Business

  • PG&E to pay $1.6 billion in gas explosion settlement

    The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has levied the largest penalty in the agency’s history on Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), ordering the company to pay $1.6 billion for failures which led to a 2010 natural gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno. The explosion killed eight people and destroyed or damaged thirty-eight homes.Afaulty weld on the pipeline caused the explosion and the resulting fire. The company may also owe an additional $1.13 billion in federal criminal fines connected to the blast, and has committed to spend $2.8 billion in reassessing pipeline safety.

  • Despite disasters, oil-by-rail transport is getting safer

    Oil production in the United States is booming. Last year, for the first time since 1987, annual U.S. field production of crude oil topped three billion barrels, a 170 percent increase since 2008. As pipelines quickly reached capacity, oil shippers turned to the railroads, which provided multiple incentives, including: flexibility in shipping options and contract timelines, shorter transit times to the refineries (five to seven days by rail compared with 40 days by pipeline), and the ability to choose which refineries to use. Oil production in the Bakken formation in North Dakota has increased from 81,000 barrels per day in 2003 to more than one million barrels by mid-2014 — with more than three-quarters of those barrels moving daily by rail out of North Dakota. With U.S. crude oil transport by rail nearing all-time highs, many are expressing fears about the potential of a crude oil spill in their community.

  • Cyber espionage campaign, likely sponsored by China, targets Asian countries: FireEye

    FireEye has released a report which provides intelligence on the operations of APT 30, an advanced persistent threat (APT) group most likely sponsored by the Chinese government. APT 30 has been conducting cyber espionage since at least 2005, making it one of the longest operating APT groups that FireEye tracks. APT 30 targets governments, journalists, and commercial entities across South East Asia and India.

  • Former Israeli PM Ehud Barak invests $1 million in emergency reporting app developer

    Israeli start-up Reporty Homeland Security has raised $1 million from former prime minister and minister of defense Ehud Barak. The company’s technology aims to streamline communication between citizen and government agencies at the same time that it protects the user’s privacy. The company’s application establishes a two-way video and audio connection to the emergency help center, transmitting information which gives the precise location of the person making the report and allowing for an evaluation of the incident report’s credibility.

  • Renewables win, coal loses as shift in electricity generation lead to net job growth in energy

    In the four years following the 2008 recession, the coal industry lost more than 49,000 jobs, while the natural gas, solar, and wind industries together created nearly four times that amount, according to a new study. A county-by-county geographical analysis of the losses and gains shows that few new jobs were added in regions hardest hit by coal’s decline, particularly counties in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky.

  • 70 percent of glaciers in Western Canada will be gone by 2100

    There are over 17,000 glaciers in B.C. and Alberta and they play an important role in energy production through hydroelectric power. The glaciers also contribute to the water supply, agriculture, and tourism. A new study says that 70 percent of glacier ice in British Columbia and Alberta could disappear by the end of the twenty-first century, creating major problems for local ecosystems, power supplies, and water quality.

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  • Police department pays ransom after hackers encrypt department’s data

    Last December, cyberterrorists hacked into servers belonging to the Tewksbury Police Department, encrypted the data stored, and later asked for a $500 bitcoin ransom to be paid before department officials could regain control of their files. The attack is known as the CryptoLocker ransomware virus, and it points to a new frontier in cyberterrorism.

  • A very big concept lifts off

    In 2010, a group of defense contractors led by Northrop Grumman received a contract from the U.S. Department of Defense to create a so-called Long Endurance Multi-Intelligence Vehicle (LEMV) — a super-sized surveillance aircraft that had the capability of spending days in the air on a single mission. The first test flight of the Airlander took place in August 2012. In 2013, however, budget cuts led to the cancellation of the project, and U.K.-based Hybrid Air Vehicles (HAV), which was part of contractors group, bought the Airlander back from the DoD at effectively scrap value. So the Airlander came back to the United Kingdom, where it lives in a giant hangar in Cardington, Bedfordshire. It is there because it is the only place in the United Kingdom that can house it, having been built for airship manufacture in 1915. HAH has big plans for it.

  • Extended Oregon drought raises concern over state’s water security

    Facing the fourth straight year of drought, Oregon officials are worried that the state’s water security may be in jeopardy, as is already the case in California, which has just announced its first-ever mandatory water restrictions. a historically warm winter this season has continued to shrink snowpack throughout the Oregon Cascades, including the usual five-foot levels which accumulate on Mt. Hood, leading experts to suggest that even bigger problems lie ahead. Without the usual snowfall, Oregonians can expect fewer healthy fish in the rivers, fewer seed sprouts, and more wild fires. Moreover, the need for more irrigation could hamper the state’s already hobbled farming economy.

  • NSA’s recruitment effort challenged by Snowden leaks, private sector competition

    The NSA employs roughly 35,000 people nationwide and anticipates on recruiting at least 1,000 workers each year. For 2015, the agency needs to find 1,600 recruits, hundreds of whom must come from highly specialized fields like computer science and mathematics. The agency has been successful so far, but still faces recruitment challenges in the aftermath of the Edward Snowden revelations and competition from private sector firms who offer recruits much higher salaries.

  • Increasing use of antibiotics in livestock undermines effectiveness of antimicrobials in humans

    Antibiotic consumption in livestock worldwide could rise by 67 percent between 2010 and 2030, and possibly endanger the effectiveness of antimicrobials in humans, according to researchers. Five countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa — will experience a growth of 99 percent in antibiotic consumption, compared with an expected 13 percent growth in their human populations over the same period. In the United States, antibiotic consumption in animals currently represents up to 80 percent of total antimicrobial sales. “The discovery and development of antibiotics was a major public health revolution of the twentieth century,” says one of the researchers. “Their effectiveness — and the lives of millions of people around the world — are now in danger due to the increasing global problem of antibiotic resistance, which is being driven by antibiotic consumption.”

  • Future supply risks threaten metals used in high-tech products

    During the past decade, sporadic shortages of metals needed to create a wide range of high-tech products have inspired attempts to quantify the criticality of these materials, defined by the relative importance of the elements’ uses and their global availability. In a new paper, a team of researchers assesses the “criticality” of all sixty-two metals on the Periodic Table of Elements, providing key insights into which materials might become more difficult to find in the coming decades, which ones will exact the highest environmental costs — and which ones simply cannot be replaced as components of vital technologies.

  • Airship maker suing the U.S. Navy for loss of an advanced blimp in roof collapse

    Aeroscraft Aeronautical Systems has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Navy following the destruction of their Aeros airship. It was destroyed when a roof a 300,000 square foot Second World War-era hanger at Tustin Marine Corps Air Station in Tustin, California, collapsed. Aeroscraft is seeking to reclaim all losses as well as an unspecified amount meant to compensate the company for the $3 billion capital financing plan which was halted after the airship was destroyed. The base closed in 1999, but the property is still owned by the Navy, which leased buildings and hangars on the base to private companies.

  • Why rooftop solar is disruptive to utilities – and the grid

    Electric utilities have a unique role in society and the economy, one that is rooted in a set of arrangements with state regulators that goes back nearly a century. In exchange for being granted a geographic monopoly on the distribution of electric power, the utility is responsible for ensuring that its transmission and distribution systems operate reliably. In other words, it is the utility’s responsibility to ensure that blackouts occur infrequently and with short duration. Power-generating panels, called solar photovoltaics (PV), represent the fastest-growing source of electric power in the United States – but the proliferation of roof-top PVs poses a problem for the business model of electric utilities, a problem similar to that telephone companies have been facing: The rise of “cord cutters” — people with a cell phone but no land-line — places land-line phone companies in a quandary. They must continue to maintain their network infrastructure with fewer customers to pay for it. Roof-top solar technology will eventually force a conversation about the fundamental role of the electric utility and who should have ultimate responsibility for providing reliable electricity, if anyone. Going off the grid has a certain appeal to an increasing segment of the population, but it is far from clear that such a distributed system can deliver the same level of reliability at such a low cost.

  • Yahoo to offer user-friendly e-mail encryption service

    Yahoo has announced plans to create its own e-mail encryption plug-in for Yahoo Mail users this year, adding to already growing competition among Silicon Valley firms to capitalize on consumers increased privacy desires. The service will feature “end-to-end” encryption, or the locking up of message contents so that only the user and receiver have access to the information — typically a more advanced and time consuming process which involves specific software and encryption codes.