The Environment Report

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The Environment Report hosted by Rebecca Williams explores the relationship between the natural world and the everyday lives of people in Michigan. Send us your story ideas by following the link above!

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The Environment Report
10:33 am
Tue October 28, 2014

Drilling for oil and gas is on the decline in Michigan

In this map from 1999, the green dots represent oil wells, the red dots indicate gas wells, and the black dots are dry holes.
Randall Schaetzl, MSU

News of a decline might sound surprising since there has been so much excitement and controversy over horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in recent years.

But not many high-volume, horizontal wells were actually drilled since 2010, and the company that led the recent fracking boom has left the state.

That leaves the industry and its watchdogs wondering where new action will come from.

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The Environment Report
12:14 pm
Thu October 23, 2014

Resilient Michigan project helps communities prepare for climate change

As part of the Resilient Michigan project, Grand Haven is revising its master plan to consider climate change.
Michigan Municipal League Flickr

Grand Haven is the latest city to consider climate change in its master plan. It’s part of a grant-funded project called Resilient Michigan.

Harry Burkholder is a community planner with the program. He says they’re working with city and township officials to help them prepare for more extreme weather events like heat waves and intense rainstorms.

“A lot of communities are looking at ways to increase pervious pavement on sidewalks and parking lots; ways that you can collect rainwater right from your home or even from your business in large underground cisterns so it doesn’t automatically go into the sewer system,” he says.

Heavy rain events can overload sewer systems and lead to sewage overflows into rivers and lakes.

Resilient Michigan is also working with Monroe, Ludington, St. Joseph and East Jordan.

They’ll be launching a program with the Port Huron community in November, and Burkholder says they have enough grant money to work with one more Michigan community.

The Environment Report
10:14 am
Thu October 23, 2014

Scientists are looking for "survivor trees" in Michigan, and they want your help

User: USDAgov flickr

Researchers with the U.S. Forest Service are looking for ash trees that survived the attack of the emerald ash borer.

The invasive insect has been spreading across the Midwest and beyond since 2002 - killing millions of ash trees in its wake.

Here's an animation showing the spread of the emerald ash borer from 2002 to 2014:

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The Environment Report
9:40 am
Tue October 14, 2014

Sure, there were pirates in the Caribbean, but the Great Lakes had them too

A Great Lakes schooner. Pirate ships looked like every other boat sailing on the lakes: a schooner or a sloop.
Clarence S. Metcalf Great Lakes Maritime Research Library

Michigan Radio's M I Curious project is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Shelly Scott asked Michigan Radio this question:

Have there ever been pirates on the Great Lakes?

“I thought: we’ve got such nice water bodies around here, why don’t we hear anything about fantastic things that happened on the Great Lakes?” she says.

Scott is an engineer at Ford and she’s also a leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout troop.  These 5th grade girls had some questions about freshwater pirates too:

“What do pirate ships look like? Was there any pirate treasure in the Great Lakes? How did they get away with stealing other people’s treasure?” asked Maria Kokko, Lilli Semel and Shannon Scott.

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The Environment Report
10:57 am
Thu October 9, 2014

What's the status of the old oil pipeline under Lake Michigan? We need more information to know.

A diver inspects Enbridge's Line 5 pipeline under the Straits of Mackinac for a possible dent.
Credit an Enbridge inspection video shared with the state of Michigan

We've been working to find an answer to the question, "What's the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?"

It was posed by Justin Cross for our M I Curious project.

One of the first things we discovered was that the company holds all the cards.

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The Environment Report
8:55 am
Tue October 7, 2014

What is the condition of the oil pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac? Answer can be hard to find

Tom Prew, a region engineer for Enbridge, on the deck of the work barge on the Straits of Mackinac. Brackets for the pipeline sit on the deck.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

A lot of us are curious about the oil pipeline running through the Straits of Mackinac.

Michigan Radio's M I Curious is a news experiment where we investigate questions submitted by the public about our state and its people.

As part of our M I Curious project, Justin Cross asked Michigan Radio this question:

What is the status of the aged Enbridge oil pipeline running through Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac?  

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The Environment Report
10:45 am
Thu October 2, 2014

A fight to control disposal of fracking waste

Retired university professor Gwen Fisher has become an activist because of her concerns about the impact of injection wells in Portage County, Ohio.
Julie Grant The Allegheny Front

Wastewater from fracked wells that produce gas and oil in Pennsylvania and West Virginia is coming to Ohio. 

Julie Grant, a reporter who has been researching this issue, says Ohio has become a go-to place for the nation's fracking waste disposal. Grant reports on environmental issues in Ohio and Pennsylvania for the program The Allegheny Front

"Energy companies point to the geology. They say the layers of underground rock that are better for wastewater storage are easier to access in Ohio, than in Pennsylvania’s hilly Appalachian basin," Grant says.

Pennsylvania is one of the top natural gas producers in the nation, but it’s more difficult to permit a disposal well there. Grant says there are only a few waste disposal wells in the whole state.

Ohio also has industry-friendly regulations. Oil and gas companies need permits to dispose of fracking waste underground.

In other states around the region, including Michigan and Pennsylvania, the Environmental Protection Agency has authority over those permits -- and the process can take a year or more. But in Ohio, the same permits can be issued in a matter of months. That's because Ohio has primacy over injection wells, so the state, not the federal government, issues the permits and the process is often faster.

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The Environment Report
12:43 pm
Tue September 30, 2014

15 years later, Great Lakes levels rebound

The water levels of Lakes Michigan and Huron have recovered after more than a decade of low levels.
Credit Jennifer Guerra / Michigan Radio

Lakes Michigan and Huron have recovered after more than a decade of low water levels.

Government scientists say the lakes rose above their historic average this month.

Just two years ago, the water was at the lowest level ever recorded.

The quick recovery has stifled an effort to engineer a solution to the problem of low lake levels in Huron and Michigan.

But proponents say it would be shortsighted to forget about the issue.

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The Environment Report
8:50 am
Thu September 25, 2014

New rules for Detroit demolitions designed to protect public health

New rules require demolition contractors in Detroit to do things like cover loads of debris. And field liaisons check on sites to make sure they're following the rules.
Credit MCM Management Corp.

Detroit is in the middle of one of the most ambitious demolition campaigns the nation has ever seen, tearing down about 200 houses every week.

Many of the homes being razed are in neighborhoods where people still live. So Detroit officials sat down before the blitz to come up with some new regulations designed to keep people safe from dust, and from hazardous materials that could be in that dust – like lead, or asbestos.

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The Environment Report
10:27 am
Tue September 23, 2014

Report says milder winters in U.P. are affecting forests

A trail to Rainbow Falls along the Black River Scenic Byway in the Western U.P. Winters in the U.P. are changing, and that means conditions are becoming better for some species and worse for others.
Credit user:yooperann / Flickr

The U.S. Forest Service has put out a report on how our warming climate is affecting forests in the U.P.

Stephen Handler is a climate change specialist with the Forest Service. He says, over the past several decades, we’ve been getting more extreme rainstorms in the region.

“So, more rain of two inches at a time, three inches at a time; and we’re seeing our winters, which is our characteristic climatic feature, shrinking, so, getting shorter and getting more variable, or getting less consistent snowpack,” he says.

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The Environment Report
10:23 am
Thu September 18, 2014

Enbridge's internal problems that contributed to 2010 oil spill have changed, company says

In August of 2010, crews prepare to remove the broken section of Enbridge's Line 6B pipeline.
EPA

Federal, state, and local agencies took part in a mock oil spill Wednesday in northern Michigan along the Indian River.

The emergency drill conjured memories of the 2010 Kalamazoo River oil spill. About a million gallons of crude oil have been cleaned up from that spill. There’s some concern about whether Enbridge has made important internal changes to avoid future pipeline problems.

Carl Weimer with the Pipeline Safety Trust said one of the reasons Enbridge failed to prevent the pipeline break near Marshall, Michigan in July 2010 is not because the company was completely unaware of corrosion and a cracks in the pipeline.

He says Enbridge inspection teams weren’t sharing information with each other.

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The Environment Report
10:38 am
Tue September 16, 2014

Enbridge plans to bring more tar sands oil into Great Lakes region

Cleanup of the 2010 Enbridge oil spill. The company wants to bring more tar sands oil from the Alberta oil sands region into the U.S.
Credit Steve Carmody / Michigan Radio

There’s been a lot of controversy over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline. But there’s another company working to bring more tar sands oil into the U.S.

Enbridge Energy wants to increase the amount of heavy crude oil crossing the border from the Alberta tar sands into the Great Lakes region.

Lorraine Little is with Enbridge. She says Enbridge wants to move more oil on its pipeline known as the Alberta Clipper. That pipeline runs about a thousand miles from northern Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin.

“Its purpose is to carry heavy crude oil from the oil sands in Alberta into our Superior terminal where then it can get off on other pipelines and serve refining markets around the Midwest region or other parts of the country,” she says.

Back in November of 2012, Enbridge filed an application with the U.S. State Department. The company wants to raise the capacity of the border segment of the Alberta Clipper pipeline to 800,000 barrels per day (they're currently transporting 450,000 barrels per day).

That permit is still under review.

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The Environment Report
8:59 am
Tue September 16, 2014

Study suggests pesticides in rivers could harm insects and fish

U.S. Geological Survey

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey have been monitoring pesticides in rivers and streams around the country for 20 years. They just released their findings, and they found there are levels of some pesticides that could be a concern for bugs and fish.

For example, they found the insecticide fibronil at levels that could cause harm. That chemical disrupts insects’ nervous systems.

The study, "Pesticides in U.S. Streams and Rivers:  Occurrence and trends during 1992-2011” is published in the Environmental Science and Technology journal. 

Wes Stone, a hydrologist with the USGS, says some pesticides have been phased out and others have come on the market, and you can see that directly reflected in the water.

“What it shows is to stay on top of what’s in the environment, we’re going to have to constantly evolve and keep looking at the newest ones and evolving new methods to sample for them," he says.

But Stone says their study probably underestimates potential risks to aquatic life. He says there are more than 400 different pesticides in use, but he says funding is limited, so his agency only tests for a fraction of those pesticides in rivers and streams.

The Environment Report
10:15 am
Thu September 11, 2014

Michigan landowners say they were cheated, energy company disagrees, court to decide

Fracking wells
Credit Tim Evanson via Wikimedia Commons

This week, a Cheboygan District Court Judge ruled that Chesapeake Energy will go to trial for alleged fraud.

Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette has accused the Oklahoma-based energy company of swindling landowners in northern Michigan.

Peter Payette is with our partners at Interlochen Public Radio and he has been covering this story.

How did all of this start?

Around May of 2010, the state auctioned off the right to drill for oil and gas on public land.

"And that auction saw prices that were astronomical. The state in one day raised as much money from the sale of oil and gas rights as it had raised in its entire history," Payette says. "And that's because out-of-state companies believed that by using these newer methods of horizontal hydraulic fracturing that they could make a lot of money by drilling deep down in the ground and taking out natural gas."

These companies went out to private landowners that summer and asked to explore their properties for oil and gas. The landowners signed leases. "And those promised what is called a 'order of payment' and in many cases the landowners did not receive payment and may say they were cheated and are owed money," Payette says.

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The Environment Report
10:10 am
Tue September 9, 2014

Scientists say eating your leftovers is good for you and the environment

Credit User: Kathleen Franklin/Flickr

Researchers have found that food waste has a big impact on the heat-trapping gasses we release into the environment.

Marty Heller is a senior research specialist with the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.

In a new study, he and U of M's Greg Keoleian looked at the greenhouse gas emissions involved with the production of the food we eat and the food we waste.

“If we look at the greenhouse gas emissions associated with that food waste, it is equivalent to adding an additional 33 million average passenger vehicles to our roads every year,” Heller said.

Heller and Keoleian studied the emissions associated with about 100 different types of food. They discover that certain types of foods have the highest greenhouse gas emissions associated with their production.

"Typically we see a very distinct difference between foods that are animal based — meats, dairy —and foods that are plant based," Heller said.

"To a large extent that's because of the additional feed that is required to keep an animal alive and sort of their conversion efficiency of the feed that they consume."

He also found that some of those animals, cows in particular, emit a great deal of methane which is a very potent greenhouse gas emission.

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The Environment Report
11:42 am
Thu September 4, 2014

Sturgeon release party planned for Kalamazoo River

This Saturday, September 6, about 35 juvenile sturgeon will be released into the Kalamazoo River at New Richmond.
Photo courtesy of USFS, Rob Elliott

This Saturday, 35 baby sturgeon will be released into the Kalamazoo River at a sturgeon release party. It’ll be in New Richmond and it’s open to the public.

Lake sturgeon are ancient fish. They’re Michigan’s oldest and biggest fish species and can live to be more than 100 years old. Many populations of lake sturgeon in the Great Lakes were wiped out decades ago, but people have been working to bring them back.   

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The Environment Report
10:12 am
Thu September 4, 2014

Scientists hope E. coli genome sequencing will help track future outbreaks

This circular map shows the completed sequence of a particularly harmful strain of E. coli that has been tied to outbreaks of food poisoning.
Credit Systems Biology Research Group, UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering

A research team has produced the first complete genome sequencing of a strain of E. coli. This particular strain is associated with outbreaks of food poisoning that can be deadly.

Haythem Latif is on the research team at the University of California-San Diego.

“Although early detection is key to treatment, it has been known to cause severe renal failure in children,” Latif said.

He says the updated genome sequence for this strain of E. coli will help scientists tell one strain from another.

“During an outbreak, you may have 100 patients or whatever, that have had this and what you do is you’d type each of the different people’s pathogenic E. coli strain that they have and then you can trace it back to some kind of a source or some kind of lineage of a bacterial outbreak.”

Latif says sequencing technology has improved over time and that has allowed the research team to update the sequence for this strain.

The Environment Report
9:39 am
Thu August 28, 2014

Green goo growing in Lake Erie is not what you think it is

Western Lake Erie turns green from cyanobacteria blooms.
Mark Brush Michigan Radio

 

Lately, that green slime in the lake has been all over the news after it shut down Toledo’s water supply.

Journalists, city and government officials have been calling that green slime  “blue-green algae”, “toxic algae” or “toxic algal blooms.”

Well, turns out that’s not exactly right.

“That’s just maddening,” said James Bull, a professor of biology and environmental science. He works at Wayne County Community College and Macomb Community College.

He says it’s not accurate to call the green slime that shut down Toledo’s water system “a toxic algal bloom.” 

He wrote to Michigan Radio because we were some of the people using the wrong term.

“It’s wrong because even though these organisms superficially look like algae, I think we ought to understand that these really are a kind of bacteria,” Bull said.

He says scientists used to call this stuff “blue-green algae.” Now they call it “cyanobacteria”. He says calling cyanobacteria "algae" is like calling a dolphin a fish.

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The Environment Report
12:59 pm
Tue August 26, 2014

Debate ongoing over fish farming in the Great Lakes

Harietta Hills Trout Farms co-owner Dan Vogler is in favor of fish farming in the Great Lakes.
Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio

Michigan took a big step forward this summer in the business of fish farming. The state issued a permit to expand the Grayling Fish Hatchery more than tenfold.The hatchery raises trout for restaurants and grocery stores.

The expansion comes as interest in fish farming is growing nationwide and there is now talk of going offshore into the open waters of the Great Lakes.

The Grayling Fish Hatchery could soon be the largest aquaculture operation in Michigan by far.

Dan Vogler is one of the owners of Harrietta Hills Trout Farm based near Cadillac. He hopes the expansion is a sign of a growing fish-producing industry in Michigan.

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The Environment Report
11:20 am
Thu August 21, 2014

Critics say new Ohio law isn't enough to protect Lake Erie from fertilizer runoff

Credit Mark Brush / Michigan Radio

The recent Toledo water crisis has farmers in Michigan and Ohio on the defensive. They’re pointing to a number of voluntary efforts they’re making to reduce phosphorus runoff to Lake Erie. That runoff is the main food source for the blooms of a kind of cyanobacteria that release a toxin that led to the water shutdown. But farm groups and environmentalists say a new state law in Ohio that will certify the use of fertilizers doesn't go far enough or happen fast enough. 

"Basically, the new law will require that all farmers and certified crop advisors who spread chemical fertilizer on fields go through a certification process where they will learn how to spread the fertilizer in the right place, at the right rate, at the right time of year," says Karen Schaefer, an Ohio reporter who is covering this issue. "And the problem with it is: right now it does not include manure and the law does not go into effect until 2017."

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