Environmental Must-Reads – January 17, 2014

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Fracking Chemicals In North Carolina Will Remain Secret, Industry-Funded Commission Rules

What, exactly, are those chemicals being pumped underground during the fracking process?

In North Carolina, no one has to say.

On Tuesday, the 15-member state Mining and Energy Commission voted unanimously to pass a rule that would let fracking companies keep secret the makeup of the chemical mixture they pump underground to aid shale gas drilling.

Lawmakers want to help fracking communities

A pair of Ohio House Republicans want to ensure that communities that are home to oil and natural gas fracking get a share of reconfigured taxes on the industry.

Reps. Jay Hottinger of Newark and Al Landis of Dover today called for channeling frack-tax dollars to communities where drillers are erecting rigs to extract natural resources from Ohio shale.

Will Ohio River carry fracking waste?

In coming weeks, the U.S. Coast Guard will decide whether to allow wastewater from the hydraulic fracturing industry to be shipped along federal waterways – including the Ohio River – and how strict those rules governing the shipments should be.

The federal agency released its proposed guidelines in November after repeated requests from the oil and gas industry to move the waste by barge – evoking more than 1,000 public comments, many demanding stricter controls on the potential shipments, which could carry upwards of 75 tanker truckloads of the waste­water.

Council catch-22: say yes to fracking and save services, say no and lose them

To frack or not to frack? That is the difficult question now in the hands of local government. Worse, it has to be made with schoolyard bully Eric Pickles pinning councils against a wall with one arm pressed against their spines.

In the latest game of pass the buck, the coalition (which already declares itself “all out for shale”) now expects councils to take the decision about whether to proceed in their areas. It’s a complex and politically unpopular problem, so to help them make up their minds government has conveniently managed to find enough spare change down the back of the Communities and Local Government sofa to offer a bung: those authorities that proceed will be allowed to keep 100% of the business rates leveraged by their local fracking industry.

Proposed fracking regulations questioned at Hampden Township hearings

The battle over the natural gas extraction practice known as “fracking” descended on Hampden Township Thursday night at a hearing on proposed Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection regulations regarding oil and gas extraction.

Supporters and opponents of fracking each expressed concerns about the proposed regulations during the hearing at Good Hope Middle School.

Oil! New Texas boom spawns riches, headaches

Not long ago, Richard Dockery was a real estate and insurance broker in this town of 1,800 residents, putting together small land deals and cobbling together a nest egg for retirement.

Today, Dockery, 47, lives in a new, 2,400-square-foot home that he bought with cash and will have his 23-year-old daughter’s medical school bills covered before she steps into her first classroom.

Fracking fears as landowners lay claim to ancient rights

Fears that landowners could use ancient rights to allow fracking under people’s homes have been raised following the disclosure on Wednesday that more than 73,000 claims to manorial rights in England and Wales have been received by the Land Registry.

The claims have resulted in thousands of home owners being sent letters informing them that landowners or institutions have the rights to mineral extraction under their property. This has raised fears the landowners could try to exercise those rights for mining or fracking.

EPA: Obama admin reassures greens on drilling oversight

The Obama administration is seeking to reassure the environmental community that U.S. EPA is on top of the shale drilling boom, even though it has bailed out on three major enforcement cases.

In letters being sent to the leaders of national environmental groups, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy is stressing its efforts to raise standards industrywide.

Several new violations for Freedom Industries

The company responsible for a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without safe tap water finally told the state what it plans to do with chemicals stored unsafely at a different location.

Freedom Industries will transfer the rest of the crude MCHM and contaminated water stored at its Poca Blending location in new, “double-walled Baker tanks,” said Tom Aluise, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman.

Bayou Corne work continues

Significant progress has been made in response to the sinkhole in Bayou Corne. We understand there is still frustration, and we’re sorry lives have been disrupted. We remain focused on completing the four key objectives identified by local and state officials: confirming dome stability, maintaining sinkhole containment, venting gas and supporting the Bayou Corne Community.

Appeals court refuses to transfer Louisiana claims

A federal appeals court has rejected a bid by Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell to have a new judge oversee the state’s claims over BP’s 2010 Gulf oil spill.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Caldwell’s request in a one-sentence order dated Monday.

Colorado Saw More Than One Oil Spill A Day In 2013

Since Jan. 1, 2013 oil and gas drilling in Colorado has resulted in a total of 495 chemical spills. Twenty-two percent of those spills impacted groundwater or surface water contamination, according to the latest state data being tracked by the Center for Western Priorities’ new Toxic Release Tracker.

According to the tracker, which uses data gathered by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s spill database, 71 spills impacted groundwater and 41 spills impacted surface water in 2013.

U.S. safety board rejects overhaul of Calif. refineries

The U.S. Chemical Safety Board rejected a proposed overhaul of California’s refinery safety practices – recently touted by its chairman after the 2012 Chevron refinery fire in Richmond, Calif., – saying the overly ambitious plan would do little to immediately improve safety and needs further study.

Two of the three safety board members opposed the recommendations at a packed Richmond City Council chamber on Wednesday night.

Officials probing spill of 900 gallons of oil in Oceanside

PSEG and the state Department of Environmental Conservation are investigating an oil spill of about 900 gallons in Oceanside.

A PSEG employee noticed the spill Sunday night, said DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo. An electrical cable was leaking cable oil — an oil used to protect and cool electrical cables — into a creek from an Atlantic Avenue bridge, Montalvo said.

U.S. Officials Call For More Safety For Oil By Rail

U.S. transportation officials said Thursday that companies need to come up with safer ways to transport oil on the nation’s rail lines following some explosive accidents as crude trains proliferate across North America.

After a closed-door meeting with oil and railroad executives in Washington, D.C., Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the industry agreed to make some voluntary changes aimed at accident prevention within the next 30 days.

Canada Urges US to Decide on Keystone XL Pipeline

Canada’s foreign minister said Thursday it’s time for the Obama administration to make a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline even if the answer is no.

“The time for a decision on Keystone is now, even if it’s not the right one,” John Baird said during a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington. “We can’t continue in this state of limbo.”

Even a ‘no’ on Keystone pipeline is better than silence: Baird

Even a “no” on Keystone XL is better than no answer, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird says, reflecting growing Canadian frustration with White House dithering over the proposed massive project to create a route to market for Alberta’s landlocked heavy-crude reserves.

It marked a clear shift in Canadian policy. Barely 100 days ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper vowed not to take “no for an answer” on the controversial and long-delayed project to funnel about a million barrels of Alberta’s carbon-laced crude to refineries alongside Texas and Louisiana ports.

North Gateway pipeline: Another notch in Canada’s poor environmental record

“Canada and Canadians would be better off with the Enbridge Northern Gateway project than without,” a Canadian federal review panel concluded. The Joint Review Panel announced its recommendation that the Canadian federal government approve the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline, which would bring 525,000 barrels of oil each day through British Columbia, the country’s western province.

Portage County | Residents worry about pipeline safety

Dozens of people living in Portage County are speaking out against expanding a pipeline that would carry refined products near their homes. Residents demanded answers and the assurance that they’ll be safe.

Most of that pipeline already exists in Portage County.

Sunoco wants to expand it in parts, and that means using eminent domain if they have to.

Why exploding trains are the new Keystone XL

Back in the olden days of 2011, when America was young and LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” was a song that not everyone had gotten sick of yet, one of the most compelling criticisms leveled against the Keystone XL pipeline protesters went like this:

There is oil in the Alberta tar sands. Pretty cheap stuff – about $30 less a barrel than what you can buy overseas. There are people in the U.S., which is not far from this oil, who will pay money for it so they can drive to their jobs or the grocery store or wherever else they feel like going, probably while listening to “Party Rock Anthem.” And for this reason, even if Keystone XL or some other pipeline isn’t built, people will figure out how to move the oil anyway, because there is a market for it.

Neil Young Says Keystone XL Terrible Idea

TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline is a “terrible idea” that will not benefit anyone, Canadian musician Neil Young said.

“This fuel is all going to China which is probably the dirtiest place on the planet,” Young told reporters before a concert in Winnipeg, Manitoba yesterday.

Rail, Oil Industries to Make Safety Changes for Transporting Crude

Federal regulators said railroads and energy companies agreed Thursday to take significant steps to make shipping crude oil by rail safer after a string of accidents and explosions prompted rising fears in cities and towns across the country.

The voluntary changes, which include improving the safety of tanker cars, were announced after a meeting convened by the U.S. Department of Transportation that included top agency officials, executives from the big freight railroads and members of the American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s chief lobbying group.

Feds ask Shell for assurances on Arctic drilling

Federal regulators scrutinizing Shell’s bid to resume Arctic drilling next summer are pressing the company for more evidence it has fixed the  problems that plagued its last search for black gold in the region.

In November, Shell Oil formally asked the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for permission to finish drilling one exploratory well and bore four others at its Burger prospect in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, using a newly leased drillship to replace the Kulluk conical drilling unit that ran aground in 2012.

Fukushima: An Ongoing Warning to the World

“I write these facts as dispassionately as I can in the hope that they will act as a warning to the world,” wrote the journalist Wilfred Burchett from Hiroshima. His story, headlined, “The Atomic Plague” appeared in the London Daily Express on Sept. 5, 1945. Burchett violated the U.S. military blockade of Hiroshima, and was the first Western journalist to visit that devastated city. He wrote: “Hiroshima does not look like a bombed city. It looks as if a monster steamroller had passed over it and squashed it out of existence.”

Japanese Government Approves Revival Plan For Owner Of Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

On Wednesday Japan’s trade ministry approved a 10-year business plan for Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), owner of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in northeast Japan that went into meltdown after being devastated by an earthquake and tsunami off Japan’s eastern coast nearly three years ago.

The plan is Tepco’s second attempt at proposing a new path forward. The first plan was discarded after it was made clear that the Kashiwazaki Kariwa nuclear plant could not be restarted, which would help relieve the cost of using fossil fuels to generate power. The new plan involves switching back on some of the reactors at the Kashiwazaki plant, which is the largest in the world.

Assemblymember Urges State To Post Information On Fukushima Disaster’s Risk To California Beaches

Saying that Californians are concerned and seeking information about potential health risks caused by contaminated water coming to the state from the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, Assemblymember Bob Wieckowski (D-Fremont) is urging the state’s Department of Public Health to post updated information on the issue to its homepage.

Short Supply Drives Fukushima Beef Prices Up

At the first auction of 2014 in a city in Fukushima Prefecture–the location of one of the world’s worst nuclear accidents–873 calves put up for sale fetched an average of Y551,893 ($5,288) per head. Not only was that up 23% from a year earlier but it tops the prefecture’s average price of Y446,914 that calves were commanding just before the March 2011 disaster.

While this could help brighten the mood of the prefecture’s cattle farmers, who have been struggling as concerns about radiation contaminating agricultural products weighed heavily on their businesses, it’s a case of falling supply rather than growing demand driving prices up.

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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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