Environmental Must-Reads – April 9, 2015


Fracking Boom Accompanied by Rise of Silent, Deadly Carcinogen in Homes: Study

Researchers in Pennsylvania have discovered that the prevalence of radon, a radioactive and carcinogenic gas, in people’s homes and commercial buildings that are nearer to fracking sites has increased dramatically in the state since the unconventional and controversial gas drilling practice began in the state just over a decade ago.

Fracking Link? High Radon Levels Found in 300K Pennsylvania Homes

Levels of radon, an invisible, odorless radioactive gas, have been rising measurably in Pennsylvania since the controversial practice of fracking started there, researchers reported Thursday.

The study cannot directly link fracking with the raised radon levels. But whatever is going on, residents need to be aware of the rising levels of the gas and take action to get it out of their homes, the researchers say.

Bloomberg Criticizes New York Fracking Ban

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg criticized the state’s ban on hydraulic fracturing, describing the move as “misguided” and instead touting the benefits of natural gas.

“It’s a misguided policy,” Mr. Bloomberg said Wednesday in a phone interview with The Wall Street Journal. “To keep coal-fired power plants in upstate New York and not frack doesn’t make any sense at all.”

What the Shell mega deal says about the planet’s energy future

In an interview last year, Ben van Beurden, the new CEO of oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, gave his outlook on what it would take to deal with the global problem of carbon emissions.

“I think the real challenge is not so much how do we accelerate renewables but more about how do we decarbonize the system we have,” said van Beurden. “How do we take coal out and replace it with gas?”

Debate Heats Up Over Carlsbad Gas Plant

A delegation of San Diegans who want SDG&E to choose cleaner energy sources will attend Thursday’s California Public Utilities Commission meeting in San Francisco. The commission is scheduled to discuss a proposed new Carlsbad gas plant.

The commission will not vote on the proposed new Carlsbad Energy Center at the Thursday meeting. New CPUC President Michael Picker on Monday reversed a proposed decision from a CPUC administrative law judge, and recommended approval of the new gas plant to replace the obsolete Encina power plant.

Fracking fluid chemicals uncovered, helping test for contamination

The organic chemicals in fracking fluid have been uncovered in two new studies, providing a basis for water contamination testing and future regulation. The research, published in Trends in Environmental Analytical Chemistry and Science of the Total Environment, reveals that fracking fluid contains compounds like biocides, which are potentially harmful if they leak into the groundwater.
The authors behind the new study say it’s time for the relatively new science to catch up with the extensive public awareness. They say an increasing research focus on contamination from fracking fluid will lead to more attention and regulation in the future.

EDF Recruits Sprawling Network to Fund Methane Leaks Research

To fund its $18 million, 16-study investigation into methane emissions from the natural gas industry, the Environmental Defense Fund assembled a sprawling network of private donors, foundations, utilities, fossil fuel companies and others. The project attracted backers with a range of sometimes-conflicting stances on fracking.

The list varies from clean energy-focused foundations like the TomKat Charitable Trust to fossil fuel companies such as Encana Corp. and TransCanada, the Canadian energy giant behind the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, to multinational conglomerates such as PepsiCo.

Fractivists renew push for Denver moratorium with petition delivery

The “Don’t Frack Denver” campaign by environmental and community activists on Wednesday delivered petitions to the Denver City Council and mayor’s offices to underline its push for city officials to take pre-emptive action on two fronts.

Two months ago, the groups called for the council and Mayor Michael Hancock to pass a ban on new fracking operations. It also wants them to voice opposition to potential fracking leases on federal land in South Park, near the headwaters of the South Platte River — a major source of metro area drinking water. Any lease decisions by the feds are on hold, for now.

EPA seeks to ban fracking wastewater from going to public treatment plants

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to ban publicly owned wastewater treatment facilities from taking untreated waste fluids from the unconventional oil and gas industry in a move that would guarantee the end of a disposal practice that the industry and states have already abandoned.

In a notice Tuesday, federal regulators said they are taking comments on their plan to forbid publicly owned treatment works from accepting and discharging the wastewater, which often contains high concentrations of salt and lesser amounts of chemicals, metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials that are potentially harmful to human health and the environment. Public sewage treatment plants are not designed to remove those pollutants, which can flow through to streams untreated or interfere with the plant’s normal treatment processes

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.”

Fracking Flack And Climate Denier David Blackmon Paid To Attack Drilling Regulations

Inside Climate News has revealed that a key leader of oil and gas industry front groups that oppose new fracking regulations may have been playing both sides of the issue. In an investigation into the funding of the Environmental Defense Fund’s (EDF) work on oil and gas regulation, Inside Climate News discovered that a key EDF funder had hired FTI Consulting’s David Blackmon to promote fracking regulations. Unbeknownst to his employer, Blackmon is a longtime oil industry consultant who is paid to oppose regulation of the fracking industry.

Why fracking is splitting environmental groups apart

Few things inspire angst among green groups and climate advocates like the question of how to deal with fracking. It’s been one of the more important debates within environmentalism over the last few years.

Here’s a rough breakdown: The pro-fracking side tends to highlight the fact that the US natural-gas boom, driven by hydraulic fracturing, has been one of the big environmental success stories of the past decade. Electric utilities are now using more cheap gas and less dirty coal to generate power. Since gas burns more cleanly, that nudges down air pollution: US carbon dioxide emissions have plunged 10 percent since 2005.

University Lecture: ‘Fracking Is a Feminist Issue’

Not only is fracking destroying the environment — it’s sexist, too. At least that’s the idea that ecologist/social-justice hero Sandra Steingraber presented to more than 100 students at the University of Pittsburgh on Monday during a lecture titled “Fracking Is a Feminist Issue: Women Confronting Fossil Fuels and Petrochemicals in an Age of Climate Uncertainty.” “This is a feminist issue because [the chemicals used and released in the fracking process] are largely reproductive toxins,” Steingraber said, according to an article in the Pitt News, the school’s official student newspaper.

Washington Tribe Sues to Block Oil Trains Across its Land

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community is suing BNSF Railway, alleging the company is violating an agreement that restricts the number of trains that can cross its reservation in northwest Washington.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in federal court argues that a 1991 easement signed by the railway’s predecessor only allows two 25-car trains each day.

Judge listens to complaints from former Bayou Corne residents, but finds the sinkhole settlement and attorney fees to be fair

The federal judge overseeing a class-action lawsuit over the Bayou Corne sinkhole told plaintiffs upset with their attorneys’ handling of the case that he believes the lawyers, the suit’s court-appointed special master and the $48.1 million settlement they put together were “very fair.”

About 15 to 20 plaintiffs showed up Wednesday for the hearing that U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey ordered at the federal courthouse in New Orleans after one of the plaintiffs sent him an email complaining that he, his wife and other plaintiffs had been mistreated and misled by their lawyers. Zainey said others also have called his office complaining that the attorneys’ $12.03 million in fees, which is 25 percent of the settlement, was too high.

Chevron Whistleblower Videos Show Deliberate Falsification Of Evidence In Ecuador Oil Pollution Trial

Chevron has already lost the lawsuit filed against the company by a group of Indigenous villagers and rural Ecuadorians who say Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001, left behind hundreds of open, unlined pits full of toxic oil waste it had dug into the floor of the Amazon rainforest.

That hasn’t stopped the oil titan from attempting to retry the case, though, in both the court of public opinion and a New York court, where it counter-sued the Ecuadorian plaintiffs under the RICO Act, claiming their original lawsuit was nothing more than extortion.

5 years after BP oil spill, industry touts ability to respond

An oil consortium says an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico today can be cleaned up far faster than five years ago when BP’s Macondo well blew out off the coast of Louisiana, spawning America’s worst offshore oil spill.

It took BP and the industry’s best containment technology 87 days to contain the deep-water blowout. The Deepwater Horizon drilling rig explosion and spill on April 20, 2010, resulted in as much as 172 million gallons (650 million liters) of oil getting into the Gulf of Mexico.

The BP Oil Spill Continues to Hurt One of the World’s Most Endangered Whales

It’s been almost five years since millions of gallons of crude oil were spewed into the Gulf of Mexico during the Deepwater Horizon spill, and scientists are still finding out how badly the toxic aftermath is affecting wildlife in the area.

Among the numerous of species impacted by this disaster is a population of whales in the Gulf who could potentially be the most endangered group of whales on earth. Their advocates fear that without meaningful protection, they could soon disappear entirely.

Crews still cleaning Lake Erie oil spill off Cleveland

Crews are still working around the clock to clean up an oil spill in Lake Erie off Cleveland.

Officials said on Wednesday said that tests concluded the substance spilled into Lake Erie near the Forest City Yacht Club last week was lube oil.

Inupiaq woman fears potential Alaskan oil spill could threaten food

An Alaskan Inupiaq woman says she’s worried an oil spill from Shell’s planned Arctic drilling operation in the Chukchi Sea could destroy fishing and whaling grounds.

The U.S. government upheld the oil company’s lease last week, and while further review of Shell’s drilling plan is needed, the company could begin drilling off the northwest Alaskan coast in July.

Life above the Alberta tar sands – why we’re taking the government to court

In my home, the Beaver Lake Cree Nation, treaty six territory in Alberta, Canada, I am part of a community of 900 Woodland Cree people who have walked the land for thousands of years.

Under the land we call home sits the Alberta tar sands, the largest known reservoir of crude bitumen oil in the world – an area larger than England. Most of our land has now been leased out to the oil industry without the Canadian and provincial government following due process in their duty to consult the local people.

Pipeline That Leaked Into Montana River Was Split at Weld

A Montana pipeline that spilled 30,000 gallons of oil had been split at the site of an exposed weld where the line crosses beneath the Yellowstone River, officials said, prompting a warning for pipeline companies nationwide to take precautions against flooding.

The damaged section of the 12-inch pipeline that crosses the Yellowstone upstream of the city of Glendive was pulled from the river Wednesday.

Exxon CEO discusses 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 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.

Shell set to cut North Sea and Arctic operations after mega-deal

Shell raised the prospect of withdrawing from the Arctic and scaling down its North Sea operations as it announced the largest deal in the industry for a decade – the £47bn takeover of BG Group, which will focus the business more narrowly on liquefied natural gas (LNG) and deep water oil and gas production.

As Shell took out an injunction against the six Greenpeace activists who boarded its Alaskan-bound drilling rig on Monday, its chief financial officer Simon Henry made the clearest statement yet that the company may walk away from the region it has been pursuing for a decade.

Greenpeace Activists Are Refusing To Leave Oil Rig Headed For The Arctic, Despite Legal Threats

On Monday, some 750 miles northwest of Hawaii, six Greenpeace activists boarded a Shell oil rig en route from Malaysia to the Port of Seattle in protest of the oil company’s plans for drilling in the Arctic. A mere 24 hours later, Shell filed a lawsuit in federal court, hoping to kick the activists off of the rig.

“These acts are far from peaceful demonstration,” Shell said in a press release following the injunction, which it filed in federal court in Alaska. “Boarding a moving vessel on the high seas is extremely dangerous and jeopardizes the safety of all concerned, including both the people working aboard and the protestors themselves.”

Japan considers evaporation, storage of tritium-laced Fukushima water

Japan is considering evaporating or storing underground tritium-laced water from the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant as an alternative to releasing it into the ocean, Tokyo Electric Power Co’s chief decommissioning officer told Reuters on Wednesday.

The removal of hundreds of thousands of tonnes of water containing tritium, a relatively harmless radioactive isotope left behind in treated water is one of many issues facing Tokyo Electric as it tries to cleanup the wrecked plant.

Fukushima radiation hits North American shores: Oregon environment news

Radiation from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor has been found on the shores of Vancouver Island, The Associated Press reports.

This is the first time radiation from the disaster has been detected on North American land. The reactor began leaking radiation after a massive earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, killing 16,000 people. Levels are too low to present a safety concern, scientists said.

Fukushima cesium on US coast ‘well below’ levels of concern, say scientists

Scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) have for the first time detected the presence of small amounts of radioactivity from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant accident in a seawater sample from the shoreline of North America.

But the sample – which was collected on 19 February in Ucluelet, British Columbia – contained trace amounts of cesium (Cs) -134 and -137 that were “well below internationally established levels of concern to humans and marine life”, the Massachusetts-based organization said.

Japan nuclear regulator ‘very close’ to ending review of reactors slated to open: Commissioner

Japan’s atomic regulator is “very close” to finishing its review of two reactors in southern Japan that are slated to be the first to restart under new rules introduced since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, one of its commissioners told Reuters.

Restarting the first reactors will end the country’s longest period without nuclear power. Prior to the meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011, Japan was the third-biggest user of the resource.

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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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