Environmental Must-Reads – April 2, 2013


Health Questions Key to New York Fracking Decision, But Answers Scarce

New York State’s review of high-volume hydraulic fracturing has taken more than four years—and it’s not over yet.

Right now, all eyes are on the state’s health commissioner, Nirav Shah, who has said that he will tell Governor Andrew Cuomo within weeks whether the Department of Environmental Conservation’s plan for “fracking” would be sufficient to protect human health. Then it’s up to the governor to make a final decision on whether to permit the technique, which involves pumping large volumes of water mixed with chemicals into rock far underground in order to release natural gas.

More Evidence Shows Drilling Causes Earthquakes

A recent study (abstract here) published in the journal Geology is getting a lot of attention for  conclusions it draws about whether oil and natural gas drilling is causing earthquakes. In particular, the study examines the biggest quake in the history of Oklahoma, a 5.7 shaker that hit the tiny town of Prague on Nov. 6, 2011. Ripples from the earthquake were felt across 17 states.

For Illinois counties, fracking taxes could be too little, too late

In Illinois counties with large Amish communities, a $50-a-year buggy license plate tax pays for repairs caused by horse hooves and buggy wheels cutting into roads’ soft tar surfaces.

Kelly Murray is trying to imagine how those same communities and others in southern Illinois will shoulder the costs of maintaining roads and bridges when 100,000-pound trucks loaded with fracking fluid begin rolling in to service fracking wells. Hydraulic fracturing consumes massive amounts of water along with sand and chemicals as drillers blast through shale rock in their hunt for oil and gas.

Benefits vs. risks: Debate over fracking not going away

A wave of oil and gas exploration in El Paso County may be short-lived.

Ultra Resources has shelved plans for drilling in the area after its wells in eastern El Paso County produced disappointing results; Ultra is waiting to see what another company, Hilcorp Energy, uncovers.

Fracking: The next bubble?

Coal and nuclear power industries in the United States have seen better days. The main culprit, energy industry analysts say, is the low cost of domestic natural gas, coupled with carbon-reducing regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and the efforts of environmental groups.

Instead of paying the high costs to upgrade coal-fired plants and repair aged nuclear facilities to meet environmental regulations, power companies across the country have been making the switch to natural gas.

New York State Fracking Critics Launch CallCuomo.com

With the state budget process now over, critics of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas are again ramping up their efforts to target Gov. Andrew Cuomo, launching a call-in campaign Monday with a goal of getting tens of thousands of calls through to the governor’s office.

The campaign-being backed by about 30 groups, including Frack Action, the Sierra Club and Catskill Mountainkeeper-has its own, newly launched website to match: www.CallCuomo.com.

Interactive Map: Texas Wastewater Disposal

This map shows more than 7,000 sites around Texas where wastewater, often from hydraulic fracturing operations, is being disposed of. Such wastewater disposal has surged statewide with the spread of fracking, because it’s cheaper to bury the water in disposal wells than to recycle it. Use the “Find Me” button to zoom in to your location, or type your ZIP code into the text box to find nearby disposal wells

Frack Fuels for the Foreseeable Future?

SSUES: We need fossil fuel for the foreseeable future. Natural gas is a bridge fuel. We can adapt to global warming. Natural gas burns cleaner than other fuels. No other energy source is apparent at the present time. All of these statements come from the fossil fuel industry, pumped out over and over through the sympathetic media. Consider the source.

Mixed victories in Alaska Supreme Court ruling on oil and gas leases, permitting

An Alaska Supreme Court ruling has left the state and its persistent nemesis — opponents to oil and gas development — each claiming victory over the court’s interpretation of Alaska’s constitutional obligation when managing natural resources.

The issue centers on oil and gas leases issued on state lands. Environmentalists have argued the state’s attempt to streamline the permitting process accommodates industry and the state’s financial interests — Alaska heavily relies on oil and gas taxes, royalties and fees to pay for government — over the concerns of residents and care for the environment.

Marcellus Watch: Judge’s ruling protects Corning aquifer

While the craven New York State Legislature has been AWOL on vital gas drilling issues for years, state court judges, fortunately, have been quietly doing their job.

Last week a state Supreme Court judge in Rochester smacked down efforts by a subsidiary of Royal Dutch Shell to purchase fresh water to frack its Pennsylvania gas wells from the financially down-and-out Village of Painted Post.

Southern California Air Agency Poised to Take Big Step Forward in Tackling Pollution From Fracking

On Friday, the agency responsible for cleaning up air pollution in the Los Angeles region, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, will vote on whether to adopt a new rule targeting the air pollution from oil and gas operations in the region, including from fracking. We strongly support the proposed rule and urge the Governing Board to approve it.

The Coming Crash: Our Addiction to Endless Growth on a Finite Planet

If you want to understand how much energy costs, don’t look at your electric bill; instead get a copy of the new book Energy: Overdevelopment and the Delusion of Endless Growth. This massive coffee table book contains hundreds of arresting images showing the effects of our energy choices, including oil spills, nuclear accidents, massive solar arrays, tar sands mines, fracking operations, transmission lines and more. The photos are complemented by essays from leading writers like Wes Jackson, Wendell Berry, Sandra Steingraber, Douglas Tompkins, Bill McKibben, Lester Brown and many others, which put into context our growing energy problems and what we can do about them.

BP Seeks to Halt Some Gulf Oil-Spill Settlement Payments

BP Plc (BP/)’s lawsuit challenging some payments under the $8.5 billion Gulf of Mexico oil-spill settlement should be thrown out because the company is seeking to change fixed terms in the agreement, spill victims said.

BP’s suit targeting interpretations of the settlement by court-appointed administrator Patrick Juneau is flawed and should be dismissed, lawyers for oil spill victims who agreed to resolve their claims said in a filing today in federal court in New Orleans.

BP spill claims administrator urges dismissal of lawsuit

The administrator of BP Plc’s settlement with thousands of people and businesses who sued over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill urged a federal judge on Monday to end the company’s lawsuit over how he determines damages claims.

Three Charged In Scheme To Defraud BP Oil Spill Claims Fund

Federal prosecutors have charged three people as part of a conspiracy to fraudulently take money from funds established to pay claims from individuals and businesses harmed by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In separate informations filed in U.S. District Court, the U.S. Attorney’s Office charged Christopher Jarris Jarris Addison, 31, of Birmingham; Crystal Davis Blackmon, 27, of Bessemer; and Andre Clinton Dale, 45, of Mobile, with conspiring in 2011 to devise a scheme to defraud the Gulf Coast Claims Facility.

Oily ducks found after thousands of gallons of oil spill in Arkansas

The environmental impacts of an oil spill in central Arkansas began to come into focus Monday as officials said a couple of dead ducks and 10 live oily birds were found after an ExxonMobil pipeline ruptured last week.

“I’m an animal lover, a wildlife lover, as probably most of the people here are,” Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson told reporters. “We don’t like to see that. No one does.”

Pictures: Arkansas Oil Spill Darkens Backyards, Driveways

Crude oil flowed down driveways and swamped grass yards in Mayflower, Arkansas, after an oil pipeline ruptured Friday afternoon. At least 12,000 barrels of Canadian crude oil and water spilled into a housing development over the weekend, causing the evacuation of 22 homes in the Little Rock suburb. Here, spilled crude fills a drainage ditch near the evacuated homes.

ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline, which is more than six decades old, runs from Patoka, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas, and can transport up to 90,000 barrels of oil per day. The company said Monday it was still investigating the cause of the spill, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency classified as “major.” Cleanup is ongoing.

Arkansas Oil Spill Raises Scrutiny of Pipeline Network

An oil spill that fouled an Arkansas town is raising questions about the U.S. pipeline network and the safety of importing Canadian heavy crude, as President Barack Obama weighs whether to approve the Keystone XL project.

Environmental groups said the rupture of the Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) pipe on March 29 in Mayflower, Arkansas, shows why Obama should reject Keystone, which would be a major new conduit between the U.S. and Canada for a type of fuel critics say is more corrosive than more conventional forms of oil.

Pipeline leak brings crude reality to Arkansas

Heavy crude oil flowing like a river through a central Arkansas neighborhood could keep residents away for several more days as crews work to clean it up.

The oil began spilling into the Mayflower, Arkansas, subdivision Friday from a 2- or 3-inch gash in the Pegasus pipeline, which carries Canadian crude from Patoka, Illinois, to Nederland, Texas, according to a state transportation engineer. The cause of the leak was undetermined, he told CNN affiliate KARK in Little Rock.

Greens vow mass protests if Obama OKs Keystone pipeline

As crews clean up spilled oil from a pipeline in Arkansas, environmental activists and others are using that spill and other incidents as fresh ammunition in their battle against the proposed Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline.

Seven things you learn driving the length of the Keystone XL pipeline

We’ve heard a lot about the Keystone pipeline these past few years — which, if approved, would carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta down to refineries in the Gulf Coast. Supporters say the pipeline will improve U.S. energy security. Environmentalists say the tar sands will prove disastrous for global warming.

That debate can get a bit abstract at times. And so, to make things more concrete, my colleague Steven Mufson decided to take a road trip last summer down the length of the proposed Keystone route, from Alberta to Texas.

Arkansas’ Oil Spill Stirs Opposition to the Keystone Pipeline

An oil pipeline spill afflicting a suburb of Little Rock in Arkansas is invigorating environmentalists opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline and serving as a stark reminder that even with tougher regulations, energy production comes with unavoidable risks.

The ExxonMobil pipeline, which is almost 900 miles long, ruptured on Friday, a little more than a year after President Obama signed a bill strengthening the nation’s pipeline-safety regulations and three years after another high-profile oil-pipeline spill in Michigan. The pipeline carries 90,000 barrels of heavy Canadian crude per day from Illinois to the Gulf Coast.

Tremors cause work stoppage at sinkhole

Another round of elevated tremor levels halted work Monday at the surface of the Assumption Parish sinkhole at least until Tuesday morning, parish officials said.

Seismic monitoring again detected an increase in the number of “very long period” events, parish officials said Monday. The tremors are linked to gas or fluid movement under the more than 13-acre sinkhole between the Bayou Corne and Grand Bayou communities.

Fukushima residents fight radiation stereotype

Residents of Fukushima prefecture in Japan are struggling to fight the view that their soil remains exposed to nuclear radiation by organizing a study tour to prove that their food and environment are safe.

The study tour, called the “Never forget tour” was organized by Japan’s biggest travel agency, HIS, on March 23. As many as nine people, comprised of a family of four and five other individuals, are participating in the tour.

Fukushima meltdown appears to have sickened American infants

Fallout from that Fukushima meltdown thing a couple years back? It’s not just the Japanese who are suffering, though their plight is obviously the worst.

Radioactive isotopes blasted from the failed reactors may have given kids born in Hawaii and along the American West Coast health disorders which, if left untreated, can lead to permanent mental and physical handicaps.

Tepco testing new water decontamination system at Fukushima No. 1 plant

Full-fledged operation of the advanced liquid processing system (ALPS) will start in about four months after its performance is verified. Tepco said it plans to process 250 tons of irradiated water a day using the new multinuclide removal system, which has the capacity to dispose of up to 500 tons when fully operational.

Shellfish gone near damaged nuke plant

A species of shellfish has disappeared along an 18-mile stretch of coast near Japan’s devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, scientists say.

Researchers from Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies and National Institute of Radiological Sciences found a species of shellfish known as Thais clavigera was extinct in eight of 10 places within the 12-mile-radius alert zone of the nuclear plant, which was damaged by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

US re-evaluating cellphone radiation emissions

U.S. regulators are looking into how radio frequencies emitted by cellphones and other wireless devices affect people amid lingering concerns about the risks of cellphone radiation.

The Federal Communications Commission said on Friday it is seeking comment from other agencies and health experts on whether it should update its standards limiting exposure to phones’ electromagnetic fields, as they apply to children in particular.

US FCC to Review Standards of Cellphone Use in Lieu of Health Risks of Radio Frequencies

Regulators in the United States are taking a closer look at the effect of radio frequencies (RF) humans are exposed to from use of cellular phones and wireless devices. In a recent statement from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), it stated that it is consulting with relevant agencies as well as health experts with regard to the need of updating standards on cell phone usage with respect to exposure to the electromagnetic waves emitted.

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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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