Long-Awaited Colorado Health Study Finds Significant Risks From Fracking

Long-Awaited Colorado Health Study Finds Significant Risks From Fracking

SOURCE: Westword and Colorado State Department of Public Health and Environment

DATE: October 17, 2019

SNIP: A long-delayed public health study commissioned by Colorado regulators found that oil and gas drilling poses health risks at distances greater than current minimum “setback” distances, a development that is poised to send shockwaves through a regulatory environment already in a state of transition and uncertainty.

“Exposure to chemicals used in oil and gas development, such as benzene, may cause short-term negative health impacts…during ‘worst-case’ conditions,” the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment said in a press release. “The study found that there is a possibility of negative health impacts at distances from 300 feet out to 2,000 feet.”

The state’s current rules require new oil and gas wells to be at least 500 feet from single-family homes and 1,000 feet from high-occupancy buildings. Proposition 112, the statewide ballot measure pushed by environmental groups and defeated by Colorado voters in 2018, would have imposed a 2,500-foot minimum.

State toxicologist Kristy Richardson said in a press conference Thursday afternoon that the results of the study are consistent with the health impacts that have been reported by Colorado residents near oil and gas sites in recent years.

“We’ve received, since 2015, about 750 health concerns that have been reported through our hotline,” Richardson said. “About 60 percent of those concerns reported to us are things like headaches, nosebleeds, respiratory issues, skin irritation.”

“This study is the first of its kind because it used actual emissions data to model potential exposure and health risks,” John Putnam, the CDPHE’s environmental program director, said in a statement on the study’s release.

The study is also consistent with a large body of existing health and environmental research finding risks associated with oil and gas development. A 2016 analysis published in the scientific journal PLOS One reviewed nearly 700 peer-reviewed studies on the health impacts of fracking and found that 84 percent of them “contain findings that indicate public health hazards, elevated risks, or adverse health outcomes.”

Despite Their Promises, Giant Energy Companies Burn Away Vast Amounts of Natural Gas

Despite Their Promises, Giant Energy Companies Burn Away Vast Amounts of Natural Gas

SOURCE: New York Times

DATE: October 16, 2019

SNIP: When leaders from Exxon Mobil and BP gathered last month with other fossil-fuel executives to declare they were serious about climate change, they cited progress in curbing an energy-wasting practice called flaring — the intentional burning of natural gas as companies drill faster than pipelines can move the energy away.

But in recent years, some of these same companies have significantly increased their flaring, as well as the venting of natural gas and other potent greenhouse gases directly into the atmosphere, according to data from the three largest shale-oil fields in the United States.

The practice has consequence for climate change because natural gas is a potent contributor to global warming. It also wastes vast amounts of energy: Last year in Texas, venting and flaring in the Permian Basin oil field alone consumed more natural gas than states like Arizona and South Carolina use in a year.

Exxon’s venting and flaring has surged since 2017 to record highs, both in absolute terms and as a proportion of gas produced, the numbers show. Exxon flared or vented 70 percent more gas in 2018 than it did the previous year, according to the data, bringing an end to several years of improvements.

Flaring and venting are legal under state laws, and oil companies acknowledge the practices are wasteful. Typically, venting or flaring occur because there aren’t pipelines close enough to a well to capture and transport the gas, or because gas prices are so low that it’s cheaper to discard the gas than to try to sell it. Venting can also occur during equipment breakdowns.

The analysis provides one of the clearest pictures to date of the companies behind the vast emissions of natural gas that have resulted from America’s shale oil boom, fueled by the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to unlock fossil fuels from shale rock.

Last year, operators across the three basins together flared or vented a record 320 million cubic feet of gas, more than 40 percent above levels seen just five years ago. The pace for the first two quarters of 2019 has been even higher.

But flaring releases carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere, where it traps the sun’s heat, driving climate change. Venting directly emits methane, an even more potent greenhouse gas in the shorter term.

Shale oil has made the United States the world’s largest oil producer. But shale wells tend to dry up more quickly than conventional oil fields. That means producers must drill constantly to keep their oil production steady, while venting or flaring off the gas before pipelines can catch up.

When an energy company strikes oil and begins to pump, less-valuable natural gas comes up alongside the oil. That gas could be gathered into pipelines and sold, but drilling has far outpaced pipeline construction, particularly in the booming oil fields of the Permian and Bakken.

Rather than delay drilling, producers will choose to vent or flare.

Many smaller oil producers flare or vent 100 percent of the gas their wells produce, the data shows. In those cases, “gas becomes more like a liability,” said Artem Abramov, an industry analyst at Rystad Energy. “It’s just much cheaper for companies to get rid of it.”

The shale-oil producer Exco Resources highlights this trend. This year it applied with Texas regulators to flare almost all the gas it produced in South Texas, even though a pipeline already exists to move it away, because it is cheaper to release the gas than pay the fees to pipe it off and sell it.

No choice but to invest in oil, Shell CEO says

No choice but to invest in oil, Shell CEO says

SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: October 14, 2019

SNIP: Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L) still sees abundant opportunity to make money from oil and gas in coming decades even as investors and governments increase pressure on energy companies over climate change, its chief executive said.

Shell, which supplies around 3% of the world’s energy, set out in 2017 a plan to halve the intensity of its greenhouse emissions by the middle of the century, based in large part on building one of the world’s biggest power businesses.

Still, the amount of carbon dioxide emitted from Shell’s operations and the products it sells rose by 2.5% between 2017 and 2018.

A defiant van Beurden rejected a rising chorus from climate activists and parts of the investor community to transform radically the 112-year-old Anglo-Dutch company’s traditional business model.

“Despite what a lot of activists say, it is entirely legitimate to invest in oil and gas because the world demands it,” van Beurden said.

“We have no choice” but to invest in long-life projects, he added.

Shell plans to greenlight more than 35 new oil and gas projects by 2025, according to an investor presentation from June.

Billions face food, water shortages over next 30 years as nature fails

Billions face food, water shortages over next 30 years as nature fails

SOURCE: National Geographic

DATE: October 10, 2019

SNIP: As many as five billion people, particularly in Africa and South Asia, are likely to face shortages of food and clean water in the coming decades as nature declines. Hundreds of millions more could be vulnerable to increased risks of severe coastal storms, according to the first-ever model examining how nature and humans can survive together.

“I hope no one is shocked that billions of people could be impacted by 2050,” says Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer a landscape ecologist at Stanford University. “We know we are dependent on nature for many things,” says Chaplin-Kramer, lead author of the paper “Global Modeling Of Nature’s Contributions To People” published in Science.

That nature is in sharp decline was made clear in the first-ever global assessment of biodiversity released earlier this year. Human activity has resulted in the severe alteration of more than 75 percent of Earth’s land areas and 66 percent of the oceans, putting a million species at risk of extinction, according to the Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

Human well-being is dependent upon nature’s contributions. The new model looked at three of nature’s contributions or services: providing clean water; coastal protection, or crop pollination. The model reveals that the future declines in those services will hit people in Africa and South Asia hardest because they are more directly dependent on nature, says Chaplin-Kramer in an interview. People in wealthier countries can buffer the impacts though imports of food and infrastructure.

To look at clean water, the model mapped plants that grow near lakes and rivers. Depending on topography, climate, runoff, and other factors, estimates can be made of how much excess nitrogen fertilizer from upstream farm fields remains in waterways. When overlaid with maps of drinking water sources for people, it estimates the potential exposure to nitrate pollution.

In a similar fashion, maps of coral reefs, mangroves, seagrasses, and salt marshes that can protect coastal erosion and storm surges were overlaid with maps of where people live on coasts.

Wild pollinators need natural habitat to survive, so maps of where food crops are grown were overlaid with existing areas of natural habitat.

The decline of nature is clear—we’ve lost 85 percent of all wetlands, for example—but the impacts of that loss are not, she says. The new model makes those kinds of impacts tangible by showing how many people are affected and where. It is also fine-scaled enough to reveal the effects of the loss of nature for every 300 by 300 meter patch of the Earth. That shows where restoring nature or preventing its loss provide the biggest benefits, says Balvanera.

Climate Change Threatens Hundreds of North American Bird Species: “It’s a Bird Emergency”

Climate Change Threatens Hundreds of North American Bird Species: “It’s a Bird Emergency”

SOURCE: Yale e360

DATE: October 10, 2019

SNIP: Two-thirds of bird species in North America are at risk of extinction if global temperatures continue to rise, according to a new report from scientists at the Audubon Society. A total of 389 species, out of 604 studied, could experience declines in their populations as a result of warmer temperatures, higher seas, loss of habitat, and extreme weather, all driven by climate change.

Among those birds most at-risk are the greater sage grouse, Baltimore oriole, common loon, and the wood thrush. The new study comes less than a month after research found the United States and Canada have lost 3 billion birds since 1970, equal to losing one out of every four birds.

“Birds are important indicator species, because if an ecosystem is broken for birds, it is or soon will be for people too,” Brooke Bateman, the senior climate scientist for the National Audubon Society, said in a statement.

Scientists analyzed 140 million bird records from more than 70 sources in Canada, the U.S., and Mexico, including field sightings from citizen science projects, to produce the report. They found that 64 percent of North American bird species are at risk of extinction if global temperatures increase 3 degrees Celsius. That dropped to 54 percent with 2 degrees C of warming, and 40 percent, or 241 species, if nations could hold global warming to 1.5 degrees C — the Paris Agreement target.

“Keeping global temperatures down will help up to 76 percent of [species],” said David Yarnold, CEO and president of Audubon. “There’s hope in this report, but first, it’ll break your heart if you care about birds and what they tell us about the ecosystems we share with them. It’s a bird emergency.”

Oil firms to pour extra 7m barrels per day into markets, data shows

Oil firms to pour extra 7m barrels per day into markets, data shows

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: October 10, 2019

SNIP: The world’s 50 biggest oil companies are poised to flood markets with an additional 7m barrels per day over the next decade, despite warnings from scientists that this will push global heating towards catastrophic levels.

New research commissioned by the Guardian forecasts Shell and ExxonMobil will be among the leaders with a projected production increase of more than 35% between 2018 and 2030 – a sharper rise than over the previous 12 years.

The acceleration is almost the opposite of the 45% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 that scientists say is necessary to have any chance of holding global heating at a relatively safe level of 1.5C.

The projections by Rystad Energy, a Norwegian consultancy regarded as the gold standard for data in the industry, highlight how major players seem to be ignoring government promises, scientific alarms and a growing public outcry so they can pump more fossil fuels – and profits – out of the ground.

Rystad bases its work on companies’ assets and a long-term oil price of $65 a barrel, similar to its current level.

The forecast shows an almost 8% rise in the projected output of the top 50 oil and gas companies between 2018 and 2030, which would account for almost two-fifths of the remaining 1.5C carbon budget and increase the risk of heatwaves, hurricanes, forest fires and floods.

At least 14 of the 20 biggest historical carbon producers plan to pump out more hydrocarbons in 2030 than in 2018, according to the Rystad data.

Its analysis shows the US is the centre of the latest global oil boom, with more than four times more new production than the next country, Canada, over the next 10 years.

The expansion will primarily be in the Permian basin in Texas. BP, Chevron and ConocoPhillips will be involved, as well as smaller, faster-growing private firms that are together driving this single US state to produce more oil and gas than all of Saudi Arabia by 2030.

Massive new drilling projects are also under way or planned in north-west Argentina, off the Caribbean shores of Guyana, in Kazakhstan’s Kashagan oilfield, in the Yamal peninsula in Siberia and in the Barents Sea.

Separately, the watchdog group Global Witness estimates companies plan to invest $4.9tn in new fields – none of which are compatible with the 1.5C target.

Dieter Helm, an Oxford University academic and government adviser, said oil giants were planning a final fossil fuel “harvest”.

“If we were serious about addressing climate change we would leave some oil in the ground, so there is a scramble among big oil companies to make sure their assets are not the ones left stranded,” he said.

Among publicly traded companies, Shell is forecast to increase output by 38% by 2030, by increasing its crude oil production by more than half and its gas production by over a quarter.

Shell is not alone among international companies planning to pump much more oil and gas, according to the research. The US firm ExxonMobil is expected to increase its fossil fuel production by 35% by 2030, BP by 20% and France’s Total by 12%.

None of the top 20 companies disputed the projections.

In absolute terms, the international oil companies will still be dwarfed by the output of state-run national firms in the future. The biggest, Saudi Aramco, will continue to suck the most fossil fuels out of the ground.

Study: Future of western glaciers is grim

Study: Future of western glaciers is grim

SOURCE: K5 News Seattle

DATE: October 8, 2019

SNIP: The glaciers of the Olympic Mountains and Cascades are not only breath-taking to look at, they’re also critical to our environment as we know it.

“Melting glaciers feed high alpine streams and ecosystems, and supply water for agriculture,” explained Andrew Fountain, a glaciologist at Portland State University.

There’s about 5,000 glaciers in the Western U.S. and according to Fountain they are all disappearing.

“Yeah, it’s going to be a different world.”

For more than a decade, Fountain and researchers from across the west have studied the thousands of glaciers.

Most recently, they looked at the ones in Washington’s Olympic National Park.

“We use satellites that photograph the earth as well as aerial photographs,” explained Fountain. “From that we can track how glaciers are growing or shrinking.”

And they found they are all shrinking.

Take for example the Lillian Glacier. In 1905, the glacier was expansive. But an aerial photo taken in 2010 showed the glacier is nearly gone.

“With business as usual, the glaciers will disappear probably by 2070, 2080,” said Fountain.

And the result of all that ice melt?

“We won’t have those glaciers replenishing our water supply during the late summer when we don’t have any rain, so those streams will be more subject to drought.”

The sea is running out of fish, despite nations’ pledges to stop it

The sea is running out of fish, despite nations’ pledges to stop it

SOURCE: National Geographic

DATE: October 8, 2019

SNIP: As global fish stocks that feed hundreds of millions of people dwindle, nations are scrambling to finalize by year’s end an international agreement to ban government subsidies that fuel overfishing.

Yet as negotiations at the World Trade Organization resume this week in Geneva, Switzerland, new research shows that governments have actually increased financial support for fishing practices that decimate marine life, despite public pledges to curtail such handouts.

In an exhaustive survey of 152 countries, scientists at the University of British Columbia found that ocean-faring nations spent $22 billion on harmful subsidies in 2018, or 63 percent of the total amount expended to support the global fishing industry.

That’s a 6 percent rise since 2009. Harmful subsidies is a term that refers to those that promote overfishing and illegal fishing that would otherwise not be profitable, such as subsidies that underwrite fuel costs allowing industrial trawlers to sail to the farthest reaches of the planet. Fuel subsidies alone accounted for 22 percent of all fishing subsidies last year.

China, which operates the world’s largest overseas fishing fleet, has increased harmful subsidies by 105 percent over the past decade, according to the study published in Marine Policy.

The findings underscore the high stakes in Geneva as only three months remain to meet a deadline to hammer out an agreement on fisheries subsidies.

Marine scientists and policy experts say a legally binding accord to ban destructive fishing subsidies is critical as climate change disrupts marine ecosystems. A landmark United Nations report issued in September found that the maximum catch from fisheries could decline by as much as 24.1 percent by the end of the century if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated.

A third of commercial fish stocks are being harvested at biologically unsustainable levels and 90 percent are fully exploited, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. The population of Pacific bluefin tuna, for instance, has plunged 97 percent from historic levels due to rampant overfishing of one of the ocean’s most ecologically and economically valuable top predators.

Open for Business: The Trump Revolution on America’s Public Lands

Open for Business: The Trump Revolution on America’s Public Lands

SOURCE: Yale e360

DATE: October 8, 2019

SNIP: In 2017, Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah lit the fuse of what many Republicans in Western states hoped would be a new effort to take over control of federal lands, and introduced a bill to sell some 3.3 million public land acres out of federal hands.

The backlash – this time from sportsmen and the outdoor recreation community, as well as environmentalists – was immediate and intense. Chaffetz soon withdrew the legislation.

The open effort in Congress to wrest public lands away from the federal government and transfer them to states or private owners may seem to have subsided. But it has simply gone underground. There is a stealth battle to whittle away at federal authority over public lands that is very much in motion, as the Trump administration aggressively advances an agenda to remake U.S. policies toward those lands.

“There’s a quiet, almost covert, effort to dismantle the public lands management infrastructure,” said Jim Lyons, who was Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land and Minerals Management at the Interior Department in the Obama administration. “It’s very effective. I call it evil genius.”

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon coined the term “deconstruction of the administrative state,” to describe efforts to take power away from the federal government and allow business a freer hand in development. Nowhere is that policy being carried out more systematically than in the Trump administration’s actions on public lands, where the businesses seeking that freer hand are primarily the oil and gas extraction, logging, and mining industries.

There are hundreds of millions of acres of publicly owned lands across the West and Alaska, including National Forests, Bureau of Land Management lands, National Parks and National Monuments. They include some of the nation’s most iconic landscapes, and they are also critical to state and local economies. As a percentage of each Western state, federal ownership ranges from 29 percent of Montana to 79 percent of Nevada.

According to a study in the journal Science, the Trump administration is responsible for the largest reduction of protected public lands in history. Three months after taking office, Trump issued an executive order that led to dramatic reductions in the size of two national monuments in Utah — Bears Ears National Monument, shrunk by 85 percent, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, shrunk by 51 percent.

In 2017, the Republican-led Congress voted to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development for the first time. Last month, the Interior Department announced its final plan for exploration and development in this pristine wilderness, keeping the department on track to auction leases for the rights to drill in the refuge’s coastal plan before the end of this year.

Under the Trump administration, issues thought long settled have been opened up again for rollback. The Obama administration, for example, had decided against renewing two expired leases owned by a Chilean mining company near the 365-square-mile Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness in Minnesota and ordered a study of possible impacts a proposed copper and nickel mine could have on the natural area with a eye toward imposing a 20-year ban. The Trump administration reinstated the leases last year and ended the study.

This summer, EPA administrators told staff that the agency would no longer oppose the Pebble Mine, in Bristol Bay, Alaska, a massive copper and gold mine that would, scientists had determined, likely have “significant and irreversible” effects on the salmon fishery in the bay.

President Trump’s vaunted wall along the U.S.-Mexico border will also impact large areas of public lands [NOTE: it already is]. One of the first places for construction of the 30-foot high barrier, part of Trump’s diversion of $3.6 billion in military construction projects, is in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona, federally protected as wilderness and designated an international biosphere reserve. All told the new border fence will be built along 175 miles of desert, and 44 of those miles will be built in federally protected areas. Environmentalists say the fence will block migratory species.

All along the border through New Mexico and Arizona are biologically diverse areas on public lands that depend on a connection between wildlands in the U.S. and Mexico. Endangered Mexican gray wolves in the two countries, for example, “have a low degree of genetic diversity and for them to survive, the two populations need to interbreed,” said Kevin Bixby, executive director of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces, New Mexico. “With a bollard wall, anything with a skull size of more than 4 inches can’t get through.” That means that deer, javelinas, wolves, and jaguars, which are known to enter the U.S. from Mexico, are blocked at the border.

The Trump administration is considering revisions to what is known as the Roadless Rule, a conservation initiative of the Clinton administration. Some 58 million acres of roadless land in the nation’s national forests, possibly eligible for wilderness designation someday, were protected from development under this rule so as not to spoil the wilderness qualities until a decision on long-term protection could be made. Included in that protection were 9.5 million acres of the Tongass National Forest, in southeastern Alaska, which is the nation’s largest national forest. But according to The Washington Post, Trump has instructed Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to write new roadless rules that would eliminate the Clinton-era protections to allow logging, mining, and energy development.

Leasing of public lands for oil and gas is accelerating across the West. Companies are locking up tracts of federal land for 10 years while paying minimal fees. “We’re going to have repercussions about these decisions for decades to come,” said Jayson O’Neill, of the Western Values Project, a conservation nonprofit focused on public lands.

“The pace at which they are doing this is by design,” said Lyons. “Nobody can keep up.”

Seven new species appear for first time on list of world’s 25 most endangered primates

Seven new species appear for first time on list of world’s 25 most endangered primates

SOURCE: The London Economic

DATE: October 7, 2019

SNIP: SEVEN new species have appeared for the first time on the world’s 25 most endangered primates list – including western Chimpanzees and the super-rare Skywalker hoolock gibbon.

The bleak report, named ‘Primates In Peril: The World’s 25 Most Endangered Primates 2018-2020’, warns that many of the world’s primates are on the brink of extinction and need urgent help.

A shocking seven species have never before appeared on the list – but their rapidly dwindling numbers are as low as just a few hundred individuals in the wild.

The small, black Skywalker hoolock gibbon – named after popular sci-fi film series Star Wars – numbers just 150 in the wild.

And one of the most imperiled primates on the list is the Tapanuli orangutan from Sumatra, Indonesia – the first great ape identified since the bonobo from the D.R.C. in 1929.

The endangered orangutan was only identified in 2017, but is one of the world’s most threatened primates, numbering less than 800 in the wild.

The new research has been compiled by conservationists from Bristol Zoological Society.

The Primate Specialist Group of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the International Primatological Society (IPS), and Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) also partnered with the zoo for the report.

Dr Russell Mittermeier, chief conservation officer of GWC, said: “If you took all the remaining individuals of the 25 Most Endangered Primates list, you wouldn’t fill the seating of a large football stadium.”

Across the globe, 69 per cent of the total 704 primate species and subspecies are considered threatened, the report shows.

One of the lead editors of the report is Dr Christoph Schwitzer, chief zoological officer at Bristol Zoological Society.

He said: “This report reveals the bleak prospects of some of the world’s most incredible animals.

“Some are well-known and others barely studied, but all are in danger of extinction from the relentless destruction of their habitats, illegal wildlife trade and commercial bushmeat hunting.

“We hope this report will help draw attention to their plight.