Environmental Must-Reads – February 10, 2015


EARTHQUAKES: Research shows strong correlation between quakes, oil activity

New research is zeroing in on a significant correlation between oil and gas waste disposal and earthquakes in a two-county area in northern Oklahoma.

In the past year, earthquakes have become common in Alfalfa and Grant counties along the Kansas border. The frequent shaking comes on the heels of a 500 percent increase in the amount of waste fluid being injected under the two rural counties.

Texas Supreme Court leaves water disposal issue unanswered

Can you own your land from heaven to hell?

The Texas Supreme Court isn’t saying.

The state’s high court on Friday issued an opinion in a widely-watched case that dealt with the underground migration of water pumped down a disposal well.

CALIFORNIA: Fracking opponents take aim at governor’s climate credentials

As Gov. Jerry Brown (D) doubles down on California’s climate change policies, opponents of hydraulic fracturing in the state are getting louder.

Climate and environmental activists in Oakland on Saturday sought to challenge the notion that Brown — who has signed agreements with China and Mexico to collaborate on climate policies and who last month in his inaugural speech proposed cutting petroleum use in half by 2030 — is a climate hawk.

Drillers Take Second Crack at Fracking Old Wells to Cut Cost

Beset by falling prices, the oil industry is looking at about 50,000 existing wells in the U.S. that may be candidates for a second wave of fracking, using techniques that didn’t exist when they were first drilled.

New wells can cost as much as $8 million, while re-fracking costs about $2 million, significant savings when the price of crude is hovering close to $50 a barrel, according to Halliburton Co., the world’s biggest provider of hydraulic fracturing services.

Cleanup Update Following North Dakota’s Biggest Produced Water Spill

The largest produced-water spill since the beginning of North Dakota’s current energy boom forced cleanup crews to pump away at least 4 million gallons of freshwater, oil, and brine after the incident contaminated a creek and eventually reached the Missouri River, according to figures recently released by the federal government.

A report issued in January by the EPA provides “an overall assessment on the nearly 3 million-gallon spill of [produced water] generated by oil drilling that leaked from a ruptured pipeline that operator Summit Midstream Partners LLC detected on Jan. 6. It remains unclear exactly when the spill occurred and what caused it,” according to the Associated Press.

Supervisors poised to ban fracking in Butte County

Butte County’s board of supervisors appears poised to ban the practice of fracking, perhaps as early as Tuesday, at it next board meeting.

Fracking is a procedure designed to enhance the output of oil and gas from a well by using high pressure water and other items.

Did Fracking Cause an Earthquake in Alberta?

On January 22, the small Albertan town of Fox Creek (population 2,000), was struck by a 4.4-magnitude earthquake shortly before midnight. While the earthquake caused neither significant property damage nor injury, it did cause residents’ doors to slam and their beds to move. More importantly, however, the earthquake sparked an intense debate regarding the cause of the seismic activity.

So far the science is still out on the definitive cause of the quake, but preliminary research by the Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) suggests it may have been linked to hydraulic fracturing—or fracking, as it’s more commonly known. If the industrial oil- and gas-extraction practice is indeed the culprit, it will be the largest fracking-induced earthquake on record.

Hey, California: Oklahoma had 3 times as many earthquakes in 2014

Earthquakes are synonymous with California to most Americans, but West Coasters might be surprised to learn they’re far from the new center of the seismic landscape in the United States.

Oklahoma recorded more than three times as many earthquakes as California in 2014 and remains well ahead in 2015. Data from the U.S. Geological Survey shows that Oklahoma had 562 earthquakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater in 2014; California had 180. As of Jan. 31, Oklahoma recorded 76 earthquakes of that magnitude, compared with California’s 10.

At it again: Oklahoma woman says anti-fracking “Frankensign” vandalized again

The attacks keep coming on the ‘Stop Fracking Payne County’ signs in Stillwater.

Ariel Ross said she’d been through about four signs before her husband decided to try and outsmart the vandals.

He bolted the sign underground and attached metal plates to it.

The sign dubbed “Frankensign” also had nails sticking out of it.

U.S. Fracking Bet Gone Wrong Hurts Guar Growers: Corporate India

A big bet on the U.S. fracking boom is coming back to haunt India’s guar industry.

Orders for guar gum — used to extract shale oil and gas — are drying up as U.S. companies cut investments following the plunge in crude oil prices. For Vikas WSP Ltd., India’s second-largest exporter, that’s meant idling 40 percent of its 140,000 metric ton capacity, a sign of industry stress.

Activists: NY A Dump For Fracking Waste

A new report examines the possibility and practice of potentially radioactive out-of-state fracking waste getting dumped in New York despite Governor Cuomo’s ongoing implementation of a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing.

The report, entitled “License to Dump,” documents incidents of fracking waste from Pennsylvania, a drilling state, transported to New York, which announced a ban on the process in mid-December after years of study.

Bill would put moratorium on fracking

Environmentally stringent and costly drilling regulations are not enough to protect the public’s health from hydraulic fracturing’s pollutants, according to a coalition of legislators, environmental groups and health professionals who rallied Thursday, Feb. 5, in support of a moratorium bill.

Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery, is sponsoring the Protect Our Health and Communities Bill that would delay hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Western Maryland for the next eight years in order to provide more time to investigate health and environmental ramifications.

Bill would mandate eight-year moratorium on fracking

Environmentally stringent and costly drilling regulations are not enough to protect the public’s health from hydraulic fracturing’s pollutants, according to a coalition of legislators, environmental groups and health professionals who rallied Thursday, Feb. 5 in support of a moratorium bill.

Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-15-Montgomery, is sponsoring the Protect Our Health and Communities Act that would delay hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in western Maryland for the next eight years to provide more time to investigate health and environmental ramifications.

Groups plan full-court press for Denver fracking moratorium

Years into Colorado’s war over fracking, environmental and community activists Tuesday will try to open a new front by targeting Denver city hall.

An alliance that also includes breweries, civil rights groups and nature photographer John Fielder will press during a news conference at noon Tuesday outside the City and County Building for a pre-emptive fracking moratorium.

Industry presses feds to keep Atlantic drilling on the table

Oil industry leaders on Monday beseeched the Obama administration to sell drilling rights in East Coast waters before 2022, even as environmentalists asked that the territory be closed to the activity.

The widely ranging views came as the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management kicked off coast-to-coast hearings on its draft plan to sell offshore oil and gas leases from 2017 to 2022.

Diamond Offshore CEO: Oil firms trying to sublet rigs in crowded market

Major oil companies like Statoil and Total are trying to sublet drilling vessels in an offshore rig market that is already crowded, burdened by an equipment glut this year as oil prices have fallen, the CEO of Diamond Offshore Drilling says.

“I don’t think there is one client — and I’m speaking from an industry perspective, not just our own fleet — that doesn’t have at least one rig available for sublet,” Diamond CEO Marc Edwards said in a quarterly conference call with investors. “We have to be conscious of the fact these sublets are competing in a market space for rigs that are coming out of the shipyards today and others that are rolling off contract.”

Baldwin County finalizing its BP oil spill claims resulting in $7.2 million to schools, youth programs, social agencies

More than $7.2 million in damages have been accounted to Baldwin County taxpayers in the aftermath of claim settlements stemming from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, Baldwin County Interim Administrator Ron Cink reported Monday.

The latest figure comes less than a week after the Baldwin County Commission unanimously approved an agreement with the Baldwin County School Board on the disbursement of $3 million of BP settlement proceeds to the school system.

Watch Our HBO Report on the Lasting Effects of the BP Oil Spill

In the ninth episode of our second season of VICE on HBO, Shane Smith heads to Louisiana to report on the lasting effects of the BP oil spill.

Witnessing Deepwater Horizon Again

The recent Interior Department proposal to allow offshore oil and gas drilling along the East Coast is simply absurd. Waves of drilling could likely precede waves of oil lapping at the shores of our beloved beaches and storied seaports, imperiling fish, wildlife, local economies and treasured ways of life. The potential rewards for Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay are not worth the risk of more seismic testing — let alone another calamitous spill.

The oil and gas industry frequently tells us that drilling rigs are now accident-proof, pipelines rarely break, and tankers hardly ever sink. In truth, the U.S. averages a decent-sized oil spill every day, under current levels of production.

Pipeline spill cleanup picks up near Glendive

Near Glendive cleanup efforts resumed Monday for the oil spilled into the Yellowstone River from pipeline rupture.

Helicopters, ice booms, and man power are being used to clean an estimated 50,000 gallons spilled form the  Bridger Pipeline January 22.

Alberta Pitching Oil Pipeline to Alaska, Prentice Says

Alberta is in discussions with Alaska about shipping oil-sands crude through the U.S. state to the Pacific as approval for the southbound Keystone XL pipeline languishes in Washington.

The Alaska plan would involve constructing a pipeline along the Mackenzie River valley and then west to existing ports on the U.S. coast, Alberta Premier Jim Prentice said Friday in an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. Alaskan ports have been staging points for maritime crude shipments for decades.

Environmental Movement Has Held Back the Keystone XL Pipeline — For Good Reason

Ditching the Keystone XL pipeline should be a no-brainer. The 1,179-mile pipeline extension would carry some of the world’s dirtiest oil from the tar sands of Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas. And it shouldn’t be necessary to repeat this, but since we have a Congress controlled by a party that denies the reality of climate change, it is: 97 percent of climate scientists agree that human activity has warmed the Earth. The evidence of climate disruption is all around us, from warming ocean surface and land temperatures, melting Antarctic ice sheets and glaciers, rising sea levels, and increasing heat waves and other changes in extreme weather events.

Rick Perry joins oil pipeline board

Former Texas governor Rick Perry, zigging where others zag, has joined the board of directors of a company building a midwestern oil pipeline that runs through  Iowa, site of the first 2016 presidential contest.

It’s a notable decision because former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who like Perry has his eye on the 2016 GOP nomination, has stepped down from his corporate board positions in preparation for a presidential campaign.

The FBI Is Making House Calls to Keystone XL Opponents

Tar sands activists in several states have been getting visits from the FBI, and no one knows yet exactly why.

Federal agents have been contacting activists who have participated in anti-Keystone XL and anti-tar sands protests, according to the Canadian Press. The visits have been happening to activists in Oregon, Washington state, and Idaho, and a lawyer working with the activists told the Canadian Press that he has advised them not to talk to the agents.

From Bad To Worse at Scandal-Ridden Safety Agency

The independent agency that investigates chemical accidents is under fire from seemingly every corner of the government—from the White House on down.

The White House is reviewing a damning inspector general report against the head of the Chemical Safety Board, Rafael Moure-Eraso. Members of Congress also are unhappy, with several committees on the case. And there’s a federal investigation into the leaked identity of an agency whistleblower.

Mayor: Effects on Winona Lake uncertain following explosion, spill

Warsaw Mayor Joe Thallemer issued a statement Monday following a four day emergency response to a chemical plant explosion and spill.

Emergency responders were called to the Warsaw Chemical Company Friday and Thallemer commented on the now completed emergency phase and the ongoing investigation.

Bills would weaken water protections

A year after a toxic leak contaminated drinking water for 300,000 residents, West Virginia lawmakers are considering a series of proposals that would weaken a new chemical tank safety law, remove stronger pollution protections for streams across the state, and protect the coal industry from enforcement actions over violations of water quality standards.

Members of a coalition of citizen groups called the West Virginia Safe Water Roundtable held a news conference Monday at the Capitol to draw attention to their concerns and to urge lawmakers not to roll back the state’s clean water laws.

Chemical that triggered Santa Paula blast identified

The mid-November explosion at a plant outside Santa Paula has been tied to sodium chlorite, a chemical that was mistakenly mixed with residential sewage, company officials said Monday.

Regulators initially could not identify the exact substance at fault at the plant where the Santa Clara Waste Water Co. keeps an array of chemicals. But an internal investigation now points to sodium chlorite, a water treatment agent the firm says it was using for the first time.

Wireless Radiation Causes Cancer New Scientific Findings Reveal

NACST is taking action after two recently published studies indicate there is sufficient evidence demonstrating exposure to wireless radiation, also known as RF-EMF, causes cancer. Wireless routers and devices such as iPads, cell phones, laptops, baby monitors and cordless phones all emit this type of radiation.

NUCLEAR WASTE: Texas company rolls out plan for private spent-fuel storage site

A Dallas-based company has unveiled plans to build the nation’s first private, temporary storage site for spent reactor fuel in the arid western corner of Texas with hopes that the Department of Energy will be its No. 1 customer.

Waste Control Specialists LLC will ask the Nuclear Regulatory Commission next year for a license to build an interim storage site on 1,000 acres in Andrews County, about 350 miles west of Dallas, according to a letter the company sent to the commission Friday.

State Finds Radioactive Material In Vermont Yankee Groundwater

The Vermont Health Department says for the first time it has found the radioactive isotope Strontium-90 in ground water at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant in Vernon.

The levels found were below the Environmental Protection Agency’s safe drinking water threshold and the water in the test wells is not used for drinking.

More wells sampled for possible contamination from closed Mount Olive landfill

Ten additional water samples have been taken from seven residential wells to determine possible contamination from a nearby Superfund landfill.

Inspectors from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) took the samples from the Combe Fill North landfill on Jan. 29. Preliminary results are expected by next week, according to a DEP spokesman.

Wildfires in Ukraine could revive Chernobyl’s radiation

When the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant exploded in 1986, some 85 petabecquerels of radioactive cesium was released into the atmosphere and surrounding environs. Researchers believe somewhere between 2 and 8 PBq is still lingering in the soil and forest debris that surrounds the disaster site.

Scientists have long feared that forest fires could send leftover radiation back into the atmosphere as radioactive leaves and other dead and dry plant material burn up — traces of cesium wafting skyward in the plumes of smoke. Now, a new study confirms these fears, suggesting forest fires can and will enable radiation to accumulate in clouds and travel across Eastern Europe.

U.S. derails amendment to toughen nuclear safety pact -diplomats

The United States has derailed a proposal to toughen nuclear safety standards by amending a global atomic treaty, diplomats said, with opponents of the move arguing it would get mired in lengthy parliamentary ratification.

Months of wrangling about the future of the 77-nation Convention on Nuclear Safety (CNS) culminated at a Vienna meeting diplomats feared could expose divisions over safety standards four years after the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Berlin: ‘Nuclear Nation II’ Continues to Probe Fukushima Disaster

Funahashi Atsushi’s “Nuclear Nation II” documentary is neither polemic, nor simple diary. But it is pretty clear where the director’s sympathies lie.

His followup to 2012’s “Nuclear Nation” points an accusing finger at the Japanese government as he compares the citizens displaced by the Fukushima disaster to the people of Gaza, likens official pronouncements to propaganda and argues that the societal cost of nuclear power is simply too high.

‘Miracle pine’ that stood tall in tsunami offers hope for Fukushima residents

Nearly four years after the towering March 2011 tsunami swept away 70 households and claimed 54 lives in this seashore community, a lone “miracle pine tree” that remained standing continues to inspire local residents.

Chohachi Kanno, who lived on the coast, lost his wife, mother and two children in the tsunami spawned by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

What’s inside the first new US nuclear plant in two decades

It’s been almost two decades since a new nuclear plant opened for business in the United States. But that’s about to change as construction wraps up on the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Watts Bar Unit 2 (WB2) plant.

Completion of the plant’s construction, following a long hiatus, confirms the importance of nuclear power in the overall energy supply in the US and beyond. To some, its opening later this year heralds the beginning of a much-anticipated nuclear renaissance in the US.

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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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