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May 02 2012


Lights Out for Research Satellites?

Experts warn that the nation's capability to collect data from space, vital to understanding the Earth's environment and preparing for the future, is in "precipitous decline."

December 14 2011


Report Seeks Far Tighter Safety System for Oil Drilling

A panel investigating the 2010 gulf oil spill says that safety had not been a focus of the oil industry or its regulators, a problem that became more grave over the years as the complexity of offshore drilling deepened.
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August 03 2011


Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission Bans Fracking Disposal Wells Due to Earthquakes

The Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has voted unanimously to ban disposal wells for unconventional gas drilling wastes in a region that has been inundated with earthquakes. The decision requires the immediate closure of one disposal well and prohibits the construction of new wells in a 1,150 square-mile radius. Operators have also closed an additional three disposal wells on their own initiative, the Associated Press reports.

Earthquakes have become unusually common in some areas of Arkansas where increased unconventional gas related drilling is taking place. Residents insist that there is a correlation between the quakes and the area’s wastewater disposal wells. After monitoring hundreds of earthquakes, the largest a magnitude-4.7 in February, investigators began confirming the connection.

The Oil and Gas Commission discovered that four disposal wells were situated on a fault line responsible for dozens of earthquakes this year alone. As reported by the Associated Press, “after two of the four stopped operating in March, there was a sharp decline in the number of earthquakes. In the 18 days before the shutdown, there were 85 quakes with a magnitude 2.5 or greater, but there were only 20 in the 18 days following the shutdown, according to the state Geological Survey.”

For Commission director Larry Bengal, the dramatic reduction in seismic events was enough evidence to justify the ban. “We have to side with that public safety concern and address that in a way that maybe science does not totally support,” he said.

In April, gas industry giant Chesapeake Energy spokesman said the company disagreed with the alleged relation. “We believe there is a lot of natural seismicity in this area and there’s a lot more sub-surface data, and science and facts that need to be brought to bear.”

However, when a scourge of more than 800 earthquakes occurred in Guy, Arkansas over a span of six months, Chesapeake and another operator, Clarita, temporarily suspended their use of injection wells.

The gas industry has widely advertised their use of underground disposal of fracking wastes with the hope that it will alleviate concerns of wastewater reentering the public water supply without adequate treatment

Some fracking critics, like Dr. Theo Colborn of The Endocrine Disruption Exchange, suggest that wastewater injection in disposal wells reintroduces the risk to groundwater, “creating yet another source of extremely toxic chemical contamination.”

The risk in seismically sensitive areas like those in Arkansas are much higher, according to biochemist Dr. Ronald Bishop of State University of New York, Oneonta. Regions which are “seismically active or intensively fissured pose greater risks for contamination than regions which are geologically sensitive,” he told DeSmogBlog.

Arkansas’ increase in quakes shows the kind of geological sensitivity Dr. Bishop is concerned about. Yet, the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission has not banned unconventional gas drilling in the area, only the use of disposal wells.

Earthquakes pose an enormous threat to the integrity of unconventional gas and disposal wells, potentially damaging cement casings, the sole barrier protecting underground aquifers from contamination. 

Concerns about this issue have sparked several research projects. The Energy Institute at The University of Texas at Austin is initiating a comprehensive study of fracking technology, including its effects on seismic activity. The National Academies has also assigned a committee from the National Research Council to investigate the connection between injection technologies, like carbon capture and storage and fracking, and induced seismic activity. 

But according to a geology professor at Marshall University, geologists have known for 50 years that underground fluid injection can cause quakes.

Another expert, Jack Century of J.R. Century Petroleum Consultants Ltd., says that high-pressure injection can have powerful effects underground. “When we start perturbing the system by changing fluid pressure, we have the potential for activating faults.” And “once local seismicity starts, it can’t be turned off.”

The decision by the Arkansas Oil and Gas Commission may have come too late. It remains to be seen whether the disposal well ban will lead to a reduction of quakes.

Image Credit: Arkansans for Gas Drilling Accountability

May 13 2011


Action Needed to Manage Climate Change Risks: U.S. Response Should Be Durable, but Flexible, Experts Urge

ScienceDaily (May 12, 2011) — Warning that the risk of dangerous climate change impacts is growing with every ton of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere, a National Research Council committee has reiterated the pressing need for substantial action to limit the magnitude of climate change and to prepare to adapt to its impacts. The [...]

March 18 2011


March 10 2011


November 16 2010


June 22 2010


Dark Ecosystems Nurtured by Oil

How much oil seeps up from the seabed, aside from oil spills? Quite a lot, and a fascinating group of sea creatures thrives on it.

May 19 2010


National Research Council Calls for Climate Action

The National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, says in three reports that there is an overwhelming case for a harmful human influence on the global climate and argues for strong and immediate action to limit emissions of climate-altering gases, in the United States and around the world.

February 27 2010


Groups Seek to Undermine EPA’s Endangerment Finding

EARTHJUSTICE.ORG Lawsuits filed against agency’s declaration that greenhouse gases are a public threat February 19, 2010 Washington, DC — The following statement is from Earthjustice senior legislative representative Sarah Saylor regarding 16 lawsuits filed by industry, conservative groups, lawmakers and three states against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s endangerment finding declaring that global warming pollution poses a danger [...]

December 14 2009


Report: Meaningful Numbers of Plug-In Hybrids Are Decades Away

The study by the National Research Council also found that the next generation of plug-in hybrid electric cars would require hundreds of billions of dollars in government subsidies to take off.

December 09 2009


Study Cites Substantial Efficiency Savings

A new study by the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering has found that energy efficiency measures in the United States could cut energy use by 30 percent below 2030 projections.
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