Environmental Must-Reads – August 10, 2015


Is the Oil Industry Off a Cliff or Just in a Down Cycle?

With the oil industry facing what could be its worst downturn in more than 45 years, the major companies are taking extraordinary, perhaps even desperate, measures to preserve their dividends. This is raising the question of whether the current price slump is just another in a long history of down business cycles, from which oil companies always emerge victoriously, or a sign of more deeply troubled times ahead.

The companies and Wall Street analysts argue that the downturn will reverse as all others have in the past because the world still needs oil, and a lot of it. But some worry that climate change regulations and other new threats could instead force the oil and natural gas business into a tailspin like the one the U.S. coal industry is experiencing.

Energy Pipeline: Ballot fight over fracking could be shaping up in Colorado

Environmentalists and the energy industry have fought decisive battles over fracking in New York, Oklahoma and Texas, but the outcome is unclear in Colorado, where the issue could go to a ballot fight in the 2016 election.

A task force convened by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tried to find a compromise over who should regulate the industry — the state or local government — and to what extent. But fracking critics were bitterly disappointed when the panel suggested leaving regulatory power in state hands and avoided recommending specific health, environmental and safety rules.

“I think the fossil fuels industry won,” said Karen Dike, a member of Coloradans Against Fracking.

Put ban on fracking framework

Gov. Andrew Cuomo will soon be making decisions about two huge fracking infrastructure projects in New York. There are many reasons he should say no to both.

Williams and Cabot want to build the Constitution pipeline. Both companies have troubled pasts regarding spills, accidents and violations. Their pipeline will cross 300 water bodies and require the clear-cutting of more than 700,000 mature trees.

Alliance shuts 1.6-bcfd natgas pipeline; Chicago prices up

Alliance Pipeline shut its Western Canadian 1.6 bcfd pipeline that feeds natural gas to Chicago on Friday after poisonous, flammable gas got into the system, forcing at least five producers to curb output and lifting Chicago prices.

The company declared force majeure on the 2,400-mile (3,850- km) pipeline, which delivers gas from Western Canada and North Dakota’s Williston Basin to the Chicago market. It accounts for about a third of Canada’s daily net exports to the United States.

Alliance said it expects the shutdown to last several days and will offer a more precise timeline when plans are finalized.

Natural gas pipeline sparks legal appeals as unrest grows in lower Richland

Members of St. Matthews Baptist Church couldn’t believe it when they learned that an energy corporation wants to run a natural gas pipeline through the church’s property in lower Richland County.

The proposal would mean tearing down one church building in the path of the pipeline, the members say. And it would limit the congregation’s plans to build a new family life center next year.

While church members don’t like the proposal, they aren’t sure whether their opposition can change or stop the project. If St. Matthews doesn’t agree to sell access to the land, Dominion Carolina Gas Transmission could condemn the strip of property and take it anyway.

Natural-gas pipelines surging into Mexico

Never mind Mexico’s oil overhaul. These days, the action is in natural gas.

Since last year, when new laws made it easier for foreign companies to export gas to Mexico, there’s been more than $10 billion of planned or completed pipeline investments announced by companies such as Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP. Last week, Juno Beach, Fla.-based NextEra Energy Partners LP agreed to a $2.1 billion acquisition of closely-held NET Midstream, owner of seven pipelines including a 120-mile stretch that runs from Texas to the Mexican border.

NEXUS sues for permission to survey pipeline route in Stark

NEXUS Gas Transmission has sued several Stark County landowners for permission to survey their property for a proposed natural gas pipeline.

The company says the landowners, who control 11 parcels, have refused to allow surveys. NEXUS Gas Transmission filed the lawsuit Friday. Stark County Common Pleas Judge Taryn Heath has scheduled a hearing for Aug. 13.

Justice Department probes Plains pipeline spill

State and federal officials are investigating the California pipeline rupture that may have spilled as much as 142,800 gallons of oil in Santa Barbara, raising the prospect of criminal and civil penalties for Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline.

Plains disclosed the ongoing probes and the possibility of civil and criminal charges tied to the incident in an earnings filing this week.

The May 19 leak in Plains’ Line 901 sent some oil into the Pacific Ocean and ultimately onto a stretch of Southern California beaches, prompting a broad cleanup effort that has already cost the company $100 million. Both Line 901 and a separate pipeline were ordered shut down while investigators probe the cause of the spill, and it is not clear when they may restart.

Chevron settles with homeowners over oil spill at Red Butte in 2010

Chevron settled a lawsuit with homeowners over an oil spill in Red Butte Creek that occurred back in 2010.

FOX 13 News learned the plaintiffs in the case reached a settlement, but the details will not be released.

A Chevron pipeline leaked twice, spilling more than 50,000 gallons of crude into Red Butte Creek and the backyards of residents along the creek.

Why Do We Use Toxic Materials to Clean up Toxic Oil Spills?

WWF-Canada recently sent a letter to Minister Leona Aglukkaq in response to Environment Canada’s request for submissions on whether to add new products, such as the dispersant Corexit 9500A, to an approved list for use in oil spill clean-up operations.

Dispersants are products which are meant to break up slicks of oil into small droplets, making them easier to disperse throughout large volumes of water and speeding up the rate at which they biodegrade. Though some chemicals have been known to be effective in this manner, others have shown vast discrepancies in their success between lab tests and real-world applications.

Nigerian government finally sets up fund to clean up Ogoniland oil spills

The long-delayed $1bn clean-up of heavily oil-contaminated Ogoniland in the Niger delta has moved closer with Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari setting up a restoration fund four years after a damning UN report advised the government and oil industry to act urgently.

But a spokesman for Shell, which discovered oil in Ogoniland in 1957 and exploited it until it was forced out because of pollution in 1993, said money would not be released until the Nigerian government went further, establishing a satisfactory governing structure and appointing commissioners to oversee the clean-up process.

Animas River mine spill: La Plata and Durango declare state of emergency

Three million gallons of water containing mining waste has poured into the Animas River since Wednesday, and it is still unclear what the environmental and health impact of the spill, caused by the Environmental Protection Agency, will be.

Water collected at sampling stations along Cement Creek and the upper Animas found higher-than-normal levels of arsenic and other heavy metals, Deborah McKean, an EPA toxicologist, said in a Sunday conference call with the media.

Animas River: EPA’s Colorado mine disaster plume flows west toward Grand Canyon

Three days after EPA workers triggered a huge blowout at a festering mine in southwestern Colorado, a mustard-colored plume — still fed by 548 gallons leaking per minute — stretched more than 100 miles, spreading contaminants including cadmium, arsenic, copper, lead and zinc.

Environmental Protection Agency regional chief Shaun McGrath on Saturday conceded that federal officials know the levels of the heavy metals in Cement Creek and the Animas River but would not reveal early testing results. “Those data sheets have not been finalized by the scientists,” McGrath said. “As soon as we are able to release them, we will.”

EPA takes blame for Animas River contamination

Environmental Protection Agency officials Friday acknowledged causing a catastrophic leak of wastewater into the Animas River, apologizing to the Durango community but then stopped short of detailing any significant outcomes from the event.

Officials held their first public meeting on the subject Friday afternoon, explaining that an early analysis of water samples shows the presence of heavy metals, including lead, arsenic, cadmium, aluminum, copper and calcium at varied levels. Sediment has also poured into the river. The meeting drew about 250 people, with many sitting on the floor, standing and spilling into the hallway.

Navajos plan to sue EPA over river cleanup

The president of the Navajo Nation said Sunday that he intends to sue for “every dollar it spends cleaning up this mess” after Environmental Protection Agency employees accidentally released at least 3 million gallons of wastewater, including potentially harmful metals, into a river that breached the sovereign nation’s borders this weekend.

The orange plume of wastewater, which slowly crawled down the San Juan River after gushing out of a Colorado mine on Friday, has already forced many reservation residents in New Mexico and Utah to cease watering their crops and livestock, shut down at least two drinking water wells and required them to avoid the river entirely, said Rick Abasta, communications director for Navajo tribal leadership.

Shell Just Broke Up With ALEC Over Climate-Change Denials

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) just lost another high-profile member.

Oil and gas giant Shell has announced that it will not renew membership to ALEC, a Koch-funded organization that does not support action against climate change.

“We have long recognized both the importance of the climate challenge and the critical role energy has in determining quality of life for people across the world,” the Dutch and British company said in a statement provided to Responding to Climate Change. The company said ALEC’s position was “clearly inconsistent” with its own.

Canadian candidates battle over Keystone pipeline, climate

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper defended Thursday his work on approving the Keystone XL Pipeline and predicted the next United States president will support the project.

“As you know, that’s a situation under the control of the United States,” Harper said of Keystone during Canada’s first pre-election debate Thursday night.

“I’ve had many conversations with President Obama. … He is simply saying he will make a decision that is in the American best interest, but as you know there’s overwhelming public support on both sides, and I’m very optimistic, in the long run, about the future of that project.”

Keystone pipeline-maker braces for Obama rejection, planning next move

The Canadian company involved in the controversy-plagued Keystone XL pipeline project has begun planning its response to an anticipated rejection of the project by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In its public statements, TransCanada Corp. is expressing hope Obama might still approve the pipeline, which over the course of its years-long delay has become an irritant between the U.S. and Canadian governments.

But people close to the project say the company has become all but convinced a rejection is imminent based on signals the White House is sending publicly and privately — and it’s now considering the next move.

America the Beautiful: Pipelines and Pollution

It hasn’t been a great month for pipelines. Several of them ruptured because they are pipelines and pipelines break. Period. I mention this because there was virtually no discussion of climate change and energy policy in the festivities Thursday night, but there was no doubt that, for the second election in a row, the entire Republican field has pledged its allegiance to our old friend, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death funnel designed to bring the world’s dirtiest fossil fuel from the environmental hellspout of northern Alberta, through some of the world’s most valuable agricultural land, and thence to the refineries of Texas. In fact, our tour of unleashed toxic glop begins in that very environmental hellspout.

Farmer Won’t Sell Easement So Enbridge Oil Is Suing

The disruptive phone calls came at dinnertime, and were not the usual telemarketing solicitations. The caller identified as a representative from a multinational oil company that wanted to run a 24-inch pipeline through farmland owned by James and Krista Botsford. The caller was not selling anything, but wanted the Botsfords to sell a right of way through their North Dakota land. This pipeline would push 300,000 barrels of oil a day to ports in Superior Wisconsin. The crude oil, pumped straight from the Bakken Oil Fields, could not be sold on the world market until it was processed at refineries on Lake Superior.

Every time that James Botsford answered the persistent ringing of the phone, he told the caller in no uncertain terms that he and his wife were not interested. Issue number one, he did not want to participate in a private enterprise that would increase global warming and threaten the lives of his heirs. This was a moral imperative and no amount of persuasion, including money, would make him change his mind.

Southern California crude oil pipeline delayed

Plans to pump crude oil in a pipeline that runs underground through the Coachella Valley and Southern California are on hold.

Questar Corp. announced in its quarterly stockholder report this month that the Southern Trails Pipeline project is delayed and won’t be active by early 2017 as originally scheduled.

The company owns a dormant 58-year-old pipeline that runs underground through Southern California along Interstate 10. The series of 16-inch pipes spans 96 miles and hasn’t been used since Questar bought it in 1998.

Washington state poised to become leader in oil train safety ahead of massive increase in traffic

Washington state is quickly becoming a leader in crude oil train safety standards. That’s good because the state is gearing up to become a high-traffic zone for the controversial trains.

“You can never be complacent with safety. Unfortunately, accidents happen no matter how safe you’re trying to be,” said Jason Lewis, transportation policy adviser for the Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission during an event Friday at the Puget Sound Regional Council headquarters.

The oil industry plans to increase the number of oil trains moving through Washington. Companies are building more oil terminals in the state and the existing oil refineries are getting more crude from the Bakken oil fields in the Dakotas.

Are US Regulators Trying to Cover Up Influence Of Lobbyists On New Oil-By-Rail Regulations?

It’s no secret that the oil and rail industries lobbied the Obama Administration heavily during the creation of new oil-by-rail regulations released this past May, with lobbyists reportedly not even taking a break the day after a major oil train accident.

But just how much influence did lobbyists actually have in the drafting of the regulations?

Environmentalists who criticize the new rules as far too weak to stop business-as-usual — which has already resulted in five oil train explosions so far this year — are endeavoring to find out by submitting Freedom of Information Act requests for correspondence between lobbyists and five federal agencies within the US Department of Transportation that worked on the oil train safety rules.

Russia submits claim over Arctic and North Pole to UN citing scientific proof

Russia has re-submitted its petition to the United Nations claiming exclusive control over 1.2 million square kms of the Arctic sea shelf, based this time on what its foreign ministry calls “ample scientific data”.

The region contains some of the world’s largest untapped reserves of oil and gas besides valuable minerals. The US, Canada, Denmark and Norway have also been trying to gain control over parts of the Arctic.

This is the second time Russia has staked its claim to what it sees as its territory. Earlier in 2002, the UN rejected the bid on lack of evidence.

4 Years After Fukushima Nuclear Calamity, Japanese Divided on Whether to Return

For four years, an eerie quiet has pervaded the clusters of farmhouses and terraced rice paddies of this mountainous village, emptied of people after the disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 25 miles away, spewed radiation over a wide swath of northeastern Japan.

Now, Iitate’s valleys are filled again with the bustle of human activity, as heavy machinery and troops of workers wearing face masks scoop up contaminated soil into black garbage bags.

They are part of a more than $10 billion effort by the central government in Tokyo to clean up fallout from the 2011 accident and allow many of the 80,000 displaced residents of Iitate (pronounced EE-tah-tay) and 10 other evacuated communities around the plant to go home.

Japan split over restart of first nuclear reactor since Fukushima disaster

An otherwise unremarkable town in south-west Japan will be propelled this week to the forefront of the country’s biggest experiment with nuclear power since the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

After months of debate about safety, Japan will begin producing nuclear energy for the first time in almost two years close to the town of Satsumasendai as early as Tuesday.

Japan’s nuclear regulator says no repeat of Fukushima under new safety rules

Japan’s nuclear regulator said an accident on the scale of the 2011 Fukushima disaster would not occur under new safety rules imposed on reactors such as Kyushu Electric Power’s Sendai No.1, set to be the first to restart since Fukushima, Japan’s Nikkei business daily reported on Saturday.

Sendai No.1 reactor is set to restart as early as next week.

The Fukushima reactor meltdowns led to the eventual closure of all of Japan’s reactors in September 2013 for checks and costly safety upgrades.

Nuclear fallout: the mental health consequences of radiation

Radiation protection research has been focused upon the bodily effects of exposure to ionising radiation, rather than upon the psychology of survivors. However, recent work, including my own, has shown that the most significant impacts of radiation emergencies are often in our minds.

The physical consequences of radiation exposure are well documented, from radiation sickness to cancer. However, there is another insidious and debilitating impact upon the people in areas affected by nuclear accident, regardless of proximity to hazards and actual exposure; something that has a greater prevalence and a higher rate of morbidity and mortality than all physical health cases combined – mental health effects.

After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a third nuclear atrocity: the corruption of science

Following the atomic bombs exploded over Japan in 1945 a second crime against humanity took place, writes Chris Busby: the deliberate falsification of science to hide the dangers of ionising radiation, perpetrated to quell public opposition to a new age of nuclear bombs and energy. The fraud continues to this day, but finally the truth is winning out.

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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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