[imgcontainer] [img:1lNZFi.AuSt_.36.jpeg] [source]Sue Schaffer[/source] The Idaho Statesman collected photos of wildfires in the state and put them in a photo gallery. This one was taken on the Circle C Ranches near New Meadows on Sept. 15, one week after the Wesley fire started NW of New Meadows. This pond is 4 – 5 miles directly east of the Wesley Fire. Mike Schaffer is riding Moonshadow. [/imgcontainer]

New tests of groundwater in Wyoming show lower levels of the carcinogen benzene than what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reported earlier, when it linked the pollution to hydraulic fracturing.

Wyoming residents have claimed that oil and gas drilling near their homes ruined their water supplies. The drilling companies have used fracking techniques that pump liquids underground to force gas to the surface. Last year’s test found benzene at almost 50 times the EPA limit. The new data, just released by the U.S. Geologic Survey, found benzene at 3 percent of the EPA limit.

The AP reports:

This year’s tests and the previous tests aren’t an apples-to-apples comparison, however. Researchers this time around decided they couldn’t get enough water for a reliable sample from one of the wells the EPA drilled to test for pollution near the rural community of Pavillion.

That low-flowing well had the very high benzene level. In the other well — the one researchers relied on for this year’s testing — any amount of benzene in the groundwater tested was too small to be detected last year.

In that sense, the results for benzene this year are in line with last year’s.

The results from this year’s testing generally are “consistent with ground water monitoring data previously released,” EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said by email.

Tree Killing Drought — A Texas A&M Forest Service study finds that drought, heat and winds in 2011 killed 301 million trees in the state — or 6.2 percent of the trees in rural Texas.

Losses in urban areas were higher.

Antibiotics on the Farm — Food & Water Watch has issued a report on “how antibiotic misuse on factory farms can make you sick.”

Vilsack on a Second Term — Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says President Obama should make land use a focus of a second administration.

“We’re not utilizing our landed resources as much as we could,” Vilsack told Bloomberg. Getting more productivity from land, partly by finding ways to rotate crops more efficiently, would “actually aid conservation, conserve water” and “restore the soil,” he said. It may also help create new feed stocks for energy and bio-based products and “take some of the pressure off of corn,” the biggest U.S. crop, which is used to make most of the country’s ethanol, he said.

Keystone XL News — Nebraska landowners are challenging a new law that allows pipeline builders to avoid a more rigorous environmental assessment of pipeline routes.

Lisa Song at InsideClimate News reports that landowners are challenging a law that gives the governor the final authority to approve or reject pipeline routes through the state. TransCanada, the builder of the Keystone XL pipeline, rerouted its pipeline away from the Sandhills region of the state, but it still crosses the Ogallala Aquifer. That still worries landowners.

The pipeline would take tar sands oil from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Landowners have filed suit against the new law, but the Nebraska Attorney General is asking courts to throw the suit out.

The state’s attorneys “said landowners have no right to challenge the $2 million pipeline review process because it isn’t being funded by taxpayers,” Song reports. “A judge from Lancaster County District Court is expected to rule on the state’s motion to dismiss within the next few weeks.”

Idaho Fire Photos — Good gallery of photos of wildfires in Idaho, here.

Medicare Working Against Republicans — Voters in Florida, Ohio and Virginia oppose Republican plans to alter Medicare and that is helping President Obama build leads in those swing states, according to a new Washington Post poll.

The Post reports:

Sizable majorities of voters in each of these three states — as well as those across the country — say they prefer to keep Medicare as a defined benefits program, rather than moving to a system of fixed payments to seniors to buy coverage from private insurance or traditional Medicare. The “premium support” idea is one featured in the Republican budget proposed by Ryan and backed by Romney. The desire to keep the system as it is peaks at 65 percent in Florida, where more than one in five 2008 voters were age 65 and up.

Medicare and Social Security are a larger part of the rural economy, where the average age is higher than in the country as a whole.

Early Voting Today In Iowa — The election has already started.

Early voting began today in Iowa. The Des Moines Register says that Democrats had asked for 109,000 absentee ballots while Republicans had asked for 20,000.

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