Environmental Must-Reads – June 16, 2015

Frac sand towns question whether rules protect them against silica pollution

Every time Victoria Trinko checks her mail, she wipes a crust of sand from the letterbox. When she comes inside from a day on the farm, her face feels gritty, and she can chew the sand that has deposited in her mouth. Her voice used to crack when she tried to speak, until she bought and installed four air filters around her home.

“My voice is better, but I’m living in, like, a bubble,” she said.

Across the street from Trinko’s farm, an industrial sand mine is digging out material that will be used by oil and gas producers as proppant in hydraulic fracturing operations across the country (EnergyWire, June 2). But in the industry’s rush to provide that sand, some neighbors of the mines say their health concerns have been ignored.

The Texas town that banned fracking (and lost)

When a Texas town voted to ban fracking inside city limits, it was a shock to the oil-friendly state. But the response from the Texas legislature and energy firm has residents questioning what power they have left.

The hydraulic fracturing has started again in Denton, and so too have the protests.

Months ago, the town became the first in Texas to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in their area.

In North Dakota’s Bakken oil boom, there will be blood

In the early evening of Sept. 14, 2011, Jebadiah Stanfill was working near the top of an oil rig at a bend in the Missouri River in North Dakota. Jolted by a deafening boom in the distance, he swung around from his perch and saw a pillar of black smoke twisting into the sky.

Less than a mile away, another rig had exploded. “There’s men over there!” a worker below him shouted.

Stanfill, a compact and muscular man in his 30s, descended to the ground and hopped into the bed of a red pickup driven by a co-worker. Bruce Jorgenson, a manager overseeing the work of Stanfill and his crew, jumped into the passenger seat, and they raced to the explosion.

Swarm of earthquakes rattles old plantation area of Alabama, leaving seismic experts befuddled

Jim Sterling didn’t know what had hit his 156-year-old antebellum home when an earthquake struck Alabama’s old plantation region early one morning last November. Startled, he grabbed a gun and ran outdoors.

In the pre-dawn chill, Sterling said, he found an odd scene: horses were galloping, cows mooing and dogs barking.

“I heard a boom and felt the shaking,” Sterling said. “It really upset me.”

Watch Oklahoma’s earthquake explosion

This map shows U.S. earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 and higher since 2000. Until 2009, earthquakes that people could feel were rare in Oklahoma. But by 2014, Oklahoma had more than three times as many earthquakes as California.

What happened to 160,000 fracking jobs? Under Wolf, the numbers change

Somehow Pennsylvania lost 160,000 gas industry jobs overnight.

What happened? Did drillers flee at the specter of a new tax on production? Not quite. Although companies have been laying off workers and cutting costs– lackluster market conditions don’t explain this shift.

BLM’s California fracking plan challenged in court

A federal plan to open more public lands in California to energy development will be tested in court, with Earthjustice filing a lawsuit to block fracking across California’s Central and San Joaquin valleys; the southern Sierra Nevada; and in Santa Barbara; San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties along California’s central coast.

At issue is a Bureau of Land Management resource plan for the region that has already been called into question in 2013, when a federal judge ruled that the BLM violated the law when it issued oil leases in Monterey County without considering the environmental risks of fracking.

Did the Government Illegally Open up 400,000 Acres in California for Fracking?

The federal and state governments illegally opened up 400,000 acres for fracking in Southern California, which already has thousands of such dangerous oil and gas wells, environmentalists claim in court.

The Center for Biological Diversity and Los Padres Forestwatch sued the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, the Secretary of the Interior and the director of California’s Bureau of Land Management on Wednesday in Federal Court.

How Fracking is Affecting Doddridge County

Several rural, quiet communities across West Virginia, like Doddridge County, are now home to fracking facilities. Hydraulic fracking injects a water chemical and sand mixture into the ground to uncover natural gas. Several environmental concerns have been associated with fracking, such as poor air quality, contaminated water and radioactive waste.

“My particular concerns are for the children in this region that are continually getting exposed to the pollutants that result from this activity,” said Mirijana Beram, Member of the Doddridge County Watershed Association and resident.

5 Things You Need to Know About the EPA Fracking Report

Last week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released 1,000-plus draft pages of its “Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Assessment.” The report took almost five years to produce and essentially tells us (in great detail) what we already knew: Fracking and drinking water are a bad combination. On top of that, the EPA finally admitted that water resources have already been contaminated by fracking: “We found specific instances where one or more mechanisms led to impacts on drinking water resources, including contamination of drinking water wells.”

Growing oil train traffic is shrouded in secrecy

Dean Smith, 72, sits in his car by the train tracks here north of Seattle.

It’s a dark, rainy Tuesday night, and Smith waits for an oil train to come through town. These trains are distinctive: A mile long, they haul 100 or so black, pill-shaped cars that each carry 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

Smith has been counting the trains for about a year, noting each one on a website he built. The former National Security Agency employee does it because the railroads share little information about oil train traffic with Washington state. They don’t have to because they’re federally regulated.

State investigating Energy Transfer Partners pipeline explosion

State officials are still looking into what caused the explosion of a South Texas gas pipeline owned by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners Sunday night.

An inspector with the Texas Railroad Commission arrived at the scene near Cuero last night to investigate, an agency spokeswoman said. Details on what might have caused the explosion were not released.

Landowners leery of Dakota Access Pipeline

More than 80 people turned out Monday for a public hearing on the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline, which is planned to carry Bakken crude into the Illinois heartland crossing more than 200 miles through seven North Dakota counties.

The Public Service Commission hearing in Killdeer was the second of three, and most who attended were landowners who would be directly impacted by the project.

New Mexico landowners sue Union Pacific over pipeline

Union Pacific has been sued by landowners along railroad property in a complaint seeking class-action status that cites federal laws going back to the administration of President Abraham Lincoln.

The Omaha-based freight railroad was sued late last week in U.S. District Court in New Mexico by landowners there. The suit says Union Pacific, as the corporate successor to Southern Pacific Railroad, has for decades been improperly renting out land to a petroleum pipeline company, one now owned by Texas-based Kinder Morgan. Union Pacific, the second-largest U.S. freight railroad by ton-miles, acquired Southern Pacific in 1996.

Photos of Ruptured Oil Pipeline Provide Clues of Spill Cause

Photos of the pipeline that spilled oil on the Santa Barbara coast show extensive corrosion and provide clues about the cause of the rupture, experts said.

Corrosion visible around the crack, coupled with wear documented inside the pipe, led Robert Bea, a civil engineering professor emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley, to believe the pipe burst during a pressure spike when the operator restarted pumps that had failed the morning of the May 19 spill.

Mapping 7 million gallons of crude oil spills

On May 19, a pipeline owned by Plains All American burst near Santa Barbara, California, ultimately spilling more than 100,000 gallons, or some 2,400 barrels, of oil. Tens of thousands of gallons of the oil slid into a storm drain and flowed into the Pacific Ocean.

The spill garnered national coverage for good reason: It killed or injured hundreds of birds, sea lions and other wildlife, sullied a long stretch of beautiful coastline and happened near where the notorious 1969 spill that inflamed a burgeoning environmental movement occurred. But the spill was anything but unique. Over the past five years, there have been over 1,000 crude oil pipeline leaks and ruptures reported to the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

U.S. Won’t Reconsider Exxon’s Penalty For Yellowstone Spill

Federal officials say they won’t reconsider a $1 million fine imposed on Exxon Mobil Corp. for the spill of an estimated 1,500 barrels of crude oil in 2011 into the Yellowstone River in east-central Montana that contaminated drinking water and killed local wildlife.

Officials of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) ruled June 12 that Exxon ignored the agency’s warnings that the 12-inch-diameter Silvertip Pipeline, buried just below the riverbed, was susceptible to rupture if the river flooded. Under federal regulations, such pipelines must be buried at least four feet beneath a riverbed.

House GOP Threatens to Subpoena State Department for Keystone Docs

A prominent House Republican says he’s ready to play hardball to obtain documents about the Keystone XL pipeline from the State Department.

In a new letter to Secretary of State John Kerry, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz says State hasn’t complied with a February request for copies of other departments’ input on TransCanada Corp.’s project, which remains under federal review.

B.C. minister urges stronger rules for oil-spill response

Ottawa’s plan for responding to a major oil spill in B.C. waters is outdated, and the province needs to strengthen its own response to spills on land, B.C.’s Environment Minister says.

In a news conference on Monday, Environment Minister Mary Polak made several references to the threat to B.C’s coast from a poorly handled spill on water, which is a federal responsibility. On land, an area of provincial jurisdiction, Ms. Polak is promising tougher rules for pipelines and other major projects that would require companies to join – and finance – a preparedness and response organization to oversee the training, planning and co-ordination of emergency spill response.

Vancouver Oil Spill In False Creek Contained: City

Crews have contained a diesel spill in Vancouver’s False Creek Monday morning, said the city.

Jeff Brady with the Canadian Coast Guard says hundreds of metres of containment booms were set up off Granville Island.

The City of Vancouver said on Twitter that the spill was about 1,000 litres and has now been contained, several hours after the first reports of the oily sheen.

Enbridge shippers question regulator’s delay of pipeline to Montreal

The two biggest customers on Enbridge Inc’s newly reversed pipeline to carry Western Canadian oil from Sarnia, Ontario, to Montreal want to meet Canada’s energy regulator to find out why the pipeline’s opening has been delayed by months.

Valero Energy Corp and Suncor Energy Inc, each of which owns of two refineries in the province of Quebec, said in separate letters posted on the National Energy Board’s website that the delay in approving the startup of the 300,000 barrel per day Line 9 pipeline is pushing up their costs and harming their operations.

Enbridge Line 9 protesters scale tower in Port of Montreal

Activists scaled a 20-metre-high tower overlooking the CP rail yard at the Port of Montreal Monday morning to unfurl a banner protesting Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline.

The demonstrators say they’re worried about the impact of trains transporting oil from Montreal across Quebec to a New Brunswick port.

Disgust over oil spill on Manawatu coastline

An oil slick and blobs of old oil has washed up along about 10km of the Horowhenua coastline – leaving beach users shocked and disgusted with the culprit.

About 11am on Monday, the Horowhenua Chronicle received a call from a distressed resident who had been out walking on Foxton Beach, north of the surf club.

At first glance, it appears like black sand but, as you walk closer, an oil slick has streaked along the sand and blobs of pebble-sized oil is spread along the beach at high tide between south of Foxton right through to Himatangi Beach.

Job losses in UK’s North Sea raise skills and safety concerns

Cost-cutting in Britain’s North Sea oil and gas sector could lead to more acute skills shortages in future, industry experts have warned, with some expressing concerns that safety could be compromised.

A plunge in crude prices over the last 12 months has prompted oil majors such as Royal Dutch Shell, BP , Chevron and ConocoPhillips to lay off hundreds of workers.

Seattle Wades Into Fight Over Oil Drilling

Law enforcement detained dozens of protesters Monday for trying to block a Royal Dutch ShellPLC oil rig from departing the Port of Seattle for drilling off Alaska—the latest development in a weekslong standoff in which environmental activists have been joined by an unusual ally: the city itself.

Monday’s action took place after the Polar Pioneer and its support vessels attempted to leave the port about 6 a.m. to begin exploratory drilling in the Chukchi Sea and were intercepted by protesters in kayaks, Coast Guard officials said.

Shell’s Arctic oil rig departs Seattle as ‘kayaktivists’ warn of disaster

After a final protest by kayak-paddling activists, Shell’s deep-sea oil drilling rig left the port of Seattle on Monday morning, headed for Alaska’s Chukchi Sea – and, environmentalists say, towards imminent disaster.

Called the Polar Pioneer, the ship arrived in Seattle in mid-May, shortly after the Obama administration’s controversial approval of exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic. It soon drew a fleet of “kayaktivists” whose colorful blockades turned the 400ft-long, 300ft-tall colossus into a symbol of Arctic drilling.

 Jane Fonda on Arctic oil drilling: ‘This is the fight of our lives’

Three years ago, Jane Fonda says, she sat at her kitchen table telling her boyfriend, music producer Richard Perry, that the world was coming to an end and that maybe that’s exactly what humans deserved.

She was walking the environmental talk – living in a solar-powered house, driving a Prius – but her efforts were a personal pact to live responsibly. Three months ago, she picked up Naomi Klein’s environmental treatise, This Changes Everything, and decided the personal was no longer enough: it was time to get political again, over drilling for Arctic oil.

Dozens of US companies are betting over $1 billion on a nuclear power revolution

The Pentagon’s top arms provider and firms partly funded by Silicon Valley billionaires Bill Gates and Paul Allen are among dozens of companies collectively betting more than $1.3 billion that a new wave of nuclear power can be a force to fight climate change.

Advanced nuclear power plants, which will employ techniques such as using fuels other than uranium and coolants other than water, have attracted private investments from more than 40 companies from Florida to Washington state, the Third Way think tank says in the first report specifying the number of firms and total money invested in the technologies.

Feds eye small nuclear reactors for key role in U.S. energy policy

Federal officials are preparing for a future in which small nuclear reactors are a key piece of the United States’ energy policy.

The technology, known as the small modular reactor, has attracted the attention of regulators, lawmakers, utilities, manufacturers and others.

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