Environmental Must-Reads – April 27, 2015


North America’s Oil And Gas Industry Has Taken Over 7 Million Acres Of Land Since 2000

Millions of acres of land across the U.S. and Canada has been taken over by oil and gas development in the last 12 years, according to a new study.

The study, published Friday in Science, tallied up the amount of land that’s been developed to house drilling well pads, roads, and other oil and gas infrastructure in 11 U.S. states and three Canadian provinces. It found that between 2000 and 2012, about 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) have been turned over to oil and gas development, a stretch of land that, combined, is equal to three Yellowstone National Parks.

This land takeover can have ecological consequences, according to the report.

US government says drilling causes earthquakes – what took them so long?

As the US Geological Survey confirmed on Thursday, in the last seven years, geologically staid parts of the US have seen earthquakes like they haven’t seen for millions of years. And they were triggered by drilling for oil and gas.

The drilling – or rather, the process of injecting water deep underground – has been triggering earthquakes in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma and Texas.

Lawyers scrutinize NY’s next fracking move

For the past four months, the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s staff — and attorneys — have been putting the finishing touches on a several-thousand-page document that will lay the groundwork for a statewide ban on large-scale hydraulic fracturing.

The agency has reason to be careful: the natural-gas industry and fracking supporters are looking for an opportunity to sue.

Business regulators say firm lied about fracking plans

Colorado business regulators have accused a Texas company and its owner of defrauding investors by falsely telling them the firm was working on a new technology to dispose of water used in hydraulic fracturing.

The state Securities Division has issued a cease and desist letter to Weldon Walker and Premier Water Solutions, telling him to stop the sale of any unregistered stocks in Colorado.

USGS Finally Confirms Wasterwater Fracking Causes Earthquakes

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has finally confirmed that wastewater fracking is causing earthquakes, in a newly released report.

According to the report, the state of Oklahoma has experienced the highest number of earthquakes thought to be caused by man-made activity in the central and eastern United States.

Fracking bills misleading, dangerous

Two controversial bills currently in legislation purport to regulate and protect the environment from fracking. In reality they would enact the opposite. Ray Rodrigues, Republican representative from Estero, sponsored HB 1205 and HB 1209 and has put out misleading information about them.

Rodrigues claims HB 1205 ensures that groundwater resources are not contaminated. This is totally misleading and impossible to do. Hundreds of cases of groundwater contamination resulting from fracking have been documented. Overwhelming evidence shows fracking to be unsafe and destructive and this is fact that Rodrigues and the DEP cannot change.

Study: Oil and gas drilling consuming millions of acres

Drilling for oil and gas, which has increased substantially in many parts of the country over the past decade, has impacted millions of acres of agricultural and range land, according to researchers.

A study published today in the journal Science found that between 2000 and 2012, about 7 million acres – the rough equivalent of three Yellowstone National Parks – was given over to well pads and related roads. About half of the acreage was rangeland, and roughly another 40 percent was cropland and 10 percent forestland. A very small amount was wetland.

Former Shell boss: Fossil fuel industry must ‘change profoundly’

The former chairman of Shell UK has today argued the entire oil and gas industry needs to “strengthen its voice” in its response to climate change and step up efforts to develop low carbon technologies.

Writing exclusively for BusinessGreen, James Smith, who now serves as chairman of green consultancy Carbon Trust, warns that the increasingly high profile “divestment” and “unburnable carbon” campaigns had focused attention on whether oil and gas companies can survive in their current form.

Fracking lobby calls the tune on commission shale-gas panel

2015 is a big year for climate in Europe: the UN talks in Paris, this December; the implementation of the EU’s 2030 climate targets; mapping out the Energy Union.

Judging by the European Commission’s public statements, one would think the EU was firmly on its way to transforming our energy system towards efficient and renewable energy.

State lawmakers pass oil train safety bill

The Washington Legislature has passed a measure to improve the safety of oil transportation due to a sharp increase in the number of oil-carrying freight trains in the state.

Lawmakers reached a compromise Friday afternoon to resolve differences between competing versions that earlier cleared the Senate and House. The Senate voted 46-0 and the House 95-1 on House bill 1449, which now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for consideration.

Railroad unions urge tougher rules on tracks

Tougher inspection and maintenance standards for railroad tracks could prevent dangerous derailments of trains carrying explosive crude oil, officials of the rail inspectors’ union say.

Lawmakers in Congress and rail regulators have focused much of their attention on the strength of oil tank cars and the volatility of Bakken crude oil, but track flaws and train speed can also be significant factors in accidents.

New oil train safety rule doesn’t apply to Albany

The Federal Railroad Administration this morning issued a new rule requiring oil trains and other trains carrying hazardous substances to travel no faster than 40 mph through so-called “high-threat urban communities,” as identified in federal regulations.

The Capital Region, as well as Syracuse and Rochester, aren’t included in the list of communities covered, according to a list accompanying the regulation.

Oil spill reaches coast of Gran Canaria

More than 120kg of thick fuel oil has been scraped off several beaches on the Spanish tourist island of Gran Canaria , as government officials scramble to contain the spill from a ship that sank more than a week ago.

The Russian fishing boat Oleg Naydenov was carrying more than 1,400 tonnes of fuel oil when it sank 10 days ago, about 15 nautical miles south of Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands.

Oil slick puts Canary Islands on emergency alert

Spain has issued an environmental emergency as oil slicks from a stricken Russian vessel threaten more pristine beaches on the Canary Islands.

The government issued a level 2 alert, the highest possible, after analysing ocean current data that showed the slicks could be headed toward other islands.

Contaminated Oil That No One Wants Is Heading to Asia

One million barrels of oil. Enough to fill more than 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools. And there it sat in tanks outside San Francisco — for three years — despite crude prices that topped $100 a barrel.

This isn’t the prized “light, sweet” kind of crude that is pumped out of the ground in Texas, or even the thick, sticky stuff from Alberta’s tar sands. Rather, it’s what’s known as “orphaned oil” that is so contaminated with organic chlorides that it can corrode the insides of even the biggest refineries.

Plant flares emit more pollutants than previously thought, the EPA reports

A new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency formula for calculating the amount of pollutants released by flares at refineries and chemical plants nationwide shows that those emissions are four times higher than previously thought.

The EPA said last week that the court-ordered update of a decades-old method used by the government and individual industrial facilities to calculate pollution releases will provide more accurate estimates of carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds released by the flaring or burning of waste gases at those facilities.

The Words of Dead Workers

To give voice to 35 workers killed on the job over the past 35 years at a massive refinery in Texas City, hundreds of surviving family members, co-workers and friends gathered there last month to erect white crosses marked with their names.

They conducted the ceremony on the 10th anniversary of an explosion that killed 15 workers and injured more than 170, including townspeople.

Weather hampers oil spill clean-up in Tauranga Harbour

Authorities have warned heavy fuel oil spilt in Tauranga Harbour earlier today could come ashore on beaches, as rain and high winds hamper a clean-up effort.

The spill occurred earlier today as a ship was bunkering at the Port of Tauranga.

The English Bay oil spill was a warning on the risks of major tankers

The bunker-fuel spill this month of at least 2,800 litres – from the grain ship MV Marathassa, in English Bay, Vancouver – was small and localized. But it revealed big deficiencies on the part of the Coast Guard – and raised legitimate doubts about how well a large oil spill would be handled.

B.C.’s coastal waters could soon be home to a growing number of oil tankers. The TransMountain project of Kinder Morgan Inc., if approved and built, would move great quantities of diluted bitumen to Burnaby, to be loaded into double-hulled tankers, up to 120,000 tonnes per vessel. Currently, about 50 oil tankers a year depart from Port Metro Vancouver. If TransMountain goes ahead, that number could rise to as many as 400.

Oil spills surprisingly common – cleanup dependent on volunteers

Local authorities are responsible for making sure areas are suitably prepared for oil spills. South Savo Rescue Department head Jyri Silmäri says the famous Saimaa lake and waterway region in eastern Finland has been ready to deal with oil accidents for decades.

“We have collection vessels and booms for creating barriers, as well as other oil prevention-associated equipment.  We cooperate actively with our neighbouring regions of South Karelia, North Savo and North Karelia too. This allows us to gather our equipment and enact preventative measures quickly, containing the damage to keep it minimal,” says Silmäri.

A Million Miles of Unfit Pipeline Are Accidents Waiting to Happen

Over the past seven years—while controversy raged over the Keystone XL pipeline—many newly approved oil pipelines were built, and old ones “repurposed” nationwide—with little public knowledge or opposition. Some transport the same gummy, highly polluting tar sands oil, or bitumen, that Keystone was slated to carry.

During this same 2008 to 2015 period, a record number of pipeline accidents poisoned land, polluted waterways, and exploded.

Enbridge seeks OK for replacement pipeline in Minnesota

The proposed 337-mile pipeline would cost more than $2 billion and would replace the 1960s-era Line 3 pipeline. The existing line carries crude oil from Canada to the Midwest but has a history of ruptures.

The company, based in Calgary, Alberta, filed its application with the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Friday. The Minnesota segment is part of a $7.5 billion project by Enbridge to build a new 36-inch diameter line from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin, where Enbridge has a terminal and connections to pipelines serving the Midwest, Gulf Coast and eastern Canada.

Arctic Oil Spills In Canada Likely To Spread Across Borders: Study

New research suggests that any type of significant oil spill in Canada’s western Arctic would likely spread quickly and foul oceans around Alaska and possibly as far west as Russia.

“Spills originating from the Canadian Beaufort and resulting coastal oiling could be an international issue,” says the report from RPS Applied Science Associates, a global environmental consultancy.

Protesters rally in Seattle against Shell oil rig

People opposed to Shell’s Arctic oil drilling rig coming to Seattle staged a protest Sunday at Myrtle Edwards Park.

The rig is controversial because Shell plans to drill for oil off Alaska’s north coast.

Oil industry whistleblower Hamel, subject of industry spy campaign, dead at 84

A whistleblower who became the subject of an undercover spy campaign by the oil industry in Alaska a quarter-century ago has died at a nursing home in Marysville, Washington. Charles “Chuck” Hamel was 84.

Hamel was an oil broker living in Alexandria, Virginia, when he turned crusader against the industry in 1980 after oil companies refused to compensate him — or admit wrongdoing — for selling him oil from Alaska that contained too much water.

Arctic nations to fight climate change despite Russia tensions

The eight Arctic Council nations pledged on Friday to do more to combat climate change that is shrinking the vast frigid region, with countries trying to put aside disputes over issues like Russia’s intervention in Ukraine.

Meeting in the Canadian town of Iqaluit, 300 km (200 miles) south of the Arctic Circle, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States pledged to work to address emissions of black carbon and methane.

U.S. to focus on climate change, oceans as new chair of Arctic Council

The United States is starting its term as chair of the Arctic Council by adamantly steering clear of geopolitical and military issues, in favour of focusing on social and environmental stewardship of the North.

This comes after some have raised concern about Russia’s activities in the Arctic, deploying large forces in a show of military might. About 76,000 troops, over 100 ships and more than 200 aircraft took part in Arctic manoeuvres last month.

New Mexico leaders push for high-level nuclear waste

At first glance, the barren stretch of desert between Carlsbad and Hobbs in southeastern New Mexico seems unfit for any kind of industry. But this rugged, nondescript patch of land is poised to be the focus of the next national conversation about how to dispose of the country’s most dangerous nuclear waste.

The state took a crucial step this month toward accepting such waste, which other Western states have shunned, when Gov. Susana Martinez quietly signaled to the Obama administration that New Mexico would welcome it.

Cameras reveal the secret lives of Chernobyl’s wildlife

Automatic cameras in the Ukrainian side of the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone have provided an insight into the previously unseen secret lives of wildlife that have made the contaminated landscape their home.

Throughout 2015, the cameras will be positioned at 84 locations, allowing a team of scientists to record the type of animals passing through the area and where they make their home.

Park in Ikebukuro closed after hot spot detected in playground

An unusually high level of radiation has been detected at a park in Tokyo’s Ikebukuro area, the Toshima Ward Office said Thursday, prompting speculation that hazardous material has been buried there.

The ward office has banned entry to the municipal park, which is right next to Tobu Railway Co.’s Shimoitabashi Station in the Ikebukuro-honcho district and surrounded by residences.

China Mulls Inland Nuclear Power Plant Building

China’s National Energy Administration is analysing whether the country should build inland nuclear power plants.

The topic has aroused fierce debate.

April 26, 1986: Catastrophic Nuclear Accident at Chernobyl

A series of explosions and fires at the nuclear plant in Chernobyl caused a massive plume of fallout to spread across Russia and Europe, leading to dozens of deaths of immediate deaths, thousands of additional radiation-caused fatalities, and hundreds of thousands of evacuations. In an editorial (May 10, 1986), The Nation heralded what it hoped would be the beginning of the end of the age of nuclear power. Alas, we yet await the nuclear disaster that will finally convince people around the world that it may be time for a change.

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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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