Environmental Must-Reads – April 29, 2015


Florida Lawmakers Pass Bill That Arrests Local Efforts To Ban Fracking

On Monday, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill that calls for regulation over the fracking industry for the first time. But the bill doesn’t go far enough in protecting the state’s environment from fracking, environmental groups say, and it also severely limits local and regional control over the controversial practice.

Half of America’s Fracking Companies Could Close or Be Sold by the End of the Year

With the price of a barrel of oil cut in half since June, American shale output expected to drop next month for the first time in more than four years, and the link between hydraulic fracturing and earthquakes growing ever more clear, significant shakeups in the US energy sector are underway.

An executive with Weatherford International — the nation’s fifth largest fracking company — said Wednesday that half of the 41 fracking companies currently operating in the US will close up shop or be sold by the end of the year.

State to make fracking ban official, not permanent

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s fracking ban may be more of a freeze.

The state is soon to release its final Supplemental Generic Environmental Impact Statement for fracking and, shortly after that, a findings statement that will lay out the reasons for the state’s decision to prohibit it in New York.

California Drought Invites Scrutiny of Bottled Water, Fracking

To the delight of Sacramento’s Department of Utilities, Nestle Waters North America in 2010 opened a bottling plant in the California capital, the newest of five plants the company operates in the state. The Sacramento plant pays roughly $US 66,000 to the utility for the 190,000 cubic meters (50 million gallons) it consumes annually. It is one of 108 water bottling plants licensed by California to serve the on-the-go hydration needs of 39 million residents.

NYS urged to apply fracking health standards to growing gas pipeline networks

With a web of new and expanded natural gas pipelines on the drawing board in the state, as energy companies seek to move gas from a hydrofracking boom in Pennsylvania to the Northeast for sale and potential export, opponents warned Monday that chronic pollution leaks from the pipes would threaten public health.

Biggest Fracking Company in Utah Hires BP Executive Involved in Gulf Oil Disaster as CEO

Fidelity Exploration and Production Company, the largest hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operator in southeastern Utah, has chosen Patrick O’Bryan to replace its outgoing CEO, Kent Wells.

Both executives have ties to the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, and both have links to BP’s questionable accountability structure, poor safety record and overall bungled responses to the oil disasters.

Vivienne Westwood Hosts Anti-Fracking Protest in London

Dame Vivienne Westwood knows a thing or two about making a statement. After all, the fashion designer made her mark on the industry by introducing the ’80s punk scene to high fashion — no easy feat in the frilly world of couture.

So when the 74-year-old designer and noted activist decided to hold an anti-fracking protest at the Westminster Bridge in London on Monday, it came as no surprise that the event was an over-the-top affair. The rally was held in support of the organization Talk Fracking, which is headed up by Westwood’s son, social activist and Agent Provocateur founder Joe Corre. Launched last year, Talk Fracking’s mission is to raise awareness of environmental impacts of the hydraulic fracturing technique used to crack ground rock for the purpose of extracting oil or gas.

Could Fracking Spark a Modern-Day Dust Bowl?

Oil wells and natural gas may have made individual Americans rich, but they have impoverished the great plains of North America, according to new research.

Fossil fuel prospectors have sunk 50,000 new wells a year since 2000 in three Canadian provinces and 11 U.S. states, and have damaged the foundation of all economic growth: net primary production—otherwise known as biomass, or vegetation.

1.7 Million Acre Fracking Plan Draws Protest in Colorado

Four conservation groups on Monday filed a protest against a proposed resource-management plan amendment for increased oil and gas development on the Bureau of Land Management’s White River Field Office in northwestern Colorado. The change to the Bureau of Land Management plan ignores impacts from greenhouse gas pollution and fails to protect endangered fish from water depletions and chemical spills.

Capps Introduces Bill Against Offshore Fracking

Santa Barbara Congresswoman Lois Capps introduced the Offshore Fracking Transparency and Review Act of 2015 to the U.S. House of Representatives last Friday to temporarily halt offshore hydraulic fracturing and acid well stimulation treatment along the West coast until further environmental analysis is completed.

Release of radon gas a dangerous side effect of fracking

Many objections are being raised about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Kentucky, a method of drilling for oil and gas deposits in places like Eastern Kentucky.

A more serious concern is based on the fact that the fracking process releases radon gas. Radon is a poisonous gas produced by the radioactive decay of uranium.

Dealing with oil train danger

We hope that a meeting at City Hall Wednesday accomplishes its objective of bringing increased attention to the dangers posed by oil trains rumbling through Wisconsin’s communities, including those in Waukesha and Milwaukee counties. Ald. Bob Bauman, chairman of the Common Council’s Public Works Committee which will hold the hearing, said federal lawmakers, the state railroad commissioner and officials from Canadian Pacific railroad — the main carrier of oil trains though Milwaukee — have been invited to attend. We hope everyone shows up and that the public pays attention.

Governor Wolf hires rail expert to evaluate oil train risks

Seven cars of a 101-car train traveling from Chicago to a refinery in South Philadelphia slid off the tracks on the Schuylkill Arsenal Bridge in January, 2014.

Governor Tom Wolf has hired a rail expert to examine Pennsylvania’s railway infrastructure and report back on safety issues. The appointment is the latest move by Gov. Wolf to address increasing concerns about crude-by-rail transport. An oil train derailment and explosion in West Virginia earlier this year was touched off by a broken track, and led to a spill from defects in the tank cars, according to federal regulators.

Investigators release records of fiery North Dakota derailment

Federal investigators have released hundreds of pages of records that offer new insight into the moments just before and after a 2013 oil train derailment near Casselton, North Dakota, that created a massive fire and forced 1,400 people to evacuate for several days.

Interviews with the BNSF Railway workers operating the two trains in the derailment are included in documents the National Transportation Safety Board posted online Monday. Federal investigators also said in the documents that a broken train axle found after the derailment might have been prevented if BNSF railroad had inspected it more carefully and found a pre-existing flaw.

Medical Suits Over BP Oil Spill Deserve Jury Trials, Judge Rules

Petroleum giant BP could face hundreds of more trials in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico after a federal judge ruled that cleanup workers who develop serious medical problems after a 2012 court settlement are entitled to jury trials.

The 2012 settlement left the door open for plaintiffs in the settlement who develop major illnesses later in life to file separate suits against BP. The company had argued that such so-called back-end litigation cases had to be decided by a judge, but in a ruling dated Monday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier said BP was wrong. Such patients, he wrote, deserve to have their complaints heard by juries, which are generally considered to be more favorable to people suing corporations.

How Microbes Helped Clean BP’s Oil Spill

Like cars, some microbes use oil as fuel. Such microorganisms are a big reason why BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was not far worse.

“The microbes did a spectacular job of eating a lot of the natural gas,” says biogeochemist Chris Reddy of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The relatively small hydrocarbon molecules in natural gas are the easiest for microorganisms to eat. “The rate and capacity is a mind-boggling testament to microbes,” he adds.

BP’s ‘activist resolution’ was a triumph for environmentalists – or was it?

Directing proceedings from a stage emblazoned with BP’s green and yellow sunburst livery, chairman Carl-Henric Svanberg appeared aglow with satisfaction at the oil-and-gas group’s shareholder meeting two weeks ago as plaudits rained in from the unlikeliest quarters.

Environmentally concerned investors, led by those acting for the Church of England, were queuing up to shower Britain’s biggest fossil fuel company with praise for what they saw as the board’s “completely unprecedented” decision to endorse a resolution tabled on climate change by a coalition of activists, some of whom had links to BP’s fiercest critics.

Oil spill in Miller County could take weeks to clean up

Authorities in Miller County say the oil spill could take 1-2 weeks to clean up.

The discovery was made around 11 a.m. Tuesday on County Road 249 near County Road 196.

Vancouver oil spill threat to spawning smelt embyros

The spawning of surf smelt, a miracle of nature that largely unfolds unnoticed on Vancouver’s beaches, was under way when a freighter accidentally spilled 2,800 litres of bunker fuel in English Bay.

Now, three weeks later, the deadly impact of that oil on smelt embryos is slowly coming into focus under the microscope of Ramona de Graaf, a marine biologist who is a leading expert on the small herring-like fish that live and die on the city’s shoreline without most people knowing they exist.

Oil spill clean-up continues two days on

A helicopter is flying over Tauranga again this morning to check any movement of oil overnight after an oil spill in Tauranga Harbour on Monday.

Mobil last night accepted full responsibility for the spill.

The Bay of Plenty Regional Council this morning said oil had washed up high on the foreshore at Maungatapu covering about 300 metres of the beach north east of Turret Rd.

Exxon settlement cash could be available by August

Cash from a proposed $225 million settlement between New Jersey and Exxon Mobil will likely not be available until the start of the next fiscal year.

The state’s top environmental official, Environmental Protection Department Commissioner Bob Martin, told the Assembly’s Budget Committee on Monday that the soonest money could flow into state accounts would be August or September.

The tar sands invasion that can be stopped

Many across the United States are aware of the tar sands threat posed by the proposed Keystone XL pipeline but what many may not know is the U.S. faces a looming threat that is bigger than just this one pipeline. We call it a tar sands invasion. The plan would be to complete a network of pipelines (both new and expanded), supertankers and barges, and a fleet of explosive railway tank cars. What is at risk? San Francisco Bay, Puget Sound, the Great Lakes, the Hudson River and other places we all call home. While the threat of this invasion is already here with the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the good news is that citizens across North America are rising up to respond and repeal the assault with a clear message: Not by pipeline, not by rail, not by tanker.

Eminent domain is focus of appeals court hearing in Kentucky pipeline case

A Kentucky Court of Appeals panel heard arguments Tuesday on whether a circuit court judge was correct when he ruled last year that Bluegrass Pipeline cannot use eminent domain to take private property for construction of a natural gas liquids pipeline.

About two dozen people listened to lawyers for both sides give their oral arguments to the three-judge panel.

The New Keystone XL Pipeline: Jordan Cove

A quiet cove at the edge of the Pacific Ocean is heir apparent to the raging debate over the Keystone XL pipeline. With a massive natural gas terminal and its own power plant, the pipeline that’s proposed to end at Coos Bay is slated as one of the next lavish investments in our nation’s continuing commitment to fossil fuels that propel the climate crisis.

Pipeline companies probe aerial leak monitoring

Three of the biggest pipeline companies in North America signed a partnership agreement to find ways to monitor for leaks using aerial technology.

Pipeline companies Kinder Morgan, Enbridge and TransCanada each committed $200,000 to fund laboratory research and field trials to find ways to discover crude oil or other hydrocarbon leaks. Technologies under consideration include infrared camera and other detection systems that are suitable for mounting on light aircraft or helicopters.

Don’t Trust, Don’t Fear, Don’t Beg review – sobering tale of Greenpeace’s Arctic 30

Almost from the start of the international oil boom of the late 19th century, Russia was a major player. The city of Baku, now in Azerbaijan but then a southern outpost of the empire, was producing half the world’s oil in 1900, and though it lost market share during the years of revolution and civil war, Russia remained an oil power through the Soviet era. Soviet geologists discovered oil in the Volga-Urals basin and then, most rewardingly, in western Siberia. The Samotlor field, discovered in 1965, was one of the largest in the world, and its oil would subsidise Soviet military and social programmes throughout the period of late socialism, right up until the collapse of world oil prices in 1985. In a lesson about oil dependence that was quickly forgotten, the price collapse was followed by the collapse of the entire country.

Drilling in the Arctic could be more difficult, and costly, than Shell is letting on, environmentalists tell SEC

Shell isn’t telling investors about the potentially multi-billion dollar costs that could arise from a spill at its exploratory oil wells in the Arctic Ocean — an oversight environmentalists are asking the Securities and Exchange Commission to probe.

In a petition filed with the agency late Monday, Oceana, a leading ocean advocacy group, and the University of Chicago law school clinic urged the SEC to probe whether Shell Oil Co.’s regulatory filings fall short of the material information disclosure demanded under U.S. securities laws, by leaving out key details about the company’s Arctic drilling program.

Forest Fire in Ukraine Approaches Chernobyl Disaster Site

A forest fire raged late Tuesday about 12 miles from the remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine, officials said.

Zoryan Shkiryak, acting head of Ukraine’s emergency services, said 200 firefighters were at the scene trying to put out the fire but the situation was otherwise “fully under control.” The fire was likely caused by arson or a permitted fire that “got out of hand,” the statement said.

Forest fire breaks out near Chernobyl nuclear plant

A fire has broken out in woods near Ukraine’s disused Chernobyl nuclear plant, the site of a meltdown in 1986.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said about 400 hectares of forest was alight in the exclusion zone around the plant

Up to 200 firefighters, along with scores of trucks and aircraft, were tackling the blaze about 15 to 20km (9 to 12 miles) from the nuclear plant.

How the Fukushima Disaster Crippled Japan’s Climate Plans

Japan used to have a pretty good reputation on climate change. Thanks to its robust industrial economy, it has the fourth-largest carbon footprint in the G20 nations. But it gets a sizable chunk of its power from zero-carbon sources like hydro dams and, at least until the 2011 disaster at Fukushima, nuclear plants. And in 2009, the country agreed, along with the other G8 nations, to reduce its carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Q&A: Fukushima City Aims for 50% Renewable Power

Japan’s central government proposed Tuesday that renewable energy account for up to 24% of the nation’s total power generation in 2030. That figure is much lower than a target of 40% set by Fukushima, the capital city of the prefecture where the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is located. By 2040, the city aims to push the renewable share up to 50%.

Nuclear energy cheapest power source due to reduced disaster risks, ministry says

Nuclear power is the most cost-effective method of generating electricity, even when factoring in increased safety fees, accident compensation and other related expenses following the 2011 nuclear disaster, the industry ministry said.

The government’s new estimates were based on the assumption that the probability of a major nuclear disaster occurring has been reduced following the introduction of new safety screening standards, meaning that the costs of dealing with such accidents would be spread out.

Japan eyes nuclear for a fifth of electricity supply

A fifth of Japan’s electricity supply should come from nuclear power generation, the country’s industry ministry said April 28, despite widespread opposition in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster.

With none of the nation’s viable nuclear reactors in operation, the target indicates an intention to bring most, if not all of them, back online

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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