Published: Friday 21 September 2012
“The waste – the byproduct of oil and gas drilling – was described in regulatory documents as a benign mixture of salt and water.”

 

On a cold, overcast afternoon in January 2003, two tanker trucks backed up to an injection well site in a pasture outside Rosharon, Texas. There, under a steel shed, they began to unload thousands of gallons of wastewater for burial deep beneath the earth.

The waste – the byproduct of oil and gas drilling – was described in regulatory documents as a benign mixture of salt and water. But as the liquid rushed from the trucks, it released a billowing vapor of far more volatile materials, including benzene and other flammable hydrocarbons.

The truck engines, left to idle by their drivers, sucked the fumes from the air, revving into a high-pitched whine. Before anyone could react, one of the trucks backfired, releasing a spark that ignited the invisible cloud.

Fifteen-foot-high flames enveloped the steel shed and tankers. Two workers died, and four were rushed to the hospital with burns over much of their bodies. A third worker died six weeks later.

What happened that day at Rosharon was the result of a significant breakdown in the nation’s efforts to regulate the handling of toxic waste, a ProPublica investigation shows.

The site at Rosharon is what is known as a “Class 2” well. Such wells are subject to looser rules and less scrutiny than others designed for hazardous materials. Had the chemicals the workers were disposing of that day come from a factory or a refinery, it would have been illegal to pour them into that well. But regulatory concessions won by the energy industry over the last three decades made it legal to dump similar substances into the Rosharon site – as long as they came from drilling.

Published: Tuesday 19 June 2012
“Choices of energy technology should be based on the technology being safe, clean, economic and in harmony with life.”

 

Nuclear scientists and engineers embrace nuclear power like a religion. The term “nuclear priesthood” was coined by Dr. Alvin Weinberg, long director of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and the laboratory’s website proudly notes this.  It’s not unusual for scientists at Oak Ridge and other U.S. national nuclear laboratories to refer to themselves as “nukies.” The Oak Ridge website describes Weinberg as a “prophet” of “nuclear energy.”

This religious, cultish element is integral to a report done for the U.S. Department of Energy in 1984 by Battelle Memorial Institute about how the location of nuclear waste sites can be communicated over the ages. An “atomic priesthood,” it recommends, could impart the locations in a “legend-and-ritual…retold year-by-year.” Titled “Communications Measures to Bridge Ten Millennia,” the taxpayer-funded report says: “Membership in this ‘priesthood’ would be self-selective over time.”  

Currently, Allison Macfarlane, nominated to be the new head of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says she is an “agnostic” on nuclear power—as if support or opposition to atomic energy falls on a religious spectrum. Meanwhile, Gregory Jaczko, the outgoing NRC chairman, with a Ph.D. in physics, was politically crucified because he repeatedly raised safety concerns, thus not revering nuclear power enough.   

Years ago, while I was working on a book about toxic chemicals, the ...

Published: Wednesday 15 February 2012
“If these documents are real, they revealed the desperate efforts of a fringe denial group to deceive children and ruin their future.”

Racing around the internet are some internal documents that appear to be from the Heartland Institute, a relatively obscure hard-core anti-science think tank. As DeSmogBlog explains, “An anonymous donor calling him (or her)self ‘Heartland Insider’ has released the Heartland Institute’s budget, fundraising plan, its Climate Strategy for 2012 and sundry other documents (all attached) that prove all of the worst allegations that have been levelled against the organization.”

Personally, I was skeptical of these docs, at least until I read the 2012 Fundraising Plan, which attacks the temperature station data of the “the National Aeronautics and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).” That kind of error is classic Heartland.

And here’s another apparent blunder: “The Charles G. Koch Foundation returned as a Heartland donor in 2011. We expect to ramp up their level of support in 2012 and gain access to the network of philanthropists they work with.”

Those Heartland folks are such satirists.  Philanthropy “etymologically means the love of humanity,” whereas funding climate denial and inaction, as the Kochs do, is perhaps the cruelest thing you could possibly do to humanity.

My colleague Brad Johnson has just blogged on Heartland’s “Secret, Corporate-Funded Plan To Teach Children That Climate Change Is A ...

Published: Tuesday 14 February 2012
“American decline is real, though the apocalyptic vision reflects the familiar ruling class perception that anything short of total control amounts to total disaster.”

Significant anniversaries are solemnly commemorated -- Japan’s attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, for example.  Others are ignored, and we can often learn valuable lessons from them about what is likely to lie ahead.  Right now, in fact.

At the moment, we are failing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s decision to launch the most destructive and murderous act of aggression of the post-World War II period: the invasion of South Vietnam, later all of Indochina, leaving millions dead and four countries devastated, with casualties still mounting from the long-term effects of drenching South Vietnam with some of the most lethal carcinogens known, undertaken to destroy ground cover and food crops. 

The prime target was South Vietnam.  The aggression later spread to the North, then to the remote peasant society of northern Laos, and finally to rural Cambodia, which was bombed at the stunning level of all allied air operations in the Pacific region during World War II, including the two atom bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  In this, Henry Kissinger’s 

Published: Tuesday 6 December 2011
“Instead of focusing on the Greater Middle East, as has been the case for the last decade, the United States will now concentrate its power in Asia and the Pacific.”

When it comes to China policy, is the Obama administration leaping from the frying pan directly into the fire?  In an attempt to turn the page on two disastrous wars in the Greater Middle East, it may have just launched a new Cold War in Asia -- once again, viewing oil as the key to global supremacy.

The new policy was signaled by President Obama himself on November 17th in an address to the Australian Parliament in which he laid out an audacious -- and extremely dangerous -- geopolitical vision.  Instead of focusing on the Greater Middle East, as has been the case for the last decade, the United States will now concentrate its power in Asia and the Pacific.  “My guidance is clear,” he declared in Canberra.  “As we plan and budget for the future, we will allocate the resources necessary to maintain our strong military presence in this region.”  While administration officials insist that this new policy is not aimed specifically at China, the implication is clear enough: from now on, the primary focus of American military strategy will not be counterterrorism, but the containment of that economically booming land -- at whatever risk or cost.

The Planet’s New Center of Gravity

The new emphasis on Asia and the containment of China is necessary, top officials insist, because the Asia-Pacific region now constitutes the “center of gravity” of world economic activity.  While the United States was bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, the argument goes, China had the leeway to expand its influence in the region.  For the first time since the end of World War II, Washington is no longer the dominant economic actor there.  If the United States is to retain ...

Published: Thursday 3 November 2011
“The initial fall in coal and oil use was triggered by the economic downturn, but now powerful new forces are reducing the use of both.”

Between 2007 and 2011, carbon emissions from coal use in the United States dropped 10 percent. During the same period, emissions from oil use dropped 11 percent.
 

In contrast, carbon emissions from natural gas use increased by six percent. The net effect of these trends was that U.S. carbon emissions dropped seven percent in four years. And this is only the beginning. 
 

The initial fall in coal and oil use was triggered by the economic downturn, but now powerful new forces are reducing the use of both. For coal, the dominant force is the Beyond Coal campaign, an impressive national effort coordinated by the Sierra Club involving hundreds of local groups that oppose coal because of its effects on human health. 
 

In the first phase, the campaign actively opposed the building of new coal-fired power plants. This hugely successful initiative, which led to a near de facto moratorium on new coal plants, was powered by Americans' dislike of coal. 
 

An Opinion Research Corporation poll found only three percent preferred coal as their electricity source - which is no surprise. Coal plant emissions are a leading cause of respiratory illnesses (such as asthma in children) and mercury contamination. Coal burning causes 13,200 U.S. deaths each year, a loss of life that exceeds U.S. combat losses in 10 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. 
 

The campaign's second phase is dedicated to closing existing coal plants. Of the U.S. total of ...

Published: Sunday 7 August 2011
In the latest quest for clean power, Washington state has emerged as a hotbed of high-tech research into what's known as hydrokinetics.

Joshua Myers has been busy putting electrodes on the heads of juvenile salmon, trying to determine how the fish will react to the simulated sound of giant steel and fiberglass turbines, which soon could be submerged in Washington state's Puget Sound.

Myers, a research engineer, is conducting his acoustical experiments in a laboratory on Sequim Bay, where scientists want to learn how to create electricity from an unusual source: the force of powerful ocean tides and waves.

If all goes as planned, two large hydro turbines will be installed 200 feet deep in the harsh waters of Admiralty Inlet by late summer 2013, marking the first project of its kind in the state. But before then, scientists want to figure out how rockfish, diving birds, whales and other marine life will respond to the intruding turbines, which will weigh 350 tons each.

In the latest quest for clean power, Washington state has emerged as a hotbed of high-tech research into what's known as hydrokinetics.

The project is driven in part by Washington state residents' demand for a change from traditional carbon-based fuels for generating electricity. They passed an initiative in 2006 that requires large utility companies to increase the amount of electricity they generate from renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar, to 15 percent of their supply.

"We're very enthusiastic about this. ... We're trying to use ocean space in a way we've never used it before," said Andrea Copping, a senior program manager who's in charge of the project at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's marine science lab in Sequim.

Utilities are gearing up for the change.

Later this month, the Snohomish County Public Utility District will formally apply for a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for the $25 million pilot project.

"This is all very new," said Craig Collar, the senior manager of energy ...

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