Environmental Must-Reads – December 1, 2014


Russian Money Suspected Behind Fracking Protests

Vlasa Mircia, the mayor of this destitute village in eastern Romania, thought he had struck it rich when the American energy giant Chevron showed up here last year and leased a plot of land he owned for exploratory shale gas drilling.

But the encounter between big business and rural Romania quickly turned into a nightmare. The village became a magnet for activists from across the country opposed to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Violent clashes broke out between the police and protesters. The mayor, one of the few locals who sided openly with Chevron, was run out of town, reviled as a corrupt sellout in what activists presented as a David versus Goliath struggle between impoverished farmers and corporate America.

Texas Towns Test Oil and Gas Supremacy on Fracking

A Texas hamlet shaken by its first recorded earthquake last year and hundreds since then is among communities now taking steps to challenge the oil and gas industry’s traditional supremacy over the right to frack.

Reno Mayor Lyndamyrth Stokes said spooked residents started calling last November: “I heard a boom, then crack! The whole house shook. What was that?” one caller asked. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that Reno, a community about 50 miles west of Dallas, had its first earthquake

Attorneys to help Denton residents defend fracking ban

The fracking vote in Denton is over, but that doesn’t mean that the Denton Drilling Awareness Group is done.

Cathy McMullen, leader of the grassroots group that successfully pushed for the city ban on hydraulic fracturing, said the group plans to be an intervenor in lawsuits filed to challenge the ban passed by voters Nov. 4. She said the group will be helped by attorneys with various areas of expertise, something they plan to announce this week.

Earthquakes in states other than California more common than assumed

When the ground started to shake in Helena, Mont., on Oct. 3, 1935, stunned residents called the local newspaper to ask what had happened.

” ‘Any report of an earthquake in San Francisco?’ an elderly voice queried, apparently believing that Frisco is the distributing point for all quakes in the country,” the Helena Independent reported.

Other Americans might be forgiven for believing the same thing. But quakes outside California in the Lower 48 are more common than many people probably assume, and in recent years there have been lots of shaking in states better known for blizzards and tornadoes than temblors.

Election win puts rural San Benito County on anti-fracking map

If you were plotting the epicenter of a daring trend or gathering the vanguard for a revolutionary charge, San Benito County might not be the first place you’d start.

One of the state’s smallest counties, it’s a retro snapshot of turn-of-the-century rural California: agrarian, stoic, striving.

But after a stunning election victory, residents of this farming region find themselves on the sharp edge of a growing movement to ban hydraulic fracturing via local voter initiatives.

Greene County wells show 7.2 million gallons of potentially toxic fluid

That’s the estimated number of gallons of kerosene, a variety of toxic diesel fuel, being legally used in fracking fluid in Greene County, according to chemical disclosure registry FracFocus.

Compared to Fayette County, which saw the use of 230,171 of the same chemical over three years, Greene County’s figure is staggering.

Other Texas towns join Denton in challenging fracking

A Texas hamlet shaken by its first recorded earthquake last year and hundreds since then is among communities now taking steps to challenge the oil and gas industry’s traditional supremacy over the right to frack.

Reno Mayor Lyndamyrth Stokes said spooked residents started calling last November: “I heard a boom, then crack! The whole house shook. What was that?” one caller asked. The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed that Reno, a community about 50 miles west of Dallas near Paris, had its first earthquake.

Fracking could be as damaging as thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos, government’s Chief Scientific Adviser warns in new report

Fracking has the potential to be as controversial and as damaging as thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos, a report from the government’s Chief Scientific Adviser warns.

The technology has been developed to help oil companies extract gas trapped in shale rock but, the report fears, it could prove to be another innovation that takes society in the wrong direction.

Report: Several Wisconsin frac sand companies have violations, ethical breaches

More than 40 percent of frac sand companies currently operating in Wisconsin have seriously violated Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources regulations, according to a recent report by the Land Stewardship Project.

The report examined data from the DNR and media reports and was conducted by a Minnesota-based non-profit working toward sustainable agriculture and stewardship of farmland.

Conservation group calls for review of oil regulations

A conservation group is calling for a review of the state’s enforcement of regulations of the oil and gas industry.

On Friday, the Dakota Resource Council called for the formation of a legislative committee to investigate the relationship between regulators and industry and for a performance audit of the North Dakota Department of Health, alleging a failed regulatory response to illegal dumping of radioactive filter socks.

Oil drilling will be topic in Tallahassee next year

The 2015 Florida legislative session is more than three months away, but various stakeholders are already jockeying over potential new oil drilling rules.

Earlier this month, the Collier County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a series of proposed regulations regarding the extraction of oil and gas in the state. Additional drilling regulations are the county’s top legislative priority in 2015.

Radiated soil another concern in Marcellus Shale fracking

In August, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection reported 243 water wells were contaminated by gas drilling statewide. Videographer Scott Cannon, during a program on fracking he presented at American Legion Post 477 in Pittston on Nov. 13, said 20 percent to 80 percent of chemicals put in the ground during fracking for natural gas stay in the ground.

Frackers, cities await court ruling

Gas and oil companies have fought legal skirmishes with some Ohio cities over local zoning regulation and ordinances that attempt to limit drilling — but Mansfield Law Director John Spon said he believes this city may be at low risk of a second lawsuit anytime soon.

Mansfield is among five Ohio cities where voters have approved local issues designed to limit or ban deep shale drilling or disposal of fracking waste.

New U.S. Ozone Rules Likely to Be Felt Nationwide

More U.S. communities might be required to crack down on ozone, a smog-causing pollutant linked to asthma and heart disease, as part of a controversial federal proposal announced Wednesday.

After years of delay, the Obama Administration faced a court-ordered December 1 deadline to update the current 2008 standard on ground-level ozone, a by-product of burning fossil fuels. Its proposal to toughen the ozone limit is one of several sweeping environmental efforts that have drawn opposition from Republicans in Congress and business groups because of potential economic costs.

Injured BP Oil Spill Cleanup Workers Must Sue for Payments: Judge

BP Plc, having pledged billions of dollars for damages caused by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, won’t have to make payouts any time soon to more than 95 percent of the workers hurt while cleaning up the mess.

If the workers want money for their physical injuries, they’ll need to sue the company, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled yesterday, saying they no longer qualify for automatic compensation under the company’s medical-benefits settlement.

Pipeline spills 60,000 litres of crude oil into muskeg in northern Alberta

The Alberta Energy Regulator says close to 60,000 litres of crude oil have spilled into muskeg in the province’s north.

An incident report by the regulator states that a mechanical failure was reported Thursday at a Canadian Natural Resources Limited pipeline approximately 27 kilometres north of Red Earth Creek.

Canadian Natural Resources says pipeline spilled 60,000 litres of crude

Canadian Natural Resources Limited has reported close to 60,000 litres of crude oil has spilled into muskeg in Red Earth Creek in northern Alberta.

The Alberta Energy Regulator said it learned about the spill Thursday from an incident report filed by the Calgary-based company. That report said the pipeline, 27 kilometres north of Red Earth Creek, experienced a mechanical failure.

Families Blame ExxonMobil for Oil Spill

ExxonMobil exacerbated the 2013 Pegasus pipeline rupture by not immediately reporting the spill, creating the “worst crude oil and tar sands spill in Arkansas history,” dozens of families claim in a class action.

Lead plaintiff Jason Hays and nearly 60 residents of Mayflower sued ExxonMobil, three pipeline subsidiaries and an operations and maintenance technician on Tuesday, in Faulkner County Court.

Obama’s Argument Against Keystone XL Pokes Holes in Industry’s Argument to Lift Crude Oil Export Ban

Larry Summers, former secretary of the treasury and top economic advisor to President Barack Obama, has strongly advocated to lift the crude oil export ban. And he has a compelling, if not necessarily fact-based, argument.

“Permitting the exports of oil will actually reduce the price of gasoline,” Summers told an audience at the Brookings Institute on September 9th.

This argument for lifting the crude oil export ban is also pushed by the American Petroleum Institute, prominent Republicans and the Government Accountability Office.

Oil pipeline insures against spills in Washington communities, but declines here

An oil pipeline company insists it won’t buy spill cleanup insurance for a Dane County pump station, but it owns a pipeline in Washington state that has purchased hundreds of millions of dollars of such insurance required by local governments.

The chairman of the county zoning committee said the precedent in Washington state gives him only a little more hope that Enbridge Energy will relent and agree to insure against a spill here.

Long-weekend pastime: Look for oil-by-rail disasters near you

It looks sort of like a collection of colorful gumballs, scattered across the U.S. Some parts of the country have more gumballs than others — the coasts of Louisiana and Texas have quite a collection going — but so does Bradford, Pa.; Purcell, Okla.; Belden, N.D.; and Camden, N.J. In other parts of the country you can see what looks almost like a pathway — tiny, colorful dots starting in North Dakota passing through Minnesota, and moving down through Illinois.

I’m going to break it to you now and say that this is not a map of gumballs. It was produced by the investigative reporting nonprofit ProPublica, and because investigative reporting is rarely a cheerful enterprise, what the map actually describes are crude-by-rail accidents across the country. Still, let us be grateful, because it’s a Thanksgiving miracle we have this data at all.

Court Throws Out 100+ Arrests at Tar Sands Protest on Burnaby Mountain

More than one hundred people who have been arrested over the last week during dramatic protests against a tar sands pipeline on Burnaby Mountain in British Columbia had their civil contempt charges thrown out by a Canadian court on Thursday, giving a legal boost to the movement that says it will continue to fight the dirty energy project by the Kinder Morgan corporation.

Naomi Klein on How Canada’s First Nations Can Take on the Oil Industry and Win

The New York Times has compared Naomi Klein’s new book, This Changes Everything, to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. In it, Naomi Klein rips up the rule book on climate change—and offers a radical new vision of hope for the future.

Talking from her home in Toronto, she explains how becoming a mother changed her perspective, why Canada’s First Nations may be best placed to halt the Keystone XL pipeline, and what kind of world she hopes her son will grow up in.

Fukushima ‘dark tourism’ aims to rebuild city

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster is leading to a new kind of “dark tourism.”

Almost 4 years after the meltdown forced entire towns to evacuate, tour guides are taking people through abandoned neighborhoods.

CNN finds out why one devastated town is allowing others to witness its tragedy.

Fukushima workers still in murky labor contracts: Tepco survey

The number of workers at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant on false contracts has increased in the last year, the station operator said, highlighting murky labor conditions at the site despite a pledge to improve the work environment.

The survey results released by Tokyo Electric Power Co (9501.T) (Tepco) late on Thursday showed that around 30 percent of plant workers polled said that they were paid by a different company from the contractor that normally directs them at the worksite, which is illegal under Japan’s labor laws.

Fukushima Watch: Japan Confident It Can Process All Highly Contaminated Water by End-March

Japan is now confident it can process all 320,000 metric tons of highly contaminated water sitting at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant by the end of March 2015, the deadline designated in the plant’s decommissioning roadmap, a government official said late Thursday.

The positive outlook comes as a water processing system called ALPS has finally started working stably after more than a year of adjustments and problem-solving during its test run. The six ALPS units at the site now are capable of removing all radioactive materials except tritium from about 1,500 tons of contaminated water a day.

British researcher blasts U.N. report on Fukushima cancer risk as unscientific

A British scientist who studied the health effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster panned a United Nations report that virtually dismissed the possibility of higher cancer rates caused by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis.

Keith Baverstock, 73, made the comments during a visit to Tokyo at the invitation of a citizens group related to the Fukushima disaster.

Tales from Survivors of Japan’s Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

“The world is heavy on us sometimes,” says Katsunobu Sakurai, recalling the day it almost crushed the life out of his city. The disaster began for him, as for millions of other Japanese, at work. The mayor of the coastal city of Minamisoma, Sakurai was with a group of visiting delegates on the fourth floor of the city hall when the building began to shake, gently at first, then in jerky, violent movements that seemed to go on forever. In some parts of the building, he could hear people crying. Others began pleading to the distance, to God, perhaps to the ground itself: “Tasukete!” (Help!); “Tometekure” (Please stop).

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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