Environmental Must-Reads – August 13, 2015


Government will step in if councils don’t fast-track fracking applications

Ministers will intervene on planning applications for controversial fracking operations if local authorities fail to act quickly enough, the government announced on Thursday, in a bid to fast-track fracking.

Industry and the government have been frustrated at the slow rate of progress on exploratory fracking for shale gas and oil in the UK, which has been bogged down in the planning process. Ministers have been told that applications to drill and frack in Lancashire could be delayed by 16 months in an appeals process after they were rejected by Lancashire county council.

This country has just speeded up fracking

Ministers in the U.K. will have the power to overrule local council decisions over whether to allow fracking from Thursday in a move that could cut the time between identifying potential fracking sites and getting the drilling going.

If the U.K.’s central government thinks that councils are unreasonably knocking back applications or delaying rulings, it will be able to override them, according to an announcement Thursday. Local councils currently have 16 weeks to decide on these applications, which often involve complicated issues on environmental and traffic impact.

Which Chemicals Used in Fracking Fluid?

The fluids used for hydraulic fracturing in California oil wells contain dozens of hazardous chemicals that have the potential to contaminate drinking water, air and soil and to harm human health, according to a new report by EWG.

In the analysis, California’s Toxic Fracking Fluids: The Chemical Recipe, EWG deconstructs drilling companies’ use of 200 unique chemicals in nearly 700 wells across the state, with each company deploying around two dozen chemicals.

Supporters optimistic about propane fracking coming to Tioga County

On Tuesday, the Tioga County Legislature passed a resolution giving its full support toward propane fracking. Now, those in favor are excited their dream could become a reality.

“This is going to really, really help out the county. I mean this is one of the things we’ve all hoped for,” George Oaks, of the Town of Barton, said.

Ban Fracking and Extreme Oil Extraction in California

Scandal after scandal has given Californians concrete proof that big oil is poisoning our state.

First, state regulators discovered oil wastewater being pumped into our dwindling water supply. Then, scientists found oil companies selling oil wastewater laden with cancer-causing chemicals to farmers for irrigation.

Now, a new independent report—initiated by a bill signed by Gov. Jerry Brown—reveals how fracking and other extreme techniques have put our communities’ health, air, water, and food in harm’s way. In 2015 alone, fracking and big oil contaminated more than 24 billion gallons of freshwater (and counting).

Sunoco launches eminent domain proceedings for Mariner East 2 pipeline

As Sunoco Logistics steps up efforts to create a pathway for its Mariner East 2 natural gas liquids pipeline across southern Pennsylvania, some landowners are resisting the company’s moves to build the pipeline across their properties.

Residents in at least eight counties are rejecting the company’s offers of cash compensation as too low or unacceptable at any level, and say they will go to court to challenge any assertion of eminent domain that the company makes in an attempt to force its way across private land.

Pipeline survey brings fresh complaints in Roanoke County

Surveying for the Mountain Valley pipeline is now under way in Roanoke County, and the work is bringing fresh complaints from landowners, including the county itself.

Last week, surveyors showed up at Camp Roanoke, days before they were expected.
Camp is still in session there, and the county had asked the company to wait until September.

County leaders say they’re hearing similar complaints from other property owners.

Natural gas pipeline to Mexico poised to expand

Howard Midstream Energy Partners LLC on Wednesday said its planned pipeline linking Webb County to northern Mexico would be nearly doubled in capacity if there is sufficient interest by shippers.

San Antonio-based Howard on Wednesday began a second round of soliciting prospective shippers for the pipeline that will end on Sept. 15.

Given more interest, Howard would expand the 30-inch pipeline’s diameter to be able to transport as much as 1.12 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas.

Summit County court rejects Nexus pipeline company’s request to access private land

Nexus Gas Transmission, the company trying to build a gas pipeline across northern Ohio, was denied a restraining order Wednesday that would have allowed the company to access private property in Summit County to make survey measurements.

Summit County Judge Mary Margaret Rowlands said Nexus did not meet legal requirements needed to grant access to private property. The company sued 91 property owners asking the court to grant a temporary injunction. The judge also dismissed Nexus’ argument that the company would suffer irreparable harm if it is unable to complete surveys needed to build the pipeline on time.

Deerfield residents voice concerns about gas pipeline’s impact on water supply, homes, quarry and rail yard

Residents voiced their concerns Wednesday night about the proposed Northeast Energy Direct gas pipeline, and safety of the town’s drinking water and the proximity of the project to homes, a quarry, an active rail yard and power lines topped the list.

The public hearing was held at the beginning of the Select Board’s meeting and drew about 100 residents to the municipal office which was filled to standing-room-only for at least the first hour. The comments offered at the meeting will be incorporated into a report the town will submit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state Energy Facilities Siting Board for use during an environmental impact statement scoping process.

ND regulators approve $6M natural gas liquids pipeline

North Dakota’s Public Service Commission has approved a siting permit for a $6 million liquid natural gas pipeline in McKenzie County.

Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Oneok (ONE’-oak) is planning to construct and operate a new 4-mile long, 8-inch diameter pipeline and associated facilities.

Enbridge Gas says leaks reinforce need for safe digging

Enbridge Gas hopes recent leaks caused by gas lines broken by excavators will reinforce the need for contractors to be cautious when digging.

Several businesses — including fast food restaurants — were evacuated following a gas leak in east Saint John Tuesday.

It was the third gas-related evacuation in the city in the past six weeks.

Oyster hatchery built with BP funds opening

A new oyster hatchery built with $3 million in BP oil spill settlement money to withstand hurricane-force winds opened Wednesday in Grand Isle.

The 7,000-square-foot concrete building, designed to withstand 140-mph winds, is raised 20 feet above sea level and will more than double production of the larvae used to seed oyster grounds, according to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

Syncrude faces environmental protection order for blue heron deaths

The Alberta Energy Regulator has issued an environmental protection order to Syncrude Canada after about 30 blue herons were found dead at the oilsands site in northern Alberta.

The birds were found on Aug. 5 by a worker at Syncrude’s Mildred Lake facility, about 40 kilometres north of Fort McMurray.

Bob Curran, director of public affairs with the regulator, said the birds were not found in a tailings pond but in areas called “sumps,” low-lying spots on the mine site where surface water collects. Some bitumen was found in that water.

State bills to address oil spill

Four bills written in response to the May 19 oil spill that affected South Bay beaches are before the state legislature.

They are designed to help prevent oil spills and address what some supporters say was a slow response to the Refugio oil spill, which resulted in tar balls washing up 100 miles south in the South Bay.

“The best way to prevent an oil spill is to stop new oil drilling,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel of the Environmental Defense Center, a nonprofit environmental law firm in Santa Barbara. “The second best way is to have the best protection and oversight.”

Reaction to $5M lawsuit settlement over Mayflower oil spill

A $5 million agreement was signed by a federal judge on Wednesday regarding the oil spill two years ago that forced the evacuation of a Mayflower neighborhood.

U.S. District Judge Kris Baker said the agreement complies with the Clean Water Act and is fair to ExxonMobil and the governments.

Central Arkansas Water failed to block the agreement. The company wanted to move another portion of the pipeline from the watershed that serves the Little Rock Metropolitan area.

Pope’s climate push at odds with U.S. Catholic oil investments

Pope Francis heartened environmentalists around the world in June when he urged immediate action to save the planet from the effects of climate change, declaring that the use of “highly polluting fossil fuels needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”

But some of the largest American Catholic organizations have millions of dollars invested in energy companies, from hydraulic fracturing firms to oil sands producers, according to their own disclosures, through many portfolios intended to fund church operations and pay clergy salaries.

Another labor report, another bad month in oil-, gas-producing states

Employment in the mining industry, which includes oil, gas and coal extraction and support services — subsectors particularly hard hit in the crude oil turndown — slumped again in July, the seventh month in a row the group contracted, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported last week.

The industry lost about 5,000 jobs in July, down from its overall June payroll of roughly 786,000. It was one of the few black eyes on the July jobs report.

After Colorado Waste Spill, E.P.A. Halts Field Investigations

After a contractor for the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally caused a mine to burst during a field investigation — releasing more than three million gallons of toxic waste — the agency’s top official said Wednesday that she had halted all similar investigations until further notice.

“It is just an opportunity for us to screen, to make sure that there is no potential for a release like this in another situation,” said Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator, at a news conference in Durango, Colo., about 50 miles south of the Gold King mine, where the accident took place.

By the numbers: The massive toll of the Animas River spill

The environmental crew had one job: pump out and treat contaminated water at the Gold King Mine in southern Colorado.

Instead, when the workers for the Environmental Protection Agency used heavy equipment to enter the defunct mine on August 5, 2015, a leak sprung. A massive one.

Colorado Businesses Struggle As Toxic Waste Flows Through Animas River

Three million gallons of mining waste has turned the Animas River in Colorado the color of mustard. The toxic water has now fouled the San Juan River further downstream in New Mexico and Utah. The affected areas have been closed. That’s tough news for many small businesses that rely on the rivers for their livelihood. And Roger Zalneraitis has been hearing a lot of anxiety about that. He’s the executive director of the La Plata County Economic Development Alliance in Durango, Colo.

Experts See Long-Term Risks From Colorado Mine Spill

Toxic waste that gushed from a Colorado mine and threatened downstream water supplies in at least three states will continue to be dangerous when contaminated sediment gets stirred up from the river bottom, authorities said Wednesday, suggesting there is no easy fix to what could be a long-term public health risk.

The immediate impact of the 3 million gallon spill on Aug. 5 eased as the plume of contamination dissipated on its way to Lake Powell along the Utah-Arizona border. But the strong dose of arsenic, cadmium, lead and other heavy metals settled out as the wastewater traveled downstream, layering river bottoms with contaminants sure to pose risks in the future.

EPA chief attempts damage control after spill of toxic waste into Colorado river

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency toured the sludge-coated banks of Colorado’s Animas River on Wednesday as the Obama administration sought to limit the environmental and political damage from last week’s 3-million gallon toxic waste spill — one caused in part by the agency’s own contractors.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy ordered a temporary halt to the agency’s clean-up work at the Gold King mine and several similar sites after traveling to the region to pledge a thorough investigation into an accident she has called “tragic and unfortunate.”

Colorado river’s pollution levels fall after spill

Colorado state officials said pollution appears to have cleared from the Animas River after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) caused a massive mine waste spill.

Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) and Larry Wolk, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, said Tuesday that their latest sampling show that the river is back to the pollution levels it had before the spill of 3 million gallons of heavy metals last week, The Durango Herald reported.

“Isn’t that amazing? That’s much better than what I would have hoped for,” Hickenlooper said in Durango, according to the Herald.

Chevron fined for air pollution at Richmond refinery

Chevron has agreed to pay $146,000 in fines for spewing pollutants into the air at its refinery in Richmond, air quality regulators said Tuesday.

The penalty stems from 22 citations from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District mostly for discharging unhealthy levels of hydrogen sulfide and other harmful compounds through flaring, the process of burning off excess gas, common at industrial sites.

The refinery was also cited for excess carbon monoxide coming out of its furnace.

Devil’s Swamp Lake fish too polluted to eat, DHH warns

Citing “unacceptable levels” of PCBs and mercury, the Department of Health and Hospitals has stepped up warnings about dangerous water in Devil’s Swamp Lake and Bayou Baton Rouge in Scotlandville.

The department is telling residents not to consume any fish or crawfish pulled out of either body of water, and is also warning people to “avoid swimming and participating in water activities there.” Previous warnings had contained advice to limit meals of fish or crawfish from those bodies of water to two per month.

Oil-train disaster plan: 8,000 in Teaneck would be subject to evacuation

Larry Robertson, the township’s emergency management coordinator, had a message Wednesday for residents who live within a half-mile of the tracks used by trains carrying Bakken crude oil: If there’s a disaster, get out.

“Leave immediately — no time for shoes, no time for briefcases and laptops. Grab you family members and go,” said Robertson, who was holding an informational meeting in the Teaneck Police Department on plans for handling a rail emergency.

Robertson estimated that should a leak, spill, fire or explosion occur, about 8,000 residents who live in the half-mile radius of the site would need to evacuate. The township is in the process of acquiring a townwide loudspeaker system to immediately alert residents of emergencies and their location, he said. But if residents are far from home, the next challenge would be what to do from there.

Shipping oil through pipelines safer than by rail, report says

Transporting oil and gas by rail is more dangerous than moving it by pipeline, a new study has found.

Oil shipments by rail are 4 1/2 times more likely to have a spill or incident than those pumped through a pipeline, says a report from the Fraser Institute, which examined data from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board and Transport Canada between 2003 and 2013.

“If you’re going to move a given quantity of oil or gas by rail or by pipeline, it’s considerably safer by pipeline,” said Kenneth Green, the report’s author and an energy and resources expert.

Kenya and Uganda are building the world’s longest heated oil pipeline

Kenya and Uganda have agreed on a route for a 1,500-km (930-mile) pipeline to pump oil from Uganda to the Indian Ocean, a project that officials hope will transform East Africa into a major oil exporting region.

The path—to serve Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan, and potentially Ethiopia—has been the subject of dispute between Kenyan and Ugandan officials since last year. It will cut through northern Kenya and the Lokichar Basin from Hoima in western Uganda before reaching the port city of Lamu.

Enbridge to reopen key U.S. oil pipeline after leak

Enbridge Inc expects to reopen a major U.S. Midwest channel for Canadian crude oil, the 600,000 barrel-per-day Flanagan South pipeline, also known as Line 59, later on Wednesday, but the company could not say when a second smaller line would resume shipments after a small leak.

Enbridge said it did not have a restart date yet for the adjacent Line 55, the 193,300-bpd Spearhead pipeline.

Excavation of Line 55 has been completed and all of the released oil and contaminated water has been cleaned up, Enbridge said.

Enbridge Sponsors Water Monitoring Above Aging Pipeline in Mackinac Straits

Enbridge Energy is sponsoring new efforts to monitor waters above its aging pipeline in the Straits of Mackinac.

Enbridge is working with the Great Lakes Research Center (GLRC) out of Michigan Technical University to build and operate a buoy to measure currents in real time. That information will be made available for
anyone to view online.

“At the present time there is no real-time water flow measurements through the Straits of Mackinac. And that is absolutely the first starting point if there is a disaster in that area,” said GLRC Director Guy Meadows.

“Enbridge Sued Us, We Didn’t Want to Be Here”

“Let’s just end this little damages dance for the day so we can move on and file an appeal of the substantive issues as well as this sort of gagging of our ability to use Enbridge’s own offers in our defense.”

James Botsford was beaten but unbowed as he stood in the lobby of the Grand Forks County District Courthouse, his wife Krista at his side. North Dakota Pipeline Company LLC (NDPL) had sued the couple for the right to an easement over his farmland located twenty miles from where he stood. Botsford’s land is a lynchpin in the proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper Pipeline, a project that will carry Bakken crude oil from western North Dakota to refineries in Superior, Wisconsin. In pretrial legal maneuvering, NDPL avoided a scheduled jury trial that would have determined the amount of compensation for the eminent domain takings of the Botsford property.

Straits pipeline needs ‘one-two punch’ of state, federal oversight

One of Michigan’s two Democratic U.S. senators says the state government needs to take a larger hand in oversight and regulation of oil pipelines, particularly the controversial Enbridge line under the Mackinac straits.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said the state “needs to go farther” in oversight and regulation of the Enbridge Inc. twin pipeline that crosses the straits bottom west of the Mackinac Bridge, which has been the focus in intense public scrutiny of late.

Both sides brace as decision on Keystone XL pipeline nears

A federal permit decision on TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline could come any time, based on a spate of recent reports.

The Canadian Press has cited unnamed sources close to TransCanada saying “the company has become all but convinced a rejection is imminent based on signals the White House is sending publicly and privately.”

Pessimism sets in for Keystone pipeline advocates

Industry and congressional sources say they’re prepared for President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline soon, even as details on how and when the White House will rule on the controversial project remain unknown.

With concrete information from the administration scarce, the pipeline’s proponents instead view the lengthy review process, initiated by President George W. Bush and continued under Obama, as having now taken so long that an affirmative outcome appears unlikely.

Ann Pickard: the little-known executive leading Shell’s gamble on Arctic oil

As a flotilla of kayaking environmental protesters surrounded her fleet in Seattle harbour in May, Ann Pickard, the rarely-interviewed executive in charge of Shell’s Arctic drilling programme, launched a PR counter-offensive.

Shell’s executive vice president for the Arctic laid out the company’s creed of safety and assurance against the activists’ slogans. “This is not rocket science; we can do this,” she told the Financial Times. In the Seattle Times: “We’re not going to make the mistakes of the past.”

Can Shell afford Arctic oil?

As Shell’s Polar Pioneer rig whirrs through the Chukchi sea bedrock this week, there’s a lot riding on what it finds.

This is the first time the Anglo-Dutch giant’s star-crossed Arctic programme will drill deep enough to hit oil. The company has reportedly spent $7bn (£4.5bn) on getting to this point, including replacing its prize Kulluk rig after it ran aground off Alaska in 2012. For them to gain any of this back, a number of things need to happen.

Most importantly, there needs to be a lot of oil. “One would have thought they would need to find in the billions of barrels of oil to make it work. But it’s difficult to be specific,” said James Henderson, a researcher at Oxford University’s Institute for Energy Studies.

U.S. Coast Guard sees added burden in Shell’s Arctic quest

The U.S. Coast Guard has been forced to divert resources – including a vessel that fights cocaine trafficking – to the Arctic this summer to ensure that Royal Dutch Shell’s exploratory oil drilling meets its environmental and safety commitments, its top officer said.

The added Coast Guard presence in the Chukchi Sea off Northern Alaska includes the Waesche, a 418 foot-long (127 m) national security ship, which otherwise would be operating in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, fighting drug traffickers.

Sendai No. 1 reactor must not become a model case for future restarts

The No. 1 reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., was brought back online Aug. 11. It is the first facility to be reactivated in Japan after nearly two years of suspended operation of all reactors.

The Sendai reactor is also the first to clear new safety standards set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. Now that the Sendai reactor is back in operation, the government intends to reactivate all nuclear reactors that meet the NRA’s safety requirements.

Japan Takes Step Toward Reviving Nuclear Industry as It Restarts Reactor

For more than four years since the nuclear meltdowns in Fukushima in 2011, Japan has been debating whether it should permanently abandon a technology that went so disastrously wrong but that for years was seen as essential to its economy.

Governments have offered differing answers. The public has sent confusing signals.

But on Tuesday, the country took what appeared to be a decisive step toward resurrecting the nuclear industry and ending a de facto freeze on the use of atomic power, as an electric utility restarted one of dozens of reactors that were taken offline after the Fukushima disaster.

Why Japan is bringing back nuclear power — four years after Fukushima

After a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and ensuing tsunami hit Japan’s northeastern coast in 2011, leading to the famous reactor meltdown at Fukushima, the country decided to hit the pause button on nuclear power. Over the next two years, Japan took all 54 of its reactors offline as regulators reevaluated their safety rules.

The adjustment turned out to be quite painful.

Before Fukushima, nuclear power supplied 27 percent of Japan’s electricity. By 2014, that had dwindled to zero. To make up the gap, Japan has had to import more coal, oil, and natural gas from overseas

Hanford nuclear weapons site whistle-blower wins $4.1-million settlement

When Walter Tamosaitis warned in 2011 that the Energy Department’s plans for a waste treatment plant at the former Hanford nuclear weapons complex were unsafe, he was demoted and put in a basement room with cardboard boxes and plywood for office furniture.

Tamosaitis had been leading a team of 100 scientists and engineers in designing a way to immobilize millions of gallons of highly toxic nuclear sludge as thick as peanut butter. The sludge, which could deliver a lethal dose of radiation to a nearby person within minutes, is stored in leaking underground tanks near the Columbia River in Washington state.

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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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