Environmental Must-Reads – April 29, 2014


Natural Gas-Gobbling Bacteria Could Help Combat Oil Leaks

A type of bacteria that eats natural gases may provide a small defense against leaks such as BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 and curb global warming, a scientific report said on Monday.

The study identified a strain of microbe able to grow on both methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and propane. Both are found in unrefined natural gas and scientists had previously thought that bacteria could only grow on one or the other.

Oil field deaths rose sharply from 2008 to 2012

Oil field deaths reached 545 during America’s drilling and fracking frenzy from 2008 to 2012, with Texas’ 216 reported fatalities leading the nation. Pennsylvania and North Dakota also are recording dramatic increases in worker deaths, according to updated workplace fatality figures released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Energy company with fracking plans eyes 60000 acres in St. Tammany Parish

Helis Energy’s plans to drill a “fracking” oil well on a 960-acre tract near La. 1088 in St. Tammany Parish could be just the start: Helis has obtained either leases or options to lease as much as 60,000 total acres in the parish, according to a recent letter sent to parish and school system officials by David Kerstein, the company’s president.

Helis Oil has leases and options to lease 60,000 acres in St. Tammany Parish

The oil and gas exploration company that is asking the state to approve the creation of a 960-acre drilling and production unit near Mandeville has leases and options to lease a total of about 60,000 acres in St. Tammany Parish, according to a letter from its president. Helis Oil & Gas President David Kerstein said in the April 15 letter that the company – which proposes to use the controversial fracking method in search of oil and gas – has already spent about $1.1 million to acquire the rights and prepare for the drilling of the proposed well north of Interstate 12 and east of Louisiana 1088.

Texas jury awards family nearly $3 million in fracking pollution case, media reports show

Many St. Tammany Parish residents are concerned about a company’s proposal to drill a fracking well 13,000 feet into the earth near Mandeville in search of oil and gas. Fears about polluting the air, ground and aquifer that supplies drinking water are among the chief worries expressed citizens thus far.

In Texas, a family that claimed they were sickened because of pollution by such a drilling operation near their house was awarded $2.95 million by a jury in what may be the first verdict of its kind involving fracking, according to media reports.

Baker Hughes to Disclose All Chemicals It Uses in Fracking

Oil-field service company Baker Hughes Inc. said minor formatting tweaks to an online form at FracFocus.com will allow it to fully spell out all the chemicals it uses to help coax out oil and gas out of the ground.

Baker Hughes is one of the largest oil-field services companies in the world, competing with the likes of Hallirburton and Schlumberger Ltd. often has stopped short of naming chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process when it reports to FracFocus, the online national registry where the public can look up well details in several states.

4 New Fracking Victories to Improve Your Day

While most of the news we’ve heard about fracking in recent years has been horrible, the tides may finally be turning. It seems that communities, politicians and even juries are now speaking out against the dangerous practice. Here are four fracking updates from the past month that can provide environmentalists with a sense of optimism:

Between Farmers And Frackers, Calif. Water Caught In Tussle

California’s extreme drought has drawn battle lines over who gets water and who doesn’t. As KQED’s Lauren Sommer reports, fracking and farming are vying for freshwater in California’s Central Valley.

DOT to Submit Crude-by-Rail Safety Proposal For OMB Review Within Week, Foxx Says

The Transportation Department plans to send a comprehensive proposal on the regulation of crude oil and ethanol transport by rail to the White House Office of Management and Budget sometime during the week of April 28, according to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Foxx, in an April 24 blog post, said the proposed rule will include “options” to improve the safety design of DOT-111 rail tank cars, which are used to transport crude oil, ethanol and other flammable liquids

Green credentials of fracking ‘exaggerated’, says IPCC author

The role of shale gas as a green source of energy has been overstated, according to one of the lead authors of the UN’s most recent climate science study.

Proposals to decarbonise the world’s energy supplies were released on April 13 by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in its Working Group 3 report compiled by 235 scientists and economists.

Fracking’s personal tragedies

As Gov. Andrew Cuomo continues to weigh whether to allow hydraulic fracturing in New York, it is important to remember fracking’s dangerous past.

About a year ago, an Ohio operator was caught after dumping an estimated 250,000 gallons of fracking wastewater into the Mahoning River. Since then, scarcely a month has gone by without some new fracking incident adding to the toll of damage done. Fracking fluids flowed into Colorado’s rivers and communities during flooding last fall. Then, researchers in Pennsylvania found high levels of radioactive material in the sediment of a creek where fracking waste is discharged from a treatment plant.

Wealthy Corporate CEOs Behind Fake Anti-Fracking Ads

The online version of the Post Independent, the local daily newspaper in heavily-drilled Garfield County, Colorado, is prominently displaying black-and-white banner ads that read, “Blowing the Lid off Fracking Colorado.”

Readers are led to believe the ads are anti-fracking, but click on them and you’re taken to a pro-fracking website, JobCreatorsNetwork.com, that boasts about all the wonderful jobs and economic benefits that drilling and fracking create.

West Virginia Landfill Wastewater Shows Elevated Radioactivity Due to Fracking

Great, why not have some radioactivity in wastewater with your fracking?

The list of perils and impacts from the hydraulic fracturing method of extracting natural gas is mounting, and the latest is that radioactivity is showing up in wastewater from gas field landfills in West Virginia that serve as disposal sites for Marcellus Shale cuttings, Public News Service reports.

Small fire burns at Wyoming gas plant after blast

A small fire burned at a western Wyoming natural gas processing plant Monday, five days after an explosion forced the evacuation of a nearby town and shut down the facility.

The fire has shrunk considerably since the blast and workers at the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams Partners facility were allowing the blaze to burn to consume remaining gases, according to a company spokesman.

Justice Dept.: Shielding Transocean docs could threaten Gulf spill report

A U.S. attorney on Monday urged a federal appeals court to reject Transocean’s challenge to subpoenas for documents linked to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, arguing they are pivotal for a regulatory report on the disaster due in June.

Never forget the tragic lessons of BP’s oil spill

Last week, on the 20th, we marked just four short years ago the Deepwater Horizon oil spill exploded into our beloved and sacred waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

To many, the severity of that forgone crisis seems presently abstracted, memorialized in haziness, a morbid tragedy.

BP won’t pay for Gulf oil spill research

If BP let a bull loose in a China shop, the company would take umbrage at the usual “you break it, you bought it” policy.

The oil giant is refusing to pay for some of the ongoing research into the environmental effects of its 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, forcing the federal government to spend money on the needed science — money that had been earmarked for oil spill emergencies. The Financial Times reports

Oil Spill North Of Cincinnati Most Recent In A Stream Of Problems

A group of salamanders is recovering at Dayton’s Boonshoft Museum after being removed from the site of an oil spill north of Cincinnati last month. The Mid-Valley pipeline, which is operated by Sunoco Logistics, leaked at least 19,000 gallons of oil into the Oak Glen Nature Preserve. The pipeline runs from Texas to Michigan through Ohio, and WYSO found it’s one of the leakiest in the country.

ND Approves Oil Spill Restoration Plan

The North Dakota Department of Health has approved plans to restore land damaged last fall by a pipeline break that spilled more than 20,000 barrels of crude oil across a northwestern wheat field.

The soil remediation work by Tesoro Corp. is expected to begin by early June and take at least two years to complete, according to the plans approved Friday.

Pipeline spill cleanup to top $11 million

Cleaning up the more than 20,000 barrels of oil that leaked from a pipeline near here will take at least $11 million and up to two more years, but a health official says the process should allow the land to be farmed again.

The North Dakota Department of Health announced Friday it has approved a remediation plan for the Tesoro Logistics pipeline spill that will involve excavating the contaminated soil and heating it to high temperatures to remove the oil.

Mayflower: Deadly Tornado Sweeps Through Arkansas Town That Endured ExxonMobil Tar Sands Pipeline Spill in 2013

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil’s Pegasus tar sands pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Arkansas, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) pouring down the town’s streets.

Now, just over a year after the massive spill, devastation has come to Mayflower and neighboring towns again, this time in the form of a lethal tornado. On the evening of April 27, the twister destroyed huge pockets of the town of just over 2,300 citizens in a wholesale manner, with 14 confirmed dead and likely many more still not counted.

Bluegrass Pipeline builders halting project

Developers are halting a three-state underground pipeline project that drew heavy opposition from residents and environmentalists in Kentucky.

Williams Co. and Boardwalk Pipeline Partners said in a web posting Monday they were not able to assemble a large enough customer base for the natural gas liquids that would be delivered by the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline. They suggested, however, that the project could be resurrected at a later date.

Pipeline Regulator Cutting Its Staff By 9 Percent Despite An Increase In Pipeline Spills In 2013

The U.S. agency in charge of regulating pipelines and oil-shipping rail cars could shrink its staff by 9 percent by mid-June, if employees accept the buyouts the agency is offering them.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is offering buyouts to 33 employees on top of the 13 buyouts it offered at the end of last year, InsideClimate News reports. If all the employees accept their buyouts, the agency would experience a net loss of 40 workers (it hired six recently).

Are there confrontations ahead in the battle over Arctic oil?

The first oil from the controversial Prirazlomnaya offshore Arctic oil platform is on its way to Rotterdam.

This was the oil rig where the Greenpeace “Arctic 30” were arrested by Russian forces last September during a protest. The Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior III is on its way to meet the tanker, the Mikhail Ulyanov, and protest against Arctic oil drilling. (The Greenpeace icebreaker Arctic Sunrise remains in the custody of the Russian Investigative committee, over six months after the action and four months since an official amnesty was adopted.)

Russian Tanker Carrying First Arctic Offshore Oil Shipment Will Be ‘Escorted’ By Greenpeace Vessel

The environmental activism group Greenpeace announced Monday it had sent a ship to escort a Russian tanker carrying the first oil from the Arctic.

The Greenpeace vessel “Rainbow Warrior III” will meet and accompany to port the Mikhail Ulyanov tanker, to protest the start of production from the Prirazlomnaya oil rig. The platform is run by Russia’s state-owned oil company, Gazprom, and it’s the first offshore rig to ever begin commercial drilling operations above the Arctic circle. Gazprom also chartered the Mikhail Ulyanov, which left the platform on April 18 with its very first shipment of oil.

Four years after Macondo, offshore Arctic beckons, speakers warn

Lessons learned from the Macondo deepwater well incident and crude oil spill are in danger of being minimized in a push to develop offshore Arctic oil and gas resources, speakers warned during two separate forums around the anniversary of the offshore well’s Apr. 20, 2010, blowout and explosion that took 11 lives and destroyed the Deepwater Horizon semisubmersible rig.

The global oil and gas industry, government regulators, and local leaders will need to work closer than ever to avoid the same mistakes, speakers said at an Apr. 17 forum at Resources for the Future (RFF) and an Apr. 21 conference sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Council (BPC).

More radiation in some Oregon tuna following Fukushima

Radiation in some albacore tuna caught off the Oregon coast tripled after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan, a new study from Oregon State University shows.

Still, those levels were a thousand times lower than the maximum safe level set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Fukushima Residents Unsure of Return to No-Go Zone

Whenever Kazuhiro Onuki goes home, to his real home that is, the 66-year-old former librarian dons protective gear from head to toe and hangs a dosimeter around his neck.

Grass grows wild in the backyard. The ceiling leaks. Thieves have ransacked the shelves, leaving papers and clothing all over the floor so there is barely room to walk. Mouse dung is scattered like raisins. There is no running water or electricity.

Report from Fukushima: lots of cleanup to do, not enough workers to do it

The sudden arrival of a battered Toyota and its three occupants at our place last week underscores the problems Japanese construction steel producers face.

I’m back from a quick trip home. It’s in a once pristine corner of rural Fukushima, just outside the 20km exclusion zone around the crippled Daiichi nuclear plant. The back roads were busier this time, and more lights peeked from distant farm houses.

Photographer says Fukushima disaster worse than East Timor, Somalia conflicts

Dominic Nahr, a photojournalist with Magnum Photos who is documenting the plight of those who have been affected by the Fukushima nuclear disaster, says that he feels worse seeing the effects of the Japan crisis than he did witnessing the armed conflicts in East Timor and Somalia. The 30-year-old photographer has been constantly returning to the affected prefecture even at the risk of radiation to take photos of residents and former workers at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Survey: Half of Fukushima evacuee households split up; distress rife in families

Nearly half of households that evacuated following the Fukushima nuclear disaster have been split up while close to 70 percent have family members suffering from physical and mental distress, a survey showed.

The number of households forced to live apart exceeds the number that remain together, according the survey, the first by the Fukushima prefectural government that attempted to survey all households that evacuated.

What Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima can teach about the next one

Following the accident at the nuclear power plant, government authorities realized to their horror that their existing plans for such an emergency were too vague to address the challenges now facing them. Making matters worse, technical experts disagreed about the state of the crippled reactor and what might happen next. Some confidently asserted that events were under control, while others warned that ongoing radioactive emissions might portend an imminent release of catastrophic proportions. More worryingly still, no one could predict the likelihood or timing of such a development confidently enough to inform decisions about ordering evacuations.

Chernobyl: Capping a Catastrophe

Against the decaying skyline here, a one-of-a-kind engineering project is rising near the remains of the world’s worst civilian nuclear disaster.

An army of workers, shielded from radiation by thick concrete slabs, is constructing a huge arch, sheathed in acres of gleaming stainless steel and vast enough to cover the Statue of Liberty. The structure is so otherworldly it looks like it could have been dropped by aliens onto this Soviet-era industrial landscape.

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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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