Environmental Must-Reads – December 22, 2014


University study: fracking adds to Texas water woes

Water is scarce in much of Texas. Yet in the areas where it is most scarce, such as the Permian Basin in arid West Texas, water has had a new consumer, hydraulic fracturing, and the drilling technique is taking in millions of gallons of water.

A recent economic and policy analysis released by Texas A&M University concludes that fracking is adding to the state’s “overuse of its water resources,” but that it’s only part of the problem.

North Dakota Moves to Ease Oil-and-Gas Radioactive Waste Rules Dramatically

North Dakota regulators recently announced plans to bump up the state’s allowable oil-and-gas radioactive waste disposal limit by tenfold.

The current threshold is one of the strictest in the country, at 5 picocuries per gram. That’s roughly the equivalent of the natural radiation levels found in North Dakota soil. Consequently, many companies truck their waste out of state to places with higher limits, including the neighboring Minnesota and Montana.

As New York Bans Fracking, Calls for Moratorium in Pennsylvania Grow Stronger

This week, New York Governor Cuomo announced that his state would ban fracking, due in large part to concerns about impacts on public health. But right across the border in Pennsylvania, one of the fastest-moving shale booms in the country still proceeds at breakneck speed.

While Governor-elect Tom Wolf campaigned on promises to tax shale gas extraction, evidence continued to grow that Pennsylvania has struggled to police the drilling industry or even keep tabs on its activities. A scathing report issued in July by State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale found that record-keeping was “egregiously poor,” and environmental regulators do “not have the infrastructure in place to meet the continuing demands placed upon the agency by expanded shale gas development.”

Science in the spotlight as New York state bans fracking

Scientific findings—and a lack of them—played a starring role in a controversial decision earlier this week by Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to essentially ban the natural gas extraction technique known as fracking in the Empire State.

The 17 December decision rested heavily on a state health department report that reviewed dozens of studies of the potential human health impacts of oil and gas development and found cause for concern. “I looked at this process with the same critical eye I always use in medicine,” said Howard Zucker, a physician and New York’s acting health commissioner, at a Cabinet meeting that covered the issue. During the discussions, Zucker displayed numerous scientific papers that he said highlighted how multiple facets of shale gas production, including drilling, trucking, and wastewater disposal, could potentially harm human health. He also lamented a lack of data on some risks. Precaution was the best course, Zucker suggested in recommending a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, ban.

Here’s the grassroots political story behind the New York fracking ban

Long before Wednesday’s ban on fracking by the administration of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, small towns in New York state were fighting for their rights to ban fracking no matter what the state wanted. Last summer, the towns — located in counties with the best shale gas prospects — won an important victory in the state’s highest court. On Wednesday, the New York health commissioner said the health risks of drilling outweighed the benefits of tapping the rich shale reserves. As we originally explored this year in early July, here’s the story of the small towns that helped lay the political groundwork for that conclusion.

Illinois farmers leased land ahead of newly passed fracking rules

Southern Illinois farmers and landowners have started leasing their land to major fracking companies to draw additional income.

In just one southern Illinois county, Wayne County, property owners have signed more than 3,000 leases with oil and gas companies in the last two years, though some leases may not be specifically for fracking. In 2011, just 400 leases were signed, according to county clerk records.

Oklahoma City Residents Question Lake Hefner Drilling Plan at Contentious Public Meeting

A rowdy crowd of concerned residents shouted at city officials and questioned representatives of an oil company at a Thursday night meeting about a proposal to drill near Lake Hefner in Oklahoma City.

Hundreds showed up for the meeting, which was held at the Will Rogers Conservatory, a venue that was too small for the crowd. People formed a long line and waited in the rain to attend a second overflow meeting held immediately following the first meeting. Protestors gathered outside the building, chanting “Stop fracking now,” and “No more drilling.”

FPL gets OK for gas drilling plan

Florida’s largest power company can now get in the natural-gas production business with its customers’ money.

But it won’t be able to use money from those same ratepayers to advocate against new federal clean-water rules.

Feds approve Transco pipeline through Princeton, Montgomery, environmentalists push back

A federal agency approved the proposed 42-inch pipeline to run through parts of Princeton and Montgomery in a certificate issued Thursday, with environmentalists claiming the authorization is unlawful.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission — the agency with jurisdiction over the project — found it will not significantly impact the surrounding community and gave Williams Transcontinental the go-ahead it needed to move forward with the project.

U.S. Seeks BP Fine of Up to $18 Billion for Gulf Oil Spill Disaster

The government wants BP Plc (BP/) to pay $16 billion to $18 billion in water-pollution fines for the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history while seeking more than $1 billion from the co-owner of the blown-out well that caused the 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster.

The federal government said BP deserves the maximum fine, which BP said would be the biggest Clean Water Act penalty ever and called it a “gross outlier” compared to other cases.

UN asks Israel to pay Lebanon $850m

The UN General Assembly has passed a resolution asking Israel to pay Lebanon more than $850m in damages for an oil spill caused by an Israeli air force attack in its war against Hezbollah in 2006.

The resolution, which passed late on Friday, said “the environmental disaster” resulted in an oil slick that covered the entire Lebanese coastline and extended to the Syrian coastline, causing extensive pollution.

Israel has been asked by the UN to compensate Lebanon before but this was the first time a price was put on the damages.

Crews cleaning up oil spill after tanker exploded

Crews are in the process of cleaning up the I-15 off-ramp near Spanish Fork where a semitrailer carrying oil crashed and exploded late last month.

The area near Exit 257 on Southbound I-15 toward US-6 is being cleaned by Enviro Care, a company based in North Salt Lake, hired by the insurance company of the oil tanker who crashed.

Obama Sounds Like He’s About to Reject the Keystone Pipeline

Speaking at his end-of-the-year press conference on Friday afternoon, President Obama sounded very much like he’s poised to reject the Keystone XL pipeline. He gave his sharpest assessment to date of its potential costs and benefits—lots of costs and few benefits.

Climate hawks rejoiced, not only because of Obama’s implied opposition to Keystone, but because he finally confronted American ignorance of how the oil market works, and attempted to reorient our energy policy around reality.

Feds Approve Pipeline Proposal That Will Cross NJ’s Protected Public Land

The federal government yesterday approved a new natural-gas pipeline project through portions of central New Jersey, a proposal much opposed by environmental groups and towns, which argued that it would go through environmentally sensitive lands, forests, and critical habitats.

But the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission endorsed the $738 million project, of which 13 miles would traverse land in New Jersey, and another 16.5 miles in Pennsylvania. The project’s cost escalated because of the number of compressor stations to be built, which pump gas faster through the pipeline.

Company announces new Powder River gas pipeline

Natural gas will begin flowing through a new 108-mile natural gas pipeline in the Powder River Basin in January, the company developing the project has announced.

Meritage Midstream Services announced Thursday that the new line will connect the 50 Buttes natural gas processing complex outside Gillette with the Phillips 66 Powder River line near Douglas.

Obama EPA Says Toxic Coal Ash Can Be Treated Like Garbage Instead Of Hazardous Waste Material

The Obama administration says a toxic byproduct from coal-burning power plants can be treated like household garbage under the nation’s first federal coal-ash standards. The Friday decision, which ends a six-year rule-making effort, deals a disappointing blow to environmentalists who had wanted regulators to deem the sludgy substance a “hazardous material” but also means a number of utilities may have dodged a slate of costly upgrades.

Oil cars, tracks inspections show defects

A new round of crude-oil tank car and rail inspections uncovered 100 defects, including eight critical safety defects that required immediate repair.

State Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration inspectors examined about 95 miles of track and 23 switches along the Canadian Pacific Railway main line between Albany and Whitehall and from Plattsburgh to the Canadian border, finding two allegedly critical defects.

Railcar Bottleneck Looms for Oil

One-third of the crude oil hauled from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale region by railcars could be forced off the tracks and into expensive truck fleets in the next four years, according to a railcar-industry trade group.

The Railway Supply Institute says there aren’t enough shops to retrofit cars carrying flammable liquids in time to meet proposed federal deadlines, and that tens of thousands of cars will be idled as a result. The U.S. Department of Transportation wants tank cars carrying crude oil to be retrofitted with more puncture-resistant features in two years, and those carrying ethanol to be upgraded in three years. Those carrying other flammable liquids, such as heating oil and chemicals, have five years to be upgraded.

Oil Companies Are Pausing Plans to Drill the Arctic

Earlier this week, the Danish government joined Russia and Canada in the jostling over the North Pole. Part of the draw is bragging rights—what northern nation wouldn’t want the North Pole?—but a bigger draw is the oil and mineral-rich sea floor. But the appeal of the Arctic’s oil riches is predicated on the assumption that we’ll be able to access and exploit them. That assumption, so far, seems optimistic, at least at the moment.

Two years ago Royal Dutch Shell poked a toe into the frigid Arctic waters. Yet almost immediately that exploratory campaign started having setbacks. It wasn’t long after Shell’s drilling platform, the Kulluk, ran aground in January of last year that the company decided to put its Arctic plans on hold.

Fuel Rods Are Removed From Damaged Fukushima Reactor

The cleanup of Japan’s devastated Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant crossed an important milestone on Saturday when the plant’s operator announced it had safely removed the radioactive fuel from the most vulnerable of the four heavily damaged reactor buildings.

The operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company, removed the last remaining fuel rods from the ruined No. 4 reactor building, putting the rods inside a large white container for transportation to another, undamaged storage pool elsewhere on the plant’s grounds. The company, known as Tepco, had put a high priority on removing the No. 4 unit’s some 1,500 fuel rods because they sat in a largely unprotected storage pool on an upper floor of the building, which had been gutted by a powerful hydrogen explosion during the March 2011 accident.

Hundreds of Fukushima evacuees sue Tepco for ¥6 billion

More than 340 people forced to evacuate by the atomic meltdowns at the Fukushima No. 1 plant in 2011 filed a lawsuit Friday against Tokyo Electric Power Co. demanding around ¥6 billion in compensation.

5.9 magnitude earthquake hits Japan’s Honshu island and rocks Fukushima reactor

A 5.9-magnitude earthquake hit Japan’s Honshu island on Saturday, according to the US Geological Survey.

The quake shook the Fukushima nuclear power plant near Iwaki, 42 miles (68km) away from the earthquake’s epicentre.

6 tons of contaminated water leak at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant

As many as six tons of radioactive water has leaked into the ground at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company said this week.

Crews were transporting the water to storage tanks when it leaked from pipes at the plant’s reactor building number one Wednesday.

The water had been scrubbed in an advanced liquid processing system, the Japan Times reported, citing TEPCo. It seeped into the ground, officials said, and did not flow into the sea because there was no nearby drainage ditch.

Plan to truck Fukushima radioactive soil, waste is put on hold

The government has given up on an earlier plan, slated to start in January, to transport radioactive soil and other waste from decontamination work following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to nearby towns, sources close to the matter said Sunday.

Report: Radiation leak at nuclear dump was small

A final report by independent researchers shows the radiation leak from the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico was small and localized.

The report released Thursday by the Carlsbad Environmental Monitoring and Research Center also says no negative health effects are expected among workers or the public.

South Korea prosecutors investigate data leak at nuclear power plants

Seoul prosecutors have launched an investigation into a leak of non-critical data at South Korea’s nuclear power operator, the prosecutors’ office said on Sunday, as worries mount about nuclear safety and potential cyberattacks from North Korea.

An official with the prosecutors’ office confirmed media reports that they had traced the location of an IP address linked to the leak and had dispatched investigators to the site.

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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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