Environmental Must-Reads – April 25, 2013


All access: Fuel barge explosions on Mobile River near Austal, Carnival Triumph (links)

Seven explosions erupted throughout the night and three people were hurt in a fuel barge explosion on the east side of Mobile River on Wednesday night.

3 hurt as 7 massive blasts rock Mobile, Alabama shipyard

A series of seven large blasts on a fuel barge in Mobile, Alabama, rocked the area Wednesday night, critically injuring three. An evacuation zone was set up after firefighters were unable to put out the blaze, which they hope will burn out overnight.

The first blast occurred on a natural gas barge on the east side of the Mobile River at around 8:30pm local time, and was followed shortly afterwards by four more blasts. Fox10 News has reported that the barges may still be carrying hundreds of gallons of gasoline.

Explosions on River in Alabama Injure 3

A series of explosions on two fuel barges on the Mobile River in Alabama caused a fire to burn out of control into Thursday morning, leaving three people critically injured and forcing the evacuation of a Carnival Cruise Lines ship nearby.

Are People Living Near Fracking Sites Getting Sick?

On April 11,Colorado State Rep. Joann Ginal’s (D-Fort Collins) House Bill 1275 was heard, and died, in committee in the Colorado State Legislature. Rep Ginal’s bill asked and proposed to answer a very honest and simple question, “Are people living near oil and gas drilling and fracking getting sicker than people who don’t?” And, the bill would have provided that information to the public in a short timeframe.

California Fracking Rules Plan Stirs Trade Secrets Fight

A California proposal to regulate the chemicals used by oil companies in hydraulic fracturing is stirring a battle over industry assertions of trade secrets protection and environmentalist calls for disclosure to shield public health.

State officials developing rules for fracking say they have to walk a fine line to avoid lawsuits by both the public and the industry, circumscribing their proposal.

House OKs bill to disclose ‘fracking’ chemicals

In a pre-emptive move, the Florida House voted Wednesday evening to require oil and natural gas companies to disclose the chemicals pumped underground as part of hydraulic fracturing operations – a process better known as “fracking.”

That method for extracting oil or gas hasn’t been used in the Sunshine State to date, but supporters of the measure say parts of the Panhandle and southwest Florida have been identified as as geological areas suitable for fracking.

Fla. House passes bill requiring registry to track fracking in Florida

Hydraulic fracturing may not be on the immediate horizon, but a Southwest Florida lawmaker is hopeful his bill will put disclosure requirements in place before it happens.

NY groups claim industry bias in fracking study

Opponents of gas drilling and a dozen state lawmakers on Wednesday called for the Department of Environmental Conservation to scrap work done by a consultant as part of an environmental impact review of fracking, saying the firm is part of an industry group lobbying to lift the state’s 5-year-old shale drilling ban.

Fracking Truck Sets Off Radiation Alarm At Landfill

A truck carrying drill cuttings from a hydraulic fracturing pad in the Marcellus Shale was rejected by a Pennsylvania landfill Friday after it set off a radiation alarm, according to published reports. The truck was emitting gamma radiation from radium 226 at almost ten times the level permitted at the landfill.

Fracking waste deemed too radioactive for hazardous-waste dump

A truck carrying fracking waste was quarantined and then sent back to where it came from after its contents triggered a radiation alarm at a Pennsylvania hazardous-waste landfill. The truck’s load was nearly 10 times more radioactive than is permitted at the dump in South Huntingdon township.

New Harvard Study: “Serious Flaws” in Industry Self-Reporting Website FracFocus

A new Harvard study out today lists numerous problems with FracFocus.org, a website on which many states have required fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they use.  In short: the information is unreliable and incomplete, likely in large part because it counts on industry to self-report this information without significant oversight.

Harvard Law: Fracking Disclosure Site Fails the Test

The national database registry, FracFocus.org has come under scrutiny by a Harvard Law team, which says the voluntary registry that is used by oil and natural gas extraction companies has some “serious deficiencies” in the way it reports fracking disclosures.

Harvard Study Gives Failing Grade to Fracking Industry Disclosure Website

Bloomberg reports on a new study from Harvard Law School, which finds the fracking industry disclosure website, FracFocus fails as a regulatory compliance too

How Fracking Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor

The fracking industry involves much more than drilling.

For the past three years, I’ve covered the controversial oil and gas drilling practice for Truthout. Over the past week, I visited Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ohio to learn more about the challenges faced by those who live where the fracking process begins and ends – in sand mines and waste dumps.

Bill to lower oil severance taxes signed into law

Legislation to lower the Mississippi severance tax on hydraulically fractured oil wells from 6% to 1.25% for first 30 months of well production has been signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant.

House Bill 1698 also will allow counties where fracking is occurring to keep a larger share of tax proceeds. The law takes effect July 1.

BP oil spill trial: Federal judge issues order outlining key questions

The federal judge overseeing the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill litigation issued an order Wednesday (April 24) outlining what he believes are the key questions from the first phase of the sprawling civil trial, which wrapped up a week ago.

Oil spill judge: What is gross negligence?

The judge who will allocate responsibility for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill has told lawyers to give him their views about whether a series of negligent acts can add up to gross negligence.

The Justice Department and private plaintiffs’ attorneys contend that BP PLC acted with gross negligence before the blowout on April 20, 2010. If U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier agrees, BP’s civil penalties could soar.

Three Years After the BP Spill and the Gulf Is Still a Mess

Three years after an explosion at British Petroleum’s Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers, injured dozens, and set off the worst oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry, the waters along Gulf Coast seems almost back to normal. Much of the oil is gone. New Orleans-based photographer  Julie Dermansky says there’s still a lot left. The oil, she says, is often hard to locate because it has a tendency to play hide and seek.

Several sinkhole measures advance

Bills filed in response to an Assumption Parish sinkhole began moving through the state Legislature on Wednesday.

The Louisiana House Committee on Natural Resources advanced legislation aimed at preventing future problems and ensuring home buyers realize what lies underneath or near their property.

Breaking: Enbridge Pipeline Spills in Minnesota

UPDATES COMING PENDING FURTHER INFORMATION. Enbridge’s Line 2 pipeline has leaked an estimated 600 gallons of crude oil at its pump station near Viking, Minnesota. Line 2 was built in 1956 and has a history of spills. Regulators ordered Enbridge to reduce its Line 2 operating pressure in October 2010 following the company’s Kalamazoo River tar sands spill.

BP’s lies about Gulf oil spill should worry Arkansas victims of Exxon spill

“What BP Doesn’t Want You to Know About the 2010 Gulf Spill” is a must-read article by Mark Hertsgaard in Newsweek that reports how BP lied about the size of the oil disaster and the danger posed to its workers, the public and the environment.

ExxonMobil claims in dispute as spill reaches Arkansas lake

An independent water test conducted by a company specializing in oil spill cleanups has found that the March 29 tar sands oil spill caused by ExxonMobil’s ruptured Pegasus pipeline in Mayflower, Arkansas is now contaminating nearby Lake Conway.

The new findings, provided to the media by Opflex Solutions, shows that the bitumen heavy crude oil (or tar sands) has now contaminated the lake, a revelation which directly contradicts ExxonMobil’s most recent cleanup update, which categorically denied that any oil had reached the body of water.

EPA: Tar Sands Pipelines Should Be Held To Different Standards

Up until now, pipelines that carry tar sands oil have been treated just like pipelines that carry any other oil. But the Environmental Protection Agency now says that should change. That’s because when tar sands oil spills, it can be next to impossible to clean up.

The agency made this argument in its evaluation of the State Department’s environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline project, which, if approved, would carry heavy crude from Alberta, Canada, to refineries in the United States.

Canadian official attacks U.S. climatologist James Hansen over Keystone pipeline

Canada’s natural resources minister, Joe Oliver, rarely bothers to hide his dislike for critics of the country’s carbon-heavy tar sands or the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

But it still came as a surprise to hear Oliver lash out at one of America’s pre-eminent scientists, climatologist James Hansen, during a visit to Washington DC.

Oil, money and politics; EPA snags Keystone XL pipeline

The politics of oil and ecology have put President Obama between a rock and hard place, as he faces a decision on whether or not to permit construction of a new pipeline. The squeeze just got tighter with a new, negative environmental assessment.

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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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