Environmental Must-Reads – April 17, 2015


Tasmania bans fracking for another five years to protect agriculture

The Tasmanian government will extend its ban on fracking for five years to protect the state’s agricultural industry.

The ban announced on Thursday, which follows a lengthy review and more than 150 submissions, means that the state follows Victoria in outlawing the practice commonly used to source coal seam gas.

Kimberley traditional owners reject fracking as part of oil production deal

Traditional owners in the Kimberley region of Western Australia have vetoed fracking as part of an agreement allowing the oil and gas exploration company Buru Energy to start commercial production at an onshore oil field in the Fitzroy Valley.

The native title agreement with the Yawuru people, authorised by traditional owners at a meeting on 1 April, was the last hurdle to clear before the Department of Mines and Petroleum could grant the company a production licence. The Nyikina-Mangala and Karajarri-Yanja peoples signed a separate native title agreement in March.

Pro-fracking company asked to carry out safety study

The lead company employed to carry out a study on fracking in Ireland is a pro-fracking organisation involved in the controversial gas extraction method in the United States and Poland.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was commissioned by the Government to undertake a two-year study into fracking. It will examine if fracking can be conducted in a way that does not cause significant environmental pollution.

WVU Researcher Warns About Toxic Ultrafine Dust in W.Va.

When we hear about the danger of dust exposure, we are usually talking about coal dust underground, or silica dust. But that’s not the only dust that can make people sick. Apparently almost any dust can, if it’s fine enough.

Much research has surfaced over the past decade demonstrating clearer and clearer evidence that surface mining creates environmental hazards for communities in the vicinity. Epidemiologist Michael Hendryx has published a lot of research that demonstrates how life expectancy in the southern coalfields, for example, is much shorter that just about anywhere else in the country. But Michael McCawley says that’s not all we know.

Texas House to Drill Into “Denton Fracking Bill”

State lawmakers are poised to crank up the volume on this message to city halls: We set the rules for drilling in Texas.

After a computer glitch derailed a vote on Tuesday, the House is scheduled to take up legislation on Friday that would pre-empt local efforts to regulate a wide variety of oil and gas activities.

The Oil Industry’s ‘Man Camps’ Are Dying

At the peak of the fracking boom a few years ago, Jeff Myers converted his South Texas hunting camp into rental oilfield housing. Little wonder: The industry had an almost insatiable hunger for the grunt laborers—the roughnecks—to work the fields, and employers were happy to spend whatever it took to house and feed them. Today that boomtown demand—and $100-per-barrel prices—is a bittersweet memory, and occupancy at Myers’s once-packed Double C Resort has dropped to 10 percent as job cuts take hold. “There aren’t going to be any winners down here,” he says. “Everybody’s going to have to adjust.”

Pipeline Company Delivers Cash

A company that has more than 800 miles of pipeline through Pennsylvania delivered checks across our area this week.

The Kinder Morgan company is a worth $110 billion and its vice president donated thousands to schools and parks ahead of an announcement to expand the pipeline here.

Pipeline Opposed by Monroe County Historic Landmarks Commission

The Monroe County Landmarks Commission recently submitted a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC. The group opposes the latest proposed route for the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which cuts very close to a historic mineral springs hotel.

“Well the reason we really got involved, and at first we weren’t going to get involved, was when they changed the proposed route to the alternate route. It came right through Salt Sulphur Springs Historical district,” said Mary Pearl Compton, a former state legislator and a current member of the Monroe County Landmarks Commission.

Rail defect, tank car valves implicated in W.Va. oil train fire

Outlet valves underneath four tank cars in a February oil train derailment in West Virginia were sheared off and the 50,000 gallons of crude oil they released ignited in a fire that subsequently caused several nearby rail cars to explode, according to a federal report.

The report also identified the initial cause of the Feb. 16 derailment in Mount Carbon, W.Va., as a broken rail on track owned and maintained by CSX and said more than 362,000 gallons of crude oil were released. The fires and explosions from the derailment kept 300 residents away from their homes.

Washington’s Swinomish sue to halt Bakken oil trains

To the Coastal Salish people living on Washington’s Swinomish Reservation, water remains an important aspect of daily life. Their ancestors fished for salmon at the mouths of Northwestern rivers and gathered shellfish on Pacific tidelands; modern Swinomish people still pursue these activities from their small reservation on the Puget Sound. Many fish for their own subsistence, and many work as employees of the Swinomish Fish Company, which serves international markets.

Oil-by-train shipments resume in Maine after long hiatus

Oil trains are once again rolling through Maine after slowing to a near halt following the deadly train accident almost two years ago in Lac-Megantic, a small town just across the border in Quebec, according to state records.

Pan Am Railways reported carrying 37,128 barrels through the state in February, the first train-borne oil shipments since March of 2014, according to the most recent figures from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Sixth Chevron drillship arrives in the Gulf of Mexico

Chevron is pressing forward with its deepwater exploration program, deploying a sixth drillship in a region deep in the Gulf of Mexico, the company announced Thursday.

The drillship, called the Deepwater Asgard, will work in the Mississippi Canyon under a two-year contract with Transocean, the Swiss rig contractor. Drillships are merchant vessels used for exploratory drilling in deep water.

AP: Offshore wells buried during Hurricane Ivan have been leaking oil into the Gulf since 2004

Down to just one full-time employee, Taylor Energy Company exists for only one reason: to fight an oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico that has gone largely unnoticed, despite creating miles-long slicks for more than a decade.

The New Orleans-based company has downplayed the leak’s environmental impact, likening it to scores of minor spills and natural seeps that the Gulf routinely absorbs.

Secrecy Shrouds Decade-Old Oil Spill in Gulf of Mexico

A blanket of fog lifts, exposing a band of rainbow sheen that stretches for miles off the coast of Louisiana. From the vantage point of an airplane, it’s easy to see gas bubbles in the slick that mark the spot where an oil platform toppled during a 2004 hurricane, triggering what might be the longest-running commercial oil spill ever to pollute the Gulf of Mexico.

Yet more than a decade after crude started leaking at the site formerly operated by Taylor Energy Company, few people even know of its existence. The company has downplayed the leak’s extent and environmental impact, likening it to scores of minor spills and natural seeps the Gulf routinely absorbs.

BP shareholders back more disclosure on climate change risks

BP shareholders voted overwhelmingly on Thursday to publish regular updates on how its strategies were affecting climate change from next year, making it one of the first global oil companies to disclose such details.

Ninety-eight percent of BP shareholders supported the plan proposed by a group of investors and non-governmental organisations at its annual general meeting in London.

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, we are closer than ever to catastrophe

In the five years since the Deepwater Horizon accident, the oil and gas industry has not retreated to safety. Instead, it has expanded its technological horizon in ways that make it harder to foresee the complex interactions between drilling technologies, inevitable human errors and the ultra-deepwater environment.

Before its sinking, Deepwater Horizon had drilled one of the deepest oil and gas wells. That depth has since been surpassed, and exploration continues to new frontiers. Not far from the Deepwater Horizon accident site, Royal Dutch Shell is now developing the deepest offshore oil field in history. In the Caspian Sea, an international consortium is exploring the Kashagan oil and gas field, a mega-project that the consortium itself describes as an enormously challenging endeavour. And the hunt for Arctic oil takes place in some of the most inhospitable waters in the world.

5 years after Deepwater Horizon: How the secrets were spilled

For me, the BP oil spill of 2010 began with the words, “The following is not public…”

The phrase was at the top of a secret U.S. Coast Guard report that a longtime source had slipped to me a week after the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded, setting off the spill from the well far below in the Gulf.

BP Oil Spill Has Lasting Economic Toll Five Years After Deepwater Horizon Explosion

Before the oil spill ravaged Louisiana’s marshlands, Randy Borne pulled in 70 dozen wire crates a day of squirming blue crabs. His traps dotted the swampy waters behind his house near Golden Meadow, a sprawling bayou town 80 miles south of New Orleans.

But five years after the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history sent millions of gallons of crude spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, Borne says his crab catch has dwindled dramatically. Now, he usually lugs in only about 12 dozen crates’ worth of crabs each day.

5 years later: Revisiting the areas most affected by the BP oil spill

April 20 marks the five-year anniversary of the BP oil spill, and people around the country are reflecting on the state of the Gulf – how ecosystems and communities have recovered from the spill and how far they have yet to go.

I recently had the opportunity to spend time in coastal Louisiana, visiting some of the areas most affected by the oil spill. I was struck by how, within a 30-mile range from Belle Pass to Cat Bay, you could see so many points along the spectrum of ecosystem health – from near ecosystem collapse to successful barrier island restoration.

Help for Fishermen Post BP Oil Spill

Fishermen like Tam Hyunh, whose language barriers have made it tougher to make a comeback after the BP Oil Spill are finding help from the Mississippi Coalition for Vietnamese Fisher Folk and Families.

“One of the ways we help is through direct services or some emergency assistance funds. When we do get a small amount of funding or donations we’ll use it perhaps to help impact the fisherman that have faced economic hardships,” says Thao Vu, a representative of the coalition.

Vancouver fuel spill underscores gap in research after federal cuts: aquarium

The toxic fuel spill off Vancouver’s harbour underscores a major gap in research and preparedness because of federal cuts to science programs, says an expert with the city’s aquarium.

Peter Ross, director of the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Pollution Research Program, said there is no cohesive long-term monitoring of British Columbia’s coastal ecosystems. The lack of baseline data makes it difficult for scientists to assess the spill’s impact, he said.

Dolphins and turtles at risk from oil spill off Canary Islands holiday beaches

Coastguards are battling to contain a four-mile oil slick off beaches on the Canary Islands.

The oil is spewing from a Russian fishing vessel carrying 1,409 tons of fuel.

Environmentalist group Greenpeace criticised authorities for towing the burning fishing vessel out to sea after it caught fire in Las Palmas port early on Sunday.

100,000 People Are Without Water After Thieves Puncture Oil Pipeline In Mexico

Thousands of people in southern Mexico have been left without water after a punctured pipeline spilled oil into local waterways.

Over the weekend in the Mexican state of Tabasco, thieves bored a hole in an oil pipeline operated by government-owned energy firm Pemex in an attempt to steal some of the oil. That puncture caused oil to spill into rivers, endangering drinking water. Originally, about 500,000 people were left without water after four water treatment facilities were closed so that officials could ensure the oil didn’t make its way into drinking water sources, but that number has dropped to about 100,000 people after two of the plants were re-opened.

Shell, Greenpeace tussle in court over Arctic oil drilling

Greenpeace volunteers who occupied a Shell Offshore oil drilling vessel en route to the Arctic Ocean last week acted dangerously and jeopardized company property and human life, according to arguments filed in Alaska federal court by Shell lawyers Jeffrey Leppo and Ryan Steen of Seattle.

Not so, responded Greenpeace lawyer Michael Moberly of Anchorage, who wrote that the captains of the Greenpeace ship Esperanza and Shell’s Blue Marlin were in constant communication throughout the environmentalists’ Arctic drilling protest.

Arctic drill rig to arrive in Washington on Friday

A drill rig that could be used for oil drilling in the Arctic will arrive in Port Angeles on Friday and remain there for about two weeks before it heads to Seattle.

In a statement, the Port of Port Angeles said the 400-foot Polar Pioneer will be off-loaded and then have equipment installed. Protesters have said they plan to meet it arrives in Seattle in May.

‘Very dangerous’ radioactive material stolen in Mexico, police say

Civil authorities and law enforcement agencies in southern Mexico were put on alert Thursday after radioactive material was stolen from a vehicle — probably by thieves who didn’t know what they were taking, investigators said.

The material taken was identified as iridium-192, which is a compound used in medical and industrial radiography, officials said. It was removed from a vehicle in Cardenas in the state of Tabasco, near Mexico’s border with Guatemala.

Radiation Accident Reported at Idaho Nuclear Facility

Federal officials have reported a radiation accident six months after it happened at the Idaho National Laboratory in eastern Idaho.

The Post Register reports that the U.S. Department of Energy reported the radioactive contamination of one worker during a presentation last week at an INL Site Environmental Management Citizens Advisory Board’s meeting in Pocatello.

Investigators: Radiation release at nuclear waste dump could have been prevented

A radiation leak that forced the indefinite closure of the federal government’s only underground nuclear waste repository could have been prevented, a team of investigators said Thursday.

A combination of poor management, lapses in safety and a lack of proper procedures were outlined in a final report released by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Accident Investigation Board. Officials reviewed the findings Thursday night during a community meeting in Carlsbad.

Talking to the Future — Hey, There’s Nuclear Waste Buried Here!

How will “STAY OUT!” be written 5,000 years from now? When we’ve had some kind of apocalypse, all society is gone, no one remembers America even existed, let alone how to read English. But we’re still drilling for oil.

This science fiction notion of how to warn future humans about buried radioactivity has resurfaced now that

Scientists find radioactive WWII aircraft carrier off San Francisco coast

In a ghostly reminder of the Bay Area’s nuclear heritage, scientists announced Thursday they have captured the first clear images of a radioactivity-polluted World War II aircraft carrier that rests on the ocean floor 30 miles off the coast of Half Moon Bay.

The USS Independence saw combat at Wake Island and other decisive battles against Japan in 1944 and 1945 and was later blasted with radiation in two South Pacific nuclear tests. The Navy deliberately sunk the contaminated ship in 1951 south of the Farallon Islands.

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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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