Environmental Must-Reads – August 19, 2015


After Shell decision, activists attack Obama’s ‘hypocritical’ climate commitments

In an announcement widely anticipated by supporters and opponents of Arctic oil development, the Obama administration yesterday gave Royal Dutch Shell PLC the green light to drill into the hydrocarbon zone at its Chukchi Sea leases.

The decision by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement marks the first time in 24 years that Shell has secured the federal permits needed to determine how much oil is available on its frontier Arctic leases.

Clinton parts with Obama administration on Arctic drilling

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton on Tuesday staked out her opposition to Arctic oil exploration, putting her at odds with the Obama administration one day after it approved drilling off Alaska.

“The Arctic is a unique treasure,” Clinton said in a Twitter post. “Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling.”

On Monday, the Obama administration gave Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSa.L) final approval to resume drilling into the oil zone off northern Alaska for the first time since 2012.

Sitka diesel spill now estimated at 2500 gallons

Officials are now estimating that about 2,500 gallons of diesel spilled into Sitka Sound this weekend, after a fuel tank failed at the city’s Jarvis Street Power Plant. That’s significantly less than the 7,000 gallons feared on Sunday.

By Monday evening (Aug. 17), much of the spill had been cleaned up or dispersed — and officials were hoping that a storm would help finish off the rest.

Total Shuts Obagi Field As Oil Spill Ravages Niger-Delta Again

Total E&P Nigeria Ltd (TEPNG) said it has stopped exploration of crude on its Obagi-Rumuekpe 12 Oil Export Pipeline in Rivers State following an oil spill. The company suspects the spill was caused by pipeline sabotage.

This will be the second time in a matter of months that the pipeline will be attacked, the first being in May this year.

Town may need to take legal action over oil spill cleanup

The Maryland Department of the Environment intends to allow Shore Medical Center at Chestertown to proceed with its plans to clean up an oil spill on the hospital grounds, town utilities manager Bob Sipes told the council at its Monday, Aug. 17 meeting.

The plans involve injecting Ivey-sol, a proprietary mixture of soap-like chemicals, into wells on the hospital grounds. The chemicals are expected to dissolve decades-old oil residue clinging to the soil so it can be pumped out of the wells. The MDE conducted tests of the process last year. At a July 14 meeting with town officials and residents, MDE officials said the plan is “safe as modified” in response to the town’s comments.

No Keystone, No Problem: The Oil Industry Is Making Other Pipeline Plans

Environmentalists have been waiting since 2008 for President Barack Obama’s decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. That decision may come any day now. But Canada’s tar sands industry hasn’t been waiting around.

Publicly, TransCanada, the company behind the embattled pipeline, insists it is still optimistic it will win the long-running standoff—not just over Keystone, but another pipeline project that has faced environmental opposition as well, Energy East. “We’re optimistic for both of our projects,” TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper told the New Republic.

Is Keystone XL Trampling Sioux Treaty Rights?

While the world waited for South Dakota’s pivotal decision on TransCanada Corp.’s application to renew its Keystone XL tar-sands crude-oil pipeline permit, tribal members capped nine days of hearings Aug. 6, with fiery statements insisting that treaty rights dictate denial.

The original 2010 permit from the state’s Public Utilities Commission expired due to inaction, and the Canadian company seeks to renew it in order to build 314 miles of pipeline through South Dakota territory granted to the Great Sioux Nation by the 1851 and 1868 Treaty of Ft. Laramie.

Oilsands water restrictions a ‘preview:’ study

Recent research predicts restrictions on energy companies withdrawing water from the Athabasca River are a preview of what’s to come under climate change.

Low summer water levels by mid-century could be costing the oilsands industry billions of dollars in lost production, said Simon Donner, a professor of geography at the University of British Columbia and co-author of a paper published in Climate Change.

“Climate change is going to affect the river so much it’ll actually affect how much the industry can withdraw. This summer is basically a preview of the future.”

Big State Oil Train Report Calls for Positive Train Control, 26 Other Safety Measures

A new report is offering 27 recommendations on how the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the companies that use trains to transport volatile crude oil across the state can both make those shipments safer.

The issue has been of increasing concern here the last two years thanks to several derailments locally — including one on the tracks above the Schuylkill River — as well as several deadly explosions elsewhere in the country.

New York mum on Pennsylvania report calling for oil train safety steps

An international expert on railroad safety has laid out steps to make crude oil trains safer in a report to Pennsylvania, including installation of special sensors on tracks to detect potential damage from pounding by heavily-laden oil trains.

The administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo is reviewing the 83-page report, which also warned that faulty rails, which have been the largest cause of major crude oil train derailments in the U.S., are “usually not detectable by walking track inspectors … and are generally not visible until the rail breaks.”

Oil rail shipments slowing as more crude moves by pipeline

Fewer rail tank cars are moving crude from the Bakken oil shale formation in North Dakota to coastal refineries but community concern over rail transport remains high and efforts to stop the shipments continue.

The number of tanker cars moving crude oil increased exponentially from 2000 to December 2014, when Bakken oil production peaked at 1.22 million barrels per day. As of June, about half the production was moving via rail. Pipeline capacity, which had lagged the uptick in production, has caught up. Now a little more than half of the Bakken production is trucked to pipelines for delivery to refineries in the U.S. and Canada. Previously, about two-thirds of the Bakken oil production was transported by rail.

White Earth tribe members voice pipeline concerns: ‘Eventually something is going to go wrong’

Some 100 people turned out to a community center on the White Earth Indian Reservation Tuesday night for one of 11 public hearings across the state on a pipeline replacement project proposed by Enbridge Energy.

The Calgary-based energy company wants to re-route a 50-year-old oil pipeline known as Line 3 from its current path along Highway 2 to the proposed Sandpiper pipeline corridor, which will likely run near White Earth. The project requires a certificate of need from the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.

Ordinance to protect against unregulated pipelines

The Montville Township Committee introduced an ordinance against unregulated pipelines at its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 11. The Committee will hold a special session on Tuesday, Aug. 25, at 6:30 p.m. for the purpose of adopting this ordinance.

The ordinance is in relation to the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline that wants to put its lines directly through Montville Township with the construction of two new oil pipelines through New Jersey to carry volatile crude oil and refined petroleum products. The pipeline will carry refined petroleum such as gasoline, diesel, heating oil, and aviation fuel.

Plains All American Pipeline California oil spill brings shareholder lawsuit

Houston-based Plains All American Pipeline LP (NYSE: PAA) faces a class-action lawsuit filed by the Jacksonville Police and Fire Pension Fund filed on Aug. 14, in which the plaintiff alleges that Plains concealed issues with pipeline maintenance and regulatory compliance leading up to the May 19 pipeline rupture off the coast of California.

Plains declined to comment for this story.

E.P.A. Announces New Rules to Cut Methane Emissions

The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed the first federal regulations requiring the nation’s oil and gas industry to cut emissions of methane as part of an expanding and increasingly aggressive effort to combat climate change.

In a conference call with reporters, Janet McCabe, the Environmental Protection Agency’s acting assistant administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation, said the rules were designed to ensure that oil and gas companies reduced waste and sold more gas that would otherwise be lost, while protecting the climate and the health of the public.

Methane Is Leaking From Natural Gas Processing Plants At Much Higher Rates Than Reported

Natural gas gathering and processing plants leak much more methane than producers have reported, and even more than the Environmental Protection Agency has estimated, according to a study released Tuesday.

Researchers at Colorado State University found that U.S. gathering and processing facilities — where natural gas from nearby wells is consolidated for distribution through pipelines — leak 2,421,000 metric tons of methane each year. The facilities emit 100 billion cubic feet of natural gas every year, roughly eight times the amount previously estimated by the EPA.

The fracking ‘loophole’ that just keeps growing

Like a fish story, the “Halliburton loophole” grows a little with every telling.

It started 10 years ago as a narrow, little-known exemption to a federal environmental law embedded in sweeping energy legislation.

In the intervening years, it has grown to be an all-purpose bogeyman for environmentalists raging against “fracking,” or hydraulic fracturing. And in a new twist, even fracking boosters have now cast it as a bulwark against federal regulation of oil and gas drilling.

1,000 sq miles of England to be opened up for fracking

Large areas of Yorkshire, the north-west and the east Midlands are to be opened up to fracking after the government announced it will offer a fresh round of licences for oil and gas exploration.

Areas near Leeds, Sheffield, Lincoln and Nottingham are to be offered to companies in an expansion plan that green groups predicted would trigger “hundreds of battles” over the future of the countryside.

Colorado appeals court refers fracking cases to state Supreme Court

The question of whether a local jurisdiction in Colorado can ban hydraulic fracturing will most likely be decided by the Colorado Supreme Court following a Monday decision by the Colorado Court of Appeals to refer two related cases to the high court.

The two cases, Colorado Oil & Gas Association vs. City of Longmont and Colorado Oil & Gas Association vs. City of Fort Collins, involved challenges by the oil and gas industry and the state to local laws passed to restrict fracking and related operations within the boundaries of a city.

Chatham County enacts two-year ban on fracking

The Chatham County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Monday to block oil and gas development within the county’s borders for the next two years.

The moratorium is designed to bar any hydraulic fracturing projects from taking place in Chatham County while local officials craft a new land use plan. Hydraulic fracturing, which is often called fracking, is a process of extracting oil and gas by injecting pressurized liquid into rock.

Fracking Injunction Fails

A federal judge has failed to grant an injunction to temporarily halt on oil and gas drilling in Navajo lands and the area around Chaco Culture National Historic Park. The preliminary injunction would have nullified 265 recently approved applications to drill in the San Juan Basin in northwestern New Mexico, often within 20 miles of the national park. Yet, now the practice will continue as the court process moves along.

Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, San Juan Citizens Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and Natural Resources Defense Council, represented by attorneys from Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians, turned to the federal court to pause oil and gas development in the area, arguing that the Bureau of Land Management was proceeding with issuing permits to drill and frack without having conducted the environmental review and drafted a comprehensive plan as required by the National Environmental Policy Act. The judge’s decision weighed whether the plaintiffs were likely to succeed in making that case, and whether the injury plaintiffs would sustain outweighed the injury caused to the defendants by the injunction.

Pipeline Under Pressure: Battle over proposed NEXUS route being fought yard by yard

The beauty of Jon Strong’s property in Medina County makes its own case for preservation. “It’s just a special spot,” Strong told us, as we toured the natural spaces of his land. But the need for natural gas may have a case too. Houston-based Spectra Energy Corporation and Detroit-based DTE Energy are now considering a plan to put a pipeline beneath the ground near Strong’s home, whether he likes it or not. “It’s crazy. It’s just not right,” said Strong.

Known as the NEXUS project, the pipeline would create a 200-mile long, high-pressure super highway for natural gas, stretching from Columbiana County in southeast Ohio to the Michigan border and extending 50 miles into Canada.

Communities raise #HandsAcrossOurLand to oppose pipelines

Opponents in several states rallied against pipelines proposed to head through Virginia Tuesday.

They showed up in numbers with plenty of songs to show their disgust with pipeline corporations.

“It’s in a show of solidarity where wherever you live, whether it’s personally going through your property or not you should care about this issue,” said Freeda Cathcart, from the General Federal Of Women’s Clubs.

Dozens gather in Charlottesville to show opposition to Atlantic Coast Pipeline

About 50 people gathered Tuesday with signs and mini wind turbines and wearing “No Pipeline” shirts at the Free Speech Chalkboard on Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall to show their opposition to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

If approved, the 550-mile-long, 42-inch-diameter pipeline, operated by Dominion Resources and several partners, would stretch from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina.

Pipeline protesters take to the forest

“If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” the saying goes.

Anti-pipeline demonstrators at Braley Pond — and across Virginia and the country — hoped so as they took to the woods and farms along the Atlantic Coast and other natural gas pipeline routes for a day of action called “Hands Across our Land.”

Southwest Virginia communities join ‘Hands Across our Land’ to fight pipeline

Groups of people opposed to natural gas pipelines joined hands Tuesday in a coordinated event called Hands Across our Land.

It took place in communities in a number of states, including Virginia. Activists in Franklin, Floyd, Montgomery and Giles Counties came together in a show of support with events Tuesday morning and evening.

“We realize that there’s a lot of people in the same situation that we are,” said Tina Badger, Preserve Montgomery County. “That’s the significance. It’s a show of solidarity.”

Hingham rep faces criticism over Western Mass. pipeline bill

A Hingham lawmaker has filed a bill that would allow a natural gas pipeline to cut through conservation land at the other end of the state, angering pipeline opponents on the South Shore and in Western Massachusetts.

State Rep. Garrett Bradley, D-Hingham, last month filed a bill that would allow Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. – a subsidiary of Houston-based Kinder Morgan – to build a 13-mile pipeline expansion through protected land managed by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation in the town of Sandisfield in southern Berkshire County.

Piedmont Natural Gas to perform pipeline inspections

As a part of its ongoing Transmission Integrity Management Program (TIMP), Piedmont Natural Gas will be performing a series of routine pipeline inspection activities along a nearly 17-mile stretch of natural gas pipeline running from Simpsonville to Greenville.

The work will begin Wednesday and end around Sept. 2. During the testing period, which involves the use of an In-Line Inspection Device (ILID), it will be necessary for Piedmont to “flare,” or burn off, the excess natural gas used during the inspection process.

Unions protest Paiute Pipeline expansion

Two labor unions are protesting work on the Paiute Pipeline project, saying the dust creates a hazard for workers and the contractor is not paying fair wages.

“We feel they’re working under an enormous amount of dust,” said Chad Gilbert, business agent with Pipeliners Local Union 798.

Northeast Ohio city, community leaders push for re-route of pipeline

Residents in several Northeast Ohio communities continue their fight against the proposed NEXUS pipeline that would run through parts of Medina, Stark, Summit and Lorain counties.

City leaders in Green enlisted the help of experts to research and propose a pipeline re-route, which will be discussed at a town hall meeting Wednesday night.

Study suggests link between nitrates, uranium contamination

A new study suggests that nitrates may play a key role in increasing uranium contamination in groundwater.

The researchers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln estimate that nearly 2 million people in California and the Great Plains live over groundwater that has been contaminated with uranium, which can cause health problems.

Examining the fate of Fukushima contaminants

An international research team reports results of a three-year study of sediment samples collected offshore from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in a new paper published August 18, 2015, in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Environmental Science and Technology.

The research aids in understanding what happens to Fukushima contaminants after they are buried on the seafloor off coastal Japan.

Fukushima’s Dangerous Aftershocks

Japan is spooling up its nuclear reactors and piling up reprocessed fuel. And the tremors of these policy choices can be felt all the way in Iran.

Regulators Asked To Reject FPL Nuclear Request

Florida Power & Light received pushback Tuesday from South Florida officials and other critics as it requested $34.2 million from customers to continue planning a pair of nuclear reactors at its Turkey Point complex in Miami-Dade County.

The request, if approved by the Florida Public Service Commission in October, would place the cost for new nuclear power at 34 cents on a typical residential customer’s monthly bill in 2016.

No explosives found at nuclear facility after lockdown, officials say

An offsite law enforcement investigation found no explosive residue or device on a truck inspected Monday afternoon at the Savannah River Site, officials said.

In the latest release on the Savannah River Site’s Facebook page, the all clear was given at 5:52 p.m.

The nuclear facility was on lockdown for hours Monday afternoon after what officials described as a “potential security event in progress.”

Apocalypse Soon: 9 Terrifying Signs of Environmental Doom and Gloom

Between natural disasters and climate change, the environment can be a pretty terrifying thing to think about. Don’t think so? Here are 9 indications of looming disaster to keep you awake at night

Lobsters in New England shift north as ocean gets warmer; boom in the north, bust in the south

The lobster population has crashed to the lowest levels on record in southern New England while climbing to heights never before seen in the cold waters off Maine and other northern reaches — a geographic shift that scientists attribute in large part to the warming of the ocean.

The trend is driving lobstermen in Connecticut and Rhode Island out of business, ending a centuries-old way of life.

Restaurant diners, supermarket shoppers and summer vacationers aren’t seeing much difference in price or availability, since the overall supply of lobsters is pretty much steady.

With a stunning 7 million acres burned so far, the U.S. wildfire situation is looking dire

Wildfires are exploding across the western United States, overstretching resources and, in some states, resulting in tragic consequences.

Some 30,000 firefighters and additional support staff are now fighting fires across the United States — the biggest number mobilized in 15 years, according to the U.S. Forest Service. And it’s still not enough.

Two hundred members of the military are being called up to help further — they will be trained and deployed within just a few days — as are Canadian firefighting forces. There’s even some talk of potentially needing to draw on resources from Australia and New Zealand, which has been done before in a pinch.

As seas rise, saltwater plants offer hope farms will survive

On a sun-scorched wasteland near India’s southern tip, an unlikely garden filled with spiky shrubs and spindly greens is growing, seemingly against all odds.

The plants are living on saltwater, coping with drought and possibly offering viable farming alternatives for a future in which rising seas have inundated countless coastal farmlands.

Sea rise, one of the consequences of climate change, now threatens millions of poor subsistence farmers across Asia. As ocean water swamps low-lying plots, experts say many could be forced to flee inland.

Fear of Toxic Air and Distrust of Government Follow Tianjin Blasts

Within minutes of the immense chemical explosions that sent apocalyptic fireballs into the night sky over Tianjin, Zhou Haisen, 23, was making arrangements to leave town. He was terrified that poisonous gases would reach his apartment six miles from the scene, and his fears were swiftly reinforced by posts on Chinese social media. So he and his parents fled to his grandmother’s house an hour’s drive away.

Since last Wednesday’s still-unexplained accident, which killed at least 114 people and injured more than 700, the Chinese government has repeatedly insisted that effective measures are being taken to ensure that the air in Tianjin remains safe. But when rain fell on Tuesday, the city’s streets began to foam, and people reported burning sensations on their lips and elbows.

Exec pleads guilty for role in W. Virginia chemical spill

One of the last executives charged in a chemical spill that left 300,000 West Virginians without clean tap water for days pleaded guilty to federal pollution violations Tuesday.

Former Freedom Industries executive Dennis Farrell entered his guilty plea in federal court in Charleston, joining the bankrupt company itself and four other former Freedom officials who have already pleaded guilty.

Rain in China blast city raises pollution fears

Heavy rain fell Tuesday on the remains of a Chinese industrial site devastated by giant explosions, complicating clean-up efforts and heightening fears about toxic contamination as ceremonies were held to mark the disaster’s 114 deaths.

Around 700 tonnes of highly toxic sodium cyanide were at the site in the northern port of Tianjin, officials say, and water could spread it more widely.

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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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