Environmental Must-Reads – April 18, 2014


AP Photos: A close-up look at fracking

Workers bustle at an oil and gas drilling site near Mead, Colo., a town of about 3,800 people north of Denver.

The hydraulic fracturing operation, also known as “fracking,” and others like it pump hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, mixed with fine sand and chemicals, deep underground to split the rock, and make the oil — and dollars — flow.

Report Details Effects of Gas Drilling

The effects of natural gas drilling under state forests aren’t being ignored, according to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

The department’s first Shale Gas Monitoring Report, released Wednesday, outlines its efforts through 2012 to monitor the impacts of gas development on water, air, energy, forest health, soils and wildlife.

Fracking sites show high methane levels

Shale gas appears to be a greater greenhouse gas culprit than previously thought.

New research has revealed that there are high levels of the potent greenhouse gas methane emitted from fracking wells drilled in the US – in some case 100 to 1 000 times greater than measurements in the official inventories.

State attorneys general discuss oil and gas issues in Denver

Attorneys General from across the country gathered here Wednesday to talk about the energy production boom that is confounding Colorado and other states, offering billions of dollars in economic development while riling up residents living near well sites who are concerned about contamination and long-term health risks.

Public reacts to shipping of fracking wastewater to Lafarge

Public concerns were expressed during a meeting with the environment minister this week when it was announced millions of litres of fracking wastewater from Debert will be shipped to Lafarge in Pleasant Valley.

“After considering the community’s concerns and reviewing the tests on the treated water I am satisfied that this pilot project can proceed safely,” said minister Randy Delorey in a news release, which he reiterated at the meeting in Truro.

Waste to work: Penn State researchers use industrial waste in hydraulic fracturing

While the debate over the long-term environmental impact of what is commonly known as fracking  rages, researchers at Penn State University say they have discovered how to use industrial waste products to make the practice more sustainable.

During the lifetime of a fracking well, millions of gallons of water are pumped deep into the ground, causing immense fractures and releasing natural gas from the underlying shale deposits. Mixed into the water are chemicals of variable toxicity.

State forests becoming less wild with growth of gas drilling

Everyone knew it would happen, but a state report has quantified the extent to which natural gas drilling on state lands has diminished the wild character of Pennsylvania’s state forests.

From 2008 to 2012, approximately 1,486 acres of state forest were “converted” for gas development, according to a report released Wednesday by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, which oversees state forests and state parks.

Fighting Fracking: Where Moral Outrage Fails, Earthquakes Prevail

In response to pressure from students, faculty — and apparently alumni — who oppose Harvard Endowment’s refusal to divest its fossil fuel stocks, Harvard University’s President Drew Faust’s office issued her second statement on climate change and sent a an email link to Harvard alumni. (N.B.: I am one). Instead of divesting, Harvard will become a signatory to the UN Principles of Responsible Investing and the Carbon Disclosure Project. Alumni are also asked to contribute to a $20 million Climate Change Solutions Fund. Harvard is chipping in $1 million.

Chris Christie is still trying to force a pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands

In January, on the heels of the embarrassing revelation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) staffers created a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish an obscure political rival, Christie and his allies were handed a defeat. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected a proposed 22-mile natural-gas pipeline that would go through a national reserve of forests and wetlands. Though Christie went so far as to bully a commissioner who was skeptical of the pipeline into recusing himself from the decision, that wasn’t enough to secure approval.

Former drilling chief: US ‘on a course to repeat’ Gulf oil spill

The United States is “on a course to repeat” the same mistakes that led to the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster four years ago, a former top offshore drilling regulator warned Thursday.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, the former Minerals Management Service director, Elizabeth Birnbaum, says the Obama administration “still has not taken key steps . . . to increase drilling safety.”

Former BP employee pays $224,000 over insider trading charges

A former BP employee, who oversaw the cleanup of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, will pay $224,118 to settle an insider trading charge.

Keith Seilhan was accused of selling $1m of shares in BP after receiving information about the severity of the spill which was not publicly available at the time.

Coast Guard slams BP for suggesting oil spill cleanup is complete

Just days before the four-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP announced that it’s ending the “active cleanup” of the Louisiana shoreline.

BP appears to be stopping just short of popping champagne in celebration of reaching this “milestone,” which John Mingé, chairman and president of BP America, called ”the result of the extraordinary efforts of thousands of people from BP, local communities, government agencies, and academic institutions working together.”

Four years after devastating BP oil spill, scientists search for life in the Gulf

It happened four years ago Sunday.

A well drilled by the BP oil company blew out, killing 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig and unleashing a gusher into the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days.

Now for the first time since 2010, scientists got a close look at the seabed not far from the capped well.

Compensation battle rages four years after BP’s U.S. oil spill

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon spill, oil is still washing up on the long sandy beaches of Grand Isle, Louisiana, and some islanders are fed up with hearing from BP that the crisis is over.

Jules Melancon, the last remaining oyster fisherman on an island dotted with colorful houses on stilts, says he has not found a single oyster alive in his leases in the area since the leak and relies on an onshore oyster nursery to make a living.

Judge Names Committee to Audit BP Oil-Spill Claims

A federal judge overseeing the $9.2 billion Deepwater Horizon settlement has approved creation of a committee headed by a local law professor to audit oil-spill claims.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Wednesday approved the appointment of P. Raymond Lamonica, a professor at Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law Center, as chairman of the committee. Lamonica has served as special counsel to Louisiana and as general counsel to the LSU system. He was U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Louisiana from 1986 to 1994.

Breaking Down the Myths and Misconceptions About the Gulf Oil Spill

In the months and years following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, telling fact from fiction regarding seafood safety and ecosystem health was supremely difficult. Is Gulf seafood safe to eat or not? Are there really deformed shrimp and black lesion-covered red snapper? Will the Gulf ever be clean again?

Fishermen say impacts still linger from BP oil spill

Four years after the BP oil spill, the disaster is still unfolding, with many unanswered questions. That was one message that came Thursday from a news conference in Biloxi.

Commercial fishermen and several advocacy groups gathered at a dock on Biloxi Back Bay to discuss the lingering impacts from the Deepwater Horizon. Against a backdrop of shrimp boats, Vietnamese fishermen held message boards, along with pictures of dead dolphins, turtles and tar balls.

How Hollywood helps Keystone foes in the pipeline battle

Foes of the Keystone XL oil pipeline appear to be winning the battle for endorsements from Hollywood celebrities and prominent personalities.

Will it make a difference?

Oil industry launches new ad campaign

The oil industry’s leading trade group broadened its pitch beyond the Beltway on Thursday, rolling out new advertisements and a series of state polls highlighting widespread support for domestic energy development from New York to Nevada.

The American Petroleum Institute is taking the campaign — and its pro-drilling message — to states as local regulators and voters consider a range of policies that could affect oil and gas development.

Pipeline firms with high fees borrow to pay investors

Most businesses focus on profits. The energy infrastructure companies known as master limited partnerships are all about cash.

That’s because MLPs pay investors almost all the money they bring in, and sometimes even more. And the more they pay out, the more company managers can charge in fees. Some of them take a cut of as much as 50 percent — hefty enough that investors complain the money is diverted from maintenance on the pipelines and storage tanks the partnerships own.

Minnesota Pipe Line seeks to expand capacity of oil pipeline serving Twin Cities refineries

Minnesota Pipe Line Co. announced plans Thursday to nearly double the capacity of a crude oil pipeline that carries oil from Canada and North Dakota to the two refineries in the Twin Cities that produce most of Minnesota’s and much of Wisconsin’s transportation fuels.

Crude oil pipeline to Twin Cities to get $125M upgrade

Yet another Minnesota crude oil pipeline is set for a major upgrade.

Minnesota Pipe Line Co., which owns four pipelines that supply the state’s two oil refineries, said Thursday that it will invest $125 million to maximize the capacity of the largest of the lines. The company said the goal is to increase the system’s reliability, not to increase overall oil shipments.

First Russian oil from Arctic Sea due to reach Rotterdam on May 1

Some 550,000 barrels of Russian oil, extracted from deep beneath the Arctic Sea, are due to arrive in Rotterdam on May 1, the Volkskrant reports on Friday.

Russia last year seized a Greenpeace ship and arrested its 30-strong crew during protests about the drilling.

Your cellphone is killing you: What people don’t want you to know about electromagnetic fields

You may not realize it, but you are participating in an unauthorized experiment—“the largest biological experiment ever,” in the words of Swedish neuro-oncologist Leif Salford. For the first time, many of us are holding high-powered microwave transmitters—in the form of cell phones—directly against our heads on a daily basis.

Manager at Japan’s Fukushima plant admits radioactive water ’embarrassing’

The manager of the Fukushima nuclear power plant admits to embarrassment that repeated efforts have failed to bring under control the problem of radioactive water, eight months after Japan’s prime minister told the world the matter was resolved.

Tokyo Electric Power Co, the plant’s operator, has been fighting a daily battle against contaminated water since Fukushima was wrecked by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Fukushima Remains an Intractable Disaster

Why argue that everything is fine when it is as far from fine as we’ve ever known?

The Santa Barbara Independent‘s article on Fukushima was replete with incorrect information that, in my view, was dangerous to the community. The facts bear out that the reactor explosions at Fukushima-Daiichi constitute the most dangerous nuclear event of all time, larger than the tragedy at Hiroshima and Nagasaki due to the triple meltdown (melt-through) of three nuclear cores.

Motegi denies hiding radiation report around Fukushima plant

Industry Minister Toshimitsu Motegi on Friday denied that the government hid for six months the outcome of a radiation study around the crisis-hit Fukushima Daiichi nuclear complex, but apologized for having given “the impression” that the outcome announcement delayed.

Report: Radiation levels around Fukushima drop significantly in some areas, still exceed target

Radiation levels in some localities around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have dropped to well under the government standard of 20 millisieverts per year, according to the latest survey findings, which are consistent with the Abe administration’s intention to lift evacuation orders at the earliest possible dates.

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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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