A remarkable transformation is underway in western North Dakota, where an oil boom is changing the state's fortunes and leaving once-sleepy towns bursting at the seams. In a series of stories, NPR is exploring the economic, social and environmental demands of this modern-day gold rush.
North Dakota's oil boom isn't just about oil; a lot of natural gas comes out of the ground at the same time. But there's a problem with that: The state doesn't have the pipelines needed to transport all of that gas to market. There's also no place to store it.
On Jan. 9, people in and around Charleston, W.Va., began showing up at hospitals: They had nausea, eye infections and some were vomiting. It was later discovered that around 10,000 gallons of toxic chemicals had leaked into the Elk River, just upstream from a water treatment plant that serves 300,000 people. Citizens were told not to drink or bathe in the water, and while some people are now using water from their taps, many still don't trust it or the information coming from public officials.
Young survivors of Typhoon Haiyan brave December rain as they ask for gifts from residents in the streets of Tacloban, the Philippines. Months after the storm, cleanup is still ongoing and many of the more than 6,000 dead have yet to be identified.
Credit Ted Aljibe / AFP/Getty Images
Tents are erected as temporary shelters for residents whose houses were flattened by Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban city, Leyte province, on Dec. 25.
Typhoon Haiyan clocked in at 147 mph when it struck the Philippines late last year. It was one of the strongest storms ever recorded at landfall.
More than 6,000 people died, and nearly 2,000 more are still missing. Millions were displaced when their homes were destroyed or washed away. And authorities are still struggling with the simplest tasks, such as clearing away debris, rebuilding houses and counting the dead.
Beginning next week, NPR News will be taking an in-depth look at the unprecedented oil drilling boom happening on the Northern Plains, where the state of North Dakota has fast become one of the nation's most productive drilling regions. NPR's Kelly McEvers talks with NPR reporter Kirk Siegler, back from a recent reporting trip in North Dakota for the series.
It's been a bitterly cold winter in much of the country, but hey, it could be worse: You could have been alive in the 6th century. Starting in 536 A.D., scholars wrote of a cold snap that lasted not days, but years. Journalist Colin Barra speaks with NPR's Jacki Lyden about scientists' quest to determine what caused the epic cold spell.
Originally published on Sat January 25, 2014 7:44 am
One of the biggest earthquakes in U.S. history didn't occur in California. Or Alaska. It happened in the country's midsection some 200 years ago in an area where today seven states straddle the Mississippi River Valley.
And seismologists from the United States Geological Survey believe they've uncovered evidence that the New Madrid Seismic Zone, as the area that spawned the 1811-12 quakes is known, is still alive and kicking.
Al Jones of the West Virginia Department of General Services tests water as he flushes faucets and opens a rest room at the State Capitol in Charleston, W. Va., on Jan. 13, four days after a chemical spill into the Elk River. It wasn't until Jan. 21 that state officials were told by Freedom Industries that a second contaminant had also entered the river.
The fact that a second contaminant in West Virginia's drinking water eluded detection for nearly two weeks — despite intense testing of the water — reveals an important truth about how companies test drinking water: In most cases, they only find the contaminants they're looking for.
Oil is now running through the southern part of the keystone XL pipeline. Supporters and opponents will be watching carefully to see what that could mean for the northern section of the project, that still awaits approval from the Obama administration.
A 2012 photo shows sections of pipe on a neighboring property to Julia Trigg Crawford family farm in Sumner Texas, in the path of the Keystone pipeline. TransCanada said today that it is delivering oil through the Gulf Coast portion of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline, from a hub in Cushing, Okla., to Houston-area refineries.
A large section of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline went into official operation Wednesday, in a move that supporters say will help ease the flow of oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast region. The Obama administration has yet to rule on the project's northern portion.
There are more than a thousand species of sharks and rays in the world, and nearly a quarter of them are threatened with extinction, according to a new study. That means these ancient types of fish are among the most endangered animals in the world.
Originally published on Tue January 21, 2014 6:55 pm
If you've ever shopped at Whole Foods, you've probably noticed that some of the foods it sells claim all kinds of health and environmental virtues. From its lengthy list of unacceptable ingredients for food to its strict rules for how seafood is caught and meat is raised, the company sets a pretty high bar for what is permitted on its coveted shelves.
Many cities across this country have paved over their streams, often to make way for urban development. The streams go underground. Now cities are realizing that uncovering those streams can have environmental and economic benefits.
Ann Thompson of member station WVXU reports so-called daylighting could be coming to a stream near you.
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne. Governor Jerry Brown has formally declared a drought emergency in California, saying the state is facing possibly the worst drought it has ever seen since record keeping began more than a hundred years ago.
Gov. Jerry Brown holds a chart showing California's average precipitation as he declares a drought state of emergency for the state Friday. Brown asked residents to voluntarily reduce water usage by 20 percent.
Saying that his state must take steps to plan for prolonged water shortages, Gov. Jerry Brown declared a state of emergency over an extended drought Friday. California faces "water shortfalls in the driest year in recorded state history," according to the governor's office.
Freedom Industries, which has been blamed for a chemical spill that left thousands of people without water, has filed for bankruptcy. The company's facility on Barlow St. is seen here on the banks of the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia.
Originally published on Fri January 17, 2014 7:40 pm
Freedom Industries, the West Virginia company that's been blamed for a chemical spill that left around 300,000 people without water for days, has filed for bankruptcy. The chemical used in cleaning coal leaked into the Elk River and into the public water system.
The nation's capital is a pretty old city by American standards. It dates back to the late 18th century. Despite frequent face-lifts, parts of it are wearing out — for example, its underground gas pipelines. New research shows that Washington, D.C., suffers from thousands of leaks of natural gas.
"We drove 1,500 road miles in Washington, D.C., and found about 6,000 leaks," says Robert Jackson, an ecologist and environmental scientist at Duke University. "That's roughly four leaks every mile."
In desperation to save the rare northern spotted owl, biologists are doing something that goes against their core — shooting another owl that's rapidly taking over spotted owl territory across the northwest.
"If we don't do it, what we're essentially doing, in my view, is dooming the spotted owl to extinction," says Lowell Diller, senior biologist for Green Diamond, a timber company.
The world's biggest trees, such as this large Scots pine in Spain's Sierra de Baza range, are also the world's fastest-growing trees, according to an analysis of 403 tree species spanning six continents.
Credit Asier Herrero / Nature
The General Sherman, a giant sequoia in California's Sequoia National Park, is more than 2,000 years old, and is thought to be the largest tree (by volume) in the world.
Like other animals and many living things, we humans grow when we're young and then stop growing once we mature. But trees, it turns out, are an exception to this general rule. In fact, scientists have discovered that trees grow faster the older they get.
Once trees reach a certain height, they do stop getting taller. So many foresters figured that tree growth — and girth — also slowed with age.
The Freedom Industries facility sits on the banks of the Elk River last Friday, in Charleston, W.Va., site of a chemical spill that has led to a ban on using tap water in the area. The CDC says pregnant women in affected areas should drink only bottled water.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging pregnant women who live in the areas of West Virginia where a toxic chemical leaked into the water supply last week to drink bottled water, even in places where the no-use ban has been lifted. The move comes "out of an abundance of caution," the CDC and the state's Bureau of Public Health say.
A team of federal investigators from the Chemical Safety Board is in West Virginia to look into that massive chemical leak into the Elk River that contaminated the water in nine counties. Local authorities say the water quality is improving but they're not ready yet for a large-scale lifting of water bans. The leak originated from a storage tank owned by Freedom Industries.
The chemical that was found last week to be contaminating the drinking water of hundreds of thousands of West Virginians is used to clean coal. But very little is known about how toxic it is to people or to the environment when it spills.
This dead juvenile coho salmon was found in a tributary of California's South Fork Eel River. About 20 large-scale marijuana farms are located upstream from the watershed pictured. All of them divert water from the stream.
Credit Courtesy Scott Bauer
Left: A North Coast marijuana grow site in 2010, with nothing but a little white roofed structure. Right: The same site in 2012.
Originally published on Mon January 13, 2014 5:08 pm
For many users and advocates of marijuana, the boom in the West Coast growing industry may be all good and groovy. But in California, critics say the recent explosion of the marijuana industry along the state's North Coast — a region called the "emerald triangle" — could put a permanent buzz kill on struggling salmon populations.