Grist on the information vacuum around fracking We still don't know that much about hydraulic fracturing, says Richard Schiffman, who lists the concerns about the drilling practice, and the lack of answers to them. "We don’t know nearly what we should at this stage, given that massive swaths of the U.S. are already being fracked — and that most of that fracking is going on virtually unregulated by states which, tipsy on the revenue bonanza from the drilling, have been giving gas companies what amounts to a free pass," he writes, weighing a recent study in Science. "In Pennsylvania, for example, the supervision of the gas industry is so lax that the state does not even know where all of its estimated 150,000 wells are located. Companies are asked to provide this information, but a Pittsburgh paper reports that many simply don’t bother."
The Atlantic Cities on Google's personalized maps Emily Badger details the potential pitfalls of Google's new mapping technology, which promises to serve users personalized map data. "Google promises with this new product to build a customizable map for everyone, something that will be infinitely, constantly evolving according to your tastes and your clicks and your search history," she explains, adding, "Google is obviously betting on [this] strategy because plenty of people like to get salon recommendations from their friends, or because a lot of us want to know where Zagat thinks we can find the best burrito in town. The trick is this: Can customizable maps leverage personalized recommendations without concealing from view businesses and people and restaurants that would broaden our experience of the places where we live and travel?"
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ABC News on the impact of climate change on human allergies "In the past 53 years, carbon dioxide levels have risen globally approximately 22 percent," notes Gillian Mahoney. "Much has been written about how the rise in greenhouse gases is bad for the environment, but less has been said about how these gases can help some plants flourish. Unfortunately for humans these plants, like poison ivy and ragweed, tend to be irritating or even harmful to our health. ... A 2005 study found that when ragweed plants, a prime cause of hay fever symptoms in late summer and fall, were exposed to higher carbon dioxide levels they not only produced more pollen, but the grains of pollen were covered with increased numbers of nose-irritating proteins, supercharging the pollen's allergic properties. ... The study [also] found that the allergen concentrations increased 20 percent from the preindustrial age to today. But they were projected to rise a startling 60 percent by the end of the century."
The Guardian on the threat of flooding in London Damian Carrington and Rachel Salvidge assess the risk of flooding to properties in London: "One in four London properties, collectively worth around £250 billion, are at risk of flooding, according to official assessments of the dangers now facing homes in England and Wales. Ten of the top 25 most at-risk local authority areas across England and Wales are now London boroughs. The environment agency's 2013 national flood risk assessment, unpublished but seen by the Guardian, shows that London boroughs now dominate the local authorities with most properties in jeopardy from river and tidal flooding." The findings are likely to force new questions about how both private and public entities will prepare for future damage: "The widespread flood risks are of particular concern because of the imminent expiry of a deal between government and the insurance industry that ensures high-risk homes can get affordable insurance."
CNN on the specter of oil manipulation "Some of the world's biggest oil companies may have a new mess on their hands," Jame O'Toole writes, referring to news allegation that a group of oil companies manipulated commodity prices — a potential echo of last year's massive Libor scandal. "A review ordered by the British government last year in the wake of the Libor revelations cited 'clear' parallels between the work of the oil-price-reporting agencies and Libor. '[T]hey are both widely used benchmarks that are compiled by private organizations and that are subject to minimal regulation and oversight by regulatory authorities,' the review, led by former financial regulator Martin Wheatley, said in August . 'To that extent they are also likely to be vulnerable to similar issues with regards to the motivation and opportunity for manipulation and distortion.'"