Environmental Must-Reads – August 5, 2015


Oklahoma regulators impose water injection cut to stem earthquakes

Oklahoma regulators are imposing new restrictions on energy companies injecting wastewater underground, in the latest effort to stem a sharp increase in earthquakes.

The new rules, announced by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission on Monday evening, require operators in parts of two Oklahoma counties to reduce the amount of saltwater they inject underground by 38 percent from current levels in the next 60 days. The reduction will bring injected volumes to about 2.4 million barrels below those in 2012, when the most dramatic spike in the area earthquakes began.

Fracking sites might be leakier than we thought

I’ve got good news and bad news. The good news is, this story is about a man named Touché. The bad news is, Touché thinks we could be drastically underestimating the amount of methane that leaks out of industrial fracking operations.

Of course, a lot of people think a lot of things. But Touché Howard is different. He’s a semiretired gas industry consultant who also happens to be the patent holder on the very measuring device that he thinks could be malfunctioning. Here’s the gist from The New York Times

Florida Fracking Debate Bubbles Up Again

Representative Evan Jenne is picking up the anti-fracking banner again, but this time with a breeze at his back. The Dania Beach Democrat is re-filing his fracking ban bill at a time when the industry is buffeted by local and national trends.

The controversial oil and gas drilling technique involves pumping fluids and chemicals at high pressure deep underground to break up rock formations. Jenne and others say it threatens underground water supplies, and that’s bad for tourism.

“You know, I don’t expect there to be Disney’s Wonderful World of Fracking any time soon.”

Fracking offers mixed fortunes for West Virginia

West Virginia, one of America’s most rural states, has become a key testing ground for fracking.

With more than 59,000 wells, it has embraced the controversial method of extracting shale gas on an enormous scale – but it has caused major divisions locally.

Some say it has thrown them an economic lifeline, with jobs being created and land owners making serious money.

Anti-fracking activists implore Wrightstown supervisors to reject proposed ordinance and keep oil, gas drilling out of township

More than 60 area residents attended the Aug. 3 township supervisors meeting asking that the township not allow oil and natural gas drilling within its borders, especially on land currently being used by the quarries.

But completely barring companies from drilling, as the opponents want, would violate land-use rights and could be challenged in court, Supervisor Chairman Chester Pogonowski warned.

“The [state] Supreme Court allows municipalities to decide where to put them, but we can’t ban them outright,” he explained.

Public support for UK nuclear and shale gas falls to new low

British public support for nuclear power and shale gas has fallen to its lowest ever level in a long-running official government survey, which has also briefly ceased polling showing widespread public support for renewable energy.

Nuclear and fracking for shale gas are key planks of the Conservative government’s energy policy, but the polling published on Tuesday shows just one in five people now support shale gas and one in three support nuclear.

Government sources warned last week that fracking plans could be delayed for 16 months after Lancashire county council rejected applications by shale gas company Cuadrilla to drill and frack wells in Fylde.

A second US-backed energy pipeline has been attacked, this time in Turkey

A bomb blast in Turkey today (Aug. 4) damaged a pipeline that takes natural gas to Turkey from a BP-operated field in Azerbaijan. No one was reported injured, but the explosion has again undermined Washington’s energy pipeline strategy to weaken Russia’s hold on its neighbors.

The damaged pipeline (the gold line on the map below) is one of three US-backed pipelines—all of them starting in Baku—that together have provided Azerbaijan a chance to be economically and politically independent of Russia. The bomb went off in the Sarikamis district of northeastern Kars province, about 93 miles east of the pipeline’s termination point in the Turkish city of Erzurum, Turkish officials said. Less than a month earlier, on July 13, Russia took possession of a 1-mile section of another of the lines—a BP-operated oil pipeline running from Baku to the Georgian city of Supsa, on the Black Sea (the red line on the map).

New York Leaders Seek Review of Spectra Gas Pipeline Expansion

New York policy makers called for a new review on Tuesday of Spectra Energy Corp.’s Algonquin pipeline expansion, saying federal regulators failed to properly assess the risks before the project was approved.

New York state assemblymen David Buchwald and Sandy Galef, both Democrats, said in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that Spectra’s proposal to increase capacity on the gas line wasn’t “properly vetted” by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission. They requested an independent risk analysis.

South Texas pipeline explosion injures 2

Authorities say the explosion of a natural gas pipeline near the small South Texas town of Falfurrias injured two people and prompted the evacuation about 150 homes.

An official with the Brooks County sheriff’s office said the explosion occurred Monday night near Falfurrias, a town of about 5,000 located about 80 miles southwest of Corpus Christi. The families were allowed to return home about five hours after the explosion.

Mexico pipeline boom fueled by Texas drillers

Never mind Mexico’s oil reform. These days, the action is in natural gas.

Since last year, when new laws made it easier for foreign companies to export gas to Mexico, there’s been more than $10 billion of planned or completed pipeline investments announced by companies such as Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners LP. On Monday, Juno Beach, Florida-based NextEra Energy Partners LP agreed to a $2.1 billion acquisition of closely-held NET Midstream, owner of seven pipelines including a 120-mi stretch that runs from Texas to the Mexican border.

US raises concerns on pipeline through Va., W.Va. forests

The U.S. Forest Service has hundreds of concerns and comments on the prospect of a pipeline carrying natural gas through national forests in Virginia and West Virginia.

The comments by Forest Supervisor H. Thomas Speaks Jr. are addressed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in response to filings by the builders of the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The pipeline would transport fracked natural gas from West Virginia, through Virginia and into North Carolina.

Senator Bill Nelson Voicing Concerns Over BP Oil Spill Settlement

Florida Senator Bill Nelson is sharing some concerns about the BP oil spill settlement.

Last month, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch agreed in principle on a settlement with BP. Senator Nelson wrote a letter to Lynch saying the settlement should face public comment before being finalized.

Refugio oil spill culvert

It’s the spot where thousands of gallons of crude oil went over the cliff face and onto the beach: Section five. Also known as the culvert, the area has been closed for cleanup for more than two months.

“This is the area we’ve been working the hardest and longest on and the place hit hardest by the spill,” California State Parks superintendent Eric Hjelstrom said.

Oil Spill in Donna

A traffic alert was issued north of Donna. A portion of FM 493 or Salinas Boulevard is closed near the Mile 16 North area.

The area was closed, because a big rig spilled oil along the roadway. Officials said the spill is about a mile-and-half long.

Fresh Oil Spill Hits Nembe River In Bayelsa State

A large crude oil spillage from a wellhead owned by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) yesterday triggered apprehension among the nearby fishing settlements and camps in Nembe communities in Nembe Local Government Area of Bayelsa State.

The spillage, which occurred at a fishing settlement known as Jalingo on Monday night, has spread to the waters and creeks of the communities.

A fisherman identified as Seifagh reported that the waters along the Jalingo area have a massive “oil float” on the waters.

Enbridge and EPA Agree to 6-Month Extension for Penalties on 2010 Spill

Enbridge, Inc. and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to a six-month extension on fines the company expects will be imposed as punishment for a 2010 pipeline rupture that sent more than one million gallons of oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River. The fines are expected to be the largest ever for a oil pipeline spill, perhaps as much as $100 million.

The new deadline came  as part of negotiations between the company and federal officials as they reached the five-year statute of limitations on July 25 for imposition of fines.

PUC sets outline for MN Sandpiper pipeline route process

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission on Monday released expected guidelines for the process for approving a route for Enbridge Energy’s proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline.

The order will require the Minnesota Department of Commerce to study the cumulative environmental impact of locating two new pipelines in one new corridor — the Sandpiper line and the so-called Line 3 replacement — as the company has proposed.

Exxon pipeline reversal moving Texas crude to Louisiana

Exxon Mobil Corp has reversed part of an oil pipeline from northeastern Texas to northern Louisiana in the first step of a bigger plan to link Permian Basin output to Louisiana refineries.

Exxon last month reversed a 71-mile (114 km) segment of its North Line pipeline from Longview, Texas, to Shreveport and Finney in northern Louisiana, the company said on Tuesday.

Ecuador spied on Amazon oil plan opponents, leaked papers suggest

Ecuadorian spies may have broken the law by obtaining personal information on MPs, environmentalists, indigenous groups, human rights activists, academics and political opponents of president Rafael Correa who opposed the exploitation of oil from an Amazonian wilderness, according to leaked papers.

Nearly 200 pages of internal documents that appear to be from Ecuador’s spy agency, the Secretaría Nacional de Inteligencia, seen by the Guardian, show that information was collected between 2010 and 2013 about bank accounts, debts, the value of people’s cars, foreign travel and partners.

Detergent firm fined over spill that killed 5,000 fish in Tolka

The Green Party has welcomed the conviction of a company for pollution that killed 5,000 fish in Dublin’s river Tolka in July last year.

Alma Hygiene Ltd appeared at Dublin District Court last week in a prosecution taken by Inland Fisheries Ireland (IFI).

It was fined €250 and ordered to pay legal costs of over €34,000 after admitting it leaked detergent into the river.

During the case, details of which emerged yesterday, the court heard a spillage of concentrated detergent at the firm’s premises on Bannow Road, Cabra, caused a leak into a storm drain at Finglas Road Bridge on July 22nd and 23rd, 2014.

Inside Shell’s Extreme Plan to Drill for Oil in the Arctic

In a windowless conference room in Anchorage, a dozen Royal Dutch Shell employees report on the highest-profile oil project in the multinational’s vast global portfolio. Warmed by mid-July temperatures, Arctic ice in the Chukchi Sea, northwest of the Alaskan mainland, is receding. Storms are easing; helicopter flights will soon resume. Underwater volcanoes—yes, volcanoes—are dormant. “That’s good news for us,” Ann Pickard, Shell’s top executive for the Arctic, whispers to a visitor.

Overhead, a bank of video monitors displays blinking green radar images of an armada of Shell vessels converging on a prospect called Burger J. Company geologists believe that beneath Burger J—70 miles offshore and 800 miles from the Anchorage command center—lie up to 15 billion barrels of oil. An additional 11 billion barrels are thought to be buried due east under the Beaufort Sea. All told, Arctic waters cover about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum, or enough to supply the U.S. for more than a decade, according to government estimates.

Russia Stakes New Claim to Expanse in the Arctic

Russia formally staked a claim on Tuesday to a vast area of the Arctic Ocean, including the North Pole.

If the United Nations committee that arbitrates sea boundaries accepts Russia’s claim, the waters will be subject to Moscow’s oversight on economic matters, including fishing and oil and gas drilling, though Russia will not have full sovereignty.

Under a 1982 United Nations convention, the Law of the Sea, a nation may claim an exclusive economic zone over the continental shelf abutting its shores. If the shelf extends far out to sea, so can the boundaries of the zone. The claim Russia lodged on Tuesday contends that the shelf extends far north of the Eurasian land mass, out under the planet’s northern ice cap.

TEPCO executives are going on trial for the Fukushima meltdown

A Japanese citizens’ judicial committee has overruled government prosecutors and forced them to bring three former executives of the Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) to trial on charges of criminal negligence for their inability to prevent the 2011 nuclear disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. But it appears unlikely that the defendants can be convicted.

The decision by the panel of 22 anonymous citizens, was reached July 17 but not announced until July 31. It overrules two previous decisions by the Tokyo prosecutors not to indict the former executives. The defendants are Tsunehisa Katsumata, 75, chairman of Tokyo Electric Power Co. at the time of the crisis, along with Sakae Muto, 65, and Ichiro Takekuro, 69, who were then vice presidents of the utility.

Worker Dies at Disabled Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

A 30 year-old man died this weekend as he worked on decommissioning Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, which was devastated in the 2011 Tohoku tsunami, in which 20,000 died or were reported missing.

It is not yet known whether the man’s death was due to radiation exposure, and an autopsy is pending.

The Fukushima Daiichi plant suffered a series of meltdowns in 2011 during a massive earthquake and tsunami off the coast of Japan. The quake knocked out the plant’s cooling systems, causing meltdowns in the plant’s reactors and a radioactive leak that triggered the evacuation of thousands of people in the area.

Calculation error prompts concern of radiation release at nuclear waste repository

The federal government’s nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico says a calculation error prompted short-lived concerns of a radiation release.

Officials at the troubled Waste Isolation Pilot Plant activated their emergency center Sunday night in response to elevated radiological readings.

The agency said that there was no indication of a radiation release underground or anything leaving the site. Plant workers were directed to shelter in place and people in the area were notified.

Brazilian Hiroshima survivors campaign against new push for nuclear power

Seventy years on and more than 10,000 miles away, a group of atomic bombing survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki are campaigning for a nuclear-free world in their adopted home of Brazil.

Despite their advanced age – some are in their 90s – they have stepped up their activities this year both to mark the anniversary of the US attacks, and to oppose the Brazilian government’s plans to more than double nuclear power generation.

The survivors – known in Japanese as hibakusha – were among a wave of 20th-century migrants who moved across the world in search of a better life. There are now believed to be more than 1.5 million people of Japanese descent in Brazil – the biggest diaspora in the world.

Deal to build UK nuclear plant should be finalised within weeks

A £25bn contract to build the UK’s first new nuclear power plant in 25 years is expected to be signed within weeks.

Ministers in the Department of Energy and Climate Change have reached an agreement with the French energy company EDF to develop Hinkley Point C, near Bridgwater in Somerset, and are ready to approve the project after parliament’s summer recess.

The Guardian understands that David Cameron and China’s president, Xi Jinping, are expected to sign the deal at a meeting in the UK in October.

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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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