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Oil Still Devastates La. Marshes, Tour Finds

Officials say oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster still heavily pollutes the marshes along Louisiana’s coastlines.

State and parish officials gave the press a boat tour of the oil-fouled swamps of Barataria Bay, calling for a stronger cleanup effort from BP and the Obama administration.

Plaquemines Parish President Billy Nungesser called the state of the marshes “the biggest cover-up in the history of America,” The Associated Press reported Friday.

Robert Barham, the secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Wildlife and Fisheries and an outspoken critic of the cleanup effort, also participated in the tour.

AP writer Harry Weber reported that oil is pooling in some areas and boom barriers are often absent or overwhelmed by oil.

“Clearly there is oil here in the marsh but we are working as a team to find a best way to clean it up,” said Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Dan Lauer, who accompanied the press and officials on the tour.

The rapidly eroding marshes along the coast play a key role in protecting Louisiana from hurricanes.

The oil also endangers vulnerable reeds and grasses that feed microscopic marine life, with consequences that will reverberate up the food chain.

The BP oil spill, set off by a blowout on a Macondo rig on Apr. 20, leaked an estimated 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drilling for Oil, Ecosystems, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum, Rivers, Lakes & Wetlands, Well Drilling0 Comments

Bacteria Ate Methane from Gulf Oil Spill

Bacteria consumed methane gas from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in four months, a report said Thursday.

Methane constituted 20 percent of the crude oil that erupted from the Macondo oil well in worst marine spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

A report published Thursday in the journal Science said a sudden bloom of bacteria ingested the methane completely by early September.

“They did a good job on it and that was much earlier than expected,” said John Kessler, a chemical oceanographer at Texas A&M University, according to AP.

University of California Santa Barbara geochemistry professor David Valentine, one of the study’s lead authors, said the discovery proves that the bacteria play a vital role in preventing heat-trapping greenhouse gases on the ocean’s floor from entering the earth’s atmosphere.

“They do serve an important function, and as we see here under certain conditions these bacteria can be very effective at preventing the methane from reaching the atmosphere,” Valentine told AFP.

Valentine added that previous research showed that other types of bacteria also ingested the ethane and propane released by the explosion.

The researchers also said bacteria consumed some of the crude oil itself, but it is not yet clear how much.

Posted in Global Warming, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Deepwater Horizon Spill Could Happen Again Without Reforms, Panel Says

A panel appointed to study the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico says the blowout was caused by a series of risky decisions intended to save time and money.

The seven-member commission also claims the incident could happen again without significant reforms.

A 48-page excerpt of the report was released Wednesday prior to the full document’s publication early next week.

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again,” the report said. “Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

BP’s Macondo well began uncontrollably gushing crude oil on April 20, setting off the largest marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry.

The panel contends that BP, Transocean and Halliburton company personnel did not adequately consider the risks involved in a series of time-saving steps.

“The most significant failure at Macondo — and the clear root cause of the blowout — was a failure of industry management,” panel members concluded. “Better management of decision-making processes within BP and other companies, better communication within and between BP and its contractors and effective training of key engineering and rig personnel would have prevented the Macondo incident.”

Bob Graham, a former Florida senator, and William K. Reilly, a former EPA administrator, were appointed by President Barack Obama last May to lead the commission designed to identify the underlying causes of the blowout.

Posted in Drilling for Oil, Environmental Disasters, Oceans & Coastlines, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Texas Commission OKs Nuclear Waste Dump Policy

A Texas commission has approved a plan that will allow 36 states to dump low-level radioactive waste along the Texas-New Mexico border.

Despite concerns raised by environmentalists regarding the possibility of groundwater pollution, the Texas Low-Level Radioactive Commission voted 5-2 to pass the measure, which will permit a number of additional states to export nuclear waste to an Andrews County dump owned by Waste Control Specialists. The site previously only accepted waste from Texas, Vermont and the federal government.

The commission also guaranteed Vermont preferred space of 20 percent capacity. Vermont has only one nuclear facility, which it plans to phase out in the next 30 or 40 years.

President Barack Obama has extolled nuclear energy as a clean alternative to oil, but opponents object to the radioactive waste associated with the process.

The proposal drew more than 5,000 public comments, The Associated Press reported.

Posted in Nuclear, Pollution & Toxins, Radiation, Toxic Substances, Waste Disposal0 Comments

Shell’s Arctic Clean Air Permits Revoked

Alaska Native and environmental groups have successfully thrown a wrench in Shell’s plans to drill exploration wells in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas.

An order by the Environmental Appeals Board remanded Shell Offshore Inc.’s clean air permits, which were granted by the Environmental Protection Agency. Shell spokesman Curtis Smith told The Associated Press that the company cannot proceed with the proposed drilling plans in 2011 without the permits.

The review by the federal board found that the EPA’s estimation of the impact on Alaska Native communities was too limited. It also contended that the agency’s analysis of impact caused by nitrogen dioxide emissions from drill ships and support vessels was inadequate.

The appeal was filed by the Arctic Eskimo Whaling Commission, the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, the Center for Biological Diversity and Earthjustice on behalf of other organizations.

Rebecca Noblin, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity in Anchorage, said the ruling coincides with the groups’ assertion that the EPA “rushed” the drilling permits through the process. “It’s time for the administration to take a step back and rethink the foolhardy rush to drill in the fragile Arctic Ocean,” she told the Alaska Dispatch in an e-mailed statement.

Posted in Air Pollutants, Air Quality Standards & Emissions, Drilling for Oil, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Judy Bonds, W. Va Coal Mining Opponent and Activist, Dies

Judy Bonds, a West Virginia environmental activist who spearheaded the opposition to mountaintop removal coal mining, died Monday evening, AP reported Tuesday. She was 58.

Bonds, a coal miner’s daughter and self-proclaimed “hillbilly,” is credited with bringing the issue of widespread strip mining in the West Virginia mountains into the public eye.

Mountaintop removal (MTR) involves blasting away mountaintops to expose the seams of coal underneath. The environmental impact of the process is simply devastating.

For Bonds, the battle with MTR began when the West Virginia hollow where her family had lived for six generations was threatened by a Massey Energy strip mine and slurry dam, NPR reports.

She said she knew she had to take action when her grandson found dead fish in a stream her family had enjoyed for six generations.

“‘What’s wrong with these fish?’ he asked. That day I knew that if I didn’t do something, that would be the future of our children,” she told AP in 2003.

Massey Energy, one of the Appalachian region’s largest coal producers, became Bonds’ biggest adversary. She and the group she directed, Coal River Mountain Watch, frequently led protests against the Richmond, Va.-based mine operator.

Bonds testified against MTR at regulatory hearings and filed lawsuits against the process, AP reports. In 2003, she received the $150,000 Goldman Environmental Prize for her activism.

Coal River Mountain Watch co-director Vernon Haltom told AP that Bonds, who had cancer, died Monday evening at a hospital.

“Judy will be missed by all in this movement, as an icon, a leader, an inspiration, and a friend,” Haltom said in a statement on the environmental group’s website. “No words can ever express what she has meant, and what she will always mean. We will tell stories about her, around fires, in meeting rooms, and any place where people are gathered in the name of justice and love for our fellow human beings.

“When we prevail, as we must, we will remember Judy as one of the great heroes of our movement. We will always remember her for her passion, conviction, tenacity, and courage, as well as her love of family and friends and her compassion for her fellow human beings. While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

Posted in Coal, Non-Profits & Non-Governmental Organizations0 Comments

China Develops Nuclear Fuel Technology

China says it has developed the technology to reprocess nuclear fuel and use the recycled material to radically raise its power supply.

A report on China’s state television, CCTV, said Monday that the country currently has enough uranium to last 70 years. The scientific breakthrough could make that supply last up to 3,000 years.

The technology to recover fissile and fertile materials to generate new fuel will allow China to break away from its dependence on coal and diversify its energy sources, UPI reported Monday.

China currently has 13 operating reactors, but the new process will require an ambitious program of building a number of additional industrial power stations.

France, Britain and India already have their own reprocessing operations, UPI said.

Posted in Air Pollution Prevention, Coal, Nuclear0 Comments

Bolivia Fuel Hike Sets Off Massive Protests

Bolivia lapsed into nationwide pandemonium Thursday as protests against an 83 percent rise in fuel prices shut down public transport.

President Evo Morales’ government decreed the gas cost hikes Sunday, announcing it could no longer afford to subsidize the previous prices, which had been frozen for six years, AP reports.

The response in the Andean country was violent unrest as thousands of demonstrators marched and bus drivers maintained the four-day strike that has left major cities largely immobile.

Morales attempted to placate citizens Wednesday by announcing a 20-percent minimum salary increase, but unions and civic groups said the demonstrations would go on nevertheless.

The gasoline subsidies that kept prices low for years cost the government about $380 million per year, AFP reports.

Morales’ administration says the hikes are necessary partly because much of the subsidized gas was being smuggled across borders to neighboring countries.

Posted in Oil & Petroleum, Politics & Politicians0 Comments

Groups Oppose EPA Analysis of Coal Ash Prior to Regulations

Three environmental groups are challenging figures in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s report on coal ash, a potentially harmful byproduct of coal-burning in industrial facilities and power plants.

The dispute comes as the EPA prepares first-ever regulations for the disposal of coal ash in the wake of the catastrophic Tennessee Valley spill that dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of the sludge into the Emory River two years ago.

The agency is considering two proposals. The first would give the toxic residue a “hazardous” label and impose new federal regulations for construction of containment facilities. The second option, heavily favored by industry supporters, would classify the substance as “non-hazardous” and encourage facilities to recycle their coal ash into building materials like cement and drywall.

The Environmental Integrity Project, Earthjustice, and the Stockholm Environment Institute’s U.S. Center released an analysis of the EPA’s findings Wednesday claiming that the agency has exaggerated the value of coal ash recycling. The EPA stated in its report that the practice is worth $23 billion in health benefits, pollution avoidance, and lowered energy costs. The groups estimate the annual worth of coal ash recycling to be $1.15 billion while posing serious risks for the environment and human health.

“The concern we have is so loudly exaggerating the economic benefit of coal ash recycling,” said Eric Schaeffer, director of the Environmental Integrity Project, according to Bloomberg. “The noise that creates has sort of drowned out the concern over health and safety of properly disposing this kind of material.”

The groups voiced their support of the stricter program, which they say would protect communities near power plant-operated coal ash containment ponds.

They also noted in a statement Wednesday that there are as many as 50 unregulated coal ash dumps around the country similar to the one that broke down in the Tennessee Valley two years ago.

EPA spokeswoman Betsaida Alcantara said the agency would review the report along with over 400,000 public comments submitted to officials.

Posted in Coal, Hazardous Waste, Industrial Pollution, Industrial Waste, Minerals & Mining, Toxic Substances, Water Pollution0 Comments

Oil Prices Dip Slightly

Oil prices settled at $91.12 per barrel of benchmark grade crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange Wednesday, and other energy commodities fell as the East Coast worked to dig itself out from Monday’s snow storm.

Energy prices usually climb as the weather gets colder, but industry analysts say that most traders have locked in their energy contracts for the year, and investors still buying are looking ahead to 2011, The Associated Press reports.

Heating oil for January delivery fell less than a penny to $2.524 per gallon, gasoline for January delivery fell 1.47 cents to $2.3909 per gallon, and natural gas for February shed 3.1 cents at $4.257 per 1,000 cubic feet, AP reports.

At the pump, the national average price of unleaded gasoline was $3.061 per gallon, up 1.2 cents from Tuesday’s $3.049, AAA said.

Posted in Energy Industry, Natural Gas, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

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