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Sunday, March 31, 2013

Here's some "pick me up" blues [cuz the news is all bad, baby] by the masters -- "Sweet Home Chicago" -- with Eric Clapton, Johnny Winters, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, & Jimmie Vaughan


James Hansen: Doubling Down on Our Faustian Bargain

by James Hansen, Pushker Kharecha and Makiko Sato, Huffington Post, March 31, 2013
Humanity's Faustian climate bargain is well known. Humans have been pumping both greenhouse gases (mainly CO2) and aerosols (fine particles) into the atmosphere for more than a century. The CO2 accumulates steadily, staying in the climate system for millennia, with a continuously increasing warming effect. Aerosols have a cooling effect (by reducing solar heating of the ground) that depends on the rate that we pump aerosols into the air, because they fall out after about five days.
Aerosol cooling probably reduced global warming by about half over the past century, but the amount is uncertain because global aerosols and their effect on clouds are not measured accurately. Aerosols increased rapidly after World War II as fossil fuel use increased ~5%/year with little pollution control (Fig. 1). Aerosol growth slowed in the 1970s with pollution controls in the U.S. and Europe, but accelerated again after ~2000.
Fig. 1. CO2 annual emissions from fossil fuel use and cement manufacture, update of a figure using recent data.

Fig. 2. Annual increase of CO2 at Mauna Loa. The 12-month running mean reduces the double noise in the 12-month change. Blue asterisks show the end-of-year 12-month change often reported in the media.
The rapid growth of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the past decade is mainly from increased coal use (Fig. 1), mostly in China with little control of aerosol emissions. It is thus likely that there has been an increase in the negative (cooling) climate forcing by aerosols in the past decade, as suggested by regional aerosols measurements in the Far East, but until proper global aerosol monitoring is initiated, as discussed below, the aerosol portion of the amplified Faustian bargain remains largely unquantified.
In our current paper we describe another component to the fossil fuel Faustian bargain, which is suggested by a careful look at observed atmospheric CO2 change (Fig. 2). The orange curve in Fig. 2 is the 12-month change of CO2 at Mauna Loa. This curve is quite "noisy," in part because it has double noise, being affected by short-term variability at both the start-point and end-point in taking the 12-month difference in CO2 amount. A more meaningful measure of the CO2 growth is provided by the 12-month running mean (red curve in Fig. 2). The temporal variability of the red curve has physical significance, most of the variability being accounted for by the Southern (El Nino-La Nina) Oscillation and the Pinatubo volcanic eruption in the early 1990s, as discussed in our paper.
NOAA recently reported the second largest annual CO2 increase in their Mauna Loa record. What they report is the end-of-year change in the noisy orange curve, the end-of-year values being indicated by blue asterisks in Fig. 2. It is practically certain that still larger CO2 increases will soon be reported, because of the huge increase of the rate of fossil fuel CO2 emissions in the past decade (black curve in Fig. 1), indeed we must expect reports of annual CO2 increases exceeding 3 ppm CO2.
An interesting point, however, is the failure of the observed increases in atmospheric CO2 to increase as rapidly as the fossil fuel source has increased. This fact is contrary to suggestions that terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks are tending to saturate as CO2 emissions continue.
An informative presentation of CO2 observations is the ratio of annual CO2 increase in the air divided by annual fossil fuel CO2 emissions, the "airborne fraction" (Fig. 3, right scale). This airborne fraction, clearly, is not increasing. Thus the net ocean plus terrestrial sink for carbon emissions has increased by a factor of 3 to 4 since 1958, accommodating the emissions increase by that factor.
Fig. 3. Fossil fuel CO2 emissions (left scale) and airborne fraction, i.e., the ratio of observed atmospheric CO2 increase to fossil fuel CO2 emissions. Final three values are 5-, 3- and 1-year means.

Remarkably, the airborne fraction has declined since 2000. The seven-year running mean had remained close to 60% up to 2000, except for the period affected by Pinatubo. The airborne fraction is affected by factors other than the efficiency of carbon sinks, most notably by changes in the rate of fossil fuel emissions. However, the change of emission rate in 2000 from 1.5%/year to 3.1%/year (Fig. 1), other things being equal, would have caused a sharp increase of the airborne fraction (because a rapid source increase provides less time for carbon to be moved downward out of the ocean's upper layers). A decrease in land use emissions during the past decade might contribute a partial explanation for the decrease of the airborne fraction, but something more than land use change seems to be occurring.
We suggest that the surge of fossil fuel use, mainly coal, since 2000 is a basic cause of the large increase of carbon uptake by the combined terrestrial and ocean carbon sinks. One mechanism by which fossil fuel emissions increase carbon uptake is by fertilizing the biosphere via provision of nutrients essential for tissue building, especially nitrogen, which plays a critical role in controlling net primary productivity and is limited in many ecosystems. Modeling and field studies confirm a major role of nitrogen deposition, working in concert with CO2 fertilization, in causing a large increase in net primary productivity of temperate and boreal forests. A plausible addition of 5 TgN/year from fossil fuels and net ecosystem productivity of 200 kgC per kgN16 yields an annual carbon drawdown of 1 GtC/year, which is of the order of what is needed to explain the post-2000 anomaly in airborne CO2.
Independent of a possible aerosol effect on the carbon cycle, it is known that aerosols are an
important climate forcing. IPCC17 concludes that aerosols are a negative (cooling) forcing, probably between -0.5 and -2.5 W/m2. Hansen et al., based mainly on analysis of Earth's energy imbalance, derive an aerosol forcing -1.6 ± 0.3 W/m2, consistent with an analysis of Murphy et al. that suggests an aerosol forcing about -1.5 W/m2. This large negative aerosol forcing reduces the net climate forcing of the past century by about half.
Reduction of the net human-made climate forcing by aerosols has been described as a "Faustian bargain," because the aerosols constitute deleterious particulate air pollution. Reduction of the net climate forcing by half will continue only if we allow air pollution to build up to greater and greater amounts. More likely, humanity will demand and achieve a reduction of particulate air pollution, whereupon, because the CO2 from fossil fuel burning remains in the surface climate system for millennia, the "devil's payment" will be extracted from humanity via increased global warming.
So is the new data we present here good news or bad news, and how does it alter the "Faustian bargain"? At first glance there seems to be some good news. First, if our interpretation of the data is correct, the surge of fossil fuel emissions, especially from coal burning, along with the increasing atmospheric CO2 level is "fertilizing" the biosphere, and thus limiting the growth of atmospheric CO2. Also, despite the absence of accurate global aerosol measurements, it seems that the aerosol cooling effect is probably increasing based on evidence of aerosol increases in the Far East.
Both effects work to limit global warming and thus help explain why the rate of global warming seems to be less this decade than it has been during the prior quarter century. This data interpretation also helps explain why multiple warnings that some carbon sinks are "drying up" and could even become carbon sources, e.g., boreal forests infested by pine bark beetles and the Amazon rain forest suffering from drought, have not produced an obvious impact on atmospheric CO2.
However, increased CO2 uptake does not necessarily mean that the biosphere is healthier or that the increased carbon uptake will continue indefinitely. Nor does it change the basic facts about the potential magnitude of the fossil fuel carbon source and the long lifetime of fossil fuel CO2 in the surface carbon reservoirs (atmosphere, ocean, soil, biosphere) once the fossil fuels are burned. Fertilization of the biosphere affects the distribution of the fossil fuel carbon among these reservoirs, at least on the short run, but it does not alter the fact that the fossil carbon will remain in these reservoirs for millennia.
The principal implication of our present analysis relates to the Faustian bargain. Increased short-term masking of greenhouse gas warming by fossil fuel particulate and nitrogen pollution is a "doubling down" of the Faustian bargain, an increase in the stakes. The more we allow the Faustian debt to build, the more unmanageable the eventual consequences will be. Yet globally there are plans to build more than 1,000 coal-fired power plants and plans to develop some of the dirtiest oil sources on the planet. These plans should be vigorously resisted. We are already in a deep hole -- it is time to stop digging.
The tragedy of this science story is that the great uncertainty in interpretations of the climate forcings did not have to be. Global aerosol properties should be monitored to high precision, similar to the way CO2 is monitored. The capability of measuring detailed aerosol properties has long existed, as demonstrated by observations of Venus. The requirement is measurement of the polarization of reflected sunlight to an accuracy of 0.1%, with measurements covering the spectral range from near ultraviolet to the near-infrared at a range of scattering angles, as is possible from an orbiting satellite. Unfortunately, the satellite mission designed for that purpose failed to achieve orbit, suffering precisely the same launch failure as the Orbiting Carbon Observatory (OCO). Although a replacement OCO mission is in preparation, no replacement aerosol mission is scheduled.

Go to link below and click on 7-day QuickTime animation to see amazing storm genesis in both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans from March 25

Loud explosion at Arkansas Nuclear One power plant in Russellville injures workers


RUSSELLVILLE, AR-(KTHV) A heavy equipment accident on the industrial side of Arkansas Nuclear One in Russellville this morning leaves several injured.
Just before 8 a.m. this morning, Pope County EMS and Pope County Rescue units responded Arkansas Nuclear One after an accident involving large equipment occurred.
Reports say that three individuals have been transported to the hospital, but authorities could not confirm that with THV 11.  

Many residents living in the area reported hearing a loud boom or crash.
At this time there are no reports of contamination or contamination threats.

THV 11 has a crew in route and will have more as it is available.

Exxon Enbridge Pegasus tar sands dilbit pipeline ruptures in Mayflower, Arkansas

MAYFLOWER, Ark. (AP) - Officials say crews have recovered about 4,500 barrels of oil and water after a crude oil pipeline ruptured in central Arkansas. 
Authorities say an ExxonMobil pipeline sprung a leak Friday afternoon in Mayflower, a small city about 20 miles northwest of Little Rock. 
A Saturday news release from ExxonMobil and local officials says officials have observed a few thousand barrels of oil in the area, but are preparing a response for more than 10,000 barrels "to be conservative." 
Authorities are still investigating the cause of the spill, which led to a number of evacuations in a residential area. 
Officials on Friday said dozens of homes were being evacuated, but the Saturday news release said the city recommended that 22 homes be evacuated.

Exxon Enbridge tar sands oil spill in Mayflower, Arkansas -- video shows oil flowing down a driveway into street

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Clean up begins for Mayflower Oil Spill

It was a rough start to the Easter holiday weekend after an oil spill struck in Mayflower.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

BBC: Video of polar bears' changing life on ever decreasing sea ice

The great white bears of the frozen north may face a difficult future. Each summer, the sea ice on which they rely to hunt seals is getting thinner and smaller in extent - threatening to upset their way of life.
Here, American photographer and conservationist Jenny E Ross - and Andrew Derocher, professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta - give their opinions on how climate change is affecting the lives of polar bears, and potentially putting their future at risk.
Warning: This slideshow contains graphic images
All images subject to copyright. Photography by Jenny E Ross. Music by KPM Music.
Slideshow production by Paul Kerley. Publication date 28 March 2013.

Fracking's Latest Scandal? Earthquake Swarms Caused by Wastewater Injection Wells

Turns out that when a barely regulated industry injects highly pressurized wastewater into faults, things can go

by Michael Behar, Mother Jones, March-April 2013
AT EXACTLY 10:53 P.M. on Saturday, November 5, 2011, Joe and Mary Reneau were in the bedroom of their whitewashed and brick-trimmed home, a two-story rambler Mary's dad custom-built 43 years ago. Their property encompasses 440 acres of rolling grasslands in Prague, Oklahoma (population 2,400), located 50 miles east of Oklahoma City. When I arrive at their ranch almost a year later on a bright fall morning, Joe is wearing a short-sleeve shirt and jeans held up by navy blue suspenders, and is wedged into a metal chair on his front stoop sipping black coffee from a heavy mug. His German shepherd, Shotzie, is curled at his feet. Joe greets me with a crushing handshake—he is 200 pounds, silver-haired and 6 feet tall, with thick forearms and meaty hands—and invites me inside. He served in Vietnam, did two tours totaling nine years with the Defense Intelligence Agency, and then, in 1984, retired a lieutenant colonel from the US Army to sell real estate and raise cattle. Today, the livestock are gone and Joe calls himself "semiretired" because "we still cut hay in the summers."
On that night in November, just as he and Mary were about to slip into bed, there was "a horrendous bang, like an airliner crashing in our backyard," Joe recalls. Next came 60 seconds of seismic terror. "The dust was flying and we were hanging onto the bed watching the walls go back and forth." Joe demonstrates by hunching over and gripping the mattress in their bedroom. He points to the bathroom. "The mirror in the vanity exploded as if somebody blew it out with a shotgun." When the shaking stopped, Joe surveyed the damage. "Every corner of the house was fractured," he says. The foundation had sunk two inches. But most frightening was what Joe discovered in the living room: "Our 28-foot-tall freestanding chimney had come through the roof." It had showered jagged debris onto a brown leather sofa positioned in front of their flat-screen TV. Joe shows me the spot. "It's Mary's favorite perch. Had she been here…" He chokes up.
Joe and Mary Reneau
Joe and Mary Reneau Photographs by Ben Sklar
The earthquake registered a magnitude 5.7*—the largest ever recorded in Oklahoma—with its epicenter less than two miles from the Reneaus' house, which took six months to rebuild. It injured two people, destroyed 14 homes, toppled headstones, closed schools, and was felt in 17 states. It was preceded by a 4.7 foreshock the morning prior and followed by a 4.7 aftershock.
The quake baffled seismologists. The only possible culprit was the Wilzetta Fault, a 320-million-year-old rift lurking between Prague and nearby Meeker. "But the Wilzetta was a dead fault that nobody ever worried about," says Katie Keranen, an assistant professor of geophysics at the University of Oklahoma. We're driving in her red SUV, just south of the Reneaus' property, when she stops to point out where the quake tore open a footwide fissure across State Highway 62. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) maintains a database of seismically risky areas. Its assessment of the Wilzetta Fault, Keranen notes, was "zero probability of expected ground motion. This fault is like an extinct volcano. It should never have been active."
When the Wilzetta mysteriously and violently awakened, Keranen wanted to know why. So she partnered with scientists from the USGS and Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. The morning after the initial foreshock, Keranen's team scrambled to install three seismometers around Prague. They did so in time to capture the quake system in unprecedented detail. She says, "We got this beautiful image of the fault plane." Within a week, her team and other scientists had placed a total of 25 devices around the fault zone. One is buried in the Reneaus' backyard. Now, having completed a yearlong study (just published in the journal Geology), Keranen's research indicates the Oklahoma earthquakes were likely attributable to underground injection of wastewater derived from "dewatering," separating crude oil from the soupy brine reaped through a drilling technique that allows previously inaccessible oil to be pumped up. "Pretty much everybody who looks at our data accepts that these events were likely caused by injection," Keranen concludes.
"We still feel tremors weekly," complains Joe Reneau. "They rattle our windows." The couple hasn't bothered to rehang family photos in their living room. Instead, the framed snapshots are stacked in tidy piles on a coffee table.
Such seismic activity isn't normal here. Between 1972 and 2008, the USGS recorded just a few earthquakes a year in Oklahoma. In 2008, there were more than a dozen; nearly 50 occurred in 2009. In 2010, the number exploded to more than 1,000. These so-called "earthquake swarms" are occurring in other places where the ground is not supposed to move. There have been abrupt upticks in both the size and frequency of quakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, and Texas. Scientists investigating these anomalies are coming to the same conclusion: The quakes are linked to injection wells. Into most of them goes wastewater from hydraulic fracking, while some, as those in Prague, are filled with leftover fluid from dewatering operations.
The impact of fossil fuels is no secret, but until now the short list of dirty energy's villains never included water. Together, oil and gas extraction and production generate about 878 billion gallons of wastewater annually, roughly what tumbles over Niagara Falls every two weeks. More than a third is injected back into disposal wells. With natural gas production on the rise—it has jumped 26 percent since 2007, chiefly because fracking now makes it economically viable to pursue gas trapped in shale deposits—and unconventional practices such as dewatering ramping up domestic oil development, the wastewater deluge is expected to get worse. Operators are injecting more water than ever into drilling wells, while boring new wells to accommodate the overflow. Yet nobody really knows how all this water will impact faults, or just how big an earthquake it could spawn. In the West, small quakes don't often cause much damage because of stricter seismic regulations but also because the underground formations—buckled, with younger rock—absorb all but the biggest events. Induced quakes, however, are happening primarily in flatter states, amid more rigid rock, making them more destructive—a stone makes a bigger splash when it's hurled into a glassy pond than a river of raging whitewater.
For its part, industry is doing its best to avoid discussing the issue publicly, even as its leading professional guild, the Society of Petroleum Engineers, recognized the matter was serious enough to call its first-ever meeting devoted to "injection induced seismicity." Held in September, the SPE's 115-member workshop sought to "better understand and mitigate potential risks." When I reached out to SPE coordinator Amy Chao, she told me, "I appreciate your interest but press is not allowed to attend in any fashion." My requests to speak with geophysicists at leading oil and gas companies implicated in injection-induced earthquakes were also ignored or denied. I did manage to speak with Jean Antonides, vice president of exploration for New Dominion, which operates one of the wells near the Wilzetta Fault. He informed me that people claiming to know the true source of the Oklahoma quakes are "either lying to your face or they're idiots."
Nonetheless, there's growing concern among state officials. After a spate of quakes linked to injection wells shook northern Arkansas, the state's oil and gas commission declared a moratorium on underground wastewater disposal activities within a 1,000-square-mile area encompassing the towns of Guy and Greenbrier and required seismic-risk studies in the greater Fayetteville Shale area. Affected residents filed a class-action lawsuit against Chesapeake Energy and BHP Billiton Petroleum—the first time anyone has sued oil and gas companies for causing an earthquake. After an injection well was linked to quakes in Youngstown, Ohio, Gov. John Kasich issued an executive order requiring operators to conduct seismic studies before the state will issue well permits. So far, Ohio is alone in this regard; no other state—or the federal government—requires any type of seismic-risk assessment for all of its injection wells. And that worries scientists: "Nobody is talking to one another about this," says William Ellsworth, a prominent USGS geophysicist who's published more than 100 papers on earthquakes. Among other mishaps, Ellsworth worries that a well could pierce an unknown fault "five miles from a nuclear power plant."
THE EPA CLASSIFIES AND REGULATES underground injection wells—some 700,000 and counting—based on what goes into them. There are six categories. Class VI wells sequester carbon dioxide; Class V wells store nonhazardous fluids; nuclear waste is stashed in Class IV wells; Class III wells are used in mining salt, uranium, copper, and sulfur; industrial chemicals get stored in Class I wells. Wastewater from oil and gas operations is discharged—typically by injecting it under pressure—into Class II wells.
There are at least 155,000 Class II wells in the United States. Of these about 80 percent are involved in recovering hydrocarbons, predominantly through slick-water hydrofracking, a technique developed by Halliburton. Fracking fluid—water blended with lubricants, thickeners, disinfectants, and other compounds—is pumped into well bores at extremely high pressures. Eventually, the fluid reverses course and—along with millions of gallons of salt water that resides underground—ascends to the surface. The "flowback," now laden with natural gas, is collected, the gas is extracted, and the residual fluid is pumped into disposal wells. There are roughly 40,000 of these, and they can be up to 13,000 feet deep.
The extraction process itself doesn't generally produce earthquakes. This is because of something known as pore pressure, a measurement of how much stress a fluid exerts into the "pores" of surrounding rock. The whole aim of fracking is to rapidly increase pore pressure just long enough to cleave fissures into sediment and free trapped gas, after which time pore pressure equalizes, easing the subterranean stress. Only rarely is pore pressure high enough in a fracking well to cause an earthquake that can be felt at the surface.
But while fracking wells are intended to withstand high pore pressure, wastewater disposal wells are not. When pore pressure spikes in disposal wells, it can move rock. Disposal wells are drilled into vast, permeable formations—think giant sponges—where there's plenty of space for water to spread out. But because water is heavy, the more of it that is sluiced into a well, the more it weighs on the rock below. And as Scott Ausbrooks, a geologist with the Arkansas Geological Survey, points out, "Water does not like to be squeezed." Eventually it finds an escape route, "just like a room of people. The more you put in, the more crowded it gets, and at some point, people are going to start being pushed out the doors."


Drillers inject high-pressure fluids into a hydraulic fracturing well, making slight fissures in the shale that release natural gas. The wastewater that flows back up with the gas is then transported to disposal wells, where it is injected deep into porous rock. Scientists now believe that the pressure and lubrication of that wastewater can cause faults to slip and unleash an earthquake.
how fracking causes earthquakes
Illustration: Leanne Kroll. Animation: Brett Brownell
With the oil and gas boom generating record amounts of wastewater, these rooms are getting increasingly jam-packed. Exactly how much? The EPA tracks volumes but wouldn't provide them; agency officials declined numerous requests for interviews. Companies are also pumping into denser rock, or into deeper formations that are inherently unstable. "There's much more injection going on today where there wasn't injection before," says Cliff Frohlich, associate director of the Institute for Geophysics at the University of Texas-Austin, who recently identified a cluster of wells at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport as the likely culprit for nearby earthquakes.
Too much wastewater in a disposal well forces liquid downward and outward, he adds. It can meander for months, creeping into unknown faults and prying the rock apart just enough to release pent-up energy. Frohlich describes this as the "air hockey" effect. A puck on an air hockey table won't move even if the table is tilted upward a few degrees. "It would just sit there," he says. "But when you turn on the air, it reduces the friction and the puck will slide. There are faults most everywhere. Most of them are stuck, because rock on rock is pretty sticky. But if you pump a fluid in there to reduce the friction, they can slip."
THAT'S EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED in northern Arkansas, where, according to state geologist Ausbrooks, water from several injection wells pushed apart the two sides of a fault, "allowing it to slip and start popping off the earthquakes"—thousands of them. Ausbrooks, along with Stephen Horton, a University of Memphis seismologist, identified the source: a previously unknown 7-mile-long fault that hadn't budged in modern times. Though not huge, the fault is still long enough to generate a magnitude-6.0 earthquake. (In 1993, when an equal-size temblor hit Klamath Falls, Oregon, it killed two people and caused $7.3 million worth of damage—in a rural area.)
While the largest faults in the United States are documented and mapped—the San Andreas, New Madrid, Cascadia, and dozens of others—"there are faults everywhere, and some are too small to be seen," explains Mark Zoback, a professor of geophysics at Stanford University who was on the National Academy of Engineering committee that investigated the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. "A fault can be missed that could produce an earthquake large enough to cause some moderate damage."
Scarier still is that any fault, no matter how minuscule, can instigate the domino effect scientists have observed during injection-induced earthquakes. "The scenario we worry about is one earthquake spawning another," says the USGS's Ellsworth. This phenomenon was evident in Oklahoma, Keranen says, where "we had one fault-plane go, a second one, and then a third one. They ruptured in sequence." The first tremor in Prague sprang from a minor fault that collided with a larger fault, sparking the quake that trashed Joe and Mary Reneau's home, along with a dozen others.
How far from the site of an injection well could a quake occur? Scientists aren't sure. In Arkansas, along the fault discovered by Ausbrooks, tremors emanated nearly 10 miles. Had those quakes collided with another fault, the shaking might have extended much farther. "Once it starts moving, it's like a chain reaction," notes Ausbrooks.
ALL THESE FACTORS WERE IN PLAY in Youngstown, where D&L Energy Group conducted an experiment, burrowing 200 feet into solid rock known as the Precambrian layer, according to Heidi Hetzel-Evans, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. Tremors began three months after wastewater entered the well. The strongest, a 4.0, struck on New Year's Eve. Wastewater had seeped nearly 2,500 feet beyond the bottom of the borehole into an unknown fault. "There will be no more drilling into Precambrian rock in Ohio," Hetzel-Evans dryly tells me.
John Armbruster, a seismologist at Lamont-Doherty who was among those summoned to Youngstown, told me, "This well caused these earthquakes. There were no felt earthquakes in Youngstown in 100 years." Within a year of the well opening, there were "12 felt earthquakes. After the well was shut down, the number decreased dramatically. You'd need Powerball odds for that to be a coincidence."
There is no shortage of evidence. After quakes struck near Trinidad, Colorado, in 2011, the USGS set up a monitoring network. "A magnitude-5.3 earthquake occurred within two kilometers of two high-volume injection wells," says Justin Rubinstein, who is part of a new USGS project to study human-induced seismicity. "These earthquakes were caused by fluid injection." Ditto in Dallas; as UT-Austin's Frohlich points out, "These earthquakes could have been anywhere. They weren't. Virtually all of them were near injection wells."
earthquake swarm oklahoma
Earthquakes near Prague, Oklahoma, from November 5, 2011, through December 4, 2011. Red indicates 2.2 magnitude; magenta represents the 5.7-magnitude quake. KellyMcD/Flickr
Ellsworth, who peer-reviewed Keranen's study, has researched earthquakes for more than 40 years and is a recipient of the Department of the Interior's highest honor for his contributions to seismology. He studied geophysics at Stanford, earned his doctorate from MIT, and is the former president of the Seismological Society of America. When I asked him if there is any doubt among his colleagues about what produced the quakes in Arkansas, Colorado, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Texas, he replied, "Injection of wastewater into Class II wells has induced earthquakes, including the ones you cite." Rubinstein agrees: "In my opinion, it's pretty clear in all of these cases—Youngstown, Arkansas, DFW, Trinidad, and Oklahoma—that injection wells were the cause."
Does industry concur? Jim Gipson, director of media relations for Chesapeake Energy, operator of the wells under DFW airport and a now-closed well near Greenbrier, Arkansas, declined my request for an interview. Hal Macartney, geoscience adviser for Pioneer Natural Resources, which owns some of the wells implicated in the Colorado quakes, dodged my calls and emails for three weeks. Even those not implicated directly with quake-causing wells are staying silent. Hydrofracking pioneer Norman Warpinski, who works for Halliburton, refused comment. Geophysicist Mark Houston and managing partner Steve Sadoskas, at oilfield-services provider Baker Hughes, wouldn't talk. Julie Shemeta, founder of MEQ Geo, a firm that does seismic consulting for oil and gas exploration, said she was too busy for a 15-minute phone call even though I offered her a two-month window to schedule it.
I'm not the only one getting rebuffed. There is "a lack of companies cooperating with scientists," complains seismologist Armbruster. "I was naive and thought companies would work with us. But they are stonewalling us, saying they don't believe they are causing the quakes." Admitting guilt could draw lawsuits and lead to new regulation. So it's no surprise, says Rubinstein, "that industry is going to keep data close to their chest." When I ask Jean Antonides, New Dominion's VP of exploration, why the industry is sequestering itself from public inquiry, he replies, "Nobody wants to be the face of this thing." Plenty of misdeeds are pinned on oil and gas companies; none wants to add earthquakes to the list.
The USGS's Ellsworth tells me that some operators track seismic data near well sites but won't share it, and so far there is no state or national regulatory requirement to do so. And the "Halliburton Loophole" written into the 2005 energy bill at the behest of then-Vice President (and former Halliburton CEO) Dick Cheney excludes hydrofrackers from certain EPA regulations, among them provisions related to "the underground injection of fluids…related to oil, gas, or geothermal production activities." Upshot: "It's an age where information has exploded, but this is an area where we're still working in punch cards," Ellsworth says.

A cracked wall on the Reneau's property in Prague, Oklahoma. After the November 2011 earthquakes, it took the Reneaus six months to rebuild their home. 
Just knowing the daily volumes of water being pumped into a well would yield critical clues. "There is a correlation that shows the largest earthquakes tend to be associated with the largest volume wells," adds Ellsworth. Ideally, the USGS would get real-time data. But operators are only required to track monthly volumes, and those tallies are often delayed six months or more. By then, it's too late. Rubinstein wants "industry to actually give us hourly or daily injection pressures and volume, so we can model where the fluids are going and predict how the stress evolves over time…and be able to come up with some probabilistic sense of how likely you are to generate an earthquake."
As for Keranen's explosive research on the Wilzetta Fault, New Dominion's Antonides is recruiting his own scientists to produce a report challenging it. Meanwhile, he has his own theories. "The traffic driving across the freeway could have caused it," he says, adding that another "trigger point" is the two large aquifers that bracket the fault. Drought has reduced their water levels, "removing a lot of the weight" and allowing the ground underneath to "rebound" and perhaps release energy in a pent-up fault. "All this stuff is tied together—the aquifers, plus trucks driving across the freeway, plus water disposal, plus 50-story buildings—the whole system of man." (This hypothesis has some basis in reality. Scientists in Taiwan fear that the weight of a skyscraper unhinged faults underlying Taipei. Though no such structure, it must be said, is found within 50 miles of Prague, Oklahoma.)
Nine days after the New Year's Eve quake in Youngstown, D&L Energy Group issued a statement that said, "There has been no conclusive link established between our well and the earthquakes. Proximity alone does not prove causation." In March 2012, state officials published a report explicitly detailing the connection, noting that the recent quakes were "distinct from previous seismic activity in the region because of their proximity to a Class II deep injection well. In fact, all of the events were clustered less than a mile around the well." But D&L still questions the new findings—even though the quakes petered out soon after the company voluntarily shut down its well.
AUSBROOKS AND HORTON PARTNERED for nearly a year to research the Arkansas earthquakes, driving around the state to install seismometers and collect data. And yet when it came time to publish the results in a leading scholarly journal, Seismological Research Letters, Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe forced Ausbrooks to remove his name as coauthor. Ausbrooks' boss at the Arkansas Geological Survey is Bekki White, who did two decades of consulting for the petroleum industry prior to her current post. "Ms. White conferred with our office," Matt DeCample, a Beebe spokesman, tells me. "We felt that putting the state and/or Mr. Ausbrooks as a coauthor would represent additional academic credentials beyond their usual scope of work. The survey is in the business of data collection, not interpreting that data and reaching conclusions." When I ask Ausbrooks for a better explanation, he laughs nervously. "Oh, let's just say, I want to say, but I can't. I'll just put it this way: There's money and politics involved." (The state collects $14 million in property taxes from Chesapeake Energy alone.)

Joe and Mary Reneau.
Fracking is an area where conflicts of interest seem particularly apt to emerge. In December, UT-Austin was forced to retract a much-ballyhooed study showing that fracking didn't pollute groundwater after Bloomberg News and an independent analysis by the Public Accountability Initiative revealed that the lead author (and former head of the USGS), Charles Groat, had received an undisclosed 10,000 shares a year and an annual fee ($58,500 in 2011) from a fracking company. The head of UT-Austin's Energy Institute, Raymond Orbach, also stepped down. (Groat is now the head of the Water Institute of the Gulf in Louisiana; Orbach remains at UT.)
Seismologists and geophysicists who work in academia often consult for the oil and gas industry. For example, Stanford's Zoback is on the board of the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America, a nonprofit oil and gas advocacy group whose charter is to "effectively deliver hydrocarbons from domestic resources to the citizens of the United States." Its members include Halliburton, Chevron, BP, and ConocoPhillips. During our conversations, he peppers his answers to my queries with caveats. "People forget that earthquakes are a natural geologic process, and in most of the cases, what the [injection wells] are doing is relieving forces already in the Earth's crust on faults that would have someday produced an earthquake anyway—maybe thousands of years from now. The oil industry has a history of operating 155,000 [wells] without a problem. Now we have a handful of cases. Without seeming like I'm taking industry's side, where is the problem?"
Keranen, too, juggles conflicting interests. When we talk, she occasionally cuts herself off mid-sentence and then confesses, apologetically, "I have to be careful what I say." Her research on the Prague quakes hasn't been published, and she seems concerned it might antagonize those who will decide on her academic tenure. Randy Keller is the chair of the University of Oklahoma's ConocoPhillips School of Geology and Geophysics. In 2007, the energy behemoth donated $6 million to the university, earning it top billing. Keller is also director of the Oklahoma Geological Survey, which has a mandate to "promote wise use of Oklahoma's natural resources." Such alliances make it difficult for him to point fingers. In December 2011, the OGS published an official position statement on induced seismicity, emphasizing that quakes could easily originate through natural dynamics and that "a rush to judgment" would be "harmful to state, public, and industry interests."
When I emailed Keller in October to inquire whether the OGS had modified its assessment in the face of Keranen's findings, he replied, "We do feel that the location of these events…the nature of the aftershock sequence, and the focal mechanisms can be explained by a natural event." A few hours later, he sent me a follow-up. "I wonder if you understand what I was trying to say. We have never flatly said that the injection wells did not trigger the earthquakes. Our opinion is that we do not yet have the data and research results to make a definitive statement about this issue." Keranen walks the same line, saying that her study will show that wastewater injection "very potentially" roused the Wilzetta Fault. Politics aside, there's widespread scientific consensus that unregulated wastewater injection presents a serious risk to public safety. "We're seeing mid-5.0 earthquakes, and they've caused significant damage," Rubinstein says. "We're beyond nuisance."
So what would the scientists do? One option is to require operators to check geological records before drilling new wells. The Wilzetta, mapped during Oklahoma's 1950s oil boom, could have been avoided. Another approach is using high-frequency sound waves to render three-dimensional images of underlying faults—technology that oil and gas companies already employ to hunt for untapped reservoirs. For existing wells, operators could set up seismometers to capture the tremors that often portend larger events. Finally, simply pumping less water into wells might mitigate earthquakes. Horton attempted to test this tactic in Arkansas. "We suggested reducing the amount of fluid they were injecting and continue [seismic] monitoring. We actually submitted a proposal to the industry to do that and they blew us off." Ohio's regulations for Class II wells, effective as of October, encompass many of these proposals.
Stanford's Zoback is not opposed to regulation, so long as it's not a knee-jerk reaction: "Three things are predictable whenever earthquakes occur that might be caused by fluid injection: The companies involved deny it, the regulators go into a brain freeze because they don't know what to do, and the press goes into a feeding frenzy because they get to beat up on the oil and gas industry, whether it is responsible or not. While I'm making a joke here, there is currently no framework for scientifically based regulation. Assessing and managing the risk associated with triggered seismicity is a complex issue. The last thing we want to implement is a bunch of new regulations that are well meaning but ineffective and unduly burdensome."
Getting regulators to agree on new rules is not going to be easy, because the connection between injection wells and earthquakes is inherently circumstantial. Seismologists can't situate sensors miles underground the instant an earthquake occurs, which means they might never be absolutely certain that wastewater and not natural forces led to the rupture. Frohlich puts it this way: "If you do the statistics, smoking causes lung cancer. But that doesn't mean that smoking caused your lung cancer." Ultimately, the courts may decide how much evidence is enough, if the lawsuit in Arkansas goes to trial.
Until then, the Reneaus face more home repairs and an uncertain future. When I leave, Joe walks me out to the driveway. Resurfaced after it buckled in the quake, it's already showing hairline cracks from recent tremors. Joe blames injection wells but thinks culpability will be hard to come by. "My theory is that even if God came down and said, 'You oil company guys are at fault,' they would still deny it. The only thing that's going to stop this is another big earthquake."
*It should be noted that the United States Geological Survey used two different techniques to estimate the earthquake magnitude at 5.6. The Global Centroid-Moment-Tensor Project at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University used different methods to measure it at 5.7. As Justin Rubinstein of the USGS told us, this type of variance is not unusual, and the measurements are considered consistent.

Exxon/Enbridge Canadian tar sands dilbit Pegasus pipeline ruptures in Mayflower, Arkansas, forcing evacuation of 22 homes [carried Wabasca heavy crude from Alberta, Canada]

Exxon Confirms Ruptured Arkansas Pipeline Carried Canadian Dilbit

The pipeline, called the Pegasus, leaked for about 45 minutes, according to local sources. Exxon has recovered 185,000 gallons of oil and water at site.

by Lisa Song, InsideClimate News, March 30, 2013

A pipeline that ruptured and leaked at least 80,000 gallons of oil into central Arkansas on Friday was transporting a heavy form of crude from the Canadian tar sands region, ExxonMobil told InsideClimate News. 

Local police said the line gushed oil for 45 minutes before being stopped, according to media reports.

Crude oil ran through a subdivision of Mayflower, Ark., about 20 miles north of Little Rock. Twenty-two homes were evacuated, but no one was hospitalized, Exxon spokesman Charlie Engelmann said on Saturday.

In an interview with InsideClimate News, Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson said emergency crews prevented the oil from entering waterways. The judge issued an emergency declaration following the oil spill and is involved in coordinating clean-up efforts among federal, state and local agencies and Exxon.

The 20-inch Pegasus pipeline runs 858 miles from Patoka, Ill., to Nederland, Texas. Engelmann said the line was carrying Wabasca Heavy crude from Alberta, Canada when it ruptured.

Wabasca Heavy, a type of dilbit, underlined in blue. Source:, the website of the Canadian Crude Quality Monitoring ProgramWabasca Heavy, a type of dilbit, underlined in blue. Source:, the website of the Canadian Crude Quality Monitoring ProgramWabasca Heavy is a type of diluted bitumen, or dilbit, from the tar sands region, according to the Canadian Crude Quality Monitoring Program, an industry source that provides data on different types of Canadian oil.

Because dilbit contains bitumen—a type of crude oil that's heavier than most conventional crude oil—it can be harder to clean up when it spills into water. A 2010 dilbit spill in Michigan's Kalamazoo River, which released a million gallons of dilbit and has cost pipeline operator Enbridge more than $820 million, continues to challenge scientists and regulators as they work on removing submerged oil from the riverbed.
Dodson said emergency crews led a "monumentally successful" effort to prevent the Exxon spill from entering nearby Lake Conway, a popular recreational area. First responders set up earthen dams to contain the flow of oil, he said, and crews are working to shore up the protections as rains continue to fall and complicate the cleanup operations.

The size of the spill remains unclear. Dodson said the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated the spill at 84,000 gallons. The EPA and the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management did not return calls for comment.

According to a Saturday afternoon press release from Exxon, 189,000 gallons of oil and water have been recovered from the site so far, and it is at least preparing to clean up more than twice that amount.

Exxon's release said the company is "staging a response for over 10,000 barrels [420,000 gallons] to be conservative."

"They're absolutely going above and beyond" what's required, Dodson said. He praised Exxon, local, state and federal agencies for their "amazingly fast response." More than ten agencies responded to the spill within the hour he said, and "everything fit together perfectly. It was such an efficient response."

According to Exxon, crews have deployed 2,000 feet of boom and 15 vacuum trucks. Dodson said the EPA and Exxon's contractor CTEH are monitoring for air quality.

The spill comes at an inopportune time for the industry, as it lobbies hard for approval of the controversial Keystone XL oil sands pipeline that would carry Canadian dilbit from the tar sands region to Texas refineries on the Gulf Coast. The Obama administration must approve or reject the project because it crosses an international border. 

Last week, a train hauling Canadian oil derailed and leaked 30,000 gallons of crude in western Minnesota.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) backroom deals Monsanto Protection Act into appropriations bill

How the Monsanto Protection Act snuck into law

A provison that protects the biotech giant from litigation passed Congress without many members knowing about it

by Natasha Lennard, Salon, March 27, 2013
How the Monsanto Protection Act snuck into law(Credit: Shutterstock/ igor.stevanovic)
Updated, March 28: A number of readers have requested to know exactly where in the HR 933 they might find the provision dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act.” It is Section 735 in the bill, the full text of which can be read here.
Original post: Slipped into the Agricultural Appropriations Bill, which passed through Congress last week, was a small provision that’s a big deal for Monsanto and its opponents. The provision protects genetically modified seeds from litigation in the face of health risks and has thus been dubbed the “Monsanto Protection Act” by activists who oppose the biotech giant. President Barack Obama signed the spending bill, including the provision, into law on Tuesday
Since the act’s passing, more than 250,000 people have signed a petition opposing the provision and a rally, consisting largely of farmers organized by the Food Democracy Now network, protested outside the White House Wednesday. Not only has anger been directed at the Monsanto Protection Act’s content, but the way in which the provision was passed through Congress without appropriate review by the Agricultural or Judiciary Committees. The biotech rider instead was introduced anonymously as the larger bill progressed — little wonder food activists are accusing lobbyists and Congress members of backroom dealings.
The Food Democracy Now and the Center for Food are directing blame at the Senate Appropriations Committee and its chairman, Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md. According to reports, many members of Congress were apparently unaware that the “Monsanto Protection Act” even existed within the spending bill, HR 933; they voted in order to avert a government shutdown.
“It sets a terrible precedent,” noted the International Business Times. “Though it will only remain in effect for six months until the government finds another way to fund its operations, the message it sends is that corporations can get around consumer safety protections if they get Congress on their side. Furthermore, it sets a precedent that suggests that court challenges are a privilege, not a right.”
Natasha Lennard is an assistant news editor at Salon, covering non-electoral politics, general news and rabble-rousing. Follow her on Twitter @natashalennard, email