Environmental Must-Reads – August 24, 2015


Class-action suit filed against pipeline company

Investors filed a class-action securities lawsuit against a Houston-based company that plans to build a pipeline that would carry 200,000 barrels of crude oil a day from Cushing to a Memphis, Tenn., refinery.

The complaint, which was filed July 14 in California, alleges senior executives at Plains All American Pipeline provided “false and misleading statements” about company policies regarding pipeline maintenance and monitoring. Investors also allege executives misled them about spill-response measures and compliance with regulations that govern pipeline operations.

Enbridge settled all but a handful of oil spill lawsuits

Damage from the 2010 Enbridge oil spill is worth $6 million to owners of a Battle Creek trailer park, a lawyer will argue in an October trial.

“We are alleging that the oil contamination realized by Baker Estates has substantially or totally devalued the property and gutted the business and the future of the business,” Eugene Boyle Jr., an attorney from Grosse Pointe Park, told the Enquirer recently. “We have contaminated property and we have a business that has been basically disabled. At trial we will be asking for a figure in the neighborhood of $6 million.”

In Dire Straits

Two-hundred feet below the swirling waters of the Straits of Mackinac, which separate lakes Huron and Michigan, lies Line 5, a set of two 61-year-old pipelines that carry oil between Michigan’s upper and lower peninsulas.

“I can’t imagine another place in the Great Lakes that would be more devastating to have an oil spill,” says University of Michigan research scientist Dave Schwab, whose computer models show that a rupture would spew oil into both lakes, where currents up to 10 times as strong as Niagara Falls would carry the spill far and wide.

1st US tar sands mine set to open for business in Utah

On a remote Utah ridge covered in sagebrush, pines and wild grasses, a Canadian company is about to embark on something never before done commercially in the United States: digging sticky, black, tar-soaked sand from the ground and extracting the petroleum.

The impending opening of the nation’s first tar sands mine has become another front in the battle across the West between preservationists and the energy industry.

U.S. Oil Sands has invested nearly $100 million over the last decade to acquire rights to about 50 square miles, obtain permits and develop what it says is a brand-new, non-toxic method of separating out the oil with the use of an orange-peel extract similar to what’s in citrus-scented household soaps and detergents.

As oil train burned, firefighters waited 2 hours for critical details

Newly released documents show that firefighters responding to an oil train derailment and fire last year in Lynchburg, Va., waited more than two hours for critical details about the train and what was on it.

The Lynchburg Fire Department’s battalion chief, Robert Lipscomb, told investigators that it took multiple calls to get a representative from the correct railroad to come to the scene, according to an interview transcript published Friday by the National Transportation Safety Board. And by the time someone arrived, the massive fire had almost burned out.

First responders concerned about possible oil train derailment in St. Louis

St. Louis` Fire Chief says our region is not prepared for an oil train derailment and that it could wipe out an entire neighborhood.

‘It`s a moving pipeline,’ Mechelle Minden said. Minden is a member of the group called St. Louis for Safe Trains. Minden added that the pipeline is ‘along these rails and it`s going through neighborhoods all across the city and state.’

Minden lives in Holly Hills. She said, ‘It`s a life or death issue. If one of these trains were to derail, we would all be gone.’

Oil-by-rail shipment concerns spark opposition to U.S. projects

To crude producers hankering for a route to market while pipeline proposals stall, a bevy of crude-by-rail projects planned on the U.S. West Coast may look enticing.

But efforts to connect trainloads of crude to refineries and marine terminals in Washington, Oregon and California aren’t having an easy time of it either.

Enbridge Line 9B pipeline reversal testing not good enough, residents say

A group of Mirabel, Que., residents who oppose the Line 9B pipeline-reversal project held a protest today demanding that the National Energy Board require more stringent testing.

In June, the NEB said Enbridge would have to run tests on the safety of the tunnel running through three municipalities, including Mirabel, using a form of measurement called SMYS, or specified minimum yield strength.

SMYS, used by the American Department of Transportation, tests the resistance of metal.

Scientists alarmed by ‘seismic blasting’ by oil industry in the Arctic Ocean

Firing seismic airguns to find new oil reserves in the Arctic Ocean is ‘alarming’ and could seriously injure whales and other marine life, according to a new scientific review. The oil industry is increasingly looking towards the region as climate change melts large areas of Arctic sea ice.

A Norwegian company operating off east Greenland recently began firing airguns that emit 259 decibel blasts towards the seabed in order to find possible oil reservoirs. Above water, this sound intensity would be perceived by humans as approximately eight times louder than a jet engine taking off (1).

‘Both sides are unhappy’: Obama’s Arctic drilling green light heightens tensions

A senior official at the State Department has admitted there is an “obvious tension” between the US’s commitment to combat climate change and its approval of Shell’s oil drilling in the Arctic.

Shell was given the final green light by the Obama administration to drill off the coast of Alaska on Monday. Following the arrival of a key safety vessel, the Fennica, to the Chukchi sea, Shell was allowed to commence its drilling program.

Eni expects first oil from Norway Arctic field within weeks

Italy’s Eni said Wednesday that it expects to kick off oil production at the Goliat field in the offshore Arctic region of Norway within weeks.

According to Reuters, production at the Barents Sea field is projected to start in a few weeks after nearly two years of delays.

The company has not yet disclosed a more specific start up date.

Shell will despoil the Arctic. But Barack Obama is the real villain here

The Arctic sea ice starts about three days’ steaming north of Norway’s Svalbard archipelago. Small, sporadic floes grow larger, the great Atlantic swells flatten out, the bitter polar winds are stronger and the utter stillness begins. If you can handle the monotony of the vast ice-scape that unfolds, it is possible to navigate a ship with a strong hull and a good lookout nearly to the north pole at this time of year.

Three years ago, I got to within a few hundred miles, alongside Greenpeace and a group of international ice researchers. We might have pressed on through the thick sea ice that forms and melts every year, but no one, least of all the scientists, expected that year’s record ice loss, and only a fuel shortage and time forced us back.

The spill that launched a single ship

“Based on satellite images and photographic evidence obtained from fishing vessels, it is our evaluation that the pollution could be caused by an oil release.” Such was the conclusion of the Danish military after it ended a week-long hunt to find and identify a substance reported on the surface of the water some 200 nautical miles off Greenland’s eastern coast on August 10.

This was upsetting news for environmentalists and others who spend time worrying about oil spills in the Arctic. Not surprisingly, they say last week’s incident in Greenland – both the spill (if that is indeed what it was) and the military’s inability to identify it – reveals the potentially catastrophic flaws in response plans.

FPL’s fracking investment is a money loser so far

Florida Power & Light belittled critics who opposed its precedent-setting plan to charge customers for a $191 million Oklahoma natural gas investment.

“Flawed assumptions, contradictions and even invented facts pervade their arguments,” FPL told state regulators on Dec. 12.

Turns out the flawed assumptions might be FPL’s own.

Candor Town Board Considers Support for Gel Fracking

Could fracking come to Tioga County? At its August meeting, the Candor Town Board started discussion of a resolution in support of Snyder Farm Group, a Barton-based group seeking state permission to frack in Tioga County. Although the state banned high-volume hydraulic fracking, that uses water, this proposal would use gelled propane and sand in place of water and thus, the group’s leaders argue, it would be exempt from the ban.

In July, the Snyder Farm Group filed an application with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to get the necessary permit to frack. Now, Candor is discussing throwing its support behind the Barton group. Supervisor Bob Riggs explained the resolution under consideration: “By current law this is all approved and they’re just asking the surrounding municipalities to endorse that.”

Fylde residents in cash appeal to fight fracking

Residents living near a proposed Fylde fracking site have launched a fund-raising drive to pay for legal costs to fight a planning appeal.

Members of the Preston New Road Action Group have acted after energy company Cuadrilla lodged the first of their appeals against Lancashire County Council’s refusal of permission to test frack at sites close to Little Plumpton and Roseacre.

As The British Government Pushes Fracking, Locals Push Back

The British government has made no secret of its support for fracking.

Last year, it opened up bidding for fracking licenses on nearly half the country’s total land area. Now, as those licenses are starting to be issued, the government has warned local councils that applications must be considered in “swift process.”

But anti-fracking activism in Britain has only grown. One county already rejected a permit application this month, setting up a battle royale between national government interests and local self-determination.

Fracking Halted Temporarily After 4.6-Magnitude Earthquake Near Fort St. John

The B.C. Oil and Gas Commission is investigating the cause of a 4.6 magnitude earthquake earlier this week that triggered the shutdown of a major fracking operation just a few kilometres away.

The earthquake struck on Monday afternoon, some 110 kilometres north of Fort St John, and was felt in Charlie Lake, Fort St John and Wonowon.

Anti-fracking group files suit over invalidated ballot proposals

Residents in three Ohio counties contend in a lawsuit that Secretary of State Jon Husted violated their rights when he invalidated ballot proposals they offered that would have restricted development projects related to the gas-drilling technique known as fracking.

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund helped the residents in Fulton, Medina and Athens counties to craft the ballot proposals and to sue Husted in the Ohio Supreme Court.

Forget fracking. We need clean energy now

One year ago, Earthworks, the environmental advocacy organization I work for, launched the Citizens Empowerment Project to document the effects of fracking on air quality in across the country. With the help of a special thermal camera that detects and visualizes the presence of harmful gases, people near fracking sites across the country can now confirm what they have known for years to be true: Oil and gas development is polluting their air.

This pollution includes Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, a known carcinogen. These pollutants contribute to smog, which can trigger a variety of health problems such as asthma. Air pollution is a problem at almost every point along the development chain, from the well pad to the pipeline and beyond. But until now, state rules to protect families living near such sites have been spotty and largely unenforced. And there are few national protections that safeguard our air from fracking and related development.

Hundreds march to protest proposed natural gas pipeline

Several hundred protesters turned out Saturday to march across the Delaware River in opposition to a proposed 114-mile pipeline that would shuttle natural gas from Pennsylvania to New Jersey.

Those against PennEast’s proposal said during the mile-long march they’re concerned the pipeline would badly damage the landscape and natural resources in the region, and lower property values.

“The people of Pennsylvania and New Jersey are showing they are unified in their message to PennEast: Go home, we don’t want your pipeline,” said Maya van Rossum, who leads the nonprofit Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “It’s also a message to politicians and regulators. They have to decide whether they want to side with the people or with a corporation that cares only about profit.”

Report disputes need for more gas pipelines

The conventional wisdom among energy regulators in New England is that more gas pipeline capacity will help get the region’s high electricity prices under control.

But the state’s primary importer of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, is determined to challenge that line of thought.

Last week, GDF Suez Energy North America began to send copies of a new report to policy makers — including Governor Charlie Baker and Attorney General Maura Healey — that says plans to charge electric ratepayers for more pipelines would hurt consumers.

In Conestoga Township, residents forced into un-neighborly action to get pipeline moved

Residents in one slice of rural Conestoga Township are finding that protecting your dream properties sometimes comes down to sticking your neighbor with a gas pipeline.

There, concerted lobbying by five families has succeeded in getting Williams Partners and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to consider a 2-mile re-routing of the controversial proposed Atlantic Sunrise natural gas pipeline away from their properties.

But Alternative 22 would now slice through four new property owners, also who love their land and most of whom worry about negative effects.

Pipeline fight in Trans-Pecos is dividing community

Hundreds of miles away in the mountainous Trans-Pecos region a fight is on over a 143-mile, 42-inch natural gas pipeline that is pitting multi-billionaires on both sides of the border against a community that itself is divided over the project.

If approved and completed, the pipeline will transport up to 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day from the Waha hub processing plant in Coyonosa to a location north of Presidio. The pipeline would then cross underneath the Rio Grande River where it will connect with a pipeline in Mexico to deliver natural gas to the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE), Mexico’s state-owned electric utility. CFE chose a consortium of American and Mexican companies in January to build the pipeline. Energy Transfer Partners, led by Texas billionaire Kelcy Warren, and Mexican billionaire Carlos Slims’ Carso Energy are attempting to build the 143 miles of pipe on the American side of the border.

El Paso County to take action on proposed San Elizario Pipeline

The city of San Elizario is opposing two proposed natural gas pipelines coming its way, and El Paso County is planning to take action.

El Paso County Commissioners have an item on the agenda to “take appropriate action” to the proposed pipelines. County commissioner Vince Perez said when it comes to utilities and land their authority is very limited.

Bury excess plutonium, don’t turn it into fuel, study says

A team of experts has confirmed what the Energy Department has been saying for two years — that burying 34 tons of weapons-grade plutonium would be far cheaper and more practical than completing a multibillion-dollar plant that would turn the radioactive material into commercial reactor fuel.

The report raises pressure on Congress to walk away from a costly project that has been plagued by rapidly escalating costs and an absence of any customers for the fuel it is supposed to produce.

US Researchers Develop ‘Chrysalin,’ Drug That Mitigates The Deadly Effects Of Nuclear Radiation

In recent times, the potentially dangerous effects of exposure to the nuclear radiation and disasters have become an issue of serious concern among the developed nations. With an aim to find a relief for those who are exposed to such radiation, a U.S. research team claims to have discovered the drug that can potentially reduce the deadly effects of nuclear radiation.

The study, which appears in the Laboratory Investigation, a journal in the Nature publishing group, shows that taking a single dose of a regenerative peptide called “Chrysalin” significantly increases the survival rate.

Fukushima nuclear disaster evacuees promised 2017 return but ‘ineffective’ clear-up may take 200 years

In an abandoned village where 15,839 people used to live, an unnerving silence prevails.

The families have gone, their cars have been left to rust, and house roof tiles lie shattered on the pavement. Something terrible has taken place.

Even though the power lines are still down above the deserted streets, a newly installed LED screen over the main road flashes up numbers: 3.741, 3.688, 3.551. They are radioactivity readings measured in microsieverts per hour, taken from Geiger counters in the ground below.

Interactive tool lifts veil on the cost of nuclear energy

Despite the ever-changing landscape of energy economics, subject to the influence of new technologies and geopolitics, a new tool promises to root discussions about the cost of nuclear energy in hard evidence rather than speculation. Over the last two years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has developed the Nuclear Fuel Cycle Cost Calculator, an online interface that provides a nuanced look at the economic costs of nuclear power.

Built with significant funding from the MacArthur Foundation, and in collaboration with Prof. Robert Rosner and a team of researchers, the calculator provides a simple gateway into the physics-laden universe of nuclear economics.

Boost in power output delayed at Japan’s Sendai nuclear reactor

A planned power increase from the first Japanese nuclear reactor restarted since the Fukushima meltdown has been delayed.

Kyushu Electric last week began the restart of the Sendai plant, the first of Japan’s reactors to begin operation under new safety standards introduced in the wake of the 2011 disaster.

Too warm, too few fish: Health warning for world’s oceans

The world’s oceans – covering nearly two-thirds of the Earth’s surface, and on which much of human life depends – are under severe pressure, a report says.

Over-fishing has dramatically reduced fish stocks. The thousands of tonnes of rubbish dumped in the oceans wreak havoc on marine life, while climate change is warming and acidifying them, putting them under further stress.

These are the sobering conclusions of a wide-ranging study of the Earth’s ecosystems by the Worldwatch Institute, a US-based organisation widely rated as one of the world’s foremost environmental think-tanks.

Climate change and Hurricane Katrina: what have we learned?

Three weeks and three days before Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans 10 years ago, a paper of mine appeared in the scientific journal Nature showing that North Atlantic hurricane power was strongly correlated with the temperature of the tropical Atlantic during hurricane season, and that both had been increasing rapidly over the previous 30 years or so. It attributed these increases to a combination of natural climate oscillations and to global warming.

Had Katrina not occurred, this paper and another by an independent team would merely have contributed to the slowly accumulating literature on the relationship between climate and hurricanes.

When firefighters speak out on climate change, we ought to listen up

Climate change is worsening the fires that ravage many parts of America each year. Grime-streaked firefighters battling one of the 167 active wildfires currently scorching portions of the US west will tell you as much. What they have encountered on the firelines in the past few years is evidence that everything has changed as a result of global warming.

In mid-August, the day after a quick-moving fire first exploded southwest of Boise, Idaho, the blaze more than doubled in size to nearly 79,000 acres in one four hour stretch. Along the way, it sparked a “firenado” that rained hot ash and dirt on firefighters.

Indigenous fire methods could slash global emissions: UN report

Ancient Indigenous Australian bush-burning could be used around the world to radically cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to United Nations research, which also challenges Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s refusal to embrace the purchase of international carbon credits.

Mr Abbott has previously said buying overseas offsets sends money “offshore into dodgy carbon farms in Equatorial Guinea and Kazakhstan”. The government this month delayed considering the measure until 2017 or later, saying it would rather make cuts domestically.

Carly Fiorina did a 4-minute riff on climate change. Everything she said was wrong.

Katie Couric recently interviewed Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina, and the subject of climate change came up. They discussed it for over four minutes, likely marking the longest any national GOP political figure has spent talking about climate change in the past five years.

Conservatives are delighted with Fiorina’s performance. Thrilled. Pumped. They think she crushed Couric and showed how to outwit liberals on climate change.

In fact, Fiorina’s comments are a farrago of falsehoods and red herrings, a derp different in character from science-denial derp, but no less derpy.

Severity of algae in Iowa lakes is on the rise

That paint-like scum that covers some Iowa lakes every summer isn’t just gross and smelly. People, pets, and livestock coming into contact with or ingesting toxins produced by the algae are at risk to symptoms including skin rashes, gastrointestinal issues and, in high doses, liver failure.

The toxin, called microcystin, is a liver toxin produced by some strains of cyanobacteria, commonly called blue-green algae. It has been tracked in Iowa state lakes since 2005 in order to warn the more than 1 million beach-goers and boaters making 12 million visits to the lakes each year when concentrations rise above levels of 20 micrograms per liter.

Target Shooters Bring Mayhem to National Forests

Recreational target shooters call it “trigger trash” — tons and tons of refrigerators, car parts, televisions, sofas, bowling pins and other unwanted junk that shooters haul onto pristine federal woodlands and shred with gunfire for sheer enjoyment.

The abuses are scarring forest lands from the Carolinas to the Pacific Northwest. An emergency halt to target shooting had to be issued for the Croatan National Forest, in North Carolina, after hundreds of complaints from alarmed visitors. Forest Service records show an increasing raft of violations, like shooting from cars and shooting in campgrounds.

EPA knew of ‘blowout’ risk for tainted water at gold mine

U.S. officials knew of the potential for a catastrophic “blowout” of poisonous wastewater from an inactive gold mine, yet appeared to have only a cursory plan to deal with such an event when a government cleanup team triggered a 3-million-gallon spill, according to internal documents released by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA released the documents late Friday following weeks of prodding from The Associated Press and other media organizations. While shedding some light on the circumstances surrounding the accident, the newly disclosed information also raises more questions about whether enough was done to prevent it.

Tianjin Blasts Expose the Dangerous Proximity of Toxic Chemicals in China

Highways and schools all over China are near warehouses licensed to handle hazardous substances.

According to Chinese officials, the warehouse in Tianjin, a major port city, stored at least 700 tons of one common deadly chemical, sodium cyanide, used in mining to separate gold and silver from rock.

After the deadly explosions, residents of Tianjin have been gripped by fear and uncertainty over the presence of toxic chemicals in the city’s air and water, setting off a national debate about hidden safety hazards along the supply route for sodium cyanide.

We can’t ignore the air pollution crisis in Africa’s fast-growing megacities

Residents of London, Los Angeles and Beijing often complain about air pollution. And they’re right to – their concerns are backed by lots of data. However, not all cities are measured as rigorously. Notably, the air quality in many African cities is almost completely unmonitored. By 2050, both Lagos and Kinshasa will exceed 30m people – shouldn’t we know more about pollution in this fast-growing part of the world?

The World Health Organisation calculates air quality is responsible for more than 500,000 deaths a year in Africa from both indoor and outdoor air pollution. To put this into perspective, around 11,000 people died in the recent Ebola epidemic.

Microbeads, the Tiny Orbs Threatening Our Water

Plastic is believed to be the main contaminant in the huge garbage gyres that pollute the oceans. Now researchers, led by Sherri Mason of the State University of New York at Fredonia, have found a stunning amount of plastic in the largest freshwater ecosystem on earth, the Great Lakes. And an increasing amount of it consists of the tiny plastic orbs used as abrasives in products like toothpaste and anti-acne lotions.

The particles are called microbeads, and consumers can avoid them by checking to see if plastic — maybe polyethylene or polypropylene — is on the product’s ingredient list. Once these virtually indestructible beads enter the water, they attract toxic substances, like PCBs. They become part of the aquatic food chain, soon eaten by fish and then, too often, by humans.

EPA says it isn’t monitoring an estimated 161,000 abandoned mines

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said it has no system for monitoring hundreds of thousands of abandoned mines that pock the American landscape, or knowing which one could be the source of the next big toxic spill.

“EPA does not maintain records of the number of mines or tailings dams in the US,” a spokesman for the federal agency told the Guardian. In the western US, the EPA estimates there may be 161,000 abandoned “hard rock” mines, where metals such as gold, silver and copper were once dug. But the nationwide threat left by these bygone miners remains largely unknown and unwatched.

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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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