Conservation & Environment

Citizens Arrested While Defending Denton, Texas Fracking Ban – Even the Cops Thank Them

Posted by on Jun 3, 2015 @ 5:41 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Three members of the Denton Drilling Awareness Group were arrested when they refused to move away from the entrance to a fracking site where work began June 2, 2015.

Before arresting them, however, Sergeant Jenkins, a 30-year veteran of the Denton police department, thanked the three Adam Briggle, a professor at the University of North Texas, and Denton residents Niki Chochrek and Tara Linn Hunter for the work they had done.

The three were charged with criminal trespass and released before noon. The arrests come a week after Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed legislation that prohibits cities and towns in Texas from banning fracking.

In a prepared statement before his arrest, Briggle wrote about Texas law HB40:

“An act of civil disobedience requires you to distinguish just laws from unjust laws. I have read much about this and discussed Antigone, Thoreau, and Martin Luther King, Jr. with my students. But I have never acted until now, because never before has that distinction been so clear in my mind. A just law would give those exposed to the harms of fracking a meaningful voice. An unjust law would subordinate those voices to the dictates of the powerful and wealthy. HB 40 is an unjust law.”

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Oil, gas drilling threatens critical cultural heritage

Posted by on Jun 2, 2015 @ 3:38 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Chaco Canyon and the greater Chaco landscape of northwest New Mexico draw people together in a unique and enduring way. These lands provide an opportunity to experience the Southwest as it once was – a vast open landscape rich in cultural history. Currently, this landscape beyond the national park’s boundaries is threatenedn.

To the Pueblo people, Chaco Canyon is the place of their ancestors, who built the magnificent great houses, roads and other structures within and around the canyon. The Navajo people also have deep ties to the Chacoan landscape, with families farming and ranching the land and gathering plants and minerals for their traditional cultural ceremonies.

Chaco Culture National Historical Park, and affiliated sites on nearby Navajo Nation and Bureau of Land Management lands, are designated as a World Heritage Site – one of only 22 such sites in the United States and the only such site jointly managed with BLM. While the park is considered the crown jewel of the area, the surrounding public lands have upwards of 2,000 cultural sites, created by Pueblo, Navajo and other groups.

Unfortunately, these lands, cultural sites, traditions and peoples are now very much at risk. Oil and gas drilling has moved closer and closer to Chaco Canyon.

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GOP pledges to “rein in” Obama on climate change

Posted by on Jun 1, 2015 @ 3:49 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Obama administration says a new federal rule regulating small streams and wetlands will protect the drinking water of more than 117 million people in the country.

Not so, insist Republicans. They say the rule is a massive government overreach that could even subject puddles and ditches to regulation. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, is promising to “rein in” the government through legislation or other means.

It’s a threat with a familiar ring.

Capito and other Republicans are also pledging to block the administration’s plan to curb carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, its proposal for stricter limits on smog-forming pollution linked to asthma and respiratory illness, and a separate rule setting the first national standards for waste generated from coal burned for electricity.

The rules are among a host of regulations that majority Republicans have targeted for repeal or delay as they confront President Barack Obama on a second-term priority: his environmental legacy, especially his efforts to reduce the pollution linked to global warming.

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Companies have abandoned 8,000 coal-bed methane wells on public lands in Wyoming – Who pays?

Posted by on May 30, 2015 @ 7:06 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Coal-bed methane was going to be the answer to Wyoming’s slumping oil-based economy. Companies flocked to the Powder River Basin in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when the promise of big money was available to anyone with a dream and ability to work hard.

Thousands of wells popped up. The BLM oversees 15,662 coal-bed methane wells in the Powder River Basin alone, said Clark Bennett, assistant field manager over minerals and lands in the BLM’s Buffalo Field Office.

But by the late-2000s, the boom became a bust. Cheaper, abundant natural gas flooded the market from other parts of the country, leaving little money to be had in the Powder River Basin.

Companies left the region or went broke, leaving their wells behind. Concerns grew about about abandoned wells and their potential to pollute aquifers used for drinking and irrigation.

“These wells can be a conduit for groundwater contamination when the casing starts to fail,” said Jill Morrison, an organizer with the Powder River Resource Council. “They are a source of noxious weeds. They are a blight on your land.”

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America’s Top Two Oil Companies Reject Climate Change Measures

Posted by on May 30, 2015 @ 4:09 am in Conservation | 0 comments

America’s Top Two Oil Companies Reject Climate Change Measures

Shareholders of ExxonMobil and Chevron — the United States’ top two oil companies — voted down proposals aimed at getting the companies to focus a little more on climate change this week.

One of the proposals would have added an independent director with experience in climate change to the boards of both companies. That proposal got about 20 percent of the shareholders’ votes at both companies.

A few other climate-related proposals were also voted down by shareholders. One that would have prompted the companies to develop a report on the effects of fracking operations got a 27 percent vote at Chevron and a 25 percent vote at Exxon. Another would have prompted Exxon to set goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. That proposal got less than 10 percent of the shareholders’ votes.

The American oil companies’ shareholder decisions on the climate change measures put them at odds with some European oil companies, which adopted measures on climate change earlier this year. Chevron Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Watson spoke about his unwillingness to join the European companies, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell, at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting. “We don’t intend to participate in that coalition,” Watson said. “We think we can make our statements, and our statements speak for themselves.”

Exxon Chairman and CEO Rex Tillerson also voiced his disapproval of Exxon engaging in climate-friendly efforts similar to BP and Shell’s. “No, thank you, that would not be us,” Tillerson said. “We’re not going to be disingenuous about it. We’re not going to fake it. We’re going to express a view that we have been very thoughtful about. We’re going to express solutions and policy ideas that we think have merit…speaking out to be speaking out about it doesn’t seem particularly helpful to me.”

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The EPA Just Protected Drinking Water For Millions Of Americans

Posted by on May 28, 2015 @ 6:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have an easier time regulating water pollution under a new rule released May 27, 2015.

The Waters of the United States rule, developed by the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers, offers protection to two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands that, until now, were not clearly designated under the Clean Water Act. The rule clarifies what tributaries and wetlands are part of the overall water system and will decrease confusion and expense, the EPA and Army Corps said.

The confusion about what waters can be regulated stems from 2001, when the Supreme Court found that the EPA did not have jurisdiction to regulate isolated wetlands. That decision created confusion about how and where pollution can enter the water system — and what regulators can do about it.

“We’ve had to operate under a lot of confusion,” Assistant Secretary for the Army (Civil Works) Jo-Ellen Darcy said on a call. “Our rule will make it clear which waters are covered and which waters aren’t.”

One out of every three Americans gets drinking water from sources connected to water that, until now, did not have clear protection. In addition, determining which waters were covered has been costly and time-consuming. The new rule ultimately seeks to protect downstream water sources, using current scientific practices to determine what bodies of water are interconnected.

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On garbage and tolerance in the wilderness

Posted by on May 26, 2015 @ 1:44 am in Conservation | 1 comment

On garbage and tolerance in the wilderness

When Rick Bombaci went to work for the U.S. Forest Service in 2010 as a wilderness ranger, his friends were curious. What did he do in the woods all day, besides weave garlands and write poetry?

In conversations at potlucks, he learned to skip fancy terms like “assessing resource damage.” He was a glorified garbageman, he said. His pickup route? Fire pits big enough to lie down in, full of twisted masses of melted beer cans and polypropylene tarps. Tin cans and oozing batteries stuffed into stream banks, trees garroted with steel baling wire and impaled by 12-inch spikes. Moldy canvas tents, sodden camo jackets, rotten cowboy boots, bent tent poles, broken camp chairs, abandoned sleeping bags, rusted-out sheepherder stoves, miles of baling twine, frying pans, coolers, propane canisters, rebar. Fifty-five-gallon drums.

The really old garbage bothered him less, because he was willing to pardon old-timers’ ignorance. After all, even his nature-lover friends seemed unaware of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which defines wilderness as “an area of undeveloped land … retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation … with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.” When it came to the new garbage, however – longer-lasting and more toxic – you’d think: Some people just don’t give a damn. Whatever happened to Lady Bird Johnson and her “Keep America Beautiful” campaign?

Rick doesn’t know if backcountry travelers are leaving as much trash as they did years ago. After all, the Forest Service keeps cleaning it up, removing the evidence of their misbehavior. But this he does know: 60 mule loads of garbage in one wilderness area is about 59 loads too many. Perhaps it boils down to a simple adult maxim. Clean up after yourself. The Wilderness Act is 50 years old. It would be nice if the rest of us grew up, too.

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An experiment in privatizing public land fails after 14 years

Posted by on May 25, 2015 @ 7:37 am in Conservation | 0 comments

An experiment in privatizing public land fails after 14 years

It’s no secret that some state legislators in the West want to boot federal land management agencies from their states. They argue that agencies like the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service cost too much and are too detached from local values, and that states could make money by running our vast open spaces like a privately owned business.

The Cato Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian think tank, is of that opinion and has developed models to replace federal agencies with private interests. What many people don’t know is that Congress implemented one of the Cato Institute’s ideas in 2000, on the 89,000-acre Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico. For some critics of the federal government, this was the experiment in land management that would signal the end of the BLM and Forest Service in the West.

The Cato experiment in New Mexico, however, failed, chewed up by the friction between monetizing the “services” that landscapes provide — recreation, timber, grass, wildlife — and fulfilling citizens’ expectations for public access and protecting natural resources. For example, New Mexicans had very little tolerance for paying high fees to visit public property that had already been paid for using federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars.

For those who want states to take-over federal lands, there are certainly questions that must be answered first: Will states shoulder the costs of fighting large fires? Will states obey the wishes of ranchers and continue to subsidize ranching? Will states charge the public to visit once-public lands, and will states protect and restore archaeological sites, watersheds and wildlife habitat? Then there’s the real question: How will states manage the public frustration of Westerners who live in a region where our public lands are at the heart of our cultures and economy?

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State, national park leaders hammer out deal for Arches water

Posted by on May 25, 2015 @ 4:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

There is not much water in southeastern Utah’s Arches National Park. What water is there is vitally important to the flora and fauna of the popular high-desert preserve. State and federal officials gathered in the park just north of Moab to acknowledge the role water plays with a contract meant to protect the precious resource.

The deal signed by Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and national park and Interior Department leaders has been a long time coming, but finally defines water rights for the park and other water users in the area. “It’s our responsibility to ensure Utah’s natural resources like water are protected, conserved and used wisely for the benefit of our state,” said Mike Styler, executive director of the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

The contract also creates a protection zone around the park to guard “the flow of perennial, intermittent and ephemeral streams, seeps, springs and other naturally occurring water within the park, whose source is surface water or groundwater from the Entrada aquifer.”

State officials already have reached federal water agreements with Cedar Breaks National Monument, Golden Spike National Historic Site, Hovenweep National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Rainbow Bridge National Monument, Timpanogos Cave National Monument, Zion National Park and the Shivwits Tribe. Water agreements have yet to be reached for Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks.

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What Humans Are Really Doing to Our Planet, in Jaw-Dropping Imagery

Posted by on May 23, 2015 @ 2:23 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Recently world leaders have encouraged everyone to consume less and think more about our impact on the environment. It’s a timely warning.

Ahead of a series of major events later this year, The Foundation for Deep Ecology and the Population Media Center released a collection that illustrates the devastating effects of out-of-control growth and waste, and it’s sickeningly breathtaking.

“This is an issue that people care about, and oftentimes it’s just not discussed by mainstream media,” Missie Thurston, director of marketing and communications at the Population Media Center said.

It’s difficult to always know the impacts of our daily choices, like the real effect of buying bottled water or an extra TV or laptop. With 220,000 more people on the planet every day, and the average person generating over 4 pounds of waste a day — an almost 60% increase since 1960 — the impact of that growth and change in behavior is rarely seen like this.

The rest of the year is going to be critical. In September, world leaders will try to agree on sustainable development goals that will take us through 2030. In December, in Paris, the United Nations will attempt to finally set binding limits on pollution. 2015 will dictate how we address our degrading planet over the next few decades.

The Population Media Center and partners hope these photos will help generate awareness and action. Because as the word spreads, so does the will to make sure we never have to see images like these again.


Camping season at hand: national forest sends out these reminders

Posted by on May 22, 2015 @ 8:28 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff for the summer to come and traditionally is a very busy weekend at campgrounds and picnic areas around the Pacific Northwest, weather permitting.

The Fremont-Winema National Forest of southern Oregon issued some information about this year’s camping seasons that applies pretty much all around Oregon and Washington, and all across the country.

“Due to the dry winter, most campgrounds, trails and roads, even in the higher elevations, are accessible earlier than usual,” said David Hosack, forest recreation program manager, in a statement released by the forest. “Visitors should be aware that even if a recreation site is accessible, all amenities may not be available yet.”

The overall fire danger is elevated due to extended drought. Forest officials are asking the public to be extremely cautious with activities that could start a wildfire. Even the smallest spark has the potential to become a wildfire.

Forest users also are reminded to avoid driving on snowy, wet or muddy roads. If an area is saturated, on or off-road vehicles will cause significant damage such as rutting, erosion, potholes and mud bogs. Visitors are also urged to be on the lookout for washouts, ruts, fallen rocks and trees, and flooding.

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Mulberry Creek land added to Pisgah National Forest

Posted by on May 21, 2015 @ 4:27 am in Conservation | 0 comments

The most beloved — and at times the most crowded — national forest in the country is getting a little more breathing room.

Pisgah National Forest, which covers more than a half-million acres of heavily forested mountains, mile-high peaks, waterfalls, streams and rivers along the eastern edge of the mountains of Western North Carolina, just added another 517 acres of important conservation land thanks to federal money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The property is near Mulberry Creek in Caldwell County. The Trust for Public Land bought the property for $1.7 million and sold it to the Forest Service for the same price, in two separate transactions, according to a statement from the land trust.

The Forest Service bought the land with money from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, the federal government’s main source of money for protecting land. Fund money comes from federal receipts collected by the government from oil and gas drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf.

“This was a rare opportunity to preserve an important tract of forest just an hour from Charlotte that protects the headwaters of the Catawba River and the water supply for millions of North Carolinians,” said Kent Whitehead, the Carolinas director for The Trust for Public Land.

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Duke plans to retire Asheville coal plant, replace with natural gas

Posted by on May 20, 2015 @ 2:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Duke Energy Progress announced plans May 19, 2015 to shutter and eventually demolish its 51-year-old, coal-fired plant at Lake Julian, opting instead to rely on natural gas to meet a growing demand for electricity.

If granted state approval, the natural gas facility could be online by 2020 and would be built on Duke property near the existing plant. That facility currently is able to produce 376 megawatts of power. The new plant could generate 650 megawatts.

Solar arrays also would be added to the site and would sit over land now home to coal ash ponds once those areas are properly remediated, Duke officials said.

The solar capacity will be determined when officials can calculate how much flat land is available.

The project carries an estimated $1.1 billion cost, with $750 million going toward the new plant and solar arrays and $320 million to a transmission substation and related infrastructure in Spartanburg County, South Carolina.

A new 40-mile transmission line would connect the natural gas plant to that substation, converting high-voltage energy to low-voltage energy.

The company will not be asking for economic incentives or tax breaks, said Lloyd Yates, Duke Energy executive vice president of market solutions and president of the Carolinas region.

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Divers Remove 90,000 Tires from Ocean Floor in Florida

Posted by on May 18, 2015 @ 1:07 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Divers in helmets have begun walking the ocean floor off Fort Lauderdale to clear an environmental catastrophe that’s rested among the coral reefs for more than 40 years.

An estimated 700,000 tires were dropped into the ocean off Hugh Taylor Birch State Park in the early 1970s in a failed attempt to create an artificial reef. At the time, before anyone had figured out how to recycle tires or burn them for electricity, tire dumps were appearing all over the United States.

The Osborne Tire Reef was intended to be an environmentally friendly way to dispose of steel-belted radials. The bundles of tires would attract fish – which are drawn to vertical structures – and provide a foundation for the growth of corals. On a single day in 1972, with the Goodyear Blimp overhead and the minesweeper USS Thrush in attendance, more than 100 boats full of tires were dumped into the water.

But not much coral grew on them, and the bundles broke apart, allowing tires to drift onto the natural reefs and kill coral. What remains today is an eerie, virtually lifeless vista of tires stretching across 35 acres.



Oil CEO Wanted University Quake Scientists Dismissed

Posted by on May 18, 2015 @ 8:39 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Oil CEO Wanted University Quake Scientists Dismissed

Oil tycoon Harold Hamm told a University of Oklahoma dean last year that he wanted certain scientists there dismissed who were studying links between oil and gas activity and the state’s nearly 400-fold increase in earthquakes, according to the dean’s e-mail recounting the conversation.

Hamm, the billionaire founder and chief executive officer of Oklahoma City-based Continental Resources, is a major donor to the university, which is the home of the Oklahoma Geological Survey. He has vigorously disputed the notion that he tried to pressure the survey’s scientists. “I’m very approachable, and don’t think I’m intimidating,” Hamm was quoted as saying. “I don’t try to push anybody around.”

Yet an e-mail obtained from the university by Bloomberg News via a public records request says Hamm used a blunt approach during a 90-minute meeting last year with the dean whose department includes the geological survey.

“Mr. Hamm is very upset at some of the earthquake reporting to the point that he would like to see select OGS staff dismissed,” wrote Larry Grillot, the dean of the university’s Mewbourne College of Earth and Energy, in a July 16, 2014, e-mail to colleagues at the university. Hamm also expressed an interest in joining a search committee charged with finding a new director for the geological survey.

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Anti-Arctic drilling activists hold #ShellNo protest in Seattle

Posted by on May 18, 2015 @ 12:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

An estimated 500 climate activists took to kayaks, canoes, paddleboards, and even a solar-powered party barge to tell Shell to get the hell out of Seattle. Rallying cry: #sHellNo!

The oil giant brought a huge drilling rig, the Polar Pioneer, to the city’s port over objections from the mayor, city council, and a whole lot of pissed-off Seattleites. Shell plans to use the port as a staging ground for oil drilling operations in the Arctic over the next two years. The kayaktivists made their objections clear — and made for a colorful spectacle against the blue-gray background of Puget Sound.

If the company’s disastrous Arctic drilling attempts of 2012 are any indication, we can expect a big, fat mess. Even if Shell somehow manages not to spill huge quantities of oil in the rough, icy waters of the Chukchi Sea, then that oil will just get burned, worsening the climate crisis.

Shell is coming to town over strong objections from the mayor, the entire city council, and many of Seattle’s famously liberal residents.

Photos and more…

Shell accused of strategy risking catastrophic climate change…


Another Blue Ridge Parkway Vista Clearing

Posted by on May 16, 2015 @ 9:04 am in Conservation | 4 comments

Another Blue Ridge Parkway Vista Clearing

During the week of April 28, 2015, highly skilled sawyers from across the Blue Ridge Parkway met in Blowing Rock, NC and conducted intensive vista restoration work at Milepost 300 near Grandfather Mountain.

With decades of growth in some areas, large trees now obstruct some scenic views and potentially impact the visitor experience. “Research consistently finds that ‘scenic views’ is the number-one parkway attraction,” says Richard Wells, FRIENDS treasurer. “The overlooks that were once clear and afforded visitors with panoramic views have long since become overgrown.”

The Parkway was meticulously designed to showcase these grand views, and this project provides the opportunity to restore views back to the vision of the original Parkway landscape architects. “The Parkway’s overlooks and vistas are a signature design feature of this park and a key component in our visitors’ ability to enjoy the scenic beauty of the area,” says Parkway Superintendent Mark Woods. “We appreciate FRIENDS leadership role in helping to restore and maintain vistas and overlooks park wide.”

Based on the success of previous vista restoration projects, FRIENDS is making plans for similar projects in the coming years. “The North Carolina project near Grandfather Mountain demonstrates to other parkway communities what a dramatic impact overlook clearings can have,” Wells says. “FRIENDS envisions working in partnership with many of these communities to undertake future vista restoration projects.”