FRACK ATTACK: Rick Perry isn't going to like this. The three-term Texas governor has already worked himself into a frenzy over the EPA's increased enforcement of environmental rules, responding with a flurry of lawsuits that inspired the Los Angeles Times to dub his state the "anti-[skipwords]California[/skipwords]." But now that Houston-based energy company Halliburton has refused to name the chemicals it uses in a controversial gas-drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing — aka "fracking" — the EPA is once again messing with Texas. The agency subpoenaed Halliburton on Tuesday, as it was the only one of nine companies that ignored EPA requests to disclose the chemical makeup of "fracking fluids" (pictured), which drilling companies pump underground to loosen rocks around natural gas deposits. The agency says it needs that information to finish a congressionally mandated study on whether fracking poses a risk to drinking-water supplies, as people who live near gas-drilling sites across the country allege. "Halliburton has failed to provide EPA the information necessary to move forward with this important study," the agency said in the statement. "Today EPA issued a subpoena to the company requiring submission of the requested information that has yet to be provided." Halliburton, in its defense, calls the EPA's request overly broad, arguing it has already submitted 5,000 pages of documents, and that fulfilling the entire request would mean turning over another 50,000. "We have met with the agency and had several additional discussions with EPA personnel in order to help narrow the focus of their unreasonable demands so that we could provide the agency what it needs," a Halliburton spokeswoman says. "Halliburton welcomes any federal court's examination of our good-faith efforts with the EPA to date." Fracking is used to extract natural gas from dense, thin deposits of shale rock, and this "shale gas" is fast becoming one of the hottest U.S. energy sources — some analysts predict it will make up half the country's total gas supply by 2035, up from 20 percent today. But amid concerns that methane and fracking fluids can contaminate groundwater and poison people who drink it, several states have already clamped down on fracking ahead of EPA regulations. But in Texas, where Perry has built his political career by railing against the feds, the EPA move is likely to be seen as one more sign of D.C. overreach. "People are tired of the government cooking up new ways to micromanage their lives," Perry said during his victory speech after last week's elections. "They're tired of the government killing jobs with their do-gooder policies that have nothing to do with science or economics." (Sources: USA Today, Bloomberg News, Reuters, Los Angeles Times)
DEER PRUDENCE: Sex-crazed bucks are dashing across U.S. roads in dangerous numbers, the [skipwords]New York[/skipwords] Times reports today, as mating season reaches its mid-November peak and drivers pay dearly for even a momentary lapse in concentration. "The bucks throw caution to the wind as they chase does during the breeding season," a wildlife specialist at Texas A&M University tells the Times. "If this happens to carry them across a roadway, they don't seem to care." Car-deer collisions always spike around this time of the season, but they've become more and more frequent in recent years, officially reaching 2.3 million between 2009 and 2010 — up 21 percent from five years ago. And that doesn't count all the crashes that go unreported, which one wildlife specialist says may push the true number of collisions as high as 2 million per year. Rising deer populations are part of the problem — with white-tailed deer in particular booming across the U.S., now numbering more than 30 million — but so are rising human populations, which aren't growing as quickly but have increasingly spread into wooded, undeveloped areas the past few decades. And while deer usually fare worse than cars when the two collide, such encounters can still be costly for humans, racking up billions of dollars in car repairs and medical costs, as well as killing hundreds of drivers each year. West Virginia is the the national hotspot for car-deer crashes, according to State Farm, with each driver facing 1-in-42 odds of hitting a deer over a 12-month span; Hawaii, meanwhile, has the lowest odds, as drivers have only a 1-in-13,011 chance. But deer aren't the only animals to look out for this fall — in fact, their tall bodies and glowing eyes actually make them easy to spot compared with feral hogs, which are spreading rapidly in several states and have short, dark frames that are hard to see on cloudy nights. (Source: New York Times)
CULTURE OF COMPLACENCY: Oil companies' hubris and haste set the stage for this summer's disastrous Gulf oil spill, creating a longstanding "culture of complacency" throughout the industry that finally reached a breaking point, the head of a presidential panel investigating the spill said Tuesday. A day after chief investigator Fred Bartlit released preliminary findings about a string of bad judgments leading up to the spill, commission co-chair William Reilly lashed out at BP, Transocean and Halliburton Tuesday, saying all three companies "are implicated in egregiously bad decisions that contributed to the catastrophe." The commission focused especially on BP's actions in the final days before the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded on April 20, as the company raced to temporarily seal and abandon the Macondo oil well so it could later be hooked up to a production platform. BP officials rewrote their abandonment plans three times during the week before April 20, a series of flip-flops that one drilling engineer described as "scrambling" in testimony before the commission. The British oil giant also infamously took ill-advised shortcuts that both investigators and experts highlighted at Tuesday's hearing, such as its decision to place a cement plug 3,000 feet under the sea floor instead of 300 feet down, or to replace heavy drilling mud above the plug with lighter-weight sea water, leaving the Macondo well unstable. One petroleum engineer from Louisiana State University told the panel Tuesday that BP should have "put a second cement plug in before removing the mud," providing a much-needed fail-safe that could have averted catastrophe. But while the panel emphasized that the unsafe culture in offshore drilling was a systemic problem, Reilly did acknowledge that BP seems to stand out even among its peers. "BP has been notoriously challenged on matters of process safety," he said. "Other companies may not be so challenged." The panel is scheduled to release its final report on Jan. 11, 2011, but has been pushing for the Senate to let Barlit have more subpoena-issuing power, since many people who were on the rig have refused to testify. (Sources: Guardian, San Francisco Chronicle)
BURNING BLUBBER: Whales can get sunburns, a team of U.S.- and Mexico-based researchers has discovered, and for some species, they appear to be getting worse. The skin damage occurs much as it does in humans, burning and blistering the skin of lighter-colored species like blue whales (pictured), while showing less of an effect on darker varieties such as fin whales. The scientists were interested in how rising levels of ultraviolet light affect wildlife, and decided that whales would be a good model because "they need to come to the surface to breathe air, to socialize and to feed their young, meaning that they are frequently exposed to the full force of the sun," the study's lead author tells the BBC. They studied more than 150 whales in the Gulf of California, using high-resolution photos of the whales' sunburns as well as skin samples taken from areas that seemed blistered. Upon examination under a microscope, they realized the blisters were caused by sun damage, and found that blue whales were getting more severe sunburns than darker fin whales. While they found no evidence of skin cancer in the whales, they did note that blue whales' sunburns appear to be getting worse, a trend that could be linked to UV radiation seeping in through the leaky ozone layer. "The increase in skin damage seen in blue whales is a matter of concern, but at this stage it is not clear what is causing this increase," the lead author says. "A likely candidate is rising ultraviolet radiation as a result of either ozone depletion, or a change in the level of cloud cover." (Sources: BBC News, e! Science News)
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Photo (fracking fluid): Ralph Wilson/AP
Photo (deer watching a car pass): Jim Cole/AP
Photo (Deepwater Horizon fire): ZUMA Press
Photo (whale sun blisters): Diane Gendron, HO-Zoological Society of London/AP
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