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WWF Warns About Drilling Risk in Mediterranean

Biodiversity in the eastern Mediterranean Sea could take a deadly hit if drillers rush in on recently discovered gas-rich fields, the World Wildlife Fund warned Wednesday.

The international environmental organization warned that gas drilling in the area shared by Turkey, Israel and Egypt could ravage the sea’s ecosystem, which would take at least a millennium to regrow.

Gas drillers have been eager to capitalize on the recently discovered Leviathan gas field, a deepwater area off the Israeli coast that may hold as much as 16 trillion cubic feet of gas, AFP reports.

The West Nile Delta gas field, another potentially lucrative region for drillers, was discovered earlier this year. That field is located off the coast of Alexandria, Egypt.

But the eastern Mediterranean is home to rare species that are millennia old, including deep-sea sponges and cold water corals. Sergi Tudela, head of WWF’s Mediterranean Fisheries Program, says this makes them particularly vulnerable.

Tudela said that once the sea is tapped for gas, “it can take a millennium or more before the unique micro-ecosystem grows again, so the most fragile and valuable species and under-sea areas must be left untouched by gas development,” according to AFP.

WWF appealed to the European Union and a number of Mediterranean countries to prohibit deep-sea drilling and industrial development in the areas.

Posted in Aquatic Life, Drilling for Oil, Natural Gas0 Comments

Hydraulic Fracturing, “Fracking,” Facing Scrutiny

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday released a preliminary version of a plan to study the impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

Hydraulic fracturing, known as “fracking,” is a natural gas drilling technique that creates fragmentation in reservoir rock formations. Using pressurized water and chemicals, drillers bore deep underground to release gas or oil from rocks. Opponents of the process say that it contaminates ground water and poses serious health and environmental risks.

Responding to public outcry over the potential safety hazards, Congress enlisted the EPA to review the effects of fracking on water supplies. The agency is expected to release initial results of the study by the end of next year, Reuters reports.

The draft issued Tuesday outlined a plan to investigate reports of water contamination in three to five sites where drilling has already occurred.

The agency will also oversee two to three case studies to assess water quality before, during, and after the hydraulic fracturing process.

The draft will be up for public comment and review by the agency’s science advisory board on March 7 and 8.

Posted in Natural Gas0 Comments

Chesapeake Energy Plans to Trim Debt by $5B

Chesapeake Energy Corp., the second-largest natural gas producer in the U.S., plans to sell $5 billion in assets to shrink its debt burden.

The Oklahoma City-based company announced Monday that it will sell all of its Fayetteville Shale holdings along with investments in two companies.

After word of the sale broke out, the company’s shares rose as much as 7 percent Monday, Reuters reports.

The Fayetteville shale, a 487,000-acre natural gas field in central Arkansas, will likely appeal to big oil companies, which have recently been showing interest in natural gas.
Chesapeake will also sell its 25.8 percent investment in Frac Tech Holdings LLC and its 20 percent stake in Chaparral Energy Inc.

The new plan aims to clear 25 percent of the company’s debt by 2012.

Chesapeake has previously been active in acquiring natural gas properties all over the country, but low natural gas prices have prompted the company to shift focus to oil.

Posted in Natural Gas0 Comments

Brazil Approves Huge Belo Monte Dam Construction

Brazil’s environmental agency, Ibama, on Wednesday green-lit the initial construction phase of the Belo Monte power dam, a controversial project on a tributary of the Amazon River.

The agency gave the go-ahead for the clearing of 588 acres of forest to make way for the $17 billion hydroelectric dam, which would be the world’s third largest.

The planned 11,000-megawatt project has been met with widespread criticism from native Indians and conservationists since it was first proposed some 30 years ago.

Environmentalists claim that the Belo Monte dam would threaten the survival of indigenous peoples and could leave as many as 50,000 people homeless, as 190 square miles would be flooded. It would also partially dry up a 60-mile stretch of the Xingu River.

Norte Energia, the utility led by the state-owned Companhia Hidro Eletrica do Sao Francisco, won the bid for the project last year.

The plant would start producing electricity in 2015.

The Brazilian government says the dam is necessary to sustain the nation’s fast-growing economy.

Posted in Hydroelectric0 Comments

Gas Explosion Rocks Philly Neighborhood; 1 Dead

A gas explosion in Philadelphia Tuesday evening killed one person and injured five more, officials said.

The unexpected blast from a gas main left three people in critical condition and forced dozens of people to evacuate their homes in Philadelphia’s Tacony neighborhood.

Philadelphia Executive Fire Chief Daniel A. Williams said the one casualty was a Philadelphia Gas Works employee, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday.

PGW spokesman Cameron Kline said three additional workers were hospitalized in the University Hospital burn unit and remain in critical condition.

A fourth PGW employee was treated and released, spokeswoman Rebecca Harmon told The Associated Press.

Also among the injured was a firefighter who was reportedly in stable condition as of Wednesday morning.

The incident occurred at about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday when a 12-inch gas main exploded, Kline said.

Emergency officials and utility employees were dispatched to the scene earlier after receiving reports of a gas smell. They had evacuated homes on the street and were working to locate the leak when the explosion occurred.

The blast broke a water main and leveled the building, UPI reports.

PGW says it is unclear what triggered the explosion.

Posted in Energy & Fuels, Natural Gas0 Comments

Superstorm Poses Threat to California, Scientists Say

A potential “superstorm” could dump up to 10 feet of rain on California in a catastrophic flood, scientists and emergency planners predict.

Federal and California officials on Friday discussed the plausible consequences of such a storm, using advanced flood mapping and atmospheric projections with data from California’s historic storms.

A research team of over 100 scientists said in a scenario released by the U.S. Geological Survey this week that California faces the risk of massive floods caused by an “atmospheric river” (AR) of moisture flowing into the state.

The report estimates that the flooding would last up to 40 days, affecting almost one-fourth of California’s homes and causing up to $300 billion in damage.

The scientists, engineers, lifeline operators, emergency planners and insurance experts working on the project named the event “ARkStorm,” after an intense atmospheric river moving water at the same rate as 50 Mississippi rivers discharging water into the Gulf of Mexico, ABC News reported.

The Pacific moisture-filled air current would overwhelm California’s flood protection system, inundate the Central Valley, and trigger hundreds of landslides.

In a conference held by the United States Geological Survey, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the California Emergency Management Agency, officials convened to outline new strategies to limit the flood’s devastation.

“Our storms really are as bad as hurricanes in the amount of rain that they can bring,” USGS Director Marcia McNutt said, according to ABC. “Without that type of labeling, we haven’t recognized that our storms are that bad and we risk underestimating emergency response (to storms).”

Climate scientists have long linked rising temperatures to intense weather events like the potential ARkStorm. As the earth’s atmosphere gets hotter, it stores more energy, setting off more extreme weather events with greater frequency.

Scientists say they are able to monitor the ARs with satellite imagery that has improved in the last few years, the New York Times reports.

They estimate that the AR that set off an intense storm over California last month moved water at 20 times the rate of the Mississippi River discharging water into the Gulf.

“Floods are as much a part of our lives in California as earthquakes are,” said Lucy Jones, the chief scientist for the United States Geological Survey’s multi-hazards initiative, according to the New York Times. “We are probably not going to be able to handle the biggest ones,” she added.

Posted in Atmospheric Science, Effects, Global Warming, Precipitation & Water Cycle, Water, Ecosystems & Agriculture0 Comments

Floods Endanger Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Floods in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland have swamped an area the size of France and Germany combined, displacing thousands and leaving dozens missing. But the devastating deluge may have another victim: the Great Barrier Reef.

The expansive swath of coral reaching over 1,430 miles along Queensland’s coast is in trouble, experts say. As the driving rains drum on, the Burdekin River is dumping massive amounts of sediment – which contains top soil and harmful pesticides and fertilizers – into the southern end of the reef.

There’s another troubling factor to consider: the area has been pummeled with an unhealthy amount of fresh water, and the potential result is dead coral.

“These are extraordinary events. The whole of the inner-shore reef lagoon filled with river water,” says Jon Brodie, Principle Researcher for the James Cook University’s Australian Center for Tropical Freshwater Research, according to CNN.

Brodie and his colleagues say the coral reefs closest to the river mouth have been impacted the most. But the inundating fresh water could affect the reefs stretching from Frazer Island, 124 miles north of Brisbane, as far as Cairns, 930 miles away.

High levels of nutrients and sediments have been known to cripple coral diversity and increase seaweed cover on inshore reefs, Katarina Fabricius, a researcher at the Australian Institute of Marine Science, told

Couple the sediment runoff with reduced salinity from all the freshwater, and you have a devastated ecosystem, Brodie says.

Experts expect the immediate death of corals and sea grass, with consequences that will reverberate from grass-eating dugongs up the food chain.

And while larger fish can swim out of the plumes of fresh water, smaller coral reef dwellers won’t be so lucky, says Brodie.

When coral organisms die, they lose their vibrant colors and leave only their white skeletons behind – hence the term “coral bleaching.”

While the event would be potentially devastating for marine life, some species would profit from the flooding.

“Some fish species thrive in the current flood plume conditions which can enhance productivity for some popular inshore species,” Andrew Skeat, General Manager of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority said in a press statement, according to CNN.

Previous large floods have created algae blooms and starfish outbreaks that overtake the reefs, Fabricius said.

Michelle Devlin, a researcher at James Cook University in northern Queensland, told AFP that the fresh water, soil nutrients and pesticides will act as a harmful “cocktail” for the fragile reefs.

“This is a really massive event,” Devlin said. “It has the potential to shift the food web, it has the potential to shift how the reef operates.”

Posted in Aquatic Life, Oceans & Coastlines, Wastewater & Runoff0 Comments

Meteor Sightings Puzzle Oklahomans

A blue-green meteor shot across the night sky above Oklahoma on Tuesday, prompting perplexed locals to call local police stations and report an unidentified flying object.

According to KTHV of Little Rock, Arkansas, the “big ball of fire” that streaked the sky likely struck near Poteau Mountain, Oklahoma.

The meteor was “no bigger than a pebble” and may have gotten its greenish tint from copper content, CBS News reported.

Meteor sightings matching the description of the Oklahoma ball of fire cropped up in various areas of the U.S., from the Florida Panhandle to several areas in Mississippi.

Florida’s WKRG said it began receiving reports of a “bright flash of light and a boom” at about 8:30 p.m. reports that the meteor came from the southeast and zoomed northwest. The science news website says it was emerald green with a red-yellow tail.

Posted in Science, Space, & Technology0 Comments

Gas Prices: Crude Oil Tops $90

Gas prices edged up at the pump Tuesday as crude oil costs surged on the New York Mercantile Exchange, passing $90 a barrel.

Benchmark oil for February delivery rose $1.80, or more than 3 percent, to $91.05 a barrel in midday training on fears about the closed Trans Alaskan Pipeline.

The 800-mile line, which supplies oil to the lower 48 states and contributes 9 to 11 percent of the country’s daily oil resources, was shut down to repair a leak.

Meanwhile, a presidential panel investigating the Deepwater Horizon oil spill recommended that the oil industry and government take on additional precautions to prevent another environmental catastrophe. The group advised increasing the liability limit for damages associated with offshore drilling, increasing budgets and training for offshore drilling, and putting more focus on the opinions of federal scientists regarding drilling.

The report caused traders to speculate that the government will impose new restrictions on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.

Heating oil prices rose 3.29 cents overnight to $2.589 per gallon. Reformulated blendstock gasoline gained 0.5 cents to $2.4593 per gallon. Henry Hub natural gas prices shed 4.7 cents to $4.352 per million British thermal units.

At the pump, the national average for a gallon of unleaded gasoline edged up from Monday’s $3.088 per gallon to $3.089.

Posted in Natural Gas, Oil & Petroleum0 Comments

Cuomo Nominates Joe Martens for DEC Commissioner

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has nominated Joe Martens to serve as commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation.

Martens, who has served as president of the non-profit group the Open Space Institute since 1998, has played a key role in acquiring land for conservation, sustainable development and sustainable farming in the Adirondacks and elsewhere.

He will replace Peter Iwanowitz, who has held the post since late October after Gov. David Paterson dismissed Alexander B. Grannis.

Grannis was fired over a leaked memo condemning the agency’s layoffs. He has since been hired as first deputy comptroller in the office of Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.

Martens, who will need to wait for Senate approval to begin his work, previously served as deputy state secretary of energy and the environment from 1992-94 under Cuomo’s father, Gov. Mario Cuomo.

Environmental groups like the National Resources Defense Council have praised Cuomo’s choice to appoint Martens. “Joe Martens’ experience, judgment, and temperament make him the right person at the right time to meet the challenges that DEC faces,” said Ashok Gupta of the NRDC, according to the New York Times. “He has the support and key relationships with the business and environmental community that will allow him to hit the ground running.”

Martens will take over as the DEC works to complete an analysis of the environmental impact of the controversial “hydro-fracking” process in New York State’s Marcellus Shale region.

Posted in Laws & Regulations, Natural Gas, Policies, Politics & Politicians, U.S. Federal Government Agencies, U.S. State & Local0 Comments

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