Environmental Must-Reads – August 20, 2014


Fracking could threaten air quality, workers’ health, latest report says

Maryland’s latest report on the impact of proposed natural gas exploration in the western part of the state said drilling could pose a threat to air quality and workers in a region that is ecologically pristine.

But the report, presented to a state commission Monday, said the process called hydraulic fracturing would pose little threat of earthquakes, which were triggered recently in central Oklahoma by gas-drilling operations, according to researchers, and are of concern to environmentalists.

How Fracking In Maryland Would Threaten The Health Of Anyone Who Breathes Nearby

Fracking in Maryland would pose a risk of harmful air pollution and would bring jobs that could be dangerous for workers, a new report has found.

The report, published by the University of Maryland and commissioned by a 2011 executive order by Gov. Martin O’Malley, looked at the risks that fracking would bring to Maryland, a state that so far doesn’t have any natural gas wells. The report ranked the likelihood that several risks associated with fracking, including dangers to air quality and occupational health as well as the prospect of worsening noise and the threat of earthquakes, will pose problems in Maryland.

Fracking Fluid Survey Shows Missing Information

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.

Everything you need to know about fracking

Recently in New York City, protesters took to the boardwalk in the Rockaways to voice opposition to the Rockaway Lateral Project, which aims to install a pipeline under New York City’s Jacob Riis and Fort Tilden beaches to connect two existing natural gas distribution systems. The pipeline, controlled by Williams Partners L.P., will allow fracked natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, in Pennsylvania, to flow to a new meter and regulator station at Floyd Bennett Field, in Brooklyn, and then into the current distribution lines running up Flatbush Avenue. The evidence for environmental damages caused by unregulated fracking procedures is mounting at the same time that the U.S. is striving to decrease its dependency on oil and coal. Is fracking the lesser of two evils? Or could it be?

In Santa Barbara County, oil firms and environmentalists square off

Seen from U.S. 101, northern Santa Barbara County looks to be mostly vineyards and cattle ranches, with majestic oak trees scattered across the dry rolling hills.

But up a narrow road, spread across the chaparral between Orcutt and Los Alamos, wells drilled deep into the shale have yielded more than 180 million barrels of oil in the 113 years since Union Oil Co. geologist William Orcutt first surveyed the area that would soon bear his name.

Pa. Health Department responds to accusations it mishandled queries on fracking

The Pennsylvania Department of Health says it wants to help citizens better navigate the complaint process, specifically when it comes to the Marcellus Shale industry.

The department published a news release Monday in response to outcry that followed reports some were dismissed when they approached the department with questions relating to natural-gas development.

Pennsylvania Department of Health will note fracking complaints

People who write to the state Department of Health to express worry that natural gas drilling might affect their health will receive return letters to document the correspondence, the agency said on Monday.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health updated its process for handling environmental health complaints as a result of meetings among department officials on how to address reports by former employees-turned-whistle-blowers that the department intentionally ignored complaints about fracking.

New Fracking Waste Ban Signed

Connecticut is trying to stay ahead of a potential environmental problem.

Monday, the governor signed a new bill into law that prevents fracking waste from coming into Connecticut. The ban will last three years.

Man-made quakes shake the ground less than natural ones

Expanded oil and gas operations in the central and eastern United States have triggered earthquakes as large as magnitude 5.7, as drillers inject wastewater back into the ground. But seismologists now report a bit of good news: such ‘induced’ quakes appear to shake the ground less than a naturally occurring earthquake of the same magnitude would.

Earthquake Study Shows Natural Quakes Outshake Man-Made Tremors

When it comes to making earthquakes, Mother Nature still packs the most powerful punch, a new study says.

Quakes believed to be caused by human activity, such as those associated with oil and gas extraction, don’t produce as much shaking as naturally occurring temblors of similar magnitudes, according to research released Monday by Susan Hough, a seismologist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

Ineos secures Scotland’s only fracking licence

GRANGEMOUTH plant owner Ineos has bought the majority share of a shale gas exploration licence for Scotland in a deal thought to be worth tens of millions of pounds – a development it said was the “next step” towards fracking in the country.

Ineos has bought a 51 per cent share of the shale section of the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licence, increasing the likelihood of the controversial drilling technique used for extracting oil or natural gas from deep underground coming to Scotland. The other 49 per cent is owned by Dart Energy.

UM study warns of health impacts from fracking

A University of Maryland study warns that without adequate safeguards, drilling for natural gas using hydraulic fracturing could harm the health of residents, workers and communities in Western Maryland.

The study, released Monday, raises the stakes for a long-running state review of safeguards needed before gas extraction can proceed using fracturing. Also known as “fracking,” the technique pumps large quantities of water, sand and chemicals deep underground to free up natural gas trapped in rocks.

Michigan landfill taking other states’ radioactive fracking waste

As other states ban landfills from accepting low-level radioactive waste, up to 36 tons of the sludge already rejected by two other states was slated to arrive in Michigan late last week.

Wayne Disposal landfill located between Willow Run Airport and I-94 near Belleville is one of the few landfills in the eastern and Midwestern U.S. licensed to accept the radioactive waste, which has been collected by a Pennsylvania hydraulic fracking operation.

Anti-fracking protesters cause disruption in UK cities

Anti-fracking campaigners apparently super-glued themselves to the doors of a government building as part of orchestrated protests around the UK.

Reclaim the Power set up camp in the doorway to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in London.

Bayou Corne residents get financial relief for sinkhole

More than two years after the earth opened up near Bayou Corne, many neighbors of the now-famous sinkhole will have some money to move on.

Last week a federal judge granted final approval of a $48.1 million class-action settlement for some 269 community members representing about 100 properties in the tiny bayou neighborhood.

14 companies bid for western Gulf leases

Federal officials on Wednesday will open sealed bids from 14 companies vying for new oil and gas leases in the western Gulf of Mexico.

Although more than 21 million acres are technically up for grabs in the sale, bids submitted to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management ahead of a deadline Tuesday are concentrated on 81 tracts, each spanning about 5,760 acres.

Ohio River Oil Spill At Duke Energy Plant Closes 15 Mile Stretch Of River Near Cincinnati, Drinking Water Intake Closed

The U.S. Coast Guard closed a 15-mile stretch of the Ohio River on Tuesday after at least five thousand gallons of fuel oil spilled from a 60-year-old power plant owned by Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK) near Cincinnati.

The spill occurred late Monday during a “routine transfer of fuel oil” at the W.C. Beckjord plant in New Richmond, Duke said. It began at 11:15 p.m. and was stopped 15 minutes later. It was not clear if the oil had been contained or if there was any impact on wildlife or drinking water.

Stretch of Ohio River Reopens After Fuel Oil Spill

A 15-mile stretch of the Ohio River closed after a fuel oil spill reopened to river traffic on Tuesday with some restrictions as containment and cleanup continued.

River traffic in that area must get Coast Guard clearance and maintain a safe speed, agency spokeswoman Lt. Katherine Cameron said. The area was closed to all traffic, including barges carrying commercial goods, after the spill from a Duke Energy power plant in New Richmond.

Feds boosting oil spill liability limits

The Coast Guard moved Tuesday to boost the liability limits capping how much companies must pay for oil spills that foul U.S. waters.

The administrative move — which would mean a 15.6 percent increase in the cap for onshore facilities, to $404.6 million — is designed to ensure that the liability limits keep up with inflation.

Ruptured pipe spills oil into Utah’s San Juan River

A pipeline break last week near Montezuma Creek in Utah’s southeast corner leaked a small amount of oil into the San Juan River.

A tumbling boulder, loosened by recent rains Thursday, ruptured a flow line serving a well in the aging Aneth oil field, operated by Denver-based Resolute Natural Resources, according to a report posted on the Utah Department of Environmental Quality’s spill database.

TexStar plans Eaglebine-to-Houston pipeline

TexStar Midstream Logistics Pipeline LP is looking for companies that want to move Eaglebine crude oil and condensate on its planned TexStar East Texas Pipeline.

The company launched a 30-day period on Monday to line up new business.

The pipeline will move product from Madison, Walker, Grimes and Montgomery counties to the Houston Ship Channel. The eastern edge of the Eagle Ford Shale is known as the “Eaglebine” – it’s where the Eagle Ford meets the Woodbine Sandstone.

Court: Key Environmental Law Doesn’t Apply to Part of Enbridge Keystone XL “Clone”

A U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia has ruled that Enbridge’s 600-mile-long Flanagan South Pipeline, a Keystone XL “clone,” is legally cleared to proceed opening for business in October.

Approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers via a controversial regulatory mechanism called Nationwide Permit 12 (NWP 12), Judge Kentanji Brown Jackson, an Obama-appointed judge, ruled NWP 12 was not a federal government “action.” Thus, Brown posited that Enbridge did not need to use the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulatory process and NWP 12 was up to snuff.

Midwest Keystone Segment a Private Project, Not Subject to NEPA, Federal Court Rules

The federal government is not required to conduct an environmental impact review of a nearly 600-mile segment of the Keystone pipeline because it is being constructed almost entirely on private land by a private company, a federal judge ruled in dismissing a lawsuit by environmental groups.

Keystone XL Project Still Waiting for Permit

TransCanada’s Keystone XL Pipeline has been on hold since 2008 waiting for U.S. presidential approval of the permit to allow the pipeline to cross the U.S./Canada border. President Obama has said he would approve the pipeline only if it did “not significantly exacerbate the climate problem.” Opponents of the pipeline are concerned the pipeline will reduce the cost of oil, thereby increasing consumption and spurring new carbon dioxide emissions. Others are concerned about potential pipeline breakage contaminating ground water and crops.

Enbridge’s Midwest pipeline can proceed, U.S. federal court rules

Enbridge Inc.’s pipeline to carry tar sands oil between Oklahoma and Illinois can proceed, a federal judge ruled, as companies expand their capacity to move petroleum in the U.S.

“Because a private company is constructing the 589-mile pipeline on mostly privately owned land that is entirely within the territorial borders of the United States, no federal statute authorizes the federal government to oversee or regulate the construction project,” U.S. District Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson in Washington said today in a written ruling.

Sierra Club blasts NEB’s Arctic oil drilling safety process

The Sierra Club of Canada Foundation is accusing the National Energy Board of “playing dirty tricks” in its approach to preventing oil spills in future offshore drilling in the Beaufort Sea.

Current regulations require companies working in the Arctic to have the the capability to drill a relief well in the same season to release pressure and stop oil flow in case of a blowout such as the one that happened with BP in the Gulf of Mexico.

Canadian watchdog: Oil trains need more oversight

Canada’s transportation safety watchdog said Tuesday that myriad failures in equipment, training and oversight led to the crude oil train derailment that killed 47 people in a Quebec town last year — and that the disaster could repeat itself unless regulators and industry take action.

The Transportation Safety Board’s report on the July 2013 crash in Lac-Mégantic is the latest step by the Canadian and U.S. governments to address the dangers of the growing practice of shipping crude oil across North America by rail. The Quebec disaster was followed by fiery derailments in U.S. states like Alabama, North Dakota and Virginia, although those did not involve deaths or injuries.

Report: Human error, lax rules led to Canadian oil train crash

Human error, lax regulation and an indifference to safety were among the reasons an oil train derailed and exploded in Canada last summer, killing 47 people and displacing 2,000 others, a report released Tuesday concluded.

The report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found there were 18 primary issues that led to the accident in Lac-Mégantic, in eastern Quebec. In addition to human error and regulatory failures, the report said the locomotive hauling the train had undergone inadequate repairs in the months before the accident.

Repair job linked to engine fire that led to Lac-Mégantic rail disaster

About 200 kilometres before an ill-fated oil train was left idling on the main track near Lac-Mégantic, Que., Transport Canada conducted a routine inspection and allowed it to proceed. The train carried on through Quebec, carting 72 tank cars of crude bound for the Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.

The inspector didn’t report any concerns about the engine in the train’s lead locomotive. But The Globe and Mail has learned that part of the federal investigation into the rail disaster has focused on a repair conducted nine months earlier that played a role in a locomotive fire that broke out later that night, setting in motion a series of events that led to the train’s derailment and explosion in Lac-Mégantic.

Canadian runaway oil train disaster blamed on ‘weak safety culture,’ poor oversight

The runaway train that exploded in a small Quebec village last year, killing 47 people, was operated by a small regional railroad that cut corners on safety to save money, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in its final report on the incident.

“This was a company with a weak safety process,” said board chairman Wendy A. Tadros, “a company that did what it took to get the job done.”

Oil train rolled through U.S., Canadian cities before Quebec disaster

A train carrying volatile North Dakota crude oil, using 1960?s vintage tank cars, rolled through four large U.S. cities before a break failure caused it to roll down into Lac-Megantic, Quebec, where it blew up destroying the town center and killing 47 people.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, in a report Tuesday, listed 18 factors leading to the disaster in the small Quebec town just north of the border with Maine.

Children Face Higher Health Risk From Cell Phones

The potential harm from microwave radiation (MWR) given off by wireless devices, particularly for children and unborn babies, is the highlight of a new review.

Although the data are conflicting, links between MWR and cancer have been observed.

The review, by L. Lloyd Morgan, senior science fellow at Environmental Health Trust, and colleagues, was published online July 15 in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure.

Precaution or Paranoia? Berkeley May Require Cancer Warning Stickers for Cell Phones

Just as the world supply of mobile phones is reaching one unit for every human being on Earth, here comes Berkeley, with a warning: These things could be hazardous to your health.

Under a proposed city ordinance, every new mobile phone sold in town would carry a sticker advising that the World Health Organization has deemed transmissions from cell phones a “possible” cause of brain cancer. Berkeley could become the first city in the United States to require such a warning, but the ordinance will likely face a formidable legal challenge.

Fukushima Rice Exports to Resume; First Batch to Singapore

The National Federation of Agricultural Cooperative Associations said it would resume exports of rice produced in Fukushima prefecture for the first time since the nuclear crisis in 2011.

About 300 kilograms of rice harvested at Sukagawa city, in the central part of the prefecture, will be shipped to Singapore. They will be sold in five-kilogram bags at a local Japanese supermarket beginning this Friday, the organization said.

Fukushima disaster shows effects of radiation in animals, plants: Study

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster of 2011 is believed to have leaked significant amounts of radiation that may have affected animals and plants in the region.

The Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant is located in Japan and was commissioned in 1971. The nuclear power plant was severely damaged after an earthquake measuring 9.0 on the Richter scale hit the region in March 2011. Since the calamity, the nuclear power plant has been disabled.

No One Wants You to Know How Bad Fukushima Might Still Be

Last month, when the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) announced it would move forward with its plan to construct an “ice wall” around the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant’s failed reactors, it seemed like a step backwards. In June, the utility company in charge of decommissioning the plant—which was ravaged by a tsunami in March 2011—indicated that its initial attempt at installing a similar structure had flopped. Its pipes were apparently unable to freeze the ground, despite being filled with a -22°F chemical solution.

Firm rapped for neglecting to get Fukushima decontamination workers health checks

A Yokohama-based firm has been reprimanded for not having one or more of its workers undergo required health checks after sending them to Fukushima Prefecture for decontamination work in the wake of the 2011 nuclear crisis, labor authorities said on Tuesday.

The Tsurumi Labor Standard Inspection Office issued an order to the firm, which is now undergoing bankruptcy proceedings, in June to take corrective measures for being remiss in its duty to have its workers medically examined.

Second group of Fukushima residents given OK to return home in evacuation zone

Some residents of this village who lived within the 20-kilometer restricted zone surrounding the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant were told on Aug. 17 that they can soon return home, only the second time the right of return has been granted.

The lifting of the evacuation order will allow the return of 275 residents living in 139 households in the eastern area of the village of Kawauchi.

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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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