Environmental Must-Reads – August 20, 2015


Louisiana identifies tentative restoration projects for BP spill money

A tentative list of projects that would be funded by $7.2 billion in BP oil spill fine and settlement money, including wetland-building sediment diversions from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya rivers, marsh creation projects using sediment moved by pipeline from rivers and the Gulf of Mexico, and the rebuilding of nine barrier islands and four coastal ridges, was announced by Louisiana officials on Wednesday (Aug. 19).

In a presentation to the Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority at the state Capitol, authority Executive Director Kyle Graham said the first-look at the project strategy will likely change, based on the selection process required by the three main programs through which the oil spill money will be distributed.

BP behind biggest gas spike since Hurricane Katrina

The outage at BP’s Whiting refinery caused regional gasoline prices to increase at their fastest pace since Hurricane Katrina, the U.S. government said.

BP reported an unplanned outage Aug. 8, shutting down one of the three crude oil distillation units at the Whiting refinery, the sixth largest in the country and a main gasoline supplier to Great Lakes states. The U.S. Energy Information Administration said it was likely a result of leaky pipes at the facility, cutting the refinery’s gasoline production by at least 120,000 barrels per day.

Oil Companies Sit on Hands at Auction for Leases

With oil prices collapsing and companies in retrenchment, a federal auction in the Gulf of Mexico on Wednesday attracted the lowest interest from producers since 1986.

It was the clearest sign yet that the fortunes of oil companies are skidding so fast that they now need to cut back on plans for production well into the future.

The auction, for drilling leases, attracted a scant $22.7 million in sales from five companies, but energy analysts said that came as no surprise on a day when the American oil benchmark price plummeted by more than 4 percent. For the first time since the recession, it is approaching the symbolic $40-a-barrel level. Last summer, it was above $100 a barrel.

California Senate leader says oil industry ‘fear-mongering’ on SB 350

California Senate leader Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) on Wednesday accused the oil industry of a campaign of “fear-mongering” against his bill that would cut in half the use of gasoline on California roads by 2030, but said he was open to negotiating changes to the legislation.

De Leon told reporters at the Capitol that his aim was to make sure that SB 350, which has already passed the Senate, achieved the goals of reducing greenhouse gases and improving the economy, but he said he was open to compromise to get it through the Legislature.

The Guardian view on Arctic drilling: bad now, worse for the future

For the first time, Hillary Clinton has openly criticised President Obama in her bid to win the Democrat nomination. In a tweet last night , she condemned the president’s decision to licence Arctic drilling that was he signed off earlier this week. “The Arctic is a unique treasure,” she said. “Given what we know, it’s not worth the risk of drilling.” Her criticism has been echoed around the world. Lobbyists globally are trying to work out why the man who has so clearly identified climate change as a legacy issue, and who in the past year has done so much to promote the green agenda, has taken such a controversial, counterintuitive step.

Back in May, when his decision was first indicated, the president justified it by arguing that it would be impossible to abandon fossil fuels until the transition to clean energy sources was finally accomplished. He said it would be better if the US, with its high safety standards, exploited all its available reserves, rather than importing oil from what he implied was any old foreigner. A few days later, he too took to Twitter to justify his actions, pointing out that Shell, the Anglo-Dutch oil giant which has already spent more than $6bn on the project of winning permission to drill, had been sent back to the drawing board and forced to redesign safety aspects of its plan.

Norway feels the Arctic chill

Crisis. It is a word that nobody in Norway wants to use out loud but it is one that people are increasingly muttering under their breath.

A persistently low oil price is starting to bite, pushing up unemployment by more than expected and hitting house prices in Stavanger, Norway’s answer to Houston. After 20 years of oil-fuelled growth that not even the global financial crisis could interrupt there are concerns locally about what happens next, especially if the lay-offs in the petroleum sector increase.

ENI To Start Producing From Arctic Oilfield Off Norway In A Few Weeks

Italian energy group ENI plans to start oil production from Norway’s first Arctic oil development in a few weeks after years of delays and cost overruns.

Production from the Goliat field, estimated to hold about 174 million barrels of oil, was originally expected to start in 2013, and the latest deadline was the end of this summer.

Legality of planned Adirondack oil train storage plan questioned

An Adirondack conservation group claimed that a plan by a railway company to store hundreds of emptied-out crude oil rail tankers near the High Peaks is illegal in a letter Wednesday to Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Adirondack Wild disputed a claim by Chicago-based Iowa Pacific Holdings that the company does not need state approval to store tankers in Essex County along tracks of the Saratoga and North Creek Railway, which it owns. Acting chairman for the group, Chris Amato, urged the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Park Agency to step in quickly.

Conservation group questions TransCanada pipeline

An eastern Canadian conservation group said TransCanada’s planned Energy East oil pipeline would have a negative impact on the regional marine environment.

TransCanada Corp. filed a formal application in October for its Energy East pipeline project for eastern Canadian oil refineries.

Energy East Pipeline could hurt whales, jobs, says Conservation Council

A new report by the Conservation Council of New Brunswick is warning about the impact the Energy East Pipeline project could have on whales in the Bay of Fundy, and on the jobs of thousands of New Brunswickers, if it goes ahead.

But a TransCanada Corp. spokesman disputes the findings, arguing that certain facts, such as locations and numbers, are “overlooked or exaggerated.”

In British Columbia, indigenous group blocks pipeline development

In a remote mountain pass connecting the Pacific Coast to the interior of British Columbia, a region brimming with wild berries and populated by grouse and grizzly bears, felled and painted trees have been laid across a logging road to form an enormous message. Directed at air traffic, it reads “No pipelines! No entry!” The warning marks off land where the government of Canada and a First Nations clan hold irreconcilable views of what should happen to a 435-square-mile area each claims as its own.

Regulator investigates NuVista pipeline leak in northern Alberta

The Alberta Energy Regulator is investigating a leak on a NuVista Energy pipeline in northern Alberta that spilled 100 cubic meters, roughly 629 barrels, of oil and water and natural gas emulsion, the regulator said on Wednesday.

The leak on the pipeline, 50 kilometers (30 miles) northeast of Rainbow Lake, was first identified by a helicopter crew during an aerial surveillance flight on Friday, and covered an area approximately 70 by 100 meters.

Oft-shaken Okla. tops last year’s quake record

The 585 earthquakes that Oklahoma had in 2014 was a lot. But this year, Oklahoma has had more than that in less than nine months.

About 20 minutes before midnight Monday, Oklahoma topped last year’s total with its 586th earthquake of magnitude 3 or greater. Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) data indicate that a magnitude-3.3 quake about 20 miles east of Enid was the one that broke the record.

The state has averaged 2.5 quakes a day in 2015. If that rate continues, Oklahoma would have more than 912 quakes this year.

There are 45 fracked wells within 2 miles of my daughter’s school

Every morning, I send my daughters off to school with a kiss on the cheek and a heavy heart. School is supposed to be a safe and supportive environment where children are able to learn without worrying about threats to their health. Unfortunately, this is not the case in my hometown of Shafter, California.

California state laws have allowed oil companies to hydraulically fracture oil wells perilously close to my daughters’ schools, exposing them to dangerous air toxins and putting their health and safety at risk on a daily basis.

The EPA is cracking down on methane leaks from (some) oil and gas drilling

The Environmental Protection Agency just proposed its first-ever rules to cut down on methane leaks from oil and gas production. The standards will apply to certain new equipment and wells.

Methane is a potent contributor to global warming, accounting for 10 percent of US greenhouse gases, and there’s been rising concern about these leaks as fracking expands and thousands of new oil and gas wells get drilled each year.

Pumping CO2 into frack wells could prevent water contamination

Sometimes two problems can cancel each other out. Carbon dioxide emissions from power plants could be put to good use, preventing fracking chemicals from contaminating drinking water supplies.

Although fracking has unlocked new fuel sources and slashed energy prices, there is a risk that toxic compounds in the fracking fluid can get into shallow aquifers via fractures in the bedrock.

Andres Clarens at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville and his team say pumping CO2 into the wells could prevent this. At the high temperatures and pressures found at depth, it reacts with silicate minerals in rocks to form a carbonate deposit.

There Might Be Fracking Wastewater on Your Organic Fruits and Veggies

The US Department of Agriculture’s organics standards, written fifteen years ago, strictly ban petroleum-derived fertilizers commonly used in conventional agriculture. But the same rules do not prohibit farmers from irrigating their crops with petroleum-laced wastewater obtained from oil and gas wells—a practice that is increasingly common in drought-stricken Southern California.

As I reported last month, oil companies last year supplied half the water that went to the 45,000 acres of farmland in Kern County’s Cawelo Water District, farmland that is owned, in part, by Sunview, a company that sells certified organic raisins and grapes. Food watchdog groups are concerned that the state hasn’t required oil companies to disclose all of the chemicals that they use in oil drilling and fracking operations, much less set safety limits for all of those chemicals in irrigation water.

Md. geologists to boost seismic monitoring ahead of ‘fracking’

Given that seismic activity is rare in the ancient rock of the Appalachians — and damaging earthquakes even rarer — there is only a single apparatus measuring underground rumblings within Maryland borders. But geologists are about to put another ear to the ground.

The Maryland Geological Survey, anticipating the possibility that hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” for natural gas in the Marcellus shale deposits could increase seismic activity, plans to install a seismometer in Western Maryland.

Radioactivity Found in Pennsylvania Creek, Illegal Fracking Waste Dumping Suspected

Recently released testing results in western Pennsylvania, upstream from Pittsburgh, reveal evidence of radioactive contamination in water flowing from an abandoned mine. Experts say that the radioactive materials may have come from illegal dumping of shale fracking wastewater.

Regulators had previously found radioactivity levels that exceeded EPA’s drinking water standards over 60-fold in waters in the same area, which is roughly 3 miles upstream from a drinking water intake, but those test results were only made public after a local environmental group obtained them through open records requests.

No tax refund for home on pipeline path

Citing the effects the proposed Kinder Morgan pipeline may have on the value of her Lower Road home, Heather Reloj of Deerfield has requested that the taxes she paid on it last year be returned to her, but Board of Assessors’ Chairman John Coderre said that’s not likely to happen.

Coderre said the board’s hands are tied by the law — Reloj would need to have filed an application for an abatement by the proper deadline within a month of the day her tax bill was mailed to have one considered. Assessors’ clerk Karen Menard said that deadline passed in late January.

Johnston landowners hold hands to protest pipeline

Juggling umbrellas in the afternoon rain, 16 Johnston County landowners joined hands Tuesday to protest a proposed natural gas pipeline.

Francine Stephenson gathered the group on her family’s land, which falls in the planned pathway of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. If approved by federal regulators, the $5 billion project would lay 550 miles of underground pipe in West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, including the Stephenson land on Oak Forest Road south of Four Oaks.

‘Children of the Wild’ targets Kinder Morgan pipeline with avant-garde outdoor theater

Art met activism Monday in a rural and isolated area of Ashfield.

The roving theater ensemble “Children of the Wild” led local residents on a surreal “pipeline procession,” hiking through the woods as a quartet of ghoulish musicians performed dirges and ashen-dressed actors dramatized themes of hope and despair.

The procession began at the Beldingville Road home of Jim Cutler and traveled to a powerline that would be widened and dug up to accommodate the proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline known as Northeast Energy Direct.

Nord Stream pipeline back in service

The consortium in charge of a twin pipeline system carrying Russian natural gas through the Baltic Sea said it was finished with routine annual maintenance.

“Regular maintenance works are an essential part of Nord Stream’s long-term pipeline integrity management strategy to ensure that the pipelines will be able to continue transporting up to 1.9 trillion cubic feet of gas per year safely and efficiently for at least 50 years,” the pipeline consortium said in a statement. “The works included annual maintenance of mechanical components, as well as testing of the automation system.”

Algonquin pipeline gets more work permits

The company working on the Algonquin natural gas pipeline expansion has received new permissions to ramp up its local operations.

This week, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC permission to begin installing pipeline segments at the Stony Point compressor station and to conduct pre-construction pipe digging at its compressor station in Southeast.

Japan asks for WTO panel to rule on S.Korea’s Fukushima-related food import restrictions

Japan on Thursday asked the World Trade Organization to set up a panel to rule on South Korea’s import bans and testing requirements for Japanese food after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, since the restrictions show no signs of being eased.

Japan launched a trade complaint at the WTO in May, saying the South Korean measures violated a WTO agreement and that Seoul had failed to justify the measures as required

25% of Fukushima landowners ready to sell plots for contaminated debris storage

One in four landowners from localities around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have shown a willingness to sell their plots to allow for construction of a facility to temporarily store radioactive soil from cleanup work.

Many of them agreed to pre-sale land surveys apparently because they doubt they will ever be able to return to live in their homes due to lingering high radiation levels.

WHOI Study Shows Fukushima Contaminated Sediment Moving Offshore

Researchers from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution have been studying the effects the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant disaster in 2011 has had in the Pacific Ocean.

WHOI has recently released the results of a three-year study of sediment samples collected offshore in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Environmental Science and Technology.

From Japan to Vietnam, Radiation and Agent Orange Survivors Deserve Justice From the U.S.

We have just marked anniversaries of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the U.S. government against the people of Japan and Vietnam. Seventy years ago, on August 6, 1945, the U.S. military unleashed an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing at least 140,000 people. Three days later, the United States dropped a second bomb, on Nagasaki, which killed 70,000. And 54 years ago, on August 10, 1961, the U.S. military began spraying Agent Orange in Vietnam. It contained the deadly chemical dioxin, which has poisoned an estimated 3 million people throughout that country.

Mobile industry asks judge to halt Berkeley’s RF disclosures

Can a city make it easier for cell phone users to learn about RF energy?

A federal judge in San Francisco is set to hear arguments today on a city’s ability to force cell phone retailers to reiterate government information regarding radiofrequency (RF) energy absorption.

The controversial quest to stop climate change by pulling carbon out of the air

Most efforts at combating climate change have focused on reducing carbon emissions or trying to eliminate them, but many climate scientists believe we may have already passed the point of no return. That’s why Noah Deich wants to pull carbon out of the air.

Deich is the founder of a nonprofit called the Center for Carbon Removal; its goal is to bring together scientists, political figures and leaders in the energy industries to find the best way to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. “Not only can we stop making a mess, but we can clean it up and hopefully prevent all of the damages scientists expect will happen if we don’t clean it up,” he says.

China Emits Less CO2 Than Anyone Thought, But It’s Still a Lot

Carbon emissions from China are 14 percent lower than previously estimated because those estimates failed to take into account the country’s low quality coal that emits less carbon, according to a new study published in the journal Nature.

The findings don’t change China’s status as the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide, but they will likely give the country more negotiating power in the United Nations Climate Change Conference that will take place later this year in Paris, experts say.

To ease climate change, U.S. should end drilling on federal land: study

Up to 450 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases would be kept out of the atmosphere if the U.S. government stopped leasing federal lands to fossil fuel companies, according to a study released on Wednesday.

The government currently allows energy companies to lease federal lands for drilling, and environmental groups say if the practice is not halted, the United States will be unable to meet its obligations to combat climate change.

Islamic leaders join growing religious outcry over climate change

Every religion has a tradition of respect for the God-given natural world. But the summer of 2015 has become a surprise season of revival for these oft-ignored lessons in creation care.

Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and Buddhists have all heard a fresh call for stepped-up guardianship of the planet. In the process, many religious leaders have broken an uneasy peace with the marketplace, attacking the great wheel of capitalism—once trusted to pull us all skyward—for plunging the world into a state of corruption, injustice and ecological ruin.

MacArthur Foundation doles out $50 million toward climate change

The John D. And Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation is moving fast with its plan to focus more on climate change.

The Chicago-based foundation announced today it will hand out $50 million in grants to organizations working to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and build political coalitions working on climate policy in the United States.

Did climate change, El Nino make Texas floods worse?

When massive floods hit Texas and Oklahoma in May, the disaster sparked a debate on what role, if any, climate change played.

John Nielsen-Gammon, the state climatologist in Texas, told local reporters that warmer conditions were bringing increased rains to the state and that the floods were strong evidence of that.

Now, a new study seems to support Nielson-Gammon’s assertion and also adds a new twist – demonstrating how weather can often represent a very complicated picture.

Protecting a New Generation of Poisoned Kids After Katrina

Kataya Davidson was 26 years old when she hopped a freight train to New Orleans and took a job demolishing hurricane-damaged houses and buildings. Davidson, who’d left home in Washington State at age 14, had lost track of how many times she’d traversed the continent by rail.

This time, in 2007, she decided to stay put. She says that given her nomadic past, post-Katrina New Orleans was one of the “only places in America” where she could readily find work and housing.

Two years later, as a new mother, she was trading renovations for rent at a friend’s bungalow in St. Claude, a neighborhood in the Upper Ninth Ward. As she sanded off layers of old paint, dust spun around her.

Beijing Pollution Awaits Runners at Worlds, Just Like ’08

The drifting smoke from forest fires sometimes makes it difficult for marathoner Heather Lieberg to take a deep breath during her afternoon training runs in the hills of Montana.

Even on days when the local advisory lists the air quality as “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” Lieberg is out there chugging away through the hazy and hot conditions.

No better way to acclimate her body to what awaits in Beijing for the world championships.

Faecal attraction: mayor of Il Postino island refuses to close beach

The mayor of an idyllic Italian island has refused to close a beach featured in an Oscar-winning film, despite warnings from environmental protection agents that the sea contains high levels of E coli and faecal material.

A picturesque island in the Bay of Naples, Procida can boast of being just as beautiful as the nearby Amalfi coast, but without the tourist crowds. The island gained fame through the Oscar-winning film Il Postino (The Postman), a love story following the protagonist around Procida on his bicycle.

But now the island’s reputation as a travel destination has been dented after inspectors from the regional environmental protection agency (Arpac) found high levels of E coli and faecal bacteria in the waters at Pozzo Vecchio beach.

When a River Runs Orange

THE recent mining pollution spill in my corner of Colorado — La Plata County — is making national news for all the wrong reasons. Beyond the spill and its impact on everyone downstream, the underlying causes are far more worrisome and dangerous than just a mistake made by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Yes, it is a cruel irony that an E.P.A. contractor, while trying to clean up pollution from old mines, instead made the problem much, much worse. The jaw-dropping before-and-after photos contrasting the pre-spill Animas River I know and love with the subsequent bright orange, acidic, heavy-metal-laden travesty are sadly accurate.

TIMELINE: The Conservative Media’s History Of Ignoring Pollution Prior To EPA Mine Spill

The Wall Street JournalFox News, and Fox Business are aggressively criticizing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for accidentally spilling toxic wastewater into Colorado’s Animas River while attempting to treat pollution from an abandoned gold mine. But over the years, these same conservative media outlets have almost completely ignored pollution that was caused by the fossil fuel industry, devoting more attention to the EPA spill than to seven recent cases of industry-caused pollution combined.

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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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