Environmental Must-Reads – February 12, 2014


Fracking blamed for drought in California

California fracking opponents aiming to stop development of massive state oil reserves are focusing their drive this year around the state’s record-breaking drought, arguing oil production would suck sorely needed water from farms and homes.

California Rep. Marc Levine told Reuters last week that he will co-author an upcoming bill that would place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing in the state, and said he will use the drought, which could be the state’s worst ever, to bolster his position.

EPA begins regulating the use of diesel in fracking

The Obama administration has moved to exert more control over the injection of diesel deep underground to extract oil and natural gas, its first foray into addressing the potential contamination of water from the controversial technique.

The Environmental Protection Agency has little authority to regulate fluids used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves pumping water laced with chemicals into shale formations to unlock trapped oil and gas. But the agency has been allowed since 2005 to regulate the use of diesel in fracking. Until Tuesday, it had not done so.

Fracking With Diesel Gets EPA Standards Amid Industry Fight

The Environmental Protection Agency issued measures for using diesel in hydraulic fracturing, setting standards it said could be adopted by states to govern a process that has spurred the boom in natural gas production.

While drillers say diesel has mostly been phased out of the process called fracking, they had sought to block the EPA’s criteria, saying it could lead to greater federal oversight and delays in getting permits. Environmentalists said the standards were long overdue, even as they urged the agency to take another step and ban any use of diesel in fracking.

Colorado Communities Battle to Ban Fracking

Citizens in cities on Colorado’s front range are pushing back against the fracking boom by passing ballot measures to either prohibit the practice or ban it temporarily.

The town of Longmont was the first in Colorado to ban fracking in 2012, when voters changed their city charter to prohibit it. Governor John Hickenlooper’s administration then sued Longmont over their ban, claiming only the state has the authority to regulate drilling.

Fracking stops landowners from building

Newly found oil in Kansas has oil producers finding more places to dig and that means they’re expanding oil operations closer to homes in the metro area. However, the new wells have dug up new frustrations.

Just after Victoria Guerrero and her husband got back from their military service in Germany, they had big plans to build on 10 acres of pasture land right next to Grandma and Grandpa.

Marcellus drillers feel heat as EPA mulls expanded Clean Water Act oversight

Wetlands were early casualties of the Marcellus Shale boom.

Beginning in 2007, oil and gas drillers in West Virginia built well pads, roads, compressor stations and pipelines through streams and wetlands at nearly 50 sites without Clean Water Act permits, according to a Greenwire review of U.S. EPA compliance orders for drilling in the state.

As the drilling spread, concerns about potential wetland violations were eclipsed by questions from regulators and the public about the drilling technique — hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — and its possible impact on drinking water quality and public health.

BP’s green makeover stifled backlash after oil spill, study shows

Before the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history, BP’s multimillion-dollar advertising machine convinced surveyed American consumers it was the most environmentally friendly oil company, university researchers wrote in a recent paper.

The London oil giant’s eight-year “Beyond Petroleum” campaign, which raised sunny logos over its gas stations and promoted its greener side, also softened the consumer backlash against BP after the U.S. Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.

‘Significant’ slurry spill blackens Kanawha creek

More than 100,000 gallons of coal slurry poured into an eastern Kanawha County stream Tuesday in what officials were calling a “significant spill” from a Patriot Coal processing facility.

Emergency officials and environmental inspectors said roughly six miles of Fields Creek had been blackened and that a smaller amount of the slurry made it into the Kanawha River near Chesapeake.

Dept. of Ecology says Hood Canal oil spill 2,000 gallons

The Department of Ecology is investigating after an oil spill on  Hood Canal

The Navy says they were transferring oily bilge water onto a dock when an alarm went off, meaning that transfer did not shut off when it was supposed to. That spilled the oily bilge water onto the dock and into the water.

Minnesota oil spill largely unreported, spills by rail hit new high

Here’s something troubling for environmentalists to contemplate: Have oil spills become so common, so normal, that the media only bothers to highlight the largest-scale disasters? When 12,000 gallons of crude spilled from a rail car between the Minnesota towns of Winona and Red Wing on Feb. 3, the general response in the news seemed to be a collective shrug of nonchalance. This is worrying, when one considers it’s likely the first of many oil-by-rail accidents of 2014 – and that last year, U.S. rail spilled more oil than at almost any other time in history.

New Hope For Tracking Oil Spills

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists in St. Petersburg, Fla., have developed a new computer model to help track, manage and predict the spread and path of oil spills, sometimes years into the future.

The study, published last week in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, looked at conglomerates of sand and oil several centimeters thick known as surface residual balls (SRBs) found in the surf zones of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. SRBs can float to surf zones, where waves break, and beaches, more than three years after the spilled oil first touched the shoreline.

Three Oil Spills in Two Weeks Foul Singapore’s Waters

A containership and a chemical tanker collided in the Singapore Strait Monday afternoon, spilling some 80 metric tonnes of bunker fuel, the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore reports. This is the third ship collision in Singaporean waters within the past two weeks that has resulted in an oil spill.

Monday’s collision between the departing Liberia-flagged containership Hammonia Thracium and the Panama-flagged chemical tanker Zoey occurred in the busy Singapore Strait, off Sebarok Island, about 10 kilometers (six miles) south of mainland Singapore.

North Dakota oil spill cleanup to last at least two more years

An oil pipeline spill that happened near Tioga last fall could take about two years to clean up while remediation at the site of a train derailment near Casselton could be done this summer, state lawmakers were told Tuesday.

Members of the interim Energy Development and Transmission Committee heard updates on both incidents and had questions about the lessons learned from them.

When it trains, it pours: The 10 worst oil-by-rail spills of the decade

When the State Department issued its long-awaited environmental-impact statement on the Keystone XL project earlier this month, one of its key findings was that if the controversial pipeline weren’t built, oil-laden rail cars would pick up the slack. “Rail will likely be able to accommodate new production if new pipelines are delayed or not constructed,” it argued. As Mother Jones noted recently, that rail transit is already underway. According to the Association of American Railroads (AAR), crude oil traveling by rail increased from 9,500 carloads in 2008 to an estimated 400,000 in 2013. Recently, an ExxonMobil official said the company had already begun to use trains to haul oil out of the Canadian tar sands, and the company plans to move up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day from a new terminal by 2015. In other words, tar sands will be developed one way or another, according to the State Department, with or without the $5.4 billion pipeline that would eventually link Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico.

Reject the Keystone XL Pipeline Once and For All

The State Department’s Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline, released last week, backpedaled on State’s earlier claim that the pipeline would have no significant climate impact. The report concluded that Keystone XL could create climate pollution equivalent to nearly six million cars, or eight coal-fired power plants.

Now President Obama must choose whether to fight climate disruption or expand dirty fossil fuels like tar sands. The Keystone XL pipeline fails the basic climate test. Climate disruption, water pollution, property taken by eminent domain, and poisoned air are not in the interest of the American people. Last June, the president vowed he would not approve the pipeline if it would “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” He should now reject the tar sands pipeline once and for all.

Enbridge ready to test new pipeline

Pressure testing of the final segments of the Enbridge Energy crude oil pipeline is expected to begin Thursday from Hobart to Griffith.

Enbridge spokeswoman Jennifer Smith said the testing allows the company to verify the integrity of the welds in the pipeline that covers 60 miles of northern Indiana. The Indiana portion of the $1.6 billion project that stretches from Griffith to Marysville, Mich., is $300 million.

Keystone XL will significantly increase oil industry investment in the tar sands

A major issue in the decision around the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is the extent to which this project will drive expansion of tar sands extraction and the associated climate change. We often hear Keystone XL dismissed as insignificant. This misses the point that a decision on Keystone XL is a decision about whether the tar sands production will more than triple over its 2010 levels by 2030. It is a decision that is significant for our climate.

KEYSTONE XL: TransCanada threatens to change pipeline route to avoid permit delays

The company behind Keystone XL ultimately could tweak its pipeline proposal in order to sidestep the requirement for a presidential border-crossing permit, according to communications with landowners residing along its proposed route.

TransCanada Corp. did not disclose how it might further shake up the $5.4 billion pipeline, which remains in limbo as the State Department begins the next phase in a years-long review, in the proposed easement agreement obtained by Greenwire from a Nebraskan landowner requesting anonymity. But the company’s desire to leave its options open is apparent in its letter.

Minnesota fire crews ‘ill-prepared’ for any oil train catastrophe

Six trains with 100 or more crude oil tank cars pass through the Twin Cities every day, and if one of them wrecks, state and local emergency responders don’t have the equipment needed to put out a catastrophic fire, state and local officials say.

To fight a major oil-train fire, local fire departments would need help from railroad emergency crews, officials said. That was the case in the Dec. 30 derailment, explosion and fire of an oil train near Casselton, N.D. Massive amounts of fire-suppressing foam, rather than standard water hoses, are needed to extinguish raging tank-car fires.

Ottawa, Quebec agree on plan to share Lac-Mégantic costs

After six months of tough negotiations, Ottawa and Quebec have finally reached an agreement to cover the costs of last summer’s train disaster in Lac-Mégantic.

Most of the town’s business district was levelled after a runaway train loaded with crude oil jumped the tracks and exploded, killing 47 people.

December train derailment spilled 475,000 gallons of oil, data show

New numbers in a federal database show that a Dec. 30 train derailment near Casselton, N.D., spilled nearly 475,000 gallons of crude oil, more than officials originally estimated.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration maintains a database on such spills going back to 1975. A McClatchy analysis of the data last month showed that more crude oil was spilled from trains in 2013 than in the previous four decades combined.

Arctic infrastructure not keeping pace with commercial activity

The Russian response to Greenpeace’s protest at the Arctic Prirazlomnoye oil rig made it clear to a lot of people that in spite of environmental concerns, the commercialization of the region is proceeding full speed ahead and enjoying top political priority.

The controversial rig went into production at the end of the last year. Shipping has also increased dramatically in Arctic waters in the last few years, with international freight companies using the Northern Sea Route along the Russian coast to transport gas and other commodities. This reduces the distance between Shanghai and Hamburg by around 6,400 kilometers, compared with the usual route via the Suez Canal. Tourism is also on the up, with an increasing number of cruise ships making their way through Arctic waters during the summer months. What happens if one of these ships sinks?

Nuclear Issue in Limbo as Indecision Grips Japan

Several industrialized countries have turned their backs on nuclear power as a result of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, including one that has already begun permanently shutting functioning plants. That country is not Japan.

‘Fukushima: The Story Of A Nuclear Disaster’ Reveals New Insight Into Japanese Catastrophe

The story of the 2011 catastrophe at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant unfolds in a new book-length account from the Union of Concerned Scientists, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“Fukushima: The Story of a Nuclear Disaster” (The New Press) was penned by David Lochbaum, head of the UCS’s Nuclear Safety Project (and a nuclear engineer for 17 years); Edwin Lyman, a senior scientist in UCS’s Global Security Program; and journalist Susan Stranahan, who led the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of the Three Mile Island Accident in Dauphin, Pennsylvania (which earned the paper the 1980 Pulitzer Prize in local general reporting).

Many foreigners in Fukushima fled after crisis, news reporting questioned

A nonprofit group’s interviews with foreign nationals who were living in Fukushima Prefecture at the time the nuclear catastrophe started in March 2011 determined that more than two-thirds left for their home countries or relocated elsewhere in Japan, at least temporarily.

The Fukushima International Association said its survey also showed the foreigners it polled were troubled by differences in domestic and foreign media coverage and that most of them relied on TV more than radio because of language barriers.

Japan’s nuclear regulator raps Fukushima operator over radiation readings

Japan’s nuclear regulator has criticised the operator of the stricken Fukushima plant for incorrectly measuring radiation levels in contaminated groundwater at the site.

Almost three years since the reactor meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi station, Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) still lacks basic understanding of measuring and handling radiation, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) Chairman Shunichi Tanaka said on Wednesday. The utility has been widely criticised for an inept response to the March 2011 disaster.

Lawmakers say residents emailing and calling with radiation fears

It has been almost three years since a massive earthquake crippled Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant. Radiation fears have resurfaced and now residents are asking whether the state’s doing enough to be sure there’s nothing from the Fukushima meltdown hitting our shores.

“I just want to make sure what we consume is going to be safe,” said Adrian Chang.

Chang is a retired Pearl Harbor nuclear engineer.

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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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