Environmental Must-Reads – April 23, 2015


The Link Between Fracking Activity And Earthquakes Is Getting Stronger

We’re only mid-week, but it’s already been a big one for human-induced earthquakes.

On Tuesday, scientists from Southern Methodist University added to the growing body of research linking small earthquakes to oil and gas wastewater disposal. That body of research is particularly important to the popular but controversial process of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which produces significantly more wastewater than conventional drilling.

Oil Makes a Comeback in Pennsylvania

It wasn’t quite a Jed Clampett moment: Instead of shootin’ for some food, Samuel Kier was drillin’ for some salt in his salt wells in the appropriately named Saltsburg in Indiana County, Pa., close to Pittsburgh.

He kept finding this smelly and gooey black stuff coming from the ground, fouling the salt — sometimes almost spontaneously catching fire.

Half of U.S. Fracking Companies Will Be Dead or Sold This Year

Half of the 41 fracking companies operating in the U.S. will be dead or sold by year-end because of slashed spending by oil companies, an executive with Weatherford International Plc said.

There could be about 20 companies left that provide hydraulic fracturing services, Rob Fulks, pressure pumping marketing director at Weatherford, said in an interview Wednesday at the IHS CERAWeek conference in Houston. Demand for fracking, a production method that along with horizontal drilling spurred a boom in U.S. oil and natural gas output, has declined as customers leave wells uncompleted because of low prices.

Why Did These Oil Workers Die?

The deaths of Trent Vigus and at least nine other oil-field workers over the past five years had haunting similarities. Each worker was doing a job that involved climbing on top of a catwalk strung between rows of storage tanks and opening a hatch.

There were no known witnesses to any of the men’s deaths. Their bodies were all found lying on top of or near the tanks. Medical examiners generally attributed the workers’ deaths primarily or entirely to natural causes, often heart failure

Dems unveil ‘strongest anti-fracking bill’ for federal land

A pair of Democratic House members introduced a bill Wednesday to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas, commonly known as fracking, on federal land.

Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) touted the measure as the “strongest anti-fracking bill” ever introduced. It would cover national parks, Bureau of Land Management property, national forests, wilderness areas and other lands under federal jurisdiction.

NRDC Analysis Finds Data Gaps in Fracking Reports

Hydraulic fracturing, better known fracking, is a process used to extract oil and gas from shale by injecting a combination of sand, water and chemicals. It’s a practice that the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) describes as “dirty” in an issue paper on fracking.

Shale gas is big business in the U.S. There are only three countries producing shale gas through fracking on a commercial scale, according to World Watch. The U.S. is at the top spot on the list, followed by Canada and China. Shale gas production accounts for a “significant share” of natural gas production in the U.S. By the end of 2013, shale gas production surpassed the daily output from non-shale wells, becoming the “dominant source.” Although conventional production is declining, the U.S. remains a leading nation in natural gas production because of its shale gas production.

Fracking wastewater well application approved

A Nebraska agency has given the green light to a controversial fracking wastewater disposal well project in KOTA Territory.

The Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission voted in favor of the plan by Terex Energy Corporation to inject wastewater from fracking operations in nearby states.

Natural Gas Leaks: A $30 Billion Opportunity and Global Warming Menace

A new study released Tuesday suggests that the global oil and gas industries allow as much as 3.6 trillion cubic feet of natural gas — and almost certainly far more — to escape into the atmosphere annually. The leakage rate represents at least $30 billion in lost revenues, the analysis found, and it reinforces previous studies suggesting that the much-touted climate benefits of the expanding shale boom are unlikely to be realized unless these so-called fugitive emissions are brought under control.

Oil Train Task Force details progress

Local municipalities continue to lend their voices to the call for increased safety requirements for rail transport of oil.

Members of the Clinton County Oil Train Task Force marked Earth Day with a press conference at the Saranac River railroad bridge in the City of Plattsburgh, where they heralded resolutions passed by several local governments in support of their efforts.

San Jose: Residents rail against Santa Maria oil train proposal

Local residents are gearing up for a campaign against a Phillips 66 proposal to expand its existing oil refinery more than 200 miles away from San Jose.

The proposal to extend railroad lines connected to a 1,780-acre refinery in Santa Maria would allow for delivery of crude oil from Canada. The oil would be transported along the Union Pacific Railroad, which runs directly through San Jose and is on the same line that goes through Diridon Station.

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.

Cultivating a demand for raw Gulf oysters five years after BP spill

Mike and Ardis Knoflicek acquired a taste for raw oysters late in life.

Growing up in rural Nebraska, “Rocky Mountain oysters were as close as we got” to seafood, Mike jokes.

Now, after trying the slimy mollusks for the first time in 2014, the pair of recent retirees partakes in oyster happy hour nearly every two weeks at Kimball House in Decatur, Georgia.

Five years after the Gulf oil spill: Healing waters

The BP oil spill erupted five years ago this month. In a multipart series, longtime AL.com writer Ben Raines reflects on the disaster as he experienced it, and tells how critical coastal habitat can be saved and preserved.

On July 15, BP finally got it right. The company had fashioned a device that bolted to the wellhead and stanched the flow of oil.

Still, the spill was far from over. Oil kept coming ashore that summer and fall of 2010, and BP was making ready for the lawsuits.

BP oil spill’s poisons linger, fines should go to restoration

The BP oil spill has left behind poisons that continue to disrupt the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico and its shoreline, said an editorial in Wednesday’s New York Times.

The newspaper also said fines stemming from the disaster should be spent on restoration efforts, and not be used for economic development projects.

Bill encouraging settlements in oil and gas suits moves forward

A Senate committee on Tuesday gave initial approval to legislation by Sen. Bret Allain, R-Franklin, designed to encourage settlements in lengthy and often contentious lawsuits over cleanup of oil and gas contamination.

Allain asked a Louisiana State Law Institute committee to study the issue of so-called legacy lawsuits two years ago in hopes of resolving some of the cases involving Louisiana landowners claiming oil and gas operations have contaminated their property, often years ago. That study process yielded a bill last year, but Allain said he pulled the legislation after it was “hijacked” and amended in the House.

After Years of Inaction, EPA Tightens Toxic Air Standard for Oil Refineries

The federal government has issued new guidelines to correct the chronic underestimation of toxic air pollutants emitted from oil refineries and petrochemical plants.

The Environmental Protection Agency late Monday released a revised set of “emission factors”—mathematical formulas used by industry to estimate the amount of air pollutants coming from their facilities.

Wolves Shot From Choppers Shows Oil Harm Beyond Pollution

Here’s one aspect of Canada’s energy boom that isn’t being thwarted by the oil market crash: the wolf cull.

The expansion of oil-sands mines and drilling pads has brought the caribou pictured on Canada’s 25-cent coin to the brink of extinction in Alberta and British Columbia. To arrest the population decline, the two provinces are intensifying a hunt of the caribou’s main predator, the gray wolf. Conservation groups accuse the provinces of making wolves into scapegoats for man-made damage to caribou habitats.

Exxon Mobil to pay $5.07 million for 2013 Arkansas oil spill

Exxon Mobil Corp has agreed to pay $5.07 million to resolve allegations it violated the federal Clean Water Act and state environmental laws in connection with a 2013 oil spill in Arkansas, the U.S. Department of Justice and Environmental Protection Agency said on Wednesday.

The March 29, 2013 spill occurred after the rupture of Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline, causing about 3,190 barrels, or 134,000 gallons, of oil to flow through a residential neighborhood in Mayflower, Arkansas and nearby waterways including Lake Conway, which flows into the Arkansas River.

Attorneys: ExxonMobil government settlement does not compensate Mayflower residents

Attorneys representing Mayflower residents suing ExxonMobil for civil damages say the government’s recent settlement with ExxonMobil in no way compensates the hundreds of residents seriously and permanently impacted by the 2013 Good Friday Pegasus Pipeline rupture.

According to a press release from attorneys Ross Noland of Little Rock and Shawn Daniels of Fayetteville, ExxonMobil pays fines assessed pursuant to state and federal environmental laws directly to the U.S. Treasury and the State. The law limits the amount of the fine the government can assess based on the number of barrels spilled

Remember Mayflower? Exxon Slapped with Paltry Fine for Tar Sands Pipeline Spill

Two years after a ruptured pipeline poured 134,000 gallons of tar sands oil into the suburban streets of Mayflower, Arkansas, creating a toxic mess that devastated both the community and the environment, ExxonMobil has been ordered to pay a $5 million fine for its role in the disaster, the state announced on Wednesday.

According to Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge and Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) Director Becky Keogh, a “consent decree” (pdf) has been reached in the suit over the March 29, 2013 rupture, in which the state charged that the oil giant had violated the Clean Water Act as well as state laws pertaining to the storage of hazardous waste during the cleanup of the massive spill.

Clean Up Underway After Oil Spill Near Lake Bryan

On Earth Day, clean-up efforts were underway after an oil spill made quite a mess near Lake Bryan.

Residents in the Creekside Subdivision off Sandy Point Road in Bryan started noticing a strong smell of gas around 6:00 p.m. Wednesday. One homeowner went found oil bubbling and flowing downstream into a nearby creek.

3,000 litres of oil spill into Danish fjord

Some 3,000 litres of diesel oil leaked into Aabenraa Fjord off the eastern coast of Jutland on Wednesday.

According to the South Jutland Police, the oil was stored in a tank at the former Ensted Power Station, a thermal power plant that closed down in October 2013. Police said that a broken pipe began spewing the oil into the bay Wednesday morning.

Goldsboro residents worry over tainted water from nearby ash pond

After state regulators began telling people who live near Duke Energy coal ash ponds that their well water was contaminated, some Goldsboro residents said their worst fears are being confirmed.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Tuesday that tests of 87 private wells near eight Duke plants across North Carolina, including plants near Roxboro and Wilmington, showed results that failed to meet state groundwater standards.

China Gambles on Its Own ‘Keystone Pipeline’

China is wasting little time gearing up its new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank in what many analysts see as a direct challenge to the U.S. for global economic dominance in the coming years.

Chinese President Xi Jinping was in Islamabad on Tuesday to announce extraordinary plans for $46 billion of new infrastructure spending in Pakistan that would include new roads, railways and pipelines. With Great Britain, Germany, Australia, South Korea and 42 other countries essentially snubbing President Obama by teaming up with the Chinese, the emerging infrastructure bank intends to pump at least $100 billion into much needed energy and infrastructure project throughout Asia and the Middle East.

The Economic Argument Against Keystone XL

Whatever has happened to the Keystone XL pipeline proposal after the President’s veto? Apparently, it is still being reviewed by the State Department and a final decision could come at any time.

Last month, Secretary of State, John Kerry gave a speech at The Atlantic Council. In his remarks, he said:

It is time, my friends, for people to do real cost accounting. The bottom line is that we can’t only factor in the price of immediate energy needs. We have to include the long-term cost of carbon pollution.

A chill is already in the air ahead of the next meeting of the Arctic Council

Not all of the heat emanating from the Arctic Circle this week will be due to climate change.

On Friday, diplomats from eight nations will meet in the Baffin Island town of Iqaluit, located in Canada’s far north, as the United States takes the reins of a body known as the Arctic Council.

Drone with radioactive material found on Japanese Prime Minister’s office roof

Japanese authorities said they were investigating after a small drone laced with traces of radiation was found Wednesday on the roof of the prime minister’s office, sparking concerns about drones and their possible use for terrorist attacks.

No injuries or damage were reported from the incident, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was in Indonesia to attend an Asian-African conference.

Police said it was not immediately known who was responsible for the drone. They were investigating the possibility it had crashed during a flight.

Two Malfunctioning Robots Are Now Stuck Inside the Fukushima Reactor 

The dangerous and unenviable task of cleaning up the Fukushima reactor has hit its latest snag: Two snake-like reconnaissance bots had to be abandoned inside the reactor—after one got stuck and another’s camera was damaged by radiation.

The Fukushima cleanup relies almost entirely on robots because radiation levels inside the reactor are still too dangerous for humans. TEPCO, the company managing the efforts, has a small robot army, designed to do everything ranging from radiation measurement to decontamination with dry ice blasts.

Pumps Fail Causing Unknown Amount Of Highly Radioactive Fukushima Water To Spill Into Ocean

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) reported that more highly radioactive water spilled into the ocean at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant on Tuesday due to an electricity outage, which shut down all the facility’s water pumps. TEPCO could not confirm how much water escaped.

The Japan Times reports that the company had begun transferring water from a drainage channel at the plant to a nearby artificial bay last Friday using eight pumps. A February test determined that water from the channel, which exceeded radioactive safety levels, was reaching the ocean.

New Nuclear Site Boss Headed Idaho Facility Where Radiation Release Occurred

The man appointed to lead the company that oversees the federal government’s troubled nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico previously ran a facility in Idaho where a radiation release contaminated workers in 2011.

Philip Breidenbach was named president and project manager of the Nuclear Waste Partnership last week. The company manages the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, which has been closed since last year due to a radiation release.

Stories From Quarantine: GroundTruth Reporters on Getting Tested for Radiation in the Marshall Islands

At first, quarantine hadn’t sounded so bad. A day and night at the Marshall Islands’ finest (and only) resort. A pool, a gym, a beauty salon. All meals included. A gorgeous view of the lagoon. Optimistically, we pictured a spa retreat.

We had just returned to the capital atoll Majuro from a visit to the world’s only resettled nuclear ground zero. At the resort, the US Department of Energy would determine to what extent (if any) we were exposed to radiation: a 24-hour plutonium bioassay urinalysis would check for traces of plutonium-239 isotopes in our bodies, based on “measured urinary excretion patterns and modeled metabolic behaviors of absorbed radionuclides.”

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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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