Chemical dispersants may affect natural communities of oil-degrading bacteria after spills


A NASA satellite image shows the spread of oil in the Gulf of Mexico after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Lab tests show nuanced response to application of oil dispersant chemicals

Staff Report

Lab tests suggest that more thought must be given to how dispersant chemicals are used during and after an oil spill. In some cases, the combination of dispersants and oil may actually inhibit microorganisms that can break down hydrocarbons, according to marine scientists. Continue reading

Climate: Proposed Senate legislation would end federal fossil fuel leases on public lands

The U.S. is the second-largest producer of coal in the world, thanks in part to massive surface mines like this one in Wyoming. Photo courtesy BLM.

The U.S. is the second-largest producer of coal in the world, thanks in part to massive surface mines like this one in Wyoming. Photo courtesy BLM.

Can the ‘Keep it in the Ground’ campaign gain some political traction?

Staff Report

A new bill pending in the U.S. Senate would fundamentally shift U.S. energy policy by ending new leases for fossil fuel exploitation on public lands and canceling existing offshore federal oil and gas leases in the Arctic.

The bill, of course, has little chance of passing Congress at this point, but shows that some American politicians understand the politics — and the math — of climate change. Continue reading

Environment: Study says abandoned oil and gas wells are a pathway for methane leaks from new fracking sites


How much methane is leaking through damaged and abandoned wells? Photo via USGS.

Damaged well casings and fractured ground eyed in New York study

Staff Report

Spiderweb networks of abandoned oil and gas wells and cracked rocks may be significant pathways for methane leaks that aren’t being accurate measured, according to University of Vermont researchers who studied well patterns in New York.

The scientists said that not all abandoned wells are leaking — only those that are damaged, but given the large number of abandoned wells, those damaged casings can pose an evironmental risk, they concluded. Continue reading

National Park Service to update oil and gas drilling rules


A fracking boom near national parks has already degraded air quality and fragmented wildlife habitat around some of the country’s most cherished public lands. @bberwyn photo.

Agency acknowledges potential for adverse impacts to park values

Staff Report

The recent surge in fossil fuel exploitation on public lands near national parks has raised serious concerns about air quality, wildlife and scenic values — to the point that the National Parks Conservation Association outlined threats in a report a few years ago.

Now, the National Park Service wants to tackle some of the concerns by updating drilling regulations.  The proposal would revise current rules that are 36 years old, predating the modern fracking area. The agency hopes the update will give the fossil fuel industry more certainty, improve the agency’s ability to protect park resources and the values for which the parks were set aside, and protect visitors from potentially adverse impacts associated with fossil fuel development. Continue reading

Arctic Ocean oil and gas lease auctions canceled


Arctic Ocean oil and gas drilling is off the table for now.

Feds also deny requests for extension of current leases

Staff Report

Drilling for oil and gas in the U.S. slice of the Arctic Ocean is a no-go for the foreseeable future, federal officials said this week, canceling plans for future lease sales and denying extension requests for existing leases.

Citing market conditions and low industry interest, the U.S. Department of the Interior said it’s canceling two potential Arctic offshore lease sales scheduled under the current five-year offshore oil and gas leasing program. The decision comes on the heals of Shell’s announcement to halt exploration in the Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

Colorado: Not much love for new fracking rules


Finding common ground on proposed new oil and gas drilling rules won’t be easy based on initial comments. @bberwyn photo.

Industry, community groups both criticize meek draft regulations

Staff Report

New rules proposed by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission are drawing fire from both the industry, which says the proposed regulations go far beyond what was recommended by an advisory panel that met last summer, and by some citizen groups, who claim rules leave the door wide-open to large-scale fracking operations near homes and schools.

The proposed rules specifically address recommendations made by the Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force related to the size of oil and gas extraction and processing facilities, requirements for advance disclosure of drilling plans and  the ability of local communities to help determine locations through a consultation process. The proposed rules are posted here. Continue reading

Shell shuts down Arctic drilling program

Regulatory hurdles cited as part of the reason for decision


Shell Oil is giving up on drilling for oil in the Chukchi Sea.

Shell Oil's Arctic drill rig, Kulluk, stranded near Kodiak Island, Alaska

One of Shell’s Arctic mishaps came in 2012, when a drilling rig escaped its tow ships and ran aground. Photo via U.S. Coast Guard.

By Bob Berwyn

Shell Oil’s hotly contested Arctic oil-drilling operation will shut down for the foreseeable future, the multinational fossil fuel company announced today, drawing sighs of relief from environmental advocates who had described the exploration efforts in apocalyptic terms.

The company’s efforts have been stop-and-go for a long time. In 2013, for example, Shell announced a temporary pause in the program after a string of incidents, including failed tests of oil spill containment gear, runaway ships and notices for violations of environmental regulations. Continue reading


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