In yet another move to roll back Obama-era regulations, the Trump administration announced a proposal on Thursday that would allow new oil and gas drilling in nearly all U.S. waters.
The plan, which reverses protections on more than 100 million offshore acres, follows a separate proposal from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to repeal safety rules created after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Finalizing the new drilling proposal could take up to 18 months, but the plan goes well beyond Trump’s April directive to the Department of the Interior to consider auctioning oil and gas leases in the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, along with the Gulf of Mexico. Instead, it extends the possibility of drilling rights to more than 90 percent of the country’s outer continental shelf, encompassing 25 of the 26 U.S. offshore planning areas.
According to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the administration’s proposal is unprecedented in scale. It would offer up 47 lease sales within a five-year period, compared to 11 under Obama and 36 under President Jimmy Carter. Considering the potential for environmental damages and the impacts on tourism an oil spill could bring, many states, including those led by Republican governors, are expected to challenge the proposal.
Also in the news:
• For years, a star in the constellation Cygnus, 1,275 light-years from Earth, has puzzled astronomers with its apparent dimming and brightening. Some scientists even suggested that these dips might be a result of huge structures built by aliens, causing the star to darken as they passed across it. But new observations, to be published in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, suggest the effect is likely caused by dust. (National Geographic)
• Evidence of the link between drinking and the risk of certain cancers continues to mount. A new study published in the journal Nature has found that alcohol can cause irreparable damage to DNA, altering the genetic code and leading to deadly mutations. The study focused on stem cells within the blood, which the body relies on to continually supply fresh blood. While the body has two tiers of defense against the toxic alcohol metabolite acetaldehyde — one that clears it away (the protective enzyme ALDH2) and another that repairs DNA damage — the systems are not perfect, even when intact. About 8 percent of the world’s population, mostly those of East Asian ancestry, have an inherited deficiency of ALDH2, which researchers believe could explain the high prevalence of esophageal cancers in countries like China. (The Guardian)
• The Environmental Protection Agency’s 2019 budget is likely to include a transfer of the Integrated Risk Information System — which assesses potential harm from industrial chemicals — to a department that could then eliminate it. That’s according to a notice published on Thursday by the Natural Resources Defense Council. IRIS, while not a regulatory program in itself, provides information used to inform risk management decisions and policies. Turning over control to the Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention — headed by former chemical industry executive Nancy Beck — the NRDC says, would weaken the role of independent science in the EPA. (Natural Resources Defense Council)
• On New Year’s Eve, a story on the website Business Insider declared that chocolate was “on track to go extinct in 40 years.” The proximate cause on offer was global warming, and the headline understandably went viral, with parroted versions appearing across the web — but there was just one problem: The science underpinning the story made no such extinction claims. It took about a week for more sober-minded analyses of the research to catch up, culminating in a comprehensive debunking at the web’s oldest fact-checking site, Snopes, which gave the claim its unequivocal “False” designation. “The question is not whether chocolate will be around in 2058 (it will be around),” the Snopes analysis concluded. “The question is how much will it cost future generations to buy, and if genetic modification can play a role in its future production.” (Snopes)
• Cyber-security researchers announced this week that they had discovered major security flaws in computer chips made primarily by the California-based company Intel, which could affect computers, phones, and other devices dating back to 1995. The report, from security experts at Google and a host of research universities, recommended protective patches but warned they could slow processing speed. Because the flaw — a failure to fully isolate computer memory — could affect cloud storage as well as individual devices, tech companies including Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Apple announced they were also working on fixes at their end, but acknowledged that complete protection could be complicated. (ZDNet)
• And finally: Another paper by Cornell food behavior scientist Brian Wansink is set to be retracted. The paper, which appeared in the journal Appetite in 2003, is Wansink’s sixth to be pulled, this time due to “unreliable data,” according to a journal editor who spoke to Buzzfeed News. Nick Brown, a graduate student at University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands, along with other critics, have expressed concerns about at least 50 of Wansink’s studies. (Retraction Watch)