Study documents ‘heartbreak’ after Gulf oilspill

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook, who owned and operated Ma's Po Boy restaurant on Park Avenue, cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters near the mouth of the Mississippi River, just off Venice, Louisiana.

Former Breckenridge resident Andy Cook cleans a yellowfin tuna he caught in the rich fishing waters at the mouth of the Mississippi River near Venice, Louisiana. bberwyn photo.

Exposure to PAHs disrupts basic cellular function of heart muscles

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — When BP’s failed Deepwater Horizon drill rig spewed millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists immediately began documenting impacts to natural resources, finding dead corals on the seafloor, sick dolphins in Barataria Bay and remnant oil in the splash zone along Florida beaches.

Even low levels of oil pollution can damage the developing hearts of fish embryos and larvae, reducing the likelihood that those fish will survive. Scientists have known of this effect for some time, but the underlying mechanism has remained elusive.

But recent research by scientists with NOAA and Stanford University, shows how oil-derived chemicals disrupt the normal functioning of the heart muscle cells of fish. The findings, published in the Feb. 14 issue of Science, describe how toxic oil-based chemicals disrupt cardiac function in young bluefin and yellowfin tuna by blocking ion channels in their heart muscle cells. Continue reading

Study: Methane emission estimates much too low

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America’s natural gas infrastructure has leakage issues.

Methane emissions from natural gas industry facilities and other sources may be up to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A comprehensive air quality analysis shows that most estimates of methane emissions from various sources — including the natural gas industry — are much too low, a result that didn’t surprise the scientists who led the study. Total U.S. methane emissions are probably about 25 to 75 percent higher than EPA estimates.

“People who go out and and actually measure methane pretty consistently find more emissions than we expect,” said the lead author of the new analysis, Adam Brandt, an assistant professor of energy resources engineering at Stanford University. “Atmospheric tests covering the entire country indicate emissions around 50 percent more than EPA estimates,” said Brandt. “And that’s a moderate estimate.” Continue reading

Environment: Federal appeals court nixes fossil fuel lease sales in Chukchi Sea

Shell Oil has been permitted to start preparatory drilling in the Chukchi Sea.

A federal court this week ruled that the Bureau of Energy Management violated environmental laws when it sold leases for fossil fuel production in the Chukchi Sea.

Judges say feds made ‘arbitrary and capricious’ decision on how much oil can be extracted

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — There’s no question that there is a lot of oil beneath the seafloor of the Arctic Ocean, and the Chukchi Sea, specifically.

But exactly how much is a question that is still open to debate, according to a federal court, which this week ruled that the U.S. Department of Interior made an “arbitrary and capricious” decision when it sold drilling rights in the area back in 2008 based on an estimate of about 1 billion barrels of oil.

Federal officials may have pulled that number out of a hat, the three-hudge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled, ordering the federal government to revise the environmental study for the 2008 lease sale. The court also said federal officials may have low-balled potential environmental impacts of fossil fuel development in the Chukchi Sea. Continue reading

Energy: Scotland eyes tidal power

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Scotland eyes tidal power.

Engineers pinpoint potential for tide-driven electrical turbines

By Summit Voice

FRISCO —A well-designed and well-sited network of tidal turbines in Scotland’s Pentland Firth could generate 1.9 gigawatts of electricity — enough to supply half of the country’s power demand.

The channel at the northern tip of Scotland has long been studied as a potential source of power because of the strong tidal flows. The latest study by engineers at the Universities of Oxford and Edinburgh offers valuable insights into how to develop and regulate this clean energy resource effectively. Continue reading

Oceans: New study could help protect endangered whales from impacts of seismic airgun blasting

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Ocean conservation advocates say federal government must use new data on endangered North Atlantic right whales when it considers permits for fossil fuel exploration. Photo courtesy NOAA.

Conservation advocates call for expansion of protective zones and seasonal closures

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Endangered North Atlantic right whales may be more at risk from oil exploration than previously thought.

New research from Cornell University suggests the rare marine mammals are present throughout the year at varying distances off the coast of Virginia, putting them at risk from the acoustic impacts generated by seismic airguns — used to probe the ocean floor for oil and gas deposits. Continue reading

Scientists launch crowdfunding effort to study winter ozone formation in Utah’s fracking patch

Signs of oil and gas development are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Signs of oil and gas development in eastern Utah  are visible on a landscape level from 35,000 feet in the air.

Snow may intensify the air quality impacts of energy development

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A team of American and Canadian scientists want to unravel some of the secrets of winter ozone formation related to oil and gas drilling — and they need your help.

University of Washington atmospheric researcher Becky Alexander, who is leading the January research project in Utah’s Uintah Basin has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the field work. The team wants to raise $12,ooo in the next three weeks via their project website at mycroriza.com.

“It’s a global outreach effort,” Alexander said, explaining that crowdfunding for scientific research is a new and growing movement. Grassroots funding helps eliminate some of the administrative overhead costs sometimes associated with traditional sources of money. Sometimes, as much as 50 to 60 percent of federal funding ends up going toward overhead, she explained. Continue reading

Environment: Arctic scientist resigns after battling his own federal agency over transparency and scientific ethics

 

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Too much oil, not enough science ….

Harassment of prominent researcher likely aimed at stifling scientists

By Bob Berwyn

FRISCO — A scientist who was targeted by a politically driven investigation has retired from the federal agency that is supposed to regulate oil development in the Arctic after settling his whistleblower complaint against the U.S. Department of Interior.

Dr. Charles Monnett, a senior scientist with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, was hectored for several years after publishing observations about drowning polar bears. The witch hunt ended in October with the Department of Interior withdrawing its letter of reprimand and paying Monnett $100,000.

“It’s a relief to be able to speak,” Monnett said, expressing his belief that the investigation was intended squelch scientific evidence that would make it more difficult to issue oil and gas drilling permits in the sensitive Arctic environment. Continue reading

Colorado: Green coalition aims for 1 million solar roofs

3 gigawatts of solar by 2030

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A grassroots Colorado coalition of government leaders, business and environmental organizations want to increase the production of solar power tenfold in the next 15 years, but the effort faces a major challenge, as Xcel Energy wants to cut the rate it pays to consumers who feed power into the grid.

Xcel has proposed cutting its net metering rate in half, and the company has also asked the Colorado Public Utilities Commission to declare net metering a subsidy.

Renewable energy advocates said the utility’s arguement is flawed: A comprehensive study done by Crossborder Energy found that far from being a subsidy, net metering contributes up to $11 million in benefits each year to the grid. The debate over net metering is currently before the PUC as part of Xcel’s 2014 Renewable Energy Standard Compliance Plan.

Net metering requires investor-owned utilities to credit customers who invest in solar panels for the excess electricity they supply the electrical grid at the retail rate. Net metering is fundamental to the viability of rooftop solar for both homes and businesses.

Regardless of the potential challenges, the coalition has called on Gov. Hickenlooper to to think big on solar with a goal of one million solar roofs. The Million Solar Roofs campaign is touting the economic benefits of solar energy, and it nearly goes without saying that the effort could significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Colorado. Continue reading

New study ups estimate of wind turbine bat deaths

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Wind turbines killed at least 600,00o bats in 2012.

CU-Boulder researcher says wind farms are “key threat” to bat populations

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — By the latest conservative estimate, at least 600,000 bats were killed by energy producing wind turbines in 2012, with the highest fatality rates in areas near the Appalachian Mountains.

Little information is available on bat deaths at wind turbine facilities in the Rocky Mountain West or the Sierra Nevada, according to Mark Hayes, a University of Colorado, Boulder researcher who authored a new study, set to be published in the journal BioScience.

“The development and expansion of wind energy facilities is a key threat to bat populations in North America,” Hayes said. “Dead bats are being found underneath wind turbines across North America. The estimate of bat fatalities is probably conservative.” Continue reading

Environment: Texas company fined $600,000 for fiscal mismanagement in Utah oil and gas fields

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EPA fine highlights issues in Utah oil and gas fields.

Water resources at risk?

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — A Texas-based company will be dinged for $600,000 after the EPA found that it did not meet all legal requirements for operating several hundred injection wells on the Uintah and Ouray Reservation in Utah.

The settlement between the EPA and Newfield Production Company centers on the company’s failure to show financial responsibility associated with the safe operation of 442 injection wells in the Monument Butte Well Field in Duchesne County from March 2009 through September 2010. Continue reading

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