Conservation & Environment

Turns out the U.S. oil boom was just a fairy tale

Posted by on Jan 15, 2015 @ 5:07 am in Conservation | 0 comments

With one quick drop in the price of oil, the shale oil boom is officially bust. In less than a week, 61 oil rigs across the United States closed up shop, according to the most recent rig count from Baker Hughes. The U.S. has 1,750 oil rigs still pumping, but that number is expected to fall by another 400 rigs by the time spring rolls around.

The whole episode is a wake-up call about just how much of a fairy tale North America’s oil boom really was. It was a fairy tale with real drills, sure — and since it was exempt from the Clean Air and Clean Water acts, it will continue to have real consequences for the people living near it. But when it costs Saudi Arabia $10 to get a barrel of oil and it costs shale oil operations around $65 to make that same barrel, it should have been obvious that America was only a titan of oil production because another country was letting us be.

The U.S. got the excitement of overtaking Saudi Arabia and becoming the biggest producer of oil in the world for a few months this summer. Then Saudi Arabia did what it always had the power to do and raised its oil output so that prices fell.

“Those who are producing the most expensive oil — the rationale and the rules of the market say that they should be the first to pull or reduce their production,” Suhail Al Mazrouei, oil minister for the United Arab Emirates, told reporters recently, sounding more than a little like an Econ 101 professor. “If the price is right for them to produce, then fine, let them produce.”

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Obama is cracking down on another climate villain: Methane

Posted by on Jan 15, 2015 @ 3:54 am in Conservation | 0 comments

This morning the White House announced a new plan to crack down on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The move is the last major piece of President Obama’s domestic climate agenda, following in the footsteps of tougher standards for vehicle emissions and a sweeping plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Like the power plant plan, the methane standards will rely on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority to regulate pollution under the Clean Air Act. The new rules will regulate the amount of methane that oil and gas producers are allow vent or leak from their wells, pipelines, and other equipment. Ultimately, according to the White House, the rules will slash methane emissions 40 to 45 percent by 2025. The proposal announced today is intended to be finalized before Obama leaves office, but it’s certain to take a battering along the way from congressional Republicans and fossil fuel interest groups.

Methane makes up a much smaller slice of America’s greenhouse gas footprint than carbon dioxide — the volume of methane released in a year is roughly 10 times smaller than the volume of CO2 — so the proposal might seem like small potatoes. But it’s actually a pretty huge deal, for a few reasons.

Here they are…


Senate to vote on whether climate change is happening

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 @ 6:51 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said this week he will allow the Senate to vote on an amendment asking if they agree that climate change is impacting the planet. At his weekly press briefing, McConnell said “nobody is blocking any amendments” to legislation that would approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline. The GOP leader had promised to allow an open amendment process on the Keystone bill.

But a measure proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) had raised questions about whether he would stick to that commitment. The Sanders measure asks whether lawmakers agree with the overwhelming consensus of scientists who say climate change is impacting the planet and is worsened by human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.

Democrats believe the measure could be a tough vote for some Republicans, particularly GOP senators running for reelection in 2016 in states carried by President Obama in 2012. Sanders’s amendment is one of many Democrats are looking to tack on to the controversial bill, which Republicans are eager to send to President Obama’s desk. Other amendments from Democrats include a requirement for oil companies to pay into a spill cleanup fund, and to block exports of the oil shipped via the Canada-to-Texas pipeline out of the U.S.

Plenty of things that seem real might not be real, and vice versa. After all, the most important part of fighting existential threats is determining if they are real, preferably by simple majority. “Evidence” means jack until you put it to a vote.

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World Heritage Sites in the United States

Posted by on Jan 14, 2015 @ 1:11 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

World Heritage Sites in the United States

The United States is proud to preserve and protect its World Heritage Sites. There are a relatively small number of places on Earth that have been formally determined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee to possess “outstanding universal value” to humanity for their exceptional cultural and natural significance. They have accordingly been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List and are truly part of our shared heritage. This itinerary offers a glimpse of why they have been identified as having such universal significance and helps travelers discover these very special destinations.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is part of a new online travel itinerary from the National Park Service that highlights the 22 World Heritage Sites in the United States. The listings, which include such diverse areas as Yellowstone National Park, Independence Hall in Philadelphia and San Juan National Historic Site in Puerto Rico, feature background information on these sites’ significance and interesting facts about them.

The World Heritage Sites in the United States Discover Our Shared Heritage Travel Itinerary was produced by the National Park Service’s Heritage Education Services and the National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs in partnership with the National Conference of State Historic Preservation Officers.


New Analysis Shows West Virginia’s Chemical Spill Traveled Into Kentucky

Posted by on Jan 12, 2015 @ 4:45 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

The chemical that contaminated West Virginia’s drinking water supply last year traveled father and lingered longer than had been previously recorded, according to a new study by U.S. Geological Survey researchers.

Published online in the journal Chemosphere, the peer-reviewed research shows that the chemical — 4-Methylcyclohexanemethanol, also known as crude MCHM — was present at very low concentrations in Charleston, West Virginia’s tap water more than six weeks after the spill began on Jan. 9, 2014. The official tap water ban in Charleston was lifted five days later, with the Center for Disease Control saying concentrations of MCHM had reached an “appropriate” level of below 50 parts per billion. By Feb. 25, the researchers said Charleston’s tap water still measured crude MCHM concentration of 1 part per billion.

The researchers also say they detected crude MCHM in the Ohio River at Louisville, Kentucky, meaning the chemical traveled at least 390 miles downriver from the spill. Though prominent spill researchers have long speculated that the chemical traveled across state lines, the study’s leader author said that his represented, “as far as I know of, the first, reported, published-in-a-journal documentation of [crude MCHM] found there in the Louisville area.”

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Archaeological Heritage of Colorado’s Ute Tribe Part of National Forests’ History in Rocky Mountain Region

Posted by on Jan 10, 2015 @ 9:21 am in Conservation | 0 comments

There are small piles of fallen wooden timbers on national forests in the Rocky Mountain Region that tell a story of the area’s past. They are part of aboriginal wooden structures known as wickiups, a conical-shaped dwelling used by native people.

These relics are known to be part of the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe of southwestern Colorado and are still in use for ceremonial purposes. The relics are part of the tribe’s legacy of living on these lands and are a part of the cultural history on the Grand Mesa – Uncompahgre – Gunnison, San Juan, White River and Rio Grande national forests.

“Part of the Forest Service mission includes interpretive services, which includes sharing with the public how these lands have been used by those who came before us,” said Brian Ferebee, deputy regional forester for the Rocky Mountain Region. “Wickiups and other aboriginal wooden features, such as tree platforms and brush fences, were once commonplace in Colorado. Few examples are still in existence; the majority of the remaining features can be associated with Ute culture and consequently represent the only surviving architecture of the state’s living indigenous peoples.”

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On The Anniversary Of The Elk River Chemical Spill, West Virginians Tell Their Stories

Posted by on Jan 10, 2015 @ 2:40 am in Conservation | 0 comments

January 9, 2015 marks the anniversary of the West Virginia chemical spill in the Elk River, in which thousands of gallons of a toxic chemical used to process coal spilled upstream from a water treatment plant serving the state capital, Charleston, and surrounding areas. Around 300,000 West Virginia residents were left without potable water as officials scrambled to purge the chemical, known as MCHM, from the supply.

Residents were told not to use the water for anything other than flushing toilets or extinguishing fires. In some areas, the do-not-use order lasted for 10 days. Those affected by the spill told The Huffington Post that buying bottled water ate into already tight household budgets.

They were also instructed to run their faucets to flush their home plumbing systems of traces of the chemical, which has a sweet, licorice-like odor. A new study from Purdue University found that officials’ recommendations overlooked the risks of MCHM inhalation and West Virginians suffered adverse health effects from flushing their homes’ water.

Four executives of Freedom Industries, the company whose tanks leaked the chemical, were indicted in December for negligence and criminal violation of the Clean Water Act. “It’s hard to overstate the disruption that results when 300,000 people suddenly lose clean water,” U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin said at the time. The company’s president, Gary Southern, and two other executives pleaded not guilty this week, one day ahead of the anniversary.

Individuals who were impacted by the spill share their stories…


NC Youth Conservation Corps is Now Recruiting for Summer Positions

Posted by on Jan 9, 2015 @ 11:51 am in Conservation | 0 comments

NC Youth Conservation Corps is Now Recruiting for Summer Positions

The North Carolina Youth Conservation Corps (NCYCC) is accepting applications ( from youth ages 16 to 24 for 2015 summer crews. The crews begin on June 20 and end seven weeks later on August 8. The application deadline is May 15th but APPLY NOW because applications are accepted on a rolling basis and positions are already being filled.

The NCYCC is a partnership between the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC) and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC). NCYCC participants contribute hundreds of hours of hard work to improve and expand access to protected natural areas, so that more North Carolina families can connect with the outdoors. For many participants, it is a life transforming experience.

NCYCC crews work on high priority conservation projects, enhancing natural areas and making them more accessible for public use. Participants are organized into crews of 8 to 10 and work (and live) outdoors under the close supervision of highly trained leaders. The plan is to have four to five crews in 2015, and they will build trails, restore habitat, remove invasive species, and enhance local and state park lands across the state.

Learn more about being a crew member…


Great Smoky Mountains National Park Changes Firewood Rules To Protect Forests

Posted by on Jan 9, 2015 @ 8:25 am in Conservation | 0 comments

In a further step to help protect the forests of Great Smoky Mountains National Park from non-native insect pests, park officials beginning in March will only allow heat-treated firewood that has been certified by the USDA or a state agriculture department, and dead and down wood collected from the park’s forests, to be used in campgrounds.

Heat-treated firewood will be available to purchase from concessioners in many of the campgrounds as well as from private businesses in the communities around the park. Certified heat-treated firewood is packaged in 0.75 cu-ft. bundles clearly displaying a certification stamp. The wood is a high-quality hardwood product that has been heated for 60 minutes at 140 degrees Fahrenheit. The wood lights easily, burns well for campfires, is safe to cook over, and is already available at over 85 locations near the park.

Non-native, tree-killing insects and diseases can unknowingly be introduced through firewood transported from infested areas. A variety of destructive pests lay eggs or stowaway in firewood. These insects from Asia and Europe have the potential to devastate more than 30 species of hardwood trees native to the park. New infestations threaten the forests with widespread tree mortality that could devastate wildlife habitat, biodiversity, and scenic views, a park release said. The use of firewood that has been heat-treated eliminates the threat posed by these pests through the movement and use of wood in campfires.

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Fracking’s future is in doubt as oil price plummets, bonds crash

Posted by on Jan 9, 2015 @ 3:31 am in Conservation | 0 comments

There’s no doubt that US-based fracking – the process through which oil and gas deposits are blasted from shale deposits deep underground – has caused a revolution in worldwide energy supplies.

Yet now the alarm bells are ringing about the financial health of the fracking industry, with talk of a mighty monetary bubble bursting – leading to turmoil on the international markets similar to that in 2008. In many ways, it’s a straightforward case of supply and demand. Due to the US fracking boom, world oil supply has increased.

But with global economic growth now slowing – the drop in growth in China is particularly significant – there’s a lack of demand and a glut in supplies, leading to a fall in price of nearly 50% over the last six months.

Fracking has become a victim of its own success. The industry in the US has grown very fast. In 2008, US oil production was running at five million barrels a day. Thanks to fracking, that figure has nearly doubled, with talk of US energy self-sufficiency and the country becoming the world’s biggest oil producer – ‘the new Saudi Arabia’ – in the near future.

But, fracking is an expensive business. Depending on site structure, companies need prices of between $60 and $100 per barrel of oil to break even. As prices drop to around $50 per barrel, investments in the sector look ever more vulnerable.

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Leave most fossil fuels in the ground, or fry

Posted by on Jan 8, 2015 @ 4:24 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

For the world to meet its climate goals, a third of the world’s oil, half its gas and 80% of its coal must stay underground.

The sheer scale of the fossil fuel reserves that will need to be left unexploited for decades if world leaders sign up to a radical climate agreement is revealed in a study by a team of British scientists.

It shows that almost all the huge coal reserves in China, Russia and the US should remain unused, along with over 260 billion barrels of oil reserves in the Middle East – the equivalent of Saudi Arabia’s entire oil reserves. The Middle East would also need to leave over 60% of its gas reserves in the ground.

The authors of the report, which is published in the journal Nature, say some reserves could be used after 2050, so long as this kept emissions within the CO2 budget, which would be only about half the amount the world can afford to use between now and 2050.

They say a factor that might help in the use of fossil fuels is that carbon capture and storage (CCS) is expected to be much more widely deployable by mid-century, assuming it to be a mature technology by then.

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Upper Dry Creek easement allows for conservation, restoration, research

Posted by on Jan 7, 2015 @ 11:13 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Upper Dry Creek easement allows for conservation, restoration, research

Tim Breuer doesn’t ask the question unless he knows the answer will be “yes.” Sometimes, it takes awhile to get there. In the case of the most recent easement agreements between the city of Boise, Idaho, the Land Trust of the Treasure Valley and Grossman Company Properties, it took 20 years.

“The first time I walked on [Upper Dry Creek] with the landowners was in 1994,” said Breuer, who has been the executive director of the Land Trust for eight years. At the time, he was the Ridge to Rivers coordinator for the city of Boise. Since then, it has been a slow but steady process of wooing the land owners into allowing the public on the popular hiking trails in perpetuity.

This newest easement agreement, however, goes far beyond the 11 miles of trail just off Bogus Basin Road. For starters, it isn’t just one easement. It includes three separate agreements: one between the city and the owner allowing the permanent trail easement so the Department of Parks and Recreation can perform maintenance; another between the city and the owner with a revocable easement covering nine miles of logging roads; and a third, between the owner and the Land Trust that allows for conservation work in the area.

The last conservation easement encompasses 3,400 acres and gives the Land Trust 10 years to enhance wildlife habitat, minimize sediment into the stream and decrease creek crossings along the trails.

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How oil drilling is threatening Utah’s red rock recreation sites

Posted by on Jan 6, 2015 @ 2:24 am in Conservation | 0 comments

A different kind of spire is jutting into the iconic red rock vistas of Moab, Utah. It is the scaffolding of drilling rigs, and it heralds a new chapter in Moab’s long history of energy extraction. Moab may have been comfortable with the uranium industry that put it on the map in another century. But having an oil patch in the midst of this area’s popular national parks and renowned recreational backcountry is jarring to some residents.

Oil and gas wells have been drilled piecemeal around here for decades. But today’s wells represent a kind of backcountry industrialization that this area hasn’t dealt with before. The area where the drilling is taking place attracts an estimated 500,000 backcountry recreationists a year. Those visitors are now a bedrock of Moab’s economy. Seventy percent of jobs in Grand County derive from tourism.

Out in the oil-rich lands, away from Moab’s ever-expanding hotel strip, transmission pipes are being slung over slick rock, through piñon and juniper trees and across draws where horses, mountain bikes and all-terrain vehicles have long played.

The lights on rigs and the flares from wells can be seen in the night sky from Arches and Canyonlands national parks and Dead Horse Point State Park. Truckloads of fluids and sand and oil lumber up and down the twists of Utah 313 that ends where the movie characters Thelma and Louise revved their convertible off a cliff and into eternity.

On a recent morning, backhoes, excavators and dump trucks chewed up the red mud alongside the highway to extend a pipeline to a new well where the smell of anti-corrosion chemicals hung heavy in a winter fog. The well is 7 miles from the southern boundary of Arches, a park that attracts more than a million visitors a year.

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Land acquisition for Headwaters forest passes halfway mark

Posted by on Jan 5, 2015 @ 4:37 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Land acquisition for Headwaters forest passes halfway mark

Using government grants and private donations, the N.C. Forest Service and its partners have now acquired more than half of the land necessary for a new 8,000-acre state forest in Transylvania County.

The Forest Service was able to purchase another 1,018 acres in the East Fork of the French Broad River from former U.S. Rep. Charles Taylor in 2014, bringing the total acreage acquired to 4,229 acres.

“When we started this process (in 2013), we thought it would be a three- to five-year acquisition period,” said Assistant Regional Forester Michael Cheek. “In 2013-14, we’ve gotten over 4,000 acres, so I think we’re making pretty good progress.”

The sprawling landscape south of Rosman boasts roughly 25 waterfalls — including the 100-foot-plus Hidden Falls — along with 60 miles of high-quality streams, nine rare mountain bogs and habitat for several endangered or uncommon plants and animals.

The Taylor property is the largest undeveloped tract of private land in Western North Carolina and has ranked as a top conservation priority since the former congressman approached Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy about selling it in 2009.

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Land trust adds to wildlife corridor in Jackson County, NC

Posted by on Jan 3, 2015 @ 10:00 am in Conservation | 0 comments

Land trust adds to wildlife corridor in Jackson County, NC

Located less than 2 miles from Panthertown Valley in Jackson County, a new conservation easement will provide a critical wildlife corridor, connecting three other easements.

The 48-acre Black Bear Trail property, now held by the Highlands-Cashiers Land Trust, becomes part of a continuous natural area of more than 1,000 acres, including habitat ranging from forest to rocky outcrops to water. The land includes about 5,625 linear feet of perennial headwater tributary streams, including at least two springs, which join to feed into Cedar Creek. Cedar Creek is a Class III trout stream that feeds into Lake Glenville in the Tuckasegee River Basin.

The property had been held by Tim and Emily Campbell, long-time friends of conservation. This is the sixth property they have conserved with HCLT, including The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center in Highlands, which Tim conserved with his business partner, Jeff Murphy.



Wild buffalo now roam east of the Mississippi for the first time since the 1830s

Posted by on Dec 30, 2014 @ 10:12 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

When David Crites walked out of his apartment last month, he was greeted by a line of six or so bison standing shoulder to shoulder in the front yard. He sidled over to his truck, staring at the huge animals, slipped into the front seat, then closed the door and turned on the ignition. As the pickup slowly made its way down the driveway, the bison lumbered alongside.

“It was like I was in Yellowstone,” Crites says. But he wasn’t. His temporary job is to remove trees and install fences in the Nachusa Grasslands of north-central Illinois—where wild bison recently set hooves down for the first time in almost 200 years.

The herd of 30 bison is part of an effort by the Nature Conservancy to restore grasslands in the Prairie State, which, perhaps ironically, has lost more than 99 percent of its former grassland. In the late 1980s, conservationists happened to be passing by the Nachusa when they heard the call of an upland sandpiper, a bird that breeds in tallgrass prairies. The Nature Conservancy then began buying farms in the area as they became available, and now it owns a total of 3,500 acres.

The group is doing its best to re-create a lost landscape, says Jeff Walk, director of science for the Nature Conservancy’s Illinois chapter. He knows the prairie won’t be exactly the same as yesteryear’s, but he and the rest of the team are trying to get as close a match as possible.

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Pope Francis Expected To Instruct One Billion Catholics To Act On Climate Change

Posted by on Dec 30, 2014 @ 7:33 pm in Conservation | 0 comments

At the end of 2015, the nations of the world will meet in Paris and attempt to hammer out a global deal to cut greenhouse gas emissions. And Pope Francis hopes that the world’s Catholics, as well as other major religions, will be a big part of serious climate action.

This includes a series of steps next year. Francis is expected to tell the planet’s 1.2 billion Catholics why acting on climate change is essential to the faith using an influential church document called an encyclical. This has been long-rumored, but will reportedly be released to the world’s 5,000 bishops and 400,000 priests following a papal visit to the hurricane-damaged city of Tacloban in the Philippines.

In September, the Pope will take his message to the U.N. General Assembly in a New York address next year, according to John Vidal of the Guardian, who cited Vatican insiders. He will reportedly personally lobby political and faith leaders there, with the goal of pushing them to commit to real action ahead of the Paris meetings in December of next year.

Earlier this year, Francis told a massive crowd in Rome, “if we destroy Creation, Creation will destroy us!” He has called the destruction of the rainforest a “sin,” and under his leadership, the Church held a five-day summit with scientists, economists, philosophers, astronomers, and other experts to explore ways the Catholic church could address climate and sustainability.

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