Environmental Must-Reads – February 18, 2014


The Chevron Guarantee: Our well won’t explode…or your pizza is free!

Last Tuesday, the residents of the small rural community of Bobtown in the far southwestern corner of Pennsylvania woke up to a horrible shock — the sound of a massive explosion in their backyards. The source of the blast and the intensely hot fire that followed was a Chevron fracking well that had been set to begin production, but instead shot orange flames high into the air and gave off loud hissing sounds that could be heard hundreds of yards away.

Fracking Well Blowout Causes Oil And Chemical Wastewater Spill In North Dakota

An oil well owned by Whiting Petroleum Corp. started leaking hydraulic fracturing fluid and spewing oil late on Thursday, after a blowout that company and state officials said may take “a couple more days” to clear up, according to Friday reports in Reuters.

The well lost control after a blowout preventer failed, and began leaking between 50 and 70 barrels (2,100 to 2,940 gallons) per day of fracking fluid — a mixture of generally classified chemicals, water, and sand — and 200 barrels (8,400 gallons) per day of oil, the Reuters reports said. As of Friday, fluids from the leak were being collected and trucked from the site. Whiting is maintaining that none of the liquids entered the water, though some oily “mist” did spray onto the frozen creek.

Texas heading for major water shortage with limited oil field recycling

Breaking into massive shale-oil reservoirs could push Texas toward a water shortfall of 3.5 trillion gallons by 2060, unless water recycling gains a foothold in the state’s oil fields, a recent Bloomberg analysis shows.

Hydraulic fracturing, the modern well stimulation technique used to crack open shale rock under a horizontal well, uses 4.2 million gallons of water for just one well in the Eagle Ford Shale. But oil and gas producers have recycled less than 10 percent of the water in the South Texas field and in the state’s Permian Basin in the west, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Fracking Boom Spews Toxic Air Emissions on Texas Residents

When Lynn Buehring leaves her doctor’s office in San Antonio she makes sure her inhaler is on the seat beside her, then steers her red GMC pickup truck southeast on U.S. 181, toward her home on the South Texas prairie.

About 40 miles down the road, between Poth and Falls City, drilling rigs, crude oil storage tanks and flares trailing black smoke appear amid the mesquite, live oak and pecan trees. Depending on the speed and direction of the wind, a yellow-brown haze might stretch across the horizon, filling the car with pungent odors. Sometimes Buehring’s eyes burn, her chest tightens and pain stabs at her temples. On those days, she touches her inhaler for reassurance.

Brownback appoints panel to study recent earthquakes, fracking waste

Calling it a “matter of public safety,” Gov. Sam Brownback has appointed a committee to study whether oil and gas activity is behind the recent spate of minor earthquakes in Kansas.

Expansion of the oil and gas recovery method known as “fracking” has coincided with a series of minor quakes in areas that had long been seismically stable.

Ohio Governor’s Office Linked to Fracking PR Conspiracy

The office of Ohio Governor John Kasich is implicated in an attempt to cover up the administration’s involvement in a conspiracy to promote fracking in public parks.

A “Draft Communications Plan” dated October 20, 2012 and published Friday reveals a detailed plan for various agencies within the Kasich administration to “marginalize” opponents by teaming up with “allied” corporations—including Halliburton, business groups and media outlets—in a public relations maneuver to promote drilling on public land.

Email shows adviser to Ohio governor knew of plan to promote fracking in parks.

Gov. John Kasich’s chief policy adviser called a meeting of top administration officials in August 2012 on a controversial plan to market fracking in state parks and forests — contradicting a statement from Kasich’s spokesman on Friday that the governor’s office knew nothing about the plan.

Group seeks ban on fracking

A newly formed group of residents seeking a ban on hydraulic fracturing will begin collecting signatures this week on a petition to force a ballot initiative in Denton.

If they are successful, Denton could become the first Texas city with a ban on fracking and the first city in the nation to ban fracking after permits have already been granted, according to the Denton Drilling Awareness Group.

Citizens speak against frack waste bill

Of 20 speakers at a House hearing Monday, only one — an industry representative — spoke in favor of a bill that would exempt natural gas drilling waste in the Marcellus Shale region from the state’s landfill tonnage limits.

Charlie Burd, executive director of the Independent Oil and Gas Association of West Virginia, said the bill — supported by the state Department of Environmental Protection — “recognizes the reasonable approach” of disposing such material.

Vivienne Westwood urges against fracking

Never mind the fashion: Vivienne Westwood has it down to a T. More importantly, the veteran designer wants to talk about fracking and the floods wreaking havoc in Britain.

The grand dame’s show notes urged guests at her London Fashion Week showcase Sunday to join a rally against fracking, a technique the energy industry uses to extract oil and gas from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water, sand or gravel and chemicals. She also told reporters backstage that climate change must be addressed to stop the damage caused by extreme weather conditions.

Side effect of fracking: More crude oil on rails, more derailment spills

The derailment of railcars in Westmoreland County that caused a spill of thousands of gallons of crude oil last month is the largest crude oil spill in the state since 2000, according to federal records.

Water response team called to four schools Monday

A “rapid response team” assembled by the state Department of Education to deal with water issues in schools following last month’s chemical leak responded to complaints at four Kanawha County schools Monday.

Grandview Elementary School in North Charleston was the only one of the four schools ordered to close early. Students were dismissed there at 12:15 p.m., after the odor associated with Crude MCHM — the chemical that spilled from Freedom Industries on Jan. 9 and left about 300,000 West Virginians without potable water for days — was reported.

Louisiana oil industry launches latest campaign in ongoing ‘legacy lawsuit’ battle

The Louisiana oil and gas industry has spent the better part of the past decade locked in a public debate with landowners and those who represent them over the growing number of environmental lawsuits filed in the state.

Landowners argue the lawsuits are a key step in reversing the toll decades of oil and gas exploration has taken. Industry representatives aim to quash what they say are frivolous lawsuits that are killing investment.

Minor propane leak reported at ExxonMobil in BR

ExxonMobil officials say their instruments detected a propane leak from a unit in the refinery Monday afternoon, but they were able to contain it before it got out of hand.

Shabaka Gibson, an ExxonMobil spokesman, said it was too soon to know how much propane escaped from the unit, but air-monitoring devices stationed on the fences on the outer perimeter of the facility have not picked up any hint of the gas.

Financier Plans Big Ad Campaign on Climate Change

A billionaire retired investor is forging plans to spend as much as $100 million during the 2014 election, seeking to pressure federal and state officials to enact climate change measures through a hard-edge campaign of attack ads against governors and lawmakers.

Could Tom Steyer’s Anti-Keystone Campaign Help Mary Landrieu? She Thinks So.

Politics are turning upside down in the Louisiana Senate race, where Democratic incumbent Mary Landrieu finds herself under attack from a deep-pocketed and well-connected environmentalist.

Tom Steyer, a billionaire hedge-fund investor turned environmental activist, may launch an advertising campaign panning Landrieu for supporting the Keystone XL pipeline. The three-term senator seeking reelection in a state much redder than it was six years ago says Steyer’s criticism could actually help her win.

Oil trains have spilled almost 3 million gallons of crude since 2008, review finds

At least 10 times since 2008, freight trains hauling oil across North America have derailed and spilled significant quantities of crude, with most of the accidents touching off fires or catastrophic explosions.

The derailments released almost three million gallons of oil, nearly twice as much as the largest pipeline spill in the United States since at least 1986. The deadliest wreck killed 47 people in the town of Lac-Megantic, Quebec.

Environmentalists debate substance of Keystone XL fight

In their long crusade against the Keystone XL pipeline, environmentalists have marched in the streets, lit candles in nationwide vigils and chained themselves to the White House fence.

Leaders of the fight, including writer Bill McKibben and California billionaire Tom Steyer, have marshaled an army of activists worried about climate change and raised the political stakes on the issue.

As Final Decision Looms, Native Americans Organize KXL Resistance

Native Americans in the mid- and upper-mid west are not waiting idly as President Obama and the State Department finalize their ultimate decision on the Keystone XL pipeline which would transport tar sands—the planet’s dirtiest fuel—from mining operations in Canada to the U.S. gulf coast for export.

14th District candidates see little to gain from Keystone pipeline

Neither of the two Democratic candidates for the 14th Congressional District hail the pending expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline as the economic catalyst supporters believe it to be.

But only one of the candidates is willing to even consider supporting the plan.

Enbridge pipeline joins Keystone XL in wait for US permit

A second Canadian pipeline project to the United States is now facing delays as operator Enbridge Inc. awaits a U.S. presidential permit, a development that may strain prices for Alberta oil sands crude and relations between the two countries.

Enbridge, Canada’s largest pipeline company, said it no longer expects to get the permit amendment it needs to expand its Alberta Clipper line in time to start pumping extra oil on it at midyear as it had planned. It applied for the permit in November 2012.

Oil Spill Technology Research Continues for Arctic Exploration

As the global oil and gas industry turns its attention to Arctic exploration and production, research by industry and academia continues into Arctic oil spill technology.

The Arctic Oil Spill Response Joint Industry Programme (JIP) last week released the findings of its research efforts into in-situ burning (ISB) in ice-affected waters and the fate of dispersed oil under ice.

Radiation alarm at New Mexico nuclear disposal plant spurs air shutoff

An alarm late Friday night indicating higher than usual levels of airborne radiation led to a first-of-its-kind response at a nuclear disposal facility outside of Carlsbad, New Mexico, an Energy Department spokesman told CNN.

An air monitor at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant detected the spike in an isolated area half a mile below the ground. The incident prompted an immediate shutoff of filtered air from the facility into the environment around it.

Suspected Radiation Leak in Military’s Nuclear Dumping Ground

A New Mexico deep-earth repository for the U.S. military’s nuclear waste has likely sprung an underground radiation leak, sparking concern among Native American communities and other residents who “carry the burden” of this state’s nuclear legacy.

“Since the detonation and creation of first atomic bomb in New Mexico, we the people who live in close proximity of storage and creation of these weapons have been in a state of fear,” said Kathy Wanpovi Sanchez, Environmental Health and Justice Program Manager for Tewa Women United, an indigenous organization based in Northen Mexico.

Nuclear Waste Solution Seen in Desert Salt Beds

Half a mile beneath the desert surface, in thick salt beds left behind by seas that dried up hundreds of millions of years ago, the Department of Energy is carving out rooms as long as football fields and cramming them floor to ceiling with barrels and boxes of nuclear waste.

The salt beds, which have the consistency of crumbly rock so far down in the earth, are what the federal government sees as a natural sealant for the radioactive material left over from making nuclear weapons.

Fukushima Radiation: Govt Launches Web Site Noting Safety of Fishes Around Plant

The fisheries organization at Fukushima Prefecture in February launched a Web site that will contain information concerning the radiation levels of fishes caught in waters surrounding the crippled nuclear power plant.

The Yomiuri Shimbun reported the Web site of Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Co-operative Associations will likewise carry volume catches and sales reports of the fisheries organization, aside from the more important radiation test results. It will detail the kinds of fish and shellfish caught as well as kinds of inspection measures undertakan at each fishery co-operative.

Lack of bids threatens to keep Fukushima evacuees in temporary lodgings

Plans to build new public apartments for the nuclear refugees in Fukushima Prefecture are stalling because the prefectural government is struggling to attract bids from contractors.

On Jan. 31, Fukushima announced that a project for a 16-unit concrete apartment complex in the city of Aizuwakamatsu in the western part of the prefecture failed to attract bidders. It failed because the eight private contractors who participated didn’t make offers that matched the prefecture’s budget amid surging demand for labor and materials in disaster-hit Tohoku.

Three Years Later, A Harrowing Visit To Fukushima

On Thursday night, I stayed at a motel in the town of Hirono, just outside a restricted zone in Fukushima Prefecture. The motel’s residents were all men, all apparently working on the cleanup of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant, where three reactors melted down and a fourth caught on fire after a quake and tsunami in 2011.

I was told that, except for a few elderly residents, most of Hirono’s inhabitants had left for other places.

How dangerous is Fukushima’s radioactive water?

It is clear that radioactive water from Fukushima has been dumped into the Pacific Ocean. The contaminated water’s arrival to U.S. shores is imminent, but, as of now, there’s apparently little cause for concern.

The radioactive water expected to reach U.S. shores early this year has been deemed safe by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee — the amount of radiation to reach the West Coast is at a level 100 times less than the drinking water standard.

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

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