Archive for 2013 March

Earthquakes and fracking well issue brewing in Upper Ojai

As discussed in this piece from Scientific American, there is good reason to think disposal wells for fracking fluids can cause earthquakes. To wit:

Earthquakes have become more than 10 times more common in normally quiescent parts of the U.S., such as Ohio and Oklahoma, in the past few years. Given the simultaneous uptick in fracking—an
oil and gas drilling technique that involves fracturing shale rock deep
underground with the use of a high pressure water cocktail—it’s common
to suspect a link. There might be one,
but the real culprit behind the largest earthquake in Oklahoma’s
recorded history is not what goes down but what comes up with the oil:

Oklahoma has long benefited from a robust oil industry. One of the
side effects of oil production is that a lot of water flows back to the
surface with the petroleum. That flowback water must be disposed of,
because it is laced with all kinds of contaminants the liquid solvent
has picked up during its long residence deep underground, ranging from
trace amounts of radioactive elements to lots of salt.

In Oklahoma and in much of the rest of the country, the most common burial ground for such wastewater—whether
we’re talking oil or gas—is a disposal well back underground. Oil
producers in central Oklahoma had been using this approach for 18 years
when a swarm of powerful earthquakes rumbled across the countryside
starting on November 5, 2011. The biggest temblor, a magnitude 5.7 felt
as far away as Milwaukee, was linked to pumping yet more wastewater down
old oil wells in the vicinity. (The wastewater pumping there continues despite the quakes.)

According to a new study published online March 26 in Geology,
the earthquake was indeed caused by filling up the old oil cavities
with water until there was simply too much pressure on the surrounding
rock. Records showed that after years of requiring little pressure to
dump the wastewater, oil operators recently have had to actively pump
the water down the old wells to overcome a more than 10-fold increase in
underground pressure, which peaked at 3.6 megapascals, or 525
pounds-per-square-inch. That’s because the volume of wastewater pumped
down had exceeded the volume of oil extracted, suggests the team of
researchers from the University of Oklahoma, Columbia University and the
U.S. Geological Survey. That increased pressure then caused the rock to
jump along a pre-existing fault, known as the Wilzetta Fault.

Which makes me wonder about the advisability of allowing a new disposal well field for fracking fluids in this active earthquake zone, and near a college, no less.

From the Ojai Valley News, dated March 7. 2013:

By Kimberly Rivers

"A new oilfield waste disposal facility, including an underground injection well for storing oilfield fluids (and potentially fracking fluids) could become a reality in Ojai’s backyard in the very near future.

CathedralPending before county planners is a proposal from Anterra Waste for a new Class II oilfield waste disposal facility, near the Santa Clara River in Santa Paula. “Class II fluids are waste streams associated with oil and natural gas production operations,” according to the notice on the county’s website.

Related to that proposal, Anterra is pursuing a lease for county land — about a half mile from proposed facility — to drill and operate a Class II injection well that would inject waste from oil and natural gas production deep into the earth for disposal and storage.

Mirada Petroleum also has applied to the county of Ventura to expand an existing conditional use permit for oil leases in Upper Ojai behind St. Thomas Aquinas College, paving the way for eight new oil wells."

Okay. Now. If the injection of fracking fluids into a disposal field set off an earthquake, that damaged the college or its cathedral, wouldn't regulators be potentially liable for approving it, knowing the risks?

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Portlandia mocks aggregated “journalism” today

From a real honest-to-God pitchboard (for journalists) on a national site: 

"Proposal: Daily series of trending news rewrites 
Publisher: Newsmax Media 
Fee: $160 
Urgent?: No

Description: Seeking writers for the section of our website that aggregates and rewrites trending news. Posts on average should take 25-40 minutes, be 300-350 words and we expect eight stories a day in a 6a-3p window (to be expanded soon). We are flexible to shorten days and willing to work with a writer for as few as 4 posts a day (reducing the rate proportionately). Good for writers who want steady work and can commit to 2-3 days per week minimum. Examples of content:"

My reaction is one of horror. But the incredibly imaginative Portlandia had a better idea — mockery. They really went to town with the ridiculousness of aggregator sites, coining a wonderful/awful new word for a purveyor of such. Not a journalist, a "linkalist." To wit:

"On last Friday’s episode of“Portlandia”, the Portland Tribune was sold to LinxPDX — “a very successful online blog” — and editor George Heely was demoted to “linkalist.”

New owners Trudy (Carrie Brownstein) and Craig (Fred Armisen) meet with the staff and tell them about the paper’s new direction (“we’re just going to lose the whole print thing”).

 “People don’t need articles anymore, and we don’t want to provide things that people don’t care about.”
Craig: “They probably read about every fifth word, so just make it those five words.”

George (played by George Wendt) wants to keep doing real journalism, but he’s told to change his ways.

Trudy: “The site is called LinxPDX; we don’t actually have articles. We have links to other articles.”
Craig: “Think of yourself less of a journalist and more of a linkalist.”
George: “But we can still write stories.”
Trudy: “In your free time you can write all the stories you want.”


The tweet that got "70 million hits."

The tweet that got “70 million hits.”

In the end, George becomes the newsroom hero as his tweet — “Charlize Theron NSFW” — sets a LinxPDX record with “70 million hits.” When a colleague looks at him in disgust, George barks at the guy: “Get off my back, will ya? It’s the future!”

I asked the real Portland Tribune newsroom boss what he thought of the episode and how his newspaper was portrayed.

“I thought it was pretty funny,” says Tribune executive editor Kevin Harden. “And, given the state of the industry, I cringed just a bit because it tickled the truth.'"

[from veteran journalism watcher Romenesko]

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Fracking in Upper Ojai: the latest

Fracking — which as you all no doubt know is the injection of water and chemicals below ground at pressure, to break up rock formations and release natural gas and/or oil — has come to rural Upper Ojai and Ventura County.

In truth, fracking turns out to have been going on in this area for a long time — decades. How long in this neighborhood is a little unclear. I have been told by neighbors that "all the wells in Upper Ojai" have been fracked. I also have been told that oil companies have applied to drill hundreds of new wells in Ventura County and the backcountry. I have heard that fracking is not a danger to our water supply because the oil wells being fracked are so far below the surface they can't possible contaminate surface waters. I am skeptical, after reading the latest on fracking from ProPublica

At the same time, I am aware that oil production is what first brought white people like me to this area, beginning in 1867, so perhaps I am complicit, in a sense, and should be a little more open-minded. 

The irony is that there is so little regulation on fracking in California that oil companies wishing to frack have to jump through more hoops to drill in the National Forest backcountry, where no one lives, and on which wells have stood for decades, than in neighborhoods such as ours. 

Here are some links to the latest: 

Chevron offers public tours of fracking site: Ventura County Star

“The most dangerous thing you will do today is climb in and out of the vans, so please watch your step,” said Leslie Klinchuch, Chevron’s project manager for what’s officially known as the Pacific Coast Pipeline Superfund site.

The point was that the site, despite being contaminated with a known cancer-causing substance and other pollutants, is safe to visit. It’s also safe to live near, according to decades of testing by Chevron and the EPA. Hundreds of Fillmore residents do live nearby, separated from the refinery site by the Pole Creek concrete drainage channel, and a few of them were on Tuesday’s tour to see the property for themselves.

Fracking has been going on in the nearby National Forest for decades, and four wells were fracked int he last couple of years. An investigatory report

The ForestWatch investigation revealed that at least four wells were fracked in the Sespe Oil Field in 2011, and at least three additional wells were fracked in 2012. The fracking occurred on private land owned by Seneca Resources Corporation, a Texas-based oil company that operates the vast majority of wells in the Sespe Oil Field. The company relies on slant drilling to reach oil deposits on federal leases beneath the Los Padres National Forest. The chemicals, supplies and equipment were provided by Halliburton, one of the world’s largest oil field service companies with revenues of $24.8 billion in 2011 and also headquartered in Texas.

The recent fracking operations were approved without any public notice or environmental review. This is because fracking is unregulated in the State of California, and is typically rubber-stamped by the California Department of Oil, Gas, and Geothermal Resources (“DOGGR”), the agency charged with regulating oil and gas extraction throughout the state. In one of the recent Los Padres fracking operations, DOGGR officials received a Notice of Intention to Rework Well 48-33 on the White Star lease on June 22, 2012, and three days later issued a one-page Permit to Conduct Well Operations authorizing the fracking. According to records submitted by Seneca Resources Corporation, the fracking operation was completed a few days later on July 5, 2012.

Fracking consumes millions of gallons of water a year in Ventura County (Ojai Valley News)

According to the voluntary reporting site, 13 wells
have been fracked in Ventura County since January 2011. Based on the
water volume listed for those wells, 3,679,879 gallons of water were
used during the franking process. According to the site, that total
could include fresh water, produced water and/or recycled water.

Produced water comes up during drilling and has to be separated from
the oil or gas. Fracfocus reports that 99.2 percent of the mixture
injected underground during fracking is water; the remaining .79 percent
is chemicals. That means 29,071 gallons of chemicals, gellants and
other components were used in the 13 wells that were voluntarily

Aera Energy — the largest oil producer in Ventura County, according
to its website — did not respond by press-time to requests for
information about its water sourcing and the quantity of fresh water it
has used in drilling operations.

James Hines of the Sierra Club of Ventura County claims industry
sources have disclosed that “60 wells have been fracked in Ventura
County alone, along the Ventura River and Rincon. Those areas drain to
the ocean. And along Sespe Creek,” said Hines. “With the new permits in
Upper Ojai and old wells which can be re-drilled, there is nothing to
stop them from fracking (in the valley),” he said. “There are plugged
and covered wells in the Casitas watershed area.”

Yikes! My thought is to try and learn how to identify a fracked well by sight, for my own knowledge, and potentially to get neighbors involved. But is that even possible? 

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I think we are inside a flower, under a pollen of stars

Love this one, called Kauai, via the almost always worthy Poetry Daily

We’ve come back to the site of   her
conception. She calls it why

and cries all night,
sleepless, wild.

It seems the way is always
floating and the goal —

to live so the ghosts we were
don’t trail us and echo.

I think we are inside a flower,
under a pollen of stars vast as scattered sand.

The air pulses with perfume,
flowers calling to flowers and the ferrying air.

But my eyes are thin and elsewhere.
I am thinking, maybe

even coming into the soul
is a difficult birth, squeezed by the body’s vise.

My bent legs like pincers
or the vegetable petals of some tropical flower.

Even my mind gripped by the folds
of   the flesh, how the cells keep twinning

themselves out toward complexity.
The tulip trees of   the valley

spread their bone canopies into slick green leaves
and fire flowers deep as cups.

Their cups fill with rain, rain
drinks the leaves drinking rain.

I can’t begin to explain.
How on this porous peak of stone in the sea

our daughter came into me.
Little flick of a fish I could not see.

I was just learning to be human
and upright among all that life.

And what was real was stranger
than night with its dust of unnamed suns.

It was the beyond in us. And she was.

Rachel Jamison Webster

March 2013

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Love as a force of nature: Jeanette Winterson

From an untitled post at Soaked in Soul:

"I used to be a hopeless romantic. I am still a hopeless romantic. I used to believe that love was the highest value. I still believe that love is the highest value. I don’t expect to be happy. I don’t imagine that I will find love, whatever that means, or that if I do find it, it will make me happy. I don’t think of love as the answer or the solution. I think of love as a force of nature – as strong as the sun, as necessary, as impersonal, as gigantic, as impossible, as scorching as it is warming, as drought-making as it is live-giving. And when it burns out, the planet dies. My little orbit of life circles love. I dare not get any closer. I’m not a mystic seeking final communion. I don’t go out without SPF 15. I protect myself. But today, when the sun is everywhere, and everything solid is nothing but its own shadow, I know that the real things in life, the things I remember, the things I turn over in my hands, are not houses, bank accounts, prizes or promotions. What I remember is love – all love – love of this dirt road, this sunrise, a day by the river, the stranger I met in a café. Myself, even, which is the hardest thing of all to love, because love and selfishness are not the same thing. It is easy to be selfish. It is hard to love who I am. No wonder I am surprised if you do." –Jeanette Winterson, Lighthousekeeping

Haven't read this book. Review in the Guardian makes it sound far stranger than the quote. Pic references the lighthouse keeper in the book, and comes from Jeffrey Sullivan. It's of the Walton lighthouse in Santa Cruz, lit for Christmas.

Walton Lighthouse Holiday Reflection at Night

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Whispering in the ear of nature’s secrets: Harriet Monroe

In Nature's Altars, Susan Schrepfer looks at how much it meant to women of the turn of (the 20th) century to go to the mountains. She writes:

"High altitudes…released [women], they said, from the requirement of being a consumer, from "clothes and vanities," from the corsseted, perfumed, and coiffured dictates of polite society. Of a trip into the Sierra's Kern Canyon in l908, Harriet Monroe confided:"

Harrietmonroe"We learned…to wear our short skirts and high hob-nailed boots…as though we had been born to the joy of them…to be a barbarian and a communist, a homeless and roofless vagabond, liited to one gown or one suit of clothes, to lose one's last hat-pin…to make one's toilet on a slippery bnak, after a brave plunge into an icy river — all these breaches of convention became commonplaces…part of the adventure, a whispering in the ear of nature's secrets. We knew literally the emancipation of having "one one dress" to put on." 

After her adventures in the mountains, Monroe went on to launch Poetry, which is still this nation's best journal for lyrical thought.  

Fascinating to see how women saw mountain life as freedom, whereas so often men saw it as a competition — between man and mountain, man and rival man, man and beast. 

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Why you don’t want to be drinking cyanobacteria: ALS

This story by a writing mentor, Wendee Nicole, just won a best science story of the year award from the Society of Journalists and Authors. It's horrifying (but fascinating too) to think that a bacteria could be paralyzing people, or giving them Alzheimer's, and the revelation of that story; well, it's jaw-dropping.

A small sample:

Although frequently called blue-green algae, cyanos are actually bacteria that photosynthesize, or create food from light, which is why early scientists classified them as algae. Modern genetics shows they share no evolutionary lineage with algae; the classification is as scientifically accurate as calling a dog a plant.

Cyanobacteria produce a host of nasty compounds, including neurotoxins that derail nervous systems, hepatotoxins that damage liver function, and tumor promoters. Their blooms have poisoned wildlife and caused massive fish kills. In humans they can cause rashes, numbness, vomiting, and sometimes long-term liver or nerve damage. While “death by pond scum” has never appeared in an obituary, that could change: not only are blooms increasing worldwide, but scientists predict they will worsen as the climate warms and nutrient levels rise, when, for example, fertilizers from America’s breadbasket run into the Mississippi River and down to the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, burgeoning cyano blooms in the Great Lakes have garnered attention.

Based on the work of this man, Paul Cox, the story developed over many years, and ran into a lot of resistance, but now the tap water/ALS idea is being studied at twenty schools around the country. 


As they say, read the whole thing.

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Here comes the drought: Climate Prediction Center

From the forecast from NWS's Climate Prediction Center

Drought is forecast to persist for much of the West and expand across northern
California and southern Oregon.

Just doesn't look good…at all. 

Sigh. I miss water in our creek. 

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Why gay men like Marilyn Monroe: Caitlin Flanagan

Caitlin Flanagan, the writer, has a lot of nerve, and the arrogance can grate on a reader. (And maybe grated on her editors at The New Yorker too, which might explain why she's not there anymore.) A writer who reviewed her most recent book went on air with her and Tom Ashbrook a year ago and wrote eloquently in Salon about "creepy condescension" of Flanagan, not to mention her "Michele Bachmann-esque disregard for the facts." 

Yet and still, Flanagan can hit a nerve. Be curious to hear what others think of this recent idea of hers, in a review of a couple of recent biographies in the Atlantic, that the legend of Marilyn Monroe was more or less the product of Elton John and Bernie Taupin's 70's classic pop song Candle in the Wind. (Which is when Monroe became a star for my generation, really, before the over-the-top Norman Mailer hagiography, the picture books, the unpublished nudes, etc.)

To wit: 

The song evokes a particular emotional state, one familiar to readers
of, say, Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams. It celebrates the aching
ardor that a certain kind of gay man can feel for a beautiful, tortured
woman, whose plight is to be dependent sexually and emotionally upon the
often brutal and brutalizing force of straight-male lust. The song has a
coherent inner logic, even if it doesn’t match up with the facts of
Marilyn Monroe’s life. Nobody else set her on a treadmill, and nobody
else created the superstar she became; full credit for both achievements
goes, deservedly, to Marilyn, who worked as hard for fame as anyone
who’s ever achieved it. But it’s the suffering itself that matters; it’s
the idea of some shadowy malevolent force sending a delicate soul on a
dark journey that was the appeal of the song and that was the true birth
of Marilyn Monroe as one of the greatest Hollywood stars of all time.

Swept away by this idea, I start to imagine (if Monroe had not died young) a somewhat older and harder-working actress taking the stage in "A Streetcar named Desire," bringing her beauty and her suffering to the role of Blanche DuBois. An appealing thought, no? And allegedly Williams himself saw her in the role of Baby Doll, so not completely crazy. But Tennessee set me right, in a harsh appraisal:

wanted to love Marilyn: I fall for myths, too. She was fragile and she
was beautiful and she was silly. She was the lost kitten in the rain, or
the kittens who were born on Carson McCullers' bed in Nantucket–you
wonder who will take care of them, because you know that you cannot, and
you cry like the child you were who saw the dog run over and the town
move on, uncaring and serious about getting their needs attended.

was also annoying and cloying and demanding. She knew her power and she
abused it, but in the demonstration of it she degraded herself and she
knew this, so the spiral of destruction deepened and intensified. Do not
think for a moment that I do not see this in my own behavior and that
of others: I am only offering a sobering lesson.
But maybe it's that "sobering" — like the harsh glare of a white spot light on a black stage — that gives Monroe her power. Without the suffering, what is the point of her beauty? Just another dumb blonde. 
Norma Jean in Griffith Park, before she became famous, from a Time collection.


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Katrina-sized hurricanes much more likely in 21st century

Kerry Emmanuel, one of the most prominent of researchers into the connection between climate change and hurricanes, edited a just-released study of hurricanes in PNAS that looks at hurricane magnitude and risk in a new way, by storm surge instead of wind speed or reported damaged, and finds that "Statisically downscaling 21st century warming patterns from six climate models results in a twofold to sevenfold increase in the frequency of Katrina magnitude events for a 1 degree Celsius rise in global temperature." 

It's a complicated study, that looks at various measures of "skill" relating to hurricanes, including teleconnections such as ENSO, but concludes that "With a few notable exceptions, global average surface temperature is a better predictor of Atlantic cyclone activity (as measured by the surge index) than grid cell temperatures from almost anywhere else on Earth." 

Most alarming:

The response to a 1 degree Celsius warming is consistently an increase by a factor of 2-7. [] All tests indicate confidence in the factor 2-7 increase in the number of Katrina magnitude surges for each degree of global warming. This increase does not include the additional increasing surge threat from sea level rise.

The study concludes by saying, in effect, we have crossed the climate Rubicon:

We find that .4 degree Celsius global average warming results in a halving of the return period of Katrina magnitude events. This is less than the warming over the 20th century. Therefore, we have probably crossed the threshold where Katrina magnitude surges are more likely caused by global warming than not. 

The study, by Grinsted et al, also mentions the previous questions that arose regarding global warming and hurricanes, in particular the possibility that even if physics tells us that a warming world will produce stronger tropical cyclones, that increased wind shear might mean fewer hurricanes, period. 

But the projections don't bear that theory out. 

Quite the contrary. The denier crowd tries to wave it off here

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