Drilling for natural gas really hasn’t been the most natural process. Numerous reports of groundwater contamination have skeptics and homeowners worried over hydraulic fracturing, a process used in nine out of 10 natural gas wells in the U.S.
But finally, some proposed legislation to oversee the drilling: Representatives in both the House and the Senate introduced bills yesterday “to amend the Safe Drinking Water Act and give the Environmental Protection Agency authority over the controversial drilling process,” ProPublica reports.
Hydraulic fracturing was exempted from federal water laws under the Bush administration’s Energy Policy Act. That meant EPA scientists couldn’t really study the correlation between fracturing and nearby pollution.
Currently, the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are considered proprietary ingredients, so the energy industry doesn’t have to disclose what they are. (Sort of like, Coke; we don’t know all the ingredients, but boy, we just can’t get enough of it.) If passed, the FRAC Act -- Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act -- will require the energy industry to disclose their trade secrets.
The House bill, introduced by Diana DeGette, D-Colo., Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., will now be debated in the House Energy and Commerce Committee. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
Industry officials say regulation at the state level is sufficient. Federal oversight would cost each new natural gas well $100,000, they say. But honestly, what’s a few-hundred-grand to a multi-billion-dollar industry?
Domestic sheep and bighorn sheep don't mix. Or at least they shouldn't, say most biologists. The tame sheep tend to infect their wild cousins with fatal pneumonia. In Idaho's Payette National Forest, the Forest Service has even banned grazing in areas where flocks might encounter bighorns (see our story Sheep v. Sheep). Recent developments have made the state's bighorn and sheep ranching conflicts even more contentious.
The sheep industry and a few scientists maintain that there's no proof that domestics transmit disease, so there's no need to shut down grazing allotments on bighorn turf. One of the most vocal critics, Marie Bulgin, head of the Caine Veterinary Teaching and Research Center in Caldwell, Idaho, a state animal lab, has testified that "seventeen years plus of research by numerous researcher (sic) has not been able to prove that such is the case." Now, an advocacy group is charging that despite Bulgin's statements, Caine Center researchers have known for the past 15 years that domestic sheep can give deadly diseases to wild bighorns. The AP reports:
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According to officials at the California Department of Fish and Game, the illegal sale of wildlife and "wildlife parts" generates something like $100 million per year -- and it's going up, as hard economic times have forced the state to cut back on game wardens. Only 230 wardens regulate 159,000 square miles of land, including 1,100 miles of coastline going 200 miles out to sea. The number of game wardens in California is the lowest per capita in the U.S.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, game wardens have investigated the following:
-- Late last month, 11 people were arrested and 120 citations were issued in Sonoma and Mendocino counties after an elaborate ring of abalone poachers with headquarters in a hotel room was discovered.
-- In February, two people were arrested in Monterey County after they were caught with 51 black abalone, a federally listed endangered species.
-- In February, five antelope were fatally shot near Susanville by someone driving along a country road. The shooter just left the animals, two of which were pregnant, one with twins.
-- In 2007, a San Diego man was arrested by Redding undercover agents and charged with soliciting the killing of bears in Shasta County so he could buy their gallbladders. A gallbladder-processing operation was discovered when wardens arrested the man, who had a passport and tickets to fly to Southeast Asia. Bear gallbladders are used for medicinal purposes in Southeast Asia and can fetch $2,000 an ounce.
-- In Sacramento, a man was arrested after investigators used DNA evidence to identify the meat from 28 separate deer that had been shot in Calaveras, El Dorado and Placer counties. He was selling the carcasses from his house for up to $150 a piece.
"Over the last year and a half we've seen a marked increase in poaching and in people just killing animals and leaving them there for no apparent reason," Fish and Game enforcement chief Nancy Foley told the Chronicle. "I don't think it is a need to put food on the table. It's usually for greed and money and because people know we have a shortage of game wardens in the state."
California Fish and Game spokesman Patrick Foy told the Chronicle that wildlife officers -- who last year issued 14,543 citations -- catch between 1 and 5 percent of all violators. The penalty for poaching deer and waterfowl in California is a maximum of six months in county jail and a $1,000 fine, but Foy says many poachers have been fined as little as $150 and given probation.
In summer, the southern Arizona desert is among the most merciless environments on earth. Temperatures spike at 120 degrees. Shade is scarce. Each year hundreds of undocumented migrants die trying to walk north from Mexico.
The grisly accounts of survivors and the quickly-mummified evidence on the ground suggest that a cooked brain and water-starved sensory neurons must know something of hell. The mouths stuffed with rocks, the claw marks--it happens. There are files.
For the past five years, the Tucson-based humanitarian group, No More Deaths, has worked to reduce such misery by providing migrants with food, medical care, and--most importantly--emergency water. The group has a bumper sticker: “Humanitarian aid is never a crime.”
Maybe that bumper sticker should read “almost never”: two No More Deaths volunteers, Walt Staton and Dan Millis, have been convicted of littering--for leaving drinking water in the desert.
Staton, 27, was found guilty on June 3 of littering federal property after he admitted to leaving jugs of drinking water on migrant trails that cross the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge. He faces up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine when he is sentenced on August 11. Millis, who was convicted in a similar case last September, has appealed to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court. Staton also plans an appeal.
The two cases focus attention on a humanitarian crisis along the U.S.-Mexico border that is arguably the direct--and intentional--result of federal policy.
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The solar-electric generating systems in my area are "photo-voltaic." When photons from the sun strike certain materials, they give off electrons, which are then channeled to the electric grid.
There's another way to generate electricity from sunshine: Concentrate the solar rays to heat a fluid that in turn boils water, resulting in steam that turns a turbine connected to a generator.
In essence, it's a thermal generating plant, except that it uses sunshine for a heat source, rather than coal, natural gas, or decaying uranium.
And like any other thermal plant, these facilities need to be cooled. This leads to a quandary. The best places for these solar thermal plants are where the sky is clear and sunny, like the Mojave Desert, and that's where water is scarcest.
Here's a piece about this dilemma and its potential effects on the American Southwest. In short, such power plants might be new players in the old water wars.
I spend a fair amount of time at the HCN office reading online news, and writing blogs like this one. It's easy, when surrounded by abstractions, to feel a little bit cut off from what makes things work around here in Paonia. One quick antidote to that feeling is to go down to the river on my lunch breaks and stand on the bridge overlooking the North Fork of the Gunnison. Over the last few months, I've watched the river transform from quiet, dark, and ice-glazed--a secret under snow--to a silty torrent, flattening the willows, wrapping debris around the cement bridge pillars, and making a holy racket. Watching these changes feels like keeping my fingers on the pulse of what makes this place, not just Paonia, but Western Colorado, tick.
An equally good reality check is to attend a local water meeting. On Monday, Jun 1st, the smell of fried chicken wafted from the annual State of the Gunnison River meeting. The room at the Holiday Inn in Montrose was so packed with farmers, water district representatives and other community members that they had to bring in extra chairs. This year, said Bob Hurford, state engineer for the Gunnison Basin, early, fast runoff has made it "kinda tough for guys trying to manage dams and irrigate." The dust blowing in from Utah and Arizona made the snow melt fast and early, filling the reservoirs to, and beyond, capacity. The Bureau of Reclamation has had to let water out as fast as possible to avoid excessive spillover. Dan Crabtree described their efforts as similar to "driving a Ferarri and hoping we don't hit any sharp turns..."
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OK, so the Park Service didn’t put out a press release about how they’ll start allowing certain firearms in parks. But thankfully, they put one out about a few fee-free weekends this summer. That's right, you won't pay to enter "America's Best Idea" on these weekends: June 20-21, July 18-19 and August 15-16.
U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazaar said the waived entrance fees would allow more Americans to enjoy an affordable vacation during tough times. The fee-free weekends are also supposed to give a boost for all the communities that surround our parks.
Arches National Park - FREE
Photo by Jeff Chen
Just don’t bring your gun; you can’t do that ‘til next year.
From Walmart to the U.S.-Canadian border, Indians are encountering problems with their tribal IDs -- partly due to new laws which went into effect June 1, partly due to bureaucratic glitches, and partly because of the ongoing failure of the U.S. government to treat Native Americans fairly.
In order to comply with the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the Real ID Act, travelers seeking entry into Canada from the United States must present either a current passport or a security-enhanced ID card by June 1, 2009. The federal government has provided millions of dollars to state governments to develop the chip-embedded ID cards and supporting database systems – but no money has been provided to Tribes to equip their members with the necessary cards and support.
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Back in March, I wrote a post about the grisly lawnmower effect wind turbines can have on bats. Well, there's some good news: a new study conducted by Iberdrola Renewables and independent conservation group Bat Conservation International found that bat death can be reduced by more than 70 percent if the turbines are turned off when wind speeds are low. Even better, the power lost from shutting turbines down at these speeds was only 2 percent of total output. As thrilling as this information is all on its own, I point to the study as an example of the collaboration and problem-solving that will be necessary for the renewables industry to live up to its promise of clean energy with minimal collateral damage. See Sarah Gilman's excellent and much commented-upon essay, "For the Love of Wastelands" for a meta-discussion of the impacts of wind and solar.
If America is the land of beckoning opportunity, Mexico is the land of bargain operations -- and cheap dental care, and sensibly-priced treatments for chronic illness. At least, that's what Mexico is to about a million Californians each year.
A group of researchers from the University of California at Los Angeles recently added another scuff mark to the travel-worn line that separates the U.S from Mexico. It's old news that many Americans buy antibiotics south of the border, but according to the latest findings, nearly 500,000 of the Californians who cross the border each year on health-related errands are actually Mexican immigrants. Their reasons are somewhat varied, but in the end the situation pretty much boils down to dollars. Mexican immigrants might find work in the U.S., but relatively few find health insurance. Even after living north of the border for 15 years or longer, as many as 30 percent lack general medical insurance and nearly 50 percent lack dental coverage. Those numbers are roughly double the corresponding figures for non-immigrant Caucasians.Read More ...