Environmental Must-Reads – August 26, 2014


Fracking Link to Birth Defects Probed in Early Research

The first research into the effects of oil and gas development on babies born near wells has found potential health risks. Government officials, industry advocates and the researchers themselves say more studies are needed before drawing conclusions.

While the findings are still preliminary, any documented hazards threaten to cast a shadow over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the process of blasting chemicals, sand and water deep underground to extract fuel from rock that’s helped push the U.S. closer to energy self-sufficiency than at any time since 1985.

Fracking boom leaves southwest Miss. with no vacancies for evacuees

The early, uncertain track of what has become Tropical Storm Cristobal opened the eyes of many that peak hurricane season is here.

And if your family evacuation plan includes heading north to Mississippi, emergency officials there are warning about a kink in that plan.

“We encourage anyone that’s fleeing from the south during hurricane season to keeping going north, because we don’t have the facilities here to house them,” said Wilkinson County Emergency Management Director Thomas Tolliver.

Grain Piles Up, Waiting for a Ride, as Trains Move North Dakota Oil

The furious pace of energy exploration in North Dakota is creating a crisis for farmers whose grain shipments have been held up by a vast new movement of oil by rail, leading to millions of dollars in agricultural losses and slower production for breakfast cereal giants like General Mills.

The backlog is only going to get worse, farmers said, as they prepared this week for what is expected to be a record crop of wheat and soybeans.

Eagle Ford flares pollute the air more than oil refineries.

Amber Lyssy used to love driving to her family’s Wilson County farm. “I would roll my windows down and smell the fresh country air,” Lyssy said.

But lately, she’s not sure what she’s breathing as oil wells and natural gas flares from the Eagle Ford Shale boom creep up to the farm’s property line. “The flaring is ridiculous,” Lyssy said.

She and husband Fred raise cattle, lambs, goats and pigs on a 564-acre property owned by Fred’s mother, who has turned down repeated offers from oil and gas companies to drill.

“There’s millions of acres, and they want it all,” Fred Lyssy said.

Top Eagle Ford flaring sites lacked state oversight.

The Railroad Commission of Texas, the agency that oversees the oil and gas industry, says every major source of flaring in the oil patch goes through a permitting process that requires energy companies to explain why natural gas can’t be collected from a well.

Even if a company flares without permission, officials say their computer system automatically catches the violation.

“Our trained staff works closely with operators to ensure compliance with commission rules,” the agency states on a web page it published to address questions about flaring.

Yet in scores of cases in the Eagle Ford Shale, that oversight never happened.

Colorado oil compromise limits voter sway

Jamie Presgrove has watched with trepidation as oil wells encroach on her rural property east of Ault, where pump jacks are becoming new neighbors to Weld County residents accustomed to solitude.

In a few weeks, Presgrove’s sweeping views of Longs Peak will be transformed by a not-uncommon sight in Weld County — a “fortress” built to house equipment for hydraulic fracturing, a controversial oil and gas extraction process that will be used at eight wells drilled about 600 feet from Presgrove’s home.

Oil and gas ‘conversation’ covers health, fracking, water

Health, fracking and water were the main topics of discussion at Saturday afternoon’s “Community Conversations” event held by Colorado Mountain College at the West Garfield County Campus in Rifle.

The keynote speaker was Dr. Patty Limerick, a faculty director and chair of the board of the Center of the American West at the University Colorado and also a history professor.

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.

Fracking Boom Waste: Flares Light Prairie With Unused Natural Gas

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

“In the ’70s we had so many dry holes that you never noticed the flares,” said Wheeler, who worked on an oil rig in the state’s Bakken Basin 40 years ago. “But now every well is productive — and the flares are everywhere.”

Sierra Club explains fracking process

Many residents have heard about fracking, but what do they really know about this process to extract oil and natural gas embedded in underground rock?

The Crossroads Group Sierra Club hopes to educate Livingston County residents about oil and gas drilling at free event Wednesday evening at the Brighton District Library. Crossroads is the county chapter of the Sierra Club.

In the Rockaways, pipeline debate takes a contentious turn

On the night of Sept. 9, 2010, a 30-inch natural gas pipeline buried underneath the city of San Bruno, California, exploded. The fire was so large and the corresponding roar so loud that many residents thought a plane from the nearby San Francisco International Airport had crashed.

The next morning, state Sen. Jerry Hill walked through the Crestmoor neighborhood and surveyed the damage: eight people dead, dozens of houses leveled, an entire neighborhood transformed overnight.

“I have a difficult time talking about it because people died,” Hill says through tears. “The houses were still smoking … I was standing next to automobiles where the tires were just melted off. That’s what began the questioning for me. How could that happen? What went wrong?”

New Texas rules on oil wastewater wells in the works

As the earth beneath an oil field in the northern part of the state continues to rumble with low-magnitude seismic activity, new rules proposed for industry wastewater disposal may help prevent more dangerous earthquakes, a seismologist hired by the state told lawmakers at a hearing on Monday.

“The rules as they exist today were written to protect our groundwater resources,” said the seismologist, Craig Pearson. “Because we’re now dealing with the new seismicity, we’ve got to worry about not just waters moving up, but waters moving out to faults, old, dormant faults, perhaps, and especially those faults that are associated with the basement rock.”

Judge tosses suit claiming BP misled regulators about Gulf platform

Plaintiffs who brought a $256 billion lawsuit against BP have “no facts” to back up their claim that the company misled regulators about the safety of a deep-water production platform, a federal judge has ruled.

In a ruling issued late last week, U.S. District Judge Lynn Hughes in Houston threw out the five-year-old lawsuit and said the plaintiffs will recover nothing from the London oil company, ending a years-long legal conflict that had involved thousands of pages of BP’s internal documents and emails related to the platform’s design.

Oil spill in wildlife area alarms residents

Herbert Rousey and his wife were taking pictures of wildlife out at the Lexington Wildlife Management Area when they stumbled across something alarming.

“I thought it was terrible to think that would go on anywhere much less on public lands,” said Rousey.

Rousey was looking at a well site that was leaking oil.

He says it appeared it had been going on for some time.

3,000 barrels of brine spilled on reservation

A pipeline near the town of Mandaree on North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation leaked 3,000 barrels of brine, state agencies confirmed Monday in the second such incident at the reservation by the same company in as many months.

The North Dakota Industrial Commission and the state Department of Health said the pipeline is operated by Arrow Water LLC, a subsidiary of Houston-based Crestwood Midstream Partners LP. The leak was discovered late Friday.

Monitoring of Ohio River continues after oil spill

Cleanup of thousands of gallons of fuel oil spilled into the Ohio River from a power plant last week is mostly complete, and monitoring for any residual problems continues.

An estimated 9,000 gallons of oil spilled Aug. 18 at a Duke Energy power plant in New Richmond, about 20 miles southeast of Cincinnati. Earlier estimates were around 3,000 to 5,000 gallons.

USCG proposes higher offshore oil spill liability limits

The US Coast Guard proposed higher offshore oil spill liability limits under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act to reflect significant increases in the Consumer Price Index.

The Aug. 19 Federal Register notice also proposed a simplified procedure for the US Department of Homeland Security agency to make future periodic CPI liability limit increases for vessels, deepwater ports, and onshore facilities.

Protesters lock themselves to oil pipeline truck

A group that opposes expanding an underground oil pipeline in Michigan says two of its members are in custody after locking themselves to a truck belonging to a company involved with the project.

The Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands says the men used bicycle U-locks on Monday to attach themselves by the neck to a truck at a Precision Pipeline storage yard in the Oakland County village of Oxford.

Huge Ponds Hold Tar Sands Sludge, And Great Risks

On August 4, 2014, the catastrophic failure of a mining company’s dam in British Columbia, Canada, released over 2.5 billion gallons of contaminated water from a containment pond into the upper Faser River watershed. Only a few hundred miles east in Alberta, at least half a dozen dams containing the wastewater from the tar sands mining industry hold more than 100 times the volume of the British Columbia release and span over 43,000 acres of Canada’s boreal forest. A breach from any one of these mine-tailings ponds would pose enormous risks to local communities and the surrounding boreal forest ecosystem.

Keystone XL Pipeline: Enbridge Inc. To Pump More Canadian Oil To United States Amid Obama’s Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Delay

Enbridge Inc. (NYSE:ENB) is steadily advancing plans to build a pipeline network akin to the Keystone XL. The Calgary company is progressing on at least two projects that will help it move more Canadian tar sands oil to the U.S. Gulf Coast, recently revealed documents and a federal ruling last week indicate.

In one project, Enbridge is proposing to switch crude oil from one pipeline to another before it crosses into the United States — a move that enables the company to circumvent a lengthy federal permitting process. Environmental groups first learned about the plan, which wasn’t previously publicized, after the U.S. State Department released documents related to the crude switch. The organizations, including the National Wildlife Federation and Sierra Club, flagged the plans to the media Thursday.

Keystone XL pipeline stances are key in tight race for Nebraska governor

When it comes to the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, Nebraska’s two gubernatorial candidates would have to search long and hard to find common ground.

Republican Pete Ricketts and Democrat Chuck Hassebrook hold polar opposite views on whether or not the pipeline should be built: Ricketts is a yes, Hassebrook a no.

Enbridge case reflects broader effort to fast-track pipelines

As recently as two or three years ago, major cross-country pipelines typically did not begin construction until a federal environmental impact statement had been completed and found them acceptable.

But as demonstrated last week, the times have changed.

Understanding Enbridge’s Oil Sands Pipeline Tactic From Canada

A pipeline company intends to connect two pipelines in order to add more than 300,000 barrels per day of capacity to cross into the United States from Canada without waiting for the kind of permit that has hampered the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Citing a delay for a presidential permit and demand for getting tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to refiners, Enbridge Inc. indicated that it intends to increase capacity on its Alberta Clipper-Line 67 pipeline by swapping oil with a parallel Line 3, which carries light crude oil and runs at reduced capacity because of pressure restrictions on the decades-old line. The interconnections will allow Enbridge to add 75,000 barrels per day of capacity this year and a total of 800,000 barrels per day by mid-2015.

Fukushima suicide victim’s family wins damages

The family of a Japanese woman who fatally set herself on fire after being forced to flee the nuclear disaster at Fukushima has been awarded nearly £285,000 in damages, according to reports.

It was the first time that the operator of the stricken plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), has been ordered to pay compensation for a suicide linked to the 2011 nuclear disaster.

In a first, Japanese court rules that nuclear plant operator is liable for suicide

A court in Fukushima has ruled that Tokyo Electric Power Co., the Japanese nuclear power plant operator, can be held responsible for the suicide of a woman who became depressed after the 2011 disaster.

The court ordered Tepco to pay $470,000 to Mikio Watanabe and his children, after their 58-year-old wife and mother, Hamako, killed herself a few months after nuclear meltdown that followed the earthquake and tsunami forced them out of their home and destroyed their livelihoods.

Fukushima’s high number of disaster-related suicides likely due to nuclear crisis: Cabinet Office

The number of suicides in Fukushima Prefecture linked to 3/11 is higher than elsewhere, most likely because of the nuclear disaster, according to the Cabinet Office.

Ministry to seek ¥8.1 billion to study Fukushima No. 1 reactor dismantlement

The education and science ministry plans to file an ¥8.1 billion budget request for research related to dismantlement of reactors at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Fukushima groundwater bypass operation ineffective: Tepco

A groundwater bypassing operation at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has yet to produce significant results in preventing groundwater from flowing into the basements of reactor buildings, Tokyo Electric Power Co. said.

By last Thursday, about three months after the effort was launched, a total of around 25,000 tons of water had been pumped from underground and released into the sea.

Thyroid Cancer in Young People Surge in Fukushima Since Nuclear Meltdown

The impact of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear reactor meltdown on the region’s young people is starting to add up.

104 of the area’s 300,000 young people who were under 18 at the time of the disaster have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, Japanese newspaper The Asahi Shinbun reported yesterday. This form of cancer has been linked to radiation exposure.

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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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