Environmental Must-Reads – August 18, 2015


Arctic Drilling Approval Threatens Obama’s Climate Legacy

The Obama administration’s final approval of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling for oil in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea provoked an angry reaction on Monday from environmentalists who had come to consider President Obama a champion in the fight against climate change.

The decision comes two weeks after the release of the United States’ most aggressive attempt to limit greenhouse gas emissions, known as the Clean Power Plan, and just days after Obama announced he will visit Alaska later this month to highlight the impacts of climate change, which he recently referred to as “one of the greatest challenges we face this century.”

Approval of Arctic Drilling Comes Just Before Obama’s Visit

The Obama administration’s approval of the final permit to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean clashes with the message President Barack Obama will deliver when he visits Alaska to emphasize the dangers of climate change, some environmental groups say.

As much as the groups praise Obama for his overall body of work — from stricter fuel-efficiency standards to regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — they consider the approval of exploratory drilling in the Arctic a stain on his environmental legacy that will send a mixed message to other countries about the seriousness of confronting global warming.

Greens decry Obama’s Shell game

President Barack Obama crushed greens’ hearts Monday by giving Shell the final go-ahead to drill for oil in Alaska’s Arctic waters, just two weeks after he thrilled them by issuing his landmark regulations on climate change.

In the long run, Obama’s successors will determine whether the industry can tap Alaska’s prized offshore oil — and one 2016 contender, Hillary Clinton, has expressed “doubts” about opening the Arctic to drilling. But it was Obama’s Interior Department that gave Shell its nod Monday, in the face of an opposition campaign that has seen activists dangling from a bridge in Oregon and swarming the company’s Arctic-bound rig with kayaks to try to block the project.

Chevron gives notice to workers as it prepares to cut 950 jobs

Some local Chevron employees are finding out whether they will lose their jobs as the company pushes forward on plans to cut 950 positions in Houston amid falling oil prices.

The job cuts are part of a broader plan by the San Ramon, California-based energy giant to eliminate about 1,500 jobs worldwide as Chevron braces for a prolonged crude slump. The announcement came just days before the company revealed in an earnings call with investors that second quarter profits plummeted 90 percent as the downturn in oil outweighed the boosts in refining.

Crude sinks below $42 as Japan’s economy sinks

U.S. crude fell to a new six-year low Monday after Japan said its economy contracted in the second quarter and more signs emerged that the global oil glut isn’t going away quickly.

Markets were also reacting to news that North Dakota state regulators estimated oil production in the state rose slightly in June compared to the previous month, another sign that U.S. shale production is more resilient than previously anticipated, said Andy Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates in Houston.

Carriers weigh routing oil trains around Pennsylvania

The two major rail haulers of crude oil in Pennsylvania are weighing routing trains carrying the commodity around Pittsburgh, the governor’s independent rail expert said Monday as he unveiled wide-ranging safety recommendations.

“I am aware of the fact that there are options, and the railroads are looking at options of re-routing trains around Pittsburgh,” said Allan Zarembski, a University of Delaware research professor hired in April to advise Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf on crude-by-rail policy. He declined to elaborate, citing that the rail companies were still conducting assessments.

Report urges more than two dozen measures to make oil trains safer

Pennsylvania’s oil trains could be made safer through a number of steps, more inspections, additional technology, lower speed limits, and improved preparation for emergency responders along the routes, according to a report released on Monday.

Gov. Tom Wolf commissioned the report amid growing fears that a derailment by one of the trains carrying millions of gallons of crude oil across the state could lead to catastrophic explosions in densely populated areas like Philadelphia.

Enbridge pipeline hearing tonight on White Earth Indian reservation

Enbridge Energy officials will visit the White Earth Indian Reservation Tuesday to hear concerns about the company’s proposed pipeline replacement project.

The Calgary-based energy company is looking to replace 1,031 miles of the 50-year-old oil pipeline, known as Line 3. Nearly 300 miles of that line run through northern Minnesota, from Neche, N.D., to Superior, Wis., often following Highway 2.

As oil prices keep tumbling, frackers feel the pain

Oil prices are plummeting toward a threshold below which US oil faces serious economic headwinds.

On Monday, CNBC released a new oil survey demonstrating that an overwhelming number of experts forecast that oil prices will continue to fall, and will remain so low for the remainder of the year that the cost of extracting shale oil will exceed what producers can get for it on the market. Although some questions remain about what the breakeven point is for producers, experts agree that the range falls somewhere between $30 per barrel, at the absolute lowest, to $65 per barrel.

U.S. EPA to propose rules to curb methane emissions from oil and gas sector

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will propose regulations on Tuesday aimed at cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by up to 45 percent over the next decade from 2012 levels, sources familiar with the issue said on Monday.

The regulations on methane are one part of the Obama administration’s strategy to curb greenhouse gases and combat climate change and come just two weeks after the president unveiled a sweeping rule to slash carbon emissions from the country’s power plants.

Federal judge denies injunction in New Mexico drilling case

A federal judge has rejected an effort by environmental groups to stall oil and gas development in northwestern New Mexico while they fight the approval of dozens of drilling permits issued over the past two years by a federal agency.

U.S. District Judge James Browning issued his ruling late Friday. An environmental group said Monday it plans to appeal.

Fracking in the UK: could it happen near you?

Fracking could take place across large swathes of England after the Government awarded energy companies new licences to explore for oil and gas.

Ministers have awarded 27 new exploration licences, covering roughly 1,000 square miles. The majority of the licences are in the north of England in areas such as Lancashire, Cheshire, Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, which are believed to be rich in shale gas.

Longmont fracking ban could go before Colorado’s high court

Colorado’s battle over who should regulate fracking could be on the fast track to the state Supreme Court.

The Colorado Court of Appeals on Monday asked to bow out of lawsuits over a ban on fracking in Longmont and a 5-year-moratorium in Fort Collins. That would allow the Colorado Supreme Court to take the cases directly, without a ruling by the Appeals Court.

Fracking Drives NAIC Earthquake Conversation

Hydraulic fracturing – the process of extracting oil and gas resources that requires breaking rock through the high-pressured injection of liquid into the ground, popularly known as “fracking” – has caused an uptick in the number of earthquakes that are occurring across the nation. That was the conclusion of a panel of experts, including one associated with the natural-gas industry, during the Center for Insurance Policy Research session at this month’s meeting of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners in Chicago.

It was not without some irony that that conclusion was proffered at an event hosted by Oklahoma Insurance Commissioner John Doak. His department, along with the Pennsylvania Insurance Department, circulated bulletins to insurers early in 2015 disputing the connection between seismic activity and injection

Filmmaker says “Frack U” satire helped spur fracking debate in Mexico

Fracking is expected to catch on in Mexico now that the government has opened up its oil industry.  And the national debate around this topic is just starting to gain steam.  Coahuila state is one of the first to begin using fracking wells in Mexico, according to news reports. And a July article on the industry website oilprice.com, said that companies such as Halliburton and Schlumberger are expected to take part in any fracking boom that comes to Mexico.

One of the responses to fracking in the country have been increased activism, but of a more serious sort, with websites such as Nofrackingmexico.org. Berger said that following the publication of his video on YouTube more national news outlets began covering the issue and at least one town has issued an injunction against the practice.

Protest planned along Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline route

A 232-mile protest will end in the Bay Area next month.

Starting Saturday, a crew of hikers — “Hike the Pipe” — will begin a 232-mile journey across Southern Oregon to raise awareness about the potential impacts of the proposed Pacific Connector Gas Pipeline and Jordan Cove Energy Project.

Hikers will follow the proposed pipeline route as closely as possible on public land and where permitted by private landowners, ending Sept. 26 in North Bend.

New Jersey Communities Unanimously Say ‘No’ to the Penn East Pipeline

On a Tuesday evening in late July, Dr. Tullis Onstott, Professor of Geosciences at Princeton University – and in 2007 named one of TIME Magazine’s most influential people in the world – stood in front of the Hopewell Township, New Jersey, Board of Health and swore under oath to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”

Onstott offered expert testimony citing the potential long-term cumulative impact on New Jersey’s regional water supply should the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approve the construction of the proposed $1.2 billion PennEast pipeline slated to carry natural gas 114 miles from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania through the pristine upper reaches of the Delaware River Watershed to a terminus outside Trenton.

Japan nuclear utility says no special precautions over volcano

Japanese utility Kyushu Electric Power said on Monday that it was monitoring activity at a volcano near its Sendai nuclear plant, but did not need to take any special precautions after authorities warned of the risk of a larger-than-usual eruption.

The reactor is the first to be restarted under new safety standards put in place since the meltdowns at Fukushima in 2011.

Tepco faces mounting legal woes over Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns

Four and a half years after the Fukushima disaster started, and as the country tentatively restarts nuclear power elsewhere, legal challenges against the crippled plant’s operator are mounting.

They include a judge’s forced disclosure of a 2008 internal document prepared for managers at Tokyo Electric Power Co. warning of a need for precautions against an unprecedented nuclear catastrophe.

GE’s robotic inspector dives in nuclear containment vessels

Normally when workers at the Edwin Irby Hatch Power Plant in Georgia want to inspect welds on the water-filled containment tank that houses the plant’s nuclear fuel, they have stick pole-mounted inspection cameras in there while potentially exposing themselves to radiation. But now that the plant has acquired a swimming inspection-bot developed by GE and Hitachi, plant workers can check the vessel’s integrity at any time while avoiding all that radiation.

The Stinger, as it’s called, operates much like other unmanned submersibles. It uses multi-directional thrusters to move about and a high-resolution color video camera to see where it’s going. What’s more, the tungsten-clad UAS is capable of remaining submerged for up to three weeks at a time. This not only give power plants added flexibility in when to perform these inspections but also gives engineers a look at how materials within the vessel are holding up in the corrosive environment over time.

Here Are the True Radiation Dangers in Your Environment

People are terrified that they’re being exposed to radiation all the time, whether from distant nuclear accident or the mobile devices snuggled against their heads. Generally, they are wrong. Here are the most radioactive objects in the world around you, and the truth about which ones cause health problems.

World’s Nuclear Facilities Vulnerable to Cyber-Attacks

As hackers continue to rampage through closely-guarded information systems and databases with monotonous regularity, there is a tempting new target for cyber-attacks: the world’s nuclear facilities.

A warning has already been sounded by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has urged the world community to intensify efforts to protect nuclear facilities from possible attacks.

Cuba on edge as drought worsens

Cuba put its civil defense system on alert on Monday due to a year-long drought that is forecast to worsen in the coming months and has already damaged agriculture and left more than a million people relying on trucked-in water.

From Cuba’s famous cigars to sugar, vegetables, rice, coffee and beans, the drought is damaging crops. It has slowed planting and left one in 10 residents waiting for government tank trucks to survive in record summer heat.

The country’s civil defense system said the drought, record heat and water leakage have led to “low levels of available water for the population, agriculture, industry and services.”

Global warming is reversing 1,800 years of natural ocean cooling, study finds

Man-made global warming has triggered a reversal of the natural ocean cooling that has occurred over the past 1,800 years, a study has found.

Ocean temperatures have fallen significantly over the past two millennia due to the cooling influence of successive volcanic eruptions on the surface temperatures of the Earth, scientists said.

Asia’s Rapidly Shrinking Glaciers Could Have Ripple Effect

The glaciers in Asia’s Tian Shan mountains have lost more than a quarter of their total mass over the past 50 years — a rate of loss about four times greater than the global average during that time, new research shows.

By 2050, half of the remaining ice in the Tian Shan (also spelled Tien Shan) glaciers could be lost, and these shrinking glaciers could reduce valuable water supplies in central Asia and lead to fuel conflicts there, the study found.

Climate change also threatens Slovakia

“What we are witnessing now should have occurred only in the middle of this century,” climatologists Alexander A?, Pavel Matejovi? and Jozef Pecho wrote in an open letter to the president, the government, and the parliament, as quoted by the TASR newswire. “The reality is thus much worse than the most pessimistic climate scenarios.”

They also warn that climate change poses a civilisational threat.

Papal Encyclical On Climate Change Puts Coal Country Catholics In Tough Spot

Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment is getting a thorough reading in Wyoming, which is the country’s top coal-producing state. The letter presents a moral framework for approaching issues such as global climate change, but it’s a difficult subject for Catholics in coal country.

Warming will hurt the poor but boost the rich in the short term

Climate change could initially benefit rich countries while damaging the economies of poor nations.

That’s the conclusion of a new way of modelling its impact, which challenges earlier forecasts.

Previous methods of estimating the economic effects of climate change usually looked at how individual sectors like agriculture or tourism would be affected, then added them all up to give the net effect on each country’s economy.

Can an Islamic climate change declaration inspire 1.6B Muslims?

Islamic leaders from around the globe tomorrow will unveil a declaration calling on the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims to embrace climate change action as part of their religious duty.

Activists gathering in Istanbul for the event said that just as Pope Francis declared climate change essential to the Catholic faith, they hope Islamic religious scholars can inspire Muslim communities to make the issue a priority.

“Islam is very strong on environmental protection,” said Wael Hmaidan, director of Climate Action Network International, who is helping to organize the declaration.

U.S. Army troops mobilized to help fight Western wildfires

The U.S. Army mobilized soldiers on Monday to reinforce civilian firefighters stretched thin by dozens of major wildfires roaring largely unchecked across the West, with more than 100 homes reduced to ruins in several states.

The 200 troops deployed from Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington, are to be organized into 10 firefighting crews of 20 each, all of whom will be sent to a single fire yet to be determined, according to the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho.

Study: New Zealand’s freshwater species are disappearing

Ecologists in New Zealand say the island nation’s freshwater species are in serious trouble. In a recent report, scientists reveal 74 percent of the islands’ freshwater fish, mussel and crayfish species are threatened by extinction.

Freshwater biodiversity is threatened by a variety of factors, say Mike Joy and Professor Russell Death, two of New Zealand’s leading freshwater ecologists. The most significant threat, however, is water quality.

A combination of pollution and algae, fueled by fertilizer runoff, are choking out native species.

Lebanon: Beirut faces ‘rubbish health crisis’

Piles of rubbish have been mounting across Beirut for the last month following the closing down of the capital’s main landfill site.

Arguments have since raged over the best way to tackle the problem.

The crisis has now become so acute that some residents have resorted to burning rubbish on the streets.

That in turn has resulted in toxic fumes enveloping parts of Beirut.

After Animas river spill, experts warn of next disaster: ‘We were lucky this time’

The mustard-tinged cloud of toxic wastewater that last week colored Colorado’s Animas river an unappealing tangerine was not the first spill to dye the river – nor is it likely to be the last, according to engineers, if government and private industry fail to take action as they have in the past.

One expert called the mines north of Durango near Silverton and the abandoned mining town of Gladstone “ticking time bombs”. Another expressed relief that the Gold King spill was not larger – if a slurry of mine waste known as tailings had spilled from the area, he said, there could have been “100 times the volume” of waste.

Navajo Nation farmers express concerns about quality of delivered water

Farmers in the Shiprock Chapter on Monday were continuing to look for alternative sources of water to irrigate crops and water livestock.

The Navajo Nation has an advisory still in effect that instructs ranchers and farmers not to use San Juan River water. Using the river water has been prohibited since about 3 million gallons of toxic wastewater was accidentally released Aug. 5 from the Gold King Mine north of Silverton, Colo., into the Animas and San Juan rivers.

Utah wary of future impact as contaminated mine water reaches Lake Powell

Contaminated water from a Colorado mine has made its way to Lake Powell, leaving Utah officials wondering about possible long-term effects.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, spent Monday on the lake with federal and state officials and said he was encouraged by what he saw and heard about any immediate danger.

“They think it’s fairly well-diluted. They expect it to be positive, but it won’t be definite until later on,” he said.

Atlanta company hit with $10M penalty for polluting Chattahoochee

An Atlanta company has been ordered to pay $10 million for polluting the Chattahoochee River.

U.S. District Court Judge Orinda D. Evans on Aug. 13 ruled that American Sealcoat Manufacturing LLC, a maker of asphalt pavement sealer and related products which has a plant across the Chattahoochee from Six Flags Over Georgia, must pay the judgment after defaulting in a lawsuit brought by nonprofit watchdog group Chattahoochee Riverkeeper.

Tianjin blasts: fears of cyanide pollution as Chinese officials lambasted

Alarming levels of sodium cyanide have been found at wastewater monitoring stations in the disaster-stricken city of Tianjin almost five days after a series of deadly explosions claimed at least 114 lives and sparked intense criticism of the Chinese government.

At a press conference on Monday morning, Bao Jingling, the chief engineer from Tianjin’s environmental protection bureau, said excessive levels of the toxic chemical had been detected in surface wastewater at the blast site. The highest levels detected were 27 times acceptable limits.

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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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