Environmental Must-Reads – February 17, 2015


West Virginia In State Of Emergency After Massive Oil Train Explosion

Crude oil is pouring into a river that supplies drinking water and approximately 1,000 people have been evacuated from their homes due to an oil train derailment and explosion in southern West Virginia on Monday, according to media reports.

The train, owned by CSX Corp., was carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota when it derailed at about 1:30 p.m., the L.A. Times reported. Officials estimated that approximately 14 of those tankers were involved in the derailment and subsequent fire, which as of 9 p.m. was still raging. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency at around 5:40 p.m.

Fireball fills sky in West Virginia after oil train derails – video

The sky in southern West Virginia is filled with fire after a train carrying more than 100 tankers of crude oil derails. A witness is being interviewed about the accident when an explosion sends a plume of smoke and fire hundreds of metres into the air. Hundreds of local residents were evacuated from their homes and officials shut down two water treatment plants threatened by oil seeping into the river that runs alongside the railway track

Oil train derailments renew questions about safety

The derailments this week of two trains carrying crude oil have raised new questions about the adequacy of federal efforts to improve the safety of moving oil on tank cars from new North American wells to distant refineries.

A 100-car, southbound CSX train derailed Monday in a West Virginia river valley, destroying a home and possibly contaminating the water supply for downriver residents. A thundering fireball rose hundreds of feet above the community amid an intense winter storm.

CN train carrying crude oil derails, catches fire in Northern Ontario

A Canadian National Railway Co. train carrying 100 tank cars of crude oil derailed and caught fire in Northern Ontario early Sunday morning.

A CN spokesman said there were no injuries in the derailment that happened around midnight on Saturday about 80 kilometres south of Timmins, Ont., on the CN mainline in a remote area inaccessible by road.

Proposed frac sand mining operation could be biggest in Minnesota

A proposed silica sand mining project in southeastern Minnesota could change the nature of the industry in the state. Or not.

No one is sure what to expect at the end of February, when Minnesota Sands LLC submits its revised business plan to the Minnesota Environmental Quality Board. The size of the project has varied wildly since Minnesota Sands founder Rick Frick and his partners began pursuing operations in the area to extract a key ingredient used in hydraulic fracturing across the globe, including in North Dakota’s Bakken Oil Patch.

States Drag Their Feet on Congressman’s Frack Waste Investigation

A Pennsylvania congressman wanted to know how his state and two neighboring states oversee the disposal of the often toxic waste generated by fracking oil-and-gas wells.

Now, Matthew Cartwright has some answers, and he finds them late–and lacking.

Cartwright, a Democrat from eastern Pennsylvania, launched the investigation in his state last October. A month later, he expanded his inquiry to Ohio and West Virginia.

Gas Burned Off at Oil Production Sites Is Equivalent to Emissions From 70 Million Cars

It’s like burning banknotes. Latest statistics from the World Bank (WB) indicate that the amount of gas flared each year is enough energy to supply electricity to several small countries or many millions of households.

The flaring of 140 billion cubic metres (bcm) a year releases large quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere—and that is not only bad news for the climate, but also for human health.

As N.J. pipeline network grows, safety is concern

With more than 1,500 miles of aging natural gas pipelines already crisscrossing New Jersey, and five new projects to expand the network’s capacity being proposed or recently completed, federal authorities are raising concerns about the safety of such pipelines nationwide, especially in densely populated areas.

A recent study by the National Transportation Safety Board — which focused on pipelines in high population areas — pointed out weaknesses in inspection plans and federal oversight of the pipelines. A particular concern is the risk of accidents due to corrosion in lines installed before 1970.

Small Earthquakes Linked To Fracking Could Lead To Major Ones, Government Scientist Says

The earthquakes that have been linked to oil and gas development so far might be minor, but they could be putting states like Oklahoma and Kansas at risk for a major earthquake later on, new research indicates.

The research, which hasn’t yet been published, was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science by U.S. Geological Survey scientist William Ellsworth. Ellsworth said that states in which small, hydraulic fracturing-related earthquakes are a fairly regular occurrence shouldn’t “expect a large earthquake tomorrow,” but they should know that these small earthquakes could increase the risk of a larger, more damaging one occurring eventually.

Congressional Democrats Seek To Step Up Fracking Oversight

Democrats on a congressional oversight panel are stepping up their investigation into how well states are regulating the disposal of oil and gas waste, citing continuing public concern about the potential environmental and health risks of hydraulic fracturing.

Rep. Matt Cartwright, D-Pa., the lead Democrat on a health subcommittee of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, says he will be pressing environmental agencies in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia for fuller answers to his panel’s questions on their level of inspections and enforcement actions. Republicans on the committee, including subcommittee chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, have not yet taken a position on whether to join the investigation, citing in part jurisdictional questions.

Alachua County Approves Resolution In Support Of Statewide Ban On Fracking

The Alachua Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution Tuesday, February 10, in support of a statewide ban on fracking.

The commissioners voted unanimously on the resolution, which supports two bills currently in the Florida legislature that would ban hydraulic fracturing (Senate bill 166), also known as fracking, and well stimulation treatments (House bill 169).

Offshore fracking steps into national spotlight

The use of hydraulic fracturing in the Gulf of Mexico has come under the spotlight this year after the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit against the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in January for failing to release documents to the public regarding the oil and gas activity. A recent investigation by Al Jazeera revealed over 100 well sites operated by oil companies such as BP, ConocoPhillips and Shell utilized fracking. Those companies and almost two dozen others, Al Jazeera reports, were approved for offshore fracking in 2013.

The list of well sites was provided to Al Jazeera by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, though the bureau also noted that the list was not complete. Instead, the list was only comprised of wells which used the most common type of offshore fracking.

Ohio Farmers Union opposes proposed pipeline project

Some Ohio farmers are opposed to a 250-mile natural gas pipeline that could run through Milan Township.

Other property owners want a corridor to restrict where the pipeline will be located.

NEXUS Gas Transmission LLC is halfway through a set of 10 open houses it is holding through Feb. 18 to hear from the public on its controversial plan for a 250-mile natural gas pipeline, two of which will be held in northwest Ohio this week.

Enbridge to explain new pipeline to public at series of open houses

Affected landowners and anyone from the public can learn about the latest pipeline to cut through Northwest Indiana and the Chicago south suburbs.

Enbridge Energy is planning a series of open houses in February to inform people about the upcoming construction of Line 78, which will carry up to 570,000 barrels of crude oil a day from North Dakota and Western Canada into Griffith. The company will install a 36-inch diameter crude oil pipeline that will stretch 79 miles from Pontiac, Ill. to its Griffith terminal. Enbridge’s terminal south of Main Street will in turn transport the North American crude to refineries in the area, including the BP Whiting Refinery.

BP cherry-picks study to dodge blame for massive deaths of gulf dolphins

In the years since its Deepwater Horizon oil spill befouled huge stretches of the Gulf of Mexico, oil giant BP has honed its skill at cherry-picking scientific studies to duck responsibility for the spill’s environmental impacts.

Its latest effort concerns a study of a massive die-off of bottlenose dolphins in the gulf from 2010 through June 2013, occurring mostly after the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout caused the worst oil spill in history. The peer-reviewed study, led by Stephanie Venn-Watson of the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego, was funded by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and published last week in the open-access journal PLoS One.

The Gulf today: Debt, stress and lost dreams for business owners

Nearly five years after the devastating BP Oil Spill, local businesses and fishermen along the gulf coast still feel the lasting impact. Ed Schultz traveled down to the site to talk with business owners and folks still hurting.

BP’s battles leave it vulnerable to major move

If ExxonMobil chief executive Rex Tillerson really wanted to, he could snap up BP in a single bite. Of all the UK major’s rivals, Exxon, the world’s biggest energy company, has the firepower to swallow BP whole. Could it happen?

Some industry insiders think yes. Almost five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, BP’s share price is languishing 30 per cent below where it was before the oil spill. BP’s total shareholder return has sharply underperformed those of its peers over the past decade.

Fossil Fuel Connected Judge Says Oil Industry Not Liable For Destroying Gulf Coast

While much of the attention paid to the Gulf Coast in recent years has focused on BP’s destruction of the Gulf of Mexico and the coastline, it is important to remember that the fossil fuel industry has been polluting the South for decades.

In fact, the problem is so bad that the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed a lawsuit against 97 fossil fuel companies two years ago to force them to pay for the destruction that they have caused to the Louisiana coast.

Transocean CEO steps down

The CEO of offshore driller Transocean stepped down Monday under a “mutually agreed” decision between him and the board.

The company announced late Sunday that Steve Newman, the president and CEO, would leave the company.

Ian Strachan, chairman of the board, takes over as interim CEO, until a permanent replacement is found.

Coastal First Nations Call Out ‘Eagle Spirit’ Pipeline

After a Wednesday press conference in Calgary announced new partners in a First Nations-led pipeline project, two major alliances of First Nations have publicly rejected the proposal.

The Eagle Spirit Energy project, which positions itself as a less risky alternative to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway, first set out to secure “social license” for a high-volume energy corridor through northern B.C. in September 2012. With financial backing from the Aquilini Group, president and chairperson Calvin Helin said his company consulted with First Nations and is in the process of designing a proposal that meets those terms.

Navy Funds A Small Robot Army To Study The Arctic

Earlier this month the U.S. Navy’s research office rented out a conference center in Washington, D.C., to show off some of its hottest new technology.

On display was an electromagnetic gun, and drones that could swarm around an enemy ship. But it wasn’t all James Bond-style gadgets.

In a little side room was a yellow machine, shaped like a torpedo with stubby wings sticking out of its side. “Looks like a banana — straightened out banana — to me, but that’s maybe just the way my mind works,” says Martin Jeffries, an Arctic researcher with the Office for Naval Research, which paid for the development of the strange device.

Sanctions Don’t Bar Oil-Service Giants Bidding in Russian Arctic

U.S. and European suppliers to the oil industry are still able to seek work in Russia’s Arctic despite sanctions designed to limit their involvement because the rules don’t apply to foreign subsidiaries.

Schlumberger Ltd., based in Houston and the world’s largest oil services company, and Baker Hughes Inc. have used units based outside the U.S. to bid for business in Russia’s Arctic, according to a Russian government website. Offshore projects in the Arctic are among those targeted by U.S. and European sanctions against Russia’s oil industry.

Japan hit with 6.9 magnitude quake near anniversary of Fukushima disaster

A magnitude 6.9 earthquake struck off the shores of northeastern Japan on Monday. Following the quake, the Japan Meteorological Agency issued a tsunami advisory for Iwate Prefecture.

Although Japan is accustomed to regular quakes of lower magnitudes, an earthquake event near 7.0 is worth noting. The quake comes just one month before the four-year anniversary of the 2011 Tohoku 9.0 magnitude quake that resulted in a massive tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Two quakes shake Tohoku; small tsunami hits coast

An earthquake measuring upper-5 on the Japanese seismic intensity scale of 7 shook Aomori Prefecture and other parts of the north on Tuesday afternoon, hours after another temblor triggered a small tsunami.

The second instance did not result in a tsunami alert.

Japan earthquake: Tsunami alert lifted, seismologists say quake was an ‘aftershock’ from 2011 disaster

This morning small waves of 10 to 20 centimetres reached the coast off Iwate prefecture, 600 kilometres north of Tokyo, where Broadcaster NHK said thousands of residents had been ordered to evacuate.

“This quake is an aftershock of the 2011 quake that hit the Tohoku region,” Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA) seismologist Yasuhiro Yoshida told reporters.

Fukushima Fallout: Radioactive Water Remains a Threat, IAEA Says

International nuclear regulators warned Tuesday that growing amounts of radioactive water in and around Japan’s tsunami-stricken Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant remained a threat and said it must be disposed of responsibly.

“The situation … remains very complex, with the increasing amount of contaminated water posing a short-term challenge that must be resolved in a sustainable manner,” according to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released Tuesday. Storing and disposing of the huge amounts of contaminated water used to cool and decommission the reactors has proved an enormous challenge for the plant’s administrator, Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO), which has been criticized in the past for leaks and other missteps.

Tepco President Sees Progress in Restarting Japan Reactors

The operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant is cautiously optimistic about restarting some of its other nuclear reactors, despite local opposition.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. President Naomi Hirose said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal and other news organizations that his company was making progress in persuading the local community to accept the restart of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant on the Japan Sea coast.

NUCLEAR WASTE: Cantwell brings a homegrown focus, fresh questions to waste debate

Sen. Maria Cantwell, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee’s top Democrat, is the newest member of a high-profile quartet in the upper chamber debating how best to jump-start the nation’s long-stalled nuclear waste disposal program.

But unlike other lawmakers with a broad focus on sustaining nuclear power, the Washingtonian is bringing to the table a laser-like focus on finding a solution to the complex cleanup occurring at the Hanford site on the banks of the Columbia River — the country’s most contaminated nuclear site.

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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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