Environmental Must-Reads – August 18, 2014


Some Fracking Fluids Toxic to Mammals

As the oil and gas drilling technique known as fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, grows in this country, scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the potential health risks some of these toxic fracking fluids pose to mammals, a new study describes.

Of the 200 commonly used compounds shot into the ground during this process, eight of them are toxic to mammals, according to the researchers.

Judge Throws Out Texas Family’s Fracking Pollution Case

A Texas judge has dismissed a million dollar lawsuit filed by a Karnes County, Texas, family who say their lives have been ruined by noxious emissions from oil and gas facilities near their home.

District Judge Stella Saxon apparently accepted the argument made by Marathon Oil Corp. and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP) that Mike and Myra Cerny didn’t have enough medical and scientific evidence to prove to a jury that they have been sickened by oil field emissions.

Study: The Toxicity of One-Third of Fracking Chemicals is Unknown

A new study says that out of 81 common compounds used in fracking, there’s very little known about the potential health risks of about one-third of them. This research was presented this week at the 248th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society.

William Stringfellow of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and his team searched through public databases for the most common compounds used in fracking around the U.S. since 2011. The researchers looked at the toxicity of chemicals in the fluid that companies inject into wells to extract natural gas and oil. Eventually their goal is to assess whether any of these chemicals pose a risk to the environment.

Christie’s National Ambitions Seen by Critics as a Factor in Fracking Greenlight

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s recent veto of a bill that would have banned the treatment, storage and disposal of fracking waste in the state thrusts the Republican presidential contender and head of the Republican Governors Association into the national debate over fracking, the controversial practice that blasts chemicals, sand and water into a well to crack open bedrock and extract fossil fuels. Christie said the bill was unconstitutional.

Report: Drillers Illegally Using Diesel Fuel to Frack

A new report charges that several oil and gas companies have been illegally using diesel fuel in their hydraulic fracturing operations, and then doctoring records to hide violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The report, published this week by the Environmental Integrity Project, found that between 2010 and July 2014 at least 351 wells were fracked by 33 different companies using diesel fuels without a permit. The Integrity Project, an environmental organization based in Washington, D.C., said it used the industry-backed database, FracFocus, to identify violations and to determine the records had been retroactively amended by the companies to erase the evidence.

Illegal Fracking Practices Identified in W.Va., Pa.

An environmental watchdog non-profit just released a report identifying companies who are using diesel fuel in their horizontal drilling fluids. Apparently, that’s illegal without a special permit.

Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) is a non-profit that advocates for enforcement of environmental laws. They recently published a report entitled “Fracking Beyond the Law.” It asserts that at least 33 companies drilled 351 wells in 12 states using prohibited diesel fuels without required permits in violation of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The report also notes that recently drilling companies have been modifying self-reported disclosures to remove any indication of diesel fuel use.

Audit of fracking fluids highlights data deficiencies

A US survey of almost 250 chemicals used in fracking has identified potentially harmful compounds and exposed a lack of information about them that is hampering efforts to understand fracking’s environmental impact.

Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, involves pumping high-pressure water into shale formations kilometres beneath the ground to break the formations apart, releasing the gas and oil they contain. In the US, fracking operations have regenerated the domestic oil and gas industry, boosting production and driving down energy prices. The US chemical industry has also benefited from cheaper feedstocks, such as ethene, giving it a competitive edge over other regions.

Railroad Commission may be more serious about quakes

After months of disappointing decisions — or mostly indecision — in response to a rash of seismic rumblings in North Texas that some studies have linked to hydraulic fracturing, the Texas Railroad Commission may be turning over a new leaf.

On Tuesday, the agency approved new proposed rules that would require oil and gas drilling permit seekers to provide additional information, including data on a region’s seismicity and any history of earthquakes recorded by the U.S. Geological Survey, before drilling new injection wells.

Enviros push ‘public trust’ as trump card over oil and gas influence

Last Dec. 19 was a gratifying day for John Dernbach. In 162 pages the state’s highest court had resurrected a provision in Pennsylvania’s Constitution that had long ago faded into obscurity.

The forgotten measure is an environmental rights amendment nestled in Article 1, among core protections of civil rights and due process. The amendment gives people a right to clean air, pure water and conservation of natural resources. It hands environmentalists an opportunity to transform the natural gas debate in Pennsylvania and beyond.

Environmentalists split over green group’s fracking industry ties

In 2012, when Ohio’s Senate passed a controversial hydraulic fracturing bill that was supported by the oil and gas industry, environmental groups lined up against it, saying it would endanger public health. But during hearings on the bill, it gained one seemingly unlikely supporter: the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), one of the nation’s largest green groups.

Weld County resident says fracking is costing him sleep

Mike Lozinski says he’s tired of not being able to get enough of the nighttime sleep he needs in order to be to be alert on his daytime job.

The problem, Lozinski said, is that he has frequently been awakened and kept awake by the noise from the drilling and fracking that’s been going on this summer at oil and gas wells near his rural Firestone-area home.

Can fracking solve the problem of polluted mine water in Pennsylvania?

The state is a center of the hydraulic fracturing (fracking) boom. But there are also thousands of abandoned mines that leach metals and other pollutants into the state’s streams.

Now it appears that fracking might be one way to clean up this water — and some in the gas industry are pushing legislation to allow it.

Blackpool anti-fracking camp: ‘I’m here for my 10 grandchildren’

A group of local anti-fracking campaigners is set to be joined by up to 1,000 people this weekend as the nationwide protest against the controversial extraction process moves to Lancashire.

The group, which is mainly composed of mothers and grandparents, has occupied a local farmer’s field in Little Plumpton, five miles from Blackpool, since 5am last Thursday. The field is adjacent to two sites where Cuadrilla plans to drill.

Attorneys say BP has no right to repayment on oil spill payouts

Plaintiffs’ attorneys say BP has no right to demand repayment of claims the company says were improperly overpaid under the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill settlement. The attorneys on Friday (Aug. 15) urged a federal judge to throw out the request.

BP in late June asked U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier to order the repayment — plus interest — of hundreds of millions of dollars of “inflated or unwarranted” claims.

BP medical interpretation could cut out thousands

Thousands of Gulf oil spill cleanup workers could lose the right to collect medical claims checks of up to $60,700 from BP, thanks to yet another latter-day interpretation of the oil giant’s promises to compensate victims of the 2010 spill.

Last month, BP quietly won a ruling that could save it tens of millions of dollars and severely reduce what Gulf residents can collect for chronic illnesses they developed after helping clean up the company’s mess.

Cleanup workers after BP may be denied medical claims

A dispute over the exact meaning of select parts of BP’s settlement terms following the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010 could change who will receive checks for medical claims after helping with the cleanup. Thousands who aided in cleanup efforts in the Gulf could be denied claims checks valued up to $60,700, all because of a new interpretation of portions of the settlement.

According to David Hammer for WWLTV News, BP has won a court ruling that could mean that some workers no longer qualify for financial compensation.

Spill Some Oil? Magnetize It for Cleanup

Oil and water don’t mix. Despite that age-old axiom, it sure is hard to get spilled petroleum out of seawater, as was evident during BP’s blowout in the Gulf of Mexico. But what if you could make oil magnetic?

That thought came to physicist Arden Warner while he watched coverage of the spill back in 2010. And it launched some garage tinkering for Warner, who by day works on improving particle accelerators at Fermilab.

Oil spill on Hudson River near Germantown

Numerous County agencies responded to an oil slick on the Hudson River’s surface near Germantown Boat Launch Sunday.

According to County 911, the call regarding the spill, believed to be caused by a transfer line that fell from a tanker ship traveling southbound on the Hudson River, came in at 4:46 p.m.

U.S. Senate candidates clash over Keystone pipeline steel

Sparks flew again between U.S. Sen. Al Franken and his Republican challenger Mike McFadden over the use of U.S. steel to build the Keystone XL pipeline.

Iron Range politicians and union leaders took McFadden to task Friday over comments last week that he would opt for building the Pipeline with Chinese steel over U.S. steel if it were cheaper.

Oil pipeline protesters meet with local farmers

A local coffee shop turned into a hub where environmentalists and farmers joined together to discuss the proposed Bakkan oil pipeline that could affect a number of landowners in Jasper County and 16 other Iowa counties.

On Thursday, Uncle Nancy’s Coffeehouse served as the venue for an informational rally put together by Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement and the Great March for Climate Action.

Dominion details inspections, monitoring of pipeline

Dominion Resources said Thursday that in-line inspections of a natural gas pipeline the company is considering would be done every seven years with pipeline in high consequence areas checked more frequently.

A high consequence area is defined as an area that is populated, one where drinking water sources are, or those with sensitive ecological resources.

Investor Call: Enbridge’s Keystone XL Clone Opens in October, Rail Facility to Follow

In a recent quarter two call for investors, Enbridge Inc executives said the company’s “Keystone XL” clone — the combination of the Flanagan South and Seaway Twin pipelines — will open for business by October.

As previously reported by DeSmogBlog, Enbridge has committed a “silent coup” of sorts, ushering in its own Alberta to Port Arthur, Texas pipeline system “clone” of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Unlike Keystone XL’s northern leg, however, Enbridge has done so with little debate.

PublicSource: 40 percent of Pittsburgh residents in danger zone for crude oil train derailment

More than 40 percent of Pittsburgh’s residents live in areas at risk if a train carrying crude oil through the city derails and catches fire, according to a PublicSource analysis.

That number does not include children at 72 K-12 schools inside those areas.

PublicSource created a map using a perimeter of a half-mile on each side of the rail lines known to carry crude oil in the city. A half-mile is the federal evacuation zone recommended for accidents involving crude oil trains.

North Dakota is adding pipelines, but oil trains still up

North Dakota added 2,578 miles of crude oil and natural gas pipelines in 2013, a 15 percent increase, but most of the state’s oil is still shipped to market on trains, state officials said Friday.

The newly built pipelines largely collect oil and gas from well fields, reducing the amount of local truck traffic and wasteful burning, or flaring, of gas at the wellhead, said Justin Kringstad, director of the North Dakota Pipeline Authority.

Administration studies Arctic requirements

The Obama administration is closer than ever to imposing the first minimum standards for oil and gas activity in U.S. Arctic waters, as Shell pursues permits that could allow it to resume drilling in the region next year.

The Interior Department sent a draft of those Arctic regulations to the Office of Management and Budget on Friday, marking the launch of an interagency review process that typically spans months. The rule’s arrival at OMB was disclosed online by Sunday evening.

Alaska’s Financial Future at Center of Battle Over Oil Tax

After decades of relative harmony between citizens and fossil fuel companies in Alaska, tensions are ratcheting up in advance of an Aug. 19 referendum on the state’s oil taxes.

Voters will decide whether to repeal Alaska’s year-old oil tax system, which cuts taxes on the fossil fuel industry by $1 billion to $2 billion a year. If Alaskans approve the ballot proposal, the state will reverse the tax reductions now enjoyed by ConocoPhillips, Exxon and BP and revert to a previous system that helped the state bank a $17 billion surplus.

The Fukushima Effect: Insidious Radiation Impact

Compared to the Chernobyl meltdown, the levels of radiation released by the Fukushima-Daiichi power plant disaster in 2011 were a drop in the bucket. Even so, a new series of studies has shown that certain types of birds, plants and insects in Japan are all suffering from the impacts of fallout. Researchers say studying these organisms will help them better understand the complex dangers of radiation.

These studies were all recently published in the Journal of Heredity and detail observations on how non-human organisms in the immediate Fukushima-Daiichi area were affected by radiation a mere few months after the initial power plant disaster.

Scientist weighs homecoming risks in Fukushima

When scientist Junko Nakanishi stepped into radiation-contaminated towns and villages in Fukushima Prefecture 10 months after the nuclear power plant meltdowns of 2011, she realized how difficult the job of decontamination would be.

Surveying the thinly populated areas surrounded by hills and rice paddies, she wondered how much time and money it would take to reduce the radiation.

First tranche of public housing for Fukushima evacuees hit by delays

About 40 percent of the first batch of public housing for people displaced by the Fukushima nuclear disaster will not be ready by the end of fiscal 2015, forcing those who evacuated to wait longer for permanent abodes.

At a Reconstruction Promotion Council meeting Aug. 4 in Fukushima, the prefectural government revealed that 1,600 housing units, or about 40 percent of the first 3,700 planned in the prefecture, will likely face delays of up to nine months.

Additional measures for Fukushima water management

Two systems are being put in place at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan that should significantly improve water management at the site. Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) is seeking approval before full operation of the impermeable seawall and subdrain system starts.

After the Fukushima meltdown, Japan’s nuclear restart is stalled

It is now three and a half years since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to meltdowns at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and the subsequent shuttering of all 48 of Japan’s nuclear reactors. Yet Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s plans to quickly restart that country’s atomic energy program remain stalled. While Japanese businesses have continued to press politicians and bureaucrats to bring plants across the country back online, exactly when any of Japan’s reactors will restart is uncertain.

Giant watercolor captures devastation of Fukushima nuclear disaster

A giant image of a destroyed reactor building in a nuclear wasteland is drawing crowds at the Sendai Mediatheque cultural hall in Aoba Ward here.

Titled “Kyodaiga de Egakareru Fukushima” (Fukushima drawn in a huge picture), the watercolor of the Fukushima nuclear disaster by Hiroshige Kagawa is 5.4 meters high and 16.4 meters wide.

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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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