Environmental Must-Reads – April 13, 2015


Maryland Senate, House Pass Two-Year Fracking Ban

A Maryland bill calling for a two-year fracking moratorium in the state is expected to land on Gov. Larry Hogan’s desk in the coming days.

The state Senate voted in favor of the bill 45-2 Monday evening. Now the measure—which requires the state to adopt new fracking rules by Oct. 1, 2016, and prohibit fracking permits until October 2017—heads to a vote in the House. The governor’s position on the bill is unknown, but the Senate passed the bill with a veto-proof majority and there’s a good chance the House will, too.

Florida proposals to regulate fracking face uncertain fate as legislative clock winds down

With only a few weeks remaining, the fate of proposals to regulate hydraulic fracturing in Florida remains unclear.

“We need to take advantage of the window of opportunity we have right now,” said Jennifer Hecker, director of natural resource policy at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. “I think at this point I am fairly confident something will pass, but it’s not impossible that nothing passes because of the time constraints.”

Officials: Arlington gas well sealed after “very serious” mishap

Crews from Boots and Coots, a gas well control company, managed to seal a natural gas well in southwest Arlington on Sunday after a mishap at the Little Road drilling site prompted voluntary evacuations of homes.

No natural gas was released during the incident, city officials said, but 115 people were asked to leave their homes during the third effort to plug the well.

15 years after ‘Erin Brockovich,’ town still fearful of polluted water

Maneuvering his pickup through this Mojave Desert town, resident Daron Banks pointed at empty lot after empty lot. “Last time I was here there was a home right here. There was a home here, there was a home here,” he said, making his way down the bumpy road in the place made famous by the 2000 film “Erin Brockovich.”

Fifteen years after the film showed triumphant residents winning a $333-million settlement with Pacific Gas & Electric Co. for contaminating its water — and nearly 20 years after the settlement itself — Hinkley is emptying out, and those who stay still struggle to find resolution.

“Fracking’s Joy Ride Will End” ex-White House Spokesman Bob Weiner And Policy Analyst Hannah Coombs Say

“We will be dancing to the joy of cheap oil prices until the wells are drilled dry” in as little as five years, write Robert Weiner and Hannah Coombs yesterday in the Lynchburg News & Advance titled “Fracking’s Benefits Will End”. The Obama administration announced new fracking regulations to kick in June 24 which require the disclosure of chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing process.  “Fracking” is the operation of drilling and injecting liquid beneath the earth’s surface, breaking down shale reserves to release gas and oil. Authors Weiner and Coombs say these regulations “appear to curtail environmentally destructive practices while maintaining higher oil production with lower price.”

Greenpeace targets Danish fracking site

According to Greenpeace, some 20 activists crossed the barriers at the exploratory site in the northern Jutland municipality of Dybvad on Monday morning. Four of the protestors climbed to the top of French gas company Total’s 45-metre tall boring machine, while others remained on the ground armed with banners and t-shirts that read “Stop Fracking”.

After $1.6B Fine For Pipeline Tragedy, PG&E Should Be Broken Up

The California Public Utilities Commission said it would impose $1.6 billion in fines on Pacific Gas and Electric, the state’s largest investor-owned utility, in connection with a natural gas pipeline explosion that occurred nearly five years ago.

On September 9, 2010, a 30-inch natural gas transmission pipeline rupture beneath a residential neighborhood in San Bruno about 12 miles south of San Francisco.

Scathing audit slams PUC’s gas safety efforts since PG&E blast

The California Public Utilities Commission’s gas safety enforcement efforts have deteriorated since the deadly 2010 pipeline explosion in San Bruno, undermined by an atmosphere of mistrust in the agency, outmoded technology and a lack of vision among top officials, according to a scathing new audit.

The state agency, which approved a record $1.6 billion penalty against Pacific Gas and Electric Co. last week for blast-related violations, suffers from a “loss of focus, lack of clear direction, loss of trust in leadership and unacceptable work backlogs,” said the audit, given to the agency last month.

Pipeline bound for pristine Big Bend

In the wide-open Big Bend, where private property rights are sacrosanct and a “no trespassing” sign means just that, unwelcome interlopers, from nosy environmentalists to federal employees, always have been quickly sent packing.

Thus, the news that a couple of billionaire businessmen intend to run a large natural gas pipeline through 143 miles of mostly private ranch land to the Mexican border has folks here in shock.

2nd major gas pipeline would link Pennsylvania, Northeast

New York landowners along the planned 124-mile Constitution Pipeline are getting details of a second major natural gas pipeline proposed to cut through their property, this one a 325-mile link from Pennsylvania to New England.

Construction workers in economically distressed southern New York are ecstatic about the job possibilities, but landowners who have been fighting the first pipeline for three years are dismayed at the prospect of going through the whole process a second time.

Bakken-bearing pipeline meets stiff opposition in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

A Canadian company proposes a multibillion-dollar oil pipeline through some of the Midwest’s prized lakes and wetlands, igniting a firestorm among environmentalists, tribes and anti-fossil fuel activists who say the proposal is built on hollow promises of economic development and dubious claims of environmental protection.

Sound familiar? It should. But the pipeline isn’t Keystone XL, and its developer is not TransCanada Corp., purveyor of the most polarizing energy project since the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository.

Fracked liquids pipeline company’s poor record

By at least one measure, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. has the worst safety record for its type of business, according to self-reported filings of significant incidents with a regulatory agency.

Among pipeline transmission companies, Tennessee Gas reported more significant incidents to the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration than any other operator over the last decade, The Courier-Journal has found.

NTSB: Fix oil train tank cars now

The National Transportation Safety Board says freight train tank cars need an “urgent” retrofit in the wake of four oil-train derailments since mid-February, three of which resulted in fires.

The recommendations apply to a newer generation of tank cars — referred to as CPC-1232 cars — in addition to the older DOT-111 tank cars that previously were the focus of safety concerns.

More oil moves by rail, and it moves here

About half the crude oil that now moves by rail in America is bound for Mid-Atlantic states, mostly refineries near Philadelphia, data from the U.S. Energy Department show.

More than 33.7 million barrels of crude were shipped by rail in January, a fiftyfold increase from 630,000 barrels in January 2010, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

New Sea Drilling Rule Planned, 5 Years After BP Oil Spill

The Obama administration is planning to impose a major new regulation on offshore oil and gas drilling to try to prevent the kind of explosions that caused the catastrophic BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, administration officials said Friday.

The announcement of the Interior Department regulation, which could be made as soon as Monday, is timed to coincide with the five-year anniversary of the disaster, which killed 11 men and sent millions of barrels of oil spewing into the gulf. The regulation is being introduced as the Obama administration is taking steps to open up vast new areas of federal waters off the southeast Atlantic Coast to drilling, a decision that has infuriated environmentalists.

Five years later, no final judgment on oil spill’s effect on Gulf wildlife

Brad Robin says there’s no doubt the BP oil spill that began five years ago this month has caused lasting damage to the Gulf Coast.

The 60-year-old oysterman has watched his annual harvest fall by 75 percent in the past five years. It used to cost him about $200,000 a year in materials to build the oyster beds on which his living depends. Now he spends closer to $1 million but hasn’t seen it pay off.

Five years after Gulf spill, new mandates ready

The Obama administration is poised to propose new requirements for controlling offshore wells nearly five years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill illustrated the damage that can be unleashed if they are not kept in check.

While the oil industry may bristle at some of the mandates, the long shadow cast by the Deepwater Horizon disaster likely will force officials to temper their criticism.

Titanic explorer’s science team to study BP spill effects on deep Gulf, TV station reports

The scientific team underwritten by oceanographer Robert Ballard, who located the remains of the Titanic in 1985, is kicking off an exploration of deepwater corals and other species to determine their health five years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, WDSU-TV reports.

The research is part of a six-month expedition that will take Ballard’s E/V Nautilus and his Corps of Exploration to various locations in the Gulf of Mexico before traversing the Panama Canal to conduct research in the Pacific Ocean, all the way to British Columbia.

Five Years After BP Spill, It’s Safe To Eat Gulf Seafood, If You Can Find It

Monday, April 20th marks the 5th anniversary of the 2010 BP oil spill that sent millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Right after the spill, seafood restaurants were bombarded with concerns about the safety of what was being served, and where it came from. Today, the public has stopped asking questions and is ready to eat. But now there’s a supply issue. While marketing campaigns are spreading a message of safe and bountiful gulf seafood, others in the industry worry about the future.

In The Midst Of Toxic Oil Spill, Vancouver Announces It Will Go 100 Percent Renewable

There’s some mixed news coming out of Vancouver, Canada this week. On the one hand, the city announced at an international sustainability summit that it would commit to using 100 percent renewable energy to power its electricity, transportation, heating and air conditioning within 20 years. On the other hand, Vancouver is also dealing with a fuel spill in the waters of English Bay that is washing up on beaches and threatening wildlife.

Vancouver oil spill: Coast Guard defends cleanup response time

After widespread criticism of its response, the Canadian Coast Guard has issued a detailed timeline outlining the sequence of events immediately following the detection of a major oil spill in Vancouver’s English Bay.

Coast Guard Commissioner Jody Thomas said, in a statement released Sunday, the agency was first notified by a recreational boater of a slick around the bulk grain carrier Marathassa at 5:10 p.m. PT Wednesday.

Cleanup efforts continue after Vancouver oil spill

Efforts were progressing Sunday to remove the remaining globs of bunker oil that spilled into Vancouver’s English Bay last week as the Coast Guard continued to answer criticism of how it responded to the situation.

It appeared the south shore of the bay was largely free of oil that leaked from a cargo ship, but small amounts were still detected. Efforts were continuing to clean up fuel oil that washed up along other parts of the shoreline, Asst. Commissioner Roger Girouard told a news conference on Sunday.

Vienna residents await more oil spill test results

Residents in Vienna are still waiting to find out what was in the oil waste recently found in their ponds and wetlands.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has been testing samples of the waste that were believed to have been released from a nearby injection well company, Kleese Development Associates.

S. Phila. refinery creates toxic air as well as jobs

NICOLE JONIEC’S biggest regret, five years after moving into a century-old townhouse in South Philadelphia with her husband and their two cats, is that she didn’t zoom out a little more when she had checked out her new address on Google Maps.

Joniec, 37, who works at the Free Library, said she now feels “silly” that she didn’t realize how close they would live to the ancient, sprawling refinery on the banks of the Schuylkill then owned by Sunoco and which today – with a new owner, Philadelphia Energy Solutions – is booming with crude oil fracked in North Dakota.

Alaska’s oil-tax income at lowest since pipeline’s first days

The oil production tax that has long been Alaska’s sugar daddy has collapsed with the price of oil, to a low rarely seen in state history. Adjusted for inflation, state revenue from the tax is on track to have its worst year since the early days of the trans-Alaska pipeline nearly four decades ago.

The hit is so bad the treasury is making a small fraction of what it did in 2014, or about $2.30 for every taxed barrel.

Activists Who Scaled Shell’s Arctic-Bound Oil Rig Leave After Defying Legal Threats

Six Greenpeace activists who brazenly scaled a Royal Dutch Shell oil drilling ship bound for the Arctic Monday left the boat today, according to the environmentalist group.

One day after saying that they refused to leave despite a legal injunction against them, worsening weather conditions forced them to return to the Greenpeace ship Esperanza, which has been stationed close by for the last week, Greenpeace said in a statement tonight.

House members see repository site — and maybe a way forward

Standing before the yawning, black mouth of the entrance to the Yucca Mountain repository site, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) made an aggressive pitch yesterday for storing the nation’s most highly radioactive nuclear waste deep in the Silver State’s desert.

“I understand the concerns and the frustrations that many members in Nevada have and some of the public, but I think that debate is turning a little bit in the state,” said Shimkus, a hard hat tucked under his arm. “I want them to be assured they’d have a large role in the decisions on siting, infrastructure, rail spurs, roads. We want them to come talk to us.”

YUCCA MOUNTAIN: Unsafe site won’t ever be safe for nuclear waste

Nevada Rep. Cresent Hardy, who joined a pro-Yucca Mountain congressional site visit this past week, recently asked the question, “Is there a scenario in which Nevadans would actually welcome nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain?” (“Time for Nevada to talk Yucca Mountain,” March 22 Review-Journal).

The answer to that question is an emphatic “no” for one simple yet unavoidable reason: Because Yucca Mountain is an unsafe place for storing or disposing deadly nuclear waste and was selected for purely political reasons having nothing to do with science or suitability. There is nothing for state officials to negotiate. In fact, our leaders would be remiss in their duty to protect the public and the environment to entertain the notion that any amount of dollars could possibly compensate for likely grievous and lethal harm from siting a facility in such an unsafe location as Yucca Mountain.

Fukushima robot stranded after stalling inside reactor

Decommissioning work at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has suffered a setback after a robot sent in to a damaged reactor to locate melted fuel stalled hours into its mission and had to be abandoned.

The plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), said the robot stopped moving on Friday during its first inspection of the containment vessel inside reactor No 1, one of the three reactors that suffered meltdown after the plant was struck by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

‘Transformer’ robot breakdown leaves TEPCO in the dark at Fukushima nuclear plant

An unresponsive robot means it’s back to the drawing board for officials at Tokyo Electric Power Co. in determining how to decommission reactors at their crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The sleek, shape-changing robot, which was expected to deliver a preliminary view of the inside of the No. 1 reactor, failed to complete its mission when it stalled just hours after entering its containment vessel on April 10.

NRC: Nuclear plant failure not our fault

As it turns the page on the breakdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant, the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is standing by its role in overseeing the replacement of steam generators that led to a radiation leak and the facility’s early retirement in 2013.

The safety agency also is warning the nuclear power industry that the destructive vibrations among generator tubes carrying radioactive water that occurred at San Onofre could emerge at other reactors over time.

Gamma-ray method flags up nuclear stashes

It is a border-control agent’s nightmare: a terrorist sneaks uranium or plutonium through a seaport and into an urban centre, and uses it to set off a dirty bomb or a nuclear weapon.

On 13 April at the American Physical Society meeting in Baltimore, Maryland, physicists will present research on a cargo-screening technology that could foil such a plot. The researchers say that a device involving the approach, which would scan shipping containers with beams of precisely tuned ?-rays, would be safer and more effective than current technology. The device could be several metres tall and stationary, or a smaller, portable unit.

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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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