Environmental Must-Reads – April 7, 2015


The Link Between Fracking and Oklahoma’s Quakes Keeps Getting Stronger

Over the last few years, Oklahoma has experienced an insane uptick in earthquakes. As we reported in 2013, the count exploded from just a couple per year back in the mid-2000s to over a thousand in 2010, growing alongside a boom in the state’s natural gas drilling industry.

There is now a heap of peer-reviewed research finding that Oklahoma’s earthquake “swarm” is directly linked to fracking—not the gas drilling itself, but a follow-up step where brackish wastewater is re-injected into disposal wells deep underground. It’s a troubling trend in an industry that thrives under notoriously lax regulations, especially when the risk to property and public safety is so obvious.

Report: Silence and denial surround Oklahoma’s “frackquake” problem

The New Yorker’s Rivka Galchen this week takes a deep dive into Oklahoma’s “frackquakes,” the seismic activity linked to new methods of gas and oil extraction – mostly, the injection wells used to dispose of fracking wastewater – that by last year was occurring at triple the rate of California’s quakes.

Her piece depicts a state struggling to come to terms with its new designation as the reigning earthquake capital of the U.S., and of state legislators and regulators who really, really don’t want to be talking about this.

Rattled daily, Oklahomans ponder a ‘big one’

Oklahomans might be getting used to being the earthquake capital of the country, not that they particularly like it. But what they’re worried about now is the big one.

People here offer a knowing look, sometimes even a chuckle, when asked about the daily rattling from small to midsized quakes. But without prompting, they’ll add that their real fear is shaking that might knock buildings down on them.

“If a big one hits, this town would be destroyed,” said Walter Koball, a retired cement truck driver, sitting down to a pancake breakfast at Katie’s Diner in Guthrie. “Half of these buildings have rotten mortar.”

Fracking Study on Water Contamination Under Ethics Review

Drinking-water wells in Pennsylvania close to natural gas sites do not face a greater risk of methane contamination than those farther away, according to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T). But the study is now being called into question because of its methodology and some undisclosed ties to energy giant Chesapeake Energy.

The findings contradict recent studies that identified a correlation between proximity to natural gas wells and higher methane levels in well water. The new study analyzed more than 11,000 water samples collected by Chesapeake and provided to researchers.

Despite Historic Drought, California Used 70 Million Gallons Of Water For Fracking Last Year

Even in the midst of its historic, ongoing drought, California used millions of gallons of water for hydraulic fracturing last year, according to state officials.

The state used nearly 70 million gallons of water to frack for oil and gas in 2014, Reuters reported last week. That amount is actually less than the 100 million gallons officials previously estimated the state uses for fracking operations every year.

Fracking in Colorado: Did the Oil and Gas Taskforce Finish Its Tasks?

When Colorado officials announced that they would set up a blue-ribbon taskforce charged with making informed recommendations on oil and gas development in the state, there were high hopes. In fact, I commended the state for establishing a strong procedure and promising mechanism for informed decision-making for fracking in Colorado. What an opportunity, I thought, for a science-informed decision in an otherwise science-lacking debate. Now that the commission has issued recommendations, it’s worth revisiting what happened. Did the taskforce succeed? Let’s walk through its moves.

Fracking criticism spreads, even in Alberta and Texas

“It was beautiful up until fracking started,” said Nielle Hawkwood.

Nielle and Howard Hawkwood say their ranch outside Cochrane, Alta., northwest of Calgary, hasn’t been the same since 2009, when fracking began.

Water started tasting strange and cows began to die off in large numbers. Instead of an average of two to three cows per year, they were losing closer to 20. By the spring of 2011, Nielle Hawkwood noticed her hair falling out in clumps every spring.

Dallas doctor gets no answers on frack fluid ingredients

After his failed attempts to fight the state’s oil and gas law in court, Alfonso Rodriguez, M.D., is ready to sign a nondisclosure form to view a full list of ingredients in hydraulic fracturing fluid.

If only someone could tell him where to find it.

Since 2010, the kidney specialist has been trying to obtain information on the chemical mix used to frack a specific Chesapeake Energy Corp. well in Bradford County.

Interior Department Issues Rule to Ensure ‘Safe’ Fracking in Indian Country

Protests, concerns and studies about the dangers of the hydraulic fracturing method of extracting oil and gas from shale formations are rampant these days, but new rules from the federal government promise to make the practice safe.

On March 20 the U.S. Department of the Interior released rules to “support safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing on public and American Indian lands,” as the U.S. Department of the Interior put it on March 20. “The commonsense standards will improve safety and help protect groundwater by updating requirements for well-bore integrity, wastewater disposal and public disclosure of chemicals.”

Tribal council worries about new federal fracking rules

Thirty-percent of the oil produced in the state comes from Fort Berthold — nearly 400-thousand barrels a day.

Chairman or the Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Mark Fox says the permit process of a single oil and gas well on the Reservation must go through nine federal agencies.

Jennifer Kleen tells us about the new federal fracking rules and how that could affect the reservation.

Program needed to determine drilling’s impact on health

Pennsylvania still has declined to launch a comprehensive program to determine the impact widespread natural gas drillilng on public health, even though many health care professionals across the Marcellus Shale fields have asked for such information.

Gov. Tom Wolf has proposed such a project, and the Legislature should take him up on it.

Meanwhile, the odyssey of a Luzerne County kidney specialist is illustrative.

Illinois Poll Shows Strong Opposition to Fracking

Nearly half of Illinois voters oppose fracking, according to a new poll by the Simon Institute. The statewide poll reveals 48.6 percent oppose fracking while only 31.8 percent believe it should be encouraged, even if there are economic benefits. Opponents outnumber supporters in all regions of the state, including downstate where fracking is promoted as a jobs plan.

The numbers reinforce that fracking is one of the issues which cost Governor Pat Quinn support among Democrats and independents in his losing re-election campaign. Illinois Democratic voters overwhelmingly oppose fracking with 61.9 percent against and 19.7 percent in favor. Independents oppose it as well, with 48.3 percent against and 30.6 percent in support.

Transportation Safety Board Seeks Stiffer Standards for Oil Tank Rail Cars

The National Transportation Safety Board said Monday that new oil tank train cars should come with much stronger ability to withstand high heat and pressure from a crash or a blast.

Several oil trains derailed this year, causing large explosions and oil spills and underscoring the “significant vulnerability” to fires of the latest generation of crude oil tank cars, the safety board said.

Oil Shipments by Rail Take Slow Track

The growth in oil-train shipments fueled by the U.S. energy boom has stalled in recent months, dampened by safety problems and low crude prices.

The number of train cars carrying crude and other petroleum products peaked last fall, according to data from the Association of American Railroads, and began edging down. In March, oil-train traffic was down 7% on a year-over-year basis.

US safety board: Oil train tank cars need urgent upgrades

Tank cars carrying oil or ethanol by rail urgently need to be retrofitted or replaced to make them more fire-resistant after a spate of explosive accidents in recent months revealed the shortcomings of voluntary industry standards, U.S. safety officials said Monday.

The National Transportation Safety Board issued a series of recommendations calling for tank cars to be fitted with protective systems better able to withstand fire than the bare steel construction now widely in use. It said a decade-long retrofit timeline that’s been suggested by the tank car industry was too long to wait.

Runaway Ship Rams Two Others on Mississippi River, Causing Oil Spill

A 751-foot ship broke loose from its moorings Monday in Louisiana, colliding with at least two other ships as it drifted down the Mississippi River and causing a significant oil spill, the Coast Guard said. The river was closed for nine miles as cities and towns in the New Orleans area were warned to protect their water supplies.

The Privocean, a Malta-flagged bulk carrier, broke loose about 4 p.m. (5 p.m. ET) near Convent, about 45 miles west of New Orleans, and soon collided with the Texas, a 98-foot towing vessel that was moored, the Coast Guard said. No injuries were reported.

Oil spill reported in Mississippi River after multi-ship collision

About 420 gallons of oil spilled into the Mississippi River near Convent after a multi-ship collision around 4 p.m. Monday (April 6), according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

Coast Guard officials said the Privocean, a 751-foot bulk carrier, broke free from its mooring, drifted downriver and struck the Texas, a 98-foot towing vessel. The Texas was moored at the time.

The BP Oil Spill 5 Years After: How Has It Affected You?

On April 20, 2010, a blowout at the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico sank the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, operated by BP. Eleven people died. And the wellhead, protruding from the seafloor, spewed millions of gallons of crude into the ocean. That oil spread far and wide, killing microorganisms and larger animals, marring coastlines and damaging the economies of communities along the shore. Debate arose over whether the large volume of chemicals dispersed to break down the oil was doing its own harm or good.

Study suggests chemical used in BP oil spill cleanup capable of injuring people and wildlife

When the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded on April 20, 2010, the immediate victims were clear enough. Eleven employees died in the blaze. There was also the ocean itself, suddenly covered in approximately three million barrels of crude. Birds of the sea became fatally entangled in oil scum. Dead fish floated to the surface. Dolphin populations declined.

But the BP oil disaster also took another, slower toll. Thousands of men and women who had helped clean up the spill gradually became ill. Lungs began to burn. Skin began to blister.

Wildlife has yet to recover from Gulf of Mexico spill

Dolphins are dying in unusually high numbers. Sea turtle nests are declining. Tuna are developing abnormally. And pelicans and gulls are still suffering after a massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago, the National Wildlife Federation warned in a report released last week.

The problems are concentrated in the northern Gulf, but scientists say spawning waters for many fish that migrate to southern Florida and along the East Coast will be damaged for years to come.

US court: BP oil spill hurt US shrimp industry, not farmed imports

The US Court of International Trade (CIT) said Friday that injury to the US Gulf shrimp industry stems from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, not from foreign imports.

The ruling from the CIT rejects a challenge from the Coalition of Gulf Shrimp Industries (COGSI) to a negative final injury determination on shrimp from China, Ecuador, India, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Cleanup continues after oil spill into Lake Erie

For the fourth day, crews are working around the clock to clean up an oil spill in Lake Erie.

“It was a shock when I saw it,” said Gary Jones, manager of the Forest City Yacht Club in Cleveland. He noticed the spill on Friday and alerted authorities.

“It was a real yellow oil, so it really stuck out and it smelled,” Jones said on Monday.

Mexico says oil spill avoided after deadly offshore blaze

A huge blaze twisted and blackened an oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico, but the state-run Pemex oil company said it managed to avert any significant oil spill.

At least four workers died and two suffered life-threatening injuries in an explosion that engulfed the platform in flames Wednesday, forcing 300 people to abandon the facility.

Filmmaker begins to wrap up work on sinkhole documentary

Local filmmaker Victoria Greene is nearing the end of her almost two-year journey capturing the story of a community affected by a sinkhole.

Her documentary project follows several families from Bayou Corne through their almost three-year ordeal living with the giant Louisiana sinkhole.

Bonga oil spill affected 168,000 people in 350 communities

The 2011 Bonga oil spill incident from an offshore field operated by Shell Nigeria Production and Exploration Company affected at least 168,000 victims in 350 communities in Delta and Bayelsa.

Howells Levi, Paramount Ruler of Olobia Community at Koluama in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa, stated this in an interview on Monday in Yenagoa.

Flawed steel pipe still used in 48,400 miles of oil pipelines, web publication says

Two years after an outdated segment of ExxonMobil’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured in Mayflower, Ark., releasing 378,000 gallons of Canadian heavy crude oil and water, more than 48,400 miles of similar, aged steel pipe is still in use, InsideClimate News reported Sunday (Apr. 3).

The older pipe, not used in building new pipelines since 1970, was manufactured using low-frequency electric resistance welding. The welding method was phased out by 1970 because it left flaws in the steel, resulting in splits along lengthwise seams in the pipelines, the web site reported.

Life After Keystone: The Future of the Climate Movement When the Pipeline Battle Ends

President Obama could reject or approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline any day, week or month now. And as a decision looms, environmentalists face a daunting question: Can they recreate the kind of mass appeal that Keystone inspires when the pipeline battle ends?

Green groups such as the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, 350.org, Friends of the Earth, the National Wildlife Federation, Environment America, and Bold Nebraska have all engaged in meetings to discuss the future of the climate movement in a world without Keystone, and plan to join forces to make sure that the pipeline fight leaves a lasting legacy.

Keystone XL Traded For Arctic Drilling Rights?

Few debates in energy have been more contentious than Keystone XL (KXL). Environmental groups opposed the pipeline and turned out a grass roots movement that astonished even battle weary Enviros. It also caused serious problems for the industry as their assets became stranded and they were forced to ship crude by rail and barge. It is estimated that this amounted to approximately $17B over the past few years in lost revenue due to public accountability campaigns. But it looks as though the Obama Administration and Big Oil merely traded KXL for Arctic drilling rights.

An announcement was made, rather quietly, this week which did not seem to receive much attention. It came from the Department of Energy’s Oil Council which is made up largely of energy company executives, some government officials, analysis firms and nonprofit organizations. The Council released a study which was produced by the National Petroleum Council at the request of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz. It claims that the U.S. should begin Arctic drilling immediately.

Breaking: 6 Greenpeace Activists Scale Shell’s Oil Rig to Protest Arctic Drilling

Today, six activists from the Greenpeace ship Esperanza have climbed aboard an Arctic-bound Shell oil rig, the Polar Pioneer, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, 750 miles northwest of Hawaii.

The six volunteers have set up camp on the underside of the Polar Pioneer’s main deck with enough supplies to last for several days. They took this action because last week the U.S. Department of the Interior approved Shell’s drilling lease in the Alaskan Arctic, despite having been previously overruled in court twice for failure to meet environmental regulations. So now, Shell could start drilling in 100 days.

Blast at chemical plant in south China injures at least 6

Six people were hospitalized and hundreds of firefighters deployed to fight a hydrocarbon fire following an explosion at a plant in southern China that produces the toxic chemical paraxylene, officials said Tuesday.

Authorities said there were no leaks from the plant’s three tanks of burning hydrocarbon liquids and no signs of contamination of the environment following the blast Monday evening at Goure PX Plant in Zhangzhou, Fujian province — the second explosion to hit the factory in 20 months.

Leak Causes Another Blast at Chemical Plant Targeted by Protesters

A leak at a plant in the eastern province of Fujian has set off a huge explosion, injuring at least 12 people and fueling doubts about safety at chemical factories.

The explosion shortly before 7 p.m. Monday has been traced to a leak from a xylene tank at the Dragon Aromatics plant in the city of Zhangzhou, according to the Fujian Provincial Administration of Work Safety. Two people were seriously injured and 10 others suffered minor injuries, reported Xinhua, the state news agency.

Radiation from 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown in Japan detected on B.C. coast

Ocean-borne radiation from the 2011 Fukushima nuclear-reactor meltdown in Japan has been detected at the British Columbia shoreline, marking the first time Fukushima contamination has made landfall in North America.

The amounts of radiation detected are low and do not pose a health threat to humans, fish or the environment. But the discovery is part of a pattern that is being closely watched by scientists around the world and has mobilized volunteers helping to track the movement of contaminants on ocean currents.

Japan’s ruling party urges government to push for nuclear return

Japan’s ruling party on Tuesday urged the government to push for a return to nuclear power in deliberations on the best energy mix, which is likely to be opposed by a public wary about atomic energy in the wake of the Fukushima disaster in 2011.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) said the government should boost stable “baseload” energy supplies – nuclear, coal, hydroelectric and geothermal – to about 60 percent of the total by 2030 from 40 percent now.

Forest Fires Threaten New Fallout From Chernobyl

On April 26, 1986, the Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine released a plume of radiation that eventually blanketed an estimated 77,000 square miles of Europe and Eurasia. While the worst of the contamination occurred near the plant — an area still closed to human habitation, now referred to as the exclusion zone — the effects are still seen further afield as well. Radioactive wild boars roam German forests, and radioactive mushrooms grow in Bulgaria.

Now, an international team of experts warns that Europe could receive fresh doses of Chernobyl radiation from forest fires.

Branford residents gather signatures, worry about cell tower location

It’s really not just about the potential for a 134-foot eyesore. The visual nuisance of a towering metal rod might be an obvious concern. But residents near Rose Hill Road, who are collecting signatures and mobilizing other residents in efforts to urge AT&T to reconsider the proposed installation site for a 134-foot cell tower, are more worried about something they can’t see: radiofrequency waves emitted by the tower.

Chris Gargamelli lives on 61 Rose Hill Road, and his neighbor, Jeanine Santa Barbara, lives on 53 Rose Hill Road. Sprawling between the two is 45 Rose Hill Road, a site that AT&T and TowerCo, a wireless infrastructure developer, have chosen as the first choice site for a 134-foot cell tower.

“We’re more worried about the health impacts,” Gargamelli said. “There are multiple children on this street. I have two young children under 2½.”

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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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