Environmental Must-Reads – April 16, 2015


Will the home of fracking bonanza turn against its creation next month?

You might think it would be hard to find opposition to fracking in the city of Denton. Not only is it in Texas, the oil and gas capital in the United States – but it lies in the very crucible of the shale gas industry itself.

It was close by, in Newark, that George P. Mitchell, the father of hydraulic fracturing, developed the technique – and the Barnett Shale, which underlies both places, became the source of the first big shale gas boom. Yet the 130,000-strong city, which has already imposed a moratorium on fracking in its territory, is now to vote on a total ban in a referendum on the day of the mid-term elections next month. If the anti-frackers win, it will be the first major city in Texas to reject the technology, and the symbolism is expected to have repercussions throughout the US.

Commission’s fracking advisors controlled by lobbyists, claim NGOs

Environmental campaigners and the shale gas industry have clashed amid accusations that companies are controlling an influential European Commission group advising on fracking policy.

Friends of the Earth Europe walked out of the Joint Research Centre’s (JRC) European Science and Technology Network on Unconventional Hydrocarbon Extraction. The JRC is the Commission’s in-house science service. It is meant to objectively inform EU policymaking.

Sierra Club fights NJ Natural Gas pipeline plan

The New Jersey Sierra Club is urging residents to fight New Jersey Natural Gas’ plans to build a 28-mile transmission pipeline from Burlington County to Manchester, a proposal it calls “destructive.”

It will “not only create an ugly scar through the Pinelands, but it will destroy important habitat, pollute high quality streams, rivers, and cut across important (protected) waterways,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club in a statement. “This pipeline will promote fracking, add to air pollution and safety concerns to the surrounding communities.

Lee County residents ask court to suspend NC fracking rules

The owner of a Lee County horse farm is asking a Wake County judge to block any fracking permit applications from being processed until courts determine if North Carolina’s fracking regulations are legal.

Since the state’s fracking moratorium was lifted March 17, no permit application has been filed and none is believed to be imminent. But Lee County resident Keely Wood Puricz and the Haw River Assembly say the state’s fracking rules are illegal because they were created by an unconstitutional body, the Mining and Energy Commission.

Penn.: Fracking Exclusion Not Allowed in Homeowners Earthquake Endorsements

The Pennsylvania Insurance Department issued a notice telling insurance companies that earthquake endorsements to homeowners insurance policies in Pennsylvania cannot exclude coverage for earthquakes that may be caused by “human activity” such as fracking.

According to the Pennsylvania Insurance Department’s notice issued on April 11, some insurers have asserted that because of an increase in natural gas extraction in Pennsylvania by means of a process commonly referred to as ”fracking,” endorsements should exclude coverage on homeowners policies for earthquakes that are not “naturally occurring.”

Looking at another soft-focus fracking story from the gas patch

The Fort Collins Coloradoan published a “fracking fluid 101” story on Sunday. It’s the latest addition to a wide-eyed soft genre of Colorado gas-patch newspaper stories that surely paints smiles on the faces of drilling industry executives in Denver.

Reporter Sarah Jane Kyle told me she wrote the story in response to local long-running concerns about fracking fluid and concerns raising in the wake of news drilling operations are set to begin near an elementary school in the city.

Protestors: Whitney’s New “1% Museum” Is Perilously Close To Fracked Gas Pipeline

The Whitney Museum won’t officially open its new home in the Meatpacking District until May 1st, but last night a group of environmental activists staged their own pre-opening ceremony for the celebrated institution.

Their goal was to call attention to the fact that the new museum sits right next to an underground vault where a recently constructed high-pressure natural gas pipeline connects with the city’s gas grid. Groups like the Sane Energy Project and Occupy the Pipeline, both sponsors of last night’s event, unsuccessfully fought the construction of the pipeline two years ago. They see the imminent opening of the new museum space as an opportunity to refocus attention on gas infrastructure, which they oppose on safety and environmental grounds.

Bill to improve oil train safety passes Senate amid criticism

Washington state senators approved a measure Wednesday night to improve oil transport safety, which was immediately criticized by one progressive organization as a “weaksauce oil-lobbyist sponsored bill.”

Sen. Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, while speaking in favor of the measure on the Senate floor, said the bill would help the nation gain energy independence.

Payout from BP oil spill settlement tops $5 billion

The administrator overseeing a BP Plc fund to compensate people and businesses claiming they were harmed by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill said on Wednesday more than $5 billion has been paid out.

A total of $5.037 billion has been paid to 62,162 claimants, the administrator, Patrick Juneau, said in a statement on his website for spill claims.

5 Years Later, Wakulla County Still Recovering from B.P. Oil Spill

Monday will mark 5 years since what’s been described as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history, the B.P. oil spill. That spill killed 11 rig workers and spewed oil into the gulf for 87 days. Now we are looking back at how the local fishing industry has recovered since then.

The small town of Panacea, located on the coast of Wakulla County, thrived off of the fishing industry, but 5 years ago that all changed.

Rep. Graves says White House blocking oil leases, but Dems say BP oil spill reason for caution

House Republicans Wednesday (April 15) criticized the Obama administration for not permitting enough oil and gas development.

This time the vehicle was a hearing by a House Natural Resources Committee Subcommittee on the administration’s five-year plan for oil and gas development.

GOP criticizes Obama’s ‘restrictive’ offshore drilling plan

House Republicans chastised the Obama administration Wednesday for putting forth a “restrictive” plan for offshore oil and natural gas drilling.

Republicans in the House Natural Resources Committee’s subcommittee on energy and mineral resources said the 2017-2022 plan would have the lowest number of sales since the 1980s while taking substantial areas of the continental shelf off the table.

Mexico: 500,000 left without drinking water after oil spill

As the number of Mexicans without drinking water climbed to roughly half a million on 15 April after an oil spill, authorities in the southeastern Mexican state of Tabasco were moving to get water purification and treatment plants reopened.

The trouble began at the end of last week, when trespassers reportedly slashed an oil pipeline, which in turn polluted local waterways including the Sierra River.

Nature Inspires Net To Fight Back Against Oil Spills

Previous oil spills have brought to light that our limited responses to such catastrophes are exceedingly expensive and often fall short of the intended goals. The longer an oil spill persists, the wider it spreads, and the deadlier it is to local communities, wildlife, and habitats.

Researchers at The Ohio State University have created a stainless steel mesh that can separate oil from water. They believe that if this technology is scaled up, it could drastically lower the time and money it costs to clean up an oil spill. Created with non-toxic and relatively inexpensive materials, researchers estimate that a larger mesh net could be created for less than $1 per square foot.

City stops oil spill clean up on Lac St-Louis

The clean up operation has been halted on the shores of Lac St-Louis following an oil spill in Valois Bay. The City of Pointe-Claire is currently investigating and waiting for lab results to try to determined the source of the spill.

A leading environmentalist is now sounding the alarm and strongly suspects the spill came from the shore and not the Seaway.

Nigeria: Fresh Oil Spill Hits Bayelsa’s Kolo Creek Community

A pipeline leak within the Kolo Creek oil field, operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, in Bayelsa State, is currently discharging crude oil into the environment, the residents have said.

Mr Anthony Okpu, who resides in Imiringi community in Bayelsa State, said in Yenagoa that the spill was noticed yesterday in Yenagoa.

Crews begin oil spill cleanup in West Odessa

Crews with DCP Midstream and the Ector County Environmental Office are assessing an oil spill that took place Tuesday afternoon in West Odessa.

Environmental office officials said they were called to Moss Avenue and West Third Street about oil coming from the ground.

The English Bay oil spill: Unseen damage puts ecosystem at risk

On Thursday morning, when Bowen Belle water taxi pulled in to English Bay to drop commuters off at Granville Island, English Bay Launch owner and operator Mike Shannon says he didn’t see anything that indicated that there might be a problem in the water.

“There were Coast Guard boats out, but they do drills fairly regularly, so I figured that was what was happening,” says Shannon. “I couldn’t actually see an oil slick at that point.”

Exxon lawyer: $8.9B pollution damage claim came ‘out of thin air’

A lawyer for Exxon Mobil sharply criticized New Jersey’s claims about harm done by decades of pollution at two refinery sites, saying the state’s $8.9 billion damage claim came “out of thin air.”

Jack Balagia, general counsel for the oil giant, claimed on the company’s website Wednesday the expert reports that formed the basis of the state’s case had “no scientific or economic foundation.”

5 N.J. congress members oppose Christie’s $225M Exxon pollution deal

Five members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation are urging Gov. Chris Christie’s administration to reconsider a proposed settlement agreement with Exxon Mobil over pollution at several sites in New Jersey.

U.S. Reps. Bill Pascrell, Frank Pallone, Albio Sires, Bonnie Watson Coleman, and Donald Norcross sent a letter to the state Department of Environmental Protection earlier this week calling the $225 million deal “wholly inadequate.”

DEQ finds toxic chemicals in all of Oregon’s water basins

Toxic chemicals ranging from pesticides to metals are present in all of Oregon’s water basins, a newly released report from the state Department of Environmental Quality shows.

And some waterways have levels above state criteria or benchmarks for human health and aquatic life, the study found.

PIPELINES: Minn. judge shoots down arguments against $2.6B Sandpiper proposal

Prospects for the permitting and construction of a new $2.6 billion oil pipeline through northern Minnesota improved this week after a state administrative law judge found that Enbridge Inc.’s 610-mile Sandpiper project warranted receipt of a state-issued “certificate of need.”

In a 100-page opinion handed down late Monday, Judge Eric Lipman of the Minnesota Office of Administrative Hearings said that Enbridge subsidiary North Dakota Pipeline Company LLC had met the state’s regulatory requirements to receive the certificate of need, and that opponents had not demonstrated “that there was a more reasonable and prudent alternative to the proposed project.”

Edinburgh University on course to divest from coal and tar sands

The University of Edinburgh is expected to divest its £292m endowment from coal and tar sands companies following a recommendation from senior management on Tuesday.

Student representatives were informed of the response from the Central Management Group ahead of the final decision, which will be announced in May.

Oil drilling will make the Arctic ‘more secure,’ mayor tells Inslee

Drilling for oil in seas off northern Alaska will “make the Arctic environment more secure, not less,” the mayor of Alaska’s vast North Slope Borough wrote this week in an angry letter to Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

The develop-the-Arctic spiel by Mayor Charlotte Brower came in response to Inslee’s recent appeal that the U.S. Interior Department not approve any new oil and gas leases in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off northern Alaska.

Coast Guard creates ‘First Amendment zone’ in Puget Sound for anti-Shell protests

The U.S. Coast Guard, with help from activist groups, has identified an informal  “First Amendment Zone,” just north of Terminal 5, where protesters can take to the water against Shell Oil’s Arctic drilling fleet when it arrives at the Port of Seattle.

“I didn’t choose this area:  I gave them a chart and asked them where they wanted to be,” Capt. Joe Raymond, captain of the port, said Tuesday.

Florida mayors call on residents to fight nuclear expansion project

A group of South Florida mayors are escalating their campaign against plans to expand a nuclear power plant near Miami that involves constructing 100-foot (30-meter) tall transmissions lines through some of the area’s toniest neighborhoods.

Florida Power & Light Co is seeking federal approval from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to add nuclear reactors to its Turkey Point plant in south Florida. Public hearings are scheduled for next week.

‘Indian Point’ Doc: Chief Nuke Regulator Forced Out By Industry

Gregory Jaczko was chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission when Japan’s Fukushima power plant suffered a major meltdown in 2013. An advocate of tightening safety controls at America’s aging nuclear facilities following the Fukushima disaster, Jaczko soon discovered that despite his concerns, the influence of profit-hungry corporations over the NRC was affecting its ability to adequately police the industry—and putting the public in danger.

Robots go deep inside Fukushima nuclear plant to map radiation

Robots armed with new radiation-sensing cameras are performing surveys in areas of the stricken plant where radiation levels are too high for humans to enter

IN THE dark abandoned shell of Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Rosemary and Sakura shoot what looks like a dystopian first-person shooter game. Rosemary scans her environment, while Sakura records every move.

Dwindling bird populations in Fukushima

This is the time of year when birds come out and really spread their wings, but since a disastrous day just before spring’s arrival four years ago, Japan’s Fukushima province has not been friendly to the feathered. And as several recent papers from University of South Carolina biologist Tim Mousseau and colleagues show, the avian situation there is just getting worse.

Since a few months after the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and subsequent nuclear catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, Mousseau and several co-workers have undertaken a series of bird censuses in contaminated areas. They recently published a paper in the Journal of Ornithology showing results from the first three years of the effort for 57 bird species.

Fukushima decontamination workers got up to 13.9 millisieverts of radiation

The decontamination workers cleaning up the hot zone around the Fukushima No. 1 power plant received as much as 13.9 millisieverts of radiation from 2011 to 2013, well within government-mandated levels, the Radiation Effects Association said in its first report on the subject.

The average cumulative dose was 0.6 millisievert among the 26,382 workers tasked with decontaminating 11 municipalities in Fukushima Prefecture tainted by fallout from the March 2011 core meltdowns, said the association, which is in charge of managing their radiation exposure.

Juvenile salmon released to keep spawning cycle alive in a Fukushima river

Although all residents of Tomioka remain evacuated due to the nuclear accident, a local fishermen’s union is ensuring that salmon don’t disappear from a local river here as well.

On April 15, union members, along with employees of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., and companies engaged in decontamination work, released juvenile salmon into the Tomiokagawa river for the first time since the March 2011 disaster.

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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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