Bacteria Engineered to Destroy Pollutants

  • Justin Gallivan and his team programmed a type of E. coli bacteria to seek out atrazine in a petri dish, and destroy it, but right now the bacteria is too weak to survive in the wild. (Photo courtesy of the National Institutes of Health)

Scientists have engineered bacteria to seek out and destroy a chemical that pollutes drinking water. Rebecca Williams has more:

Transcript

Scientists have engineered bacteria to seek out and destroy a chemical that pollutes drinking water. Rebecca Williams has more:

Atrazine is a pesticide used on corn, sorghum and sugar cane. It’s one of the most common chemicals polluting water supplies in the US.

Justin Gallivan is a chemist at Emory University. His team genetically engineered a type of E. coli bacteria. They programmed it to seek out atrazine in a petri dish… and destroy it.

He says right now, this engineered bacteria is too weak to survive in the wild.

“It requires quite a bit of care and feeding, as you might say, to survive even in a petri dish. So if it were placed in a more harsh environment, it is extremely likely that these types of organisms would not survive.”

He says using this kind of genetically engineered bacteria to clean up pollution is still a long way off.

For The Environment Report, I’m Rebecca Williams.

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New Bi-Partisan Climate Change Bill

  • Darren Samuelsohn says the bill will also include a national renewable electricity standard, requiring more power to come from sources other than fossil fuel such as coal. (Photo courtesy of NREL)

A long-awaited climate change bill in the Senate is to be released next week. A prominent Republican says the bi-partisan bill won’t pass. Lester Graham reports:

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A long-awaited climate change bill in the Senate is to be released next week. A prominent Republican says the bi-partisan bill won’t pass. Lester Graham reports.

Senators John Kerry, a Democrat, Joseph Lieberman, an independent and Lindsey Graham, a Republican have been working behind closed doors for six months to draft a climate and energy bill. They’re supposed to release it next Monday.

Darren Samuelsohn covers Washington for ClimateWire. He says no one knows everything the bill will include… but some points have been revealed.

Samuelsohn: Price on carbon emissions across multiple sectors of the economy: power plants, heavy manufacturing and transportation and then trying to ramp up a range of domestic energy supplies from nuclear to natural gas to oil.

Samuelsohn says the bill will also include a national renewable electricity standard, requiring more power come from sources other than fossil fuel such as coal.

Samuelsohn speculates this bill could pass in the Senate… but it will require some arm twisting and deal making by President Obama.

The Senate’s chief climate change denier, Republican James Inhofe told Fox News the bill won’t get half the votes it needs to pass.

For The Environment, I’m Lester Graham.

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Shell Walks Away From Oil Shale

  • Shell says that even though it's no longer pursing water rights on the Yampa River right now, it's in no way backing off its larger ambitions for oil shale. (Photo courtesy of the US DOE)

Extracting oil from oil shale takes a lot of water. Most of the oil shale in the U.S. is in areas where there’s not a lot of water. Conrad Wilson reports, one big oil company seems to be walking away from oil shale for that reason. But not everyone thinks that’s the case.

Transcript

Extracting oil from oil shale takes a lot of water. Most of the oil shale in the U.S. is in areas where there’s not a lot of water. Conrad Wilson reports, one big oil company seems to be walking away from oil shale for that reason. But not everyone thinks that’s the case.

In the Western US, some energy companies are betting big on oil shale. That’s a process of basically heating up a shale rock into a liquid that’s eventually refined into oil. But the global recession and the threat of climate change might be giving those companies second thoughts. Add to that a increasingly limited water supply, and oil shale looks like a risky investment.

The process of creating oil shale is energy intensive and uses a lot of water. That’s a problem in the arid West. As the population grows, the value of water is increasing.

Royal Dutch Shell has the most invested in developing an oil shale technology that works. So earlier this year when the company announced it was pulling away from water rights, it sent shock waves through the industry.

“I read that decision as Shell’s acknowledgment that oil shale is a long way off and that this was a really controversial filing and that in a sense it’s not worth it.”

That’s Claire Bastable of the Western Energy Project. It’s an environmental group that keeps on eye on energy issues in the West. Shell had been pursuing water rights on the Yampa River, in the Northwest portion Colorado.

“Shell’s decision was a big deal. We’re talking about 15 billion gallons of water. … It would have basically taken the Yampa River, which is one of the the last free flowing rivers in the West and diverted a huge proportion of it to Shell for potential oil shale development.”

Bastable says the 15 billion gallons Shell was seeking is about three times the amount the city of Boulder, Colorado uses in a year.

But, Shell knows a lot of oil can be extracted from the oil shale. It’s estimated that there are 800 billion barrels of usable oil in the shale – in Wyoming, Colorado and Utah.

Dr. Jeremy Boak researches oil shale development at the Colorado School of Mines. He says Shell could be simply postponing extracting that oil. Boak believes oil shale has a future, but it’s still decades away.

“With all of the comments they’ve made about what the time scale for oil shale, Shell has been pretty comfortable that this is going to take time.”

Shell says that even though it’s no longer pursing water rights on the Yampa River right now, it’s in no way backing off its larger ambitions for oil shale.

The company wouldn’t provide someone to comment for this story, but in a statement the company said:

The “ultimate goal is to create a commercial oil shale recovery operation that is economically viable, environmentally responsible and socially sustainable.”

That statement adds timing depends on government regulation and the market. The company could be waiting to see what the government does about climate change and how that affects fossil fuel costs. Shell could also be waiting for oil prices go up before deciding whether oil shale worth the effort.

Eric Kuhn heads up water management for the Colorado River District. He monitors much of the state’s water West of the Continental Divide. Kuhn says there’s probably enough water for oil shale development right now, but it’s hard to say for how long.

“I don’t think they’re dropping the filing changes anything. I think those companies are dedicated to and still have a plan to develop the oil shale resource if they can find a technology that is economically productive or if they can produce the oil shale at a competitive price, I think they will do it.”

Environmentalists in the region hope they won’t. They say Shell’s decision not to pursue the water right now should be a signal to others… oil shale just might not be worth the effort.

For The Environment Report, I’m Conrad Wilson.

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Oil Prices on the Rise

  • Stephen Schork says the rising prices are based more on investor momentum than anything else, and that there’s plenty of oil on the market.(Photo courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration)

Oil and gasoline prices are going up this summer. Lester Graham reports, it appears the higher prices are not caused by lower supplies.

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The Energy Information Administration’s new short-term energy outlook says gasoline prices will average about $2.92 this summer– hitting $3.00 or more in some regions. That’s about 50-cents a gallon higher than last summer.

The outlook also predicts oil prices to average $82 a barrel this summer. But, oil already hit $86 a barrel this week.

Stephen Schork with The Schork Report says… the government projections were put together about a week ago… and didn’t really anticipate the investors driving prices up this week.

“So this rally that we are seeing and this upward buy is based more on investor momentum than it is on underlying fundamentals. There’s plenty of oil on the market right now.”

The government says prices should remain relatively stable but rising… although is notes uncertainty over crude oil price forecasts remains high.

For The Environment Report, I’m Lester Graham.

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Tighter Regs for Natural Gas Drilling?

  • Natural gas companies pump chemicals underground to loosen up the gas and get it to the surface. (Photo courtesy of the US DOE)

The federal government is looking into whether natural gas drilling is contaminating drinking water. Before that study’s done, Congress might step in and tighten regulations now. Shawn Allee reports:

Transcript

The federal government is looking into whether natural gas drilling is contaminating drinking water.

Shawn Allee reports, before that study’s done, Congress might step in and tighten regulations now.

Natural gas companies pump chemicals underground to loosen up the gas and get it to the surface.

It’s called hydraulic fracturing.

There’s debate about whether the chemicals poison water that’s underground, too.

Amy Mall tracks this issue for the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.

She says Congress might regulate this drilling through the Safe Drinking Water Act.

“What the legislation would do is make sure there’s a minimal federal floor of protection. So if your state has strong regulations, probably nothing would change, but if your state does not have strong regulations and they’re too weak, then under this legislation, your state would have to raise their standards.”

The natural gas industry points out the U-S Environmental Protection Agency already studied drilling back in 2004, and Congress decided there was no need for regulation.

Congressional critics suspect that study was biased in favor of industry.

For The Environment Report, I’m Shawn Allee.

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Oil and Prices at the Pump

  • Right now, we’re paying anywhere from 70 cents to a dollar more per gallon than this time a year ago. (Photo courtesy of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory)

Energy analysts say a glut of
oil means gas prices probably
won’t spike too much this year.
Rebecca Williams has more:

Transcript

Energy analysts say a glut of
oil means gas prices probably
won’t spike too much this year.
Rebecca Williams has more:

We’re paying anywhere from 70 cents to a dollar more per gallon than this time a year ago. The good news is, we’re not likely to see four dollar-a-gallon gas anytime soon.

“We’re not in a world with runaway oil prices.”

That’s Ruchir Kadakia. He’s a global oil market expert with IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates. He says weak global demand is keeping oil prices in check for now. At the same time, supply is relatively high. He predicts oil won’t average much