Inside Climate News wins Pulitzer for oil spill story: Dilbit disasters and the Monterey shale

April 15th, 2013 | by K Kaufmann | Comments

The Pulitzers were announced Monday and Inside Climate News, a five-year-old, nonprofit website that covers the environment and climate issues, won the award for national reporting for its series, the Dilbit Disaster, on a 2010 oil spill in the Kalamazoo River in Michigan and its environmental aftermath.

The spill was significant, and underreported, as ICN reporters Elizabeth McGowan and Lisa Song wrote, because it was the first major spill of diluted bitumen, or dilbit, oil from Canada — the same kind of oil that would be transported by the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Here is one of the maps that appeared with the story:

On Sunday, July 25, 2010, Enbridge Line 6B ruptured near Marshall, Mich. and rel

The spill occurred near Marshall, a small town southwestern Michigan, near Battle Creek July 26, 2010. Writing two years later, McGowan and Song wrote:

At least 1 million gallons of oil blackened more than two miles of Talmadge Creek and almost 36 miles of the Kalamazoo River, and oil is still showing up 23 months later, as the cleanup continues. About 150 families have been permanently relocated and most of the tainted stretch of river between Marshall and Kalamazoo remained closed to the public until June 21.

The whole series is still online at Inside Climate News or can be purchased as an e-book on Amazon.

And, as Inside Climate points out in a bit of well-deserved self-promotion, the story remains relevant in light of the recent Exxon oil spill in Mayflower, Ark., which Song is now covering.

This picture of one of neighborhoods affected by that spill comes from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Coachella Valley residents happily may not have to worry about oil spills in their back or front yards yet, but California may soon have to make major decisions about oil drilling and fracking on the Monterey shale, a major shale gas resource that stretches 1,752 square miles from central to southern California — and as can be seen below, is actually two separate shale oil deposits.

Read the small print, and you will see that federal estimates project oil resources of 15.4 billion barrels here, close to five times the 3.6 billion barrels at the Bakken Field in North Dakota, the second largest shale oil field in the U.S.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District earlier this month adopted new regulations for drillers to report on air quality impacts of their operations.

The new regulations –

– Require oil and gas well operators to notify SCAQMD no less than 24 hours before commencement of drilling, well completion, or any rework activities. The notification must also include information on the well location and activity to take place, as well as any nearby sensitive receptors such as schools or daycare centers up to 1,500 feet from the well location.
–  Require reporting to SCAQMD of the names and quantities of chemicals, non-trade and trade secret, and other process information within 60 after days after completion of well activities.
–  Require a report by SCAQMD staff to the Governing Board on notifications received, emissions reports and chemical use reporting.

The big question is whether it is feasible, even with fracking, to mine the oil in the Monterey-Santos shale. One article on the website of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists comes up with a resounding “Maybe.” The issue is that the Monterey shale formation is not one that can be easily mined, even with the latest fracking technology.

Another recent study from the USC Global Energy Network projected millions of jobs and hundreds of millions in tax revenue for the state from mining the Monterey-Santos.

Ken Silverstein, an energy writer at Forbes, notes in his look at the issues surrounding the Monterey-Santos shale, a fine balance may have to be struck between job creation and environmental protection.

Hopefully, with Inside Climate News as an inspiration, the state’s watch-dog journalists will also be following the story closely.




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