Environmental Must-Reads – August 8, 2013


As N.Y. fracking ban drags on, leading energy company backs out

In a possible sign that New York State won’t be allowing fracking anytime soon, drilling giant Chesapeake Energy reportedly has abandoned its fight to retain land leases in portions of the state sitting atop vast natural gas reserves.

New Tools Pinpoint Natural Gas Leaks, Maximizing a Fuel’s Green Qualities

Natural gas is hailed as green and safe, but its environmental benefits and ability to temper climate change are reduced by its tendency to leak into the air undetected. Now, laser technology, some of it borrowed from the telecommunications industry, is giving engineers and scientists crucial new tools to measure leaks and track them to their source.

California’s Fracking Regulatory Bill

A year after buying his dream home in Los Angeles, Gary Gless started falling down and breaking bones.

Fourteen years and one thousand doctors visits later, his neuromuscular disorder hasn’t been specifically diagnosed. He survives on painkillers and sleep aids.

Gless’s backyard overlooks the Inglewood Oil Field, the largest urban oil field in the nation. Within the field, gas companies have been secretly fracking in the middle of this community of 300,000 residents for nine years.

City Council To Weigh Stance On Tougher Fracking Regulations

Members of the Los Angeles City Council are expected to consider a resolution calling for tougher regulations on local fracking activities when they return from recess next week.

Bridge Or Gangplank? Study Finds Methane Leakage From Gas Fields High Enough To Gut Climate Benefit

Natural gas is “a bridge to a world with high CO2 Levels,” climatologist Ken Caldeira told me last year.

A major new study in Geophysical Research Letters by 19 researchers — primarily from NOAA and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) — suggests natural gas may be more of gangplank than a bridge.

Huge amounts of methane are leaking from a Utah gas field

A Utah gas field, researchers  from the University of Colorado, Boulder, the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found, is emitting methane at a rate of 6.2 to 11.7 percent, vastly overshooting the EPA’s estimate of .88 percent.

Victory in Fracking Wastewater Fight in PA

If not for the effort of Clean Water Action and Earthjustice, a wastewater treatment plant in southwestern Pennsylvania might have spent each day of the past three years dumping up to 500,000 gallons of untreated natural gas drilling wastewater into the Monongahela River.

EPA Wants To Allow Continued Wastewater Dumping In Wyoming

The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to let oil companies continue to dump polluted wastewater on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. This includes chemicals that companies add to the wells during hydraulic fracturing, an engineering practice that makes wells produce more oil.

Follow the Fracking Money All the Way to Keystone XL Conflicts of Interest

Most don’t think of hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, when pondering the future of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline—but they should.

There are numerous ties between key members of the fracking industry and groups pushing for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. And these threads all lead back, one way or another, to Environmental Resources Management, Inc. (ERM).

The Ocean Frackers

Some may consider California to be a “green” state and the “environmental leader” of the nation, but that delusion is quickly dispelled once one actually looks at who spends the most on lobbying in California – the oil industry.

Boomtown On The Great Barrier Reef: How Fossil Fuels Turned A Sleepy Australian Community Upside Down

There aren’t many cruises that feature a dolphin swimming with her calf, 4.5 million tons of coal stockpiles, the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, the world’s highest concentration of bulldozers, and the construction of three liquefied natural gas (LNG) plants. But in Gladstone, Queensland, midway up Australia’s east coast, this is just another free industry sponsored harbor cruise. Meant to acquaint the community with the large-scale development taking place on nearby Curtis Island, the second-largest island in the Great Barrier Reef, the tour brings together locals, tourists, at least one journalist, and industry professionals from the gas companies — noticeable by their neon work shirts — every few months for two hours together on a slow moving vessel.

This Sinkhole Sucked Down 11 Barges Like They Were Rubber Duckies

Virlie Langlinais was at her Louisiana home on Lake Peigneur when she saw the swirling vortex. “It was like watching a science fiction movie with tug boats and rigs and everything going on,” she recalls from the comfort of her friend’s porch some three decades later, a faint breeze licking off the water below. “Like watching a little ducky in a bathtub going down the drain.” Now she and her husband, Noicy, live in fear that it might happen again.

Lake Peigneur, the site of one of the state’s most spectacular industrial disasters in 1980, kept coming up in my conversations with residents of Bayou Corne, the Cajun community in south Louisiana that has been evacuated for more than a year due to a massive, mining-induced sinkhole that now spans 24 acres—and is still growing.

300 gallons of tar balls, patties plucked from a 20-mile stretch of South Texas coastline

About 300 gallons of tar balls and patties have been plucked from a 20-mile stretch of South Texas coastline, including parts of Padre Island National Seashore to Port Aransas, Coast Guard officials said.

BP’s Robert Dudley on the Gulf Oil Spill’s Legal Aftermath

After the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, BP (BP) said it wanted to clean up the mess, pay what it owed, and get on with business. Three years later, you’re at war with plaintiffs’ lawyers. What happened?

BP to pay $130M fee for oil spill injuries, judge rules

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that BP must pay $130 million to a court administrator to disburse among those who claimed they were injured from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP is ordered to pay $130 million — and more — to run oil spill claims center

A federal magistrate on Wednesday ordered BP to pay more than $130 million in fees to the court-supervised administrator of its multibillion-dollar settlement with Gulf Coast businesses and residents after the company’s 2010 oil spill.

The Koh Samet Oil Spill is Just the Latest Tourism Disaster to Hit Thailand

Clean up is currently underway on Koh Samet, as volunteers attempt to scrub away some of the oil that has besmirched the Thai island’s famed pearl-white beaches. Some 50,000 liters of crude leaked into the picturesque Thai Gulf on July 27, according to contrite oil giant PTT Global Chemical, with a large amount drifting over to the popular tourist destination. But despite reports of horrified vacationers fleeing in droves and a disastrous effect on nation’s hospitality industry, in truth the current predicament is just one of a number of tourism calamities Thailand has suffered in recent years. And if the past is anything to go by, it will survive this one as it has survived the others.

Fishermen want ‘fair’ oil spill damages

Fishermen have written to PTT Plc asking the company to clearly outline its plans to compensate locals affected by the oil leak from an offshore pipeline in Rayong province operated by its subsidiary PTT Global Chemical Plc.

Corals, marine life destroyed in oil-spill areas

The state marine-watch agency has found that some coral reefs in the oil-slick-affected Ao Phrao area of Koh Samet have been killed off by bleaching, and some marine life had been reduced by up to 20 per cent.

The team’s report was released by the Marine and Coastal Resources Depart-ment director-general Noppon Srisuk

Enbridge Begins Oil Spill Dredging

Enbridge’s dredging project is under construction on the Kalamazoo River.

The company is following an EPA mandated order that they remove more contaminated sediment from certain areas of the river.

Louisiana residents fleeing giant sinkhole sue Houston-based company

Louisiana residents who were forced to move out of their homes because of a giant, growing sinkhole have filed a federal class action lawsuit against a Houston-based company.

The suit filed Aug. 2 in U.S. District Court in the Eastern District of Louisiana lists 30 individuals as plaintiffs and names Texas Brine Co. and Occidental Chemical Corp. as defendants.

TransCanada to Face Hurdles in Quest for Eastern Pipeline

TransCanada Corp., (TRP) facing opposition to its Keystone XL pipeline in the midwestern U.S., is encountering challenges at home from environmental groups and provincial lawmakers over a proposed C$12 billion ($11.6 billion) line to ship oil to the Atlantic Coast.

Critics say review of Keystone XL pipeline is ‘tainted’

Pipeline company TransCanada said there is no potential conflict of interest in a U.S. assessment of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Environmental campaigner Friends of Earth and watchdog group The Checks and Balances Project allege Environmental Resources Management, a company based in London, has ties to TransCanada by way of a joint venture with Exxon Mobil working on an Alaskan natural gas pipeline.

After Airing Pro-Keystone XL Ads, NBC Station Rejects Ad Opposing The Pipeline

NBC has rejected an ad opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, despite running ads in favor of its construction. The climate group NextGen Climate Action says it was notified at the last minute Tuesday night that a Washington, D.C. NBC station rejected its ad, submitted for President Obama’s appearance on the Tonight Show. A representative for the group suggested that the station may have bowed to oil corporate pressure in rejecting the ad and challenged the station to disavow that polluter interests played a role in the decision.

Keystone Light: The Keystone XL Alternative You’ve Never Heard of Is Probably Going to Be Built

Last week, the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from the Alberta tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico, hit another snag: The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General said that it is investigating a possible conflict-of-interest issue in the project’s environmental impact study. The inspector general is probing whether the company that produced the environmental impact study, Environmental Resource Management (ERM), failed to disclose its past working relationship with TransCanada, the company building the pipeline.* But while Keystone XL languishes, a rival pipeline plan is speeding through the approval process.

Quebec Oil-Train Disaster Spurs Railroad to File for Bankruptcy

Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway Ltd., the operator of the runaway oil train that exploded and killed 47 people in a Quebec town, said it was forced to file for bankruptcy because of potential liability from the crash.

Lawyer Who Beat Chevron in Ecuador Faces Trial of His Own

Steven R. Donziger — environmental hero or charlatan, depending on whom you talk to — is one of the toughest lawyers around, or slightly crazy.

Possibly both.

For the last two decades Mr. Donziger has been battling the Chevron Corporation over an environmental disaster that happened in the jungles of Ecuador. Two years ago, he won an $18 billion case against the oil giant, the kind of victory that most lawyers can only dream of.

But Chevron has yet to pay a penny of the award, and has turned the tables on him. Now, he is defending himself against a Chevron lawsuit charging that he masterminded a conspiracy to extort and defraud the corporation. The trial is scheduled for October.

Daring Aerial Blockade Halts Tar Sands Pipeline Construction in Michigan

Today, Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI-CATS) took direct action in the Crane Pond State Game Area to halt expansion of Canadian corporation Enbridge Energy’s tar sands pipeline 6B. Enbridge’s claim that they have restored the Kalamazoo River after the 2010 spill holds no merit, nor does it justify expanding the pipeline. Tar sands cannot be cleaned up; this material is thick and heavy, it sinks in water and clings to surfaces. Expanding the pipeline increases the risk of another disaster for all of life and future generations.

Native Americans Arrested While Protesting Tar Sands Equipment Transport Through Tribal Lands

Hundreds of Native American protesters and environmentalists created a human barrier on Tuesday, meant to block shipments of oil extraction equipment on its way through tribal lands to the tar sands in Alberta, Canada. Police cleared passage for the trucks by arresting 20 protesters.

Court Upholds Shell’s Arctic Oil Spill Plans Despite Scientific Warnings

It’s pretty safe to say that the Arctic is under pressure like never before. Climate change is warming it faster than any other part of our planet. Sea ice is shrinking. The way of life of Indigenous Peoples is seriously threatened and animal habitats are vanishing. Oil companies eye a polar bonanza while hulking fishing fleets are edging ever northwards.

Japan ponders freezing Fukushima ground to stop leaks

Japan’s prime minister Thursday ordered his government to find “multiple, speedy and sure” ways to stop the spread of radioactive groundwater around the meltdown-stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, including freezing the surrounding ground.

Abe Joins Greenpeace in Signal Tepco Not Up to Cleanup

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made an unlikely companion with environment protection campaigner Greenpeace as both indicated Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) isn’t up to the task of containing the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Fukushima: Not enough knowledge for solution yet

Two years since the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Japanese authorities and specialists are presented with a new challenge of radioactive water leakage, leaving them stumped as to what a long-term solution might look like.

Fukushima leaks will keep fisheries closed

Over two years after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan was devastated by a tsunami, radioactive water is still leaking into the ocean, spelling more trouble for the local fishing industry along the coast of Fukushima prefecture.

Last month the plant’s owner, Tepco, finally admitted what many had suspected – that the plant was leaking. Now Japan’s Nuclear Regulatory Authority is calling the situation an emergency, and says Tepco’s plans to stop the leak are unlikely to work.

Japan’s Forgotten Fukushima Disaster Is Still Very Serious

Two and a half years after an earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, their government revealed today that massive amounts of radioactive water have been leaking into the Pacific Ocean over the last few years.

Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Leak: What You Should Know

Tensions are rising in Japan over radioactive water leaking into the Pacific Ocean from Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, a breach that has defied the plant operator’s effort to gain control.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Wednesday called the matter “an urgent issue” and ordered the government to step in and help in the clean-up, following an admission by Tokyo Electric Power Company that water is seeping past an underground barrier it attempted to create in the soil. The head of a Nuclear Regulatory Authority task force told Reuters the situation was an “emergency.”

Japan Stepping In to Help Clean Up Atomic Plant

First, a rat gnawed through exposed wiring, setting off a scramble to end yet another blackout of vital cooling systems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Then, hastily built pits for a flood of contaminated water sprang leaks themselves. Now, a new rush of radioactive water has breached a barrier built to stop it, allowing heavily contaminated water to spill daily into the Pacific.

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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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