Southern California environment news and trends

Methane seeps in Santa Barbara, rising gas in Russia: could it sink the atmosphere?

Seeps in Santa Barbara aren't just about tarballs - and seeps aren't just in Santa Barbara. They matter to surfers as well as climate scientists.

Last year, around this time, I went to Santa Barbara and got educated by scientists, energy activists, local environmentalists, and a guy who sells fuel about oil exploration, research and drilling there, not to mention attitudes toward the same. I did three stories - one about the 40th anniversary of the '69 spill, one about a new drilling hearing at the state lands commission, and one about seeps research.

Now comes news from Russian and Swedish scientists that frozen deposits of gas are giving up methane to the sea - and the atmosphere. It's not exactly the same multi-stage process, the way the gas is getting to the atmosphere there - you can see a pretty great picture of what's happening in the melting permafrost embedded in this article here- but it points up the challenge inherent in climate science, to measure present atmospheric factors well and project (using as much science and data as possible) climate impacts accurately. It also points up an increasing interest (and profile) for the methane gas which is 20 times better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a hundred year period.

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Three small things about three small pieces of one complicated state budget

The biggest lightning rod on my beat in the new proposed budget 2: electric boogaloo is the idea to take back $140 million in General Fund dough from State Parks and replace it with revenues from drilling on Tranquillon Ridge.

From the 54-page brief summary:

Fund State Parks from Tranquillon Ridge Oil Revenues — A reduction of $140 million in General Fund and replacement with revenue generated from the Tranquillon Ridge oil lease. It is estimated that the Tranquillon Ridge oil lease will generate $1.8 billion in advanced royalties over the next 14 years. This revenue will be used to fund state parks. The Governor’s Budget assumes that the State Lands Commission will approve the Tranquillon Ridge proposal. If not approved by the Commission, legislation will be necessary.

The little things add up, though. Here are a few I noticed.

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The race is not to the Swift, at the port

In the gully of time between Xmas and New years, when I did a series on what makes a home sustainable, another interesting piece fell into the port puzzle. an administrative law judge ruled on the legality of firing four workers from Swift transportation. Workers alleged they had been fired for union involvement; Swift maintained it had cause. It was a split decision: 2 guys were fired fairly, the judge said; 2 were reinstated with back pay.

If as a non-drayage-industry person you know Swift, it might be because the Port of Los Angeles lassoed Swift and Knight Transportation into giving the clean trucks program a boost early on, when signups of smaller companies and individual drivers were sluggish. The companies have sizeable footprints, not just in LA, but in the southwest/western region of the US.

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As the port turns...

After a while, the port's environmental issues can seem like a soap opera to a daily reporter. (Anyone else have a mom who loved Lucinda Walsh?) On Monday, the Port of Long Beach took the opportunity presented by the first Monday of 2010 to tout last year's clean trucks success, and this year's stricter rules. A few days before that, the Natural Resources Defense Council stacked another lawsuit on its sky-high pile of port-air paperwork: this time, over the Port's settlement of its lawsuit with the American Trucking Association. Both happenings reflect the distance across which all parties are seeing each other. Which is pretty far lately.

Port of Long Beach environmental affairs director Bob Kanter sees it like this: “The clean-trucks program is nearly two years ahead of schedule in improving air quality." He and the Port of Los Angeles say they're not alone: the EPA handed them an Environmental Justice award last year too.

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Frak! Salazar tightens up oil and gas drilling on BLM land

I start no new year without regrets, and a (sure, yes, small) one has been that I didn't have a chance to write about western oil and gas drilling last year. I was given a screener for a documentary called Split Estate, and it was a fascinating look at something I had learned during law school, but never seen in practice: property owners who have "split the estate" such that mineral rights are owned by someone who is extracting them, and the surface rights are owned by someone who works or lives on the land.

Split Estate focuses on Garfield county, Colorado (a state where 85% of landowners don't own their mineral rights) but we've got this going on locally, too, in the Inglewood Oil Field in the Baldwin Hills.

This morning I listened to Interior Secretary Ken Salazar - a former senator from Colorado, who appears in the documentary - announce procedural changes in lease approvals for oil and gas drilling on Bureau of Land Management land. BLM manages hundreds of millions of acres of land, a lot of it in the west, a lot of it with what industry guys might call production possibilities. Almost a year ago, Salazar suspended piles of leases in interior-West states (what Wallace Stegner might have called the West, California just being California to Stegner). Howls of criticism, concern about economic impact, came immediately from the oil and gas industry, and from some state interests.

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