Tag Archives: environment

#America: Strong #California #quake causes injuries, damage


This photo provided by Lyall Davenport shows damage to a building in Napa, Calif. early Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Officials say an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 has been reported in California's northern San Francisco Bay area. (AP Photo/Lyall Davenport)This photo provided by Lyall Davenport shows damage to a building in Napa, Calif. early Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014. Officials say an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 6.0 has been reported in California’s northern San Francisco Bay area. (AP Photo/Lyall Davenport)

NAPA, Calif. (AP) — The largest earthquake to hit the San Francisco Bay Area in 25 years sent scores of people to hospitals, ignited fires, damaged multiple historic buildings and knocked out power to tens of thousands in California’s wine country on Sunday.

The 6.0-magnitude earthquake that struck at 3:20 a.m. about 6 miles from the city of Napa ruptured water mains and gas lines, left two adults and a child critically injured, upended bottles and casks at some of Napa Valley’s famed wineries and sent residents running out of their homes in the darkness.

Dazed residents too fearful of aftershocks to go back to bed wandered at dawn through Napa’s historic downtown, where the quake had shorn a 10-foot chunk of bricks and concrete from the corner of an old county courthouse. Bolder-sized pieces of rubble littered the lawn and street in front of the building and the hole left behind allowed a view of the offices inside.

College student Eduardo Rivera, 20, said the home he shares with six relatives shook so violently that he kept getting knocked back into his bed as he tried to flee.

“When I woke up, my mom was screaming, and the sound from the earthquake was greater than my mom’s screams,” Rivera said.

People look at a damaged building with a top corner exposed following an earthquake Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A large earthquake rolled through California's northern Bay Area early Sunday, damaging some buildings, igniting fires, knocking out power to tens of thousands and sending residents running out of their homes in the darkness. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)People look at a damaged building with a top corner exposed following an earthquake Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A large earthquake rolled through California’s northern Bay Area early Sunday, damaging some buildings, igniting fires, knocking out power to tens of thousands and sending residents running out of their homes in the darkness. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

While inspecting the shattered glass at her husband’s storefront office in downtown Napa, Chris Malloy, 45, described calling for her two children in the dark as the quake rumbled under the family’s home, throwing heavy pieces of furniture 3 or 4 feet and breaking them.

“It was shaking and I was crawling on my hands and knees in the dark, looking for them,” she said, wearing flip flops on feet left bloodied from crawling through broken glass.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the earthquake, the White House said. Federal officials also have been in touch with state and local emergency responders. Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency for southern Napa County, directing state agencies to respond with equipment and personnel.

Napa Fire Department Operations Chief John Callanan said the city has exhausted its own resources trying to extinguish six fires, some in places with broken water mains; transporting injured residents; searching homes for anyone who might be trapped; and answering calls about gas leaks and downed power lines.

Two of the fires happened at mobile home parks, including one where four homes were destroyed and two others damaged, Callanan said.

Nina Quidit cleans up the Dollar Plus and Party Supplies Store in American Canyon Calif. after an earthquake on Sunday Aug. 24, 2014. Quidit and her husband were woken up in the early morning hours by the store's alarm company and immediately drove in to begin clean up. The 6.0-magnitude quake caused six significant fires, including at four mobile homes, Napa Division Fire Chief Darren Drake said. (AP Photo/Alex Washburn)Nina Quidit cleans up the Dollar Plus and Party Supplies Store in American Canyon Calif. after an earthquake on Sunday Aug. 24, 2014. Quidit and her husband were woken up in the early morning hours by the store’s alarm company and immediately drove in to begin clean up. The 6.0-magnitude quake caused six significant fires, including at four mobile homes, Napa Division Fire Chief Darren Drake said. (AP Photo/Alex Washburn)

The earthquake sent at least 87 people to Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa, where officials set up a triage tent to handle the influx. Most patients had cuts, bumps, bruises, said Vanessa DeGier, hospital spokeswoman said. She says the facility has treated a hip fracture and heart attack, but it’s unclear if it was related to the quake.

The child in critical condition was struck by part of a fireplace and had to be airlifted to a specialty hospital for a neurological evaluation, Callanan said.

The earthquake is the largest to shake the Bay Area since the 6.9-magnitude Loma Prieta quake in 1989, the USGS said. That temblor struck the area on Oct. 17, 1989, during a World Series game between the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland Athletics, collapsing part of the Bay Bridge roadway and killing more than 60 people, most when an Oakland freeway fell.

Sunday’s quake was felt widely throughout the region. People reported feeling it more than 200 miles south of Napa and as far east as the Nevada border. Amtrak suspended its train service through the Bay Area so tracks could be inspected.

In Napa, at least three historic buildings were damaged, including the county courthouse, and at least two downtown commercial buildings have been severely damaged. A Red Cross evacuation center was set up at a high school, and crews were assessing damage to homes, bridges and roadways.

Bricks and fallen rubble cover a car with the old courthouse in the background following an earthquake Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A large earthquake rolled through California's northern Bay Area early Sunday, damaging some buildings, igniting fires, knocking out power to tens of thousands and sending residents running out of their homes in the darkness. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)Bricks and fallen rubble cover a car with the old courthouse in the background following an earthquake Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014, in Napa, Calif. A large earthquake rolled through California’s northern Bay Area early Sunday, damaging some buildings, igniting fires, knocking out power to tens of thousands and sending residents running out of their homes in the darkness. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

“There’s collapses, fires,” said Napa Fire Capt. Doug Bridewell, standing in front of large pieces of masonry that broke loose from a turn of the century office building where a fire had just been extinguished. “That’s the worst shaking I’ve ever been in.”

Bridewell said he had to climb over fallen furniture in his own home to check on his family before reporting to duty.

The shaking emptied cabinets in homes and store shelves, set off car alarms and had residents of neighboring Sonoma County running out of their houses and talking about damage inside their homes.

Pacific Gas and Electric spokesman J.D. Guidi said close to 30,000 lost power right after the quake hit, but the number was down just under 19,000, most of them in Napa. He says crews are working to make repairs, but it’s unclear when electricity would be restored.

The depth of the earthquake was just less than 7 miles, and numerous small aftershocks have occurred, the USGS said.

“A quake of that size in a populated area is of course widely felt throughout that region,” said Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Golden, Colorado.

California Highway Patrol Officer Kevin Bartlett said cracks and damage to pavement closed the westbound Interstate 80 connector to westbound State Route 37 in Vallejo and westbound State Route 37 at the Sonoma off ramp. He says there haven’t been reports of injuries or people stranded in their cars, but there are numerous flat tires from motorists driving over damaged roads.

Map locates epicenter of 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Napa August 24Map locates epicenter of 6.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Napa August 24.

(Associated Press writers Tom Verdin in Sacramento, Lisa Leff in San Francisco and Courtney Bonnell in Phoenix contributed to this report).


Associated Press.

Finland: Ministers call for changes to solar energy tax


The solar energy tax regime has cooled business ardour for producing solar energy. Image: Jussi Kallioinen / YleThe solar energy tax regime has cooled business ardour for producing solar energy. Image: Jussi Kallioinen / Yle

Finnish Customs say that current legislation requires small-scale producers of solar energy to pay taxes, even if the power is used only for a household’s domestic consumption.

Environment Minister Ville Niinistö has said he will raise the matter in upcoming government budget negotiations. Finance Minister Antti Rinne also says that if customs officials are right, the law will have to change.

According to an Yle report Monday, Finnish Customs’ interpretation of current legislation on solar energy means that households will have to pay taxes even if solar power is produced solely for their own consumption.

The guidance from Finnish Customs on the taxation issue has eaten into the profitability of large-scale solar panel producers as members of the business sector have switched off solar power because of the tax exposure.

The Salo-based renewable energy company Areva Solar has observed the cooling enthusiasm of businesses for solar energy as a result of the taxation issue. Last winter the company planned a solar panel farm to be situated atop a local business park in response to growing demand for power. Those plans have since been put on ice.

Environment Minister Ville Niinistö told Yle that he intends to raise the matter during budget negotiations due at the end of August.

“Solar energy is becoming increasingly profitable in small-scale production but our outdated taxation practices are making business growth impossible or at least difficult,” Niinistö remarked.

Rinne: Situation “totally absurd”

Finance Minister Antti Rinne’s view on the matter lined up with those of the Environment Minister.

“This must change. In practice it means that if the interpretation of the law in your news is accurate, then it must be changed,” Rinne said in an interview on Yle’s Aamu-tv breakfast programme.

He said that the government had discussed net metering.

“In practice this means that producers could feed power into the (electricity) grid and earn income. Taxes would then be paid only on the income earned,” he explained.

Rinne said he did not expect any opposition to the proposal in the government’s budget discussions.

Yle Uutiset | yle.fi.

#Tory MPs more likely to oppose #windfarms than #British public – poll


Conservatives opposition undermining projects and investment in renewables, say wind energy companies. 

By Fiona HarveyLittle Cheyne Court windfarm in Camber, Kent, England. Photograph: Haydn West/Rex FeaturesLittle Cheyne Court windfarm in Camber, Kent, England. Photograph: Haydn West/Rex Features.

Conservative MPs are much more likely to oppose onshore windfarms than the national average of the public, a new poll has found.

About four out of five Tory MPs are likely to oppose onshore windfarms in their constituency, according to the poll conducted by ComRes on behalf of REG Windpower. But about six in 10 people across the country, and just over half of those eligible to vote in rural areas, favour onshore windfarms, even if built near them.

More Tory MPs than Labour represent rural constituencies, but only about one-third of people polled in rural areas said they would oppose onshore windfarms built near them.

Wind energy companies are angry that the Tories have suggested next year’s general election manifesto will include a pledge to cut or abolish altogether energy bill-payer subsidies to onshore windfarms, and that Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, has stopped or delayed some onshore wind projects. There are increasing fears that big investors will pull out of UK wind projects, which could stall renewable energy growth.

Andrew Whalley, chief executive of REG Windpower, said: “We’ve been told time and again by Conservatives that they recognise the financial and environmental arguments in favour of onshore wind, but that they can’t support it because their constituents don’t want it in their local areas. This research debunks that argument.

“Local communities not only understand the benefits in terms of energy security and stability of investing on renewables, but are largely accepting of onshore wind projects in their communities. The barrier to progress is the irrational and ideological hostility of many Conservative MPs, which is out of touch with public opinion.

“Conservative opposition to onshore wind, which is most evident in Eric Pickles’ abuse of the planning system to delay and prevent developments, is now undermining projects and investment in what is an established sector. Onshore wind has the potential to help reduce energy costs and our reliance on oil and gas. This potential might not be realised if the Conservatives don’t get on the same page as their constituents.”

However, the poll did not break down members of the public by voting intention, so it is not possible to say how many rural Tory voters or likely Tory voters would favour onshore windfarms in their area. It is possible that Tory MPs are attempting to appeal to their “base” vote by opposing the construction of renewable energy.

Separate polling shows only a small fraction of voters choose their MP based on his or her support for or opposition to renewable energy.

The REG poll questioned about 150 MPs of all parties.

Liberal Democrat MPs were also cooler on onshore windfarms than their party policies might suggest, with a third of those sampled declining to support onshore wind developments in their local area.

According to the poll, 55% of people in rural areas would be happy to have an onshore windfarm near them, compared with 62% nationally. More than 4,500 voters were surveyed.

Separately, 154 MPs were surveyed, of whom 12% of the Conservative members said they would be happy to have an onshore wind development in their area, while 74% of Labour MPs and 64% of Liberal Democrat MPs said they would support an onshore wind development in their community.


EnvironmentThe Guardian.

Oil companies fracking into drinking water sources, new research shows


By Neela BanerjeeTanker trucks for hauling water and fracking fluids line up near a natural gas flare in Williston, N.D. Fracking has touched off a nationwide oil and gas boom, and with it, worries about public health and the environment. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)Tanker trucks for hauling water and fracking fluids line up near a natural gas flare in Williston, N.D. Fracking has touched off a nationwide oil and gas boom, and with it, worries about public health and the environment. (Charles Rex Arbogast / AP)

Energy companies are fracking for oil and gas at far shallower depths than widely believed, sometimes through underground sources of drinking water, according to research released Tuesday by Stanford University scientists.

Though researchers cautioned their study of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, employed at two Wyoming geological formations showed no direct evidence of water-supply contamination, their work is certain to roil the public health debate over the risks of the controversial oil and gas production process.

Fracking involves high-pressure injection of millions of gallons of water mixed with sand and chemicals to crack geological formations and tap previously unreachable oil and gas reserves. Fracking fluids contain a host of chemicals, including known carcinogens and neurotoxins.

Fears about possible water contamination and air pollution have fed resistance in communities around the country, threatening to slow the oil and gas boom made possible by fracking.

Fracking into underground drinking water sources is not prohibited by the 2005 Energy Policy Act, which exempted the practice from key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act. But the industry has long held that it does not hydraulically fracture into underground sources of drinking water because oil and gas deposits sit far deeper than aquifers.

The study, however, found that energy companies used acid stimulation, a production method, and hydraulic fracturing in the Wind River and Fort Union geological formations that make up the Pavillion gas field and that contain both natural gas and sources of drinking water.

“Thousands of gallons of diesel fuel and millions of gallons of fluids containing numerous inorganic and organic additives were injected directly into these two formations during hundreds of stimulation events,” concluded Dominic DiGiulio and Robert Jackson of Stanford’s School of Earth Sciences in a presentation Tuesday at the American Chemical Society conference in San Francisco.

The scientists cautioned that their research, which is ongoing and has yet to be peer-reviewed, “does not say that drinking water has been contaminated by hydraulic fracturing.”

Rather, they point out that there is no way of knowing the effects of fracking into groundwater resources because regulators have not assessed the scope and impact of the activity.

“The extent and consequences of these activities are poorly documented, hindering assessments of potential resource damage and human exposure,” DiGiulio wrote.

Underground sources of drinking water, or USDWs, are a category of aquifers under the Safe Drinking Water Act that could provide water for human consumption.

“If the water isn’t being used now, it doesn’t mean it can’t be used in the future,” said DiGiulio, a Stanford research associate who recently retired from the Environmental Protection Agency. “That was the intent of identifying underground sources of drinking water: to safeguard them.”

The EPA documented in 2004 that fracking into drinking water sources had occurred when companies extracted natural gas from coal seams. But industry officials have long denied that the current oil and gas boom has resulted in fracking into drinking water sources because the hydrocarbon deposits are located in deeper geological formations.

“Thankfully, the formations where hydraulic fracturing actually is occurring…are isolated from USDWs by multiple layers and often billions of tons of impenetrable rock,” said Steve Everley, a spokesman for Energy in Depth, an industry group.

Industry officials had not seen the Stanford research.

DiGiulio and Jackson plotted the depths of fracked wells, as well as domestic drinking water wells in the Pavillion area. They found that companies used acid stimulation and hydraulic fracturing at depths of the deepest water wells near the Pavillion gas field, at 700 to 750 feet, far shallower than fracking was previously thought to occur in the area.

“It’s true that fracking often occurs miles below the surface,” said Jackson, professor of environment and energy at Stanford. “People don’t realize, though, that it’s sometimes happening less than a thousand feet underground in sources of drinking water.”

Companies say that fracking has never contaminated drinking water. The EPA launched three investigations over the last six years into possible drinking water contamination by oil and gas activity in Dimock, Pa.; Parker County, Texas; and Pavillion, Wyo. After initially finding evidence of contamination at the three sites, the EPA shelved the investigations amid allegations by environmentalists and local residents that the regulator succumbed to political pressure.

Jackson said the Stanford study’s findings underscore the need for better monitoring of fracking at shallower depths. “You can’t test the consequences of an activity if you don’t know how common it is,” he said. “We think that any fracking within a thousand feet of the surface should be more clearly documented and face greater scrutiny.”

The Stanford study focuses on Pavillion, in part because of DiGiulio’s familiarity with the area when he served as an EPA researcher in the latter stages of the Pavillion water study. Industry and the state of Wyoming questioned the EPA’s methodology after its 2011 draft report found the presence of chemicals associated with gas production in residents’ well water. In June 2013, the EPA turned over the study to Wyoming regulators, whose work is being funded by EnCana, the company accused of polluting the water in Pavillion.

The EPA study looked at whether chemicals migrated upward from fracked geological zones into people’s well water. The Stanford research does not explore the possibility of migration, focusing instead on the injection of fracking chemicals directly into geological formations that contain groundwater.

The EPA does not keep track of whether underground sources of drinking water have been hydraulically fractured as part of oil and gas development, said Alisha Johnson, a spokeswoman. “EPA does not maintain a database of all the wells being hydraulically fractured across the country,” she said in an email.

In their presentation, DiGiulio and Jackson noted that the EPA considers the Wind River formation and the Fort Union stratum below it to be underground sources of drinking water. The conventional image of tight geological formations where fracking occurs is that they are monolithic stretches of rock. But the scientists say the geology of the two formations is mostly sandstone of varying permeability and water.

“People think these formations are impermeable, and so they wonder, ‘Why are you worrying about water?’” DiGiulio said. “But it is an extremely heterogeneous environment, with areas of low and high permeability mixed together and with many lenses conducting water.”

Follow @neelaeast for energy and environmental news.


LA Times.

We’re f***ed: scientist on #danger from #ocean #methane plumes


By Megan Darby
The scientists took measurements from icebreaker ship Oden. (Pic: Stockholm University/Stella Papadopoulou)The scientists took measurements from icebreaker ship Oden. (Pic: Stockholm University/Stella Papadopoulou)

When researchers from Stockholm University found plumes of methane rising from the seabed, the chief scientist’s response was mild.

“This was somewhat of a surprise,” Örjan Gustafsson wrote in his blog .

When glaciologist and blogger Jason Box saw their findings, he put it rather more strongly: “That’s damn scary.”

The subject of Box’s concern was methane released from the ocean. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, with around 20 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide.

What is more, the scientists suspect climate change could make such methane releases more likely, in a feedback loop.

Box, who has been studying the Greenland ice sheet’s sensitivity to weather and climate for 20 years, was already losing sleep about occasional spikes in methane levels in the area. He called these outlying results “dragon’s breath”.

While there was growing evidence of high methane levels  over the Arctic Ocean, this Swedish study was the first to record methane bubbles rising to the surface.

Gustafsson and his team were exploring the Laptev Sea, on the edge of the Arctic.

From icebreaker ship Oden, they used sonar and chemical analysis to measure methane in the water.

They found plumes of the gas rising from depths of between 150m and 500m. Levels of dissolved methane in the water were between 10 and 50 times background levels.

Gustafsson said the gas may be released from methane hydrates collapsing on the sea bed.

“While there has been much speculation about the vulnerability of regular marine hydrates along the continental slopes of the Arctic rim, very few actual observations of methane releases due to collapsing marine hydrates on the Arctic slope have been made,” he blogged.

A “tongue” of warmer water from the Atlantic could be behind the breakdown of methane hydrates. There is some evidence that part of the ocean is getting warmer.

Box said the findings showed the importance of reducing man-made carbon emissions.

“Fossil fuel burning is the trigger mechanism poking the climate dragon,” he wrote. “The cautionary principle makes clear we have to keep this dragon in the ground.”

RTCC.