Environmental Must-Reads – February 23, 2015


Regulator let PG&E investigate itself after San Bruno blast

California Public Utilities Commission officials allowed Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to investigate itself after the company revealed in 2012 that it had failed to police its major gas pipelines to the point where trees, buildings and even swimming pools blocked access to them, The Chronicle has learned.

A commission official explained in an e-mail to PG&E executives that it would be better for the company to do its own investigation so the state agency could avoid “a lot of … red tape.”

The findings of PG&E’s self-investigation remain secret, more than two years after the company turned them over to the state. What is known is that regulators have yet to levy any fines against PG&E for what one former utilities commission lawyer called a major safety problem.

Fed predicts up to 10 derailments a year of fuel-hauling trains

The federal government predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and possibly killing hundreds of people if an accident happens in a densely populated part of the U.S.

The projection comes from a previously unreported analysis by the Department of Transportation that reviewed the risks of moving vast quantities of both fuels across the nation and through major cities. The study completed last July took on new relevance this week after a train loaded with crude derailed in West Virginia, sparked a spectacular fire and forced the evacuation of hundreds of families.

Striking New Report Finds Oil Trains Put 25 Million Americans at Risk

As officials probe the two latest explosive oil train derailments in Ontario and West Virginia, the Center for Biological Diversity released a report yesterday offering striking new details on the broad range of unchecked risks to people and the environment posed by the largely unregulated escalation in U.S. rail transport of oil.

Texas attorney general orders release of oil train data

Oil train records held by the Texas Department of Public Safety are not subject to exemption under state open records law, the state attorney general ruled this week, and must be released in full to McClatchy and other news organizations.

One railroad had argued that releasing the information to the public would compromise security and customer confidentiality and enable the railroad’s competitors.

OIL: For people of W.Va., oil train inferno kindles fears of environmental disaster

A pillar of snow and smoke washed over Lora Scarbrough’s trailer home “like a monster.”

Next came the explosions — loud and close enough to rattle the walls.

Scarbrough fled with her partner, Michael Tatum, 41, and his son, 8-year-old Bradden Tatum, to a nearby parking lot where they watched more fiery blasts light up the afternoon sky in the wake of a CSX Corp. oil train derailment Monday.

Their home, about a thousand feet from the site of the accident, was frozen over but otherwise unscathed when they returned the next day to check in on their six pets.

Legislature must prevent an oil-train accident in Wash.

AS Washington legislators weighed competing oil-train safety bills this past week, yet another train filled with volatile North Dakota crude oil derailed and exploded, this time in West Virginia.

It provided still more evidence that stronger laws and regulations are needed to protect the public and the environment from the trains, which now carry a significant and fast-growing share of North America’s oil from well to refinery.

Jeb Bush Championed Fracking While Standing To Profit From It, Report Alleges

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) pushed states to approve the controversial drilling practice known as fracking while he personally stood to profit from the practice, the Tampa Bay Times reported on Friday.

According to the Times, Bush, a likely 2016 presidential contender, urged a group of New York conservatives in 2013 to support fracking, even while he was involved with a private equity group that was raising $40 million for a company acquiring fracking wells.

Fracking Industry Distorts Science To Deceive Public And Policymakers, Says Watchdog Group

The oil and gas industry sponsors and spins research to shape the scientific debate over horizontal hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. That’s the conclusion of a watchdog group’s analysis of more than 130 documents distributed to policymakers by industry representatives.

“Research and statistics can be manipulated to say whatever the person using them wants to say,” said Robert Galbraith, an analyst with the nonprofit Public Accountability Initiative and co-author of the report released on Wednesday. Public Accountability Initiative, which describes itself as a non-partisan advocate of corporate and government transparency, receives some financial support from groups opposed to fracking.

USGS: Fracking is the cause of earthquakes in Oklahoma

It’s the million dollar question in Oklahoma: What’s causing all the earthquakes?

There have been a lot of theories about fracking causing earthquakes. But now, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) says that fracking, is indeed, to blame.

The debate about the cause of earthquakes in Oklahoma has really heated up within the last year. But now, the USGS is making strong statements about what they believe is the root of the problem.

Michigan could strengthen oversight of fracking, U-M study says

Michigan could strengthen its supervision of a natural gas development process known as “fracking” by keeping a closer eye on surface and ground water near production wells and ordering companies to disclose more information about the chemicals they use, researchers said in a report released Friday.

The University of Michigan study also said regulators could require companies to do more up-front emergency planning and reuse wastewater before disposing of it, and could give the public a bigger voice in setting policies dealing with fracking.

Tests show ‘detectable levels of petroleum’ in Yellowstone fish after spill

Lab tests have shown detectable levels of petroleum in the muscle of some of the fish netted in the Yellowstone River downstream from an oil pipeline that ruptured near Glendive in January, spilling an estimated 30,000 gallons.

Consequently, the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has continued its fish consumption advisory for the stretch of river.

“We weren’t expecting to find it,” Trevor Selch, FWP’s pollution control biologist, said on Friday.

Yellowstone: Rupture Probe Is Stalled, But Pipeline Restart Plan Moving Forward

The investigation into last month’s oil pipeline spill in the Yellowstone River will be stalled until at least next fall because the most critical piece of evidence—the failed segment of pipe—can’t be safely retrieved from the river until after snow-melt flooding is over, according to the pipeline’s owner.

The 193-mile Poplar Pipeline, meanwhile, could be repaired and re-opened as soon as March 31, according to Bill Salvin, spokesman for Bridger Pipeline LLC, which owns the ruptured oil line.

Exxon Mobil appeals $1 million penalty for Yellowstone River spill

Exxon Mobil Corp. has asked federal regulators to reconsider a $1 million penalty imposed against the oil giant over a 63,000-gallon crude spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River in 2011.

The Texas-based company asked the Department of Transportation to withdraw three of its four findings of pipeline safety violations. It also asked for the penalty amount to be reduced.

The largest US refinery strike in 35 years is killing one fifth of the country’s production capacity

The largest U.S. refinery strike in 35 years entered its fourth week on Sunday as workers at 12 refineries accounting for one-fifth of national production capacity were walking picket lines.

Sources familiar with the negotiations said talks may resume by mid-week to end the walkout by 6,550 members of the United Steelworkers union (USW) at 15 plants, including the 12 refineries.

Representatives of both sides said no date has been set to restart negotiations, however.

Obama’s Expected Keystone Pipeline Veto Is Likely to Be the First in a Wave

Wielding the weapon of his pen, President Obama this week is expected to formally reject a Republican attempt to force construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. But in stopping the transit of petroleum from the forests of Alberta to the Gulf Coast, Mr. Obama will be opening the veto era of his presidency.

The expected Keystone veto, the third and most significant of Mr. Obama’s six years in office, would most likely be followed by presidential vetoes of bills that could emerge to make changes in the Affordable Care Act, impose new sanctions on Iran and roll back child nutrition standards, among others.

How A Tiny Bat Might Interrupt A Massive Oil Pipeline

A bat that may soon be added to the Endangered Species List could interrupt plans for a new oil pipeline in the Midwest. The proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline, intended to carry crude oil from South Dakota to Wisconsin, is nowhere near as big or controversial as Keystone XL. But it’s another flash point in the fight between sensitive wild animals and the oil and gas industry.

The potential pipeline would run 150 miles through the habitat of the northern long-eared bat, which has been decimated by white nose syndrome. Federal officials are about to determine whether it should be listed as threatened or endangered, after a series of meetings and public-comment periods last fall. Their deadline is April 2, but officials think the decision might come sooner, according to a report by Minnesota Public Radio.

5 Ways the Keystone Pipeline Might Make People Sick

The Keystone Pipeline has generated outrage for the environmental impacts it could have. The pipeline would ferry tar sands oil from Canada all the way through America’s Great Plains and down to the Gulf of Mexico, where it would be shipped off to China. It is not oil that would benefit U.S. consumers.

By some estimates, operating the pipeline would be the equivalent of adding 300,000 more cars to America’s highways each year, with all the air pollution and effect on climate change that suggests.

Data: Oil Trains Spill More Often, But Pipelines Spill Bigger

Which is safer: pipeline or rail?

The question’s been hot on bloggers’ minds since Monday, when a train carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil derailed and exploded in West Virginia. And it’s not a bad one to ask, considering recent political discussion has been dominated by a debate over whether a certain pipeline is in the national interest.

On Fox, A Train Spilling Oil Is An Argument For Keystone XL, But A Pipeline Spill Isn’t News

After a massive oil tanker derailed in West Virginia, several members of Fox News claimed that the accident demonstrates the need to build the Keystone XL pipeline because it is supposedly “safer” to transport oil by pipeline than by train. However, pipelines spill even more oil than trains, and when a major pipeline spill recently occurred near Keystone XL’s proposed route, Fox News barely mentioned the spill and didn’t once connect it to legitimate safety concerns about Keystone XL.

TransCanada has big new plans for moving oil around, and you won’t like them

TransCanada, the company pushing the Keystone XL plan, is cooking up some new projects. Watch out.

First: A pipeline going in the other direction. This one would move oil from North Dakota, where drilling is booming, up to Canada. The company hopes it will be particularly appealing since the alternative method of moving that volatile crude is by rail — and, unfortunately, the trains keep blowing up.

CNRL’s Steve Laut Says Oilsands Face ‘Death Spiral’ If They Don’t Cut Costs

As the world’s oil glut continues to build, wiping out hopes of a price recovery, the head of one of Canada’s largest oilsands operators is warning the industry faces a “death spiral” if it doesn’t figure out how to cut costs.

Speaking before the Chamber of Commerce in Fort McMurray, Steve Laut, president of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (CNRL), said oilsands companies can still return to health, but only if they aggressively begin to cut costs.

Enbridge Considering New Crude Pipeline to Eastern Gulf Coast

Enbridge Inc. said it is considering opening a new route to bring crude oil from western Canada and North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refiners, and may do so by partially converting an existing natural-gas pipeline.

The project was originally announced in early 2013 with a planned startup date this year. That would have repurposed existing infrastructure to connect the company’s Flanagan South pipeline, which ends at a storage hub in Cushing, Okla., with the eastern Gulf Coast.

Enbridge hoping for cross-border pipeline presidential permit by end-2015

Canadian pipeline company Enbridge Inc hopes to get a U.S. presidential permit for its proposed Alberta Clipper pipeline expansion by the end of 2015, president of liquids pipelines Guy Jarvis said on Friday.

The Alberta Clipper pipeline ships Canadian crude from Hardisty, Alberta, to Superior, Wisconsin, and Enbridge plans to increase capacity to 800,000 barrels per day from 500,000 bpd.

$160M pipeline impact will be explained to landowners

UGI representatives may hear questions about surface depth, eminent domain and the safety of the proposed Sunbury Pipeline project, and from those who may oppose it, during a public meeting this week.

Larry Godlasky, UGI Energy Services government affairs director, fielded similar questions Friday when he spoke before 250 people at a joint legislative breakfast held by the Central PA and Greater Susquehanna Valley chambers of commerce about the $160 million, 35-mile natural gas pipeline that will culminate in Shamokin Dam.

U.S. proposes first rules for Arctic oil, gas drilling

The Obama administration on Friday proposed standards on exploratory drilling for oil and gas in U.S. Arctic waters that would add costs for energy companies but aim to protect against catastrophic spills.

The rules, proposed by the Department of Interior, require for the first time that energy companies have access to equipment to contain potential well blowouts, such as rigs that can drill so-called relief wells. The companies would also need to ensure quick access to capping stacks and containment domes while drilling in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas off Alaska.

New safety rules for offshore Arctic drilling proposed to avoid repeat of Shell disaster

The Obama administration proposed new rules for Arctic oil drilling on Friday in an attempt to avoid repeating Shell’s disastrous foray into extreme waters.

The proposals, shaped by the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the grounding of Shell’s drill ship in the Arctic two years later, are aimed at making sure companies could handle a blow-out in remote and icy conditions – without inflicting an environmental disaster on the pristine seas.

White House Proposes First-Ever Rules For Oil Drilling In The Arctic

The Obama administration has proposed the first-ever safety regulations for drilling in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean, where big oil companies have long been hoping to lay their claim.

The proposed rule, which is preliminary and is expected to take at least a year to reach its final version, would for the first time impose specific requirements on oil companies that want to take the plunge into the Arctic’s icy waters. Among those are requirements for companies to have contingency plans for mishaps — companies must be able to “promptly deploy” emergency containment equipment to deal with a spill, and must build a second rig close to their initial operations so a relief well could be drilled in the event of a blowout, among other things.

Fresh nuclear leak detected at Fukushima plant in Japan

Sensors at the Fukushima nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant’s operator announced on Sunday, highlighting difficulties in decommissioning the crippled plant.

Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that pours rain and ground water at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen at the plant campus.

Fresh leak at Fukushima No. 1 highlights Tepco’s struggle to decommission plant

Sensors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant have detected a fresh leak of highly radioactive water to the sea, the plant’s operator announced Sunday, highlighting continued difficulties in decommissioning the crippled atomic station.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said the sensors, which were rigged to a gutter that drains rain and groundwater at the plant into a nearby bay, detected contamination levels up to 70 times greater than the already-high radioactive status seen on the plant grounds.

Inspectors urge Japan to dump water from Fukushima plant into ocean

Nearly four years after Japan’s massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, the country has made “significant progress” toward stabilizing and decommissioning the ravaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, international nuclear inspectors said Tuesday.

However, the nearly 160 million gallons of contaminated water stored on-site pose massive logistical challenges, and examiners strongly urged Japan to consider controlled discharges of the liquid into the Pacific Ocean once it is treated.

Fukushima may accept delivery of radioactive waste

The Fukushima prefectural government may in the coming week approve the delivery of radioactive soil and other waste at interim storage facilities that are under construction, sources said Saturday.

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori may declare the acceptance during a meeting with Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki, who plans to visit the prefecture around Wednesday, according to the sources.

Radiation risk in Cumbria reduced as two million litres of nuclear waste pumped out

RADIATION risk in the region has been reduced after two million litres of liquid nuclear waste was safely pumped out of one of the world’s oldest waste stores, according to Sellafield.

The power station has announced the company responsible for cleaning up the site had passed a “significant milestone” as a result – halving the radioactive content of some of its historic liquid nuclear waste.

Woman believes cell phone radiation nearly killed her husband

In a world going wireless, Ellie Marks is doing the opposite. Ethernet cables and phone lines cover her kitchen counter. No cordless phones, no WiFi.

“This is tobacco all over again,” Marks says, “This industry, my colleagues and I think, is worse than the tobacco industry.”

Marks believes radiation from the most common, even beloved technology, nearly killed her husband. Alan was diagnosed with Glioma, a type of tumor that starts in the brain or spine. In this case, malignant.

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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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