fast melting of Arctic sea ice.

This created conditions more conducive to fire, and when lightning struck the tundra in July, the Anaktuvuk River fire ignited.

Intoxicated on Independence: Is Domestically Produced Ethanol Worth the Cost?

The U.S. is drunk on ethanol but whether made from corn or sugarcane, the crop-derived biofuel raises a host of questions.

The thundering rumble and whine of race cars whizzing around NASCAR tracks across the U.S. boast engines burning a new fuel this year: ethanol. Given the sport’s roots in running corn whiskey among other products during Prohibition in the 1920s, it might be viewed as coming full circle. After all, ethanol as fuel is just a 200-proof version of the drinking variety—albeit blended with more traditional petroleum-based gasoline.

But NASCAR is hardly alone: U.S. IndyCar has run exclusively on ethanol at times since 2007. Of course, ethanol made from fermented corn starch plays a more prosaic role in the U.S. these days, making up some 10 percent of national passenger vehicle fuel. In fact, in 2010 the U.S. took roughly 40 percent of the national corn crop that grows on some 30 million hectares of prime farmland and turned it into roughly 50 billion liters of the alcohol fuel. That’s up from roughly 190 million liters a year in 1979 and just 13.6 billion liters as recently as 2005.

And the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recently approved plans to blend ethanol at levels of 15 percent into the nation’s fuel supply (the current amount is 10 percent)—a move that has drawn either criticism or praise from legislators, depending on what part of they country they hail from. Those in states without a massive corn crop point to the wasted subsidies—at least 10.6 cents per liter in federal and state subsidies and tax credits since 1978—whereas those in corn country point to foreign oil imports avoided. Regardless, the U.S. Congress is currently debating whether the time to end subsidies for ethanol from corn—subsidies that have been in place since the 1970s—has finally come.

Detailed Picture of Ice Loss Following the Collapse of Antarctic Ice Shelves

An international team of researchers has combined data from multiple sources to provide the clearest account yet of how much glacial ice surges into the sea following the collapse of Antarctic ice shelves.

The work by researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), the Laboratoire d’Etudes en Géophysique et Océanographie Spatiales, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique at the University of Toulouse, France, and the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, Boulder, Colo., details recent ice losses while promising to sharpen future predictions of further ice loss and sea level rise likely to result from ongoing changes along the Antarctic Peninsula.

“Not only do you get an initial loss of glacial ice when adjacent ice shelves collapse, but you get continued ice losses for many years — even decades — to come,” says Christopher Shuman, a researcher at UMBC’s Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology (JCET) at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md. Shuman is lead author of the study published online July 25 in the Journal of Glaciology. “This further demonstrates how important ice shelves are to Antarctic glaciers.”

An ice shelf is a thick floating tongue of ice, fed by a tributary glacier, extending into the sea off a land mass. Previous research showed that the recent collapse of several ice shelves in Antarctica led to acceleration of the glaciers that feed into them. Combining satellite data from NASA and the French space agency CNES, along with measurements collected during aircraft missions similar to ongoing NASA IceBridge flights, Shuman, Etienne Berthier, of the University of Toulouse, and Ted Scambos, of the University of Colorado, produced detailed ice loss maps from 2001 to 2009 for the main tributary glaciers of the Larsen A and B ice shelves, which collapsed in 1995 and 2002, respectively.

Verizon turns to national lab for energy efficiency

Phone companies have known for some time now that their industry’s carbon footprint and energy use will continue to grow due to the growth of always-on mobile devices, from cell phones to tablets to electric cars to smart meters. Verizon decided that it could use some help and announced Wednesday it will turn to a national lab to figure out how to cut its own emissions and come up with marketable energy-saving technologies.

Verizon has signed a memorandum of understanding with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory which, as part of the U.S. Department of Energy, more often works with clean power developers in solar and wind. NREL has done some work on software for modeling and analyzing a building’s energy use since energy efficiency improvement is a major goal of the DOE.

The phone company said it wants to work with NREL on two key areas: running its operations, including data centers, in more energy-efficient ways, and developing technologies that make use of Verizon’s communications network to cut energy use at homes and businesses.

We will be interested to know what this collaboration will come up with and whether it will help to promote segments of the smart grid market that haven’t seen as much traction as some companies and their investors have hoped. One area that has struggled has been home energy management tools. Google and Microsoft made headlines last month when both ditched their once-heralded energy-management software and portals that were designed for consumer use. They are hardly alone. Some startups in this sector also have found lackluster interest from their intended customers, be they utilities or consumers.

Now telcos such as Verizon and AT&T probably think they can create better tools than utilities, and can use their weight to get tools into the market faster than some of the startups focused on this. At the very least, they can work with all these players to test what business models make sense in the new smart grid market. Telecom companies already have the communications networks and some insight into people’s use of gadgets and data.

Cows ‘may offer greener fuel key’

A cow’s stomach could hold the key to creating more environmentally friendly versions of petrol and diesel, according to Edinburgh scientists.

Researchers are investigating how enzymes found in the stomachs of cattle and other ruminants, animals which “chew cud”, could be used industrially.

The plan being to break down the tough structures of plant and tree matter.

The discovery and application of the enzymes could release untapped energy in waste plant products to make fuel.

The study is being carried out by ARK-Genomics at Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute, life sciences company Ingenza and Professor John Wallace from the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen.

Humans cannot digest the tough material which makes up plants and trees but Ingenza and Prof Wallace said they expected to identify the enzymes in ruminants which allow for the breakdown of these structures.

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