Environmental Must-Reads – August 5, 2014


Santa Barbara County oil-drilling project elicits worries

It’s been 45 years since a calamitous spill off Santa Barbara coated the picturesque coast with oil, killed wildlife and prompted tough new pumping restrictions. But new worries have emerged in Sacramento.

It turns out that there was an exemption in a 1994 law that still allows drilling in a single portion of state-controlled, coastal waters. And a Santa Barbara lawmaker wants to immediately halt any possibility of drilling.

Without full disclosure of accidents and chemicals used, fracking risks remain unknown

The rise of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has ushered in an era of intense drilling that has been called the great shale gas rush. Fracking allows oil and natural gas to be extracted from horizontal wells, thousands of metres below the Earth’s surface. We tried to piece together the environmental impact of the great shale gas rush, and quickly discovered how little is actually known about the effects this booming industry is having on plants and wildlife.

Two Colorado Democrats Reach A Deal On Fracking

Two Colorado Democrats announced a deal Monday over fracking in the state, an agreement that means Rep. Jared Polis will withdraw his support of two ballot initiatives that would curb fracking in the state, while Governor John Hickenlooper will attempt to get a state oil and gas agency to abandon a lawsuit against a city in Colorado that banned fracking.

In Colorado, lines are drawn for an election battle over fracking

When Rep. Jared Polis found that a 100-foot tower and a drilling operation had been built last year across the road from his weekend home, he told his story on YouTube, predicting that by fighting for “sensible regulations” he would become the anti-fracking “poster boy.”

Colorado Deal Would Keep Fracking Off Ballot

A last-minute agreement on Monday between two of Colorado’s top Democrats would keep off the November ballot a pair of anti-fracking measures that some in the party feared would weaken its candidates on Election Day.

Under the deal, Democratic Rep. Jared Polis will drop his support for two ballot initiatives that would limit fracking, even though the congressman has spent millions of dollars of his own money on the effort. The lawmaker instead will support a new plan from Gov. John Hickenlooper to have a commission advise the state legislature on the best ways to address residents’ concerns about oil and natural-gas drilling.

At least 3 witnesses expected to testify at Lupo’s sentencing Tuesday

Tuesday’s sentencing hearing for Ben Lupo for the illegal discharges of oilfield waste into a Mahoning River tributary in Youngstown could feature a lengthy battle of expert witnesses.

Three witnesses have been proposed to testify in the 10 a.m. hearing before U.S. District Court Judge Donald C. Nugent pronounces sentence on Lupo, 64, of Springfield Township, following Lupo’s guilty plea to violating the federal Clean Water Act.

Upstate derailment puts focus on potential dangers

Several times a week trains hauling millions of gallons of ethanol lumber along tracks through the heart of Upstate cities and towns, carrying the flammable gas toward a plant in Belton, where it’s then delivered to gas stations across the Southeast.

But in the dead of night on a recent Friday, something went wrong on the train’s journey.

Demand for Sand Takes Off Thanks to Fracking

Sand prices are rising and companies are racing to build new mines in South Dakota and other locations as demand intensifies for the silica crystals that energy companies use to frack oil and gas wells.

Sand is a key ingredient in items from solar panels to smartphones, but in recent years billions of pounds of it have been poured down wells to help coax more fuel out of the ground. In hydraulic fracturing, sand is mixed in a slurry of water and chemicals, then pumped down a hole to crack open dense rocks so oil and gas can escape to the surface.

Fracking’s Unlikely Opponents: German Breweries

When the Bavarian Purity Law was first declared in 1487, not a single European had stepped on the land above the Marcellus Shale in the Eastern United States. The First Nations of Canada weren’t fighting natural gas pipelines, because as far as natural resources go, the Alberta tar sands were centuries away from being in the picture—as was the internal combustion engine.

Yet the law, the Reinheitsgebot, which strictly dictates the ingredients that can be used in making beer, is giving the powerful German brewing industry historic ammunition against the creeping potential for new natural gas exploration.

Report calls for more intensive research on fracking

Scientists are calling for more research on hydraulic fracturing to study its environmental impact as the use of it as a means to obtain natural gas continue to grow.

That’s according to a report released Monday in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment, written by a team of eight conservation biologists.

Federal regulator calls public response to gas pipeline ‘unprecedented’

Alisa Lykens has been with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for 24 years and says she’s never seen such a big response to a project so early on in the process.

Lykens was at Millersville University in Lancaster County Monday night. It was the first in a series of four meetings hosted by FERC to take public comments on a proposed interstate natural gas pipeline that would go through ten Pennsylvania counties.

Causes of fish skin lesions ruled out, except for BP oil spill, new study says

A team of scientists studying the cause of skin lesions found on fish in the Gulf of Mexico in 2011 and 2012 have been unable to rule out toxic chemicals contained in oil released during the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill as their cause, according to a peer reviewed study released Monday (Aug. 4).

“We can’t say with 100 percent certainty that it was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, but we can say what it wasn’t,” said University of South Florida marine science professor Steven Murawski, principal investigator with the university’s Center for Integrated Modeling and Analysis of Gulf Ecosystems, and who served as the senior science adviser at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration during and immediately after the spill.

State to reopen some waters after 2010 BP oil spill

State wildlife and fisheries regulators say they’re reopening certain state inshore and Gulf of Mexico waters to commercial and recreational fishing that have been closed since the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries said Thursday that the waters will open a half-hour before sunrise on Monday.

Gulf of Mexico dead zone not shrinking as hoped, researchers find

It was with mixed emotions that Nancy Rabalais and other scientists headed to the Gulf of Mexico for the annual mapping of the low-oxygen area known commonly as the “dead zone.”

It was the 30th year Rabalais led the crew to conduct research on the nature and extent of this low-oxygen area, and the team didn’t find much improvement.

Dead zone off Louisiana about at 5-year average

This dead zone — an area off Louisiana where there’s too little oxygen in the Gulf of Mexico to keep sea creatures alive — is about average this year and currently the size of Connecticut, a veteran scientist reported Monday.

The dead zone covered about 5,050 square miles as of Aug. 1, triple the 2015 target set by a task force led by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Nancy Rabalais of Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

The country’s largest environmental group is profiting from oil drilling

Why did the Nature Conservancy, the world’s largest environmental NGO, permit an oil and gas company to drill a well on land it pledged to protect?

The disturbing allegation — verified to the New York Times by the green organization — is revealed in Naomi Klein’s forthcoming book on climate change. In 2007, Klein reveals, the Nature Conservancy allowed the company to drill a well on land that had been set aside to protect the critically endangered Attwater’s prairie chicken, and has since been profiting from the operations. It’s a decision that the group’s framing as the regrettable outcome of a tricky dilemma, but which raises questions about its commitment to conservation.

Crews contain oil spill near Santa Maria

Crews contained a spill after more than 1,200 gallons of oil leaked from a Greka pipeline early Monday morning.

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department responded to a call that came in about 4:45 a.m. at 6780 Palmer Road, just south of Orcutt.

Low-Grade Cotton Collects 50 Times Its Weight in Oil

Scientists at Texas Tech University have discovered that low-grade cotton made into an absorbent nonwoven mat can collect up to 50 times its own weight in oil.

The results strengthen the use of cotton as a natural sorbent for oil, said Seshadri Ramkumar, professor in the Department of Environmental Toxicology at Texas Tech who led the research. The results were published in the American Chemical Society’s journal Industry & Engineering Chemistry Research (see footnote).

Sanctions will thwart Rosneft’s ambitions to join the ranks of oil’s superpowers

THE close bond between Igor Sechin, Rosneft’s boss, and Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, can work both ways. His seat in Mr Putin’s inner circle brings rebuke. Mr Sechin is on an American blacklist, and Rosneft is barred from seeking longer-term finance from American banks, over Russia’s behaviour in Ukraine. But it brings rewards too. This week an international arbitration court ordered Russia’s government to pay $50 billion to shareholders in Yukos, an oil company it destroyed (see article). The case was a reminder that Mr Putin handed most of Yukos’s assets to Rosneft, setting it on the way to becoming the world’s biggest stockmarket-listed oil company by output.

Mapping The Appalling Consequences Of An Oil Spill In The Arctic

The Arctic is the next–and perhaps last–frontier for the oil and gas industry. With up to a fifth of the world’s remaining reserves, it’s the single largest untapped region, and a potential boon for companies struggling to make big finds elsewhere.

The question is whether drilling can be done safely. The industry points to hundreds of deepwater wells that have gone ahead without a hitch. Environmental groups gesture at BP’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill and, before that, the Exxon Valdez disaster. Given the Arctic’s harsh, unpredictable environment, it’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong.

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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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