Environmental Must-Reads – August 14, 2013


Pennsylvania Residents Ask EPA to Reopen Fracking Probe

Pennsylvania residents petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency to reopen an investigation into water quality in Dimock, after publication of an internal agency analysis that linked gas drilling to methane leaks.

Ray Kemble, who lives in the town, and Craig Stevens, who lives nearby, today delivered a petition they said was signed by 60,000 people to EPA employees in Washington. They carried a gallon of brown water they said came from a well used by Kemble.

Disposal of Marcellus Shale fracking waste caused earthquakes in Ohio

Before January 2011, Youngstown, Ohio, had never had an earthquake since observations began in 1776. In December 2010, the Northstar 1 injection well came online, built to pump wastewater produced by hydraulic fracturing projects in Pennsylvania into storage deep underground. In the year that followed, seismometers in and around Youngstown recorded 109 earthquakes—the strongest of the set being a magnitude 3.9 earthquake on December 31, 2011.

Interior Secretary Visits Fracking Fields in North Dakota, But Many Questions Remain

Brenda and Richard Jorgenson have farmed in the White Earth Valley of North Dakota for more than 30 years. They built a home in the valley’s sloping hillsides and planted crops around its native prairie grasses.  They have weathered the rugged conditions of the Northern Plains because they love working the land, but now their way of life is threatened by a powerful new force: the Bakken oil boom.

Greenwashing Concerns Mount as Evidence of Fracking’s Climate Impact Grows

Several years ago, Utah public health officials realized they had a big problem on their hands — one with national implications as other states were racing to increase oil and gas drilling. Smog levels in the state’s rural Uintah basin were rivaling those found in Los Angeles or Houston on their worst days.

The culprit, an EPA report concluded earlier this year: oil and gas operations. The industry was responsible for roughly 99 percent of the volatile organic compounds found in the basin, which mixed under sunlight with nitrogen oxides – at least 57% of which also came from oil and gas development — to form the choking smog, so thick that the nearby Salt Lake City airport was forced to divert flights when the smog was at its worst.

Fracking chemicals may be making oil more dangerous

Concerned over environmental and safety hazards, regulators have been demanding extra safety measures be put into place on trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota, Bloomberg reports.

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration is investigating whether chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are corroding rail tank cars and increasing risks. Separately, three pipeline companies including Enbridge Inc. warned regulators that North Dakota oil with too much hydrogen sulfide, which is toxic and flammable, was reaching terminals and putting workers at risk.

Fracking ‘threatens God’s glorious creation’

The Church of England has told parishioners that fracking causes environmental problems and risks lasting harm to “God’s glorious creation”.

Texas town runs out of water after using it for fracking

Suzanne Goldenberg at The Guardian has a startling article on what may be a common occurrence in Texas and other parts of the US

Does Acidizing Pose a Greater Threat to the Environment than Fracking?

The US has been able to experience a shale boom thanks to hydraulic fracturing, and its ability to make oil and natural gas trapped in shale rock formations available for extraction.

Around the country fracking has come under attack from many environmentalist and conservationist groups who protest at its potential to cause damage to the environment. As the inevitability of fracking moving to California seems more certain, protestors have begun to make a stand.

Fracking’s Myriad Ties to Flawed State Dept Keystone XL Environmental Review

Steve Horn’s latest post on DeSmogBlog exposes the links between key players in the shale gas industry and the companies pushing for approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would distribute tar sands oil.  The activists opposing and exposing fracking’s impacts are increasingly united with KXL opponents. Yesterday, as hundreds of activists sat in at the Department of Energy to oppose the Keystone XL Pipeline, Rising Tide Philly confronted TD Bank about their funding for the KXL, and just two hours later activists confronted EPA in Philadelphia’s Region 3 office, demanding EPA re-open its study of long-term damage to drinking water in Dimock, PA, as well as in Parker County TX and Pavillion WY. Read on regarding the ties between fracking and the KXL

Methane Leaking in Utah Suggests Higher National Rate

A new study of the air above a natural gas field in Utah suggests that far more methane gas may be escaping into the atmosphere from drilling operations than previously estimated. The study, to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, is the first to use an aircraft to directly sample the air downwind of natural gas and oil wells in order to calculate emissions of methane and contributors to smog. Most other studies to date have relied on various estimating techniques to determine methane emissions associated with natural gas drilling.

Fracking the Ocean and California’s San Andreas Fault

Picture this: a dark, noirish landscape lit by gas flares from oil refineries, spinners whirring, on the hunt for replicants. Blade Runner is a dystopian sci-fi flick set in Los Angeles, circa 2019—but is it possible the film was prescient about the soft glow of burning methane after all?

Put another way, what if the oil refineries past which Harrison Ford flies aren’t refineries, but fracking rigs?

Oil and gas drillers rob elderly of royalties they owe retired landowners

Don Feusner ran dairy cattle on his 370-acre slice of northern Pennsylvania until he could no longer turn a profit by farming. Then, at age 60, he sold all but a few Angus and aimed for a comfortable retirement on money from drilling his land for natural gas instead.

Fracking chemicals in spotlight as regulators investigate rail car corrosion and flammability of North Dakota crude

Crude oil shipped by railroad from North Dakota is drawing fresh scrutiny from regulators concerned that the cargo is adding environmental and safety hazards, something that analysts say could raise costs.

The U.S. Federal Railroad Administration is investigating whether chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing are corroding rail tank cars and increasing risks. Separately, three pipeline companies including Enbridge Inc. warned regulators that North Dakota oil with too much hydrogen sulfide, which is toxic and flammable, was reaching terminals and putting workers at risk.

Why This Year’s Gulf Dead Zone Is Twice as Big as Last Year’s

First, the good news: The annual “dead zone” that smothers much of the northern Gulf of Mexico—caused by an oxygen-sucking algae bloom mostly fed by Midwestern farm runoff—is smaller this year than scientists had expected. In the wake of heavy spring rains, researchers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had been projecting 2013’s fish-free region of the Gulf to be at least 7,286 square miles to 8,561 square miles—somewhere between the size of New Jersey on the low end to New Hampshire on the high end. Instead, NOAA announced, it has clocked in at 5,840 square miles—a bit bigger than Connecticut. It’s depicted in the above graphic.

Now, for the bad news: this year’s “biological dessert” (NOAA’s phrase) is much bigger than last year’s, below, which was relatively tiny because Midwestern droughts limited the amount of runoff that made it into the Gulf. At about 2,500 square miles, the 2012 edition measured up to be about a quarter again as large as Delaware.

BP oil spill cleanup: US says the coast is nearly clear. Is it?

Three years after the BP oil spill, the US Coast Guard says only 95 miles of coastline remain to be cleaned. But critics say the full extent of the damage is not yet known, especially in Louisiana, where oil is deep in the coastal environment.

BP sues US government over contract ban

British energy giant BP is suing the US government for banning it from federal contracts after the deadly 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, documents showed.

BP: Halliburton’s expected guilty plea undermines Gulf spill arguments

BP said Tuesday that Halliburton’s admission  it destroyed evidence after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill undermines key claims by the U.S. government in a civil trial over the disaster.

In papers filed in federal court in New Orleans, the British oil giant said that Halliburton’s criminal plea agreement shows the extent of the oil field services firm’s efforts to hide the truth about what caused the disaster. BP says the conduct has resulted in “prejudice to the court, BP, and the other parties.”

Chevron Phillips secures permits for Gulf Coast expansion plans

Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. has secured regulatory permits for three new Texas production units that it is planning to build.

The company, which is based in The Woodlands, wants to build a 1.5 million metric tons-per-year ethane cracker at its Cedar Bayou facility in Baytown and two new polyethylene facilities, each with an annual capacity of 500,000 metric tons, on a site near its Sweeny facility in Old Ocean, Texas

Chevron U.S.A. wants flood authority lawsuit against oil, gas, pipeline companies moved to federal court

Chevron U.S.A. filed a motion Tuesday to transfer to federal court in New Orleans a lawsuit filed by the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East two weeks ago in New Orleans Civil District Court against it and 96 other oil, gas and pipeline companies.

Exxon to cut temp housing aid for some evacuees in Mayflower

Nearly five months after an Exxon Mobil oil spill in a Mayflower neighborhood, the vast majority of homeowners there have yet to return home. Now the company has told some of those residents that it’s about to stop paying for their temporary housing.

Coast Guard Releasing Oil Spill Response Plan

The Coast Guard is releasing a plan today, devised with state and parish officials, about how best to respond to an oil spill.

No Injuries In Fuel Pipeline Explosion Near Iowa Border

A fuel pipeline exploded beneath a western Illinois cornfield, sending flames hundreds of feet into the sky and leaving a 15-foot-deep crater before pipeline crews were able to stem the flow of fuel and bring the fire under control, authorities said.

A Closer Look At Pipeline Company And Safety Reports

The pipeline involved in the explosion near Erie, Illinois late Monday night is a part of Houston-based Enterprise Products’ Mid-America pipeline system called the Morris Lateral. It’s a ten inch pipe that runs from Iowa City to Morris, Illinois where it serves a petrochemical customer.

What runs through the line is natural gas liquids. Company spokesperson Rick Rainey says that’s what comes out with the natural gas when it’s produced and it’s basically a mixture of butane, propane, natural gasoline, and ethane. In this particular case the ethane and propane are a feedstock in the starting point for raw materials for different types of plastics.

$1.3M Michigan oil pipeline replacement continues

A $1.3 billion project is moving forward to replace a 210-mile oil pipeline that stretches across Michigan and caused a 2010 spill.

The Kalamazoo Gazette reports Enbridge Inc. last month began the second phase of construction on Line 6B and it should be in service by mid-2014.

Keystone XL “will likely leak”, warns TransCanada whistleblower

TransCanada recently announced a new major pipeline that will run tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada to refineries in the east. This raised questions about how it will impact the future of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, that would run from Canada to Texas. However, while the final decision on the northern leg is still pending, construction on the southern leg from Texas to Oklahoma is well-underway and a former TransCanada whistleblower is raising concerns about the quality of the construction.

Crunch time for Keystone XL

It’s crunch time in the fight over constructing the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Both sides believe a decision by President Obama could come by the end of the year, making the next few months critical for lobbying and messaging efforts.

Opponents plan a burst of demonstrations and other events across the country to rally environmental pressure on Obama to reject the Alberta-to-the-Gulf Coast pipeline.

Chad suspends China firm CNPC over oil spill

Chad has suspended all exploration operations of a Chinese state-run oil firm for causing environmental damage, Chad’s oil minister has told the BBC.

Greenpeace and Russians poles apart on Arctic oil exploration

Activists from environmental lobby group Greenpeace on Tuesday challenged a ship from Russian oil giant Rosneft in the Barents Sea, in a bid to stop oil exploration work they say is harming the Arctic ecosystem.

Railway in Quebec Train to Lose License

Canada’s transportation agency said Tuesday it will suspend the operating license of the U.S.-based rail company whose runaway oil train derailed and exploded in a Quebec town, killing 47 people.

The agency said it planned to take away the certificate of fitness for the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway and its Canadian subsidiary, effective Aug. 20.

Liability for Lac-Megantic, Quebec, train explosion is assessed

The chain of possession of the trainload of oil that crashed and burned on July 6 in Quebec is the central issue of two lawsuits filed over the incident.

Lac-Megantic Pollution: Study Finds One Carcinogen 394,444 Times Above Limit

Tests conducted by an environmental group suggest last month’s Lac-Megantic, Que., train disaster had a devastating impact on water quality and soil in the affected area.

Extremely high concentrations of carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and arsenic, detected in surface water, have “confirmed the fears” of the Societe pour vaincre la pollution, the group said.

Tests find mercury in Ao Phrao sea water

Mercury levels found in sea water off Ao Phrao beach on Koh Samet were 29 times higher than safety standards allow, according to the Pollution Control Department.

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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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