GAZ PAINS: Russian natural-gas monopoly Gazprom — recently a prospering symbol of a resurgent, fossil-fueled Russia — has fallen on hard times as fuel prices plummet. Last year the state-run company rode a crest of high oil prices to become the third-largest corporation in the world; today its shares have fallen 76 percent, it's in debt and asking for a government bailout, a low its private-sector competitors in the West have so far avoided. (Source: The New York Times)

WHAT THE FRACK? Natural gas, often heralded as oil's and coal's clean(er) cousin because burning it produces 23 percent less CO2, has a dark side, ProPublica reports. To tap underground gas reserves, Halliburton uses an unknown combination of chemicals — protected from public scrutiny because they're trade secrets — in a process known as "hydrofracking." The chemicals crack apart the earth so extracting the fossil fuel is simpler and less costly, but despite EPA assurances that the waste generated isn't a hazard, ProPublica found at least 1,000 incidents of contaminated drinking water around the country. (Source: ProPublica)  

BAY OF PIGS' WASTE: The Chesapeake Bay Foundation on Monday released a dismal report highlighting the ongoing environmental degradation in the country's largest estuary. The population of blue crabs, normally a hardy species, has dropped by 531 million from 1990 to 2007, and 40 percent of crab-related jobs in Virginia and Maryland went with them. The Washington Post recently published an in-depth investigative report, "Failing the Chesapeake," about government efforts to clean up the bay. Progress reports over the last 25 years have often been misleadingly upbeat, the Post reports, to obscure failures and secure continued funding. While some types of pollution were reduced, agricultural runoff from sources such as pig farms continue to create algae blooms and dead zones. (Sources: The Baltimore Sun, The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot, The Washington Post)

WEATHERIZATION REPORT: The NYT reports this morning on growing interest in weatherization — the scrappy, piecemeal maximization of a building's energy efficiency — as a sign that policy philosophy is evolving. With an Obama promise to weatherize a million homes, the focus is beginning to shift toward reducing poor people's energy costs rather than just pitching in on the payments. (Source: NYT)

MONITORING THE SITUATION: The e-waste industry recycles 60 million electronics products each year, but much of it is exported, USA Today reports. Hong Kong recently turned back 1.4 million pounds of TVs and computer monitors that U.S. companies were trying to quietly dump there. Basel Action Network, an eight-year-old nonprofit with just three employees, is fighting the environmental damage caused by exported e-waste, which includes substantial lead and mercury leakage. (Source: USA Today)

BREAK ON THROUGH: Wired presents its list of the top 10 green-tech breakthroughs in 2008, from solar islands and green cement to T. Boone Pickens and Steven Chu. (Source: Wired)

Russell McLendon

Russell McLendon ( @russmclendon ) writes about humans and other wildlife.

The Morning Briefing: 12/30
Russia has Gaz pains, Chesapeake Bay gets less crabby, Halliburton fracks around with drinking water, U.S. nonprofit tries to trim e-waste, and Obama spreads we