Environmental Must-Reads – December 16, 2013


Coast Guard Wants Barges to Ship Fracking Water

The U.S. Coast Guard wants to allow barges filled with fracking wastewater to ply the nation’s rivers on their way toward disposal. Many environmentalists are horrified, but industry groups say barge transport has its advantages.

Now, the wastewater is usually disposed of by truck or rail, which poses more risk for accidents than shipping by barge, according to a government report. And one barge can carry about the same amount of waste as 100 exhaust-spewing trucks.

California Plans Tighter Control of Fracking, but Not Enough for Some

California drillers eager to use hydraulic fracturing to tap the nation’s largest oil shale formation will face comprehensive regulation for the first time next year under rules issued this week.

The rules take effect on Jan. 1, though they will be replaced a year later by permanent regulations that are still being developed but are expected to be similar. In September, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that established the outlines for the regulations.

Fracking hell: what it’s really like to live next to a shale gas well

Nausea, headaches and nosebleeds, invasive chemical smells, constant drilling, slumping property prices – welcome to Ponder, Texas, where fracking has overtaken the town. With the chancellor last week announcing tax breaks for drilling companies, could the UK be facing the same fate?

Big Oil could mean desolation for American treasure

On a chilly morning in April, our group of six pushes out from Sand Wash into the slow, silt-laden current of Utah’s Green River. Our guides, environmentalist John Weisheit, and his wife, Suzette, have traveled this way dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. They lost count a long time ago. The other members of the crew include Moab conservationist and river guide Laurel Hagen, biologist Joseph Leyda, photographer Jonathan Byers, and me. Our destination lay in the drab distance ahead – the great rock labyrinths of Desolation Canyon, one of the West’s last great wild places, and also one of its most threatened.

Tornadoes not covered in fracking rules

Proposed rules that will regulate high volume horizontal hydraulic fracturing in the state fail to mention tornadoes, an oversight some people feel could result in disaster.

The proposed rules have no provisions that would protect the population or the environment from the effects a tornado could have on fracking pads, injection wells or open storage pits, according to a statement from SAFE, Southern Illinoisans Against Fracturing Our Environment.

Every “serious environmentalist” must support fracking? Seriously?

If you oppose fracking, then you are not a “serious environmentalist.”

So say U.C. Berkeley physics professor Richard Muller and his daughter Elizabeth Muller in a new opinion paper with a none-too-subtle title: “Why Every Serious Environmentalist Should Favor Fracking.”

Until recently, Muller wasn’t much of an environmentalist himself. He was a prominent climate denier. But last year he wrote in The New York Times that he came to realize the error of his ways after an intensive review of the science.

WV County Concerned About Benzene Emissions Near Gas Drilling Sites

A substance believed to cause cancer in those exposed to it over an extended period of time is in the air near Marcellus Shale fracking sites, according to Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department Administrator Howard Gamble.

“The levels of benzene really pop out. The amounts they were seeing were at levels of concern,” said Gamble in describing the results of testing his department recently performed at well sites throughout Ohio County. ”The concerns of the public are validated,” he added.

New York Roads Are Covered in Snow and Fracking Waste

As the first snow fell, the dogs and I watched the white powder quickly turn to ice. This put a temporary kibosh on our walk along my rural road. With snowy spirits dampened, we’d have to wait for the snowplow. I headed back to my computer to see when the icy mix was going to end and came across this headline: “Environmental Group Warns Of Fracking Waste on NY.”

Wait a minute, my state has moratorium on fracking, I thought. As natural gas development in surrounding states wreaks havoc on their air and water, fracking is currently on hold in New York State. We’re waiting to see whether or not Governor Andrew Cuomo will ban or allow natural gas development. So far, he’s heeded public outcry and is letting science lead policy by waiting for a health-impact review.

11 Arrested Protesting Tar Sands and Fracking

On Friday, two activists with Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance and Cross Timbers Earth First! locked themselves inside a revolving door at the Devon Tower in Oklahoma City, OK in protest of Devon’s involvement in tar sands extraction and plans to increase fracking in Eagle Ford Shale.

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Is Back to Frack Ohio With Investment of $1.7B

Former Chesapeake Energy CEO and Founder Aubrey McClendon is back in the fracking game in Ohio’s Utica Shale in a big way, receiving a permit to frack five wells from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources on Nov. 26.

Minnesota Department Of Commerce Brushes Off Big New Solar Project, Prefers Natural Gas

The Minnesota Department of Commerce has advised Xcel Energy, one of the state’s biggest utilities, to not take on a new solar project in its search for new power sources.

Xcel expects it will have to add over 550 megawatts of new electricity generation by 2020 to meet Minnesota’s rising needs, and to that end the utility established the Competitive Resource Acquisition Process to solicit ideas for new projects. It got five responses, including a 100 megawatt solar project — spread among 31 sites throughout the state — put forward by Geronimo Energy.

Gas company to leave water tanks with Pa. family

A natural gas driller will donate tanks that have been supplying water to families who say the company polluted their wells, backing off plans to remove the storage containers amid fierce criticism that it was being heartless.

Tulsa, Okla.-based WPX Energy Inc. will leave the water tanks with two families in the Susquehanna County village of Franklin Forks, company spokeswoman Susan Oliver told the Associated Press.

Fossil Fuel’s Wastewater Creating Earthquake Boom

In Oklahoma, the oil and gas industry have drilled more than 4,000 “disposal wells” designed to hold wastewater produced from the tens of thousands of extraction drilling sites scattered throughout the state.

But as those wells have grown in number and the millions of gallons of wastewater—generated as an inevitable bi-product from the fossil fuel industry—are pumped into the seems of the earth beneath, something else is happening. Earthquakes. And lots of them.

Louisiana Wetlands Tattered by Industrial Canals, Not Just River Levees

Over the grand sweep of time, sediments carried down from continents by mighty rivers like the Mississippi have built vast deltas of land and marsh along coastlines. But for a century the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has built levees along the Mississippi, which have prevented the land-creating sediment in the muddy water from spreading across the delta, starving wetlands of nutrients and raw material. That’s why Louisiana’s 2012 Coastal Master Plan to rebuild the state’s vanishing coastal wetlands relies on cutting gaps in the levees, diverting water and sediment so that the land-building material flows again across parts of the landscape.

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse targeted by BP in fight over oil spill payments

Celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse isn’t feeling the love from oil giant BP this week.

In a full-page ad in the New York Times on Thursday, BP took aim at Lagasse’s restaurants in the oil company’s ongoing public campaign to force businesses seeking oil spill settlement money prove their losses were caused by the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

The devastation of Deepwater Horizon from above: Mesmerizing photos show Gulf’s 210 MILLION gallon oil slick

In the spring of 2010, an oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, unleashing untold amounts of crude oil into the water’s fragile ecosystem.

At the time, there were numerous pictures of oil-slicked turtles and birds – a reminder of the sheer havoc the incident wrought upon the environment.

Now a new set of pictures has been released showing the slick from above, taken by photographer Daniel Beltrá, who documented the spill from a Cessna floatplane, 3,000ft above the Louisiana coastline.

Oil company owes billions in clean-up costs

Oil driller Anadarko has been ordered to pay billions of dollars in clean-up costs after a judge ruled that the firm’s Kerr-McGee unit tried to shed these liabilities in a spin-off deal.

A federal bankruptcy court in New York ruled that Anadarko owes damages between $5.15 billion and $14.12 billion, with the precise amount to be determined in future legal proceedings. The Justice Department said Friday that the judgment was “one of the largest environmental enforcement awards ever.”

Keystone Pipeline In Photos: Public Citizen Report Questions Keystone Pipeline Safety

As energy firm TransCanada Corp. (USA) (NYSE:TRP) approaches completion of the southern portion of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, consumer advocacy group Public Citizen is raising questions about the “integrity of the pipeline.”

The group released a report last month arguing that numerous construction problems and apparent code violations could increase chances of a spill on the southern leg, dubbed the Gulf Coast pipeline.

The Majority Of Americans Want Keystone XL To Have Less Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The controversial plan to send 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil flowing through the American Midwest every day is supported by a majority of Americans, but only if the company in charge agrees to reduce harmful carbon dioxide emissions, according to a poll released Thursday.

Bloomberg National polled more than 1,000 American adults aged 18 or older from Dec. 6 to 8 to ask them their opinions on a variety of topics including TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL pipeline. Of those polled, 56 percent said the proposed pipeline was an opportunity to reduce the nation’s dependence on oil imports, but 58 percent said Canada should introduce a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions beforehand.

Oil Billionaire Says Rail Is An Effective, Flexible Alternative To Keystone XL

The chief executive of a major oil company says the U.S. no longer needs Keystone XL because the American oil that will be carried by the pipeline could be shipped by rail.

Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources — a company that has committed to ship oil on Keystone XL — said the delay in decision-making on the pipeline and the “effective” and flexible option of shipping oil by rail has him doubting Keystone XL’s importance for the U.S. oil industry.

Enbridge poll results questioned

A industry-friendly poll by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce and another from a more neutral source have both recently concluded that B.C. residents are split about 50-50 on the Enbridge pipeline. But some say that the results might be different if the poll questions clearly named tankers as an integral part of the project.

“I think they might have seen a different result,” says Brenda Gouglas of the Fort St. James Sustainability Group, referring to a recent poll by the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, which only mentions tankers in passing in a list of possible risks at the end of their survey.  “You’d be including the coastal folks that have that on their doorstep. That is the piece that is missing.”

Are the Great Lakes the new transport lane for Alberta crude oil?

The small town of Superior, Wisconsin may emerge as an unlikely American maritime hub for Canadian crude if plans to transport Alberta oil sands oil across the Great Lakes come to pass.

There are many hurdles to cross. The first is a proposal to repair a shipping dock on Lake Superior that would set the stage for the construction of an oil terminal feeding refineries in and around the Great Lakes.

Lac-Mégantic: How to get rid of a town’s oil stain

Six million litres of light crude spilled over, under and through Lac-Mégantic. Quick thinking and heroic efforts by a team of environmental experts and others kept things from getting a whole lot worse. Now they’re trying to make downtown habitable again.

Police seize Irving Oil records in probe of Lac-Mégantic disaster

One of Canada’s most prominent business families has become entangled in an investigation of the Lac-Mégantic, Que., derailment after federal investigators seized records from the Irving Oil headquarters in New Brunswick.

Inspectors from Transport Canada executed a search warrant on Wednesday on the company’s Saint John facility in an ongoing investigation of the accident, which killed 47 people last July. The train was hauling crude oil to Irving’s refinery when it crashed, causing massive explosions that destroyed several downtown blocks.

Arctic commission readies report for Legislature

How does the state of Alaska design policy that will both encourage opportunity and protect that which already exists in the ever-changing and expanding Arctic? That was the none-too-small question on the table for a group of Alaska lawmakers, industry leaders and stakeholders over the last year.

The Alaska Arctic Policy Commission was tasked with leading the Alaska Legislature forward with its Arctic policy and is now finishing up a preliminary report, which is due to lawmakers by the end of January. But wrapping all the elements of the Arctic — including a vast number of unknowns — is none too easy, as the 26 commissioners were finding when they met this week in Anchorage to work in their final edits and revisions to a draft document.

 Record radiation levels detected in well at Fukushima nuke plant

A record 1.8 million becquerels of beta-ray sources per liter of water were detected at a monitoring well at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Dec. 13.

The reading concerns strontium and other beta-ray sources.

Government asks Fukushima to accept intermediate storage facilities

Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara and reconstruction minister Takumi Nemoto on Dec. 14 asked the Fukushima governor and mayors of three towns in the prefecture to accept facilities to temporarily store soil and other materials contaminated with radioactive substances.

The government hopes to buy a total of 19 square kilometers of land in Futaba, Okuma and Naraha for the construction of the intermediate storage facilities and start hauling the materials there from January 2015. However, the effort could face opposition from residents and local officials.

Measuring Fukushima’s Impact: How Geeks and Hackers Got Geiger Counters to the Masses

In March 2011, an unknown amount of radiation was released into the atmosphere after a powerful tsunami slammed into the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear reactors on the Pacific coast in Japan. Because people had little access to detailed information about radiation levels, they bought up every Geiger counter they could find in stores and online. Soon the counters were all but sold out worldwide, and in Japan a grey market of shoddy Geiger counters sprouted up, some with faulty or fake parts.

Fukushima loses first high school to meltdowns

A private high school in Minamisoma, Fukushima Prefecture, will close for good at the end of March because the nuclear disaster has decimated enrollment, school officials said.

Shoei High School, founded in 1957, will be the first in the prefecture to close its doors permanently since the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant began unfolding on March 11, 2011.

Japan lacks decommissioning experts for Fukushima nuke crisis, with none at regulatory level

Japan is incapable of safely decommissioning the devastated Fukushima nuclear plant alone and must stitch together an international team for the massive undertaking, experts say, but has made only halting progress in that direction.

Unlike the U.S. and some European countries, Japan has never decommissioned a full-fledged reactor. Now it must do so at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant. Three of its six reactors melted down after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami, making what is ordinarily a technically challenging operation even more complex.

If Cell Phone Radiation Were Visible, The World Would Look Like This

What would the world look like if you could see cell phone radiation?

Artist Nickolay Lamm has tried to answer that question.

In July, Lamm released a series of illustrations imagining a Washington, D.C., where Wi-Fi was visible, bathing famous sites in a rainbow of colors. On Wednesday, he finished a sequel of sorts — a series of pictures of U.S. cities and landmarks, this time with cell phone radiation visible as a hazy, multicolored, strangely geometric overlay.

Cell Phones and Cell Biology: Are We Selling Out?

‘Tis the season to, well, buy stuff. Increasingly, the stuff we buy is electronic. In fact, not only that, but increasingly the stuff we buy with is electronic, too. We are using gizmos to shop for gadgets, or possibly gadgets to shop for gizmos.

In any event, we are ever more frequently in the company of the energy fields our electronic devices, and in particular our smart phones, generate. This deserves more attention than most of us accord it.

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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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