Environmental Must-Reads – February 25, 2014


Colorado Becomes The First State To Regulate Methane Emissions From Fracking

Colorado will be the first state in the nation to clamp down on emissions of the super potent greenhouse gas methane from the state’s booming oil and gas industry. The rules, finalized Sunday, will require well operators to comply with stricter leak detection requirements — a provision the state’s main oil and gas industry trade group fought to change.

The new rules were spearheaded by Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) in an effort to tackle the increasingly visible pollution along the Colorado’s Front Range, and brought together the three largest operators — Noble, Anadarko and Encana — along with the Environmental Defense Fund.

Air-quality commissioners stand strong, adopt tough new rules

The Colorado Air Quality Control Commission held fast at a hearing on Sunday, turning back efforts meant to thin proposed emissions rules that were hammered out over the last year and that are desperately needed to help raise the quality of Colorado’s air, which has failed for years to meet national standards.

“Today is a great day for… the health of our children and loved ones,” said Conservation Colorado Director Pete Maysmith in a release. “Colorado has seen an explosion of oil and gas drilling and these new protections will go a long way toward reducing ozone and methane pollution which contributes to climate change.”

Colorado ballot initiative aims to give local governments say on fracking

Colorado residents energized by successful movements over the last two years to ban or temporarily halt oil-and-gas fracking in cities on the northern Front Range submitted language Friday for a constitutional amendment that would make local control over oil-and-gas operations the law throughout the state.

“Not withstanding any other provision of law, local governments in Colorado may place restrictions on the time, place, or method of oil and gas development, including but not limited to the use of hydraulic fracturing, that are intended to protect their communities and citizens,” reads the proposed ballot initiative.

Pennsylvania fracking-related jobs numbers questioned

Facing a daunting re-election year, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett has been touting his all-out support for natural gas drilling as a job creator in his state.

But economists and environmentalists are questioning his claim that the industry props up more than 200,000 Pennsylvania jobs. They say that the governor’s administration has greatly inflated the number and that it may be getting lower every day.

Illinois Democratic Congressional Candidates Callis, Gollin, Green Talk Climate Change, Fracking

The three Democrats running in Illinois’ 13th Congressional district primary recently answered my questions about climate change and energy issues. It’s one of the hottest Congressional races in the nation since freshman incumbent Republican Rodney Davis narrowly won with merely 46.5% of the vote in 2012.

Fracking Boom: Some North Dakota Rentals Now More Pricey Than NYC

It’s a lesson that, not surprisingly, cuts across all segments of the oil industry these days and is as old as the Alaska pipeline: There’s always a price with fame, including fracking fame.

With a population that more than doubled since 2006 when the fracking fever gripped North Dakota, the town of Williston’s real estate prices have burst through the roof. Average monthly rents and leases now top those of New York City, making it the most expensive place to live in the country. An 800-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment will cost you somewhere in the range of $2,100 per month. A 1,400-square-foot plan, spacious in comparison, ranges around $3,500 a month. Add another $500-600 per month if you want it furnished.

Legislature To Consider Ban On Wastewater From Fracking

A year after approving a massive expansion of natural gas use in Connecticut, state lawmakers are considering a ban on storing or recycling wastewater generated as a byproduct of gas exploration.

Environmentalists back several bills intended to eliminate any possibility that Connecticut will be exposed to wastewater produced when chemical-laced water used to fracture underground rocks flows back during drilling.

Bakken Shale Oil Carries High Combustion Risk

Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation contains several times the combustible gases as oil from elsewhere, a Wall Street Journal analysis found, raising new questions about the safety of shipping such crude by rail across the U.S.

Federal investigators are trying to determine whether such vapors are responsible for recent extraordinary explosions of oil-filled railcars, including one that killed several dozen people in Canada last summer.

Slate Belt citizens group hopes fracking ruling can help stop sludge spreading

A new citizens group fighting a state law that allows sludge spreading hopes to use the same legal argument that negated part of the law allowing hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania.

Sludge Free UMBT wants the state to give municipalities the power to decide whether officials allow sludge in their communities.

For the Supreme Court, a Case Poses a Puzzle on the E.P.A.’s Authority

In trying to decide whether the Environmental Protection Agency has the authority under two programs to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from stationary sources like power plants, the Supreme Court on Monday faced what Justice Elena Kagan called “the conundrum here.”

One part of the Clean Air Act, she said, seemed to require that such emissions be regulated. But another part set the emission thresholds so low that even schools and small businesses would be covered.

Push For a Fracking Moratorium Gains Momentum in Sacramento and Los Angeles

This month, California lawmakers at both the state and local levels are moving forward with efforts to put in place a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other well stimulation activities. As I said in my blog post last month, an immediate fracking moratorium is needed to give the state time to thoroughly assess the health risks and environmental impacts of fracking and acidizing, and how to protect against them.

USGS Maps Fracking in Fragile Region of Wyoming

Oil and gas wells, including those involved in hydraulic fracturing—fracking—operations, scar a major portion of southwest Wyoming, according to a recent analysis by the U.S. Geological Survey.

Nearly 17,000 well pads and former drilling areas associated with oil and natural gas production were identified in satellite images across a 30,000-square-mile region. The maps include well scars dating from around 1900, when oil drilling started in the region, up to 2009, at which point natural gas extraction far outweighed oil production.

11K+ Call on Chevron to Apologize for Responding to Gas Well Explosion With Pizza Coupons

When one of its gas wells exploded in Dunkard Township, Greene County, PA, killing one worker, injuring another and sparking a fire that burned for days, Chevron responded by issuing pizza coupons to area residents. Today, thousands outraged by the insulting gesture let Chevron’s CEO and staff know that pizza does not mean never having to say you’re sorry.

New bubbling site found near giant sinkhole

Officials said a new bubbling site has been discovered near the massive sinkhole in south Louisiana. According to the Assumption Parish Police Jury, bubbles were spotted on Grand Bayou, which runs along LA 69 in Assumption Parish.

Coast Guard reopens Mississippi River after portion closed for two days

The U.S. Coast Guard reopened the entire stretch of the Mississippi River at 1:30 p.m. Monday with certain restrictions after a section between Baton Rouge and New Orleans had been closed in the wake of an oil spill Saturday afternoon.

A collision between the E2MS 303 tank barge and the towing vessel Lindsay Ann Erickson had prompted officials to close about 65 miles of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans after about 31,500 gallons of light crude oil spilled into the river.

Drinking water intakes closed after oil spill shuts down 65 miles of Mississippi River

An oil spill has shut down a 65-mile stretch of the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Public drinking water intakes were shut down in St. Charles Parish as a precaution, officials said, and the Port of New Orleans was also closed.

Appeals court upholds dismissal of 11 parish suits against BP under Louisiana wildlife law

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a lower court’s dismissal of lawsuits filed by 11 Louisiana parishes that sought to recover penalties from BP and its drilling partners under a Louisiana law for pollution-related losses of aquatic life and wildlife resulting from the Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill. The 5th Circuit agreed that the suits were preempted by federal law.

Judge orders Oil and Gas Association president to appear in court Tuesday or face jail

A Baton Rouge state judge Monday ordered the president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association to appear in court Tuesday or face jail for contempt, according to attorneys attending what was supposed to be a hearing on the association’s effort to block wetlands litigation against some of its members.

BP starts pumping crude at major deep-water Gulf project

BP said Monday it began pumping crude from a new well at one of its four major deep-water hubs in the Gulf of Mexico last week, the second major startup in U.S. offshore region this year.

Sitting in 6,300 feet of water about 140 miles southeast of New Orleans, the new well at the Na Kika semi-submersible platform is the third of six BP oil production projects slated to come online this year.

Motiva oil refinery fire doused, no injuries reported

Workers battled a fire Monday afternoon at Motiva Enterprises’ Convent crude oil refinery in St. James Parish for 45 minutes before extinguishing the blaze, Shell Oil Co. officials said.

The fire broke out in an unidentified processing unit at about 3:40 p.m. Monday inside the Mississippi River oil complex between La. 70 and River Road along the Ascension Parish line.

In Wake of Elk River Chemical Spill West Virginians Turn to Rainwater Harvesting

Some residents of the Kanawha Valley in West Virginia lost access to clean drinking water on Jan. 9, when a coal-processing facility spilled roughly 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM—a chemical used to treat coal—into the Elk River and surrounding land. The spill affected the water supply for more than 300,000 people.

The quality of the water remains in question, but residents aren’t satisfied with a choice between expensive bottled water from the store and possibly polluted water from the tap. Increasingly, they’re going for a sustainable and self-sufficient alternative: rainwater harvesting.

Obama to decide on Keystone pipeline within months, governors say

President Obama told the nation’s governors Monday that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline could come in a matter of months, signaling he did not intend to let a recent court ruling derail his decision on whether to approve the much-debated project.

The president’s comments came during a question-and-answer session at the White House as part of the annual National Governors Assn. winter meeting. The session was private, but several participants said the president committed to making a decision in a matter of months.

TransCanada says Neb. pipeline route still valid

The developer of the Keystone XL pipeline said Monday that its proposed route through Nebraska is still legally valid until a higher court decides whether the state’s pipeline siting law is constitutional.

A spokesman for Calgary-based TransCanada said last week’s ruling to invalidate the proposed route cannot be enforced while a lawsuit filed by landowners is on appeal. The case is expected to end up in the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Sponsors drop oil pipeline bill

The 2014 version of granting eminent domain authority to oil pipeline companies went through a strange couple of days last week week, and by week’s end had lost its chief Senate and House sponsors.

Senate Bill 14-093 is an attempt to overturn a 2012 Colorado Supreme Court decision that told oil pipeline companies they did not have eminent domain authority. The companies have used their perceived authority for decades to obtain easements where they can place oil pipelines.

Loopholes Speeding Keystone Route Through Nebraska Backfire on Gov., TransCanada

Two years ago, impatient advocates of the Keystone XL in Nebraska pushed through a series of hastily conceived laws to fast-track approval of the pipeline’s route through that state.

Now it’s clear that the legislative maneuvering has produced the exact opposite effect—threatening to delay a presidential decision even further and giving opponents more time to fight on.

Nebraska agency may further complicate Keystone fight

A small Nebraska state commission that has never considered a major oil pipeline route could soon play a pivotal role in deciding the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline, a project brimming with political risk for both the U.S. and Canadian governments.

A court ruling this week reinstating the Nebraska Public Service Commission’s authority over TransCanada’s $5.4 billion project from the Alberta oil sands has raised new questions about a long-delayed project that Canada considers crucial to its economic future.

After Legal Setback In Nebraska, What’s Next For Keystone XL?

Last week, a District Court ruling put a kink in the approval process of the Keystone XL pipeline, declaring a Nebraska law that allowed TransCanada to gain pipeline approval through the Department of Environmental Quality and Governor’s office null and void. But Keystone XL’s future in Nebraska — and in the U.S. in general — is definitely not settled yet.

In Plan to Dump Contaminated Soil, Classic New Jersey Politics Emerge

We slip slided, a zoologist, two environmentalists and I, across ice, snow and mud toward a wire fence with a sign: Environmental Investigation Cleanup.

Beyond this fence, a 125-acre expanse of yellow swamp reeds, vines and cottonwood trees extends north to the Rahway River. Decades ago, American Cyanamid ruined this wetlands expanse, once home to rich oyster beds, with cyanide-contaminated sludge, the chemical detritus of the past century.

To Make Shipping Oil Safer, Railroads Agree to 8 Measures

Responding to concerns about the safety of trains carrying oil around the country, federal regulators on Friday outlined steps to reduce the risk of rail shipments and bolster confidence in the fast-growing industry.

The Department of Transportation said the major railroads had agreed to eight voluntary measures one month after the secretary of transportation, Anthony R. Foxx, met with railroad executives in response to a series of derailments and explosions involving trains carrying crude oil.

Massive oil ships play ‘chicken’ in the Houston Channel

It takes an expert pilot to pull off the Texas Chicken.

The maneuver, in which crossing ships set up for a head-on collision and use each other’s wave pressure to swerve safely past, is the only way to handle two-way traffic in the Houston Ship Channel, which connects downtown with the Galveston Bay and Gulf of Mexico. The narrow waterway is used by some 400 vessels every day, from barges to tankers almost as long as the tallest skyscraper on the horizon.

NM Nuclear Dump Officials Say Environment Is Safe

Officials investigating a leak from federal government’s only underground nuclear waste dump are telling skeptical southeastern New Mexico residents that their health is safe.

More than 250 people attended a mostly calm two-hour meeting Monday night to discuss recent events at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad.

Read Compelling Stories of Shameful Treatment of Fukushima Victims

When most of us think of the ongoing Fukushima nuclear disaster we think about leaks of contaminated water, criminal gangs hiring ill-trained workers to work on cleaning up radioactive materials on the site, ice-dams to stop water flowing, or government announcements that never improve anything.

Fukushima Evacuation Order Lifted, But Motivations Questioned

A group of Fukushima residents were told on Sunday they could soon return to their homes three years after the massive nuclear catastrophe at the nearby power plant left a ghost town in its wake, though many residents remain suspicious of the overall safety of living in the area.

“The decision comes despite sharp divisions among residents over whether or not they should return,” reports Agence France-Press, “with many still concerned over the persistent presence of low-level radiation, despite decontamination efforts.”

Some residents to ‘come home’ to Fukushima nuclear disaster zone

Japan’s government is to allow some residents around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant to return to their homes to live for the first time since the March, 2011 disaster.

Tens of thousands of people were evacuated and a 20-kilometer (12-mile) exclusion zone declared around the plant after a devastating earthquake and tsunami triggered a reactor meltdown — the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986 — causing high levels of radioactive contamination.

Half-evacuated Fukushima town looks to accept No. 1 plant workers

The town of Hirono, located about 30 km south of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, is exploring the possibility of becoming a community for both its traditional residents and workers at the crippled facility.

Many residents who fled the town have yet to return, even though its designation as an evacuation preparation area was lifted six months after the nuclear crisis started.

North American scientists track incoming Fukushima plume

The likely scale of the radioactive plume of water from Fukushima due to hit the west coast of North America should be known in the next two months.

Only minute traces of pollution from the beleaguered Japanese power plant have so far been recorded in Canadian continental waters.

This will increase as contaminants disperse eastwards on Pacific currents.

Japan unveils draft energy policy in wake of Fukushima

Japan has unveiled its first draft energy policy since the Fukushima meltdowns three years ago, saying nuclear power remains an important source of electricity for the country.

The draft, presented to the cabinet on Tuesday for approval expected in March, says Japan’s nuclear energy dependency will be reduced but that reactors meeting new safety standards set after the 2011 nuclear crisis should be restarted.

New Fukushima Radiation Study Looks Ahead To Future Cancer Risks

A new study of Japanese communities near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant shows a lingering risk of radiation exposure remained more than a year after the March 2011 meltdown.

For the study, a group of Japanese scientists led by a team from Kyoto University recruited 483 people living within 20 to 50 kilometers (12 to 31 miles) of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. For two months in 2012, participants wore personal devices called dosimeters that measured their radiation exposure from the ground, air, and food. (While the Fukushima accident ended up releasing large amounts of radioactive water into the ocean, this would not have been a significant exposure risk for people living near the plant, since fishing operations in the area have been suspended — and may remain so after additional leaks.)

Study finds rise in lifetime cancer risk among Fukushima 1-year-old girls

The lifetime risk of developing cancer has risen slightly among 1-year-old girls in an area affected by the nuclear crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, according to a study published online in a U.S. science journal Monday.

The assessment was based on a two-month study by Japanese researchers conducted about a year and a half after the March 2011 nuclear disaster. The study checked the radiation exposure of around 460 residents living near the crippled plant Fukushima Prefecture.

Fukushima takes new approach to ease fears of radiation in food

Fukushima Prefecture is spending about 1.7 billion yen ($16.6 million) this fiscal year to fight rumors about radiation from the stricken nuclear plant that have led to plummeting prices and sales of farm products.

The budget is a fourfold increase over the previous year, and the campaign is focused more on trial-and-error attempts at informing consumers of “Fukushima after the calamity” through Tokyo-area media.

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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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