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January 3 News: Expert Links Oil and Gas Wastewater Well With Series of Ohio Earthquakes

Other stories below: Court puts cross-state air pollution rule on hold; California farmers and skiers fret about a dry spell

Expert: Wastewater well in Ohio triggered quakes

A northeast Ohio well used to dispose of wastewater from oil and gas drilling almost certainly caused a series of 11 minor quakes in the Youngstown area since last spring, a seismologist investigating the quakes said Monday.

Research is continuing on the now-shuttered injection well at Youngstown and seismic activity, but it might take a year for the wastewater-related rumblings in the earth to dissipate, said John Armbruster of Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York.

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Brine wastewater dumped in wells comes from drilling operations, including the so-called fracking process to extract gas from underground shale that has been a source of concern among environmental groups and some property owners. Injection wells have also been suspected in quakes in Astabula in far northeast Ohio, and in Arkansas, Colorado, and Oklahoma, Armbruster said.

See Shale Shocked: “Highly Probable” Fracking Caused U.K. Earthquakes, and It’s Linked to Oklahoma Temblors.

Thousands of gallons (liters) of brine were injected daily into the Youngstown well that opened in 2010 until its owner, Northstar Disposal Services LLC, agreed Friday to stop injecting the waste into the earth as a precaution while authorities assessed any potential links to the quakes.

After the latest and largest quake Saturday at 4.0 magnitude, state officials announced their beliefs that injecting wastewater near a fault line had created enough pressure to cause seismic activity. They said four inactive wells within a five-mile (8 kilometer) radius of the Youngstown well would remain closed. But they also stressed that injection wells are different from drilling wells that employ fracking.

Court puts on hold regulation to reduce power plant pollution spoiling air downwind

A federal court Friday put on hold a controversial Obama administration regulation aimed at reducing power plant pollution in 27 states that contributes to unhealthy air downwind.

More than a dozen electric power companies, municipal power plant operators and states had sought to delay the rules until the litigation plays out. A federal appeals court in Washington approved their request Friday.

The EPA, in a statement, said it was confident that the rule would ultimately be upheld on its merits. But the agency said it was “disappointing” the regulation’s health benefits would be delayed, even if temporarily.

Republicans in Congress have attempted to block the rule using legislation, saying it would shutter some older, coal-fired power plants and kill jobs. While those efforts succeeded in the Republican-controlled House, the Senate — with the help of six Republicans — in November rejected an attempt to stay the regulation. And the White House had threatened to veto it.

Coastal villages in Nigeria protest as crude oil washes ashore

Nigerian villagers say oil washing up on the coast comes from a Royal Dutch Shell loading accident last month that caused the biggest spill in Africa’s top producer in more than 13 years.

Shell denies that any of the oil is from its 200,000 barrel per day Bonga facility, 120 km offshore and accounting for 10 percent of monthly oil flows, which was shut down by the spill on Dec. 20.

Shell says five ships were used to disperse and contain the spill and that this kept any oil from washing ashore.

But local villagers, as well as environmental and rights groups, dispute this account, saying the oil is still at large, coating parts of the coast, killing fish and sparking protests.

California Farmers, Ski Areas Fret About Dry Spell

California’s wet season has started off bone dry, leaving water managers and the state’s huge agriculture industry nervously eyeing the prospect that a dry spell could turn into another drought.

The shortage of snow, which has already hurt ski resorts in a number of states, follows an unusually heavy snowfall last year that has left adequate water supplies in reservoirs.

Lake Oroville, for example, stood at 115% of its average level as of Dec. 29, compared to 49% on the same date in 2009, when California was still locked in a three-year drought. As a result, California officials remain hopeful that new restrictions on water usage won’t be needed, but they aren’t ruling out the possibility entirely.

“It’s too early to hit the panic button,” said David Rizzardo, chief of snow surveys for the state Department of Water Resources.

The season’s precipitation totals could still come in normal if the storm floodgates open in mid-January, officials say. Preliminary forecasts point to improving chances of snow following a high pressure ridge that has been stubbornly parked off the Pacific coast for weeks, routing storms far to the north.

Acid rain’s blind spot

University of Michigan researchers say future generations of sugar maple trees are at risk unless soft spots in the federal Clean Air Act are strengthened to address an old nemesis: acid rain.

Precipitation that is highly acidic from burned fossil fuels has been largely under control since the early 1990s. In 1989, the federal government adopted a system to control acid rain through large reductions of sulfur dioxide. Electricity-producing coal-fired power plants were allowed to meet tougher limits through swaps of so-called emission credits.

Industrial leaders and environmentalists agree that cap-and-trade has worked well for acid rain. But it isn’t suitable for all forms of pollution. In particular, it wasn’t designed to address nitrogen.

World-first hybrid shark found off Australia

Scientists said on Tuesday that they had discovered the world’s first hybrid sharks in Australian waters, a potential sign the predators were adapting to cope with climate change.

The mating of the local Australian black-tip shark with its global counterpart, the common black-tip, was an unprecedented discovery with implications for the entire shark world, said lead researcher Jess Morgan.

“It’s very surprising because no one’s ever seen shark hybrids before, this is not a common occurrence by any stretch of the imagination,” Morgan, from the University of Queensland, told AFP.

“This is evolution in action.”

Colin Simpfendorfer, a partner in Morgan’s research from James Cook University, said initial studies suggested the hybrid species was relatively robust, with a number of generations discovered across 57 specimens.

The find was made during cataloguing work off Australia’s east coast when Morgan said genetic testing showed certain sharks to be one species when physically they looked to be another.

The Australian black-tip is slightly smaller than its common cousin and can only live in tropical waters, but its hybrid offspring have been found 2,000 kilometres down the coast, in cooler seas.