Environmental Must-Reads – February 2, 2015


Chevron to Abandon Shale Natural Gas Venture in Poland

Chevron said on Friday that it would abandon efforts to find and produce natural gas from shale rock in Poland, in perhaps the biggest setback yet to fledgling efforts to start a European shale oil and gas industry that might help replace the region’s dwindling fuel resources.

Shale development in the United States has been one of the reasons the American energy industry has experienced a renaissance in recent years — so much so that it has contributed to the global glut now depressing oil prices. But Europe, heavily reliant on imported fuel, has had trouble getting started with shale, for geological, environmental and political reasons.

Fracking Quakes Pose Added Risks and Require Study, Expert Warns

One of Canada’s foremost experts on earthquake hazards recently told an audience of Calgary engineers that earthquakes triggered by hydraulic fracturing can exceed “what the natural hazard was in the first place” and pose risks to infrastructure only built to withstand natural earthquake hazards.

As well, earthquakes induced by fracking can produce more damaging ground motion at lower magnitudes than natural quakes due to their shallowness, said Gail Atkinson, the NSERC/TransAlta/Nanometrics Industrial Research Chair in Hazards from Induced Seismicity at Ontario’s Western University.

Pennsylvania governor bans new oil/gas leases on state land

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf on Thursday signed an executive order reinstating a moratorium on new leases for oil and natural gas development in state parks and forests.

The move restores the ban lifted by his predecessor, Tom Corbett, a Republican.

Fracking Failure: Frackers In Pennsylvania Violate Health And Environmental Regulations On A Daily Basis

From the American Petroleum Institute’s claim that fracking is “safely unlocking vast U.S. reserves of oil and natural gas” to Chris “Frack Master” Faulkner himself insisting “fracking isn’t contaminating anything,” the oil and gas industry constantly tells us that fracking can be done safely, despite plenty of evidence to the contrary.

But just to be sure the public understands how seriously they considered public health, a group of oil and gas companies fracking in Pennsylvania formed the Center for Sustainable Shale Development in 2013. According to its website, CSSD is dedicated to “the development of rigorous performance standards for sustainable shale development and a commitment to continuous improvement to ensure safe and environmentally responsible development of our abundant shale resources.”

Texas Town at Center of Latest Earthquake Swarm Questions Fracking Impact

January has been a shaky month for Irving, Texas. Twelve earthquakes rattled the city during a 48-hour period at the end of the first week of the new year.

“It was very scary. I was at my job on the 4th floor in a cubicle surrounded by glass,” Tonya Rochelle Tatum, a loan specialist who works in Irving, told DeSmogBlog. “One quake seemed like it lasted five minutes. No one knew what to do.”

The earthquake swarm shows no sign of stopping. On January 21, five more quakes struck.

Texas family devastated by fracking health problems warn Scots to consider severe risks

AN AMERICAN family whose health was wrecked by fracking near their ranch have warned Scots to take care before giving energy firms the go-ahead.

Texan couple Bob and Lisa Parr were awarded £2million from Aruba Petroleum last year after they and their daughter Emma, now 12, suffered severe health problems linked to underground gas extraction near their ranch in Decatur, 60 miles from Dallas.

Frackers Have Stricter Chemical Disclosure Rules In Wyoming

There was a legal loophole when, in 2010, Wyoming became the first state to require the disclosure of chemicals used while fracking. Corporations did not have to reveal chemicals that were “trade secrets.” This qualification was too loose, and some chemicals have been linked to respiratory distress, rashes, convulsions, organ damage, and cancer. So Earthjustice, acting on the behalf of represented the Powder River Basin Resource Council, Wyoming Outdoor Council, Earthworks, and the Center for Effective Government, sued the state’s Oil and Gas Commission to demand more transparency. A settlement was reached on January 26, 2015, and now frackers have stricter chemical disclosure rules in Wyoming

Fracking set to be banned from 40% of England’s shale areas

Fracking is set to be banned on two-fifths of the land in England being offered for shale gas exploration by the government, according to a Guardian analysis.

Such a wide-ranging ban would be a significant blow to the UK’s embryonic fracking industry, which David Cameron and George Osborne have enthusiastically backed.

W.Va. Pipeline Blast Burned 23,901 Barrels of Ethane

A federal agency says a pipeline explosion in Brooke County burned more than 23,000 barrels of ethane and scorched about 5 acres.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration says in an order that the 20-inch ATEX Express pipeline failed near a section that had been welded together. The actual cause hasn’t been determined.

Louisiana Squeezed as Oil Prices Drop

“The first thing you hear is, ‘Can you cut 10 percent?’ ” explained Jimmy Lafont, whose towboat operation is one of the countless oil-field service companies spread across south Louisiana. “Cajuns normally have a habit of cutting the price quick like.”

As oil prices drop, the squeeze has begun in south Louisiana. It starts with ugly state budget projections, layoff announcements and freezes on new construction projects. Cutbacks at the drilling companies lead to cutbacks at the service companies, and before long the grocery stores and car dealerships start feeling it.

Oil workers on strike in Houston and across U.S.

Oil workers from coast to coast are on strike. They started to walk off the job around midnight when their union failed to reach a deal with the energy industry. It’s not clear how many workers are on strike.

The contract in dispute covers about 30,000 workers at refineries, pipelines, oil terminals, and petrochemical plants across the country, including about 5,000 workers here in Houston. A representative for the United Steelworkers Association, which is the union for the workers, say there are work stoppage at these facilities in the Houston area: LyondellBasell in Houston, TX; Marathon Galveston Bay Refinery in Texas City, TX; Marathon Houston Green Cogeneration facility, Texas City, TX; Shell Deer Park Refinery, Deer Park, TX; and Shell Deer Park Chemical Plant, Deer Park, TX.

U.S. Oil Workers Strike Enters Second Day as Crude Prices Slide

The strike by oil workers at plants accounting for 10 percent of U.S. refining capacity entered a second day Monday in the biggest walkout since 1980. Crude futures fell.

The United Steelworkers union that represents employees at more than 200 refineries, terminals, pipelines and chemical plants stopped work Sunday at nine sites after failing to agree on a renewed labor contract. The union rejected five offers made by Royal Dutch Shell Plc on behalf of companies including Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. since talks began Jan. 21.

BP oil spill at issue in two federal court cases next week

Legal battles arising from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill play out in two federal courtrooms in New Orleans next week. On Monday, trial resumes in a district courtroom where BP and a minority partner in its ill-fated Macondo well are trying to fend off billions of dollars in Clean Water Act penalties, and on Tuesday, appeals court judges consider BP’s request to oust the man overseeing payments to businesses claiming harm from the spill.

The trial is entering its third week. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier has been hearing from dueling experts. They are witnesses called by each side as the Justice Department presses for a penalty for BP at or near the $13.7 billion maximum.

Millions Of Gallons Of Oil Settled At The Bottom Of The Gulf After BP Oil Spill

Millions of gallons of oil from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill didn’t get cleaned up, and instead settled in the sediment of the Gulf of Mexico’s floor, a new study has found.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found that 6 to 10 million gallons of oil from the spill are buried in the seafloor. The researchers measured the amount of carbon 14 — a radioactive carbon isotope that’s found in organic material but not found in oil — in an approximately 24,000 km² area of sediment near the spill site, a process which allowed them to see what parts of the sediment were low in carbon 14 and thus contained oil.

Big Montana oil spill is latest involving pipeline company

The Wyoming company whose pipeline leaked 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana and its sister company have had multiple pipeline spills and federal fines levied against them in the last decade, according to government records.

Bridger Pipeline LLC, the operator of the Poplar Pipeline that broke recently near Glendive, Montana, recorded nine pipeline incidents between 2006 and 2014, according to the pipeline administration. Combined, they leaked nearly 11,000 gallons of crude.

Its sister company, Belle Fourche Pipeline Co., recorded 21 incidents over the same period, during which a total of 272,832 gallons of oil was spilled.

USGS study links Montana oil spills to arsenic releases in groundwater

Underground petroleum leaks can trigger arsenic spikes in groundwater, which could be a problem as the United States confronts a rising trend in pipeline-related accidents, such as the 39,000-gallon discharge into the Yellowstone River two weeks ago.

The arsenic release is more of a long-term problem compared to the immediate hazard of benzene and other toxins that prevented 6,000 residents of Glendive from drinking tap water for five days.

Increasing oil spills fuel arguments over Keystone line

Oil pipeline accidents have become increasingly frequent in the U.S. even as Congress put its stamp of approval on the Keystone XL pipeline, which would pass near the spot where 30,000 gallons of crude spilled into Montana’s Yellowstone River earlier this month.

The recent spill temporarily fouled a city’s water supply and became the latest in a string of accidents to highlight ongoing problems with maintenance of the nation’s 61,000 miles of crude oil pipelines.

Bay Bridge’s broken radar beacons increase oil-spill risk

Two years after a 752-foot-long oil tanker hit the Bay Bridge in heavy fog — an accident Coast Guard investigators blamed partly on a broken radar beacon on the bridge — one of the bridge’s three beacons is broken again.

The beacon, which alerts sailors to the midpoint between bridge towers, has failed to work properly since Dec. 17.

‘Breaking’ news: January sees five major pipeline leaks

On Thursday, the Senate voted 62 to 36 to approve the Keystone XL tar-sands pipeline, which would move heavy crude oil across the Canada-U.S. border and down to Texas refineries and ports. Nine Democrats joined 53 Republicans in voting for the bill, which now must be reconciled with a House version before heading to President Barack Obama’s desk … and a promised veto.

The pipeline needs White House approval because it crosses an international border, but perhaps odder than the futile effort of crafting legislation that is assured a veto is that the latest public push for the massive pipeline comes at the end of a month that has seen more than its share of serious pipeline accidents.

Keystone Senate Yea Votes: Seven Times More Oil & Gas Money

Senators who voted to push through development of the Keystone XL pipeline today have received, on average, $570,034 in contributions to their campaigns and leadership PACs from the oil and gas industry over the course of their careers. The 35 senators who voted against bill have received, on average, just $78,641 from the industry.

The Obama administration is still considering whether or not to approve the pipeline, but the Republican-led 114th Congress seized the reins almost as soon as it took office earlier this month. The House passed H.R. 3, the Keystone XL Pipeline Act, on Jan. 9 by a vote of 266-153. The Senate followed suit with its version of the Keystone bill, S.1, today, with nine Democrats joining every single Republican to pass the measure 62-36.

Pipeline not state-inspected before 3M-gallon saltwater leak

A pipeline that ruptured recently in North Dakota and spilled nearly 3 million gallons of saltwater produced during oil drilling wasn’t inspected by the state before being installed, according to state regulators.

Alison Ritter, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Industrial Commission, which oversees the state’s oil and gas industry, said Wednesday that it’s common for officials not to inspect such small gathering pipelines before they become operational.

The Pipeline Fight Pitting Native Americans Against Big Oil

On a map in the crowded conference room of a hotel, Winona LaDuke pointed to a tiny tract of land in the northeast corner of the White Earth Indian Reservation. The area, home to the wild rice that feeds the tribe and helps to pay its bills through deals with retailers like Whole Foods, is miniscule in comparison to the counties that surround it, but it’s worth millions to an oil company and the state.

Dane County last to withhold OK for Enbridge pipeline plan

Dane County is the final unit of government needed to approve plans by Enbridge Energy Co. to increase pumping capacity of a pipeline to transport more oil than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

A zoning committee of the County Board postponed a decision on Tuesday to give conditional approval for Enbridge to upgrade a pumping station.

From Hanford to Fukushima, nuke expert cleans up

Working in Japan and with his family still living in Richland, Wash., Matthew McCormick has one of the longest commutes in the world.

“I don’t make it very often, only when family calls or the lawn needs to be mowed, that kind of stuff,” he joked.

But McCormick, 55, wouldn’t have it any other way: After working at the Hanford nuclear site for 12 years, he’s helping to lead the cleanup at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, which was wrecked by an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 and three reactors underwent meltdowns.

Robot development zone planned for Fukushima to accelerate residents’ return

A special economic zone will be set up in Fukushima Prefecture to promote the development of robots that the central government hopes will speed the return of residents to the region, heavily impacted by the nuclear crisis.

Wataru Takeshita, state minister in charge of reconstruction, made the announcement on Feb. 1 during a meeting of officials from the central government and the prefecture to discuss the recovery from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, which was triggered by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Japan looks at 2030 energy targets in shadow of Fukushima cleanup

Japan has begun deliberating its 2030 targets for power generation, a process likely to turn contentious when nuclear restarts are considered even as the much delayed cleanup at Fukushima continues four years after the meltdowns there.

A ratio of between 15 to 20% for nuclear power was floated as a starting point by some members of a panel set up under the country’s industry ministry, compared to about 29% in the year before the Fukushima disaster.

Manga artist claims again Fukushima radiation is causing nosebleeds

Tetsu Kariya, author of the gourmet manga “Oishinbo,” says in the series’ latest edition that radiation is so high in Fukushima Prefecture it is causing nosebleeds among local residents.

The theme echoes one in a previous story that critics panned when Kariya had the main character suffer a nosebleed after visiting the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Around-the-clock convenience store reopens in Fukushima restricted zone

A 24-hour convenience store has reopened in this small town, even though the former residents are still not allowed to stay overnight due to concerns over radioactive contamination.

FamilyMart’s Kamishigeoka outlet servicing the community of Naraha resumed operation on Jan. 30. The store was forced to close on March 12, 2011, as the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant unfolded.

A bus ride through Japan’s nuclear wilderness

The driver had a radiation counter on the dashboard, and stop-offs and pick-ups along the route were strictly banned. The first public bus service to traverse the exclusion zone around Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant set out on Saturday, giving former residents a glimpse of their ravaged communities.

Nearly four years after the area was devastated by a combined earthquake and tsunami, the trip was all too much for Rei Nakagawa, who fought back the urge to cry as she went past her home town of Futaba. “My town is dead”, she said, pointing through the bus windows to stores and a coffee shop that were now wrecked and abandoned.

Fiji compensates its veterans of British nuclear tests in the Pacific

Fiji closed “an unfortunate chapter” on Friday with a compensation payout to soldiers exposed to radiation during British nuclear tests in the Pacific more than 56 years ago, the prime minister said.

The payments came after decades of campaigning by veterans and their children for recognition of the serious health problems they suffered. More than 70 Fijians were stationed on Kiritimati, then known as Christmas Island, during the 1957 and 1958 tests.

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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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