Environmental Must-Reads – April 3, 2015


Fracking Operators Ran Up 2.5 Violations a Day, Study Shows

Oil and gas drillers ran afoul of regulators on average 2.5 times a day in three energy-intensive states for mistakes such as wastewater spills, well leaks or pipeline ruptures during the boom in hydraulic fracturing.

Online records in West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado showed regulators issued 4,600 citations from 2009 to 2013, the Natural Resources Defense Council said Thursday in a report. The report excluded violations in 33 other states with drilling because such records aren’t available on the Internet.

Exclusive: California used 70 million gallons of water in fracking in 2014

California oil producers used 214 acre-feet of water, equivalent to nearly 70 million gallons, in the process of fracking for oil and gas in the state last year, less than previously projected, state officials told Reuters on Thursday.

The practice of fracking has been criticized in the state, which is suffering from a drought so severe that Governor Jerry Brown announced the first-ever mandatory 25 percent statewide reduction in water use on Wednesday.

It’s Almost Impossible To Find Data On Oil And Gas Spills In Most States

A new report from the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council has analyzed the data on spills and other violations at oil and gas wells across the country. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the report is how little data the group was able to turn up.

Based on NRDC’s evaluation of dozens of state databases, only three states — West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado — have easily accessible, publicly available data on spills and other violations. That’s three states out of 36 that have active oil and gas development.

Fracking breaches ‘hidden from public’

Oil and gas companies in 33 US states can avoid heightened public scrutiny because data about violations of safety and pollution rules are effectively hidden from residents, according to an environmental group’s investigation.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which probed a patchwork of state oil and gas regulations, warned that the lack of disclosure left citizens vulnerable as the shale boom brings production closer to residential areas.

Is Your Local Fracking Company Breaking the Rules? You’ll Probably Never Know

One of the biggest differences between fracking and other kinds of industrial development is that fracking often occurs extremely close to towns and homes. That’s because oil and gas wells take up far less space than open-pit coal mines and cement factories. One 2013 analysis estimated than at least 15.3 million Americans have a gas well within a mile of their home.

So you might think that data on the performance records of oil and gas companies—how often they have spills, or exceed air pollution standards, etc.—would be readily available to locals who have an immediate stake in knowing about what’s going on in their backyard.

Staggering Rise in Fracking Earthquakes Triggers Kansas to Take Action

It seems unlikely that Kansas, known as one of the most conservative states in the U.S. and home to fossil fuel barons the Koch Brothers, would take action against the oil and gas industries. But in the face of a new wave of earthquakes attributed to the underground injection of fracking wastewater, its industry regulating body, the Kansas Corporation Commission (KCC), ordered a reduction of wastewater injection in two counties abutting Oklahoma, finding that increased earthquake activity correlated with increasing volumes of injected fracking water.

Pipelines: The new battleground over fracking

Crews weld a pipeline connecting to a natural gas well in the Loyalsock State Forest.

Forget the battles over the Keystone XL. Pipeline wars are now raging in Pennsylvania, where production is high and pipeline capacity is low. Marcellus Shale gas has the potential to alter the landscape of the global energy market. But right now a shortage of pipelines to get gas from the gas fields to consumers has energy companies eager to dig new trenches.  And activists opposed to more drilling see pipeline proposals as the new battleground over fracking.

WV oil and gas operators land on ‘Fracking’s Most Wanted’ list

Two environmental advocacy groups, National Resources Defense Council and the FracTracker Alliance, have investigated and identified oil and gas operations and violations data in an effort to prompt legislative change.

During the investigation, the organizations found that information about the frequency and nature of oil and gas company violations is only publicly accessible in only three of the 36 states that have active oil and gas development — West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Colorado.

Study links Wyo. winter ozone to drillers’ wastewater plant

Emissions from wastewater recycling at oil and gas drilling sites likely contributed to a string of high-ozone events in the winter of 2011 in Wyoming’s Upper Green River Basin, according to a study released this week.

By studying the chemical signatures in emissions from oil and gas operations, the study, led by researchers at the University of Wyoming, found that wastewater treatment was a major source of non-methane pollutants that spurred ozone formation.

Permit delays blamed for dismal California oil rig count

A backlog of wastewater injection permits in California caused by a review of the state’s program has contributed to the low number of oil rigs, an oil industry official said on Thursday.

Just 15 oil rigs were operating in California this week, down 60 percent from a year ago, according to data released on Thursday by energy services firm Baker Hughes.

Fracking Opponents Rally As Senate Takes Up Bill

More than 100 Western Maryland business owners and residents held a rally in Annapolis today to call on lawmakers to approve a moratorium on natural gas fracking.

The process is on hold in Garret and Allegheny Counties while Governor Larry Hogan studies regulations drafted by the O’Malley Administration.

Mountain Valley Pipeline takes West Virginia landowners to court

Mountain Valley Pipeline has taken legal action against more than 100 individuals and three businesses in 10 West Virginia counties to obtain access to survey private lands in creating a potential pipeline route.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC, a joint venture between EQT Corp., NextEra Energy, WGL Midstream and Vega Midstream MVP LLC, has proposed to build a 300-mile natural gas transmission pipeline — called the Mountain Valley Pipeline — between Wetzel County, West Virginia and Pittsylvania County, Virginia.

Federal data: Not many oil trains for Keystone XL to displace

New data on crude oil shipments by rail released by the Department of Energy this week show that there are relatively few oil trains taking the path of the controversial proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

In its first monthly report on crude by rail, the U.S. Energy Information Administration shows that the bulk of oil shipments by rail are moving from North Dakota’s Bakken region to refineries in the mid-Atlantic and the Pacific Northwest.

U.S readies emergency oil train safety measures: source

The U.S. Transportation Department is completing work on a package of measures to control oil train dangers before the Obama administration finalizes a national safety plan expected by May, an official with knowledge of the plans said on Thursday.

The measures, which could include emergency orders, safety advisories, or other controls, should be in force within days, said the source who was not authorized to discuss the plans.

Why oil trains (don’t have to) explode: Everything you need to know

Crude oil was never supposed to explode.

Then a train pulling 72 cars of it derailed in a tiny town in Quebec in July 2013. The oil turned into a mushroom cloud of flame. It looked terrifying. Watch the first minute of this video

Quebec Oil Train Disaster Settlement for Victims’ Families

The law firm representing the families of 47 people killed in the 2013 Quebec train crash said it has received a financial proposal that would see them split US$61 million in compensation.

Chicago-based law firm Meyers & Flowers said it will be closely reviewing the settlement to determine whether the defendants are paying sufficient funds.

Can lower speeds prevent crude oil train derailments?

BNSF Railway announced this week that crude oil trains traveling through the Twin Cities will slow down, no faster than 35 mph.

The safety measure comes in the wake of several high-profile derailments in the United States and Canada. BNSF hauls much of the oil produced in the Bakken region of North Dakota.

4 Killed in Explosion and Fire on Pemex Mexican Oil Platform

Huge fireballs illuminated the early dawn skies of the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday as an explosion and fire killed four people and injured as many as 16 others on a large oil platform in the southeastern Bay of Campeche, Mexican officials said.

At least eight fire boats battled the sheets of flame soaring high above the wreckage of the shallow-water Abkatun-Permanente platform in Campeche Sound. The platform’s chief function is to separate gas and oil before it is pumped to onshore refineries.

Mexico’s Pemex: 3 workers still missing after platform blaze

Three workers are missing following the huge blaze on an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico that killed four workers and burned for hours, Mexico’s state oil company said Thursday.

Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, said it became aware of the missing workers when it recounted personnel after Wednesday’s fire on the Abkatun-A Permanente shallow-water platform in the Campeche Sound.

Pemex says it will meet deliveries despite massive oil platform explosion

Petroleos Mexicanos expects to meet deliveries on time after suffering a fatal explosion on an oil- processing platform in the Gulf of Mexico, the company said.

Four workers died including one from Mexican oil services provider Cotemar SA and 16 others were injured Wednesday after a fire on the Abkatun platform in the Gulf of Mexico, the state- owned company said. Pemex has no need to declare force majeure on deliveries, an official, who asked not to be named in line with company policy, said by telephone Thursday.

Deepwater horizon oil spill: Jury to decide Alabama’s Gulf-oil-spill claims

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange hailed a ruling that said Alabama’s Gulf oil-spill-damage claims under the federal Oil Pollution Act can be heard by a jury.

BP had moved to block a jury trial for the state, saying that neither the Oil Pollution Act nor admiralty law provides the right to a trial by jury.

Councilman questions spending on ‘poster child’ of the BP oil spill

GPS technology commonly used by boats fails to keep pace with Louisiana land loss.

“It shows we’re sitting on the island,” said boat owner Bob Beck as he approached Cat Island in Plaquemines Parish this week.

In fact, the boat sat 300 feet off the island, which measured about 4 acres on April 20, 2010 when BP’s Macondo Well blew out in the Gulf of Mexico.

Study Suggests Oil Dispersant Used in Gulf Oil Spill Causes Lung and Gill Injuries to Humans and Aquatic Animals, Also Identifies Protective Enzyme

New research from investigators at the University of Alabama at Birmingham suggests that Corexit EC9500A, an oil-dispersal agent widely used in the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, contributes to damage to epithelium cells within the lungs of humans and gills of marine creatures. The study also identifies an enzyme that is expressed in epithelial cells across species that has protective properties against Corexit-induced damage.

The investigators say that finding a way to boost or enhance that enzyme, heme oxygenase-1 or HO-1, could prevent lung damage in cases of exposure to oil dispersal agents in future. The study, published in PLOS ONE on April 2, 2015, looked at epithelium cells — the cells lining the airways of humans and the gills of certain marine species, in particular zebrafish and blue crabs.

Temple researchers say dispersant used to clean 2010 oil spill was at least as toxic to corals as the oil

A recent study out of Temple University found that the dispersant used to clean up the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was at least as toxic to cold-water corals as the oil itself.

“You have tissue falling off the [corals’] skeleton, you have dying polyps that are no longer feeding, the tissue can be discolored, they’re secreting a lot of mucus, so they’re definitely not healthy corals,” said Danielle DeLeo, a Temple doctoral student and the study’s lead author.

Early Reports on Tashmoo Oil Spill Say Environmental Damage Will Be Minimal

A diesel fuel spill from a sunken sport fishing boat in Lake Tashmoo was contained early this week with what is believed to be minimal damage following a response from town, state and Coast Guard officials.

Shellfish beds remain closed while state biologists continue to assess environmental impacts from the spill.

TransCanada scraps Quebec oil port, delays Energy East pipeline

TransCanada Corp , the company behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, is scrapping plans for a Quebec oil-export terminal because of danger to whales in the St. Lawrence River, a move that is a victory for environmentalists and which delays the company’s C$12 billion ($9.5 billion) Energy East pipeline project.

The company said it now plans to complete the 1.1 million barrel per day Energy East pipeline in 2020, instead of late 2018, as it rejigs regulatory filings.

The Owners of the Keystone Pipeline Just Canceled a Project in Canada

TransCanada on Thursday announced a two-year delay to its plans to move the Canadian tar sands. The company is cancelling its plans to build a controversial export terminal in Quebec, citing environmental concern over the endangered beluga whale. This means a delay to plans for finishing the Energy East pipeline, now set for 2020. In the meantime, TransCanada will search for a new location for its port.

‘Deathly’ fears vs. drilling hopes at Arctic oil panel

Willie Goodwin — the former mayor of Kotzebue, a city in northwestern Alaska that is home to a little more than 3,200 people — doubts oil and gas crews will ever be able to completely clean up an oil spill in the Arctic, no matter how far technology has advanced.

“We’re deathly afraid of an oil spill,” he said yesterday, talking about the Inupiat people, his tribe, at Resources for the Future’s headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Promise and Hazards of Arctic Oil Outlined at D.C. Forum

With two of Shell’s rigs now crossing the Pacific in hopes of drilling in the Chukchi Sea this summer, officials and energy experts gathered at a forum in Washington this week to review the rewards and challenges ahead for Arctic oil development.

Jan Mares, an energy policy advisor and former Homeland Security official, says the prize is within the industry’s technical reach.

Arctic oil drilling brings risks, lessons, ExxonMobil CEO Tillerson says

The Arctic is the next great frontier for oil and gas — and one of the most environmentally fragile places on earth.

An Energy Department advisory council study adopted last week said the United States should start exploring for oil and gas in the Arctic soon in order to feed future demand, and that the industry is ready to safely exploit the Arctic’s huge reserves, despite recent mishaps.

Arctic Oil Rig Protested by Greenpeace Will Earn $11 Billion for Russia – Oil Executive

Russia’s first Arctic oil rig will contribute taxes worth 40 billion rubles ($700 million) per year to the Russian budget, an executive at the rig’s operating company said Thursday, knocking hopes by environmentalists that the project would mothballed due to low oil prices.

Thirty Greenpeace activists were jailed in Russia after attempting to storm the Prirazlomnaya platform in the Pechora Sea in 2013. Environmentalists say Gazprom Neft, which runs the rig, lacks the technology to work safely in the fragile Arctic ecosystem.

Fukushima residents suing government for lifting evacuation advisories

Hundreds of residents here plan to sue the central government for lifting evacuation advisories near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, saying the decision endangered their lives because radiation levels remained high around their homes.

In the lawsuit that will be filed with the Tokyo District Court, the 535 plaintiffs from 132 households in the city just north of the nuclear plant will demand that the government retract its decision to lift the advisories and pay 100,000 yen ($837) in compensation to each plaintiff.

Opposition warns of Fukushima as Ankara OKs Japan nuke plant

An agreement between Turkey and Japan to build a nuclear power plant in the province of Sinop was approved in Parliament on Wednesday, prompting the opposition to raise warnings of Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) deputy Aytu? At?c? said Turkey should take the 2011 Fukushima incident as a lesson not to pursue nuclear power, as the disaster resulted in 8 percent of Japan’s land area becoming contaminated with radiation and led to the closure of the country’s 50 nuclear reactors.

100 people worked near Fukushima nuclear plant without radiation knowledge

Roughly 100 people worked in a former no-go zone near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant between December 2012 and March 2013 without knowledge that their work was subject to a special radiation dose limit, it has been learned.

The workers were employed by a contractor that secured jobs for them under a deal with the central government’s Cabinet Office to monitor passing vehicles. Labor standards authorities ordered the contractor to correct its practices after the problem came to light.

Marshall Islands will appeal in nuclear case against US

The tiny Pacific nation of the Marshall Islands is persisting with an unprecedented lawsuit demanding that the United States meet its obligations toward getting rid of its nuclear weapons. It filed notice Thursday that it will appeal a federal judge’s decision to dismiss the case.

The island group was the site of 67 nuclear tests by the U.S. over a 12-year period after World War II, with lasting health and environmental impacts, including more than 250 people exposed to high amounts of radiation.

Atomic clean-up veterans asking for help 40 years later

When Americans join the military, there is an understanding that if they are harmed while serving their country, their country will take care of them. Some veterans in Maine who did unusual work on a remote Pacific island some four decades ago feel the government has turned its back on them.

“I am a stage four cancer survivor. We deserve to be recognized and we need the medical assistance, you know? There are a lot of people who are now sick and battling for their lives,” said Jeff Dean.

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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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