Environmental Must-Reads – August 1, 2014


Attorney General’s office reportedly stepping into fray over Dept. of Health response to fracking concerns

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that environmental activists are claiming that an investigator in Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s office told them Kane’s office will be looking into how the state’s health department handled calls it received about possible health impacts of drilling for natural gas.

Protesters voice unease over pipeline

The possibility that a multibillion-dollar natural gas pipeline could soon cut through her property, over nearby aquifers and other water sources, has sparked such fear in Lindsey Sundberg that the 29-year-old from Ashburnham joined more than a hundred others who came to Boston Common on Wednesday from communities across the state to protest the project.

In addition to concerns about spills, she and others said they worried that the pipeline, which would stretch 418 miles from shale gas fields in Pennsylvania to Dracut, could lower property values and stick ratepayers with the bill. They also raised concerns about the way the gas is extracted from the ground through hydraulic fracking, and the potential for contaminating water supplies.

Series of Gas Explosions Kill 15, Injure 228 in Taiwan

At least 15 people are dead and 228 injured following a series of gas explosions on the streets of a southern Taiwanese city late Thursday night.

Locals had reported gas leaks in the city of Kaohsiung beginning around 9 p.m. local time, Focus Taiwan reported on its Facebook page, and explosions followed three hours later. Some witnesses had reported seeing a “white fog” in the area, while another thought the mysterious substance was “poisonous gas.”

Debate rages over Mexico’s plan to open energy markets

Politicians stand on the podium in the lower house of Congress, waving signs and shouting, “Viva Mexico, THIEVES!” Outside, crowds demonstrate. The sessions drag on into the wee hours until an earthquake forces everyone to evacuate.

It might be a rather typical week in the life of Mexican legislation, if it weren’t for the momentous nature of the laws that are under discussion.

Amid Ukraine crisis, will Europe frack?

The Ukraine crisis has sparked interest in natural gas production on a continent where many oppose new drilling. Hydraulic fracturing – or ‘fracking’ – might help Europeans wean off Russian supplies, but the technology remains publicly unpopular and plays a small role in Europe’s vision of energy security.

Fracking: Drilling will not be allowed in Northern Ireland unless it’s proven safe, warns Environment Minister Mark H Durkan

There will be no fracking allowed in Co Fermanagh – or anywhere else in Northern Ireland – unless it can be proved safe beyond doubt, the Environment Minister has pledged.

Mark H Durkan set out his strong message on the controversial energy source as he prepared to meet residents in Co Fermanagh who are protesting against the prospect that fracking will go ahead in the county. The SDLP minister said any application to carry out fracking “will be considered in a very robust manner”. “I am acutely aware that the fracking issue is causing great distress to local people in Fermanagh,” he added. “I will be meeting with residents and elected representatives later in the week to hear their concerns at first-hand.

Anti-Fracking Laws vs. Property Rights

The growing efforts by state and local governments to stop hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to extract natural gas could end up in the Supreme Court. These efforts may unconstitutionally limit property owners’ ability to profit from their mineral rights.

More than 170 New York towns and cities have used zoning laws to restrict or prohibit fracking, and in June New York’s Supreme Court turned back a challenge to this practice. Pennsylvania allows local municipalities to restrict fracking. Colorado and California are struggling with the issue.

‘Fracking’ in the dark: Biological fallout of shale-gas production still largely unknown

In the United States, natural-gas production from shale rock has increased by more than 700 percent since 2007. Yet scientists still do not fully understand the industry’s effects on nature and wildlife, according to a report in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

As gas extraction continues to vastly outpace scientific examination, a team of eight conservation biologists from various organizations and institutions, including Princeton University, concluded that determining the environmental impact of gas-drilling sites—such as chemical contamination from spills, well-casing failures and other accidents—must be a top research priority.

Proposed St. Tammany fracking operation mounts PR offensive

Bumpy and mysterious to those who might unwittingly come upon it, the narrow gravel road leading to the site of a proposed fracking operation near Mandeville could be a metaphor for the oil drilling project itself.

Log Cabin Road was cut through forestland in western St. Tammany Parish decades ago to allow loggers to harvest trees in what was then the boondocks. While the north shore parish has changed dramatically since, the road remains much as it was in the 1970s, little more than tire tracks in the woods.

Yet about 1.2 miles from the point where the private road intersects with the pavement of Louisiana 1088, marked by a few inauspicious sticks in the ground, rests the site of one of the most controversial north shore projects in recent memory.

Critics ask governor to halt fracking

Insisting Nevada is in a head-long rush to develop oil and gas through environmentally damaging hydraulic fracturing, protesters gathered outside the state Capitol Thursday to ask Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval to halt the activity until adequate safeguards are ensured.

About 30 placard-waving critics held a noon protest in Carson City before presenting the governor with a letter asking for a moratorium on “fracking” until adequate regulations are established to protect precious groundwater supplies and guard against other environmental damage.

Poll shows fracking opposition in Southern Tier, Finger Lakes

For six years, public-opinion polls in New York have shown voters effectively split on the issue of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.

But what about voters within the boundaries of the Marcellus Shale, the gas-rich rock formation that covers much of the Southern Tier and Catksills?

Gulf Oil Spill: Microbiology Approach Worked But Toxic Contaminants Remain

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a BP project in the Gulf of Mexico, began in April of 2010. The oil rig collapsed and it took some three months to cap the gusher. During that, concern was also on how to clean up the over four million barrels of oil in the environment

Among other approaches, the government used the Corexit oil dispersant, which emulsifies oil into balls and microbes, such as the genetically modified marine bacterium Alcanivorax borkumensis and the Colwellia species of bacteria, to consume it. And it worked, but a new paper says some of the more toxic components still remain.

Delta mulls oil pipeline to help cut transport costs

Delta Air Lines Inc. is considering building a 5-mile underground pipeline that would move oil from near Philadelphia to its refinery in Trainer, Pennsylvania, reports Reuters.

The pipeline would help the Atlanta-based carrier reduce use of costly barges, Reuters says. Delta currently uses barges that can carry about 150,000 barrels, which adds around $1 per barrel of transport costs, the news service said.

Northern Courier Approval Highlights Pipeline Politics

In stark contrast to the continuing delay of the Keystone XL pipeline project, Trans Canada’s Northern Courier pipeline project has gone from initial application to regulatory approval in a mere 16 months.

The Northern Courier project is actually two parallel pipelines, one to carry bitumen and another to carry diluent from the Fort Hills mine area to the Suncor tank farm north of Fort McMurray, Alberta.

Questions About Pipelines and Private Property

Amid an oil and gas boom that has increased demand for new pipelines, Texas regulators have proposed new rules that have renewed a clash between two major state interests: energy development and private property rights.

The Railroad Commission of Texas — which regulates the state’s 426,000-mile network of natural gas, hazardous liquid and other pipelines — has offered rules aimed at clarifying when pipelines qualify as “common carriers,” a status indicating availability for public use and enabling companies to seize private land using eminent domain. The agency is accepting comments on the proposal until late August.

Enbridge Profit Beats on Higher Pipeline Demand

Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge Inc. posted slightly better-than-expected earnings Friday, helped by a stronger contribution from its key liquids pipelines operations.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge said strong supply from western Canada and increased downstream refinery demand led to higher throughput on its Canadian Mainline system, while higher volumes were also achieved on the Athabasca mainline due to new projects coming into service.

U.S. has an opportunity to protect Alaska’s seas

Despite overwhelming proof that the oil industry isn’t ready to operate safely in icy, remote and stormy seas, the pressure to drill for oil and natural gas on Alaska’s outer continental shelf continues. And the federal government has not done much of what the post-BP Gulf of Mexico spill reports recommended must be done to ensure safe offshore operations in the Arctic and elsewhere.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management is preparing a new five-year (2017-2022) offshore oil and gas leasing program that would include development in the remote and sensitive environment of the Arctic Ocean’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas. BOEM is accepting public comments on this plan through Thursday.

Protesters Stall an Oil Train for Hours at Anacortes, Washington

A train attempting to leave a Tesoro oil train facility in Anacortes yesterday was stopped in its tracks when three residents of the coastal town and Seattle locked their bodies to barrels full of concrete, sat on the tracks and refused to move. During the four-hour standoff an estimated 100 BNSF rail cars were held at bay.

Authorities would not say whether the tank cars, normally used to carry Bakken field crude oil from North Dakota, had any oil at the time.

3 arrested in oil train protest

A candidate for state legislature was among those arrested for criminal trespass after refusing to leave the train tracks in an oil train protest Thursday in Seattle.

Jess Spear told KIRO 7 it was not a political stunt as she and two others were arrested.

Councilor explores creating oil train task force

Plattsburgh Democratic Councilor Rachelle Armstrong said voters first approached her about their oil train concerns when she was on the campaign trail.

Armstrong is now trying to bring a goal of some of her constituents to fruition — a special task force designed to research the risks of transporting dangerous substances by train and make recommendations to the appropriate entities.

Warren Buffett Really Likes Oil Trains — Despite the Explosions

The people in the Musi-Café had no idea what hit them. At about 1am on July 6, 2013, a train parked on a slope a couple miles away slipped its brakes. Seventy-two tank cars loaded with crude oil accelerated into the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and began to tumble off the tracks, detonating and burning with a force so powerful that it leveled several city blocks. Forty-seven people were killed — most of whom were inside the Musi-Café.

In the months that followed, Lac-Mégantic became a rallying cry, a bloody shirt waved by activists across North America who were growing increasingly concerned about a relatively new phenomenon: ultra-long trains loaded with a peculiar variety of crude oil.

Nuclear watchdog may raise radiation exposure limit for emergencies

The Nuclear Regulation Authority said Wednesday it is considering raising the maximum radiation exposure limit for nuclear workers in emergencies, from the current 100 millisieverts.

“We cannot completely deny the possibility” that accidents involving radiation exceeding the current limit would occur in the future, NRA Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said at an agency meeting, noting that “reality-based” working conditions should be prepared in light of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 complex after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Government offers Fukushima authorities ¥374 billion

The central government offered Fukushima Prefecture, and two of its towns, Okuma and Futaba—candidate locations for interim storage facilities for soil contaminated with radioactive materials—a total of ¥374 billion over 30 years as financial assistance for regional development and restoration of local residents’ lives, it has been learned.

However, they were not satisfied with the amount of money offered and asked the central government to increase the sum, sources said.

Fukushima farm ships 1st produce cultivated in evacuation zone

Forty kilograms of fresh strawberries were shipped from Iitate Ichigo Land farm on July 31, the first produce dispatched from an area designated as an evacuation zone since the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

“The fruit has a nice, sweet aroma,” said Hiroshi Sato, 62, who runs Iitate Ichigo Land farm with his wife, Yoko. “We can ship the produce with confidence.”

EDITORIAL: Public demands the truth about Fukushima accident

What is the whole truth about the nuclear disaster that hit this nation three years ago? We have yet to hear a satisfactory answer to this question.

Public discontent about this fact was clearly reflected in a recent decision by an independent judicial panel of citizens concerning the criminal liability of three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. for the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

US nuclear industry spends billions on post-Fukushima upgrades

The US nuclear power industry has so far spent about $3 billion taking actions and making plant modifications to address lessons learned from the 2011 Fukushima I accident in Japan, a utility official told the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission during a briefing Thursday.

NRC ordered US nuclear power plant operators in March 2012, almost exactly a year after the accident, to comply with new requirements designed to strengthen their ability to keep reactors and spent fuel cooled during severe external events, such as the earthquake and tsunami that hit the station in Japan.

The Fukushima Health Crisis

Over 3 years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, there is virtually no health research being conducted or released on harm to the Japanese.  An April report by a UN committee tried to sweep the issue under the rug, predicting any harmful effects of the catastrophe is “unlikely.”

The UN panel made a very broad assumption about the worst nuclear catastrophe in history (or worst since Chernobyl) – and did this BEFORE research is done. However, a local health study raises alarm bells.  Fukushima Medical University found 46% of local children have a pre-cancerous nodule or cyst, and 130 have thyroid cancer, vs. 3 expected.  Incredibly, the University corrupts science by asserting the meltdown played no role in these high figures.

Fukushima Radiation Absent From Waters Along U.S. West Coast, Scientists Say

Tests of water off the U.S. West Coast have found no signs of radiation from Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, although low levels of radiation are ultimately expected to reach the U.S. shore, scientists said on Tuesday.

Results obtained this week in tests of water gathered by an Oregon conservation group and tested by East Coast scientists came in as expected with no Fukushima-linked radiation, and five more tests are planned at six-month intervals to see if radiation levels will climb.

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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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