Environmental Must-Reads – February 20, 2014


Charred crane to be pulled from Greene County gas well site

Well-fire control experts today will attempt to remove a charred crane near a well that burned out of control for five days last week in Dunkard, Greene County, the last step before they begin capping two wells, state and Chevron officials said.

“Barring some really unforeseen circumstance, we should be able to get the wells capped by this weekend,” said Scott Perry, deputy secretary for the Department of Environmental Protection in charge of the state’s oil and gas management. Mr. Perry has been on the well site every day since Saturday because of the severity of the incident.

In parched states, fracking’s thirst grows

Greeley, Colo., sells water to the oil and gas companies that have brought a drilling boom to town. Some residents wonder whether it will run out.

How We Got the Eagle Ford Fracking Story

How does one of America’s biggest oil and gas booms go mostly unrecognized in the national media? Hard to say, but it has. A subject of solid local coverage, the Eagle Ford Shale play in South Texas has yet to become part of the national conversation on hydraulic fracturing—fracking—in contrast to, say, Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale or North Dakota’s Bakken.

Could Earthquakes Shake Up the Race for Railroad Commissioner?

Scientists have known that man can create earthquakes by injecting fluids into the ground for decades. But if you listen to the people campaigning to regulate the Texas oil and gas industry, you may think the idea was in serious dispute.

Visualization: Water for Fracking in Ten Texas Counties

Newly released data suggests that oil and gas companies may not have enough water to continue fracking at the current rapid pace in drought-stricken South Texas, where population growth is also creating a strain on water supplies.

In Britain, fledgling fracking industry runs into opposition

Just a few yards from the messy camper van where he now spends his nights, Hytham Chlouk points through some winter-stricken trees at what he calls “the death star.”

It’s a giant derrick that rises high in a clearing behind a perimeter of fences topped with razor wire. To the company that runs the deep-bore drill inside the structure, it offers a potential gateway to lower natural gas prices in energy-hungry Britain. But to Chlouk, it’s a death knell for England’s picture-postcard countryside.

Siberian shale find fuels Russia’s fracking future

Russia is showing the world that it does things in a big way at the Sochi Olympics. Now, at the opposite end of the vast country, Russia is aiming to be the next big player in the global shale oil revolution.

With the world’s largest reserves of shale oil locked in underground formations sprawling across Russia’s vast Siberian wilderness, the Eurasian giant — already a top world oil producer — has the most potential of any country to rival or surpass the United States in shale production in coming years.

Fracking opponents target Kasich’s State of State speech

Local and statewide environmental groups plan to demonstrate against fracking at Gov. John Kasich’s State of the State address Monday.

Members of Concerned Citizens of Medina County and Frack Free Ohio will gather at the main entrance of Medina High School about 5 p.m. Kasich is scheduled to give his speech at 7 p.m. in the adjacent Medina Performing Arts Center.

Democrats Want Probe Into ODNR And Fracking Controversy

An environmental group has discovered a controversial playbook that a state department drew up to tackle oil and gas drilling issues. The plan calls into question the relationship between a state agency and the industry it’s supposed to regulate. Now, two state lawmakers are asking for legislative hearings to further investigate hearings.

More fracking pro and con as the battle rages on

The future of hydraulic fracturing in New York has been in limbo since the Department of Environmental Conservation began a review of the practice in 2008. Now, six public hearings are being held across New York to receive public comment on the draft State Energy Plan, with one of them in Albany.  Environmental groups were at the Capitol Tuesday calling on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to put renewable energy ahead of fossil fuels in his effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Group seeks fracking ban in Texas town

A group of residents from a heavily drilled Texas town have banded together in an effort to ban hydraulic fracturing in their city. If they are successful, Denton would become the first city in the state to ban fracking outright.

“We’ve spent years trying to make fracking compatible with our city,” Adam Briggle, a member of Denton Drilling Awareness Group, the group organizing the ban, told Al Jazeera. “But we’ve realized that you can have fracking, or you can have a healthy city — but you can’t have both.”

Group’s drive raises concern

Some Denton City Council members see a likely collision between state law and a citizens initiative to ban hydraulic fracturing inside the city.

A group of Denton residents will launch a petition drive at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Sweetwater Grill & Tavern. Beginning that day, the group will have 180 days to gather 571 signatures to force the council’s consideration of a fracking ban.

ALEC’s Fracking Chemical Disclosure Bill

The American Legislative Exchange Council’s (ALEC) model bill for disclosure of chemicals injected into the ground during the controversial hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process is back for a sequel in the Sunshine State legislature.

ALEC’s model bill was proposed by ExxonMobil at its December 2011 meeting and is modeled after a bill that passed in Texas’ legislature in spring 2011, as revealed in an April 2012 New York Times investigative piece. ALEC critics refer to the pro-business organization as a “corporate bill mill” lending corporate lobbyists a “voice and a vote” on model legislation often becoming state law.

Raising health and air quality concerns in Texas’ fracking frontier

As shale and natural gas fracking booms in South Texas, a new report raises unsettling concerns about possible related health risks and poor air quality. The Center for Public Integrity collaborated with others in examining nearly 300 complaints filed by residents. Jim Morris, a journalist who contributed to the report, joins Judy Woodruff to detail the findings and respond to the industry’s rejection.

BP to meet with feds on parameters of oil spill penalty trials

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered BP and U.S. attorneys to meet next month to discuss how the “penalty phase” in BP’s oil spill trial will proceed.

That meeting may decide some parameters of the third and final phase in the civil trial, such as how many trial days or expert witnesses would be required. The proposed penalty phase itself would determine how much BP owes in environmental fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Judge rejects Mix’s motion seeking his recusal

The federal judge who presided over the trial of a former BP engineer found guilty of obstructing justice in the government’s investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster has denied a defense motion to disqualify him from the case.

BP official says it’s getting closer to EPA agreement

The head of BP America says he believes the company is moving closer toward once again being allowed to bid on federal contracts.

Company president and CEO John Minge said Wednesday — without giving details — that he thinks an agreement might be reached with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Justice.

GreenARMY group pushing for safety changes at chemical plants

Cancer Alley is what some people call the area between Baton Rouge and New Orleans because of all the chemical plants. One group known as the GreenARMY, led by retired Lieutenant General Russell Honore, believes the plants are not doing enough to protect those who live near them.

Honore says there are around 100 chemical plants between the two areas. “We’re not stupid in Louisiana,” he said, Wednesday. “We might eat crawfish, but we ain’t stupid. It’s no way you can stand on site and say no chemicals went beyond the fence line.”

Green Army gathers in Louisiana, worries oil and gas industry

The recently established Green Army has been raising a lot of eyebrows (and anxiety) in the ranks of the oil and gas industry. “We are under attack from these people, and we have to push back,” explained Louisiana Oil and Gas Association (LOGA) President Don Briggs at the recent State of the Industry Luncheon held in Lafayette, La.

Chemical industry safety group hears ideas in BR

Members of a federal government working group tasked with making the chemical industry safer got an earful Wednesday during a public meeting in Baton Rouge.

Environmental group representatives and community activists asked for the group to require chemical facilities to provide better public notification during accidents, emphasized the need for more enforceable regulations to promote safer practices and to find ways to get the chemical industry to look for ways to avoid problems in the first place.

Newly Found Coal Ash Spill Pouring Arsenic Into NC River

North Carolina authorities believe that a second storm pipe has burst at the Eden coal ash dumping pond owned by Duke Energy, sending another mass discharge of arsenic and lead-laden waste into the Dan River, which is still severely polluted from a similar spill in early February.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced Tuesday that it had made the discovery while investigating the site. Their statement noted “elevated levels of arsenic” in the water.

Coast Guard, EPA face possible lawsuit over Hudson crude oil spill plan

An environmental group says it will sue the federal government over an oil spill cleanup plan for the Hudson River that allegedly ignores how spills might harm its iconic Atlantic sturgeon.

More than a dozen other endangered species of fish, turtles, birds and other animals that live in the river or at its mouth are also a concern, the Vermont-based Center for Biological Diversity said.

Offshore exploration rejected

Durban environmental activists have vehemently rejected an application by multi-national energy giant ExxonMobil to explore for oil and gas offshore along the KwaZulu-Natal coastline, citing the company’s poor environmental track record as a major concern.

A major worry is also the effects of seismic surveys on whales and dolphins.

Nebraska court invalidates state’s Keystone pipeline approval

A Nebraska court on Wednesday invalidated the governor’s decision to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to pass through the Midwestern state, casting new uncertainty over the controversial project to link Alberta’s oil sands with refineries in Texas.

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman last year supported legislation that cleared the way for TransCanada Corp’s $5.4 billion pipeline to cross parts of his state.

Nebraska judge’s ruling threatens Keystone pipeline

A state judge in Nebraska has dealt another setback to the long-debated Keystone XL pipeline, ruling that a state law passed in 2012 violated the state’s constitution by giving the governor power to approve the pipeline’s route.

The pipeline “has become a political lightning rod for both supporters and opponents,” Lancaster County District Judge Stephanie F. Stacy wrote, “but the issues before this court have nothing to do with the merits of that pipeline.” Instead, she said, the case involved the Nebraska Constitution’s grant of authority to the five-person Public Service Commission for “regulation of rates, service and general control of common carriers,” which includes pipelines.

Nebraska governor to appeal ruling on Keystone pipeline

Nebraska Governor Dave Heineman said on Wednesday he would appeal a state court ruling that invalidated his decision to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to pass through the state.

The District Court of Lancaster County earlier on Wednesday upheld landowners’ objections to the Keystone decision having been made by Heineman rather than the Nebraska Public Service Commission.

Obama defends lengthy vetting process for Keystone XL

President Obama on Wednesday defended the protracted process his administration is using to decide whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Obama’s comments, made with Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper by his side, are his first on the pipeline since a State Department report issued earlier this month concluded the pipeline will have a negligible impact on climate because expanded development of carbon-heavy tar sands of northwest Canada is inevitable, with or without the pipeline.

Obama, Harper differences over Keystone pipeline on display at summit

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper on Wednesday said a report on the Keystone XL pipeline was “pretty definitive” in its assessment that it would not affect climate change, an issue President Barack Obama says must be part of the discussion.

The comments by the two leaders came at a news conference following a summit of the leaders of North America, which brought together Harper, Obama and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto in Toluca, Mexico.

Kentucky’s Keystone XL: The Bluegrass Pipeline

Buff Bradley, a 50-year-old champion thoroughbred trainer, makes for an unlikely environmentalist. The son of Fred Bradley, who’s a former Kentucky state senator, county judge, attorney, songwriter, pilot and horse-breeding icon‚ Buff has spent much of his life bringing up racehorses on his family’s 300-acre farm in western Franklin County. If you like to brush shoulders with the owners of high-speed, million-dollar winning Kentucky thoroughbreds, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the family name.

Buff didn’t choose to take on the fossil fuel industry; the fight came to him. Last April, representatives from the Tulsa-based Williams Energy and Houston-based Boardwalk Pipeline Partners visited his family farm and asked to survey the land for a natural gas liquids pipeline. Bradley respectfully declined to cooperate and got in touch with neighboring landowners with whom surveyors had also paid a visit.

Tories offered up land reserved for Arctic reindeer for oil and gas exploration: documents

Tracts of land that had been set aside for reindeer grazing in Canada’s North have instead been offered up by the Conservative government for oil and gas exploration, newly released documents show.

Companies interested in obtaining petroleum exploration rights in the Mackenzie Delta and Beaufort Sea region of the Northwest Territories were asked last year to nominate blocks of land that they wanted to see included in a subsequent call for bids.

Statoil Disappointed as Oil Hopes Fade at Delayed Arctic Project

Statoil ASA (STL) said a fourth well meant to boost oil resources at its delayed Johan Castberg project in the Barents Sea found only gas, increasing pressure on Norway’s biggest energy company to cut development costs.

The Stavanger-based company found 2 billion to 4 billion cubic meters of gas at the Kramsnoe prospect, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate said in a statement today. The company has now drilled four out of five wells in its Castberg exploration campaign, finding oil at one of them in December.

Amid Toxic Waste, a Navajo Village Could Lose Its Land

In this dusty corner of the Navajo reservation, where seven generations of families have been raised among the arroyos and mesas, Bertha Nez is facing the prospect of having to leave her land forever.

The uranium pollution is so bad that it is unsafe for people to live here long term, environmental officials say. Although the uranium mines that once pocked the hillsides were shut down decades ago, mounds of toxic waste are still piled atop the dirt, raising concerns about radioactive dust and runoff.

New radioactive water leak at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant

A large amount of radioactive water has leaked from a holding tank at Japan’s troubled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, its operator said Thursday.

The leak of an estimated 100 metric tons of highly contaminated water was discovered late Wednesday, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said in a statement.

Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant leaks radioactive water

Around 100 tonnes of highly radioactive water have leaked from a storage tank at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, operator Tokyo Electric (Tepco) says.

Human error blamed for broken thermometer at Fukushima reactor

A malfunctioning thermometer in the damaged No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant was traced to human error, and operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Feb. 19 there was no cause for alarm.

TEPCO said a second thermometer on the bottom of the reactor is working properly. It said the one working improperly was thrown out of action after being short circuited.

Fukushima Deaths Now Higher Than In Tsunami

Health complications from Japan’s 2011 tsunami have killed more people in one region than the disaster itself, according to authorities.

Data compiled by officials and police show that three years after the disaster, 1,656 people living in Fukushima prefecture have died from stress and other illnesses related to the tsunami.

Fukushima stress deaths top 3/11 toll

Stress and other illnesses related to the 2011 quake and tsunami had killed 1,656 people in Fukushima Prefecture as of Wednesday, outnumbering the 1,607 whose deaths were directly tied to disaster-caused injuries, according to data compiled by the prefecture and local police.

Fukushima N-water cleanup goal ‘difficult’

It will be difficult for Tokyo Electric Power Co. to reach the target for completing the purification of water contaminated with radioactive substances in storage tanks at its crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in fiscal 2014, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

According to TEPCO’s estimates, 1,960 tons of contaminated water per day must be processed from October to purify about 350,000 tons of polluted water in storage tanks. However, the Advanced Liquid Processing System, or ALPS, is not capable of processing that amount of contaminated water per day.

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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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