Environmental Must-Reads – February 25, 2013

BP oil spill trial to begin as settlement talks continue

The long-awaited civil trial against BP and its partners in the ill-fated Macondo oil well explosion was getting under way Monday (Feb. 25) at the federal courthouse in New Orleans, even as negotiations for a settlement continued.

The outcome could mean billions of dollars in fines for the explosion and collapse of the Deepwater Horizon rig in 2010, which killed 11 workers and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history.

BP trial set to open today in New Orleans (live updates)

BP is set to face civil charges for its role in the 2010 Gulf oil spill beginning today in federal court in New Orleans.

Rumors of a potential settlement swirled late Sunday but there was no deal announced as of this morning. The proposed $16 billion agreement between BP, the U.S. Department of Justice and the five Gulf states would limit BP’s fines under the Clean Water Act to $6 billion, a proposal that could help reduce its tax liability, according to the New York Times.

As BP Trial Nears, Hints of Progress on a Deal

As settlement talks continued Sunday on the eve of a trial against BP stemming from the 2010 explosion of a drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico, the details of an offer by federal and state officials to the oil company started to emerge.

The plan, worth a total of $16 billion, would limit the fines paid by BP under the Clean Water Act to $6 billion, a proposal that could help reduce its tax liability, said one person briefed on the plan who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Legal hordes suit up for BP oil spill trial

One of the biggest legal circuses on Earth — the trial of BP over the extent of its responsibility for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill — is scheduled to open in New Orleans on Monday, featuring 34 leading lawyers in the jam-packed federal court and hundreds of others listening to video feeds in rooms nearby.

BP Oil Spill Trial Begins

A federal judge in New Orleans is set to preside over a high-stakes trial for the raft of litigation spawned by a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Barring an 11th-hour settlement, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier will hear several hours of opening statements Monday by lawyers for the companies involved in the 2010 spill and the government and private plaintiffs who sued them.

Lawyers prepare for battle in BP oil spill showdown

British energy giant BP will today kick-off its civil trial against the US states which were affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, for which it could face an unprecedented fine of up to $17.6 billion.

The trial – to be held in New Orleans – will begin with 400 minutes of opening arguments from 11 parties, including the Justice Department, reports the Washington Post.

BP Seeks to Prove Gulf Spill Errors Weren’t Negligence

BP Plc (BP/), Transocean Ltd. (RIG) and Halliburton Co. (HAL) must convince a federal judge that mistakes that led to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill don’t amount to gross negligence if they are to avoid billions of dollars in damages for the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The trial set to begin today, in which the judge and not a jury will weigh the evidence, focuses on fault and whether one or more of the companies acted with willful or wanton misconduct or reckless indifference — the legal requirement for establishing gross negligence.

Real Estate Developers File $750 Million Claim against BP Oil

As the Panama City Beach International Airport neared completion in the spring of 2010, dozens of real estate developers were ready to reap the rewards of years of planning in preparation for the biggest real estate boom in Florida.

The Panama City Beach International Airport would open up the region much as Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers helped drive a housing boom along Florida’s southwestern coast in the 1980s.

BP Gulf of Mexico Spill, From Disaster to Trial: Timeline

The trial that will determine the extent of any liability London-based BP Plc (BP/) and its partners must face for the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill is set to begin today in federal court in New Orleans.

The following is a timeline of the events leading up to the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig, which killed 11, the subsequent spill of millions of barrels of oil and resulting litigation. All dates and events are from court, agency and securities filings, or company and government statements.

Shape of salt dome factor in sinkhole

Studies of the area where a sinkhole formed last summer in Assumption Parish indicate scientists suspected as early as 1991 that the Napoleonville Dome was not shaped as state regulators believed when they permitted industry to create caverns in the massive underground formation.

Louisiana may see the highest-rising seas in the world

As Hurricane Katrina approached, many Americans for the first time learned about New Orleans’ precarious, below-sea-level orientation. The city is described as “bowl-like,” rimmed by levees and natural structures that might not hold back surging storm water — and might make drying out nearly impossible. It turned out that the analogy was imperfect. New Orleans is more like a TV dinner tray, and only the Ninth Ward ended up flooded.

After Katrina, anyway — a category 3 storm when it hit. But as sea levels continue to rise, and warming promises bigger storms, New Orleans’ complete submersion may be inevitable.

Tar Sands Blockaders tell their own story in a new documentary

If this past Sunday’s Forward on Climate rally showed a lot of love for President Obama, it showed even more for the nonviolent direct action going down in East Texas. Throughout the day, activists blockading construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline received big support from even the most law-abiding demonstrators.

Amid pipeline debate, south leg of Keystone XL is halfway done

While the debate continues over whether the United States will approve a proposed oil conduit from Canada to the Gulf Coast, the segment from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas Gulf Coast is halfway toward completion and could be transporting oil by the end of the year.

Canadian officials make climate case in DC ahead of Keystone pipeline decision

Alberta’s provincial government is trying to burnish its image on climate change as top Canadian officials make the case for U.S. approval of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

“Even though we have had a presence here for some time, I don’t think we have really communicated as effectively as we need to on this,” Alberta’s Premier Alison Redford said in an interview at the Canadian Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Saturday.

Pipeline companies will get a $7 billion tax break through 2016

There are people in Washington, D.C., right now scratching their heads and writing memos and trying to figure out how on earth we might possibly avoid budgetary doomsday, the sequestration that will lop some $1.2 trillion out of the federal budget over the next decade. Again, this is only happening because Congress tried to threaten itself. It’s like you threatening to rob yourself by holding a gun to your head and then trying to figure out how to keep from being robbed.

Shell in Arctic oil risk alert

Failings identified on a Shell ship drilling in the Arctic have raised questions about the energy giant’s plans to extract oil in the region.

Shell Oil in Arctic: Learning to juggle, with chainsaws

Looking back at an eventful season in offshore drilling, one must consider the challenges of the Arctic Ocean in tandem with the limitations of industry trying to operate so far north. Shell Oil has skated through one operational failure after another, a credit to their spokesman, without real consequence or permit restriction.

Coast Guard documented 16 deficiencies on Arctic drillship

The drillship used to bore part of an Arctic oil well for Shell last summer lacked sufficient propulsion power, had engine problems and posed fire hazards, according to a Coast Guard inspection of the vessel in November that was released on Friday.

The deficiencies documented by the Coast Guard were revealed by Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., as he asked Shell Oil Co. President Marvin Odum to detail how much the firm knew about the problems and its prospects for restarting Arctic drilling this summer.

Coast Guard finds evidence of safety violations on Shell rig

The U.S. Coast Guard has found evidence of multiple safety and environmental violations in Shell Alaska’s Noble Discoverer Arctic drilling rig and forwarded it to the U.S. Justice Department for a decision about possible civil or criminal penalties, authorities confirmed Friday.

The news is the latest setback for Shell’s troubled Arctic drilling program, launched last summer off the coast of Alaska to tap one of the world’s biggest remaining oil and gas deposits. It has been plagued with logistical and mechanical troubles that raise questions about the company’s ability to continue this year.

Fracking divides association that unites towns

Fracking not only creates friction within our towns, but it’s also fractured the group that represents those towns.

The latest flash point is just how much power those towns have to ban the natural gas extraction method of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — as several towns in Sullivan and Ulster counties did, including Bethel, Forestburgh, Lumberland, Highland, Tusten in Sullivan, and New Paltz, Olive, Rochester, Wawarsing, Woodstock and Saugerties in Ulster

Kalkaska Co. fracking wells used 42M gallons water

Three deep hydraulic fracturing wells in northwestern lower Michigan’s Kalkaska County have used 42 million gallons of water in the past two years, according to a published report.

The water use figures for the hydraulic fracturing operations were based on public documents and interviews, the Traverse City Record-Eagle (http://bit.ly/YqzcbM ) said.

State: Kent State Controls Fracking on University Land

The decision to allow or deny hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas on Kent State University campuses lies with local university administrators, according to a state official.

Brunswick council to vote today against fracking

City Council is poised to vote on a resolution that would formally state its opposition to state laws that give the Ohio Department of Natural Resources the sole right to issue oil and gas drilling permits, including wells employing the controversial hydraulic fracturing process, better known as “fracking.”

Councilwoman Pat Hanek, at-large, who proposed the resolution, said she expects to bring the measure up for a vote at tonight’s meeting.

Residents Take DEP to Task in Hearing About Fracking

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection was in the hot seat at a public hearing Tuesday in Washington County.  The only problem? DEP wasn’t actually present at the hearing.

The public hearing was co-chaired by state Rep. Jesse White, D-46, Cecil Township, to discuss the agency’s environmental testing practices regarding natural gas drilling. White was joined by a panel of eight other state representatives from across Pennsylvania, who listened for more than two hours as local residents told their stories related to Marcellus shale drilling, showed their water and read the chemicals showing up on their water test results. Various environmentalists also joined the fray, offering their take on DEP accountability.

Federal and State Legal Systems Shield Fracking Industry Versus Landowners

The Hagys’ water contamination lawsuit demonstrates how the natural gas industry has built a near-perfect “federal legal exemption’s framework” that when combined with lax or absent state regulations and the legal system’s high costs, inherently approves of citizen collateral damage with no restitution.

The consequence of this framework is that the burden of proof is placed on plaintiffs who, at best, are forced to settle with natural gas companies, thereby sealing the case from public scrutiny, scientific examination and legal precedence. Because the Hagys didn’t sign a non-disclosure agreement with the natural gas companies involved, their legal case gives the public a rare window into how fracking lawsuits play out in reality.

Atomic Dominoes Fall While Tanks Leak at Hanford

Two more atomic dominoes have hit the deck.

At least a half-dozen more teeter on the brink, which would take the U.S. reactor count under 100.

But can we bury them before the next Fukushima erupts, and the leaks at Hanford destroy the Northwest?

Underground Nuclear Tanks Leaking in Washington State

Six underground tanks holding radioactive waste are leaking at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in eastern Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee said.

After Fukushima: families on the edge of meltdown

Two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, a new phenomenon is on the rise: atomic divorce. Abigail Haworth reports on the unbearable pressures and prejudices being faced by those caught in the radiation zone

Radioactive Fish Found In California: Contamination From Fukushima Disaster Still Lingers

Nearly two years after a powerful earthquake triggered a leak at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, the effects of that disaster are still being felt on the other side of the planet.

A report released earlier this month by researchers at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station found that bluefin tuna caught just off the California coast tested positive for radiation stemming from the incident.

Survey: No nuclear plants meet new safety standards

None of Japan’s 16 nuclear power plants has satisfied the government’s proposed new safety standards, making them ineligible to be restarted in the near future, according to an Asahi Shimbun survey.

Radiation Panic Grips Mumbai

Rohita Doshi, a 53-year old Mumbai resident, recently lined the walls of her bedroom with aluminum sheets, and placed tinted film on her home’s windows.

Although “it’s an expenditure and a nuisance,” says Ms. Doshi, a mother and an art consultant, she says she did this to protect her family. “This isn’t just paranoia.”

She is one of a growing number of people across her city who are taking steps to insulate their homes from what they feel are the harmful effects of cellphone tower radiation.

How do cellphones affect our health?

The Federal Communications Commission, which sets guidelines for how much radiation a cellphone can emit, says cellphones are safe. But others aren’t so sure.

“The World Health Organization is taking the step of calling cellphones a possible carcinogen, which is a cancer-causing agent,” said Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Assoc. Chief of Neurosurgery at Atlanta’s Grady Memorial Hospital.

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