Environmental Must-Reads – August 25, 2014


Danger Beneath: ‘Fracking’ Gas, Oil Pipes Threaten Rural Residents

A construction boom of pipelines carrying explosive oil and natural gas from “fracking” fields to market — pipes that are bigger and more dangerous than their predecessors -– poses a safety threat in rural areas, where they sometimes run within feet or yards of homes with little or no safety oversight, an NBC News investigation has found.

State cites fracking operation for taking water from area lake

The state of Texas has cited a large natural gas driller for improperly drawing water from a Tarrant County lake for use in the hydraulic fracking of natural gas.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality says XTO, owned by ExxonMobil, was not entitled to the water, and residents of Dalworthington Gardens say their lake has never been the same.

City Council Moves to Ban Waste from Fracking in NYC

An anti-fracking bill was introduced to the New York City Council on Thursday, banning the “discharge, disposal, sale or use” of waste resulting from drilling natural gas with hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking.”

Councilmembers Stephen Levin and Corey Johnson, the sponsors of the bill, argue that the chemicals involved in processing fracking waste are a public health concern and a threat to the environment.

Lafayette group files motion to block oil and gas industry’s lawsuit, enforce local fracking ban

Residents of Lafayette seeking to enforce a voter-supported fracking ban filed a motion this week for a preliminary injunction against the state, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association.

The motion aims to prohibit the state’s oil and gas industry from using the Colorado Oil and Gas Act to invalidate the town’s right to self-government, which the plaintiffs claim should include the ability to ban fracking.

Inside North Dakota’s latest fracking problem

From his driveway, Tom Wheeler’s view of North Dakota’s sprawling grasslands seems endless. Fields of soy, wheat and canola stretch to the horizon in all directions. But as drillers flock to the state to cash in on North Dakota’s booming shale play, that horizon has become increasingly marked by natural gas flares.

Wheeler, 59, owns 3,000 acres of farmland in Ray, the heart of the state’s oil-rich Bakken Basin, one of the world’s largest shale formations. Shale gas is natural gas, which is found trapped within shale formations.

Up in Flames: A four-part investigation

The energy boom that transformed South Texas into an economic powerhouse also has created a prolific source of air pollution and wasted natural gas.

A yearlong investigation by the San Antonio Express-News shows that gas flares spreading across the Eagle Ford Shale are burning and wasting billions of cubic feet of natural gas. See where the flaring is happening on an interactive map.

Natural Gas Production Falls Short in China

Jin Peisheng, a drilling rig foreman, knows the challenges of trying to extract natural gas from a coal seam under the cornfields here in north-central China.

Cracks in the subterranean coal are flooded with water that needs to be pumped out before the gas will emerge. The coal seams are so cold that gels injected into the well, which are meant to help release the gas, sometimes become gummy and block the flow instead. And there is constant concern about hitting the labyrinths of active coal mines that honeycomb the area.

Maryland takes a public health approach on fracking that Pa. hasn’t tried

Air pollution is among one of the greatest public health concerns related to Marcellus Shale drilling, according to a new health impact assessment released this week by the University of Maryland School of Public Health. Commissioned by the Maryland Department of Public Health through an executive order by Gov. Martin O’Malley, the study assesses potential environmental health impacts should Maryland open up its western edge to Marcellus Shale drillers. The report comes at a time when healthcare workers and environmental groups are calling for an investigation into the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s handling of Marcellus Shale-related complaints. And it stands in contrast to how Pennsylvania has addressed health concerns related to Marcellus Shale.

Canada’s First Nations people seek to ‘evict’ energy companies from land

A freight railroad operated by the Canadian National Railway stretches approximately 3,000 miles from Halifax in the country’s east to a port on the Pacific Ocean in the remote northwest. Here, in this heavily forested region, a group of First Nations people called the Gitxsan has resided for thousands of years.

A dispute over land now has Gitxsan hereditary chiefs threatening to grind trade along that route to a halt. If the British Columbia (B.C.) government doesn’t address the Gitxsan’s concerns by Sept. 16, the group’s leaders say they could begin service disruptions along the railway through their territory, escalating a longstanding feud with the province.

Fracking hearing draws a crowd

More than 350 people converged Friday at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center to either voice their support for or express concerns about rules for hydraulic fracturing developed by the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission.

The meeting is second of four public hearings held by the commission. The first was on Wednesday in Raleigh and attended by nearly 500 people.

S.A. River in frack impact study

A recently published U.S. Geological Survey study looked at the San Antonio River Basin for compounds associated with hydraulic fracturing and produced water — the first of its kind for the river, which flows through some of the busiest areas for Eagle Ford Shale oil and gas drilling.

The study sampled 10 sites along the river basin from 2011 to 2013 as oil and gas activity accelerated in South Texas. But the USGS said that it did not see anything to cause concern during the baseline study, which was done to begin gathering what’s likely to grow to become years of data.

Why Is It So Hard To Study The Public Health Effects Of Oil And Gas Development?

The current oil and gas boom, fueled by a technique called hydraulic fracturing, has opened massive shale gas and oil formations in states like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

But unlike past booms, this time drilling is bumping right up against communities. With oil and gas development now at their doorsteps, people are worried about the health impacts.

Drilling-related health registry never implemented

An unfinished piece of business with state oversight of Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling continues to rear its head.

That’s the matter of how Pennsylvania should track and evaluate potential public health problems caused by hydraulic fracturing, commonly called fracking.

Kansas town loses bid for new trial over BP pollution suit

A southeast Kansas town has lost its latest bid to retry a class-action lawsuit claiming BP should do more to clean up industrial pollution from a refinery that closed in 1970.

The Kansas Court of Appeals on Friday rejected the request from residents and officials of Neodesha, who sued in 2004 for more than $478 million in cleanup costs plus damages.

Ecologists Just Saved Miles Of Texas Coastline Using BP Oil Spill Money

Twenty-seven square miles of pristine coastal land along the central Texas coastline between Houston and Corpus Christi will now be preserved for future generations after a decades-long effort by environmental groups and $34.5 million from penalties paid by BP and Transocean after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

BP falls short in reimbursing plaintiffs’ lawyers for oil disaster litigation, website reports

Plaintiffs’ attorneys in the BP oil disaster litigation have been reimbursed almost $30 million and have requested an additional $1.8 million from the British oil giant, Texas Lawyer reports.

That’s a small fraction of the $600 million maximum that BP agreed in 2012 to reimburse to cover out of pocket costs to plaintiffs’ lawyers who represent thousands of individual and business claimants in the oil spill litigation, the report says.

DNR: Consider rerouting proposed Sandpiper pipeline

A second Minnesota environmental agency has asked state regulators to consider rerouting a proposed crude oil pipeline to avoid northern lakes, wetlands and streams.

The state Department of Natural Resources, in a regulatory filing on Thursday, said the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) should “strongly consider” one of several alternative routes “having fewer natural resource impacts” than the route proposed by pipeline company Enbridge Energy.

Pipeline giant sidesteps KXL-style permitting fight

Enbridge Inc. is poised to carry out a novel new strategy for avoiding the presidential permitting process that Keystone XL has been mired in for years, shifting extra volumes of Canadian oil between pipelines on its sprawling continental network with the State Department’s blessing.

The pipeline titan’s plan involves building four interconnections between its Alberta Clipper and Line 3 projects, both of which run from the oil sands region of Alberta to Wisconsin. That would allow 75,000 extra barrels per day (bpd) of heavy Canadian crude to cross the U.S.-Canada border before the State Department finishes its KXL-style review of a plan to nearly double the Clipper’s capacity.

Forget Keystone, Enbridge has figured out an easier way to ship crude to the U.S.

Enbridge Inc. said it found a way to ship more Alberta oil to the U.S. that doesn’t require a review similar to the one faced by Keystone XL: switching crude from one pipeline to another before it crosses the border.

The State Department, responsible for approving cross-border energy projects like the Alberta Clipper and the proposed Keystone XL line to the U.S. Gulf Coast, said in a statement that Enbridge can go forward with its plan under authority granted by previously issued permits.

Enbridge lawsuit fails but its just the first of many

The first of dozens of lawsuits filed against Enbridge over the big crude oil spill near Marshall fell flat with a Calhoun County Jury.

The jurors took just 20-minutes to reject the claims of Charles Blakeman and Robert Patterson who sued because the spill four years ago prevented them from guiding hunting parties for veterans in the Fort Custer Recreational area.

Iowa farmers wary of proposed crude oil pipeline

Construction of an 1,100-mile crude oil pipeline slicing diagonally through 17 Iowa counties would generate millions of dollars for the state’s economy, but it’s creating worries among farmers asked to provide easements on their land.

Energy Transfer Partners of Dallas has proposed building the 30-inch-diameter pipeline, which would initially carry 320,000 barrels of crude oil daily — with a capability for 420,000 barrels. The oil would be transported from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields, where production has been booming, to Patoka, Ill., about 75 miles east of St. Louis, Mo., while passing through South Dakota and Iowa.

$24M ad campaign for Keystone pipeline had little impact: survey

America and Canada are friends. That’s the main message Americans got from phase one of the federal government’s multimillion-dollar advertising campaign to promote Canadian oil in Washington and drum up support for the Keystone XL pipeline.

That’s no surprise to some Washington-based Canada-U.S. relations experts who say the first leg of the campaign was too polite and, well, too Canadian to have any real effect.

Albany County enlists top legal firm for oil train fight

Albany County has hired a high-powered Boston environmental law firm to help with its battle against a Fortune 500 company that’s bringing in millions of gallons of crude oil every day.

The county has placed Mintz Levin on retainer, county attorney Tom Marcelle said. The firm will help with a potential legal battle with Global Partners, which has threatened to sue after the county placed a moratorium on expanding crude-handling facilities at the Port of Albany. Marcelle said Albany County has subpeona power and Mintz Levin could be used to enforce the county’s right to question top Global officials if they withhold information the county is seeking.

Up to 33 Bakken oil trains cross Arkansas weekly

Arkansas emergency officials’ records show that as many as 33 trains carrying Bakken crude oil pass through the state in a given week, each one hauling more than the amount spilled in last year’s Pegasus pipeline spill in Mayflower, according to documents obtained by The Associated Press.

The oil trains do not use a Union Pacific rail line through Hoxie, where two freight trains collided head-on Aug. 17, killing two crew members.

The World’s Most Dangerous Room

Our respirators are on, as are three pairs of gloves secured with tape, two pairs of socks, rubber boots, a hard hat and a hazmat suit that encases our bodies in polyethylene. Ice packs cool our torsos, but photographer Dominic Nahr, reporter Chie Kobayashi and I start sweating. Maybe it’s nerves, or maybe it’s just the sticky humidity of summertime Japan.

Soon we approach the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant—ground zero of the worst atomic meltdown since Chernobyl. Dosimeters around our necks record the rising levels of radiation. After the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami on March 11, 2011, the aging plant on Japan’s northeastern coast suffered a total power failure, causing the cooling system to shut down. Three of the station’s nuclear-­reactor cores overheated, sending plumes of radiation over a placid landscape of fishing villages, rice paddies and dairy farms. (The station has a total of six reactors. Two were in cold shutdown at the time of the accident; another, which had been defueled, suffered an explosion.)

Fukushima Prefecture to accept intermediate storage facility for radioactive waste

Fukushima Prefecture is set to accept the construction of an interim facility to store radioactive waste from cleanup work due to the nuclear disaster, advancing the stalled process of decontaminating the affected areas.

The prefectural government has decided to shoulder the difference between the appraised value of land in Okuma and Futaba, where the structure will be built, and the price it would have fetched before the 2011 accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Fukushima Prefecture aims for agreement from local towns on nuclear waste storage

The Fukushima Prefectural Government is set to allow interim storage facilities for radioactive waste from the Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant disaster to be built in two towns in the prefecture, as long as it can reach a payment deal with them.

Contaminated soil has been sitting at temporary storage sites, getting in the way of decontamination work and recovery efforts. To alleviate this problem, the national government is aiming to have interim storage facilities built and operating from January next year.

Yoshida testimony on Fukushima nuclear accident may be disclosed after all

In an about-turn, the government is weighing full disclosure of testimony about the 2011 nuclear accident given by the late manager of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The government initially insisted that it would not make public the investigative record of Masao Yoshida, who was plant chief at the time of the disaster, citing “Yoshida’s written request submitted asks the state not to disclose them.”

Fukushima Watch: Early Data on Thyroid Cancer Released

A study by researchers in Fukushima prefecture found 57 minors in the prefecture have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer so far and another 46 are showing symptoms that suggest they may also have the disease.

Thyroid cancer can be caused by exposure to radiation, but it’s unclear whether the number is linked to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident in March 2011 because the rate of thyroid cancer in the general population isn’t fully known.

Thyroid cancer diagnosed in 104 young people in Fukushima

The number of young people in Fukushima Prefecture who have been diagnosed with definitive or suspected thyroid gland cancer, a disease often caused by radiation exposure, now totals 104, according to prefectural officials.

The 104 are among 300,000 young people who were aged 18 or under at the time of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster and whose results of thyroid gland tests have been made available as of June 30. They were eligible for the tests administered by the prefectural government.

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

In July, 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.

US sailors prepare for fresh legal challenge over Fukushima radiation

The first time it occurred to James Jackson that there could be lasting damage from his US Navy service during Japan’s tsunami and nuclear disaster came when his eldest son, Darius, was diagnosed with leukaemia.

Darius, now 15, spent a month in hospital in early 2013, soon after his diagnosis. “I thought I was going to have to bury him,” Jackson recalled. The teenager who aspired to play college basketball now has a catheter in his chest and is too frail to run the length of the court.

Major budget cut planned for radiation forecasting tool for nuclear accidents

The Nuclear Regulation Authority is planning a major slash in the budget for a forecasting tool for the spread of radioactive substances that was at the center of a controversy during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

The System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) was designed to help government officials decide early on whether local residents should be evacuated.

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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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