August 11, 2013

Meet the town that is being swallowed by a sinkhole

One night in August 2012, after months of unexplained seismic activity and mysterious bubbling on the bayou, a sinkhole opened up on a plot of land leased by the petrochemical company Texas Brine, forcing an immediate evacuation of Bayou Corne's 350 residents — an exodus that still has no end in sight. 

Last week, Louisiana filed a lawsuit against the company and the principal landowner, Occidental Chemical Corporation, for damages stemming from the cavern collapse. [Grist]

We Could Be Heros

Five years ago, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization published a report called "Livestock's Long Shadow," which maintained that 18 percent of greenhouse gases were attributable to the raising of animals for food. The number was startling. [Some reports say that number is even higher.] 

What [matters] is that few people take the role of livestock in producing greenhouse gases seriously enough. Even most climate change experts focus on new forms of energy ...and often ignore the much easier fix of adjusting our eating habits.

The earth may very well be running out of clean water, and by some estimates it takes 100 times more water (up to 2,500 gallons) to produce a pound of grain-fed beef than it does to produce a pound of wheat. We're also running out of land: somewhere around 45 percent of the world's land is either directly or indirectly involved in livestock production, and as forests are cleared to create new land for grazing animals or growing feed crops, the earth's capacity to sequester greenhouse gases (trees are especially good at this) diminishes.

I could go on and on about the dangers of producing and consuming too much meat:  heavy reliance on fossil fuels and phosphorous (both in short supply); consumption of staggering amounts of antibiotics, a threat to public health; and the link to many of the lifestyle diseases that are wreaking havoc on our health.

Here's the thing: It's seldom that such enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. We can tackle climate change without inventing new cars or spending billions on mass transit or trillions on new forms of energy, though all of that is not only desirable but essential.

In the meantime, we can begin eating less meat tomorrow. That's something any of us can do, with no technological advances. If personal choice enacted on a large scale could literally save the world, maybe we have to talk about it that way. We could be heroes, like Bruce Willis in "Armageddon," only maybe the sacrifice is on a more modest and easier scale. (You already changed your light bulbs; how about eating a salad?)

Mark Bittman - We Could Be Heros

The act I want to talk about is growing some — even just a little — of your own food. In fact it's one of the most powerful things an individual can do — to reduce your carbon footprint, sure, but more important, to reduce your sense of dependence and dividedness.
A great many things happen when you plant a vegetable garden, some of them directly related to climate change, others indirect but related nevertheless. Growing food comprises the original solar technology: calories produced by means of photosynthesis. Years ago [we] discovered that more food could be produced replacing sunlight with fossil-fuel fertilizers and pesticides, with a result that the typical calorie of food energy in your diet now requires about 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce. 

Yet the sun still shines down on your yard, and photosynthesis still works so abundantly that in a thoughtfully organized vegetable garden (one planted from seed, nourished by compost from the kitchen and involving not too many drives to the garden center), you can grow the proverbial free lunch — CO2-free and dollar-free. This is the most-local food you can possibly eat (not to mention the freshest, tastiest and most nutritious). And while we're counting carbon, consider too your compost pile, which shrinks the heap of garbage your household needs trucked away even as it feeds your vegetables and sequesters carbon in your soil. 

What else? Well, you will probably notice that you're getting a pretty good workout there in your garden, burning calories without having to get into the car to drive to the gym. (It is one of the absurdities of modern life that, having replaced physical labor with fossil fuel, we now burn even more fossil fuel to keep our unemployed bodies in shape.) Also, by engaging both body and mind, time spent in the garden is time (and energy) subtracted from electronic forms of entertainment.

You begin to see that growing even a little of your own food is, as Wendell Berry pointed out 30 years ago, one of those solutions that, instead of begetting a new set of problems — the way "solutions" like ethanol or nuclear power inevitably do — actually beget other solutions, and not only of the kind that save carbon. 

Still more valuable are the habits of mind that growing a little of your own food can yield. You quickly learn that you need not be dependent on specialists to provide for yourself — that your body is still good for something and may actually be enlisted in its own support. If the experts are right, if both oil and time are running out, these are skills and habits of mind we're all very soon going to need. We may also need the food. Could gardens provide it? Well, during World War II, victory gardens supplied as much as 40 percent of the produce Americans ate.

But there are sweeter reasons to plant that garden. At least in this one corner of your yard and life, you will have begun to heal the split between what you think and what you do, to commingle your identities as consumer and producer and citizen. 

Chances are, your garden will re-engage you with your neighbors, for you will have produce to give away and the need to borrow their tools. You will have reduced the power of the cheap-energy mind by personally overcoming its most debilitating weakness: its helplessness and the fact that it can't do much of anything that doesn't involve division or subtraction. The garden's season-long transit from seed to ripe fruit — will you get a load of that zucchini?! — suggests that the operations of addition and multiplication still obtain, that the abundance of nature is not exhausted. The single greatest lesson the garden teaches is that our relationship to the planet need not be zero-sum, and that as long as the sun still shines and people still can plan and plant, think and do, we can, if we bother to try, find ways to provide for ourselves without diminishing the world.
- Michael Pollen - The Way We Live Now

Government steps in to stabilize Fukushima "state of emergency"

A worker walking near water tanks at the
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan.
TOKYO — The Japanese prime minister directed his government on Wednesday to step in to help stabilize the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, after continuing radiation leaks exposed the failure of the plant's operator to contain the problem more than two years after a triple meltdown.

Calling recent revelations of new contamination flowing into the Pacific Ocean an "urgent issue," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the national government had to use its resources to help the plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, bring the leaks under control. In a recognition of the magnitude of the problem, a government official said Wednesday that some 300 tons, or about 75,000 gallons, of contaminated groundwater is now believed to be flowing daily into the man-made harbor at the Fukushima plant.

The plan calls for freezing the soil around the buildings to shut off the flow of contamination into nearby groundwater, and thus end the leaks into the sea. Doing this would require an ice wall nearly a mile in length that would reach almost 100 feet, or 30 meters, into the ground. Officials said that an ice wall of such a scale had never been attempted before, making it unlikely that Tepco could pull off the feat alone.
"There is no precedent in the world to create a water-shielding wall with frozen soil on such a large scale," the government's main spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told a news conference. [NY Times]

This contaminated groundwater is likely seeping into the sea, exceeding legal limits of radioactive discharge, and a workaround planned by Tokyo Electric Power Co will only forestall the growing problem temporarily, Shinji Kinjo, head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force, told Reuters.

"Right now we have a state of emergency," Kinjo said, saying there is a "rather high possibility" that the radioactive wastewater has breached the barrier and is rising towards the ground's surface, Kinjo said. [Reuters]

Obama says Keystone jobs - a "blip"

"Republicans have said that this would be a big jobs generator," Mr. Obama said in an interview with The New York Times. 

"There is no evidence that that's true. The most realistic estimates are this might create maybe 2,000 jobs during the construction of the pipeline, which might take a year or two, and then after that we're talking about somewhere between 50 and 100 jobs in an economy of 150 million working people."
He said 2,000 jobs were "a blip relative to the need."
The president also disputed the argument that the pipeline would help lower retail gasoline prices. He said most of the oil would be destined for refineries on the Gulf Coast and then exported. In fact, he said, the pipeline might increase prices somewhat in the Midwest, which would suddenly be able to ship more of its oil to other parts of the world.
[NY Times]

Fracking company bans children from talking - forever

When drilling company Range Resources offered the Hallowich family a $750,000 settlement to relocate from their fracking-polluted home in Washington County, Pennsylvania, it came with a common restriction. Chris and Stephanie Hallowich would be forbidden from ever speaking about fracking or the Marcellus Shale. But one element of the gag order was all new. The Hallowichs' two young children, ages 7 and 10, would be subject to the same restrictions, banned from speaking about their family's experience for the rest of their lives.
The Hallowich family's gag order is only the most extreme example of a tactic that critics say effectively silences anyone hurt by fracking. It's a choice between receiving compensation for damage done to one's health and property, or publicizing the abuses that caused the harm. Virtually no one can forgo compensation, so their stories go untold. [Climate Progress] [Yahoo]

The Hallowich family (photo: Pat Panchak/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

EDF switching from nuclear to renewables

Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant
The French utility EDF, the world's biggest operator of nuclear plants, is pulling out of nuclear energy in the United States, bowing to the realities of a market that has been transformed by cheap shale gas. "Circumstances for the development of nuclear in the U.S. are not favorable at the moment," Proglio said.


Proglio said EDF would now focus on renewable energy in the United States. EDF employs 860 people in U.S. solar and wind, and since 2010 its generating capacity has doubled to 2.3 gigawatts. It manages another 7 gigawatts for other companies. 

Several nuclear reactors in the U.S. have been closed or are being shuttered as utilities balk at the big investments needed to extend their lifetimes now that nuclear power has been so decisively undercut by electricity generated from shale gas.

"The spectacular fall of the price of gas in the U.S., which was unimaginable a few years ago, has made this form of energy ultra-competitive vis a vis all other forms of energy," EDF Chief Executive Henri Proglio told a news conference.

EDF agreed with its partner Exelon Corp. on an exit from their Constellation Energy Nuclear Group (CENG) joint venture, which operates five nuclear plants in the United States with a total capacity of 3.9 gigawatts.

EDF, Europe's biggest power producer by output, also employs 320 staff in its U.S. energy trading operation, which is the No. 1 exporter of U.S. coal to Europe. [Reuters]

A Nation on Fire

Firenado in the Douglas Complex wildfire Photo taken by Marvin Vetter of the Oregon Department of Forestry
Dan Oltrogge started fighting wildfires in 1984. Starting around 2000, Oltrogge began experiencing fires of a scale and intensity he never expected to encounter. Fires like the Rodeo-Chediski in Arizona in 2002 — at 467,000 acres, the largest in the state's history — and 9 years later the Wallow, which surpassed the Rodeo-Chediski and set a new state record of 538,000 acres.
"We never imagined we would be on a fire of a half million acres in the lower 48," said Oltrogge. "Now they're becoming commonplace."
Huge, explosive fires are becoming commonplace, say many experts, because climate change is setting the stage — bringing higher temperatures, widespread drought, earlier snowmelt and spring vegetation growth, and expanded insect and disease infestations.[Climate Progress] [Mother Jones]

Carbon Tax is working in British Columbia

A lake and waterfall in the Niut Range,
British Columbia, Canada. Photograph:
Five years in, BC's carbon tax has successfully reduced greenhouse gas emissions in a stable economy.

Carbon emissions have an unavoidable cost. When we burn fossil fuels and release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, it increases the greenhouse effect. The resulting climate change has costs, for example by causing more extreme weather. More frequent and intense heat waves and droughts can damage crops, causing food prices to rise, more intense floods can cause more property damage, etc.

Lacking a price attached to carbon emissions in the marketplace, we're effectively putting those costs on a credit card. We may not immediately see the costs, but they keep building up. In fact they're building up with interest, because the costs of climate damage are higher than the costs of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. When we put a price on carbon in the marketplace, consumers can see the costs associated with greenhouse gas emissions and adjust their consumption in an informed manner without continuing to build up that climate credit card debt.

There are several options for pricing carbon emissions, but the alternative with the most support among political conservatives is a revenue-neutral carbon tax. In this system, a fee is attached to fossil fuel products based on their associated carbon emissions, and 100 percent of the revenue is returned to the citizens. People thus have an incentive to reduce emissions such that the revenue they receive is larger than the taxes they pay, allowing them to make money on the system by reducing their impact on the climate.

In 2008, British Columbia implemented a carbon tax, with the revenue returned to citizens through lowered income taxes. A new peer-reviewed study examines the data through 2012 to see how British Columbia's emissions and economy have fared, and the results are impressive. Consumption of taxed fuels per capita has fallen 19 percent in British Columbia relative to the rest of Canada.
Per capita fossil fuel consumption
As a result, British Columbia's greenhouse gas emissions fell 10 percent between 2008 and 2011, as compared to a 1.1 percent decline for the rest of Canada.

The carbon tax was introduced right before the recession hit in 2008, so while Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell slightly between 2008 and 2011 in British Columbia, that change was on par with the small decline in Canada's GDP. Thus while it's inconclusive whether the carbon tax is helping or hurting British Columbia's economy, it's certainly not having the seriously damaging economic effect that alarmist opponents claim that carbon taxes will have.
GDP per capita
Polls also show that public support for the British Columbia carbon tax has grown to 64 percent, and 59 percent of Canadians say they would support a similar carbon tax system in their provinces. The popularity may be in part a result of the fact that by offsetting the carbon taxes, British Columbia has the lowest income taxes in Canada.

Over its first five years, British Columbia's carbon tax has served as a great example of a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting up the climate credit card. They implemented a carbon tax, the economy didn't collapse (or even take notice), and the citizens are happy with the system. The question now is whether other governments like in the USA will follow suit. [Guardian]

Oil Spill in Thailand

Crude oil has blanketed water and beaches at a Thai vacation spot after an offshore pipeline leaked an estimated 13,200 gallons of oil into the Gulf of Thailand.

The spill occurred about 12 miles off the coast of Rayong, Thailand, and reached Ao Prao beach on the island of Koh Samet. About 1,900 feet of white sandy beach was covered in oil. [Climate Progress]
Thai Oil Spill
CREDIT: Credit: AP

oil spill Thai
CREDIT: Shuttershock

Scituate goes 100% renewable

With the inauguration of a 3 MW solar power station, Scituate became the first town in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to generate 100 percent of its power from alternative energy sources.

The project was developed by Gehrlicher Solar America, which earlier in 2013 opened a regional office in Boston to support its expanding New England market. Until now, the company has completed 16 MW of projects in the State and has an additional 62 MW in the pipeline.

The Scituate project was developed in partnership with Main Street Power Company, an owner and operator of solar assets, MS Solar Solutions, an indirect wholly-owned subsidiary of Morgan Stanley, project developers Syncarpha Capital and Brightfields Development, along with Scituate's local government.

"The Town is very pleased to have this important project underway, and we look forward to the financial, educational and environmental benefits it brings to the residents of Scituate," said Shawn Harris, Chairman of the Board of Selectmen for the Town of Scituate, which is also home to a 1.5 MW wind turbine project commissioned in March 2012.

Natural Gas - Bridge or Gangplank?

Satellite view of gas wells dotting Utah’s Uinta Basin (via CIRES)
A NY Times op-ed written by Cornell civil engineering professor highlights the problem of methane leaks from natural gas wells. 

Industry studies show that 5% of all new well casings fail and leak methane immediately upon completion and those rates increase dramatically as the wells get older with 50% of all well casings failed and leaking after 35 years again according to industry studies. 

A new report has found 6.2% to 11.7% methane leakage from a Utah natural gas drilling site. Natural gas drilling and extraction with those leakage rates means that natural gas is far worse than coal for GHG emissions.

A Boston Globe article highlights the work done by Boston University professor Nathan Phillips, that the leaks that are occurring in our local pipelines here in the Boston area can also have a significant effect on climate change.

Natural gas is worse for the climate than coal if we don't fix these leaks. [Boston Globe]

Upper panel: Yellow light shafts showing 3,300-plus natural gas leaks
with methane concentration (ppm) along Boston’s 785 miles of road, in red.
Lower panel: Leaks around Beacon Hill and the Massachusetts statehouse
with methane concentration (ppm). Images courtesy of Nathan Phillips

Electric Car Sales are well - electric

June 2013 Plug-in Electric Car Sales Numbers

Electric vehicles saw one of their best months of sales ever in June 2013, according to Autoweek's new report on numbers from the Electrification Coalition. It's a nonprofit group of industry leaders, battery manufacturers, and automakers, all geared toward promoting the use of electric vehicles on a mass scale. According to their figures, almost 9,000 electric plug-in vehicles were sold in the U.S. in June, topping off a two-and-a-half year surge that saw the sale of over 110,000 cars throughout the country.

Specifically, Tesla closed up 8.4 percent of the luxury market in the first half of 2013, beating out sales by the Mercedes-Benz S-class, the Audi A8, the BMW 7 series, and virtually every other competitor. That's in line with Tesla's earlier report that it beat out every competitor in the first quarter of 2013, turning a profit for the first time in its ten-year history. Back in November, Tesla's Model S roadster won Motor Trend's Car of the Year award for 2013, and in May Consumer Reports said the car "comes close" to being "the best car ever." Nissan's Leaf is also enjoying success in cornering 3.3 percent of the subcompact market.

In fact, sales of electric-battery-only vehicles beat out hybrid cars completely in the first half of 2013. According to Green Car Report's figures, 9,839 Nissan Leafs, 882 Mitsubishi i-MiEVs, approximately 9,400 Tesla Model S cars, and 1,700 or so other compliance cars, nosed past the total of 18,335 plug-in hybrids and Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric cars. The six-month sales figures from the Electric Drive Transportation Association were a little different, but reached the same basic conclusion. Most of the action came from the explosion in Tesla sales, which — while its second-quarter report won't be released until August — put it well on track to flout analysts' expectations and hit its stated goal of 20,000 sales a year. [Climate Progress] [Graphic Credit: Hybrid Cars]

August 3, 2013

Fossil Fuel News

Halliburton, the oil services company that agreed to plead guilty of destroying evidence related to the 2010 BP spill, has also been contacted about antitrust concerns surrounding the company's dominant position in the pressure pumping market central to the practice of fracking. 

The company "signed a cooperation and guilty plea agreement," will pay the maximum fine of $200,000, and undergo three years of probation. 

Halliburton was the oil services company that oversaw the cement pouring while the Macondo well was drilled. The well malfunctioned on April 20, 2010, causing an uncontrolled blowout on the Deepwater Horizon rig and an explosion that killed 11 people and caused the largest oil spill in U.S. history. [Reuters]

A Canadian oil company is still unable to stop a series of leaks at a tar sands operation in Alberta. The leaks have contaminated a vast area of boreal forest and killed birds, mammals and amphibians. [Wall Street Journal]

Even though a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary gets business transporting coal via rail, Warren Buffet predicted that coal use in the U.S. will decline. [Businessweek]

Natural Gas Use Must peak between 2020 & 2030

new report finds natural gas must peak "sooner than many policymakers currently realize is necessary—if the United States is to meet its climate goals and avoid the worst impacts of global warming."
The report concludes:
There needs to be a swift transition from coal to a zero-carbon future by ensuring that the use of natural gas, particularly in the electric-power sector, peaks within the next 7 years to 17 years.
This is based on climate science, pure and simple:
… the crux of this report is that any long-term expansion and dependence on natural gas for electricity generation is incompatible with climate-stabilization targets because it also results in carbon pollution, although less than coal. The increase in global temperature must be kept within 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, which means that the concentration of atmospheric greenhouse gas must be stabilized within 450 parts per million, or ppm, CO2 equivalent by 2050. This is the internationally recognized threshold, which was adopted in 2010 at the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. Exceeding the 2 degree threshold would cause severe and frequent droughts, heat waves, floods, and storms, and lower-income households would be harmed the most, as they are less able to prepare for and recover from climate disasters.
To meet the 2C (3.6F) goal, the Obama administration set these emissions-reduction targets, relative to 2005 levels:
  • A reduction of 17 percent by 2020
  • A reduction of 42 percent by 2030 as an intermediate target
  • A reduction of 80 percent by 2050 for climate stabilization
A key point the report makes is that "This is a modest level of emissions reductions; the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, or IPCC, endorses a significantly more ambitious target of 25 percent to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2020." Equally important, the IPCC says that stabilizing at total atmospheric greenhouse gas levels of 450 ppm CO2-equivalent requires taking U.S. emissions down more than 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. [Climate Progress]

Blowout and Fire on Natural Gas Rig in Gulf of Mexico

A fire is seen on the Hercules 265 drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Louisiana, Wednesday, July 24, 2013. 

Natural gas spewed uncontrolled from the well after a blowout that forced the evacuation of 44 workers aboard the drilling rig. 

The executive VP of the company that owns the offshore natural gas rig is an active critic of stronger offshore drilling regulations. 

The owner of a natural gas drilling rig aflame off of Louisiana's coast said preparations were underway for the possible drilling of a relief well to divert gas from the site and bring the well under control.
Adam Bourgoyne, a former dean of Louisiana State University's petroleum engineering department, said such an effort is a complicated task that could take weeks to complete.
The relief well team has to figure out questions such as where to intercept the well bore and what tools will be needed. The surface team has to figure out whether it's safe to get onto the platform, how much debris there is and how it can be removed, he said.
The blowout, which prompted the safe evacuation of 44 workers, occurred at a drilling rig adjacent to a natural gas platform that wasn't producing gas at the time. The rig was completing a ''sidetrack well,'' which drills into the same well hole under the platform. Such wells are used to remedy an obstruction or to access a different part of the gas reserve.
Gas spewed throughout the day and ignited late Tuesday night. The cause of the blowout was under investigation, one being overseen by the federal Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement.
By Wednesday evening, the derrick and drill floor structure had collapsed. A fireboat was pumping water on the rig in an effort to keep as much of it as cool as possible.
Though federal officials confirmed the gas flow had stopped on Thursday morning, the accident raises serious concerns about the safety improvements taken since the disaster caused by a blowout three years ago aboard the Deepwater Horizon.

On Tuesday morning in the Gulf of Mexico, the Hercules 265 drilling rig had been drilling a natural gas well and when gas began spewing uncontrollably (video) from the well, the crew of the rig tried to use a blowout preventer to shut down the well's flow of gas. This is the same device that failed to close the out-of-control oil well under the Deepwater Horizon, and the blowout preventer under the Hercules 265 also failed to shut down the flow of gas.

Once the conditions aboard the rig became too dangerous, all 44 workers evacuated on two lifeboats. They watched the uncontrolled gas continue to jet into the atmosphere, and the rig caught fire Tuesday night. It burned through Wednesday, and some time Wednesday evening or Thursday morning, sand or debris shifted underwater and "bridged over", which seemingly plugged the leaking well. The fire has slowly dissipated as the remaining gas burned up.

Coal and Oil

Oil slicks that have been spotted in the Gulf of Mexico are likely coming from the Deepwater Horizon wreckage, according to a study. [AP]

World Bank has announced that is is following President Obama's lead. The World Bank will no longer finance coal plants unless there is no other option. [Reuters]

Natural Gas Prices rising rapidly - especially in New England

Average spot natural gas prices at most major trading points increased 40% to 60% during the first half of 2013 compared to the same period in 2012, as demand for natural gas rose faster than increases in supply. Price increases were relatively uniform throughout the country, with the exception of New England and New York, where supply constraints caused spot prices to spike when demand peaked this winter

Nuclear, Solar, Heat Waves and Power Prices

Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant
The Pilgrim nuclear power plant in Plymouth, had to reduce its operating power to 85% in July due to high water temperatures in Cape Cod Bay. The Pilgrim nuclear plant requires cooling water from the bay to be below 75 degrees to operate at full power. 

The combination of the increased demand and lower power output forced peak power prices to spike at over 40 cents per kWh compared typical baseline rates of less than 4 cents per kWh. 

Isn't it ironic that our heat wave forced the power plant to reduce its output at exactly the same time that electricity demand was soaring because air conditioners were running at max power? 

Of course, solar produces its peak power during the long sunny days of summer, right at the time it is most needed. 

Tar Sands Dilbit Disaster continues on Kalamazoo River

It was near Marshall that an aging oil pipeline burst on July 25, 2010 and spilled more than one million gallons of heavy Canadian crude oil into the Kalamazoo River. It was the largest inland oil pipeline spill in U.S. history, and its effects can still be seen today in the river and in the lives of the people who live near it. 

While cleanup continues three years after the Michigan oil spill, the U.S. EPA is still concerned that 180,000 gallons of submerged oil, some of which is moving towards a Superfund site, is a threat to the river and to people living nearby.

The Kalamazoo accident was the first major pipeline spill involving diluted bitumen, or dilbit, the same type of oil that will be carried by the Keystone XL pipeline if the Obama administration approves the project.

Bitumen is a tar-like substance that must be diluted with liquid chemicals before it can flow through pipelines. When the Michigan pipeline split open, the chemicals slowly evaporated and the bitumen began sinking to the river bottom.

The spill turned the river and little Talmadge Creek black with oil. The air was so rank with toxic stink that emergency hotlines were flooded with calls from people sickened by the fumes. 

It was a chaotic scene of evacuations, armies of cleanup crews, stunned officials and anxious neighbors. It took the pipeline's owner, Enbridge, Inc., 17 hours to shut it down. The oil flowed past a historic dam near Miller's home and nearly 40 miles downriver.

[Inside Climate News]

Nuclear News

Water tanks at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant 
A worker walks in front of water tanks at
Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant
The stricken nuclear power plant at Fukushima has probably been leaking contaminated water into the ocean for two years, ever since an earthquake and tsunami badly damaged the plant, Japan's chief nuclear regulator said on Wednesday. In unusually candid comments, Shunichi Tanaka, the head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority, also said that neither his staff nor the plant's operator knew exactly where the leaks were coming from, or how to stop them. [NY Times]

Masao Yoshida, a nuclear engineer who took charge of the Fukushima Daiichi power plant two years ago as multiple reactors spiraled out of control after a tsunami, but who ultimately failed to prevent the world's worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, died here on Tuesday. He was 58. The cause was cancer, said the Fukushima plant's operator, Tokyo Electric Power. [NY Times]

 A water pump draws groundwater from a well,
to prevent the water from getting into the reactor