Environmental Must-Reads – August 17, 2015

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Louisiana’s settlement with BP has not resolved claims filed by two public university systems

Call it a $274 million loose end.

That’s how much hangs in the balance for the University of Louisiana and Southern University systems, which filed lawsuits against BP to recover that much in what they said was lost revenue tied to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Until this past week, it was unclear whether the schools’ claims were resolved as part of BP’s record $18.7 billion settlement with the federal government and the five Gulf Coast states that were affected by the accident, which killed 11 men and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf.

BP can’t stop putting itself in the line of fire

Over the last five years, few large companies on the planet have been as existentially challenged as BP. Yet, the hits keep coming, often outsized and self-inflicted.

So it is with the latest news from the British oil company. A spike in gasoline prices in the US midwest can be attributed to a breakdown at a large BP refinery on Lake Michigan, possibly caused by a leak that began Aug. 8, and may go on for another month—the company told Quartz it may know by the end of the weekend when service at the refinery will be restored.

3 months after oil spill, Santa Barbara region recovering

Even though Plains All American Pipeline underestimated the extent of the Refugio oil spill, Santa Barbara businesses and residents are feeling less of a sting than expected since the rupture fouled the Gaviota coastline and its wildlife about three months ago.

Plains, the Houston-based oil company responsible for the spill, said in a quarterly earnings report that the rupture could have released 3,400 barrels of crude, about 1,000 more than originally assessed.

Vacation in Rome? Or on That Oil Rig?

IN the next several years, thousands of offshore oil and gas drilling rigs, many of them built during a global construction boom in the 1970s and ’80s, will reach retirement age and require decommissioning. Countries will have to decide whether to sink, remove or repurpose them.

While few proposals have been put in practice, there is no shortage of ideas for alternative uses of the platforms: supermax prisons, private homes, scuba schools, fish farms, windmill stations.

Unlike earlier generations of offshore rigs, which tended to be fewer, smaller and closer to shore, the ones being retired now are bigger, more numerous and spread much more broadly across the globe. Most of these retirement-ready platforms are too old for heavy industrial use, like drilling, but not necessarily old enough to demand full removal.

Slump in Oil-by-Rail Shipments Boosts Car Storage Business

New tank car safety standards coupled with a slump in oil-by-rail shipments are causing headaches for many in the railroad business, but for a struggling scenic railroad in the Adirondacks and other short-line operators, they may bring salvation.

Ed Ellis, president of Saratoga and North Creek Railway, said he plans to store up to 500 empty tank cars for a year or more on seldom-used tracks near the High Peaks Wilderness region of the Adirondacks. He estimated storage fees could add up to “seven figures,” ensuring the future of the cash-strapped tourist train.

Dane County may mull Enbridge oil spill options left open by GOP

Dane County leaders say they may consider ways to work around a law that was slipped into the state budget blocking a local requirement that the Enbridge Energy pipeline company purchase oil spill insurance.

The Madison chapter of the environmental group 350.org has asked the county zoning committee to require Enbridge to establish a $25 million trust fund that would cover cleanup costs in the event of a spill.

Beyond Ironic, Obama’s Pending Arctic Visit Invites Charges of Hypocrisy

“Alaskans are on the front lines of one of the greatest challenges we face this century: climate change,” President Barack Obama said in a video posted on the White House website Thursday, in which he announced an upcoming trip to the state to highlight the crisis of global warming. “Climate change once seemed like a problem for future generations. But for most Americans, it’s already a reality.”

The words are nice. But some environmentalists have seized on the hypocrisy of Obama’s rhetoric, given that he recently gave the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell to drill for Arctic offshore oil in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska.

New oil spill recovery record set in North Sea exercise

Norwegian offshore player Egersund Group recently set a new oil spill recovery record when its newly developed Marine Oil Spill (MOS) Sweeper system managed to recover 96.4% of oil released in a North Sea exercise.

The record was set when the Norwegian Clean Seas Association for Operating Companies (NOFO) carried out a realistic oil on water exercise in the North Sea. The purpose was to test and develop preparedness against serious spill accidents, and field-prove new equipment before it is put into an operational oil spill situation.

Plans for Warming Arctic Could Tap Massive Wealth

As you may have seen in the headlines in early August, Russia is trying once again to stake a claim to 463,000-square-miles in the Arctic Ocean. While a UN commission rejected a similar petition back in 2002, the Russians now claim to have new scientific evidence that the Eurasian continental shelf extends out far enough from Russia’s northern shoreline to give Russia economic control of those waters under international law.

But the Russians have competition. Denmark also has claimed sovereignty over part of the same watery expanse, and Canada wants a big piece of the top of the world as well.

Coast Guard Alerts Goa, Karnataka, Kerala Over Possible Oil Spill

The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) has alerted Goa, Karnataka and Kerala governments after almost 110 oil barrels were seen floating off Maharashtra coast, with looming threat of a spill if they break midway.

The iron drums with 200 litre capacity were initially found floating off-Maharashtra coast during surveillance of the sea by ICG near Kashid beach, in Konkan region, 135 kms from Mumbai.

PCG: Burnt ship at Ormoc port may cause oil spill if typhoon hits

The Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) fears the possibility of oil spill and damage to the Ormoc port if burnt ship MV Wonderful Stars, owned by Roble Shipping, isn’t transferred to Cebu City before a typhoon hits.

According to PCG Eastern Visayas commander Capt. William Isaga, a typhoon will enter the Philippines soon and they are concerned with the huge waves that may affect the ship.

Fitch: More offshore drillers could seek bankruptcy after Hercules

Hercules Offshore may not be the last cash-strapped offshore driller to file for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, as energy companies struggle to cope financially with one of the worst downturns in recent decades, Fitch Ratings said Friday.

Other offshore drillers are in a similar position, challenged by both low oil prices and an oversupply of offshore drilling rigs in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere. Daily rates for rigs have crumpled and offshore drillers have mothballed several older rigs in recent months. Houston-based Hercules axed hundreds of jobs this year.

Lancashire fracking debate: ‘they are changing the laws to suit themselves’

Resting a hand on the shoulder of his nine-year-old daughter, Samantha, John Tootill shakes his head as he gazes over the lush green fields near Lancashire’s Fylde coast that have become the new focus in Britain’s battle over fracking.

“It’s for her and her brother that we’re fighting them, really,” says Tootil, 61, who fears that plans to drill on a number of local sites, in what would be the UK’s biggest round of fracking so far, will destroy his farm and garden nursery business, as well as poison the wider area forever. Such are his concerns that he recently withdrew Samantha and her eight-year-old brother from their local school.

Low Oil Prices Pose Threat to Texas Fracking Bonanza

No place in Texas produces more oil than Karnes County, but suddenly the roaring economy here is cooling fast, chilled by the plunging price of crude.

Workers who migrated from far and wide to find work here, chasing newfound oil riches, are being laid off, deserting their recreational vehicle parks and going home. Hay farmers who became instant millionaires on royalty checks for their land have suddenly fallen behind on payments for new tractors they bought when cash was flowing. Scores of mobile steel tanks and portable toilets used at the ubiquitous wells are stacked, unused, along county roads.

Oil tech firms see shale resurrection with re-fracking

Shale oil producers from West Texas and North Dakota have harvested enough crude to overwhelm the global oil market and force Saudi Arabia’s oil cartel to play offense on the world’s energy stage.

But U.S. producers have recovered only a small fraction of the oil that’s trapped in those rocks, and though the oil-market crash has put the nation’s energy boom on hold, some oil-technology companies are pursuing what they say will be a second American shale revolution.

Medina County can’t vote to ban fracking

The fight isn’t over for Medina County homeowners opposed to the Nexus pipeline and pushing for a ban on fracking in the county.

Georgia Kimble’s family owns 101 acres in Medina County — land that has been in the family for 130 years.

All over that land are very visible signs opposing the proposed Nexus pipeline that would run through her land — and she’s not alone. Similar signs dot properties throughout Medina County.

“I feel this is very dangerous,” Kimble, 81, said. “Any leak or explosion, we would be eliminated.”

Ordinance could delay fracking

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners potentially could slow the arrival of hydraulic fracturing in the county at its meeting Monday with a local ordinance imposing a two-year moratorium on the practice.

“Part of the county’s rationale is that we’re about to embark on a comprehensive land use plan for Chatham County,” said Commissioner Diana Hales. “It takes several years. So we feel very strongly that we need a moratorium for Chatham County to get its ordinances in place and our comprehensive land-use plan before any fracking takes place in this county.”

Pipeline company with tie to Gov. Scott and state backing, has history of accidents

Spectra Energy, the company that state environmental regulators say should be allowed to construct a 267-mile-long natural gas pipeline in North Florida, has a checkered history of accidents and violations of federal safety rules in the U.S. and Canada dating back decades.

FloridaBulldog.org reported last week that Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection is backing the award of a key environmental permit for the controversial $3 billion Sabal Trail pipeline to a joint venture majority-owned by Houston-based Spectra Energy.

Petition Opposing Mountain Valley Pipeline To Be Presented To Governor’s Office Monday

A petition demanding lawmakers reject the Mountain Valley Pipeline Project will be presented to Governor Tomblin on Monday.

The petition comes from moveon.org. People involved said they’ll present large, decorated boxes filled with hundreds of pages of signatures to the governor’s office after a 10 a.m. news conference at the State Capitol.

If built, the natural gas pipeline would be the largest in the state, moving gas from Pennsylvania to the Carolinas.

Japan Raises Sakurajima Volcano Eruption Alert, Residents Told To Prepare For Possible Evacuation

Residents of the southern Japanese city of Kagoshima have been asked to prepare for a possible evacuation after a recent uptick in seismic activity around the Sakurajima volcano, located off the coast of the city. An eruption might also pose significant risk to operations at Sendai nuclear power plant, which was restarted earlier this week after a hiatus of four and a half years.

“The possibility for a large-scale eruption has become extremely high for Sakurajima,” the Japan Meteorological Agency reportedly said early Saturday, raising its alert to the second-highest level.

NRA says Sakurajima volcano no threat to newly restarted Sendai reactor

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said Monday that the Sakurajima volcano in Kagoshima Prefecture doesn’t pose a threat to the Sendai nuclear plant 50 km away.

The Meteorological Agency increased the alert level for the volcano to 4 from 3 on Saturday, advising people within 3 km of the crater to prepare to leave. The highest rating on the scale is 5, when evacuation is ordered because of a high risk of eruption.

Fukushima operator’s mounting legal woes to fuel nuclear opposition

Four and a half years after the Fukushima disaster, and as Japan tentatively restarts nuclear power elsewhere, the legal challenges are mounting for the crippled plant’s operator.

They include a judge’s forced disclosure of a 2008 internal document prepared for managers at Tokyo Electric Power Co warning of a need for precautions against an unprecedented nuclear catastrophe.

Decades of work for Cumbrian firm at Fukushima

Japan’s nuclear industry is in the process of becoming active once again after the Fukushima disaster, and REACT Engineering is hoping to carry on using its Cumbrian expertise to help the site.

Following the tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, the country’s entire fleet of nuclear power stations was shut down in order to go through a stringent safety review to ensure that nothing on the same level as the Fukushima disaster was to occur again.

What’s more radioactive than a nuclear power plant?

A lot of things, it turns out. But the one you’d probably least expect? Waste from a non-nuclear power plant, by a factor of 100.

On Wednesday, we published a Physics+ article about radiation, written in memory of the bombing of Hiroshima, 70 years prior. While the author did a fantastic job in describing the state of the art on low-dose radiation research, I was troubled by a line where he cited “widespread deployment of nuclear power” along with medical scans and air travel as a potential contributor to chronic low-dose radiation. I took issue with the line because, counterintuitive as it might be, widespread deployment of nuclear power is acting to decrease the radiation burden of the average individual. To understand how, we’ll need a smidge of radiation biophysics knowledge, along with a touch of nuclear engineering. If that sounds scary, don’t worry; I promise to keep it simple.

Nuclear-waste plant whistleblower wins settlement of $4.1 million

When Walter Tamosaitis warned in 2011 that the Energy Department’s plans for a waste treatment plant at the former Hanford nuclear weapons complex were unsafe, he was demoted and put in a basement room with cardboard boxes and plywood for office furniture.

Tamosaitis had been leading a team of 100 scientists and engineers in designing a way to immobilize millions of gallons of highly toxic nuclear sludge as thick as peanut butter. The sludge, which could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to a nearby person within minutes, is stored in leaking underground tanks near the Columbia River in Washington state.

Oregon wildfire evacuees face a new normal as blaze season rages on

On Saturday in Warm Springs, Oregon – tucked alongside US-26, at the heart of the Warm Springs Reservation – two dozen residents were cooling their heels in the community centre that was serving as an interim home for wildfire evacuees.

They may have a long wait to return to their homes. What’s more, seasoned experts say that the current fire season – which began early – may yet have months to run. And in the long term, this may be the new normal for the northwest.

Firefighters struggle to contain blazes as Soda Fire becomes largest in US

Winds helped stoke wildfires sweeping across the northern Rocky mountains, the Pacific northwest and elsewhere on Saturday, posing new problems for firefighters trying to contain flames that have been fed by drought.

One blaze, the Soda Fire near Nampa in south-west Idaho, had burned 265,000 acres to become the largest such blaze in the nation.

The weather was expected to worsen fires in some areas over the weekend, as the federal government said it would exhaust its firefighting budget next month.

Climate ‘alarm bells’ are ringing, Obama says ahead of Arctic summit

US President Barack Obama will use an upcoming conference on Arctic leadership to highlight the effects of climate change already felt by US residents, he announced last week.

The Conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience, dubbed GLACIER, will be attended by officials from China, Russia, India and the European Union at the end of the month.

Fiorina, Cruz and Walker respond to Jerry Brown on climate change

California Gov. Jerry Brown, blaming climate change for hot weather that has exacerbated the state’s historic drought, has pressed Republican presidential candidates in recent weeks to address the issue in their campaigns, first scolding them in a letter and then telling reporters, “My message is real clear: California’s burning. What the hell are you going to do about it?”

On Saturday, a rejoinder.

Asked about Brown’s prodding, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas said at a gathering of Republican activists that the climate has been changing forever and that “global warming alarmists” are perhaps “just interested politically in more power over the economy and our lives.”

Rich Nations’ Climate Plans Fall Short of Hopes for Paris

Developed nations are on track to cut their greenhouse emissions by almost 30 percent by 2030, Reuters calculations show, falling far short of a halving suggested by a U.N. panel of scientists as a fair share to limit climate change.

Australia became on Tuesday the last big developed nation to submit its strategy for cuts in the run-up to a U.N. summit in Paris in December, rounding off pledges by nations led by the United States, the European Union and Japan.

Climate Change Is Getting Its Own Museum

Miranda Massie is on a mission to create an institution from scratch. It will cost many millions of dollars and years to build, but when done, it will help define the next 200 years of human existence.

So what exactly is at the core of this mission? A museum based in New York City that chronicles the global and local impacts of climate change, the possible solutions and the connections that exist between every visitor to the museum and the world around them.

What live peer review looks like when the fate of the planet is at stake

Last month, a scientific paper appeared that kicked off what is, by any stretch, the most interesting climate science debate of the year.

In the paper, former NASA climate expert James Hansenwho is widely credited with putting the climate issue itself on the map, collaborated with 16 other researchers to outline a pretty dire climate scenario. Their vast paper contemplated alarming new climate feedback loops involving the Southern Ocean, which could lead to rapid Antarctic ice sheet destabilization and dramatic sea level rise, potentially in this century.

China orders nationwide safety check after Tianjin blasts

Beijing on Monday ordered a nationwide check on workplace safety and to correct all irregularities five days after huge explosions at warehouse in the port city of Tianjin killed 114 people and left 70 people missing.

The directive from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology lamented the frequency of fatal workplace incidents and demanded a thorough national inspection on all safety risks.

Colorado Spill Heightens Debate Over Future of Old Mines

When the mine here opened in the early 1890s amid a frenzy of frontier gold exploration, its founders gave it a lofty name: the Gold King, reflecting their great hopes for finding riches in its depths. Over the next decade, the Gold King went on to become one of the most productive mines in Colorado’s San Juan County, with three shifts of men working 24 hours a day in its dark corridors.

But the mine’s prosperity proved short-lived. When the economy hit a recession in the early 1920s, its operators abandoned it, with open tunnels that filled with snowmelt and rainwater that eventually turned to acid, leaving behind a toxic legacy that this region has struggled to clean up for decades.

Utah, New Mexico clear San Juan River for drinking water

Communities in northern New Mexico that use the Animas and San Juan rivers for drinking water can resume doing so after officials lifted water restrictions enacted after a leak of contaminants at a Colorado gold mine sent a plume of pollutants downstream.

Utah also has given its approval for its San Juan River water to be used for crop irrigation and livestock, and Colorado has reopened the Animas River to boating. Navajo Nation officials, however, continued to warn residents and farmers not to use water from the San Juan River.

Navajo Nation ‘Weeping’ as Toxic Mining Spill Flows Through Reservation

Just days after a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) crew accidentally released more than three million gallons of mustard-colored wastewater into a tributary of the Animas River, Navajo President Russell Begaye stood on the unstable ground at the site of the breach.

“I looked into this black hole, and yellow water was coming out,” Begaye said on Thursday August 13 when he and Vice President Jonathan Nez sat down for an exclusive interview with Indian Country Today Media Network.

“It was like orange juice,” he said. “Pure yellow. Like Tang.”

Chautauqua may follow Erie County’s lead in banning microbeads

Chautauqua County lawmakers will be considering legislation to ban products containing plastic microbeads.

A presentation on the pollution problems created by the minuscule plastic particles, which are used in many personal care products, is on the agenda for the Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting at 6 p.m. Wednesday in Mayville.

Bacteria Levels In Boston’s Charles River Spur Health Warnings From City Officials

Just when it seemed like Boston’s chronically-polluted Charles River had made a miraculous turnaround, an algae bloom is forcing residents to avoid the river once again.

On Thursday, health officials announced that an algae bloom had sprouted in the Lower Charles River Basin, causing concentrations of bacteria in the river twice the recommended limit, according to the Boston Globe.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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