Environmental Must-Reads – April 10, 2015


New study raises possible link between gas drilling and radon levels

Radon levels in buildings near unconventional natural gas development in Pennsylvania are higher than those in other areas of the state, suggesting that hydraulic fracturing has opened up new pathways for the carcinogenic gas to enter people’s homes, according to a study published on Thursday. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer worldwide.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins University analyzed radon readings taken in some 860,000 buildings, mostly homes, from 1989 to 2013 and found that those in rural and suburban areas where most shale gas wells are located had a concentration of the cancer-causing radioactive gas that was 39 percent higher overall than those in urban areas.

Rise of deadly radon gas in Pennsylvania buildings linked to fracking industry

A new study published Thursday reported a disturbing correlation between unusually high levels of radon gas in mostly residences and an oil and gas production technique known as fracking that has become the industry standard over the past decade.

Writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspective, researchers analyzed levels of radon — a colorless, odorless gas that is radioactive and has been linked to lung cancer — in 860,000 buildings from 1989 to 2013. They found that those in the same areas of the state as the fracking operations generally showed higher readings of radon. About 42 percent of the readings were higher than what is considered safe by federal standards. Moreover, the researchers discovered that radon levels spiked overall in 2004, at about the same time fracking activity began to pick up.

Study raises questions about measuring radioactivity in fracking wastewater

Commonly used testing methods may underestimate the total radioactivity of wastewater produced by gas wells that use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to tap the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation in the northeastern United States, concludes a new study. The findings suggest government agencies should consider retooling some testing recommendations and take a fresh look at possible worker exposure to potentially harmful waste, the authors say. But some outside researchers are skeptical that the laboratory study reflects real-world conditions.

As State Fracking Law Takes Effect, Business Interest Fades

So far, it’s been a slow start to North Carolina’s fracking industry.

The governor said the legislation would create more than 1,000 jobs when he signed the legislation last year. Environmentalists said it would spur pollution and hurt the environment.

At this point, neither is right, because companies aren’t interested right now.

When he signed the fracking bill last year, Gov. Pat McCrory trumpeted a soon-to-be roaring drilling industry.

Links Between Fracking and Air Quality Questioned

A widely cited study purporting to show oil and gas operations using hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, cause serious air-quality issues suffers from “significant flaws,” a new report has found.

Environmental Health in October 2014 published “Air Concentrations of Volatile Compounds Near Oil and Gas Production: A Community-based Exploratory Study,” by Gregg P. Macey of the Center for Health, Science, and Public Policy at the Brooklyn Law School. The study garnered substantial media attention. US News and World Report, for example, said the Macey report showed “Eight poisonous chemicals were found near wells and fracking sites in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, and Wyoming that far exceeded recommended federal levels.”

Ban on Fracking in Oregon to 2025 Under Consideration by Committee

The oil and gas industry is pushing back on a bill that would ban hydraulic fracturing in Oregon until 2025.

The bill sponsor, Democratic Rep. Ken Helm, told a House committee Tuesday the proposal puts the state ahead of the curve in case oil and gas companies want to start fracking in Oregon.

Another Canadian province just approved a fracking moratorium

New Brunswick just became the latest Canadian province to halt all hydraulic fracturing while experts studied the practice’s environmental impact.

Lawmakers voted for the one-year moratorium last Thursday. They follow colleagues in Quebec, Labrador and Newfoundland, and Nova Scotia, not to mention the state of New York, which approved a similar measure in December while it awaits the results of a comprehensive study on fracking.

Scientists seek source of giant methane mass over Southwest

Scientists are working to pinpoint the source of a giant mass of methane hanging over the southwestern U.S., which a study found to be the country’s largest concentration of the greenhouse gas.

The report that revealed the methane hot spot over the Four Corners region — where Colorado, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona meet — was released last year.

Fracking Town’s Laid-off Workers: ‘They Don’t Tell You It’s All a Lie’

From the looks of it, America’s boomtown is still booming. Big rigs, cement mixers and oil tankers still clog streets built for lighter loads. The air still smells like diesel fuel and looks like a dust bowl — all that traffic — and natural gas flares, wasted byproducts of the oil wells, still glare out at the night sky like bonfires.

Not to mention that Walmart, still the main game in town, can’t seem to get a handle on its very long lines and half­ empty shelves.

Oil wells in England’s green and pleasant land: Kemp

There could be up to 100 billion barrels of oil onshore beneath southern England, the chief executive of a small exploration firm told the BBC in an interview on Thursday. To which the correct response is “yes, but”.

Based on an analysis of samples from a single well drilled near London’s Gatwick airport, UK Oil and Gas Investments estimates there could be 158 million barrels per square mile in the local area.

Utility to pay $1.6B for deadly Calif. pipeline rupture

California regulators approved a record $1.6 billion penalty Thursday against PG&E for a 2010 gas pipeline explosion that killed eight people and destroyed more than three dozen homes in suburban San Francisco.

The punishment comes as the state’s top utility regulator, Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker, told The Associated Press he has called for a larger review into whether the state’s biggest power utility should be broken up to improve safety.

Sen. Cantwell: Don’t wait for oil train explosion to improve safety

A U.S. senator from Washington is aiming to increase the safety of oil trains that travel through Vancouver, in an effort to prevent possible explosions.

Sen. Maria Cantwell visited Vancouver Wednesday, pushing for new federal regulations aimed at making oil shipments by rail safer. Three of these trains travel through Vancouver on a daily basis, and as the number of trains increases, so do the chances of the trains derailing.

Former claims czar Kenneth Feinberg calls BP’s $20 billion oil spill fund an ‘aberration’ at Tulane talk

The $20 billion victims fund set aside by BP during the height of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was an “aberration” and will probably be the first and last of its kind, said Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw payments in the months after the disaster. Feinberg spoke Tuesday evening (April 7) at a public lecture at the Tulane University Law School.

Feinberg, who also oversaw payment programs for victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the Virginia Tech shootings, and the Boston Marathon bombing, shared stories from the front lines of human tragedy and the process of assigning dollars and cents to lost lives and injury.

Scientists to live stream 6-month expedition to study oil spill effects on coral reefs, underwater life

It’s been nearly five years since the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico wreaked havoc on the ecosystem, damaging plants and other life deep in the sea. Thursday, a team of scientists launched an historic six-month research project to study the effects of the spill and to discover other activity on the ocean floor.

The scientists will be live streaming their entire expedition, 24/7 for the next six months.

Research Into BP Oil Spill Continues

from Gulfport this morning to study some of the effects of the 2010 disaster. MPB’s Evelina Burnett reports, the research is also looking at other issues related to oil spills.

Exploration Vessel Nautilus is busy Wednesday afternoon as crew members and scientists prepare to head out for a two-week expedition. They’ll be tracking the movement of hydrocarbons, which can include oil or natural gas, from natural seeps in the Gulf.

Oil spill fund could help shape coastal health

They are fairly small patches, greenish smears carpeting the bottom in shallows along the south shoreline of West Galveston Bay. A dozen acres here. Fifty acres there. Most people other than duck hunters, anglers and other keen observers of marine life don’t even notice them. But these stands of bottom-hugging aquatic vegetation – shoalgrass, mostly – hold outsized significance.

They illustrate the struggles Galveston Bay and, by extension, the rest of Texas’ coastal landscapes have endured over the decades, the efforts being made to address the degradation of these relentlessly beleaguered ecosystems, the benefits of an environmentally healthy coast, and the unprecedented opportunity Texas will have to make huge strides in improving the state’s coastal natural resources and the quality of life of Texans.

Vancouver Oil Spill: Crews Clean Up In English Bay

An oily purple-blue sheen of a fuel-like substance surrounding a bulk carrier ship has coated water and land in Vancouver’s picturesque English Bay.

The spill of the toxic material is raising questions about a slow emergency response and lack of notification to both city officials and the public at a time when tanker traffic through Vancouver waters is expected to increase.

Dramatic photos of Vancouver oil spill spark pipeline outrage on social media

As a toxic bunker fuel spill spread across Vancouver’s English Bay and washed ashore on the city’s many beaches, people took to social media to share worrying photos, along with fears for the province’s environmental future.

Vancouver oil spill source, composition and size unconfirmed, says coast guard

The source, composition and quantity of the toxic fuel that spilled out into the waters of English Bay in Vancouver Wednesday afternoon is still unconfirmed.

In a news conference Thursday afternoon, Roger Girouard, head of the Canadian Coast Guard western region, said that the spill was being treated as either bunker fuel or raw crude in a “worst-case scenario” until test results came back.

Sea birds found coated in oil after toxic spill in Vancouver’s English Bay

Several sea birds were found coated in oil on Vancouver beaches Thursday after a toxic bunker fuel spill spread across English Bay.

The Vancouver Aquarium said it is closely monitoring the spill to determine its impact on marine wildlife.

Oil spill reported on Mississippi River near Celebration Belle

For the second time in less than a month, an oil spill was reported on the Mississippi River near the Celebration Belle in Moline, Illinois.

Investigators were sent to the area of 2501 River Drive just before 9 a.m. Thursday, April 9, 2015, after someone reported a possible oil spill in the water near the riverboat.

Atlantic City Tropicana oil spill caused by contractor, suit alleges

A contractor caused a leak at Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City that spilled more than 500 gallons of oil and caused more than $75,000 in damage, a lawsuit alleges.

An Cliffwood Beach company hired to upgrade underground storage tanks “capped, shut off or disconnected the return lines,” according to a suit filed in U.S. District Court in Camden.

Crews still cleaning Lake Erie oil spill off Cleveland

Crews are still working around the clock to clean up an oil spill in Lake Erie off Cleveland.

Officials said on Wednesday said that tests concluded the substance spilled into Lake Erie near the Forest City Yacht Club last week was lube oil.

Secret Videos Expose Chevron’s Corruption in Ecuadorian Oil Spill

There’s a new development in the case against Chevron for its failure to address decades of contamination in the Ecuadorian Amazon. An apparent Chevron whistleblower sent dozens of internal company videos to Amazon Watch with a note saying “I hope this is useful for you in your trial against Texaco/Chevron. [signed] A Friend from Chevron.”

Upset Bayou Corne residents told to ‘move on with your lives’ after complaints of lawyer mistreatment

A group of former Bayou Corne residents who were evacuated after a massive sinkhole created in the wake of a brine mine failure threatened to swallow up their community confronted the court handling a class action lawsuit on Wednesday saying their lawyers and the court-appointed special master “mistreated and manipulated” them and other members of the class.

Environmental groups take aim at Alberta oil sands emissions

Rising greenhouse emissions from Alberta’s oil sands would swamp Ontario’s effort to fight climate change through a carbon-pricing plan, says a report issued in advance of the provincial climate summit to be held in Quebec City next week.

Alberta’s leader will be noticeably absent as premiers gather for a climate summit with an aim to fashion a national strategy on energy and the environment. Premier Jim Prentice will stay home to campaign in a provincial election and is expected to send senior bureaucrats in his place, Alberta officials said Wednesday.

TransCanada willing to scrap Quebec port in push for Energy East pipeline

TransCanada and its oil-producer customers are prepared to forgo plans for a marine terminal in Quebec to win support for the $9.6 billion Energy East oil pipeline, the company’s largest project.

The company is weighing whether to build Energy East with a single marine outlet in New Brunswick, Chief Executive Officer Russ Girling said Wednesday in an interview at Bloomberg’s Toronto office. TransCanada delayed the pipeline’s startup more than a year to 2020 by abandoning plans last week for a terminal on the St. Lawrence River because of risks to endangered beluga whales.

Denman Island Chocolate joins fight against Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline

Denman Island Chocolate has announced it will donate the proceeds from sales of a special ‘stop the pipeline’ chocolate bar to seven B.C. First Nations trying to overturn federal approval of Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline.

“Chocolate is always a great vector to get people to kind of sit up and pay attention,” said company president Daniel Terry. “It’s one of our mandates to support environmental conservation on the coast.”

Russian Minister Calls For Melting More Arctic Sea Ice To Increase Oil Development: Report

The Russian government said Thursday it wanted oil companies to gain greater access to Arctic oil reserves, calling for the melting of more Arctic sea ice to make the process easier.

“I believe that it is necessary to expand the access of companies to the shelf,” Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Khloponin was quoted saying by state media, Forbes reported. He had reportedly said earlier that the government would need to impose sanctions on development in Russia’s Arctic shelf, but did not specify what the sanctions would be and whether they would include any environmental measures.

Oil spills in Arctic an ‘extreme challenge’ to prepare for and respond to: report

Canada should look at reducing or banning the shipment of heavy oils in the Arctic, says a report prepared for the federal government.

The report, released late Wednesday, focuses heavily on the lack of resources for emergency response on Canada’s northern coast, including a reduction in Coast Guard services.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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