Environmental Must-Reads – December 6, 2013


Pro-fracking group shrinks under pressure

The state’s principal industry group pushing to allow hydraulic fracturing has shed its lobbying and public relations firms amid financial struggles.

The Independent Oil and Gas Association cut ties with the Hinman Straub lobbying firm and Corning Place Communications in the last month, executive director Brad Gill said. The industry-backed group has lost 20 percent of its members and has also eliminated a few positions to stay solvent.

Jared Polis On Fracking Lawsuits: ‘Stop Suing Our Communities’

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) delivered a lecture to Colorado’s Oil and Gas Association on YouTube, asking them to withdraw the lawsuits they recently filed against two cities that passed fracking moratoriums last month.

“I’m calling on the Colorado Oil and Gas Association to stop suing our communities just because they don’t want fracking,” Polis said in the video. “Look, there’s been a public debate, there’s been a vote — you don’t win friends by disregarding a public vote and suing to get your way.”

Fracking ban official in Broomfield, but legal questions loom

Voters have officially banned fracking in Broomfield, but the city still faces legal action and a possible election challenge the wake of the ban’s certification.

On Thursday, the Broomfield canvass board certified the recount of Question 300, which bans fracking in Broomfield for five years. The matter, which was subject to an automatic recount because the margin of victory was so slim, passed by just 20 votes after the recount was completed Tuesday.

Riverkeeper backs state Sen. Terry Gipson’s bill to ban fracking fluid on roads in New York state

Officials with the environmental group Riverkeeper say the state Department of Environmental Conservation has approved the use of fracking waste fluid as a deicing agent on highways in 13 western New York municipalities and want state lawmakers to stop the practice.

The group issued a report this week on the use of the fluids from low-volume hydraulic fracturing natural gas wells, and lauded legislation proposed by state Sen. Terry Gipson, D-Rhinebeck, to prohibit its use on roads statewide.

As North Texas Shakes, Railroad Commission Sits Still

After twenty minor earthquakes in a month, residents in the small towns of Azle and Springtown outside of Fort Worth are understandably confused about why their usually-stable towns are shaking on a near-daily basis.

ALEC’s Campaign Against Renewable Energy

An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilizing to penalize homeowners who install their own solar panels—casting them as “freeriders”—in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.

Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalizing individual homeowners and weakening state clean-energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.

Arbitration Possible for Hydrofracking Dispute

Oil and gas giant Chesapeake Energy cannot yet arbitrate claims that its “ultrahazardous” hydraulic fracturing made groundwater flammable in Pennsylvania, a federal judge ruled.

The dispute stems from a 2008 oil and gas lease that gave Chesapeake Appalachia five years to drill for and extract natural gas from the Granville Summit, Pa., property owned by Michael and Nancy Leighton.

By 2010, there were two gas wells about half a mile from the Leightons’ residence and water supply well that violated industry standards, the couple claimed.

Fracking and the New War on Air Pollution in Los Angeles

Over the past 50 years, the city of Los Angeles has made great strides to curb its smog problems by cutting vehicle emissions. But now, the emerging “fracking” industry threatens to undo much of that progress by wantonly spewing toxic chemicals into the air.

Fossil fuel companies, in an attempt to squeeze more and more oil and gas out of the earth, have popularized a highly invasive and polluting method of extraction called hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” which involves pumping a high pressure cocktail of water, sand and toxic chemicals into the ground to coax out remaining energy reserves.

New Study Suggests Much Larger Methane Emissions from Oklahoma and Neighbors

A new study of atmospheric methane in the United States suggests much higher levels than previously thought. The new data raises questions about the impact of natural gas production in Oklahoma and neighboring states, where emission estimates have more than doubled.

Mining, Fracking, And Drilling Have Changed Public Lands From Carbon Sinks To Carbon Polluters

A report released Thursday by the Center for American Progress finds that our nation’s forests, parks, grasslands, and other onshore public lands in the continental United States are the source of 4.5 times more carbon pollution than they are able to naturally absorb.

This imbalance is primarily due to the large quantities of coal, oil, and natural gas that are extracted from public lands. 42.1 percent of the country’s coal, 26.2 percent of its oil, and 17.8 percent of its natural gas are currently sourced from public lands both onshore and offshore.

Fracking the Kalahari

While a fierce debate rages about fracking in South Africa and elsewhere, the Botswana government has been silently pushing ahead with plans to produce natural gas, keeping the country in the dark as it grants concessions over vast tracts of land, including half of the Central Kalahari Game Reserve – the ancestral home of the San.

Crude oil is backing up along the Gulf Coast

Increased southbound pipeline and rail service has reduced a crude oil backup at the Cushing, Okla. pipeline hub, but has created a glut on the Gulf Coast—possibly presenting   opportunities for investment in transportation infrastructure.

Alembic Global Advisors said in a report last week that the smoother flow through Cushing has sent more crude to the Gulf Coast from prolific fields including the Bakken Shale in North Dakota and Permian Basin in West Texas.

Shell abandons plans for $20B Gulf Coast plant

Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday it is abandoning plans for a massive gas-to-liquids plant envisioned for Louisiana, citing poor economics for the project that was expected to cost more than $20 billion.

The plant would have turned natural gas into diesel, jet fuel and other liquids, but the company determined that it would be too costly.

Researchers to study environmental monitoring of the gulf

Researchers from the Center for Natural Resource Economics and Policy in the LSU AgCenter Department of Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness have received a three-year award of more than $750,000 to study the value of the environmental monitoring system in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP’s learned nothing: The oil company is pursuing its riskiest strategy yet

BP is yet to finish compensating the victims of the 2010 oil spill that killed 11 people and sent millions of gallons of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico, but the oil company isn’t about to let one major oil spill bring it down. Strapped for cash and in pursuit of bigger, deeper wells, it may be the only company capable of tapping risky reserves worth as much as $2 trillion.

BP oil spill claims halted by shocking court reversals

A federal appeals court’s intervention in the BP oil spill claims settlement has brought payments for any and all business losses to a screeching halt.

After paying 5,000 businesses more than $1.3 billion from April to September, court-appointed settlement claims administrator Patrick Juneau has paid just four business loss claims in the two months since the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals weighed in.

BP, Anadarko Ask Appeals Court to Reverse Oil Spill Decision

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and BP Plc asked an appeals court to throw out a judge’s finding that both companies were liable under the U.S. Clean Water Act for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier found BP and Anadarko, partners in the doomed Macondo project, are automatically responsible under the law for polluting the gulf’s waters because they owned the well. The 2012 ruling allowed the federal government to seek fines of as much as $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled — multiplied by as much as 4.2 million — without having to prove liability at trial.

US interior secretary about oil spill restoration

U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is in the New Orleans area to talk about the third and largest group of early restoration proposals for recovery from the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Money for the work is coming from $1 billion provided by BP PLC in 2011 as a down payment on coastal restoration.

Mississippi – Restoration of Gulf Coast off to a solid start

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation recently announced funding for 22 restoration projects across the Gulf Coast, including three in Mississippi.

The projects selected demonstrate how our state can use the funds resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster to create a long-term boost for our economy by restoring our environment.

The Mississippi Delta Is Disappearing Faster Than Any Other Land on Earth

Scientists use cancer as an analogy to describe the erosion of the Gulf Coast — it aptly captures the pernicious process of degradation, as well as its ability to elude cures. When scientists describe the “Gulf Coast” in Louisiana, they are not referring merely to the line along which the land meets the Gulf of Mexico, but to the entire bottom third of the state, which is largely comprised of deltaic wetlands. This whole area is being eaten from within, and its disappearance will expose New Orleans’ flood protection system to storm surges stronger than it can withstand.

‘Virtual wall’ blocks oil spills from spreading

Researchers have designed an invisible “wall” that stops oily liquids from spreading and confines them to a certain area.

The outer shell of a droplet of oil on a surface has a thin skin which allows it to hold its shape like a small dome, known as the liquid’s surface tension.

After Bay Bridge Crash, Credential Out of Reach

The man who crashed a cargo ship into the San Francisco Bay Bridge, causing one of the worst oil spills in the bay’s recent history, cannot renew his Merchant Mariner Credential, a federal judge ruled.

John Cota was the pilot of the container chip Cosco Busan on Nov. 7, 2007, when it allided with the fenders on the Bay Bridge, tearing a hole in the ship and spilling more than 53,000 gallons of fuel oil into the bay. The National Transportation Safety Board found Cota’s “degraded cognitive performance from his use of impairing prescription medications” to be the cause of the accident, though other factors contributed, including inadequate crew training and a failure by the Coast Guard to warn Cota by radio.

A worthy fight for First Nations: Choosing to become partners in Canada’s energy vision

With the release Thursday of Douglas Eyford’s roadmap to address aboriginal concerns over energy projects in Alberta and British Columbia, First Nations have come to a fork in the road.

They can choose the way opened wide by Canada’s Prime Minister, to whom Mr. Eyford reports, along with provincial governments, industry and scores of Canadians, and become partners in Canada’s great energy vision.

Keystone Backers Await Report Vital to Pipeline’s Fate

Supporters and foes of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline are bracing for the release of an environmental analysis from the U.S. government that could determine the $5.4 billion project’s fate.

While the report isn’t the final step, it’s eagerly anticipated because it will answer a question central to whether President Barack Obama approves the project: would Keystone contribute significantly to climate change? Obama has said he wouldn’t support the pipeline if it were found to substantially boost carbon-dioxide emissions that many scientists say are raising the Earth’s temperature.

Canada Crudes Weaken as Oil Pipeline Said to Apportion Shipments

Canadian crudes weakened on the spot market as Enbridge Inc. was said to have issued a mid-month apportionment notice for shipments on one of its crude oil export pipelines.

Enbridge told shippers apportionment on its Line 4 crude oil pipeline increased to 17 percent from the 10 percent level issued last month, according to two people familiar with the matter. Line 4 can ship 796,000 barrels of oil a day from Edmonton, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin. Apportionment occurs when there’s more demand to move oil through a pipeline than there is space, creating a logistical bottleneck.

Bluegrass Pipeline | Landowners seek eminent domain ruling

A group of landowners in the path of the Bluegrass Pipeline asked Franklin Circuit Court Thursday to rule whether developers of the pipeline have the power to take control of private land under eminent domain.

“The purpose of the lawsuit is to clarify as to whether a private company has the right to condemn land, to force someone to sell them an easement if they don’t want to,” Franklin County landowner Penny Greathouse said in a news release announcing the lawsuit.

A Rush to Expand Oil Drilling in the Arctic

In late December 2012, the U.S. Coast Guard was dispatched to rescue 18 crew members from the Kulluk, a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig that had broken free from its tow. The responders battled an Arctic storm that generated near hurricane-strength winds and 50-foot waves, but despite their efforts, the rig ran aground off of a small Alaskan island on New Year’s Eve. The oil rig’s fuel tanks were not breached, according to a Department of the Interior review, but up to 272 gallons of diesel oil may have flowed into the water from shattered lifeboats. The Kulluk incident – the culmination of the first exploratory drilling effort in the U.S. Arctic in almost two decades – demonstrated the perils posed by this remote and harsh area of the world.

In a Warming Arctic, Oil Drilling Brings Disaster

Shell Oil recently announced plans to resume drilling operations in the Arctic Ocean this summer. The company suffered a string of failures when it tried to drill there last year — from having its emergency equipment “crushed like a beer can” in tests to grounding its drill rig in a winter storm. But these fiascoes haven’t stopped Shell. The company is determined to gamble with pristine ocean waters once again.

Yet even as the oil giant draws up drilling plans, the Arctic continues to feel the brunt of climate change. Last year, the extent of sea ice in the Arctic was the smallest on record — just half the average coverage of recent decades. This year was slightly better, but scientists say the trend of shrinking ice will amplify global warming by darkening the planet’s surface and allowing more heat to be absorbed — ultimately contributing to changing weather patterns that already threaten communities in the United States and around the world, from New York to the Philippines.

Expanding Oil Drilling in the Arctic? Bad idea

President Obama’s “all of the above” energy strategy just doesn’t fit in many places, especially not in the Arctic Ocean. As the Arctic is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world and melting at record rates, the Obama administration wants to know if additional oil drilling in more places in the Chukchi Sea is a good idea.

The agency in charge of the leasing areas on the outer continental shelf for offshore oil and gas activities has already offered tens of millions of acres of the Arctic Ocean to oil companies, but now the agency is considering a plan to open up even more of this extraordinary part of the planet to Big Oil.

Fukushima Clean-Up Chief Admits Contaminated Water will be Dumped into Ocean

ABC recently held an exclusive interview with Dale Klein, the former chairman of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and now chairman of the Fukushima Monitoring Committee, in which he admitted that many more accidents are bound to happen at the stricken nuclear site before the clean-up is finished, and that the contaminated water collected will eventually have to be dumped into the sea.

“I think the best word to use with Fukushima is challenging,” he said.

Insight – Fukushima water tanks: leaky and built with illegal labor

Storage tanks at the Fukushima nuclear plant like one that spilled almost 80,000 gallons of radioactive water this year were built in part by workers illegally hired in one of the poorest corners of Japan, say labor regulators and some of those involved in the work.

“Even if we didn’t agree with how things were being done, we had to keep quiet and work fast,” said Yoshitatsu Uechi, 48, a mechanic and former bus driver, who was one of a crew of 17 workers recruited in Okinawa and sent to Fukushima in June 2012 – among the thousands of workers from across Japan who have put together the emergency water tanks and stabilized the plant after three reactor meltdowns that were triggered by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Fukushima Radioactive Water Leak: Construction Of Giant Water Tanks At Nuclear Plant Involved Illegal Labor, Substandard Work

Storage tanks at Japan’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant, which leaked gallons of radioactive water this year, were built with illegal labor and involved substandard work, a Reuters report said on Friday.

The report underlines concerns about the ability of Tepco, the plant’s beleaguered operator, to safely handle the crisis, even as the government is considering setting up a British-style agency to manage the decommissioning process. Tokyo Electric Power, or Tepco, the plant’s operator has been widely criticized for its mismanagement of the crisis at the nuclear power plant, which was hit by a giant tsunami triggered by an earthquake in March 2011 that ravaged the facility and damaged its back-up generators and cooling system leading to a meltdown of its reactors.

Fine sand led to Fukushima tsunami – NZ researchers

Kiwi scientists have helped reveal a key trigger in the devastating Fukushima tsunami that could help understand the tsunami threat in New Zealand.

As part of a team of 27 scientists from 10 countries, the researchers drilled into a fault line off the Japanese coast last year and collected three samples.

A fine sediment clay within the fault, which is called the Japan Trench plate boundary megathrust fault, was a key factor in the March 2011 tsunami.

Video: Spent Fuel Removal at Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant

Over the past several weeks, workers at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have started the first big task in the 40-year process of decommissioning the plant. On the top floor of reactor building 4, workers have begun removing the 1533 fuel assemblies from the spent fuel pool. The operation is expected to be completed by the end of 2014.

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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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