Environmental Consequences of Oil Train Derailment Unclear

Publication: NBC News   Date: February 17, 2015   View Article

Wreckage from a derailed oil train smoldered in West Virginia on Tuesday as environmentalists waited to see whether surrounding water and wildlife would be tainted by the train’s cargo of North Dakota crude.

For some in the area, the latest incident also brought on memories of when a coal-cleaning chemical spilled into a nearby river a year ago and shut off drinking water to nearly 300,000 people for several weeks, said Judith Rodd, director of Friends of the Blackwater, an environmental group based in Charleston, West Virginia.

‘Clean Coal’ With Carbon Capture Debuts in North America (Not in US)

Publication: NBC News   Date: October 4, 2014   View Article

A first-of-its-kind coal-fired power plant retrofitted with technology to capture and store most of the carbon dioxide produced at one of its boilers officially began operations this week in Saskatchewan, Canada. Meanwhile, a similar project in Illinois to demonstrate a cleaner way to burn the world’s most abundant fossil fuel remains in legal and financial limbo.

Whether the U.S. government-backed project in Meredosia, Ill., will advance so-called carbon capture and storage, or CCS, technology is an open question, but experts deem the technology itself vital if the world hopes to stand any practical chance at staving off catastrophic climate change.

And CCS is being propelled forward by pollution-control measures such as the Obama admnistration’s proposed rules to limit carbon emissions from new and existing power plants.

Who’s Driving That Tanker? New Polar Code For Sailing Emerges

Publication: NBC News   Date: August 23, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after a drunk captain and his fatigued crew ran the Exxon Valdez onto a reef where it spilled 10.8 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound, new rules are taking shape to prevent a similar disaster in the rapidly opening Arctic Ocean.

There, melting sea ice is opening a new frontier for cruise and cargo ships as well as prospectors for oil, gas, and hard rock minerals.

A key goal of the new rules is to ensure people skilled in navigating ice-strewn seas are aboard every vessel in Arctic and Antarctic waters, according to Lawson Brigham, a distinguished professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, who has participated in the development of the so-called Polar Code for more than 20 years.

Arctic Ship Traffic and Oil Spill Worries Rise as Ice Recedes

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 25, 2014   View Article

Ships packed with frozen mackerel and herring will sail in convoy behind a Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker from Norway to Asia this summer along the Northern Sea Route through the Arctic Ocean — a trial run as companies rush to capitalize on the world’s hunger for fish and to extract minerals from the top of the world.

Dozens of ships now transit the Arctic each year amid decreasing summer ice — in 2013,71 vessels plied the Northern Sea Route, including the first container ship. In another first, a bulk carrier transited coal through the famed Northwest Passage on a voyage from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, to Finland. And that traffic is only likelier to get busier.

Hundreds more ships “go up to the Arctic and perform some activity and then they come out,” Lawson Brigham, a professor of geography and Arctic policy at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, explained to NBC News. Most of these ships transport equipment to mines and other industrial sites and leave with commodities such as oil, gas, copper, nickel, and iron ore.

Fracking Tie to Earthquakes Raises Question of Liability

Publication: NBC News   Date: May 13, 2014   View Article

Earthquakes like the one that woke residents from their beds on March 10 in Poland Township, Ohio, might become a more frequent occurrence in areas where fracking is becoming big business. Scientists are reporting mounting evidence that tremors can be tied to the much-debated drilling technique and related activities. What’s not clear is who might be held responsible for the quakes.

Fracking refers to the method the petroleum industry uses to break apart chunks of shale rock deep within the earth to free trapped oil and gas. Geologists in Ohio established a “probable connection” between fracking and the magnitude 3.0 quake on March 10. In Oklahoma, geologists report a spike in earthquakes associated with injecting into deep underground wells the wastewater generated during fracking operations.

The heightened awareness of seismic activity associated with fracking and wastewater injection raises the question of who is responsible should an earthquake occur that causes damage to people or their property.

Pacific Northwest’s Salish Sea Eyed as Fossil Fuel Gateway

Publication: National Geographic News   Date: May 9, 2014   View Article

Trains loaded with crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation rumble past the outfield bleachers of the Seattle Mariners’ baseball stadium several times a week. From there, the trains head north, their cargo destined for multiple refineries in Washington State.

The traffic is new: Just three years ago, no oil trains were coming to Washington. Bakken crude is filling a void created by dwindling shipments from aging oil fields on Alaska’s North Slope, and the petroleum industry wants to bring in more. But the push to build more rail and shipping capacity in the Pacific Northwest is spurring debate over how that oil flow will affect the region—and where it should ultimately go.

The Next Exxon Valdez? Remote Alaskan Waters, Experts Fear

Publication: NBC News   Date: March 24, 2014   View Article

A quarter-century after 10.8 million gallons of crude oil gushed from the Exxon Valdez and scarred Alaska’s Prince William Sound, oil spill responders fear that another disaster looms in more remote Alaskan waters where ship traffic is on the rise, due in part to the North American energy boom.

The largest concern centers on the Arctic, where oil exploration and development is progressing in fits and starts, and Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands, a choke point on a major shipping route between North America and Asia. Both regions are expected to see increased traffic as summer sea ice disappears and producers of North American crude oil and coal look to export fossil fuels to Asia.

© 2008-2010 Collected Writings By John Roach