Environmental Must-Reads – August 11, 2015


Fracking well in St. Tammany hits another legal delay

For the second time in less than a month, a state district judge has thrown a roadblock in the way of Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s proposed St. Tammany well.

The project is controversial because it would use fracking to release oil trapped in underground rocks.

Baton Rouge Judge Timothy Kelley — at least the third state judge to hold a hearing concerning the well — on Monday ordered state Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh to release more information about the deliberations his office went through before approving the company’s drilling permit.

Judge vacates St. Tammany drilling permit, says state must supply more documentation

A judge in Baton Rouge has vacated a state-awarded drilling permit for Helis Oil Co.’s controversial drilling and fracking project in St. Tammany Parish and ordered the Office of Conservation to fully document the work it did in approving the permit. State Judge Timothy Kelley of the 19th Judicial District Court ruled in a hearing Monday (Aug. 10) at which the town of Abita Springs sought a judicial review of the drilling permit.

Lisa Jordan, an attorney representing Abita Springs, called it “a full victory. We got what we asked for . . . to vacate the permit.”

Lifting Ban On U.S. Crude Oil Export Would Enable Massive Fracking Expansion

In a recent Washington Post editorial supporting oil industry efforts to lift the existing ban on exporting crude oil produced in America, the editors stated:

“The most serious objection to lifting the ban comes from environmentalists who worry that it would lower fossil fuel prices and lead to more oil consumption.”

And then they make the case that this is actually a positive as there may be some negotiations that result in support for “energy research funding, efficiency programs or, in an ideal world, a charge on carbon dioxide emissions to the package could balance its possible effects on the environment.”

Move to Allow U.S. Oil Exports Accelerates

Big voices in the oil industry and Congress now support a move that would have been unthinkable not long ago: opening the U.S. oil industry to exports.

The U.S. has long pushed for liberalized trade, with U.S.-produced crude being the biggest exception since the shock of the 1973 Arab oil embargo led Congress to ban oil exports under nearly all circumstances. The only other U.S. products banned under the same regulations are a type of tree found in Western North Americacalled Western red cedar and live horses for slaughter shipped by sea.

One Year in FLIR: Exposing invisible fracking air pollution

One year ago, thanks to the generous support of Earthworks members, we bought a FLIR Gasfinder camera to expose otherwise invisible air pollution from fracking and drilling operations.

With this camera, we are able see what industry is trying to hide, and show that fracking isn’t clean or safe. We put the results of this technology in the hands of everyday citizens living with oil and gas in their backyard so they can see what’s really going on and demand action.

We call it the Citizens Empowerment Project.

Today, we have almost 150 videos documenting fracking pollution in California, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York. And that’s just the beginning.

Athabasca cuts output as Alliance gas pipeline shutdown continues

Athabasca Oil Corp said on Monday it has suspended about 84 percent of its light oil production, the latest Western Canadian producer to curb output after last week’s shutdown of the Alliance Pipeline natural gas mainline.

The Athabasca cut equals 4,200 barrels of oil equivalent a day (boe/d), and comes after Alliance declared force majeure on its 2,400-mile (3,850-km) pipeline after poisonous hydrogen sulphide entered the system.

Pipeline overbuild forces company executives to seek new opportunities

A doubling of pipeline capacity in one of the most prolific U.S. shale plays may have gone overboard in its rush to move oil to market, top pipeline company executives said during earnings announcements over the past week.

With more than 1 million barrels per day of additional pipeline capacity moving oil from the Permian Basin of West Texas added since early 2014, companies dependent on new projects to drive revenue growth are now faced with a limit. The buildout has also caused some temporary inbalances in spot prices, traders say, as pipelines flood Houston-area refiners with surplus crude.

PG&E advances underground gas pipeline safety initiative

In the wake of the deadly 2010 San Bruno explosion, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. is continuing a $3-billion statewide upgrade to its natural gas transmission system. As part of that largely subterranean work, the utility company is also eyeing above ground hazards like trees in streets, yards or sheds potentially built atop the same high-pressure gas line network.

“The program is called the community pipeline safety initiative and it’s part of a larger program,” Jeff Smith, a PG&E spokesperson, said.

Roger Marietta vows continued opposition to proposed Sabal Trail Pipeline

Albany Ward 4 City Commissioner Roger Marietta brought two of his favorite topics — halting construction of a compressor station for the proposed Sabal Trail Pipeline and the city’s recent economic successes — before the Dougherty County Kiwanis Club Monday.

#Marietta, who is running for a third four-year term on the city commission, has been at the forefront of residents and landowners opposition to Sabal Trail.

New BP Gulf of Mexico Controversy

Oil giant BP (BP) must fully disclose the details about its $18.7 billion out-of-court settlement with the Department of Justice over the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which killed 11 workers and spilled millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Watchdogs at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group said there is no guaranty that the settlement stops BP from deducting the settlement on its tax returns, which could possibly reduce the British oil company’s federal tax liability by $4.6 billion. BP has reported that it lost $5.8 billion in the second quarter, due to the cost of the settlement as well as the roughly 40 percent drop in oil prices. The company has reportedly booked total provisions for the explosion at about $54.6 billion. BP is declining to comment.

Environmentalists urge Canada not to approve oil spill solvent

Environmentalists are urging Canada’s Conservative government not to loosen rules involving a substance used for treating oil spills in water, citing research questioning its ecological impact.

The oil dispersant, Corexit EC9500A, was deployed during the deadly Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency had concluded in a June 2010 report that Corexit 9500A was “slightly toxic” to mysid shrimp found in the Gulf of Mexico.

A scientific study said in March that Corexit EC9500A was toxic to corals near the BP spill site.

Local Leaders Urge No New Offshore Drilling

Surrounded by local leaders, environmentalists and members of the business community, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) called for an end to the possibility of new offshore oil drilling in the Santa Barbara Channel in the wake of the recent Refugio Oil Spill at a press conference held today at Shoreline Park.

“Refugio State Beach has re-opened, and the oil spill we experienced in May has been largely cleaned up. But just cleaning up and moving on is not enough. We must work to prevent future oil spills, and end the possibility once and for all of new offshore oil drilling in this place of wondrous ecological diversity known as Tranquillon Ridge,” Jackson said. “Simply put, it we don’t drill, it can’t spill.”

Durango copes with ‘orange nastiness’ of toxic sludge river pollution

In the shadow of the jagged, 14,000-foot-plus San Juan mountain range sits the fertile valley where Jennifer James Wheeling grew up as part of a ranching family that has taken its lifeblood from the Animas River for decades. That water has been used to grow hay, sustain a grass-fed beef herd, and farm organically grown vegetables.

This week the water glowed orange, filled with heavy metals and toxins that spewed from a gold mine near Silverton, Colorado, last Wednesday after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its contractor accidentally broke open a dam wall while investigating there.

What the EPA was doing when it sent yellow sludge spilling into a Colorado creek

The whole point of the project was to make Colorado’s water safer.

Instead, while working to clean a mine in the San Juan mountains last Wednesday, workers with the Environmental Protection Agency unintentionally made the problem worse. A plug at the Gold King Mine site failed, the mine’s owners told the Denver Post, releasing 3 million gallons of toxic yellow sludge into Colorado’s waterways. By Sunday night, the plume had reached Farmington, N.M., more than 100 miles to the south.

Yellow sludge in Colorado river continues spread, reaches New Mexico

Federal officials scrambled Saturday to contain a spreading environmental disaster that began after a million gallons of contaminated water spilled from an old gold mine, flooding the Animas River and threatening crucial  waterways throughout the Southwest.

The accident, caused by the Environmental Protection Agency during a cleanup operation Wednesday, triggered a toxic plume turning the beloved, crystal clear Animas the color of mustard. Some residents reportedly wept as officials shut down the river and urged people to conserve drinking water.

The toxic Colorado river spill and the menace of old hard-rock mines

Keena Kimmel’s bookshop occupies a cozy curve along the Animas River, a place of wild sunflowers and lilacs where fisherman try their luck and kayakers glide under iron bridges.

But this weekend the river was empty and Kimmel’s heart broken.

“Years ago I was passing through on the way to Oregon and ended up staying because it was so beautiful,” she said, gazing over the vacant waters. “I can’t believe what’s happened. I guess I’m still kind of in shock.”

Shock, sadness and anger have gripped this pretty college town in southwestern Colorado as residents struggle to understand the slow-moving environmental disaster that has transformed their crystal clear Animas River — or the River of Souls, translated from its Spanish name — into a ribbon of mustard yellow sludge.

Thousands of mines with toxic water lie under the West

Beneath the western United States lie thousands of old mining tunnels filled with the same toxic stew that spilled into a Colorado river last week, turning it into a nauseating yellow concoction and stoking alarm about contamination of drinking water.

Though the spill into the Animas River in southern Colorado is unusual for its size, it’s only the latest instance of the region grappling with the legacy of a centuries-old mining boom that helped populate the region but also left buried toxins.

Daily oil trains could threaten lives in the Bay Area

If oil giant Phillips 66 has its way, an oil train disaster and increased air pollution may be coming to a Bay Area town near you. Phillips 66 is proposing an oil transport station to refine Canadian tars sands in San Luis Obispo. If the project is approved by the San Luis Obispo planning commission and board of supervisors, Phillips 66 will have a contract for 500 oil train trips a year that could go right down the spine of the Bay Area.

Trains will likely follow Amtrak’s Capital Corridor line, which travels through Sacramento, downtown San Jose, downtown Oakland plus Richmond, Berkeley, Hayward and Freemont just to name a few.

Wis. residents upset about sand, oil train delays

Neighbors living near railroad tracks in Wisconsin are becoming increasingly concerned about long train blockages since an increase in sand and oil shipments have caused them to grow into a frequent and dangerous disruption.

The amount of industrial sand used in fracking that’s transported by train grew from about 10 million tons in 2005 to about 50 million tons in 2014, according to the Association of American Railroads. After Texas, Wisconsin was the second largest exporter of crushed and broken stone, gravel and industrial sand in 2012.

Inside Energy: New recommendations on oil train safety

A new report on the safety of transporting crude oil by rail says to focus less on oil flammability and more on preventing crashes.

Inside Energy’s Emily Guerin reports.

Since 2009, there has been an over 4000 percent increase in the amount of crude oil carried by trains. That’s because the newest oil booms are happening in places without pipelines, like North Dakota. And even though the overall accident rate for railroads is falling, more trains means more crashes.

Railroads, Emergency Responders Prepared in Event of Oil Spill in Texas

Each day, freight trains slice through the center of the city at a swift 70 miles an hour, carrying industry goods eastward and westward. With the explosion of heavy train traffic stemming from the Permian Basin oil boom, the threat of rail-related accidents looms larger.

Earlier this summer, a freight train slipped off its tracks in Odessa. Ten rail cars carrying hydraulic fracturing sand derailed and fell sideways along the track. About a week ago, Midland County Fire Marshal Dale Little saw the derailed cars still belly-up, causing him to ask the critical question: “What if that had been oil or a chemical?”

Activists: 62-Year-Old Pipeline Poses Threat to Straits of Mackinac

Concerns about aging oil pipelines were heightened earlier this year after 100,000 gallons of oil spilled near Santa Barbara, coating 97 miles of the California shoreline. Environmental activists in the Midwest warn that the same thing could happen closer to home.

There is only one pipeline that carries oil along the bottom of the Great Lakes. And that pipeline is only 4.5 miles long. But along that 4.5 miles lies where Lake Michigan meets Lake Huron in the Straits of Mackinac. Environmentalists say there couldn’t be a worse place for an oil spill to occur. Elizabeth Brackett brought us this story in June. Here’s another look.

The Keystone XL Pipeline Hits a Snag

Up in the newly formed petro-state of South Dakota, the people wishing to build our old friend, the Keystone XL pipeline, the continent-spanning death funnel, have run into a snag, having discovered that all politics is local…and unusually pissed.

Recently, it was discovered that TransCanada, the Canadian corpo-saur seeking to run the death funnel through the American heartland, already had bought all the pipe that it would need to finish the northern stretch of the Keystone even though the entire project is hanging fire and awaiting presidential approval.

TransCanada quietly plots response as Keystone XL rejection seems imminent

The Canadian company involved in the controversy-plagued Keystone XL project has begun planning its response as indications mount the proposed oil pipeline will be rejected 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.

Why is Japan restarting Sendai reactor?

Japan is restarting a nuclear reactor in Sendai, the first to go online after the 2011 Fukushima disaster prompted a nationwide shutdown of all plants.

The move has generated great controversy in Japan.

Photos: Protesters Object to Nuclear Reactor Restart

Protesters stage a rally near the gate of the Sendai Nuclear Power Station in Satsumasendai, Kagoshima prefecture, Japan on Tuesday. Kyushu Electric Power Co. has restarted a reactor at the power station, the first to begin operating under new safety requirements following the Fukushima disaster. The banner reads: “Stop the resumption of operation.”

Why a man who helped make Japan’s nuclear power plants is trying to stop them

He used to work for a manufacturer of nuclear plant equipment. Now, 79-year-old Shouhei Nomura lives with other protesters in a makeshift camp near the Kyushu Electric Power Company’s Sendai nuclear power station, campaigning to stop the nation’s nuclear reactors from coming back online.

Just days after commemorating the nuclear attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan continues to debate the nation’s nuclear energy program.

Planned Hinkley Point nuclear power station under fire from energy industry

Hinkley Point, the planned £24.5bn nuclear power station in Somerset, is under intensifying criticism from the energy industry and the City, even as the government prepares to give the final go-ahead for the heavily subsidised project.

The plant, due to open in 2023, will cost as much as the combined bill for Crossrail, the London 2012 Olympics and the revamped Terminal 2 at Heathrow, calculated Peter Atherton, energy analyst at investment bank Jefferies. He said that, for the same price as Hinkley Point C, which will provide 3,200MW of capacity, almost 50,000MW of gas-fired power capacity could be built.

Uranium mining debate resurfaces again

For decades, the commonwealth has been having an on-again, off-again debate over uranium mining. With the filing of a federal lawsuit by Virginia Uranium Inc., the debate is officially back on.

The lawsuit makes a straightforward claim: The Atomic Energy Act vests all authority for radiation-related regulation in the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Virginia can write rules for a uranium mine on any number of grounds, such as hours of operation or surety bonds. But it cannot regulate radiation safety matters, which are the exclusive province of the feds. And yet, the plaintiffs claim, Virginia’s ban on uranium mining is based almost exclusively on concerns about the hazards presented by radioactive tailings from the mining process.

How Sellafield’s radiation-proof robots do our dirty work

It was the birthplace of Britain’s nuclear industry, and the site of its worst nuclear accident.

For decades, the Sellafield plant in Cumbria could lay claim to being one of the most controversial industrial complexes in Britain.

Now, however, it is playing a new role – as a giant test bed for specialised technology and techniques used in nuclear decommissioning.

Christmas Island veteran takes fight over radiation claim back to court

A Christmas Island veteran from Fife is returning to court as he continues his efforts to establish the “true level” of radiation servicemen were exposed to while attending British nuclear tests in the 1950s.

Dave Whyte, 79, from Kirkcaldy, who is claiming for sterility and genetic damage, will attend a Freedom of Information First Tier Tribunal at a hearing in Edinburgh today.

In September 2013, Mr Whyte asked the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for the number of instruments, and their purpose, held in the bunker situated at ‘ground zero’ for the detonation of both Pennant and Burgee atomic bombs he attended in 1958.

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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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