Category Archives: Governance

New studies reveal fracking environmental costs


Two new reports focus on the growing evidence of the dangers of fracking to environments both far and near.

First up, from NASA’s Earth Observatory, a report on the danger that fracking in the lower 48 and elsewhere poses to the Arctic:

BLOG Frack gas

Researchers have suspected for several years that the flaring of waste natural gas from industrial oil and gas fields in the Northern Hemisphere could be a significant source of nitrogen dioxide and black carbon pollution in the Arctic. Research from a NASA-sponsored study lends new weight to that hypothesis.

Nitrogen dioxide is a well-known air pollutant that is central to the production of ground-level smog and ozone. It is closely associated with black carbon (also known as soot), which is an agent of global warming, particularly in the Arctic. In addition to absorbing sunlight while aloft, black carbon darkens snow when it settles on the surface. Both processes lead to heating of the air and the land surface, accelerating the melting of snow and ice.

The amount of black carbon that reaches the Arctic is poorly estimated, but scientists know that any soot could have a significant impact. “The Arctic starts from a very clean state, as there are no significant local sources of dust or smoke pollution,” said Nickolay Krotkov, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and a member of a team examining the origins of Arctic black carbon. “In this kind of pristine environment, even small anthropogenic sources make a big difference.”

Previous research has suggested that gas flares from oil and natural gas extraction near the Arctic could be a key source of black carbon. But since international inventories of industrial emissions have gaps in observations and in reporting, they often over- or underestimate the amount of pollutants.

Gas flares are an often-overlooked subset in that already messy data set. Regional estimates from Russia, for example, suggest that gas flaring may account for 30 percent of all black carbon emissions. But with few monitoring stations near flaring sites, the scientific community has had great difficulty getting accurate estimates of emissions.

Can Li and other researchers at NASA Goddard were recently asked by atmospheric modelers to see if they could provide flaring estimates based on satellite data. Black carbon levels in the atmosphere cannot be directly measured by satellites, but they can be derived indirectly. Black carbon is associated with nitrogen dioxide and with the total concentration of aerosol particles in the atmosphere. Nitrogen dioxide and black carbon particles are often produced at the same time when fossil fuels are burned.

The modelers were simulating the trajectories of pollution through the atmosphere based on existing, flawed emission inventories. And their results generally underestimated the amount of black carbon reaching the Arctic compared to what scientists in the field were measuring directly.

The first step for Li, Krotkov, and colleagues was to find gas flares. They compiled “night lights” data from the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite on the Suomi NPP satellite. They examined four known fossil fuel extraction sites: Bakken, North Dakota (shown above); Athabasca Oil Sands in Alberta, Canada; the North Sea near Great Britain and Norway; and western Siberia, Russia. The researchers pinpointed gas flares by excluding electric light from nearby towns and roads.

For each study site, Li and Krotkov analyzed nitrogen dioxide data from the Ozone Monitoring Instrument aboard the Aura spacecraft. A sample is shown at the top of this page. Fellow NASA researchers Andrew Sayer and Christina Hsu retrieved aerosol concentration data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer aboard NASA’s Aqua satellite.

“We found a pretty good match-up between the gas flare signals from the night lights and the nitrogen dioxide retrievals for two regions—Bakken and the Canadian oil sands,” said Li. Every year from 2005 to 2015, the levels of atmospheric NO2 rose about 1.5 percent per year at Bakken and about 2 percent per year at Athabasca. This means the concentration of black carbon produced by those flares was also likely on the rise.

The team saw a smaller rise in nitrogen dioxide in western Siberia, and no discernable flaring signal from well-established oil rigs in the North Sea. According to Li, the North Sea signal was likely obscured by the abundance of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Europe.

Aerosol data were less conclusive. Aerosols tend to linger in the atmosphere longer than nitrogen dioxide, making it more difficult to establish whether there was an increase due to oil field activities, as opposed to general background levels, Sayer said.

The new observational results fit well with modeling done by Joshua Fu, an atmospheric modeler at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville and a collaborator on the paper. When Fu and colleagues added the gas flare locations and estimated emissions into a model of chemical transport in the atmosphere, they were able to reproduce the amount of black carbon observed in the Arctic by ground stations and aircraft.

Fracking waste spills pollute soil, water

Next, from Duke University, a report revealing that far from being exceptional, soil- and water-polluting spills of contaminated fracking waste water, filled with chemicals fracking companies aren’t even required to report to the concenred public, are all-too-common occurrences:

Accidental wastewater spills from unconventional oil production in North Dakota have caused widespread water and soil contamination, a new Duke University study finds.

Researchers found high levels of ammonium, selenium, lead and other toxic contaminants as well as high salts in the brine-laden wastewater, which primarily comes from hydraulically fractured oil wells in the Bakken region of western North Dakota.

Streams polluted by the wastewater contained levels of contaminants that often exceeded federal guidelines for safe drinking water or aquatic health.

Soil at the spill sites was contaminated with radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element found in brines, which chemically attached to the soil after the spill water was released.

At one site, the researchers were still able to detect high levels of contaminants in spill water four years after the spill occurred.

There’s a whole lot more, after the jump. . . Continue reading

Air strike at Doctors Without Borders hospital


For the second time in less than a year, a hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders has fallen prey to an aerial bombing attack.

This time the hospital hit was in Syria, just which country’s planes were responsible for the attack is, as yet, unknown.

From the Washington Post:

Airstrikes on rebel-held areas in the Syrian city of Aleppo destroyed a hospital supported by Doctors Without Borders, the aid group said Thursday, killing at least 14 patients and staff in the latest attacks that have all but unraveled a cease-fire accord.

>snip<

The overnight raids — including a direct hit on Aleppo’s al-Quds hospital — killed at least 27 people, rights monitors and rescue volunteers said. At least 14 patients and medical staffers were killed at the hospital, Doctors Without Borders said on its Twitter account.

The group, also known by the French name Médecins Sans Frontières, or MSF, said at least three doctors, including one of the last pediatricians in the city, were among the dead.

But in an attack on another hospital staffed by Doctors Without Borders nine months earlier, the identity of the attackers is known.

The bombs and the planes carrying them were American.

But if you expect those responsible to be jailed for their killing 42 innocent people, like, say a reckless driver who fatally struck another motorist on an American city street, well, fuggedaboudit.

From the Los Angeles Times:

The Pentagon has disciplined 16 service members for mistakes that led to the deadly airstrike on a Doctors Without Borders hospital in northern Afghanistan last fall, but no one will face criminal charges, The Times has learned.

The punishments follow a six-month Pentagon investigation into the disastrous Oct. 3 attack, which killed 42 medical staff, patients and other Afghans, and wounded dozens more at the international humanitarian aid group’s trauma center in Kunduz.

The 16 found at fault include a two-star general, the crew of an Air Force AC-130 attack aircraft, and Army special forces personnel, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal investigation.

One officer was suspended from command and ordered out of Afghanistan. The other 15 were given lesser punishments: Six were sent to counseling, seven were issued letters of reprimand, and two were ordered to retraining courses.

Reckless driving? A crime, and you got to jail, losing your job and a whole lot more.

Reckless bombing? Hey, no jail time and you get to keep drawing the old paycheck.

By way of contrast, from a 4 September 2015 NBC News Los Angeles story:

A Southern California woman who was texting and chatting on her cellphone before she slammed her Toyota Prius into the back of an idling car on an Orange County freeway, killing the 23-year-old driver, was sentenced Friday to six years in prison.

Jorene Ypano Nicolas, of San Diego, tearfully apologized to Deanna Mauer’s family.

“The thought of you not being with your daughter is absolutely killing me every day,” she said. “From the bottom of my heart, from the bottom of my pain, I’m sorry you can’t physically be with your daughter anymore.”

Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg wasn’t swayed by the apology. He imposed the maximum term under the law on the 32-year-old defendant, saying that her lack of remorse was “deafening.”

Headline of the day II: Words to help you sleep


Or not.

Probably the latter.

From the London Daily Mail:

Security alert at German nuclear power plant after computer systems are found to be infected with viruses

  • Technicians found two computer viruses at the Gundremmigen facility 
  • Officials claimed none of the infected systems were connected to the web
  • The computer systems were infected by a USB drive hiding the software 
  • The nuclear power plant is approximately 75 miles north west of Munich

Obama’s arrogance and bin Laden’s murder


We can’t say we have been disappointed by Barack Obama because we never had any great expectations of him, in part because he was a product of the Chicago Democratic Party political machine, one of the most corrupt institutions we’ve ever investigated.

Chicago’s organized crime syndicate was not, like the more traditional Sicilian crime families, a monolithically ethnic operation. Al Capone was of Neopolitan heritage, not Sicilian, and the Outfit, as syndicate was known, included Jews [the Korshak brothers], a Welshman [Murray Humphreys], a Japanese [Ken Eto], and even a Greek [Gus Alex] — though none of African descent.

To the more traditional La Cosa Nostra families, the Outfit was like a crazy half-brother who had fallen in with some bad, though dangerous, friends..

The Outfit was on life support when Obama was on the rise, and we’ve never heard anything to link him to the enfeebled syndicate. But the political milieu nurtured by the Outfit remains alive and well, and corruption is still endemic, though the beneficiaries are more like to meet in Wall Street boardrooms and country clubs than in suites in mob-run hotels.

So when Obama was elected, we were mostly by the fact that this country had finally elected a person of color, while recognizing that Obama’s color would also useful to Republican strategists as a tool to play on the nation’s never-healed racial divides.

And given his close ties to Rahm Emanuel, a man of violent instincts with a terrorist for a father, and his corporate connections. we figured Obama would offer little change from business as usual on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We were confirmed in our suspicions when he named Hillary Clinton as his Secretary of State, a violent interventionist by nature and a tool of Wall Street, as demonstrated by her record in the Senate.

Nowhere were Obama’s failures more evident than in his handling of events in the Mideast, southwestern Asia, and North Africa, where he seemed convinced that more violence would somehow lead to peace.

Evidence was already clear that forcing regime change only lead to more violence, as in Afghanistan and Iraq, yet the Obama/Clinton team pushed for just that in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. While Egyptian violence was quickly contained by another round of regime change restoring the status quo ante of a military dictatorship, the tragedies that are Libya and Syria continue unabated, with the violence extending to the streets of Paris and San Bernardino.

All of which is a very long preamble to a fascinating interview of a journalist who rose to fame for his investigation of another tragedy of another failed American military intervention, the My Lai massacre during the Vietnam War.

A Pulitzer Prize winner and the dean of American investigative journalists, Seymour Hersch is still going strong at 79, and in this interview with Thom Hartmann he describes an act of extrajudicial murder ordered by Obama himself, a killing that epitomizes all that’s wrong with American foreign policy and yet another reminder of what to expect should Hillary Clinton claim the White House.

From The Big Picture:

Great Minds/Seymour Hersh – Bin Laden- A Prisoner of War. It Was a Hit…

Program notes:

Seymour Hersh, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, joins Thom. Seymour Hersh, The Killing of Osama bin Laden, joins Thom. For tonight’s Conversations with Great Minds I’m joined by one of America’s most importatn journalists – legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh. Mr. Hersh has broken some of the most important stories of the past half century – and his revelations abou the My Lai Massacre and Abu Ghraib prison quite literally changed the course of American and world history. He’s also won numerous awards for his work – including the Pulitzer Prize – and is also the author of a number of books – including his latest “The Killing of Osama Bin Laden” – a deep dive into the real story of the Obama years.

France getting cold feet over that trade accord


You know, the TTIP [previously], the latest of the Obama-pushed, ocean-spanning international trade agreements designed to further ensrine corporate power over national sovereignty.

From Radio France Internationale:

The French government appeared to toughen its stance on the TTIP transatlantic trade partnership on Tuesday with Prime Minister Manuel Valls warning that the proposed deal being discussed by the European Union and the US will not go through if health and environment standards are not maintained and negotiator Matthias Feki saying it might not be signed at all.

“I want to be clear: it will not succeed if it does not guarantee that the standards we have in France for our citizens’ health and environment will be maintained,” Valls said at a government-organised environmental conference in Paris on Tuesday. “And today we are too far from that to envisage an agreement.”

US President Barack Obama this week visited Europe, in part to push the free-trade deal, which has been opposed by civil society groups who claim that negotiations have been hidden from public view and that it could harm agriculture and the environment.

Earlier on Tuesday French Foreign Trade Minister Matthias Fekl, who leads negotiations for France, predicted that the deal would not be signed before the end of Obama’s mandate at the end of the year and raised the possibility that agreement may never be reached.

Texas: Try it, if you’re really tired with sanity. . .


From the state that brought you Ted Cruz, the latest theocratic madness.

From Rebecca Watson of Skepchick:

TX State Board of Ed Nominee: Obama Was a Gay Prostitute

From the transcript:

These days, individual Texas school districts don’t have to buy the books the State Board recommends. But many of them don’t really know all their options, so the State Board is still incredibly influential. I mean, obviously, they should be — that’s what Boards of Education should do: exert a strong influence over the quality of the state’s education.

Unfortunately, Texas has continued to be batshit insane. And things are about to get even crazier, thanks to one woman running for an open position on the board: Mary Lou Bruner. She nearly had enough votes in the primary to just win the seat outright, but because she only got 48 and not 50% of the votes, she’ll have to go through the motions of running a campaign. That’s good news, because in the meanwhile the rest of us can point out how fucking terrifying she is in the hopes that Texas wakes up and votes in literally anyone else but her.

First, there’s the evolution question. Obviously, Bruner thinks it’s all a myth. She believes that baby dinosaurs rode on Noah’s ark but after the flood there wasn’t enough vegetation to keep them alive and they couldn’t reproduce enough so they died, and the fossils support this because all dinosaur fossils have been found with the dinosaurs showing great distress, as though they’re trying to keep their heads above water.

You may be thinking, but aren’t all fossilized animals dead, indicating they all went through great distress at some point? Or, if you believe in fossils, why don’t you believe in the fact that the fossil record shows no record of a global flood but does show that dinosaurs lived 60 to 200 million years ago? But you would be a fool to think those things, because Bruner has transcended logic.

She also thinks that Barack Obama was a gay prostitute who sold his body for drug money in his 20s. I’m not joking. She actually believes that. Oh, for the days of birth certificate deniers.

Is this a woman you want anywhere near your children? Much less supervising their education?

Cruzin’ for slaves, Mexican and Canadian

And about Ted Cruz, there’s his super PAC head, who’s clearly as Looney Tunes as Dinosaur Lady.

Consider the latest lunacy reported by Bruce Wilson at Talk to Action:

Does Texas U.S. Senator Ted Cruz yearn to rule and reign over America like a God-anointed king from Old Testament scripture ? Short of Cruz himself shouting it from the rooftops, who can say for sure ? Still, nothing says “dominionism” quite as forcefully as “biblical” slavery.

Back in 2011, an open letter to Dr. Laura Schlessinger (concerning her radio show statement that, per Leviticus 18:22, homosexuality was an “abomination”) began, “Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s Law,” then popped the question,

“Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians.  Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?”

For David Barton, Cruz’ super-pac head (and the top evangelical power broker behind Cruz by one media account), this is no joke. It’s a serious question for which Barton’s website offers a serious, bible-based answer – an American may enslave both Mexicans and Canadians, but only if they’re pagans.

Blood on the newsroom floor: Layoffs, a ban


UPDATED, after the jump. . .

Two major developments today.

First, the New York Times announced major layoffs in Paris as emphasis shifts from print to digital, with job losses concentrated in printing and editing. And then there’s the resignation of a Nevada journalist specializing in casino reporting after his boss barred him from reporting on the paper’s owner, a thuggish Right-winger and GOP megadonor who just happens to be the state’s leading casino owner.

The Paris layoffs affect production of the International New York Times/International Herald-Tribune.

Here’s a key section of the memo sent to staff announcing the cuts, via media blogger Jim Romenesko:

Readers today, particularly our highly traveled international readers, have different needs and expectations of print publications than even a few years ago. Our goal with this proposed redesign is to increase the breadth and depth of analysis, opinion and other coverage on topics that are most meaningful and pertinent to international audiences.

Another goal of the proposal is to simplify our production process and enable us to produce the paper far more efficiently than we do today, a step that is critical to its financial viability. Without these proposed changes, we do not believe that an international print New York Times is sustainable over the long term.

Stephen Dunbar-Johnson and Joe Kahn, who are leading our international efforts and overseeing the proposed redesign, will share more details with our colleagues at the INYT, but the proposal we announced today would result in the closing of the editing and pre-press print production operation in Paris, with those responsibilities moving to Hong Kong and New York.

France remains a vital market for us and we will maintain a robust news bureau in Paris as well as a core international advertising office there.

We regret that the proposal includes the elimination of jobs in Paris and we want to express our appreciation to colleagues – past and present – who through their hard work, have contributed to maintaining a tradition of excellence in global journalism at the IHT and INYT.

We believe that the proposal we have put forth today is necessary to sustain our global journalistic mission and best serve our valued international print readers and advertisers well into the future

Next, and more troubling, is the resignation of Nevada’s most able journalist covering the casino beat.

John L. Smith has worked at the Las Vegas Review-Journal for decades, covering the casino industry and its often shady players.

The Review-Journal was where we landed our first job on a daily newspaper at the ripe old age of 19 covering, among other things, racial discrimination in the city’s gaming palaces, stories for which we won the state’s highest journalism award, one Smith himself would win a couple of decades later.

The handwriting was on the wall for Smith last year when the city’s biggest casino owner, Sheldon Adelson, bought the paper, in part, we suspect, because it was the only way he could shut Smith up.

And now it’s over.

There’s lots more, after the jump. . . Continue reading