Environmental Must-Reads – November 19, 2013

Fracking’s Achilles’ Heel

It’s not very often that someone starts his career as a geologist and then winds up as governor, but John Hickenlooper, the governor of Colorado, can make that claim. “We had fracking when I was a working geologist in 1981,” he told me on Monday. “It was very primitive. What really changed the world is when we got horizontal drilling. It was a technique that allowed you to recover a lot more natural gas.”

“But,” he added, almost poignantly, “it’s been polarizing.”

$60,000 penalty for fracking fluid in unlined Kern County pit

An oil company in Kern County has agreed to pay a $60,000 penalty after discharging saline water and hydraulic fracturing fluid into an unlined pit, state water authorities said Friday.

The settlement with Vintage Production California LLC is the first state action against an oil company involving hydraulic fracturing or fracking — extracting oil from shale by injecting it with water and chemicals.

Environmentalists Decry California’s Fracking Rules

Amid intense rivalry between the oil industry and the agricultural industry, regulators in the state of California have released long-awaited proposed rules on fracking, inviting acceptance from oil and gas companies and harsh criticism from environmentalists.

The draft rules require fracking to undergo strict monitoring and have earned criticism from both sides of the fence in California.

Colorado to become first state to limit methane from fracking

Fracktivists and frackthusiasts have reached a historic compromise in Colorado, a hot spot for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, that recently saw three communities — and a possible fourth — vote to ban the practice entirely. The agreement, announced today by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, joins three oil-and-gas producers with the Environmental Defense Fund to track and eliminate methane leaks, making it the first U.S. state to limit methane emissions from natural gas and oil production.

On Colorado’s Front Range, Fracking Questions Loom Large

Can fracking be done safely?

Kelly Giddens, a Fort Collins resident who earlier this month led a successful campaign to place a moratorium on fracking within city limits, paused before she answered the question.

“I don’t know,” she said while awaiting the election results at a bar in Fort Collins, Colorado’s fourth-largest city at 150,000 people. “I’m really concerned about well casing so deep underground. I don’t know if they can get that right. But I do have faith in the ingenuity of American minds and engineers and their ability to solve problems.”

Gas industry funded pro-fracking movie ‘Truthland,’ tax filing reveals

Newly surfaced income tax documents have revealed a strong connection between a pro-fracking movie and lobbyists in the gas and drilling industry, which presumably helped fund the film as a public relations response to the critical ‘Gasland’ movie.

The Fracking Industry’s Dishonest Response to ‘Gasland’

The break-out success of GasLand and GasLand 2, documentaries by Josh Fox about the dangers of largely unregulated hydraulic fracturing, has prompted the natural gas and drilling industry to adopt an aggressive public relations strategy to combat critics. Last year, at the Warner Theater in Washington, DC, a group of high-profile lobbyists and communications staffers celebrated the development of a pro-fracking movie designed to rebut Fox’s documentaries called TruthLand, which premiered in January.

California and Illinois release draft fracking rules, and California’s are better

If poring over draft fracking regulations is your cup of tea, then we’ve got a big steaming teapot for you.

California and Illinois both proposed rules governing hydraulic fracturing on Friday, after their governors signed bills requiring them earlier this year. A quick read of the tea leaves suggests that frackers are going to continue plundering Illinois with little thought given to environmental impacts. Frackers operating in California, however, will need to abide by some tough new regulations – but not tough enough to mollify environmentalists, who continue to call for a fracking moratorium in the Golden State.

Comstock Resources pays $54.5M for oil leases

Comstock Resources is leasing 53,000 acres in Louisiana and Mississippi to look for oil.

The company, based in Frisco, Texas, is paying $54.5 million for the leases. They cover parts of the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation in Mississippi’s Wilkinson and Amite counties and Louisiana’s East Feliciana and St. Helena parishes. Comstock says it will complete the purchase before year’s end.

Builder Claims Drilling Rights Under 2,500 Florida Homes: Report

When Mallory and Zach Sinclair were looking for their first home, they swooned over a new townhouse in the Brandon, Florida subdivision of Whispering Oaks. With well-manicured lawns, it looked fresh and untouched, with streets bearing pastoral names like Spring Flowers and Summer Clouds.

But in January, when the young parents cracked open their closing papers, they noticed an alarming clause. Their home builder had quietly signed away the rights to the land beneath their home to its own energy company. It now had free rein deep below the surface to drill, mine or explore.

Microbiologists reveal unexpected properties of methane-producing microbe

For 40 years, scientists thought they understood how certain bacteria work together to anaerobically digest biomass to produce methane gas, important in bioenergy and the major source of greenhouse gas. But now microbiologists in Derek Lovley’s lab at the University of Massachusetts Amherst show for the first time that one of the most abundant methane-producing microorganisms on earth makes direct electrical connections with another species to produce the gas in a completely unexpected way.

Salinization of groundwater resources in Texas is a growing concern

Degrading potable groundwater quality is a growing concern in Texas, as about 15 percent of all domestic wells in the state are at risk due to high salinity, according to a recent Texas A&M AgriLife Research study.

The work of Dr. Srinivasulu Ale, AgriLife Research geospatial hydrology assistant professor, and Dr. Sriroop Chaudhuri, his post-doctoral research associate, both in Vernon, has been accepted for publication in the Science of the Total Environment journal.

Bayou Corne sinkhole could require decades of monitoring once brought under control: officials

The insatiable Louisiana sinkhole captured national attention after the YouTube video ‘8/21/13 Slough in’ showed it swallowing a set of trees. Officials also fear that gas within area may spark massive inferno.

Jindal levee authority appointee wants lawsuit against oil, pipeline companies suspended

A new member appointed by Gov. Bobby Jindal to the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East will ask the authority to suspend its controversial lawsuit demanding that 97 oil, gas and pipeline companies either restore wetlands damaged during their operations or pay for the damages. A competing resolution, submitted by proponents of the lawsuit, asks the authority to reaffirm its original vote approving the contract to hire the Jones, Swanson, Huddell & Garrison law firm and to authorize continued prosecution of the suit.

BP posts gulf environmental data online; plans more for 2014

Information about offshore water conditions in the Gulf of Mexico was posted online, BP PLC reported, saying that BP, federal and state agencies, and the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) collected the information following the deepwater Macondo well blowout in 2010.

The data, made available on BP’s web site Nov. 18, previously helped guide oil spill response efforts under the direction of the US Coast Guard.

Oil & Gas Use Parishes as Toxic Dumps

Plaquemines and Jefferson Parishes, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, claim in court that dozens of oil and gas companies’ shoddy canals, drilling and dump sites have caused increasing, and illegal, damage to the coast.
The parishes demand the oil companies clean up their mess.

Oil spill claims process still stalled

Due to procedural complications of the BP civil claims process, money that was dedicated to certain kinds of claims is sitting idle.

Lawmakers tried to detail the hiccups constituents have seen in the claims process in a Monday meeting the Joint Select Committee on Oversight of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, which oversees the process.

Feds: Exxon Ignored Safety Risks in Lead-up to 210,000 Gallon Oil Spill

Federal regulators investigating a crude oil spill in Arkansas have concluded that in the years before the accident, pipeline owner ExxonMobil dragged its feet on critical repairs and inspections, ignored evidence that the pipeline was disposed to failure, and cherry-picked data to downplay the risk of an accident.

This Is What Happens When a Pipeline Bursts in Your Town

Conflicted about Keystone? Consider the horrific impact of an oil spill in Arkansas.

Jason Thompson used to love fishing in the lake he can see from his window in Mayflower, Arkansas, but these days, when he throws a line out into the water, the lure he reels back is covered in a sour, stinking black tar, the skirt of the jig stuck uselessly together. When he brings the fingers that touched the line up to his nose, he gets a whiff of the same putrid stench that filled the air for weeks after the oil pipeline burst—the smell that still rises out of the ground every time it rains.

How Shockingly Little We Know About How Oil Spills Affect Our Health

More than 2.6 million miles of oil and gas pipelines currently snake through the U.S., overseen by only 135 inspectors from the Transportation Department’s regulatory agency—a safety system the top pipeline safety official recently  described as “kind of dying.” That’s particularly alarming considering plans for new pipelines such as the Keystone XL, which, if approved, will increase the mileage of oil-bearing pipes in the U.S.  by 1,700 miles and carry millions of gallons of particularly toxic tar sands oil right through the heartland of America. A spate of U.S. pipeline ruptures in recent years underscores how ill-prepared we are to address the health needs of residents following oil spills, and how poorly we document the health impacts so as to develop better responses to future spills.

Alabama rail line reopens after derailment, oil spill

A railroad reopened a section of track 10 days after the fiery derailment of a train carrying crude oil in west Alabama, but state environmental officials said Monday they still don’t know how much oil spilled into surrounding wetlands.

Spain to appeal for damages over Prestige oil spill

Spain will appeal for damages over the Prestige tanker disaster which choked its northwest coast in oil, the government said Monday, after a court acquitted all defendants of causing the spill.

The court on Thursday acquitted the ship’s crew and a top Spanish maritime official and awarded no compensation for the 2002 wreck, one of Europe’s worst environmental disasters.

Arctic oil spill is certain if drilling goes ahead, says top scientist

A serious oil spill in the Arctic is a “dead cert” if drilling goes ahead, with potentially devastating consequences for the pristine region, according to a leading marine scientist who played a key role in analysis of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The warning came as Russia filed court orders this week to have Greenpeace activists and journalists kept in prison for a further three months in prison before their trial over a protest at Arctic oil dirlling.

Oil spill risk highlights flotilla’s purpose

The Green Party has today revealed information which shows that one out of every 30 deep sea oil wells in the Gulf of Mexico has had a spill.

“John Key misled New Zealanders when he said that there have been 50,000 wells in the Gulf of Mexico and only one problem; in fact one out of every 30 deep sea wells has had a spill,” said Green Party energy spokesperson Gareth Hughes.

There are `many` Keystone-like pipelines, all enabled by the Army Corps

You probably know about the Keystone XL pipeline and the nasty stuff it contains, like tar, sulphur, arsenic, and mercury. You probably think that stopping Keystone XL from being built will stop the tar-sands pipeline problem in the U.S.

What you don’t know is that there are many “Keystone”–like pipelines, all carrying diluted tar under high heat and heavy pressure, all owned by foreign corporations, all waiting to burst in a neighborhood near you.

George W. Bush: Building The Keystone XL Pipeline Is A ‘No-Brainer’

While the news was that George W. Bush was the keynote speaker at a conference put on by a group that wants to convert Jews to Christianity received more national and international attention, the 43rd president made made another prominent stop at a conference last week. Among the topics he covered was the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, though Mr. Bush could not see why the pipeline was ever even a question.

Butchering Keystone XL Facts, George W. Bush Says ‘Build the Damn Thing’

Make private companies happy. Don’t worry about the environment. Stop fretting about long-term sustainability. Forget renewables, property concerns, the safety of our water and air. Make private companies happy. This was the forty-third president’s message to the current administration at the DUG East conference held by the shale gas industry on Thursday.

Three Greenpeace crew members granted bail over Arctic oil rig protest

A Russian court has granted bail to three Greenpeace crew members – a doctor, a freelance photographer, and a press officer – all detained since September 24 over the protest at an oil rig in the Barents Sea.

The ship’s doctor, Yekaterina Zaspa, and freelance photographer Denis Sinyakov – both of whom are Russian citizens – can be released as soon as two million rubles (US$61,300) bail is paid for each of them. Late on Monday, the court said that a third Russian citizen – Greenpeace press office chief Andrey Allakhverdov – could also be released on bail.

Quest for oil decimates Arctic whale habitat

A study of the habits of indigenous Arctic whales has revealed their habitat is being eaten up by the never-ending thirst for oil and gas. The study by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says that the traditional areas of the Arctic Sea inhabited by the whales are being encroached upon by gas and oil companies.

Uncertainties Abound in Fukushima Decommissioning

It’s costly, risky and dependent on technologies that have yet to be fully developed. A decades-long journey filled with unknowns lies ahead for Japan, which took a small step this week toward decommissioning its crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Nobody knows exactly how much fuel melted after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami knocked out cooling systems. Or where exactly the fuel went — how deep and in what form it is, somewhere at the bottom of reactor Units 1, 2 and 3.

Fukushima’s crippled reactors: the risky plan to move fuel rods

The thousands of people who punch in every day at what is arguably the world’s most dangerous workplace are accustomed to facing risks.

But now workers at the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant have embarked on their most precarious operation since the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns and explosions at the facility.

First Fuel Rods Plucked From Tsunami-Damaged Fukushima Plant

Workers at Japan’s Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power station successfully completed the first day of a delicate operation to remove radioactive fuel rods from a reactor damaged in the March 2011 tsunami.

The fuel rods were removed from the Unit 4 reactor, which was offline at the time the tsunami smashed into the plant, overwhelming its backup systems. Although Unit 4 was spared the fate of three other reactors that melted down, a fire in its containment building weakened the structure.

Fukushima engineers begin removing fuel rods from damaged reactor

Workers started removing radioactive fuel rods from a reactor building at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant on Monday, plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. said. The painstaking and risky task is a crucial first step toward a full cleanup of the earthquake- and tsunami-damaged plant in northeastern Japan.

The removal of the rods is the most difficult and dangerous process undertaken since runaway reactors were brought under control two years ago, after being hit by an earthquake and tsunami that claimed nearly 16,000 lives.

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