Environmental Must-Reads – December 10, 2014


Activists protest Nevada public land auctions for fracking

A coalition of activists on Tuesday protested outside the office of the federal Bureau of Land Management in Reno to decry an auction of huge tracts of public land for private oil and gas exploration that they claim damages the environment and guzzles water in a time of drought.

Wearing blue and carrying empty jugs to signify the loss of water, protesters said that auctioning leases on 189,000 acres of public lands in the state’s eastern reaches had angered Nevadans of all social stripes and politics to speak out against fracking, which they say threatens public health, wildlife and quality of life.

North Dakota to require every barrel of crude oil be filtered

North Dakota is poised to impose the strictest oil standards in its history on Tuesday, requiring every barrel of crude to be filtered for dangerous types of natural gas in an effort to make crude-by-rail transport safer.

The new requirements come as federal, state and local officials grapple with how best to ensure the safe transport of North Dakota’s crude oil, which has been linked to a string of fiery crude-by-rail explosions, including one last year in Quebec that killed 47 people.

Scientists Track Down Serious Methane Leaks In Natural Gas Wells

Faulty gear and attempts to clear liquid from wells can release enough gas to power hundreds of homes, new research reveals. Scientists say finding the leaks is a first step to plugging them.

Scientists are looking for ways for fracking to be less damaging. New fracking technology hass produced a natural gas boom, but it also poses a specific environmental problem. There are more gas leaks from wells, and it’s hard to find out where the worst of those leaks are coming from. NPR’s Christopher Joyce reports on a study out today with some answers.

Abandoned Wells Leak Powerful Greenhouse Gas

There are 300,000 to 500,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania, and some of them might be leaking significant quantities of the potent greenhouse gas methane, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

That abandoned wells may leak methane—which is 86 times as bad for the climate as CO2 on a 20-year time scale—has so far flown under the radar of regulators and industry. Emissions from such wells are not included in most government databases of the oil and gas sector.

Small number of wells responsible for methane emissions

A small number of natural gas wells are responsible for the majority of the methane gas being released into the atmosphere during production, but at higher levels than previously estimated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to a new study.

Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin, benefiting from unprecedented direct access to gas well sites across the United States, found in one test that methane releases into the atmosphere were the lowest in the Rocky Mountain region but the highest along the Gulf Coast.

Louisiana restoration projects should get top priority with BP oil spill fine money, environmental groups say

Rebuilding Louisiana’s coast, including the rapidly eroding Mississippi River delta, should be the main use of billions of dollars in expected BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill fine and restoration money, according to two reports released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation and a coalition of national and Louisiana environmental groups.

“We already have a massive land loss crisis in Louisiana, so time is not on our side,” said David Muth, Gulf Program director with the National Wildlife Federation, during a Tuesday teleconference. “We need to move forward and move forward quickly.”

Texas Projects Key in Gulf Coast Oil Spill Restoration

As Texas and the Gulf Coast move toward what likely will be the largest ecosystem restoration project in U.S. history, a new report details what it calls the most important priorities in recovering from the massive oil-spill disaster of 2010.

The recommendations come from the National Wildlife Federation. David Muth, director of the federation’s Gulf Restoration Program, said the focus is on projects that would benefit all five Gulf Coast states.

Falling oil prices threaten to transform the industry

News that oil giant BP is to accelerate its redundancy programme underlines how the industry is being squeezed by the tumbling price of crude.

Companies that had been riding the crest of $100-plus oil are facing a reality check. What looked like a good investment at $100-a-barrel doesn’t look so profitable at $60.

Across the sector – from super-majors like BP, services giants such as Halliburton, and minnow explorers in the depths of Africa – the question is the same: is the 40% fall since June the new normal, or a blip in an otherwise long-term upward trend?

Enbridge settles class action lawsuit over Kalamazoo River oil spill

If approved by a federal judge, settlement of a class action lawsuit filed against Enbridge Inc. by people living along the Kalamazoo River would include payments to people living within 1,000 feet of the river, donations to certain organizations that benefit the community or support recreation on the river, and a general fund to reimburse people who incurred expenses because of the July, 2010 oil spill.

A pipeline leak sent an estimated 843,000 gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the river, creating the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

The Amazon oil spills overlooked by environmental leaders in Lima

It is a disaster hidden from the environmental leaders gathered inside the walls of a military compound in Lima on a mission to fight climate change.

Over the last few months – as Peru helped guide the United Nations climate negotiations – five separate oil spills along a main oil pipeline through the Amazon have spewed thick black clots of crude across jungle and swamp and carpeted local fishing lagoons with dead fish.

Inside the climate summit fortress – as in much of the world – the oil spills in the jungle went largely unnoticed.

The Sundarbans in big trouble

The Sundarbans is now facing a major environmental disaster, after a vessel carrying over 350,000 litres of furnace oil capsized in Sela River, as spill particularly jeopardises a dolphin sanctuary, the local food chain and the entire local ecology.

With various authorities, who neither have the experience nor the capability to handle such a case, trying to pass the responsibility on to each other instead of making a move, the situation is getting worse by the minute since the capsize took place in the early hours yesterday.

As of filing of this report around 15 hours after the incident, no sign of a rescue operation was reported in the area.

Arava oil spill under control despite rainfall, says Netanyahu

Nearly one week after the oil spill in the Arava, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu toured the afflicted area and said that at the moment the situation appears to be “under control.”

“Everyone’s big concern,” he said, “is a loss of control [because of] large floods that can take the oil south to Eilat and the Eilat Gulf.

Chinese firms seek $23 mln compensation in oil spill trial

A group of 21 Chinese firms are suing CNOOC Ltd and ConocoPhillips for compensation of over 141 million yuan ($22.80 million) for losses suffered due to oil spills at the duo’s operations in 2011, according to court documents.

Leaks at the Penglai 19-3 oilfield, a joint exploration project by the two oil majors, were first discovered in June 2011. The spills polluted 6,200 square km of water in the Bohai Bay area before the field was finally sealed in late October that year.

Obama: Keystone XL could contribute to ‘disastrous’ climate change

President Obama spoke in dismissive terms of the Keystone XL pipeline Monday during an interview on “The Colbert Report Monday, saying its modest benefits need to be weighed against its contribution to climate change, “which could be disastrous.”

During an interview taped at George Washington University, the president did not explicitly say whether he would grant or deny a permit to the controversial project that would transport heavy crude from Hardisty, Alberta to the U.S. Gulf Coast. But he highlighted many of the pipeline’s disadvantages, and downplayed its benefits.

President Obama plays Stephen Colbert on Comedy Central and downplays Keystone Pipeline benefits

Stephen Colbert, America’s biggest conservative (with tongue planted firmly in cheek), wants to know where President Obama stands on the Keystone XL pipeline. But Mr. Obama is staying largely mum on what is sure to be a priority of next year’s GOP-led Congress.

Republicans are gearing up to push for construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline when they take over Congress next year. But the pipeline still requires presidential approval, and last night in an appearance on The Colbert Report television show President Obama threw water on the idea that he’d simply rubber stamp the project.

Canada vows to make pipelines safer

The Canadian government said it’s committed to a world-class regime for pipeline safety, calling for new “polluter pays” rules and other control measures.

The government of Prime Minister Stephan Harper outlined amendments to pipeline safety rules, rules it says will lead to one of the safest networks of pipelines in the world.

North Dakota, Canadian Crude Oil Now Flowing In New Pipeline To Cushing

The Flanagan South pipeline owned by Enbridge Inc. is now in service, shipping crude oil from the Bakken area in North Dakota and Canadian oil sands region from Illinois to Cushing, Oklahoma.

Work began on the $2.6 billion, 600-mile long pipeline in 2013 and was completed late this summer.

Protests Slow Pipeline Projects Across U.S., Canada

The Keystone XL pipeline was touted as a model for energy independence and a source of jobs when TransCanada Corp. announced plans to build the 1,700-mile pipeline six years ago.

But the crude-oil pipeline’s political and regulatory snarls since then have emboldened resistance to at least 10 other pipeline projects across North America. Using Keystone XL as a template, national environmental groups are joining with local activists in a strategy aimed at prolonging government reviews of proposed pipeline routes and their environmental impact.

The Map That Shows Why a Pipeline Explosion in Turkey Matters to the U.S.

For years, the U.S. intelligence community has questioned how vulnerable oil and gas pipelines are to a destructive cyberattack.

They got an answer when hackers targeted an oil pipeline in Turkey. Majority-owned by BP, the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline was built to be one of the most secure in the world. But it was no match for the digital intruders who injected malicious software into the control network, allowing them to tamper with the system and cause an explosion that sent flames 150 feet into the air. Investigators couldn’t determine whether a bomb was also used, as the explosion incinerated any evidence.

New Mexico Fines Feds $54 Million for Radiation Leaks at Los Alamos and WIPP

Citing numerous violations of state hazardous waste permits, the New Mexico Environment Department has levied $54 million in fines against Los Alamos National Laboratory and the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP) for the February explosion and radiation leak that exposed more than a dozen workers to contamination and shut down the country’s only underground nuclear storage facility indefinitely.

It’s the biggest civil penalty ever levied by state authorities against the federal government, according to the Albuquerque Journal.

Udall ‘disappointed’ over WIPP leak

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall says he’s disappointed with the federal Department of Energy and its contractors over the radiation leak that shut down the nation’s nuclear waste dump near Carlsbad.

But on Tuesday he stopped short of support for dumping the contractors that run the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant and Los Alamos National Laboratory, which packaged the waste drum that ruptured in February and contaminated WIPP.

Fukushima forgotten: No. 1 plant workers feel voters don’t realize their ordeal

As Sunday’s snap election nears, many of the people working toward the decommissioning of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant say they want voters to know about their harsh working conditions, insufficient pay and worries of radiation exposure.

Currently some 6,000 people a day are engaged in the decommissioning work at the plant — a process expected to take 30 to 40 years to complete.

Fukushima clean-up in progress, with no cause for optimism

With 500,000 tonnes of contaminated water on-site and one reactor off-limits until 2025, decommissioning of the tsunami-stricken plant will take 40 years.

The man in charge of cleaning up the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant has admitted there is little cause for optimism while thousands of workers continue their battle to contain huge quantities of radioactive water.

Student peddling Fukushima air to revive interest in nuclear disaster

A teenager is selling cans of “Fukushima air” to shock the public into reviving debate over the 2011 nuclear disaster.

“I want to try to surprise people and renew interest in the nuclear accident,” said Atsu, a 17-year-old high school student in the Tokyo city of Machida who also works as a painter.

Speech on Fukushima aid plan wins top honors

What kind of proposal would you make at an international forum on speeding up the reconstruction of areas hit by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake? Anna Ota, a first-year student at Yokohama City University, delivered a speech advocating camping trips for children from Fukushima Prefecture, and it won her the Grand Prize at the third All Japan Student English Presentation Contest held in Tokyo on Saturday.

Ota’s idea was to establish an organization that takes children from Fukushima Prefecture on camping trips, as there have been reservations about playing outside in local areas due to concerns about radiation levels resulting from the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant following the March 11 earthquake.

US Attends then Defies Conference on Nuclear Weapons Effects

A pair of conferences here this week have tried to raise public and government awareness of nuclear weapons.

The first, a Civil Society Forum put on by the Int’l Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, ICAN, brought together non-governmental groups, parliamentarians, and activists of all stripes to try and boost morale and renew enthusiasm in efforts to ban the bomb.

About 700 participants spent two days delving into the ghastly health and environmental effects of nuclear war, the hair-raising frequency of H-bomb accidents and near detonations, and the horrifying impacts of bomb test fallout — and other human radiation experiments conducted without informed consent upon our own unwitting civilians and soldiers.

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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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