The Trump administration is beginning to rescind rules around offshore drilling and fracking.
The Trump administration is making sure history has a chance to repeat itself.
You probably recall the Deepwater Horizon incident, an explosion and subsequent oil spill that happened back in 2010, which killed eleven people and was the largest marine oil spill in the industry’s history, leaking nearly five million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. In the years following, a regulatory group called the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) formed under the Department of the Interior to serve as third-party inspectors of important offshore equipment. The current administration plans to replace the third-party inspections with industry-set-recommendations, and relax the streaming of data sent from offshore sites to onshore offices. These changes would rid the oil and gas industry of “burdensome” risk-reduction measures and would save industry about $900 million over the next 10 years, according to a Wall Street Journal report. To put this into context, the Deepwater Horizon spill cost BP 61.6 billion dollars.
Bonus: per that Wall Street Journal article, Trump’s BSEE is deleting the word “safe” from one of its rules, because they believe it’s too vague and could be used as a justification for overreach.
The current administration is also scrapping a rule that would have required companies to reveal the chemicals used in their fracking fluids on federal and tribal lands, as a means of groundwater protection and pollution accountability. A handful of states and industry groups sued, putting the regulation on hold and halting their effect, and now the Trump administration is just going ahead and getting rid of it.
If you’re not familiar, fracking is a commonly used and highly controversial method of extracting natural gas. The process involves drilling into deep layers of porous rock and releasing a mixture of water, sand, and undisclosed chemicals to extract enclosed natural gas. As easier-to-reach natural gas reserves have run out, US oil companies have turned to fracking as their main method of extraction.
Fracking is controversial for many reasons:
It is often attributed to ground water contamination, as the mysterious fracking fluids are pumped back into the ground even after oil is extracted.
It’s causing an increasing number of earthquakes along fault lines. That’s not so much because of the fracking itself, but because of wastewater injection wells – a crazy amount of wastewater accompanies ALL oil drilling, not just hydraulic fracking sites. After its heyday in oil extraction, the wastewater is pumped back into deep underground porous rock formations, which sometimes shakes things up.
Although there have been no long-term studies on the subject, fracking has been linked to higher rates of cancer and increased hospitalization, and most recently to lower birth-weights in newborns.
Hydraulic fracturing uses up a lot of energy, which raises questions about efficiency. A few weeks ago, I mentioned an energy company jointly owned by Shell and ExxonMobil that has started to use green energy for crude oil extraction. Maybe they’re beginning to see the light? If not, we’re all fracked.
Pollution is down in Beijing, with the largest decrease in smog in nine years.
Beijing is known for its smog: the result of an economic boom, increased manufacturing outputs, increased number of vehicles on the roads, and a lack of ventilation from global-warming-altered weather patterns.
China, a country where air pollution contributes to 1.1 million yearly deaths, is strong-arming its way back to health. Favorable weather and the Chinese government’s crackdown on polluters has resulted in a dramatic improvement of air quality, with a nearly 20 percent change in the last year. Unlucky for the US, this environmental crackdown includes a ban on imported plastics for recycling purposes, which will likely, as we’ve reported before, result in more plastics sitting in landfills.
While we’re on the subject of plastics…
Darren Woods, the CEO of ExxonMobil, and the Saudi state-owned industrial manufacturer, Sabic, have joined forces to create the world’s largest plastics facility on the gulf coast of Texas. With the help of $1 billion in tax breaks to create jobs from Texas authorities, they’re setting up near Corpus Christi, within two miles of a middle school.
Local citizens protested the facility out of concern for the polyethylene pellets that will doubtlessly accompany the plant (need I remind you of the dangers of microplastics?), as well as the effluent pollution and extreme water consumption for production purposes in this drought-stricken region. This nook of the United States is being covered with plastic plants and pipelines under the promise of job creation.
Cherri Foytlin, the head of an anti-pipeline group in the region, says it best: “It’s silly to think we should destroy the planet for a few moments of convenience. My grandma didn’t have plastic cups, we used old mixing jars. I don’t need that junk. We should recycle or make things out of wood or glass. I mean, how much more plastic do we need anyway?”
Brooklyn’s got a badass off-the-grid solar operation.
This new microgrid allows residents to generate their own solar energy to trade and sell using the existing power grid and new blockchain technology (it works like bitcoin). If you’re a luddite like me and don’t really understand how blockchain works, that’s okay. All you need to know is that this platform, Etherum, is connecting people who are generating renewable energy and those looking to buy energy. This peer-to-peer energy project is revolutionary. It takes away the middleman: energy companies.
Lawrence Orsini, the founder of the company behind the grid, claims the intention is to put the control in the hands of the community. And according to Bob Sauchelli, a former program manager for the EPA’s Energy Star program, “it’s an empowering, decentralized, locally controlled economic and environment initiative.” Sign me up.
Scientists are using IVF-like strategies to propagate coral reefs.
Coral has been dying off for decades due to rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, overfishing, coastal development, pollution, and agricultural runoff. Coral reefs support a quarter of all marine life and half a billion people around the world. And without drastic intervention, 90 percent of the world’s reefs will be dead by 2050.
Coral reef scientists, like the ones at SECORE, are working to reverse this trend by capturing coral spawn and fertilizing in a controlled lab environment. Check out this inspiring NPR story on their work.
An aside: I’m an amateur diver and have, myself, floated 40 feet below sea level and seen bioluminescent coral spawn in an attempt to survive the cruel waters of the modern world. It was one of the most astounding things I’ve ever experienced.
“How do you pull water from a stone?” Check out this stunning photo essay about two female farmers in Arizona.
header image: "deepwater horizon oil spill site," green fire productions / flickr