Environmental Must-Reads – April 2, 2014


Workers injured as blast rocks Washington gas plant

A large explosion rocked a natural gas processing plant on the Washington-Oregon border Monday, injuring five workers, causing about 400 people to evacuate from nearby farms and homes, and emitting a mushroom cloud of black smoke that was visible for more than a mile.

The 8:20 a.m. blast at the Williams Northwest Pipeline facility near the Washington town of Plymouth, along the Columbia River, sparked a fire and punctured one of the facility’s two giant storage tanks for liquefied natural gas.

In Fracking Fight, How to Measure Health Threats?

There are more than 6,000 active gas wells in Pennsylvania. And every week, those drilling sites generate scores of complaints from the state’s residents, including many about terrible odors and contaminated water.

How the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection handles those complaints has worsened the already raw and angry divide between fearful residents and the state regulators charged with overseeing the burgeoning gas drilling industry.

New study finds elevated cancer rate in Flower Mound

A study by a University of Texas at Austin researcher raises concerns about whether current gas drilling regulations protect public health and questions a state study that found no link between cancer rates and gas drilling in Flower Mound.

“Claims of adverse health effects have been dismissed as anecdotal evidence,” said Rachael Rawlins, author of the study that analyzed air-quality monitoring and regulation and the health effects of hydraulic fracturing in the Barnett Shale. “We really don’t have enough information to dismiss people’s concerns.”

Behind multiple local campaigns to ban fracking, one Pa. legal clinic

On a local level, the work of Ben Price and his colleagues shows up under names like the Youngstown Community Bill of Rights or the Lafayette Community Rights Act.

There was also the slightly clunkier Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance.

Environmentalists Sue to Block Explosive Fracked Oil Shipments in Richmond

The fight against shipping crude oil by rail through Bay Area communities intensified late last week when environmental groups filed suit to stop Kinder-Morgan from shipping highly explosive Bakken crude oil through its rail yard in Richmond. The groups are also suing the Bay Area Air Quality Management District (BAAQMD) for approving Kinder-Morgan’s switch to transporting crude oil with no public notice or comment, which they say is a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Industry girds for potential new methane regulations

U.S. EPA may be regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by the end of 2016 if the steps outlined by the White House last week come to pass.

The agency will release a series of white papers in the coming months on emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from the sector, according to the methane reduction strategy announced Friday by the White House. EPA will decide this fall if it has authority to regulate the greenhouse gas from these sources under the Clean Air Act. If it decides that it does, regulations will be in place before the end of 2016.

Environment minister: Make fracking illegal

Germany’s environment minister has called for the controversial gas extraction technique known as “fracking” to be made illegal. Her comments came ahead of an emergency energy summit.

U.S. review of LNG export plant should weigh shale gas impact -EPA

The U.S. environmental regulator has raised concerns that a federal review of Sempra Energy’s proposed liquefied natural gas export project did not include an assessment of the potential effects of more natural gas drilling.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued its finding earlier this month. It urged the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to weigh indirect greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental effects that would flow from the increase in gas drilling needed to support exports from the Cameron plant in Louisiana.

Are Drilling Waste Pits a Threat to Texas Groundwater?

In one of the hottest plays for natural gas drilling, Bob Patterson wonders if what the drilling industry leaves behind will come back to haunt the community.

“It’s just a ticking time bomb before we have major aquifer contamination,” Patterson told StateImpact.

Albany’s Perilous Oil Boom

Daniel McCoy, who manages Albany County and its port on the Hudson River, decided last month, that he had to do something about the dangers presented by the rumbling oil tank cars carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields to Albany, from which it is then shipped to refineries in the Northeast.

After Deadly Derailments, Regulators Pressure Companies To Test Bakken Oil

After a series of derailments of oil-transport trains in 2013 that caused extensive damage, evacuations and dozens of deaths, the U.S. Department of Transportation warned the industry that it needed to start testing crude extracted from the Bakken Shale to see if it’s more volatile than ordinary oil and could be the reason accidents have gotten so dangerous. That was in early January. And the DOT is still waiting.

Oil industry balks at sharing crucial rail data -U.S. regulator

The U.S. oil industry is not sharing important data on oil-by-rail shipments that may help prevent accidents, a top regulator said on Tuesday, adding pressure to an industry already being scrutinized in the wake of several fiery derailments.

Regulators have sought help from oil shippers and others as they seek answers about why derailments of some trains carrying crude oil have also led to dramatic explosions.

Audio Sheds Light on Texas Oil Spill

The captains of the two vessels that collided in the Houston Ship Channel were aware they were perilously close to one another but still failed to avert a spill that dumped 168,000 gallons of oil into the water, according to a U.S. Coast Guard audio recording.

The recording, obtained by the Houston Chronicle ( http://bit.ly/1ommtpw ) in a Freedom of Information Act request, indicates the captains spoke in a frantic radio exchange beginning about five minutes before the March 22 collision. But the exchange apparently came too late for the captains to avoid making contact in the crowded waterway, trafficked daily by massive, oceangoing container ships.

Crews capture video of sinkhole swallowing more land

The giant sinkhole in south Louisiana isn’t getting any smaller, which is evident by more land being swallowed up recently.

New video was posted to YouTube Monday by the Assumption Parish Police Jury. The video shows bubbling, and then a chunk of land on the sinkhole’s eastern side sinks underwater.

Texas Brine employees move into housing near Assumption Parish sinkhole

The 24-acre Bayou Corne sinkhole in Assumption Parish gulped down six cypress trees last week.

That did not deter Texas Brine workers from moving into abandoned homes their company purchased as part of a settlement with residents who fled the area under a mandatory evacuation order that remains in place.

Former BP engineer gets sentencing delay

A former BP engineer has been granted a delay in his sentencing on an obstruction of justice charge related to the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

The sentencing hearing for 52-year-old Kurt Mix had been set for late April. On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval granted a delay until Aug. 6.

Exxon to Reopen Ruptured Arkansas Pipeline, but Cause of Its Failure Remains Unknown

Now it’s official: ExxonMobil plans to fully reopen its idled Pegasus oil pipeline, including the 1940s-era segment that ruptured and dumped sticky tar-like Canadian dilbit into an Arkansas neighborhood. The Monday news ends the uncertainty over the pipeline’s fate that has hung over people along the Pegasus route since the spill one year ago—though why it happened remains unknown.

Silicon Valley’s Elite Comes Out Against the Keystone XL

In a March 7 letter to Secretary of State John Kerry that was made public on Monday, more than 200 business owners, venture capitalists, and the odd Stanford B-school professor have asserted that the proposed Keystone XL pipeline is not in the economic interests of the U.S. Over its lifetime, the 875-mile extension linking Alberta tar sands to refineries and tankers in the Gulf of Mexico would cost billions more than it brings in, the letter states, and “these costs will be borne by U.S. citizens, businesses and taxpayers, while the profits from the pipeline will accrue to private corporations many of which are foreign interests.”

Texas landowners fear the worst with Keystone XL pipeline

Deep in the heart of East Texas, gently sloping fields, fertile cropland and willowy pine trees stretch as far as the eye can see.

Horses and cattle roam the grassy land — sometimes just feet above an underground pipeline stretching from Cushing, Okla., to the Texas coast that has sparked an international battle over politics, the economy and the environment.

Native Americans And Business Leaders Pressure White House To Reject Keystone XL

As President Obama’s decision on Keystone XL nears, opposition from Native American tribes — many of whom have long spoken out against the pipeline — is getting louder.

Last weekend, members of South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux tribe set up a prayer camp near Mission, SD in protest of the Keystone XL pipeline. Tribe leaders say their plan is to send a message to the White House that Native Americans won’t back down on this pipeline, which they say would run through land guaranteed by an 1868 treaty for tribal use. The tribe members plan to keep the prayer camp up until President Obama denies the pipeline or until the pipeline is approved, in which case the camp will turn into a “blockade camp.”

Crunch year ahead for Norway’s Arctic oil adventure

Rising costs, lack of infrastructure and a string of poor exploration results may mean Norway’s Arctic oil exploration peaks this year, energy officials said on Tuesday.

Drilling in the Barents Sea will reach a record high this year with 12 wells but the sector could quickly shift its focus to more promising regions if the heavy investment fails to pay off, especially as firms around the world are already cutting back capital spending plans.

U.N. branch prepares to codify shipping rules in polar regions

Before the MS Explorer sank off the coast of Antarctica seven years ago, passengers fled the ship in inflatable lifeboats in a scene reminiscent of the Titanic disaster.

All 154 passengers and crew were evacuated after the ship severely damaged its hull and began flooding while navigating through thick ice in the Bransfield Strait as part of an Antarctic tour. The lifeboats were so full of people that “you literally could not move your feet,” according to one Canadian passenger in an official account released by the Liberian government, which registered the ship.

Parnell offers to bolster Alaska refiners with $20 million a year in tax credits

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell on Monday proposed tax credits worth up to $20 million a year for each in-state refinery and a potential reduction in state royalty payments to boost the fortunes of the industry. A press release from the governor said it “could result in tens of millions of dollars toward a healthy in-state refinery industry.”

Contamination Even More Widespread After Nuclear Dump Site Leak

Four more workers have now tested positive for radiation after being exposed to a February leak from an underground nuclear waste dump near Carlsbad, New Mexico, the U.S. Department of Energy announced Monday, bringing the total number of contaminated workers to 21.

The announcement came a day ahead of a DOE plan to send a team of experts into the half-mile deep Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) to set up bases from which they can begin to investigate the cause of the leak. First detected Valentine’s Day weekend, officials later announced that the facility’s leak was believed to be releasing radiation into the air.

First Fukushima evacuees return to exclusion-zone homes

The first group of Fukushima evacuees have returned to their homes, three years after the disaster at the nuclear power plant.

About 350 residents have been allowed to return to Miyakoji district in Tamura city, which lies inside the 20km-radius exclusion zone.

3 Years After Fukushima, a Handful of Refugees Finally Return Home

Residents of Tamura’s Miyakoji, a neighborhood 12 miles from Fukushima’s nuclear power plant, were allowed to return home this week for the first time since the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown on March 11, 2011.

Over 160,000 people in surrounding towns were evacuated after the disaster. According to Reuters, one third of them still live in temporary housing while the Japanese government proceeds with $30 billion worth of decontamination work. According to the Associated Press, evacuees receive $1,000 a month from the government and a one-time $9,000 payment for moving back to their home once their town is declared safe.

Cancer risk for 1000 Fukushima children

A group of children exposed to higher radiation levels from the Fukushima nuclear accident faces a slightly higher risk of thyroid cancer, UN experts say.

However, there would be no measurable rise of cancer in the Japanese population overall, the UN Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said in its final report on the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Fukushima meltdown unlikely to lead to large number of cancers: U.N. scientists

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown in March 2011 is unlikely to lead to a large number of people developing thyroid and other cancers like after Chernobyl in 1986, U.N. scientists said on Wednesday.

Cellphone-cancer link should be studied further, Canadian panel recommends

Federal guidelines that spell out safe exposure levels of radiofrequency waves emitted by cellphones and other wireless devices appear to be mostly adequate, but research to clarify the potential risk of cancer should be aggressively pursued, an expert panel recommends.

The Royal Society of Canada panel issued its report Tuesday on Health Canada’s Safety Code 6, which sets out limits on exposure to radiofrequency fields aimed at protecting the health of workers and the general public.

Wireless radiation health studies needed, scientists say

Health Canada should “aggressively” research the possible link between wireless airwaves and cancer and should inform Canadians how they can limit their exposure to such electromagnetic fields while using cellphones, an expert scientific panel recommends.

However, the panel found that Health Canada guidelines for human exposure to wireless airwaves from cell towers, radio and TV broadcast antennas and other wireless technology provide enough protection from the two established health effects from high-powered exposure to those frequencies

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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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