Fracking illness reports, fisher release and the worth of permafrost news in brief.


Children play near a pumpjack in a neighborhood in Frederick, Colorado. Colorado citizens can now report health problems potentially related to oil and gas development.
David Zalubowski/AP

Colorado recently became the first state to have a health response program for oil and gas operations. Fracking and drilling can release a range of pollutants that harm human health, but definitive proof of links between oil and gas production and health problems is often elusive. The new program will allow citizens to report symptoms they believe may be related to oil and gas activity. Health specialists will also provide information on existing research, track complaints and look for patterns of illness. The program is based on recommendations from the state’s oil and gas task force. But it stems from a groundbreaking 2010 study performed in Battlement Mesa, Colorado, which looked at the health impacts of a proposal to drill some 200 natural gas wells within town limits. Meanwhile, worries linger in the state over wells built too close to homes and schools.
-Jodi Peterson     

$43 TRILLION: estimated amount that carbon dioxide and methane released from permafrost thawing could cost the world by 2200.

16 to 24 percent of Alaska’s permafrost that will disappear by the end of the century.

Until recently, relatively little was known about the repercussions of thawing permafrost. Today, as its role in global carbon cycles grows more apparent, a slew of studies are transforming our understanding of the frozen soil. Among the most notable takeaways are U.S. Geological Survey research that produced an unprecedented map of permafrost distribution, and studies that found that tundra fires, which are becoming increasingly common, accelerate permafrost thaw.
-Krista Langlois

North of Porter Ranch, California, natural gas has been leaking from a massive underground storage facility. Additives in the gas have caused health problems for some local residents, including burning eyes, nausea and headaches, but the long-term impacts promise to be even more devastating. Natural gas is mostly made up of methane, which is much more potent in terms of global warming than carbon dioxide. Although natural gas burns more cleanly than coal, leaks like this one undermine its advantages. The company will begin burning off some of the methane to prevent further damage.
-Jonathan Thompson 

7 fishers were released into Washington’s Gifford Pinchot National Forest on Dec. 3. It was the first time the weasel-like creature had been seen in the South Cascades in more than 70 years.
-Ben Goldfarb


“It’s imperative that the community continues to grow. If it’s arbitrarily truncated or cut short, I don’t see how the existing ratepayers will be able to bear that debt burden on their own. If we’re not a growing community, we’re a dying community.”

—Edwin Pattison, general manager of Mountain House,
a housing development east of San Francisco whose
water supply was cut off last year due to drought

A still from the "Worth of Water" video about the Mountain House development.
Zoë Meyers

In an opinion piece, conservation advocate Tom Ribe praises a new wilderness bill for buying up federal grazing leases surrounding Idaho’s Boulder-White Clouds Wilderness. The Forest Service would take control of the leases and put them out of production, helping minimize predator-cattle conflicts. National buyout programs are rare, due to opposition from the ranching industry, and Ribe lauds the compromise as a sign of progress from a gridlocked Congress. Wilderness bills can make damaging compromises, Ribe says, but this one benefits both ranchers and environmentalists.
-Kate Schimel

You say

Jack Prier: “So we can step away from an 1800s land experiment on behalf of the public’s wildlife ecosystem? Good news.” 

Deb Hochhalter: “Not only do the grazers destroy the land, but they, along with their friends at Wildlife Services, are decimating the predator populations. Loss of these predators and their ability to control the ungulate populations are decimating ecosystems.”

Mark Bailey: “Nothing is harder on the public lands in the West than livestock grazing. This is such a win-win fix.”

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