stories from the Public Lab community
The image above is from President Clinton's signing of "Executive Order 12898, an historic directive to federal agencies to address disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on communities of color and low-income populations." Photo from earthjustice.org, who cite the image to Dr. Robert Bullard.
I wanted to follow up the post I did back in September last year on Environmental Justice in Louisiana. This week past I attended the NEJAC meetings in Gulfport, Mississippi. NEJAC, established in 1993, is the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council, “a federal advisory committee to EPA ... The Council provides advice and recommendations about broad, cross-cutting issues related to environmental justice, from all stakeholders involved in the environmental justice dialogue. ”
To start off the conversation, Gina McCarthy, the US EPA Administrator (think the president’s EPA speed dial contact), began the meeting with comments that “we are here because there are communities left behind.” She highlighted Environmental Justice in its relationship to Public Health, “when the system fails.” While McCarthy is considered, by many, to be progressive in her views of Environmental Justice, many in attendance at NEJAC define EJ issues as not merely in their relation to Public Health, but directly stemming from racism ingrained in our public and private systems.
While we can point fingers at various kinks in these systems where the dirty fingers of racism hold on, many people in NEJAC pointed at the breaking point between state and federal policy. This was specifically referenced at the NEJAC meeting in the state and federal response to the drinking water crisis in Flint. People in Flint had been going to the state on issues of their drinking water for years, and they were ignored. Even when citizens of Flint went to the EPA on the specific issue the EPA deferred concerned citizens back to the state. In fact, it took Virginia Tech, a university in an entirely different state, to bring out this issue through their water sampling in the Flint community. This is the job of the state, and when the state doesn’t do it, it’s the job of EPA to hold the states accountable or intervene and do it themselves.
In analyzing the relationship the Michigan state government has with the term “Environmental Justice” there is as a stark contrast to that of the Louisiana DNR and DEQ as previously discussed. Where you can’t find the words “environment” next to the word “justice” in any state policies in Louisiana, Michigan has at least developed an Environmental Justice Plan, most recently revised in 2010: “Environmental Justice Plan for the state of Michigan and department of Natural Resources and Environment.” (Side note that environmental issues Michigan are now under the Department of Environmental Quality)
In the Michigan state environmental justice plan, the state identifies: “The environmental justice plan among other things, must include measures to identify, address and prevent discriminatory public health or environmental effects of state laws, regulations, policies and activities on Michigan residents. Discriminatory effects are those that cause disproportionately adverse public health or environmental impacts on minority or low income populations...As with any state government agency, the DNRE must carry out its responsibilities in compliance with federal and state laws and agency regulations prohibiting both intentional and unintentional discriminatory actions based on a number of protected categories, including race, color or national origin. Furthermore, recommendations of of the plan include “prioritizing inspections, enforcement, compliance assistance, remediation and other activities which assist in identifying and mitigating disparate impacts.”
While we might expect that states who don’t even recognize Environmental Justice in their governmental agencies might be worse at protecting EJ communities, it had been unclear to me if states that do highlight EJ issues might be better. This is by no means an analysis, but based on what is happening in Michigan, it seems that even when the state recognizes the problems of environmental injustice, it does not necessarily follow that EJ communities are more protected, or even that the paths between people and policy, or metrics of accountability are more clear.
As previously mentioned in the EJ in LA post, the EPA has been putting forward tools such as EJScreen, and others in helping to identify vulnerable and subjugated communities. But as highlighted by the EPA, “EJScreen simply provides a way to display this information and includes a method for combining environmental and demographic indicators into EJ indexes.”. In the NEJAC meeting, renowned EJ advocate Vernice Miller-Travis (former Director of the Environmental Justice Initiative of the NRDC, former Executive Director of Groundwork USA, co-founder of We ACT for Environmental Justice) argues that beyond resources, and beyond engaging people in public participation, we need “substantive policies,” policies with teeth that direct responsibility and take action.
So while it’s great that Michigan had an EJ working group back in 2010, where are the substantive policies? While it’s also great that the EPA creates tools such as EJScreen and the new DWMaps, where are the substantive policies? And while we are told by US EPA Office of Water’s Deputy Assistant Administrator Joel Beauvais that (an estimated?) 9% of drinking water systems in the US are not meeting health based water quality regulations, where are the substantive policies?
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Through a Homebrew Sprint Fellowship, I have spent the last few months working with Gretchen Gerke, Public Lab’s Data & Advocacy Steward on gathering stories from within the Public Lab community and beyond to develop use case examples for when the Oil Testing Kit could be useful. Many of these stories came from the Gulf Coast region and center around oil contamination of land and water. Landfill runoff, oil spills from transport and extraction, or leaks from machinery and equipment are just a few of the examples given by the people I interviewed.
Scott Eustis, from the Gulf Restoration Network (Louisiana) and also a longtime Public Lab member and organizer identified three specific sites of potential oil contamination that come from very different sources. With some help from Stevie Lewis, I connected with Margie Vicknair, an environmental activist and long-time Gulf Coast resident about the history of the oil and gas industry in Louisiana. It was shocking to learn from her how many pipelines crisscross the state and how some of the older pipelines, built by companies that no longer exist, probably aren’t even correctly mapped.
What was most striking for me was how similar her stories were to the ones related to me by many of the people I spoke with in northwestern Canada where I’ve been researching the impacts of oil and gas industry projects on local communities. Margie’s story about her older brother returning from a hunting trip with stories of animal skeletal remains around an abandoned pit reminded me of the many stories I heard from First Nations people of returning from hunting trips with poisoned fish or moose. Margie’s stories carried a similar urgency as those I heard from northern communities in Alberta and British Columbia. Her plea was for greater accountability. Margie hopes companies will create responsibility reports on oil spills.
Donovan Cameron, a GIS Advisor for Saulteau First Nations in northeastern British Columbia, who oversees environmental and cultural monitoring programs of his traditional territory spoke of the challenges his environmental monitors face when collecting physical data of oil leaks from surveying equipment used by oil and gas companies on their land. An Oil Testing Kit would be a helpful addition to the photographic imagery they are collecting. The purpose for gathering these stories is to provide real-world examples for people interested in using the oil testing kit in the wild. In the last few weeks left of my fellowship, I will use this time to think about the shared stories that exist across regionally different communities, tied together by similar environmental consequences of oil and gas development.
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Alberta, Canada, has a great deal of land area in wetlands and has fairly strong laws in place to protect those wetlands. Despite those protections, wetlands are illegally drained and filled-in each year, mostly for conversion into farmland, but also for development projects of all kinds. Alberta's provincial government has a department in place to handle permitting of wetland modification and to levy fines against unpermitted modification. Satellite imagery is readily available, and despite its age (several years) can serve as a historical record of the land's state. A ground-based photo can make it obvious that a particular wetland area has been modified, but aerial photography provides much better evidence. Drone-base, kite-based, or balloon-based photography can be used to quickly generate aerial imagery that reflects the current state of a wetland (or former wetland).
I would like to come up with a quick method to map wetlands. Once a wetland is mapped, it is protected from illegal modification, in the sense that a modification can easily be shown to the authorities. By examining historical satellite imagery, a motivated citizen could set out to map areas that may have been modified and use the resulting imagery as evidence for the authorities. To be clear, I'm not sure that this is something I want to do personally, but I have no problems helping to seed some local knowledge that could enable this sort of action.
Although I can see a fixed-wing drone as an efficient tool for mapping large areas, my dog ate the expanded polystyrene RC plane that was serving as my drone test-bed. Besides, I would like to promote a tool that is accessible to as many as possible. Drones demand a technical aptitude that isn't common and are expensive compared to a kite-based mapping kit. Worse, RC plane- or quadcopter-based drones suffer from a stigma that could complicate conversations with curious observers or concerned land-owners. A kite-based tool is far less concerning to most.
I have obtained a Public Lab's Kite Mapping Pack, which contains a 7-foot Hi Sky Delta, a 9-foot Dazzle Delta, and a 15' fuzzy tail. 1000-feet of 150-pound Dacron line was ordered separately and recently arrived, although most of my testing to date was using 400' of 125-pound test nylon cord (from our local farm store).
Both kites have been out for about ten test flights in a variety of conditions without a rig. In low wind conditions I have been consistently surprised at how acceptable air is found above 100'.
My experience with the kites has been positive over-all. The 15-foot fuzzy tail is always attached to the centre loop if there is enough wind to allow it. I wouldn't attach a camera rig to either kite without the fuzzy tail in place at this point. The Dazzle seems to move around much less to the Hi Sky in similar winds. The Dazzle also flies at a much higher angle than the Hi Sky in similar winds. Just a bit too high, in my opinion.
I do feel it is worth mentioning that the Dazzle Delta has a habit of pointing its nose at the ground and staying so until it the Earth stops it. This occurs in stronger winds with or without a tail. Letting out line is a possible fix, although I have not been able to test this yet.
Given appropriate wind conditions for the Dazzle, it is by far the better KAP platform as it flies higher and with much less motion.
A line reel has been constructed from some plywood and skateboard wheels. It works acceptably, but is over-built and not properly balanced. Reeling in a kite when there is decent wind is still tiring. Letting line out can get exciting too.
My camera rig is based on the Kaptery's Redstone Rig. I have used locally available replacements for fasteners and the fibreglass rod.
For now, my KAP camera is a Canon SD1100 IS with CHDK firmware installed. After three kite-mapping sessions, I find the quality to be acceptable. The motion of the camera as it hangs from the kite usually limits the quality of photographs to below the capability of the camera. Out of about 500 images, only a couple of dozen have been as sharp as the SD1100 allows. At this point, a better camera probably isn't justified.
Another 1000 feet of kite line would be useful as it will allow high-altitude images that cover a large area of land. These images are very useful in MapKnitter, greatly easing the warping of lower-altitude higher detail images.
Figuring out how to lock my camera's settings to a particular exposure is necessary. Currently, the camera's automatic exposure creates images that are wildly different. A software tool to post-process the images to better match would also be useful.
A tool-chain to remove blurry images, correct lens distortion, crop away the outer third of images (reducing perspective issues), and bring a set of images exposures into alignment, is a necessary prerequisite to making really decent MapKnitter maps.
More experience with kites is definitely required. A kite-enthusiast meet-up would be hugely useful.
A stabilized rig might greatly increase the number of useful images that can be obtained in a given amount of flight time. If so, it would allow a better camera to be used.
A Levitation Delta from Into The Wind may be in my future.
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First time we try to apply the Balloon and Kites Mapping tools on investigating environmental issues in China. We wanted to conduct our aerial photography shooting at a pharmaceutical factory in Guilin, hope to see what it was like inside the pharmaceutical plant, how the sewage system worked and if there were any illegal activities going on in the plant.
Guilin, located in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in China, which is world-famous for its peculiar Karst landform. Most of the tourist guidebooks about China put Guilin on the must-visit Lists.
Photo from chinatravelca
There is an interesting fact about Guilin, however, rarely mentioned. Guilin Pharma is an important pharmaceutical production base for the Active pharmaceutical ingredients of artemisinin, for which Mrs. Tu Youyou received the Nobel Prize in natural sciences as the first laureate officially recognized by the Chinese authorities. It was a former state owned pharmaceutical plant originally called “Guangxi Province Guilin City Pharmaceutical Plant”.
After the reforming and overhauling of state sector in 2004, there has been constant media coverage about how this pharmaceutical plant has been polluting the environment. The plant and the residential area next to it are only separated by a wall. The industrial sewage and the urban rainwater are both discharged into the same sewage system. The residents are suffering from water and air pollution greatly. Last year in May, there was black water coming out of the sewage wells and the whole compound was covered in smelly water. Residents in this compound are mostly retired workers from former state-owned enterprises. The current owners of those companies don’t care about them anymore.
Mr. Yang Chaojin, whose livelihood is depended on fish farming, contacted 20 acres of fishponds to farm fish in 10 years ago. In 2014 all of the fish he farmed died over night. He was convinced that it was because of the sewage water the plant had been discharging into the ponds. He has been trying to quest for answers from the plant in the past couple of years. As an attempt to avoid trouble, the plant gave him 5000rmb in total as compensation. According to what he told us, fish wouldn’t survive in those ponds anymore so now he is farming duck instead.
One day before we shot the aerial photos of Guilin Pharma, we did a trial run on another pharmaceutical plant called Guilin Huaxin Pharmaceutical Plant. Guilin Huaxin has similar sewage and air pollution issues like Guilin Pharma and it has taken a toll on the local living around the plant.
There was this particularly weird wind draft so we got two plans. We could fly either kites or balloons.
Liz had already set up pendulum rig on the train. Zhang Zhang attached vinyl to the camera for protection. We downloaded the mobius application at the hotel and set the camera onto auto pilot mode so it would automatically take a picture every 5 seconds.
We got our hands on a bottle of helium from a Chinese New Year decoration store . Though the volume was not specifically clarified or marked on the bottle. Liz didn’t think even think it was pure helium in the bottle . Still it was enough for blowing 5 rubber balloons ( around 80cm in diameter ) and 12 foil balloons ( around 40-50cm in diameter).
We failed to fly the kite since the draft was not strong enough and there were a lot of electric wires around. So we decided to switch to balloons.
Approximately 12 of those foil balloons could barely hold up one stick pendulum rig.
While we were flying the balloons, many people passed by and looked at us. Later on we found that there was a funeral going on in the neighborhood . But we still flew the colorful balloons in the sky while the funeral was on.
After spending 5 minutes in the air, the balloons got caught by some electric wires and exploded. We were really shocked. The camera was blown away. Just when we were about to leave, another balloon got blown onto another wire and it caused a second explosion. Luckily nothing more serious happened. We were truly lucky since we didn’t use hydrogen. It was one of the possibilities we considered while we were shopping for a bottle of gas.
( Later we happened to see a similar scene on Breaking Bad Season 3)
We found the camera on a roof.... and found the lens cap was not taken off....
We tried a different approach afterwards. We tied the camera on the top of a long bamboo stick and stuck it over the fence wall of the pharmaceutical plant. We got this photo.
Shizi, our environmental engineer suspected that the blue barrels were dumpsters for hazard wastes. We didn’t obtained more valuable information other than that.
Afterwards we practiced flying the kite near Guilin Pharma. The wind was blowing in the opposite direction to the plant . We only got to take photos of one corner of the pharmaceutical plant and many photos were blurry. We assumed it was because the sky was a bit dark and the shutter speed was too slow. ( However we couldn’t set the shutter speed on the application).
It wasn’t too windy the next day. The first thing we did was to buy two bottles of helium . This time we used rubber balloons instead which made it possible to pump in more gas. Then we went to Yang Chaojin’s.
First we went for 5 rubber balloons with 2 foil balloons . It was strong enough to lift up the device. Since it was noon, the automatic shutter speed was pretty ideal and the photos were not blurry.
Liz suggested that we should use more balloons and we went for it. The wind direction was pretty good. We used 2 reels of threads and the balloons went like 800 to 1000 meters away (little dot in the sky).
Photos we've got:
Moses are growing in Those sewage pools ( three rectangular pools) . It looks like they have been out of service for a pretty long time.
A full view of the pharmaceutical plant : surround by mountains, great physical features.
the world-famous Shitou Hill of Guilin is right next to it.
It was quite a thrilling process retrieving the balloons.
After we got the balloons back, we found that the threads tiding to the balloons were almost cut through. We couldn’t come up with an explanation but suspected that it got scratched by some tree branches.
We ARE happy :) Kim: Documentary photographer Liz: Chinese Love Liz Barry! Shizi: Environmental engineer, expert on water quality Zhangzhang: Educational product designer Shan(me): Chinese Green NGOer
Another mission of the trip is eating.
Still not sure if it's safe to publish those aerial photo in China, also trying to figure out effective ways to help victims to improve their living environment. Will do some communication work after Chinese New Year. We need to improve our flying skills, and find some good kites.
After mapping, we give all our balloon to the fisherman, to let his home look better
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This morning @Pat Popple, Public Lab Organizer from Chippewa County WI, posted a presentation in her online publication the Frac Sand Sentinel. The presentation was given by community member and landowner, Johnne Smalley, at the Chippewa County’s Land Conservation and Forestry Department’s monthly meeting.
For those who haven’t been following the frac sand issue, the first permitting for frac sand mining in Wisconsin started in late 2006 Pearson, 2015. As of December 2015, Wisconsin had 129 industrial sand mining facilities, ranging in size from 9 to 4000 acres Wisconsin DRN, 2015. Dozens of groups and thousands of people have participated in the fight against the frac sand mining industry's negative effects. Learn more about the groups involved and what they are doing on the Wisconsin page.
I’m posting Johnne Smalley’s speech to the Chippewa County’s Land Conservation and Forestry Department as an example of the incredible amount of work, collaboration and passion it takes for individuals to take on environmental injustices in their community. In this speech, Johnne highlights that it’s not just the industry that’s the problem, it’s the policies that should be in place protect our health and environment. It’s the responsibility of government to enforce policies that exist. Finally, it's the money that drives the system to protect the economic interests of industry instead of people.
Hats off to Johnne for her speech, to @Pat and all those who constantly support and share out about the fight they’ve been in for nearly 10 years:::
"My name is Johnne Smalley. I own and pay taxes on land in Wheaton Township in Chippewa County. I am here today to find out what Chippewa County envisions for its future.
I have read Chippewa County’s Comprehensive Plan, but I don’t see the county following it. Page 173, Section 6.4 states:
Goal 1 - Maintain the physical condition, biodiversity, ecology, and environmental functions of the landscape, including its capacity for flood storage, groundwater recharge, water filtration, plant growth, ecological diversity, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration.
Goal 2 - Maintain the capacity of the land to support productive forests and agricultural working lands to sustain food, fiber, and renewable energy production.
How many acres of land have been removed from productive forests and agricultural working lands to support frac sand mines owned by and operated for the financial benefit of people that are not from our area, often not even from our state, and sometimes, not even from our country? How have all these frac sand mines maintained the physical condition, biodiversity, ecology, and environmental functions of the landscape, including its capacity for flood storage, groundwater recharge, water filtration, plant growth, ecological diversity, wildlife habitat, and carbon sequestration? What I’m seeing is a bunch of eyesores scarring our land, devastation of forested hillsides, businesses that were dependent on tourist trade closing, increased costs for agricultural businesses dependent on rail transport of fertilizers into the area and corn out of the area, decreased wildlife habitat resulting in increased crop destruction as the wildlife relocate into adjacent cropland, and tons of colloidal clay from their ponds washing into our trout streams and ruining the trout habitat. There are toxic levels of silica 2.5 dust in the air which affect our health and probably animal health. In other localities near frac sand facilities, veterinarians have noticed increased fertility problems including a significant lower conception rate and higher rate of stillborn and weak calves. There have been similar reports by farmers near mine sites in Chippewa County. Coincidence?
I’m also seeing a tremendous increase in the number of homes for sale around these sites and at greatly reduced prices. Some people have given up and just walked away from their home to move elsewhere. Now I am seeing the approval of another reclamation permit for a 1300+ acre frac sand mine, processing plant, and trans-load station. This permit has been granted to a company with a known history of disregarding DNR regulations that protect our groundwater from contamination.
I have also read a good bit of The Chippewa County Code of Ordinances. The Chippewa County Code of Ordinances Chapter 30, Sec. 106 lines 741-744 states: “Sec. 30-106. Permit denial. An application for a nonmetallic mining reclamation permit shall be denied if any of the factors specified in Wis. Admin. Code NR § 135.22 exist. NR 135.22 Denial of application for reclamation permit, clearly states, “An application to issue a nonmetallic mining reclamation permit shall be denied if (c) 1. The applicant, or its agent, principal or predecessor has, during the course of nonmetallic mining in Wisconsin within 10 years of the permit application or modification request being considered shown a pattern of serious violations of this chapter or of federal, state or local environmental laws related to nonmetallic mining reclamation.” Northern Sands, LLC has more than 20 DNR violations of inappropriate exploratory borehole abandonments in Chippewa County. Leaving holes open can create a direct conduit for entry of contaminants to waters of the state and is a serious violation of ch. 281, Wisconsin Statutes and ch. NR812, Wis. Adm. Code. (Just ask anyone who has to drink water from an aquifer that has had liquid manure dumped down a hole into it).
The proposed post−mining land use given in 3.0 of the Howard Township Properties Nonmetallic Mine Reclamation Plan “include a combination of commercial and passive recreational uses....Approximately eighty-five percent of the site will be reclaimed as prairie grasslands: approximately fifteen percent of the area will be reclaimed as woodland.” The Chippewa County Land Conservation and Forest Management staff can explain better than I can that prairie grasslands are not the same as productive agricultural cropland that sustain food, fiber, and renewable energy production. (See goal 2 from Chippewa County’s Comprehensive Plan as quoted above.) NR 135 also states, “The proposed post−mining land use shall be consistent with local land use plans.” In addition, State law Sec.66.1001. Wis. Stats. requires that local land use-related decisions be consistent with the goals and objectives of that community’s comprehensive plan. I am not seeing how taking more and more productive cropland and forest away to return it to native prairie “maintains the capacity of the land to support productive forests and agricultural working lands to sustain food, fiber, and renewable energy production”.
I would also like to question why Chippewa County is not requiring an independent expert or consultant to do the monitoring and reporting of this mine site with reimbursement costs paid back to the county by Northern Sands. This permit allows Northern Sands to do their own checking and reporting. Their history has shown how well they have done that in the past. On multiple occasions, their actions and reports have been fabricated and falsely reported to both the Howard Town Board and the Wisconsin DNR. Having county personnel or even state personnel checking to make sure the monitoring and reporting is being done accurately is just adding to the taxpayers’ burden. With Northern Sands history, they will need close oversight and this cost should fall back onto Northern Sands—not the taxpayers.
An agency-designated consultant with recognized experience in the areas of financial assurance and reclamation should also be required to evaluate any financial assurance given by Northern Sands with the costs incurred paid by Northern Sands. Reclamation Surety Bonds for other mining endeavors have proved inadequate in the past. Repeatedly, the Surety Bonds have been for inadequate amounts. They may cover the cost of reclamation as outlined, but usually fail to cover any problems that may occur—especially the cost of re-working an area where reclamation failed and the cost of pollution clean-up. Also, there is a history of Surety Bond issuers failing when it comes time for the actual reclamation. In some instances there has been a close tie between the surety bond company and the mine owner.
In conclusion, I would like to repeat my question of how the Chippewa County envisions its future and how its actions in permitting these frac sand mines support this vision. Thank you."
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During the Open hour on COP21, there was mention of the term "Carbon Bomb" and discussion of an EcoFys report ("Point of No Return") on 14 industrial projects most likely (in 2013) to disrupt the Climate by increasing industrial carbon emissions by 2020--in some cases, the carbon emissions potential for any one of the projects exceeds the carbon budget for the entire planet (565 MT by 2015, according to Carbon Tracker).
This report informs much climate activism, especially from Greenpeace. Commissioned by Greenpeace, it attempts to rank the most dangerous fossil-fuel projects currently being planned. The metric is simple: how many additional tons of CO2 the project will emit by 2020. (See the report for more on methodology.)
Voohar and Myllyvirta, 2013. Point of No Return: The massive climate threats we must avoid. Greenpeace International, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, January 2013
Ria Voorhar & Lauri Myllyvirta
Brian Blomme, Steve Erwood, Xiaozi Liu, Nina Schulz, Stephanie Tunmore, James Turner
Published in January 2013 by
Ottho Heldringstraat 5
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Louisiana needs "1.5 to survive" --the state is already experiencing population dislocation. Louisiana is also politically dominated by companies involved with several of the projects. The US is involved with 5 of the projects. The supply chains of these projects touch Louisiana and Texas.
GOM Offshore Directly. Here's how it ranks among a dirty dozen of climate wrecking projects:
China’s Western provinces / Coal mining expansion / 1,400
Australia / Coal export expansion / 760
Arctic / Drilling for oil and gas / 520 (dead 2015?)
Indonesia / Coal export expansion / 460
5. United States / Coal export expansion / 420 (limited in 2015)
Canada / Tar sands oil / 420
( Oil trains through wetlands in Pass Manchac, Valero Refinery in NORCO, waste processing at Shell / IMTT, waste Pet Coke goes to IMT and UBT )
Iraq / Oil drilling / 420
8. Gulf of Mexico / Deepwater oil drilling / 350
Brazil / Deepwater oil drilling (pre-salt) / 330
Kazakhstan / Oil drilling / 290
11. United States / Shale gas / 280
Africa / Gas drilling / 260
Caspian Sea / Gas drilling / 240
Venezuela / Tar sands oil / 190 (see other tar sands)
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