Environmental Must-Reads – June 25, 2015

New report estimates enough natural gas is leaking to negate climate benefits

Natural gas has been touted as an environmentally friendly substitute to coal and oil production, but a new report estimates enough gas is leaking to negate most of the climate benefits of process.

The report, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International, estimated the amount of leaks from natural gas and oil production on federal and tribal land in the US. It also looked at venting and flaring, processes in which drilling sites purposefully let gas go into the atmosphere for a variety of reasons – usually for safety.

Pennsylvania records shed light on shale-related health concerns

The Pennsylvania Department of Health kept a log of 86 reports of health complaints related to natural gas development between 2011 and 2015 that reveals both the array of concerns reported by residents and doctors and the limits of the agency’s efforts to investigate potential health effects that may be associated with the industry.

The log was released by the health department to the environmental advocacy group Food & Water Watch in response to an open records request. The group, which advocates a ban on hydraulic fracturing — the injection of fluids and sand necessary to extract gas from shale — plans to publish the documents today.

University of Oklahoma developed quake position while asking oilman for $25M

University of Oklahoma officials were seeking a $25 million donation from billionaire oilman Harold Hamm last year, records show, at a time when scientists at the school were formulating the state’s position on oil drilling and earthquakes.

They came up with a position that squared with Hamm’s, saying most of the hundreds of earthquakes rattling the state are natural and not caused by the oil industry.

Judge blocks US fracking rules after petroleum groups and states object

A US district judge in Wyoming has granted a request by four states and several energy industry groups to temporarily block new federal rules governing fracking on public lands.

The interior department rules due to come into force on Wednesday would require companies to provide data on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and to take steps to prevent leakage from oil and gas wells on federally owned land.

Is the EPA Fracking Report Science Fiction?

“Hydraulic fracturing activities have not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”

Or so says the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) press statement announcing the release of the agency’s draft report on the risks to drinking water from fracking, and a legion of stories in the popular press that followed.

But is that what the scientific study itself found? (Spoiler alert: no)

Oklahoma drilling regulator: Spike in earthquakes is a ‘game changer’ for fracking

A spike in earthquakes across Oklahoma is forcing the state’s energy regulator to urgently consider tougher restrictions on drilling activity, a spokesman said on Wednesday, calling it a “game changer.”

From June 17 to 24, there have been 35 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in the state, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Foes of fracking losing legal and political momentum

After scoring a statewide ban last year on hydraulic fracturing in New York, anti-fracking activists talked excitedly about following up in a major fossil fuel-producing state — Colorado, maybe, or California.

Instead, the next state to prohibit the use of fracking in oil and gas extraction — on a temporary basis — was Maryland, which, like New York, is a deep-blue state with no hydraulic fracturing activity. Critics quickly dismissed the two-year moratorium as purely symbolic.

Fracking: Decision on Lancashire shale gas site postponed amid an extraordinary legal row

A decision on whether or not to approve the UK’s first fracking site has been postponed amid an extraordinary legal row.

Lancashire councillors complained that their deliberations had been constrained by “secret” legal advice which they had been provided with – in private – only hours before the planned vote.

Flooded wells ordered to check for leaks

Around 100 oil wells in southeast Saskatchewan have been sitting in water for the past four years, and their owners have been ordered to assess them for environmental contamination.

The high-risk wells are between Weyburn and Stoughton.

Senate Approves Bill To Reform Freight Rail Policies

Chemical manufacturers are welcoming recent Senate approval of legislation that would overhaul U.S. freight rail policy.

The bill (S. 808) would reform operations at the Surface Transportation Board (STB), a small federal agency that resolves rate and service disputes between freight railroads and their customers—companies that ship chemicals, grain, coal, and other bulk commodities.

Natural gas pipeline route shifts

UGI Energy Services has shifted part of the Sunbury Pipeline route in Snyder County to avoid several homes that otherwise the gas company would have bought to demolish, officials close to the project have said.

Six to eight homes, mostly in Monroe Township, were spared in the re-routing, said David Herbert, a Shamokin Dam borough council member and board member of the Greater Susquehanna Valley Chamber of Commerce.

PennEast to Lower Nazareth: Pipeline out of school’s ‘danger zone’

PennEast Pipeline Co. has assured Lower Nazareth officials that its proposed natural gas line won’t pose a hazard to students at Lower Nazareth Elementary School.

Company representatives said at a June 11 meeting that the pipeline’s distance from the school is beyond what they consider “the danger zone,” Township Manager Timm Tenges told the Board of Supervisors on Wednesday.

Santa Barbara oil spill: Cleanup costs hit $92 milion

The cost of cleaning up the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25 years has climbed to $92 million.

The figure was disclosed Wednesday by Patrick Hodgins of pipeline operator Plains All American Pipeline.

Pipeline company couldn’t reach workers at California oil spill site

As thousands of gallons of crude oil from a ruptured pipeline spread along the California coast, its operator was unable to contact workers near the break to get information the company needed to alert federal emergency officials, records released Wednesday said.

Personnel for Plains All American Pipeline needed the precise location of the May 19 spill and an estimate of its size before notifying the National Response Center, according to the records released to federal elected officials.

Pipeline firm documents reveal chaos after Santa Barbara County spill

Chaos and delay marked the initial hours after a pipeline burst last month along the Santa Barbara County coast, sending thousands of gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean.

A timeline that Plains All American Pipeline provided to lawmakers was released Wednesday and details the company’s struggle to report the spill to federal regulators in the hours after the leak was identified.

Confirmed: Those Tar Balls Washing Ashore Came From That Oil Spill

Our suspicions have been confirmed: those tar balls that washed up in the South Bay have been linked to the devastating oil spill near Santa Barbara.

On Monday, both the company that owns the ruptured pipeline and state officials say tests confirmed that the tar that washed up on Manhattan Beach on May 27 came from the ruptured pipeline that dumped over 100,000 gallons of oil at Refugio State Beach on May 19. However, some of the samples tested were linked to natural oil seeps off the coast, and officials say the tests don’t tell us how much of the 20,000 gallons that spilled into the ocean actually made it further south. “It tells us that Refugio oil did make it down to Manhattan Beach. That’s what we know,” Fish and Wildlife official Alexia Retallack told The Daily Breeze. “The preponderance—how much and how prolific—is still under investigation.”

BP economist: Oil industry should hunker down for “a couple of years” as prices recover

The surge in shale drilling that has made the U.S. the world’s No. 1 oil producer has started to slow under the weight of a global crude collapse, and that downturn is likely to stick around for a while, BP’s chief U.S. economist said Wednesday.

Amid falling oil prices that plummeted by more than half in a few short months, the global oil giant has readjusted its business as it settles in for a prolonged crude slump, Mark Finley told an audience gathered in downtown Houston to hear his presentation of BP’s annual statistical review of world energy, a wide-ranging analysis of global demand and supply.

If we quit oil, then what?

The recent oil pipeline spill in Santa Barbara has been an unfortunate case of déjà vu, bringing back collective memories of oil-slicked seabirds and blackened beaches. It came not long after President Obama approved oil exploration in the Arctic. These offer stark reminders that America’s addiction to oil is alive and well.

For all our progress on clean energy, our cars and trucks remain reliant on petroleum, which still provides a full 92 percent of energy for transportation in the U.S. Environmentalists argue that we can and must transition the transportation sector off of it, since burning petroleum for transportation is responsible for a quarter of our greenhouse gas emissions. The most promising pathways proposed are electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cells, which would allow us to travel using electricity instead of gasoline as our energy source. Teslas and Nissan Leafs are already cruising highways, proving that electric vehicles are no longer just a pipe dream, but quickly becoming a concrete reality.

Keystone XL Pipeline Debate: Canadian Oil Sands Crude Produces Greater Emissions Than Conventional Oils, DOE Study Finds

Opponents of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas may have another arrow in their quiver. A new study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy found crude extracted from Canada’s oil sands region leads to greenhouse gas emissions that are 20 percent higher on average than emissions from conventionally produced U.S. crude.

President Barack Obama, who has the final say on the pipeline’s approval, has said he won’t green-light the project if it significantly exacerbates global warming pollution. Critics have dubbed the Keystone XL a carbon bomb because Canadian oil sands crude requires extensive amounts of energy to extract, process and refine compared with other types of crude.

Canada’s tar sands aren’t just oil fields. They’re sacred lands for my people

For years, concerned members of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation (ACFN) in Canada, like myself, have voiced concerns about the impacts caused by oil sand exploitation. The vast majority of our community resides downstream from large scale oil sands surface mining and has seen firsthand the complex impacts this industry has.

Now, over 100 renowned scientists and academics have echoed our concerns about oil sands in a call for a moratorium on expansion, which is being taken seriously by the public and the media.

Quebec Becomes Latest Hurdle to Canada’s Plans for Oil Exports

Across Quebec, cardboard signs are popping up on lawns depicting a broken pipe gushing black crude. “Don’t flow near us,” they warn in French.

That sums up Benoit Pigeon’s feelings about TransCanada Corp.’s proposed C$12 billion ($9.7 billion) pipeline that would traverse the province on its way to connect Alberta oil-sands fields with the Atlantic Coast. In addition to his yard sign, Pigeon has marched with street protesters and helped rally opposition to the project on Facebook.

Local activists pleased Enbridge oil pipeline will be tested

Off-Island environmentalists backed by local municipalities are satisfied the National Energy Board finally announced that Enbridge will be required to do hydrostatic testing regarding the proposed flow reversal of an oil pipeline.

Before Calgary-based Enbridge’s Line 9B becomes operational, hydrostatic testing results of three segments of the pipeline need be provided to and approved by the NEB. One of the sections is in Quebec, near Mirabel, while two are in Ontario, between Kingston and Brockville and near Hilton. The results obtained will then be applied to the entire pipeline.

New safety rules for South Texas pipeline inspectors mandate “buddy system,” quicker gun licenses

The Texas Railroad Commission rolled out new security measures to protect its employees patrolling South Texas’ energy infrastructure after they voiced concerns about their safety, the state’s oil and gas regulator said.

The policy changes follow complaints by Commission Chairman David Porter that the federal government had failed to protect pipeline rights-of-way from becoming pathways for illegal immigration and cartel activity.

Development of Arctic Offshore Resources via Submarine, Here we come?

A recent analysis in “Today in Energy” looked at oil production in Alaska and concluded that oil exploration in the US Arctic continues despite the current low price environment. No surprise there given that the energy industry requires long lead times for new projects and new production in order to replace ‘extracted reserves’ and meet future supply needs. It is all about long-term strategic planning.

Obama and Drilling in the Arctic

A front-page news analysis about the Trans-Pacific Partnership shows that President Obama’s legacy is on everyone’s mind (“A Trade Deal and a Legacy,” June 15). Legacy-defining moments often seem big, complicated and global, but the president has another opportunity to make a simple, common-sense decision that will leave an important mark on history. He should deny Shell further permits to drill in the Arctic Ocean.

When Shell’s Arctic oil-drilling rig left Seattle’s harbor recently, Greenpeace and other activists delayed it by protesting in kayaks, giving the president more time to stop Shell’s dangerous path. He must act, and quickly.

Radiation in court: landmark success for Australia’s nuclear veterans

A legal judgment in Australia has fatally damaged the ‘official’ ICRP model of health damage by nuclear radiation, writes Chris Busby – reflecting the fact that cancer originates through the mutation of individual cells, not whole organs or organisms. The ruling is good news for Britain’s bomb test veterans whose day in court is coming up; and for all who suffer radiation induced cancers.

Trouble ahead for UK’s nuclear hopes

The next generation of reactors in the U.K. has been in the works for a decade, but now a looming challenge in the European Court of Justice attacking nuclear subsidies, growing technical problems and cost overruns are casting doubt on the idea of using nuclear to meet emissions reduction targets.

The original idea was launched under former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who said in 2006 that nuclear energy would have to be coordinated with renewables.

Researchers designing nuclear power plant that will float eight or more miles out to sea

Many experts cite nuclear power as a critical component of a low-carbon energy future. Nuclear plants are steady, reliable sources of large amounts of power; they run on inexpensive and abundant fuel; and they emit no carbon dioxide (CO2).

A novel nuclear power plant that will float eight or more miles out to sea promises to be safer, cheaper, and easier to deploy than today’s land-based plants. In a concept developed by MIT researchers, the floating plant combines two well-established technologies—a nuclear reactor and a deep-sea oil platform. It is built and decommissioned in a shipyard, saving time and money at both ends of its life. Once deployed, it is situated in a relatively deep water well away from coastal populations, linked to land only by an underwater power transmission line. At the specified depth, the seawater protects the plant from earthquakes and tsunamis and can serve as an infinite source of cooling water in case of emergency—no pumping needed. An analysis of potential markets has identified many sites worldwide with physical and economic conditions suitable for deployment of a floating plant.

NRC says Diablo Canyon nuclear plant operated safely in 2014

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission said on Wednesday that Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant operated safely during 2014.

The agency held its annual public meeting to discuss the performance of Diablo Canyon and take input from the public. More than 80 members of the public attended the meeting, held at the Embassy Suites hotel in San Luis Obispo.

Group seeks better deal on San Onofre closure

The San Francisco consumer group that helped broker the $4.7-billion deal dividing costs for the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant said Wednesday that it no longer supports the agreement and called on regulators to reopen talks.

In a five-page motion submitted to the California Public Utilities Commission, the Utility Reform Network said recent revelations of back channel communications between regulators and utility executives forced the organization to rethink its position.

Federal hearing to determine fate of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant

A federal hearing will determine the fate of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Van Buren County.

According to our reporting partners at the Herald Palladium, several anti-nuclear activist groups asked for the hearing, claiming that the plant’s reactor is too old and at risk of releasing radiation.

The Best Way to Map Radiation? Bento Boxes Stuffed With Geiger Counters

Back in 2011, a team of volunteers crammed Geiger counters into bento-shaped boxes to map the radiation following the Fukushima meltdown. It turned into the biggest collection of radiation data in history. Next up: tackling air pollution.

The nonprofit, formed one week after the March 2011 Great Tohoku Earthquake to map Fukushima radiation, is called Safecast. To date, it has now gathered 32 million data points around the world using 800 sensors, making the biggest project of its kind in history.

Student volunteers move in with elderly 3/11 refugees in Fukushima

University students in Fukushima Prefecture have begun providing elderly refugees from the nuclear disaster with a unique form of assistance just by living in the same temporary housing complex where they now live.

By staying close to the seniors and associating with them across generational lines, the young volunteers hope to revitalize their communities.

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