July 7 News: Fracking Fluids Poison a National Forest; NY Times Defends Fracking Coverage

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories belowFracking Fluids Poison a National Forest

A new study has found that wastewater from natural gas hydrofracturing in a West Virginia national forest quickly wiped out all ground plants, killed more than half of the trees and caused radical changes in soil chemistry. These results argue for much tighter control over disposal of these “fracking fluids,” contends Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER).

The new study by Mary Beth Adams, a U.S. Forest Service researcher, appears in the July-August issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Environmental Quality. She looked at the effects of land application of fracking fluids on a quarter-acre section of the Fernow Experimental Forest within the Monongahela National Forest. More than 75,000 gallons of fracking fluids, which are injected deep underground to free shale gas and then return to the surface, were applied to the assigned plot over a two day period during June 2008. The following effects were reported in the study:

  • Within two days all ground plants were dead;
  • Within 10 days, leaves of trees began to turn brown. Within two years more than half of the approximately 150 trees were dead; and
  • “Surface soil concentrations of sodium and chloride increased 50-fold as a result of the land application of hydrofracturing fluids…” These elevated levels eventually declined as chemical leached off-site. The exact chemical composition of these fluids is not known because the chemical formula is classified as confidential proprietary information.

Times Newsroom Mounts Defense of Fracking Coverage: Memo


The New York Times newsroom, under fire from backers of the natural gas extraction method known as fracking, is fighting back with a detailed defense of its reporting.

In the run-up to a ruling by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which issued a preliminary report last week lifting its fracking ban, the Times deployed muscular journalism that raised serious questions about dodgy gas-industry practices. Not surprisingly, the multi-part series triggered some vocal criticism from fracking backers.

The latest round in the fight between the paper and the gas industry played out June 26, when the paper published a front-page piece by reporter Ian Urbina that painted a bleak portrait of the industry, based on leaked e-mails from industry officials that questioned the economics of extracting shale gas from wells. Urbina quoted an unnamed analyst comparing the bonanza over shale gas to “giant Ponzi schemes.” He also quoted a former Enron executive who compared natural-gas companies to his corrupt former employer.

New Southwest factories to make advanced panels, but will they transform sun power?

A large solar panel sits atop a 22-foot tower at the University of California, San Diego, tilted toward the sun on a late spring morning. It appears similar to others in this beach city, but some say it will revolutionize the solar business.

The panel at the school makes two to three times as much electricity as a similar-sized conventional solar, said Soitec, the France-based manufacturer. Lenses on the surface focus sunlight onto solar cells while a tracking system shifts the panel every 10 seconds to always face the sun.

“From the moment the sun comes up over the horizon in the morning, our tracker is focused on it and remains focused on it throughout the day,” said Mike Armstrong, Soitec’s head of U.S. business development.

“At the end of the day as the sun goes down,” Armstrong added, “it will come all the way back to the eastern horizon and wait precisely where the sun will rise the next morning.”

Soitec’s panel uses a technology known as concentrated photovoltaics, or CPV. The company, which calls its Concentrix CPV panels an important advance in green energy, recently announced it would manufacture the panels in San Diego County and sell them to developers in the southwestern United States.

Exxon And Montana’s Yellowstone Pipeline Controversy

People living near the oil-smeared shoreline of Montana’s Yellowstone River are raising concerns about the risks and damage from a pipeline break that sent tens of thousands of gallons of crude into the watercourse.

About 150 people showed up at an Environmental Protection Agency meeting Wednesday night with questions about health risks, the duration of the cleanup, and whether the oil will permanently damage their livestock or property.

George Nilson, 69, said the fumes from oil that washed through his neighbor’s property had been overwhelming.

“I’ve been in it for five days now and the only way I can breathe is to have all the windows open,” he said.

An EPA representative said the agency may do indoor air sampling after hearing several complaints such as Nilson’s.

Nilson, who lives outside of Billings, also said it took several days of calling a spill hot line before he got a response.

UN Reports Surging Investments in Renewable Energy

Global investments in renewable energy jumped 32 percent to $211 billion last year, boosted by wind farm development in China and rooftop solar panels in Europe, U.N. officials said Thursday.

A report by the U.N. Environment Program shows that solar, wind, biomass and other forms of green energy are gaining momentum, despite the lack of progress in international climate talks aimed at slowing emissions of heat-trapping gases from fossil fuels.

The report also found that the developing world, led by China, for the first time attracted a majority of the investments in large-scale renewable energy projects. China spent $48.9 billion on such projects in 2010, mostly wind power — an increase of 28 percent from 2009. The United States was second with investments of $23.8 billion.

Those two countries also account for nearly half of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and oil.

While renewable energy only accounted for just over 5 percent of global power generation in 2010, UNEP chief Achim Steiner said the increased spending on green energy shows investors are preparing for a transition to a low-carbon future.

Webb, Warner propose offshore Va. exploration

Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb introduced legislation Wednesday to open waters off Virginia to gas and oil exploration in 2012 and to redraw maps to encompass more territory for drilling and bring in more revenue.

Virginia had been banking on a lease sale of offshore tracts by 2012, but planned East Coast exploration was delayed at least until 2017 after last year’s Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

Webb and Warner also proposed directing half of all leasing revenues back to the state, with a portion going toward land and water conservation efforts.

Citing the nation’s dependence on imported oil, Warner and Webb said the legislation is good for the economy and the nation’s security.

“We should not be sending hundreds of billions of dollars each year to oil-producing countries that do not like us,” Warner said in a statement.

“Opening up and expanding Virginia’s offshore resources to responsible natural gas and oil exploration holds significant promise for boosting needed domestic energy production, while bolstering the commonwealth’s economy,” Webb said.

Macquarie, IFC agree forest carbon investment fund

Australia’s Macquarie Group, World Bank member the International Finance Corp and a forest management firm said on Thursday they had raised $25 million for forest carbon projects in poorer nations.

The money comes on top of other funding schemes by the World Bank, United Nations and rich nations including Norway in support of a U.N.-backed program that rewards poorer nations that preserve and replant carbon-rich tropical forests.

The program, called reduced emissions from deforestation and degradation, could eventually trigger a global trade in REDD forest carbon credits worth billions of dollars a year if nations agree on a new U.N. climate deal. Norway has already signed a REDD deal with Indonesia potentially worth $1 billion.

Under the investment deal announced on Thursday, Macquarie Group firm BioCarbon Group said it had agreed the terms with fellow investors the IFC and U.S.-based Global Forest Partners LP for total equity financing of $25 million.

The money would be used to invest in REDD projects in poorer nations, with the first project expected to be in Indonesia, where the government says there are 44 REDD projects at various stages of development.

Pollution can lead to brain damage and depression warn scientists

Long term exposure to air pollution could damage the brain and lead to learning and memory problems and even depression, new research has revealed.

The tests on mice showed that in the long term dirty air could cause actual physical changes to the brain which in turn had negative effects.

While other studies have looked at the impact polluted air has on the heart and lungs this is one of the first to look at the effect on the brain, lead author Laura Fonken noted.

She said: “The results suggest prolonged exposure to polluted air can have visible, negative effects on the brain, which can lead to a variety of health problems.

“This could have important and troubling implications for people who live and work in polluted urban areas around the world.”

Ms Fonken, a doctoral student, and her colleagues at Ohio State University exposed mice to either filtered air of polluted air six hours a day, five days a week for almost half their lifespan which was 10 months.