Environmental Must-Reads – April 6, 2015


As Quakes Rattle Oklahoma, Fingers Point to Oil and Gas Industry

Yanked without warning from a deep sleep, Jennifer Lin Cooper, whose family has lived near here for more than a half-century, could think only that the clamor enveloping her house was coming from a helicopter landing on her roof. She was wrong.

A 5.0-magnitude earthquake — the first of three as strong or stronger over several days in November 2011 — had peeled the brick facade from the $117,000 home she bought the year before. Ms. Cooper, 36, could not get out until her father pried a stuck storm door off the front entrance. Repairs have so far cost $12,000 and forced her to take a second job, at night, to pay the bill.

North Dakota orders 5 companies to reduce oil production in state

The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division has ordered five oil companies to reduce their production in the state as a penalty for flaring more gas than allowed.

Division spokeswoman Alison Ritter tells the Bismarck Tribune that this is the largest number of companies and wells the state has sanctioned since new restrictions took effect on Jan. 1. The new rules require companies to capture at least 77 percent of natural gas produced during oil production.

Fracking waste stirs controversy in Athens

The tractor-trailers arrive at a steady pace, turning off Rt. 50 and climbing a hill to a collection of tall, green metal tanks.

The trucks haul long, white tanks that are bare except for a number that identifies their company and one word that has riled a vocal population in Athens County: brine.

Disclosure Fail: Industry Reps Testifying for Denton, Texas Fracking Bill Left Ties Undisclosed

A March 24 hearing prior to the passage of a controversial bill out of committee that preempts cities in Texas from regulating hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for oil and gas obtained from shale basins, featured numerous witnesses who failed to disclose their industry ties, including some with ties to the Koch brothers.

The next day on March 25, Texas Senate Bill 1165 — “Relating to the express preemption of regulation of oil and gas operations and the exclusive jurisdiction of those operations by the state” — passed in the Senate Natural Resources & Economic Development Committee unanimously. Its companion bill, HB 40, also only received a single dissenting vote, and it now advances to a full floor vote in both chambers.

Cornish Company Geothermal Engineering Aiming To ‘Recycle’ Fracking Wells

The Cornwall-based company Geothermal Engineering is pushing forward with its very interesting idea to ‘recycle’ used and exhausted fracking (hydraulic fracturing) wells from the oil and gas industries as geothermal power sources, according to recent reports.

To be specific, Geothermal Engineering will be using old wells drilled by the fracking company Cuadrilla. As determined by a recently signed memorandum of understanding between the two companies, the Cornish company will be designing a system that could potentially deliver both shale gas and also ‘renewable’ geothermal heat.

Widespread stream monitoring needed in fracking zones

Gathering baseline water quality data from streams in fracking zones could help pinpoint impacts to drinking water, researchers at Penn State and the U.S. Geological Survey said after finding high levels of methane in a Pennsylvania stream.

Multiple samples from the stream, Sugar Run in Lycoming County, showed a groundwater inflow of thermogenic methane, consistent with what would be found in shale gas. The samples came from an area near the site of a reported Marcellus shale gas well leak.

Vienna oil spill leaves slew of dead animals

The Ohio EPA and Ohio Department of Natural Resources have contained a waste oil spill in Vienna Township Friday, but are still tracking down the source of the chemicals.

The spill happened near 884 Sodom Hutchings Road near old Route 82, also known as Warren Sharon Road, Thursday evening.

Vienna Township plans emergency meeting following oil spill

Vienna Township Trustees will hold an emergency meeting for residents following an oil spill traced back to a property that operates five injection wells.

A representative from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has volunteered to attend the meeting at Mathews High School, Monday, April 6, at 6 p.m.

State agencies to pay for Vienna residents’ water testing after oil spill

One State Representative may have some answers for Valley residents dealing with the fear of the unknown surrounding two separate oil spills near Vienna and Mosquito Lake.

State Representative Sean O’Brien who made the announcement Saturday afternoon to 21 News that two state agencies will pick up the cost for residents to have their water tested near the sites.

Fracking’s Most Wanted

How easy is it to get information about an oil or gas company’s legal violations in your state—any spills, contaminations or equipment failure that may have occurred?

In 33 of the 36 states with active drilling operations, it’s almost impossible. And in the three which do make information available to the public—Colorado, Pennsylvania and West Virginia—that information is often incomplete, hard to access and difficult to interpret.

Suits filed by firm planning pipeline

The Columbus-based company seeking to build a 22-mile natural-gas pipeline through parts of Lucas and Wood counties has filed two eminent-domain lawsuits against property owners along the project’s route.

North Coast Gas Transmission on March 31 sued Scott and Nancy Rogers of Neiderhouse Road, Perrysburg Township, and on Feb. 27 sued Paul Swartz of Wood Creek Road in Perrysburg. Both cases, in which the company is seeking right-of-way to build the Oregon Lateral pipeline, are pending in Wood County Common Pleas Court.

Company Wants 100 West Virginians’ Land For A Pipeline

A pipeline company is suing more than 100 landowners in West Virginia in an attempt to get access to their land, claiming that its proposed pipeline has the right of eminent domain.

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court last week to force more than 100 property owners and three corporations in 10 West Virginia counties to open their land to surveying for the Mountain Valley Pipeline. The proposed pipeline, if approved, would carry natural gas about 300 miles from northwestern West Virginia to southern Virginia. Since it’s an interstate pipeline, the approval lies with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Oil trains’ No. 1 safety threat: Derailments

Amid the continuing public discussion over improving the safety of crude oil delivered by rail, it’s important that everyone — the energy industry, railroads, regulators, policymakers — stay focused on the facts and the science.

This is key to making meaningful improvements to freight rail transportation — which already delivers 99.998 percent of materials such as crude oil without incident. We say meaningful improvements because, as with everything we do, the oil and natural gas industry’s safety goal is zero incidents.

World Fuel faces claims related to deadly train derailment

World Fuel Services Corp. is defending against claims related to a deadly train derailment that spilled oil owned by World Fuel in a small Canadian town. The fiery rail disaster on July 6, 2013, destroyed part of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and killed 47 people. Michael Kasbar declined in an interview to comment on the company’s potential liability in the Lac-Mégantic disaster. He said that World Fuel had not retained outside legal counsel to handle claims related to the deadly derailment.

N.D. rule requires oil on rail cars to be stabilized

Following a spate of explosive accidents involving North Dakota crude, the state began requiring companies last week to remove certain liquids and gases from oil before it’s loaded onto rail cars — a move industry and state regulators believe will make for safer shipments.

The rules, developed over the past year, require all crude from the state’s oil patch to be treated by heat or by pressure to reduce its volatility before being loaded onto train cars.

Pemex still searching for missing workers

Mexico’s state-run oil company continues to search for three missing workers from a platform fireball that killed four others, while beginning to restore production at the damaged Gulf of Mexico facility, officials said Sunday.

Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, will start processing 170,000 barrels of crude by Monday and expects to restore 80 percent of the pre-fire production in the coming week, said Gustavo Hernandez, general director of exploration and production.

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster, scars linger

The scene of one of the nation’s most dramatic environmental disasters is serene now. Waist-tall marsh grasses shiver in the wind, the tan and green carpet stretching to a hazy blue horizon. The quiet is broken only by small waves clapping a rhythm on the metal hull of a skiff, beached at the edge of the latte-colored Gulf of Mexico. At first glance, it’s hard to see anything amiss.

But Linda Hooper-Bui kneels in a patch of grass, pulls up a clod of jet-black earth, and holds it to her nose. “Ooh, smell that, baby,” exclaims the entomologist. A sniff delivers a swift kick reminiscent of motor oil.

Dispersant used in BP spill might cause damage to human lungs, fish, crab gills, new study says

The dispersant most often used during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill might cause damage to cells in human lungs and in the gills of fish and crabs, according to a study published Thursday in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

The study by researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, published in the PLOS One online journal, also found that an enzyme triggered by the Corexit 9600 dispersant compound in humans and animals might be used to protect against the harm caused by the chemicals in the dispersant.

This General Rescued New Orleans—Now He Wants to Save the World

“I don’t call myself an environmentalist, I call myself a pollution fighter” Russel Honoré tells me.

The 67-year-old retired lieutenant general doesn’t fit the stereotype of your typical green activist. Many soldiers called him “The Ragin’ Cajun,” though he is—in fact—a Louisiana Creole.

For nearly four decades he was a career infantry officer, trained in the art of close combat—leading soldiers to kill America’s enemies before they killed them.

Why we all should care about the oil platform explosion that just happened in Mexico

Early Wednesday morning the Pemex oil platform, Abkatun Alpha blew up off the West coast of the Yucatan peninsula. The explosion killed four people and sent 16 to the hospital. 300 people managed to escape the blazing wreckage. Three people are still missing.

The rig might as well have imploded, though, given the swift clamp-down on facts and sudden empty space devoid of independent information. What we know about the blaze is only what Pemex and the Mexican government would tell the world.

Man Wins Right To Sue Enbridge After Getting Sick

After a man who lives right next to the Kalamazoo River got sick when the Enbridge oil spill happened, he sought out to sue the company.

A lower court tossed the case out and said there was no direct link between the Enbridge spill and the man’s health.

The man got sick when the oil spill happened. He ended up coughing and throwing up so much that he says he suffered an avulsion of his short gastric artery that led to internal bleeding.

New pollution lawsuits are rare under Christie; focus is on settling old cases for cash

When the Christie administration recently settled a nearly $9 billion lawsuit against Exxon Mobil for $225 million, setting off a firestorm of criticism, the state defended it as the largest environmental settlement in New Jersey history and pointed to a flurry of such deals under Governor Christie’s watch.

And, indeed, the administration has continued to resolve environmental damage cases that were already in the legal pipeline when Christie took office in 2010. But Christie has filed only two new environmental damage suits on his own.

Chevron Agents Back in Ecuadorean Amazon: Indigenous Leaders

On Thursday, Indigenous leaders in the Ecuadorean amazon denounced the presence of agents from the Chevron oil company in their territories, whom they believe were there to sow divisions within their communities. Rural workers and indigenous peoples are currently facing off with Chevron in court, seeking to collect US$9.5 Billion in compensation for environmental damage caused by the company. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled earlier this month that a prior ruling by an Ecuadorean court that fined the U.S.-based oil company Chevron should be upheld.

After two Montana breaks, scrutiny builds over federal pipeline regs

Two pipelines have dumped 70,000 gallons of crude into the nation’s longest free-flowing river in the last four years. What they have in common is that right up until breaking, both were considered safe.

That “all clear” by regulators has sparked concern about whether the federal government is setting the bar too low for pipeline safety and ignoring destructive river conditions. There are 39 gas and oil pipelines beneath the Yellowstone River in Montana, and many, like the two that have polluted the Yellowstone since 2011, are buried fewer than 10 feet beneath the riverbed. The federal government requires a minimum of only 48 inches of cover over pipelines in rivers 100 feet or wider.

Officials stress safety during pipeline reclamation workshop

The second pipeline reclamation workshop held Tuesday provided attendees with a wealth of knowledge on the subject of pipelines, spills and their effects on the environment and property owners.

The morning started with a review of pipeline and other transportation spills that occurred this past year in Richland County from county Disaster and Emergency Services director Deb Gilbert, who was followed by Bill Salvin of Bridger Pipeline, who gave a review of the company’s cleanup efforts.

The Keystone XL Pipeline Company Just Delayed Its Other Huge Tar Sands Pipeline

Pipeline company TransCanada is canceling its plans to build an oil export terminal in Quebec, a move that the company says will postpone the start of its proposed Energy East pipeline for more than a year.

TransCanada announced Thursday that, due to concerns about the safety of beluga whale populations in the St. Lawrence River, it won’t building marine and tank terminals in Cacouna, Quebec. Cacouna borders the St. Lawrence.

Exxon CEO talks Arctic oil drilling, risks, lessons

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 U.S. 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.

Feds says Shell’s spill containment system works as company seeks Arctic drilling approval

Shell has successfully deployed its Arctic containment system in waters near Washington state as it prepares for potential drilling in the Chukchi Sea later this year.

The company didn’t officially need the test, which was conducted over several days in Puget Sound. Its emergency containment system, carried and deployed from the Arctic Challenger barge, already won certification from the American Bureau of Shipping and the U.S. Coast Guard, years ago.

Law changed so nuclear waste dumps can be forced on local communities

Nuclear waste dumps can be imposed on local communities without their support under a new law rushed through in the final hours of parliament.

Under the latest rules, the long search for a place to store Britain’s stockpile of 50 years’ worth of the most radioactive waste from power stations, weapons and medical use can be ended by bypassing local planning.

70 Years on, Crowd Gets Close to the Birthplace of the Atomic Bomb

The stretch of New Mexico desert would seem endless if not for the mountain range looming high in the distance. It is the kind of place where drivers keep an extra close watch on their fuel gauge, and the closest neighbors are small towns, tiny specks of civilization, dozens of miles away.

Yet on Saturday morning, the two-lane road winding toward the White Sands Missile Range was clogged with minivans, cars and motorcycles, a snake of vehicles stretching for miles, inching its way through a checkpoint. Decades ago, the remoteness of this area in south-central New Mexico attracted scientists looking to test the most destructive weapon mankind had ever created, sending up a radioactive cloud that blistered the sky. Trinity Site, as it became known, was where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945, just weeks before two atomic bombs were unleashed on Japan, effectively ending World War II.

Reid’s exit removes obstacle to Yucca nuclear waste site

The retirement of Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is removing one of the biggest obstacles to the construction of a nuclear waste site at Nevada’s Yucca Mountain.

For more than a decade, Reid has used his leadership position to block the Yucca project, which Congress designated as the nation’s permanent disposal site for high-level nuclear waste in 1987.

Supporters of Yucca say Reid’s retirement could shake up the debate over the project and prompt lawmakers — particularly Democrats — to take a second look.

Gov’t reluctant to charge TEPCO over rent money for voluntary Fukushima evacuees

The government has been covering the rent for apartments provided for evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture, while not demanding payment for this purpose from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) — the operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant — it has been learned.

While TEPCO is ready to pay the rent costs for those who have been forced to evacuate from their hometowns due to government evacuation orders, the utility is reluctant to do the same for evacuees who left their homes voluntarily. The Economy, Trade and Industry Ministry has fallen in line with TEPCO on the matter, while the decision on which party is to charge TEPCO — the national government or Fukushima Prefecture — is still also up in the air.

Half of owners of Fukushima land for site to store radioactive soil are unknown

The central government has not been able to identify half of some 2,400 owners of land in Fukushima Prefecture where it plans to build storage facilities for contaminated soil from the nuclear crisis, sources said.

The government intends to build the complex on around 16 sq. km of land in the towns of Okuma and Futaba that is designated as uninhabitable due to radiation contamination. Facility buildings have not yet been built due to slow progress in negotiations with the landowners.

Fukushima couple take sentimental journey before their home vanishes

Standing head to toe in protective gear, Hisatomo Suzuki gazes at the new carp streamers he hoisted outside his home.

Suzuki, 62, has long dreamed of the day he will look up at them alongside his grandchildren, just as other families do to celebrate the Boys Festival in May.

But Suzuki, a former senior official of the Okuma town government, will never be able to do that because his home is only 300 meters from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

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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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