Environmental Must-Reads – February 12, 2015


High levels of benzene found in fracking waste water

Hoping to better understand the health effects of oil fracking, the state in 2013 ordered oil companies to test the chemical-laden waste water extracted from wells.

Data culled from the first year of those tests found significant concentrations of the human carcinogen benzene in this so-called “flowback fluid.” In some cases, the fracking waste liquid, which is frequently reinjected into groundwater, contained benzene levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe.

Cancer-causing Chemicals Found in Fracking Flowback From California Oil Wells

Flowback fluid from fracked oil wells in California commonly contains dangerous levels of cancer-causing chemicals, a new analysis by the Center for Biological Diversity has found.

Flowback fluid is a key component of oil-industry wastewater from fracked wells, which is commonly disposed of in injection wells, which often feed into aquifers, including some that could be used for drinking water and irrigation. Oil wastewater is also dumped into open pits.

Fracking will be allowed under national parks, UK decides

Fracking companies will be allowed to drill horizontally under national parks and other protected areas if the wells start just outside their boundaries, after the government rowed back on its earlier acceptance of new environmental protections.

Ministers were forced to accept a series of new regulations from Labour on 26 January after facing defeat by concerned backbenchers, but the final amendments passed by MPs on Monday unpicked many of them. Green Party MP Caroline Lucas accusing ministers of “doing the dirty work of fracking companies for them”, but the government move was welcomed by the nascent shale gas industry.

Fewer trade secrets for Wyoming fracking fluid

In 2010 Wyoming became the first state to require oil and gas companies to disclose chemicals used in fracking operations. Home to the petroleum-rich Powder River Basin, proponents saw the rule as a model for other drilling-dependent states to follow. The message they hoped the regulation would convey: We can be energy-friendly and environmentally friendly too.

But the rule contained a trade secrets caveat, which allowed companies to skirt the disclosure requirement if they said the chemicals were confidential business information. That exemption created a massive loophole. Now, thanks to a settlement approved Jan. 23, companies will have to do more to justify keeping fracking chemicals secret.

Activists want fracking ban; oil backers ready to fight

Colorado’s fracking wars arrived at Denver city hall Tuesday, with a coalition of 25 groups that included some of the standard bearers of the anti-fracking movement in the state delivering a statement calling for Mayor Michael Hancock and the City Council to ban the use of hydraulic fracturing within the city limits.

“We think it’s just a matter of time before they start fracking in Denver,” Sam Schabacker, the western region director for Food & Water Watch, who’s been working on the fracking issue in Colorado for the last few years, told the Denver Business Journal.

Court denies appeal by worker who claimed fracking chemicals blinded him

A Commonwealth Court panel has refused to award workers’ compensation benefits to a natural gas industry employee who claimed he was partially blinded by accidental exposure to fracking chemicals.

The state judges made that call Wednesday by upholding a workers’ compensation judge’s decision that James Dershem had not proven his vision problems were related to a mishap at a gas drilling site.

As more fracking looms, Kentucky lawmakers consider bill reworking regulations on drilling

With the potential looming for a jump in high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to drill for oil and gas in Kentucky, state lawmakers will consider a bill that includes stronger reclamation standards and more protection for water sources near wells.

House Bill 386, introduced this week, would upgrade rules to cover a type of drilling in which operators can inject millions of gallons of chemical-laced water under high pressure into deep, horizontal bore holes to break up rocks, unlocking oil and gas.

Va. county calls for disclosure of fracking chemicals

he Washington County Board of Supervisors says drilling companies should disclose chemicals they use in fracking.

Media outlets report that the board passed a resolution Tuesday calling for the state to require disclosure of chemicals used in the natural gas drilling method.

Texas and Oklahoma Question whether Fracking Disposal Wells Cause Earthquakes

Experts in two of the nation’s biggest oil and gas states have linked earthquakes to injection wells used in hydraulic fracturing and other drilling operations but politicians in those states aren’t listening to the evidence.

Geology professor Todd Halihan at the University of Oklahoma says there is no question of the relationship between fracking wells and the recent occurrence of seismic activity in that state. “In terms of the peer-reviewed data sets, I don’t know of a paper that’s not attributing our seismicity to injection,” Halihan told the Tulsa World.

New data shows North Texas fault line

North Texas earthquake swarms still baffle geologists, who never expected to study seismic tremors in the Lone Star State. But last month scientists installed equipment to record quakes near Irving, Texas, and last week the first numbers came in.

We still don’t know much about why the region shakes, but here’s what we just learned: the quakes have all been relatively shallow, and have centered along a newly-identified fault line near Irving. The data is thanks 20 seismic monitoring machines, supplied by the U.S. Geological Survey and deployed by scientists from Texas’ Southern Methodist University last month.

Pipeline safety bill filed

A “cutting edge” pipeline safety bill that would require pipeline operators to submit detailed cleanup plans and set up funds to help local governments prepare for a spill was introduced Feb. 4 to the Kentucky General Assembly.

Sponsored by Rep. David Floyd of Bardstown, House Bill 272 establishes “several new sections of law for the purpose of helping emergency responders and governmental units be better prepared to respond to pipeline spills and disasters,” according to Jerry Hardt, communications director for Kentuckians for the Commonwealth.

Gas pipeline to expand along Savannah River

The parent company of a Savannah area liquefied natural gas facility is planning a new 360-mile pipeline that will parallel the Savannah River and bring gas, diesel and ethanol from Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina to Savannah and Jacksonville, Fla., among other destinations.

Kinder Morgan’s new Palmetto Pipeline will hook up with existing pipelines to move 167,000 barrels a day of refined petroleum products from Baton Rouge, La.; Collins and Pascagoula, Miss.; and Belton, S.C., to North Augusta, Savannah; and Jacksonville.

PennEast pipeline blasted by nearly 300 who attend Pa. public meeting

Environmentalists, property owners and municipal officials were among the nearly 300 people who attended a meeting Tuesday in Northampton, Pa. to rail against the proposed $1.2 billion PennEast pipeline, according to LehighValleyLive.com.

Supporters of the proposed 114-mile natural gas pipeline were sparse at the nearly three-hour meeting, called by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Two hours into the meeting, 32 people had spoken with six voicing support for the project, LehighValleyLive.com reported

Louisiana coastal authority recommends spending $32 million of oil spill fine money on Houma lock, Calcasieu River salinity control projects

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority board voted unanimously Wednesday (Feb. 11) to spend $32 million in oil spill fine money to pay for a portion of the design and engineering costs of the Houma Navigation Canal Lock project and Calcasieu River Salinity Control measures.

Another $2.4 million would be reserved for “adaptive management,” including monitoring and potential adjustments needed for those and future projects to be paid for with a share of fines funneled to the state from the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill through the federal Restore Act. The state also will reserve $3.9 million to use as matching funds for projects that 20 coastal parishes will finance with their own share of Restore Act money.

Coast Guard Investigating Source of Oil Spill in Oakland Estuary

Two Coast Guard cutters have not been eliminated as the source of an overnight oil spill in the Oakland Estuary, Coast Guard Ensign Jake Urrutia said, but he added that the vessels are not the only potential cause of the leak.

A barge alongside one of the cutters this morning was transferring fuel, he said, and deploying a chemical boom around one of the ships was routine.

Okla. Corp. Commission confirms Love County oil spill

The Oklahoma Commissioner Corporation confirms that approximately 600 barrels of oil spilled out of a pipeline on Jan. 30 into Salt Creek in Marietta, Okla.

A barrel of oil holds 42 gallons, meaning 25,200 gallons of oil leaked into the creek.

Are we willing to risk offshore drilling again?

The recent Interior Department proposal to allow offshore oil and gas drilling along the East Coast, announced on the very same day that portions of Alaska were disallowed for drilling to protect the environment, is insulting and more than a little 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.

House Roll Call: Keystone XL Pipeline Bill Passes Congress

The 270-152 roll call Wednesday by which the House passed a bill to construct the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The bill now goes to President Barack Obama, who has threatened a veto.

Big Oil is desperate for your love. Watch their silly plea in this insane video

Big Oil would like you to know: Bill McKibben is evil and your punk friends want you to break up with your coal-fired girlfriend.

With the fossil fuel divestment movement gaining momentum and Global Divestment Day(s) coming up this Friday and Saturday, dirty energy’s devoted spin doctors are throwing desperation punches. This misinformational video, from the conservative Environmental Policy Alliance, wants you to believe that breaking up with the fossil fuel industry this Valentine’s Day will leave you in a cold, dark cave with no clothes or gadgets.

House Passes Keystone Bill Despite Obama’s Opposition

The House on Wednesday passed a bill approving construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up a confrontation with President Obama, who has vowed to veto the measure.

The bill, which passed the Senate last month, headed to Mr. Obama’s desk Wednesday night.

House approves Senate bill in favor of building Keystone XL pipeline 270-152, too few to beat veto

As expected, the House passed a bill approving building of the Keystone XL pipeline Wednesday afternoon. The vote was 270-152. Twenty-nine Democrats voted for it and one Republican voted against. It’s the same bill passed 62-36 by Senate and it is headed for a presidential veto. There aren’t enough votes in either house to override that veto.

President Obama has previously rejected an attempt to fast-track the northern leg of the pipeline, which would carry tar sands petroleum in the form of diluted bitumen from Alberta to Texas after linking up with the southern leg that is already in operation from Cushing, Oklahoma, to Port Arthur on the Gulf Coast.

TransCanada Rebuts EPA Comments on Keystone XL Pipeline

The Environmental Protection Agency is coming under fire for comments it made last week suggesting the U.S. government should factor in the recent trend of lower oil prices as part of its decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

In two separate letters sent this week, TransCanada Corp. , the company behind the pipeline, and the Canadian Ambassador to the U.S., criticized the EPA’s comments that suggested the project could have a greater impact on climate change than initially estimated.

A Nearly Identical Keystone XL Pipeline Just Got Built – and No One Noticed

We’ve reached Keystone XL pipeline veto day, as the Republican-controlled Congress sends its bill approving the project to President Barack Obama this afternoon (Wednesday).

The TransCanada Corp. Keystone pipeline project would bring Canadian tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast. Cross-border projects require presidential approval following a State Department review. The president has already promised to veto it.

Keystone XL Pipeline Project Vote: Oil And Gas Industry Gave $250K To Senators Who Voted ‘Yes’

The oil and gas industry gave nearly $250,000 to each of the 62 senators who voted in favor of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project late last month, according to MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization that tracks the influence of money in politics. The revelations come as the House of Representatives is set to vote on and expected to pass the Senate legislation Wednesday that would approve the pipeline and start transferring oil in western Canada to refineries on the Gulf Coast. President Barack Obama has threatened to veto the project on a number of grounds, including environmental concerns.

Oil Drilling Banned in Arctic Area That Attracts Walrus

A plateau on the Arctic Ocean floor, where thousands of Pacific walrus gather to feed and raise pups, has received new protections from the Obama administration that recognize it as a biological hot spot and mark it off-limits to future oil drilling.

But the announcement from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell triggered an uproar from Alaska leaders, angry that the federal government was making a decision that they said would harm the state’s economy.

“This administration has effectively declared war on Alaska,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said.

Sooner or later? Officials debate isotope cleanup

Recent test results showing the radioactive isotope strontium-90 in four monitoring wells at the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant have renewed a five-year-old debate about whether to clean up the radioactive isotope now, or wait 50 years.

Arnie Gundersen, of Fairewinds Associates, said Tuesday a relatively quick cleanup would save the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars.

This serpentine robot is helping clean up the Fukushima disaster

Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which suffered three reactor meltdowns from an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, can’t be decommissioned until its ruined reactors are inspected. But because of deadly radiation, no human can get close to the facility to survey the damage.

So the Japanese electronics giant Hitachi and an affiliate, Hitachi-GE Nuclear Energy, have designed a snaky-looking, remotely controlled robot to do the job, perhaps as soon as April, to gather information about the state of the No. 1 reactor building to prepare for the removal of its radioactive rubble.

Fukushima fallout suit: ‘Sailors were marinating in radioactive particles’

There is a group of sailors and Marines, some from right here in the Northwest, who consider themselves warriors, wounded in a battle they didn’t realize they were fighting against an enemy that’s both terrifying and invisible:  radiation.

It happened in 2011, right after Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.  Now that group is suing over debilitating and even fatal diseases that may not show up for years.

Despite safety concerns, China resuming construction of nuclear plants

Facing growing energy demands and struggling against air pollution, China this year plans to resume full-scale construction of nuclear power plants for the first time since the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.

The country’s target is to triple the electricity generation capacity of its nuclear power plants to 58 gigawatts by 2020. That figure would approach the level of France, whose current nuclear generation capacity is second only to that of the United States.

Vollmann Writes About Fukushima’s ‘Quiet Horror’ In ‘Harper’s Magazine’

David Greene talks to writer William T. Vollmann, who has gained an almost cult-status for his immersion-style storytelling. Vollmann traveled to Japan’s now defunct Fukushima nuclear power plant.

Two more Japan nuclear reactors get safety clearance post Fukushima disaster

Japan’s atomic regulator on Thursday cleared a second set of reactors for restart, another step towards returning the country to nuclear power after the Fukushima disaster of 2011 led to the shutdown of all units.

Two reactors at the Takahama nuclear station operated by Kansai Electric Power, Japan’s most nuclear-reliant utility before Fukushima, passed the basic standards for operation, Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissioners said at a meeting.

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  • I would like to cordially invite you to help us celebrate Earth Day at out festival in Abita Springs, where we are fighting the good fight against the Fracking of our backyard. We would be honored to make your acquaintance and share our story. Please do not hesitate to contact us for further information. We are hoping that you have been following our amazing story and are ready to help us do the “impossible”, because…. We Will Ban Fracking in St Tammany Parish! Thank you for all you do. LeAnn

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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