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Issue No. 81 - June 1, 2016

1. New studies reveal water and soil contamination due to fracking wastewater

Oil-and-gas wastewater spill sites in North Dakot
As Inside Climate News reports in this in-depth article, new research by the US Geological Survey, published in two recent peer-reviewed studies (here and here), indicates that a fracking wastewater disposal site in West Virginia is contaminating a nearby creek. As mentioned previously in the SGBI, another study on the West Virginia contamination was recently published by University of Missouri researchers associated with the USGS investigation.

The researchers took samples of water and sediments around a commercial wastewater disposal site (injection well) just south of Fayatteville, West Virginia. The site is located near Wolf Creek, which empties into the New River, a source of drinking water, about six miles downstream. The researchers found that the water and sediment samples collected adjacent to and downstream of the wastewater site had higher than normal salt levels, metals such as strontium, barium, and lithium, as well as radioactive compounds and endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Another recent peer-reviewed study, by researchers from Duke University, found that thousands of fracking wastewater spills in North Dakota have left water and soil contaminated with radioactive materials, heavy metals and corrosive salts, as reported by Desmogblog and Inside Climate News. The scientists found that contamination from wastewater spills was "remarkably persistent in the environment", and included high levels of selenium, known to be toxic to fish and wildlife, and radium. Even when the spill water was removed, a legacy of radioactivity remained in the soils, and that the amount of radioactivity increased with the size of the spill. The highest level of radioactive radium the scientists found in soil samples was over 4,600 Bequerels per kilogram (bq/kg). Under North Dakota law, waste over 185 bq/kg is too radioactive to dispose of in regular landfills without a special permit or to haul on roads without a specific license from the state.

State records show that more than 4,000 wastewater spills have occurred in North Dakota since 2001. Wastewater from fracking operations, which contains salts, metals and radioactive materials from deep in the ground as well as the fracking chemicals, can find its way into the water and soil by pooling on the ground or seeping into waterways due to failing infrastructure.

2. Drilling begins in Woodburn Forest, Northern Ireland

Woodburn Forest protest
The Irish News reports that InfraStrata began exploratory drilling at Woodburn Forest (Co. Antrim) on Tuesday, May 17, despite the fact that the Mid and East Antrim Borough Council had not yet issued a promised decision related to complaints about the site. The Belfast High Court had been told on Friday, May 13, that the council would issue the decision by the following Monday or Tuesday, but a spokesman for the council said Tuesday night: "Due to there being a further session of the previously adjourned Judicial Review on Thursday 19th May, council is unable to comment at this point."

The drilling is expected to take around six weeks. Commenting on the start of the drilling, Green Party Belfast councillor Ross Brown said: "There is no community consent for this activity. I am astounded that it appears that the rights given to InfraStrata were done so by default as the council did not make an assessment on the decision."

The InfraStrata drilling was raised in the Dáil on Wednesday, May 18, by Richard Boyd Barrett, TD (People Before Profit), who described the drilling as "significant and alarming". Noting that the exploratory drilling had begun without planning permission, environmental assessment or consultation, he said this had significant consequences for Ireland.

Mr. Boyd Barrett has called for an immediate halt to the drilling, warning: "This so-called ‘exploratory drill’ in Antrim appears to be a cloak-and-dagger method of bringing fracking in by the back door. There are serious implications for the South if this drill is allowed to go ahead." Recalling the Prohibition of Hydraulic Fracturing Bill 2015 that his party introduced at the end of the last government and intends to move through the Dáil as soon as possible, Mr. Boyd Barrett added: "If Ireland is committed to reversing climate change we must ban fracking completely. That is the purpose of our Bill."

Mr. Boyd Barrett was among the TDs who attended the launch in Dublin on May 18 of Concerned Health Professionals Ireland (CHPI), an organization of Irish professionals whose purpose is to "highlight the public health risks and harms that High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing (HVHF) and the exploration & extraction of Oil & Gas from shale rock pose to the people of Ireland." The CHPI have established online petitions (for signature by medical professionals) for both Northern Ireland and the Republic, calling on the respective governments to "introduce a formal ban on UGEE".

3. Analysis: Carbon budget for 1.5°C warming will be used up in less than five years

NOAA Land and Ocean Percentiles April 2016
The latest data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that April was the latest of several successive months of record-breaking high temperatures.

Ireland was a notable exception, with cooler than average temperatures.

According to the NOAA report: "The combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces for April 2016 was 1.10°C (1.98°F) above the 20th century average of 13.7°C (56.7°F)—the highest temperature departure for April since global records began in 1880."

March 2016 was 1.23°C (2.21°F) above the pre-industrial average. At the COP21 climate summit in Paris in November 2015, world leaders agreed to "pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels", the 1.5°C limit being "a significantly safer defense line against the worst impacts of a changing climate" than 2°C.

Carbon Brief has published updated analysis of the "carbon budget" of CO2 that can be emitted before the 1.5°C threshold is reached, which concludes that, to have a 66% chance of staying below the 1.5°C level of warming, the world has only five years left of CO2 emissions at current levels.

The Carbon Brief analysis is based on the 2014 Synthesis Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which estimated carbon budgets for three levels of warming: 1.5°C, 2°C, and 3°C. For each temperature limit, there are three budgets, the first giving a 66% probability of staying below the given temperature, the second a 50% chance, and the last a 33% chance. Carbon Brief in 2014 published its own analysis calculating the number of years of current emissions that remain before each of these budgets was used up. They have now updated their analysis for 2016.

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