Environmental Must-Reads – April 5, 2013


Fracking Waste Shipping Proposal Stirs Controversy, As Some Wonder If It Might Pollute Drinking Water

The Obama administration is inching ahead with a plan that would allow wastewater from fracking to be shipped on barges, fueling a debate whether it is safer than other transportation modes or risks polluting drinking water.

The Coast Guard last month quietly sent to the White House’s Office of Management and Budget a proposal to allow the barging of fracking wastewater. If the plan is pushed forward, it would become a proposed rule open for public comment and could be finalized sometime in the near future.

Fracking muddies water

Despite recent rain storms in Austin, Texas is in the throes of a long-term drought. Forecasts for the next decades warn of scarce freshwater and soaring population growth, which is not a good combination.

Last week the House passed legislation that would allocate $2 billion for the Texas Water Development Board’s wish list of local water conservation and management projects. However, there is some debate over who will receive funding and preferential treatment as water resources grow scarcer. The crisis pits farmers against developers and cities against rural towns in a constant scramble for finite amounts of money and water.

Le Fracking for Geothermal Heat Drawing Ire of French Oil

It’s an existential question in France: When is fracking not fracking?

The country is pushing ahead with plans to harness geothermal energy from smoldering rock deep in the earth’s crust using drilling methods the oil industry says are like hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which France outlawed in 2011.

Frackers Are Losing $1.5 Billion Yearly to Leaks

Of all the many and varied consequences of fracking (water contamination, injured workers, earthquakes, the list goes on) one of the least understood is so-called “fugitive” methane emissions. Methane is the primary ingredient of natural gas, and it escapes into the atmosphere at every stage of production: at wells, in processing plants, and in pipes on its way to your house. According to a new study, it could become one of the worst climate impacts of the fracking boom—and yet, it’s one of the easiest to tackle right away. Best of all, fixing the leaks is good for the bottom line.

Push For Increased Monitoring Of Radioactive Waste In Landfills

Radioactivity is everywhere, but it’s concentrated – to varying degrees – in materials like radium or uranium found deep in the ground. When companies drill for natural gas, they bring some of those radioactive elements to the surface mixed in the leftover dirt and mud.

That waste can be hazardous to living organisms, unless it’s handled carefully.

Fracking Industry Greases Gears of Government in Tennessee

States to the North and West of Tennessee?Illinois, Ohio and Arkansas?are already fracked. Other surrounding states?Georgia, Alabama and Kentucky?are in the industry’s sights, and it feels like there’s a big bullseye painted on Tennessee. While the industry has been dog piling on Pennsylvania, Ohio and Arkansas for production, they’ve been greasing the gears of government here in Tennessee, establishing their right to ruin in Illinois and beating back the opposition in North Carolina.

Colorado Doctors Unite Against Energy Companies

A controversy has placed Colorado doctors in opposition to oil and gas companies in the state. The issue concerns a confidentiality agreement physicians are supposed to sign that aims to protect those companies’ trade secrets.

Wave of protests against shale gas in Romania, Bulgaria

Thousands of Romanians protested Thursday against the plans of US giant Chevron to explore for shale gas, demanding the government to withdraw concessions and ban drilling of the company’s first test wells.

Newspapers Seek Missing Court Documents in Fracking Contamination Case

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports they are seeking missing information from unsealed court documents related to a fracking contamination case in Washington County.

Hallowich v. Range Resources is one of the most closely watched cases involving claims of health impacts and property damage against a Marcellus Shale gas driller.

Video Friday: The Boundless Boom of the Bakken Formation Threatens Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Winthrop Roosevelt, the great-great grandson of Theodore Roosevelt, narrates this video from ThinkProgess about the unabated “boom with no boundaries” from the exploding oil and gas development in the Bakken formation of  western North Dakota. Drilling operations now encroach and encircle Roosevelt National Park, threatening one of the nations most enduring and unique wild places.

As noted in ThinkProgress, the residents of North Dakota featured in the film are not against oil and gas development, “but at what cost?” There needs to be a balance between conservation and development and who will speak for the land?

Gasland’s Impact on the Explosive Growth of the Anti-Fracking Movement

When filmmaker Josh Fox released his Gasland documentary in 2010, anti-fracking activism consisted primarily of a small number of grassroots groups operating in states where the shale gas industry was ramping up its activities. The groups’ members often had to struggle to get their neighbors and political representatives to listen to their concerns about the risks associated with this extreme form of energy extraction.

Breast Cancer Action Takes on Fracking’s Health Harms

Last fall, a short article published in a small town Oklahoma newspaper caught our attention. The article described an oil and natural gas drilling rig that Oklahoma-based Nomac Drilling had turned pink in honor of breast cancer “awareness.” We were aghast. We’d seen many instances of pinkwashing, but this was especially egregious.

Nomac Drilling and their parent company, Chesapeake Energy, are among the biggest natural gas producing companies in the country. They routinely use hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), as a method of extracting ever more oil and gas from deep within the earth’s surface. We know that over 700 chemicals are commonly used in the process of drilling and fracking for oil and gas, including dozens that are listed as “chemicals of concern” because of their link to multiple health harms. Benzene, Acrylamide, Ethylene Oxide, Bisphenol A, formaldehyde, lead, and Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate are all known carcinogens or endocrine disruptors that are widely used in the fracking process and have proven links to breast cancer. The idea that Nomac Drilling would turn pink a drilling rig used in a process that could expose people to harmful chemicals linked to breast cancer motivated us to take action.

Federal judge rejects BP’s attempt to block oil spill claim payments

A federal judge on Friday rejected BP’s attempt to block the Deepwater Horizon claims administrator from awarding what it said could be billions of dollars in payments for “business economic losses” that the British oil giant contends are based on “fictitious” claims of damage.

BP Faults Overseer of Gulf Oil-Spill Claims

Almost as soon as BP BP.LN -1.08% PLC agreed to compensate people for damages from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the oil giant started raising concerns that people would try to defraud it, or the court-supervised fund it eventually set up to pay claims.

Now, BP is challenging the fund’s process for handing out money, saying in court filings that the fund is approving “fictitious awards” to some businesses and overestimating the losses of many claimants. The fight is set to go before a federal judge in New Orleans on Friday.

Ruling against BP clears way for appeal of spill payouts

A U.S. judge’s ruling Friday against BP Plc means the company can proceed with its appeal of the way a court-appointed administrator apportions payments for claims related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, some of which BP called “absurd.”

Arkansas town in lockdown after oil spill nightmare

There’s one Exxon gas station in Mayflower, Ark.

Before last Friday, that’s likely as close as Mayflower residents got to the multinational oil and gas behemoth ExxonMobil. But after the Pegasus Pipeline burst last Friday, sending thousands of gallons of tar-sands oil into the Northwoods neighborhood, the company became omnipresent in this small town of 2,200 people.

Exxon controls skies over Arkansas oil spill

DeSmog Blog’s Steve Horn Thursday drew attention to an interesting detail in the Arkansas ExxonMobil oil spill story. He notes, “The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has had a ‘no fly zone’ in place in Mayflower, Arkansas since April 1 at 2:12 PM and will be in place ‘until further notice,’ according to the FAA website and it’s being overseen by ExxonMobil itself.”

Mayflower, Ark., Battles Exxon’s Backyard Oil Spill

We tend to think of oil spills on a massive scale, so large they are hard to imagine. Millions of barrels of crude pouring into the Bering Sea from the slashed hull of the Exxon Valdez.  Tens of thousands of workers and volunteers combing hundreds of miles of Gulf Coast beaches after the Deep Water Horizon spill.

But in Mayflower, Ark., the scale of an oil spill there is disturbing not for its size, but its proximity.   On March 29, a 20-inch buried pipeline burst under the small town, turning backyards into tar pits and suburban streets into oil slicks.

Arkansas oil spill: Timeline

Friday marks one week since an ExxonMobil pipeline burst in the town of Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling thousands of barrels of toxic tar sands. Town residents say they are being kept in the dark over compensation and the cleanup by Exxon.

Oil Spill Spotlights Keystone XL Issue: Is Canadian Crude Worse?

David Hatfield, an Arkansas wildlife photographer and minister, rose before dawn on Monday and headed to Lake Conway.

Even though he had lived nearby for 25 years, Hatfield never knew of the threat now oozing near this 6,700-acre habitat 25 miles north of Little Rock, the largest game and wildlife commission reservoir in the United States.

“It surprised me that we had a pipeline here,” he said.

Third major oil spill in a week: Shell pipeline breaks in Texas

Thousands of gallons of oil have spilled from a pipeline in Texas, the third accident of its kind in only a week.

Shell Pipeline, a unit of Royal Dutch Shell Plc, shut down their West Columbia, Texas, pipeline last Friday after electronic calculations conducted by the US National Response Center showed that upwards of 700 barrels had been lost, amounting to almost 30,000 gallons of crude oil.

White River oil spill puts First Nation on alert

Residents of Pic Mobert First Nation are concerned about how close they came to having the water supply contaminated by oil.

The executive director of the community said he’s relieved CP Rail was quick to contain the spill of more than 63,000 litres of crude oil, after a freight train left the track and 22 cars derailed.

Playing Pipeline Politics

During times like these—a still-fragile economy; unemployment persistently, unacceptably high; the prospect of a midterm election with dynamics that work against the Democrats—the environment always takes the hit. That’s just the way things are. Put up against their jobs and their retirement accounts, or the jobs and retirement accounts of their friends and family, it’s hard to convince people that they really should care about some trees somewhere, or, say, an impending catastrophe with consequences including but hardly limited to drought, fires, devastating storms, and melting ice and rising seas. As a species, we’re just not that good at seeing the long-term consequences of our actions, much less caring about them, especially when we have more immediate concerns.

I traveled the length of the Keystone XL Pipeline: A Q&A with TED Book author Steven Mufson

This week, protestors in San Francisco called on President Obama to block the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, which has been proposed to transport oil the 1700 miles from Canada to the Texas Gulf Coast. Advocates of the pipeline believe that it’s the holy-grail project that will create jobs for Americans, make us more energy efficient and ensure the country’s oil independence from countries whose political and moral values that we oppose. Opponents worry about oil spills — and the recent rupture of Canadian crude oil from an Exxon Mobile pipeline that littered front lawns in Mayflower, Ark., only increased these fears. Not to mention that construction of the pipeline would only continue our reliance on oil.

Sinkhole panel promises ‘very aggressive’ schedule

An expert panel recently appointed in response to the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole will have a “very aggressive” schedule to follow in recommending when evacuated residents can return to their homes, the response effort’s technical lead said Friday.

CB&I hydrogeologist Gary Hecox’s warning about the schedule was echoed by other speakers who sought to impress upon this blue ribbon commission the importance and urgency of their new roles.

Texas Brine to conduct depth test on cavern

Texas Brine Co. plans to conduct a key test Tuesday on the depth of its failed Napoleonville Dome salt cavern, the suspected cause of a large sinkhole in Assumption Parish, company officials said.

The test is expected to show how close the salt dome cavern is to being completely filled with rock, a point when scientists suspect the grumbling, growing swampland sinkhole may finally begin calming down.

Fukushima nuclear plant’s cooling system fails

Power was restored Friday to a cooling system at a tsunami-damaged nuclear plant in Japan that failed for the second time in a month.

Power for the cooling system for a storage pool for fuel was restored after a two-hour break at reactor No. 3, and there was no immediate danger from the breakdown, according to Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that operates Fukushima Dai-ichi in northeastern Japan.

Rat Chase Again Bedevils Fukushima Nuclear Plant

Workers at the stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant who were installing wire nets Friday to keep rats away from a vital cooling system instead tripped up that system, causing it to fail for the second time in weeks.

Fukushima nuclear plant: Cooling system power restored

Power has been restored to part of the cooling system at Japan’s tsunami-hit Fukushima nuclear plant, after it failed for the second time in a month.

The breakdown was not thought to pose any immediate danger, operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said.

Power Outage Hits Fukushima Nuclear Plant Again

For two hours on Friday, for the second time in a month, the power for the cooling system at the crippled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant in Japan failed in reactor No. 3. Last time a dead rat was found in the wiring. This time the act of putting up nets, to keep the rats and other animals out, was given as the cause.

Did Alaska newborns suffer repercussions of Fukushima fallout?

When a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011, it caused a massive tsunami that killed thousands. But there was more to come: the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant began to leak radioactive particles into the air, raising concerns over contamination in Japan and other countries, including the United States, thousands of miles away across the Pacific.

Now, a recent study published in the Open Journal of Pediatrics has linked the leak of radiation to the U.S. West Coast with an increase of an endocrine disorder in newborns known as congenital hypothyroidism (CH), which can cause lifelong problems like mental retardation, deafness and physical defects if untreated. Infants are tested for CH shortly after birth, along with a slew of other disorders. If treatment begins immediately, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services says babies born with CH will have “normal or near-normal intelligence.”

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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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