Environmental Must-Reads – December 8, 2014


Appalachia: a small city’s fight against toxic waste incineration

East Liverpool, a small city by the Ohio river, is a cancer-ridden dumping ground for the detritus of the global economy, writes Caitlin Johnson. With its filthy power station, coal ash lake, 1,300 fracking wells, silica sand mountains and a huge toxic waste incinerator, the city’s people need your help in their fight for environmental justice.

Bristol Bay fishery needs protection from oil and gas leasing

Alaskans know that Bristol Bay is all about wild salmon. For thousands of years the people of Bristol Bay have thrived on this bounty and for more than 130 years, it has supported a major sustainable commercial fishery that supplies the world. Bristol Bay produces 50 percent of the world’s sockeye salmon, making the region of true global importance.

Environmental group lawsuit targets offshore fracking in California

An environmental group threatened on Thursday to sue the federal government unless it halts offshore fracking in California immediately, the latest legal challenge levied against the controversial oil extraction technique.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Interior Department, saying it violated three federal laws by allowing fracking in California’s Santa Barbara Channel without evaluating its polluting effects on coastal communities or marine wildlife such as blue whales and otters.

National environmental groups want to join Denton fracking fight

National environmental groups joined forces with grassroots activists in Denton on Thursday, seeking to defend in court the first municipal fracking ban adopted in Texas.

The Denton Drilling Awareness Group, a citizens group that fought to put the ban on the November ballot, and Earthworks, a national nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C., filed a petition in court asking to be named as defendants and intervenors so they can help provide a “vigorous defense of the legality and enforceability of the ordinance.”

DEP gives gas industry group $150,000 grant to study drilling

The state Department of Environmental Protection has awarded a $150,000 non-competitive grant to an industry-backed nonprofit organization. The money was allocated in last year’s state budget specifically for “independent research regarding natural gas drilling.”

As StateImpact Pennsylvania previously reported, the grant recipient is a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit called the Shale Alliance for Energy Research (SAFER PA). It formed in 2013 as a partnership between industry and academia. Its board has three representatives from Pennsylvania universities and five members from the oil and gas industry.

Federal land deals full of thorny trade-offs

One of the most ambitious public lands packages in years is speeding through Congress after being quietly attached to a must-pass bipartisan defense bill that cleared the House on Thursday.

The measure includes about 70 public lands projects, including the first national monument status for ice age fossil beds in Nevada, protection for about 275,000 acres of Montana’s rugged Rocky Mountain Front and a land swap that clears the way for a controversial southeastern Arizona copper mine.

A dozen dirty documents

The Center for Public Integrity, along with researchers from Columbia University and the City University of New York, on Thursday posted some 20,000 pages of internal oil and chemical industry documents on the carcinogen benzene.

This archive, which will grow substantially in 2015 and beyond, offers users a chance to see what corporate officials were saying behind the scenes about poisons in the workplace and the environment.

Washington County residents to monitor community’s water quality

Prompted by the Washington County’s decision to allow natural gas drilling, a group of county residents is preparing to monitor the community’s water quality.

The local Virginia Organizing chapter met Thursday for its first training in citizen water monitoring, which was offered via video conference by James Beckley, a quality assurance coordinator for the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Oil pipeline developers grilled on safety, impact

Dozens of Iowans on Thursday grilled the developers behind a $3.8 billion pipeline that would run from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields to Illinois, asking questions about the project’s safety and environmental impact.

Some residents attending the Dakota Access pipeline meeting in Ankeny also expressed support for the project, the jobs it would create and the added independence from foreign oil it would help bring.

Study Links Fracking to Infertility, Miscarriages, Birth Defects

A new study links shale oil and gas development to a host of developmental and reproductive health risks, and says the processes involved – including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking – pose a particularly potent threat to what researchers called “our most vulnerable population.”

“Children, developing fetuses, they’re especially vulnerable to environmental factors,” says Ellen Webb, the study’s lead author and an energy program associate at the Center for Environmental Health. “We really need to be concerned about the impacts for these future generations.”

Study of fertility risks sought

Researchers reviewed a number of recent studies of hydraulic fracturing against what is known about reproductive health and found increased risk to both men’s and women’s fertility, fetal development and to the incidence of birth defects.

A group of doctors and scientists from the University of Missouri, the University at Albany-State University of New York, and the Center for Environmental Health in Oakland, California, published their literature review Friday in the quarterly scientific journal Reviews of Environmental Health.

Health impact of fracking on residents ‘should be monitored’

People who live near fracking operations should be monitored for chemical contaminants and health problems, according to researchers who surveyed the risks posed by substances used in the process.

Scientists in the US found that many of the 750 or so chemicals that are pumped into the ground at high pressure to fracture shale rock were associated with fertility and developmental problems.

In NY Tourist Haven, Arrests Continue at Methane Storage Project

Nine people were arrested Thursday near Seneca Lake, N.Y., for blockading the entrances of an energy facility owned by Crestwood Midstream Partners LP, which received federal approval this fall to expand its methane storage operations there.

Since protests began on Oct. 23, the earliest possible day the company could have kicked off construction, 92 people have been arrested. Many are from the local activist group We Are Seneca Lake.

Water worries: Advocates concerned state measures fail to protect water from drilling

Russell Ray hasn’t noticed a change in the way his water tastes, but he said his guests have.

Ray lives about a mile outside Loop 289 on the Northeast side of Lubbock. His house has been surrounded by more than five visible oil wells for as long as he and his family have lived there, which is about eight years.

BLM considers New Mexico oil pipeline proposal

As the national debate over increased oil and gas development wears on, an area in the Four Corners region long known for its natural gas deposits stands to be the next flashpoint as a Colorado company moves forward with plans to build a 140-mile pipeline across northwestern New Mexico that would be capable of moving 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

The Bureau of Land Management is considering whether to permit the project by Saddle Butte Pipeline LLC. A public meeting was set for Thursday evening in Lybrook, but it could be early next year before the agency makes a final decision.

W.Va. OKs fracking under Ohio River; critics leery

West Virginia has opened the Ohio River to fracking.

The state government announced that companies can ask to drill beneath the Ohio River for natural gas and oil.

Those companies would pay the state a per-acre fee as well as royalties on the oil and gas. It is a move that could bring millions of dollars into West Virginia, which has tapped into its rainy-day fund to prop up its budget.

Northern Territory fracking report to be released as environmental fears grow

The Northern Territory government will look to releasing the results of an inquiry into fracking, the chief minister, Adam Giles, has said amid public concern about the impact of a growing resources industry.

The inquiry, conducted by a retired diplomat and public servant, Allan Hawke, received more than 130 submissions in its examination of the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial process used to extract gas from below ground.

Parishes surrounding Baton Rouge could struggle to meet EPA’s proposed, tough ozone levels

Not much will change for the five-parish Baton Rouge area if a proposed new, tougher ozone standard announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in late November is adopted.

The EPA proposed a new rule that would lower the ozone standard from 75 parts per billion to between 65 ppb and 70 ppb. The agency also is taking comments on the possibility of lowering it to 60 ppb.

Industry and residents of East Baton Rouge, West Baton Rouge, Ascension, Iberville and Livingston parishes have been living with ozone-related regulations for decades. The area came into compliance with the latest ozone standard late last year, just in time for a tougher standard to be proposed.

BP quickens job cuts due to oil price fall

Oil giant BP is accelerating plans to cut hundreds of jobs within its back-office departments – many of them based in the UK and US.

The company, which has been downsizing since the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, said it had long planned the cuts, but is speeding up the process due to falling oil prices.

Contrary To BP PR, Most Oil Spill Claims Are Legit

For more than a year, oil giant BP has waged a massive public relations battle to convince Americans that the company has been bamboozled by the oil spill claims process relating to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout.

This BP PR campaign has involved full-page newspaper ads paid for by the company suggesting it is being swindled by Gulf Coast residents who were not affected by the oil spill. BP spokesepeople have appeared in the media to argue that the claims process has been “absurd.” And evidence even suggests that the company has employed online “trolls” to attack legitimate victims on social media websites.

Israel: Pipeline company admits 5 million tons of oil spilled in south

The Eilat-Ashkelon Pipeline Company admitted Sunday that the amount of oil that spilled from the pipeline last week was 5 million tons, much more than the 1-1.5 millions tons claimed earlier.

Israel’s Environment Protective Ministry said in response they were skeptic of the Eilat-Ahskelon Pipeline Company’s earlier claims.

Expected rain spurs worry that Arava oil will spread

Just a few minutes drive north of Eilat, the air already reeks of oil. The arid bouquet of sand and acacia trees one expects in the valley, flanked by red mountains in Jordan and sandstone in Israel, has taken on the aroma of a gas station as streams of black oil snake their way through river beds.

Government clean-up crews are already working to remove the besmirched sand caused by Wednesday’s break in the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline that poured thousands of liters of oil into the desert. It is arguably the worst environmental disaster in Israel’s history.

Enbridge plans Northern Gateway shakeup, giving greater control to aboriginal partners

Enbridge Inc. is planning significantly greater aboriginal participation and control — perhaps even a majority — over the Northern Gateway oil pipeline, while eventually stepping back into more of an operator role, the proposed pipeline’s top executive confirmed Friday.

Extensive consultation with British Columbia’s First Nations and Metis communities on the controversial $7.9-billion project has increased awareness at the Calgary-based company that it needs to better reflect their needs and interests and be more “inclusive,” project president John Carruthers said in an interview.

In face of opposition, company to reroute gas pipeline

Stung by intense local opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline winding through western and central Massachusetts, a Houston energy company said Friday that it will pursue an alternative route that bypasses many Massachusetts communities by veering north and shooting across southern New Hampshire.

Kinder Morgan Inc. said much of the alternative path would follow existing rights-of-way along utility lines in the two states, meaning it would cross fewer residential properties and undeveloped lands. Kinder Morgan plans to file the new route on Monday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has final say on gas pipelines in New England.

Shale gas pipeline developer threatens to seize land

The developer of a $750 million natural gas pipeline from Pennsylvania into New York has threatened to seize land from reluctant landowners through eminent domain.

A letter obtained by the Albany Times Union (http://bit.ly/12SNKHQ ) tells landowners who have refused to sell rights of way for the Constitution Pipeline that they have until Wednesday to accept offered prices. After that, developers will take them to court to force such sales for possibly less money.

North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem

U.S. regulators knew they had to act fast. A train hauling 2 million gallons of crude oil from North Dakota had exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people. Now they had to assure Americans a similar disaster wouldn’t happen south of the border, where the U.S. oil boom is sending highly volatile crude oil every day over aging, often defective rails in vulnerable railcars.

On the surface, the response from Washington following the July 6, 2013 explosion seemed promising. Over the next several months, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued two emergency orders, two safety alerts and a safety advisory. It began drafting sweeping new oil train regulations to safeguard the sudden surge of oil being shipped on U.S. rails. The railroad industry heeded the call, too, agreeing to slow down trains, increase safety inspections and reroute oil trains away from populous areas.

U.S. Crackdown on Oil Trains—Less Than Meets the Eye

The first public action U.S. rail regulators took after a fiery oil train explosion killed 47 people in Canada in July 2013 seemed clear, impactful and firm: Trains carrying hazardous materials could no longer be left unattended with their engines running unless the railroad first got approval from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Leaving a freight train unattended overnight with the engines running had been a major factor in the Lac-Megantic, Canada, disaster, and the August 2, 2013 news release announcing the U.S. action had a no-more-business-as-usual tone. The emergency order was “a mandatory directive to the railroad industry, and failure to comply will result in enforcement actions,” the press release said, adding no train shall be left unattended on the tracks with its engines running “unless specifically authorized.”

State clashes with railroads over handling of oil train information

On the day before Thanksgiving, officials at Kern County’s Taft fire station got a phone call advising them that a mile-long oil train would be arriving at a nearby pipeline terminal the next day.

As important as that notification may seem — the delivery was a first for the $130 million facility — the phone call was a courtesy, not a requirement. The Houston-based terminal operator, Plains All American Pipeline LP, has since told the county it will provide no such notices in the future.

EU exempts Arctic onshore oil projects from sanctions

The European Union has published amendments to its decisions on restrictions imposed with respect to the Russian oil industry due to the situation in Ukraine.

The EU says in its official journal that its decision of July 1 prohibited equipment supplies for oil exploration and production in the Arctic. The amendments clarify that this only applies to the Arctic shelf.

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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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