Environmental Must-Reads – February 25, 2015


Another Bid for Local Control Over Fracking Is Thwarted

Munroe Falls became the nation’s latest community to lose a protracted legal battle over local control of oil-and-gas drilling, as the result of a recent Ohio Supreme Court ruling.

But there’s a silver lining: Buried in the 31-page court decision is guidance for Munroe Falls and other Ohio towns trying to flex some muscle over the industry in the future.

Interior Secretary: Feds won’t overrule tougher state fracking regulations

Coming government mandates for hydraulic fracturing on federal and Indian lands will not trump the rules in states that already have tougher regulations in place, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday.

At issue are proposed regulations from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management that would govern the design and stimulation of wells on public lands. The agency is set to unveil the final mandates “soon,” Jewell told the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee during a wide-ranging hearing Tuesday.

Fracking-Friendly Ohio Justices Backed by Oil and Gas Industry, Analysis Shows

Two of the justices behind last week’s pro-industry fracking decision in Ohio were the beneficiaries of that same industry’s largesse, in the form of sizable campaign contributions, a Columbus Dispatch computer analysis has shown.

Ohio Supreme Court Justice Judith French authored the majority opinion in the 4-3 ruling that said state law trumped local ordinances intended to regulate permitting and location of fracking wells and related development. She received $8,000 from Ohio’s oil and gas industry, according to Dispatch journalists Darrel Rowland and Jim Siegel. Another concurring justice got $7,200 from oil and gas drillers.

Colorado anti-fracking groups launch campaign for statewide ban

Anti-fracking activists crashed a Colorado oil and gas task force meeting Tuesday and launched a campaign for a statewide ban — a push organizers said could lead to a ballot measure for voters.

About two dozen activists representing health, environment, youth, faith, business and other community groups denounced the task force as too close to industry. The Coloradans Against Fracking coalition paraded into a final task force session on recommendations for resolving disputes over oil and gas and presented members a compendium on how hydraulic fracturing can hurt people.

New regulations for fracking advance in Kentucky House

A House panel voted unanimously Tuesday to approve the first overhaul of Kentucky’s oil and gas drilling regulations in a generation, trying to get ahead of a possible “fracking” boom in the state.

House Bill 386, which proceeds to the full House, would tighten standards for high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, with new rules for landowner notification, water-quality testing and drilling site reclamation. In fracking, companies can inject millions of gallons of chemical-laced water under high pressure into deep, horizontal bore holes to break up rocks, unlocking oil and gas.

Police Dash Cam Captures New Jersey House Exploding in Blast That Injured 15

A police car’s dashboard camera captured a massive explosion that blew a house to smithereens and reportedly injured 15 people, two critically, in Stafford Township, New Jersey.

The explosion occurred at 10:32 a.m. as workers were trying to locate the source of a leak that filled the neighborhood with the smell of gas, and many of the injured were gas company workers and emergency responders, The Associated Press and ABC News station WPVI reported.

Is Bolivia going to frack ‘Mother Earth’?

The momentum is building. Bolivia’s state oil and gas company YPFB announced in early 2013 it would begin studies to identify shale gas deposits, and in November that same year it gave a presentation in Santa Cruz on shale gas and the country’s probable reserves. Also in 2013 it ordered companies to take samples of one particularly promising geological formation, sent a delegation to the Vaca Muerte shale gas deposits in Argentina, and signed an agreement with YPF, Argentina’s state oil and gas company, to “evaluate shale gas potential” in Bolivia’s Chaco region and train Bolivians in shale gas techniques.

Wastewater Wells Are Shaking Oklahoma

Not so many years ago, earthquake science was no more relevant to Oklahoma than marine biology. But these days the state is shaking way more often than California, and giving many people there an unwanted crash course in seismology.

Last year, Oklahoma had 585 earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or greater (big enough for people to easily feel) — almost three times as many as California had and up from an average of just two a year before 2009. Not coincidentally, that’s when drillers began injecting wastewater from fracking and other oil-and-gas extraction operations into thousands of underground wells. In the past week alone, Oklahomans have felt the earth move eight times — which is probably eight times more than nature intended them to. It’s enough to get officials, even in a drilling-friendly state, to take action to manage wastewater wells.

Rail defect caused fiery Gainford train crash: TSB

Defects in a curving section of rail caused an explosive train derailment and fire 16 months ago in Gainford, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said Tuesday.

Ultrasonic testing two months earlier had failed to detect transverse cracks developing in the aging rail, which was due to be replaced this year.

The lessons of Lac-Megantic

Canadians are still gleaning lessons from the deadly Lac-Megantic rail disaster that killed 47 people in Quebec in July 2013.

Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt is now requiring companies that move large quantities of crude oil in rail cars to carry up to $1 billion in insurance to cover the costs of a potential future derailment. As well, oil companies that move their product in railway cars face a levy of $1.65 for every tonne of crude shipped, which amounts to approximately 23 cents per barrel. About 200,000 barrels of oil were moving by rail in Canada every day in 2014, so it’s estimated the charges will contribute $16.8 million annually toward a new $250-million fund that would provide compensation to accident victims.

Washington State County Unsure If It Can Take Wave Of North Dakota Crude

Oil companies in North Dakota are looking for the fastest and cheapest way to get their product to refineries, and they’ve set their sights on moving more of their product by rail to the Northwest.

There are six new oil terminals proposed for Washington state. Half of them could be built in the small communities around Grays Harbor, a bay on the Pacific coast about 50 miles north of the mouth of the Columbia River.

For Spilling Crude Oil Into A River, Company Will Pay $361,000

Virginia environmental officials have proposed a $361,000 civil fine against CSX Transportation Inc. as punishment for a 2014 derailment that saw nearly 30,000 gallons of Bakken crude oil dumped in and around the James River.

In a consent order released Monday, the state Department of Environmental Quality said CSX should also pay the agency $18,574 for costs associated with investigating the April spill. In that incident, 17 oil tankers came off the tracks, and three were sent directly into the James. Local officials reported an explosion “causing extensive flames and dense black smoke.”

California Metrolink Derailment Is Latest in Series of High-Profile Crashes

A commuter train derailment outside Los Angeles that sent 28 people to the hospital and left a tractor-trailer in flames was the latest in a series of high-profile accidents on the nation’s rails.

It was only a week ago that a 109-car train carrying crude oil derailed in snowy West Virginia, destroying a home and sending one of the cars tumbling into a river that supplies drinking water.

And earlier this month, a commuter train in the New York suburbs hit an SUV that was inexplicably stopped on the tracks, killing the driver and five passengers on the train. That collision was so powerful that the electrified third rail dislodged and pierced the train.

BP challenges ruling over size of 2010 oil spill

BP is challenging a January ruling over the size of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill as it seeks to lower its civil penalty for the disaster. BP faces up to $13.7 billion in federal fines.

The notice of appeal, filed Monday (Feb. 24) in New Orleans, comes days after U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier rejected BP’s attempt to lower the maximum fine for the spill.

BP Appeals Ruling on Gulf Oil Spill Size

BP Plc on Monday appealed a federal judge’s finding of the size of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which leaves the company potentially liable to pay $13.7 billion in fines.

In January, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans ruled that 3.19 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf as a result of the disaster. A determination that less oil was spilled would likely translate into a lower fine for the company.

Officials continue to monitor Statter Harbor oil spill

The U.S. Coast Guard estimates between 50 and 100 gallons of oil spilled into Auke Bay’s Statter Harbor on Sunday.

That’s according to a release from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, which is investigating the spill along with the Coast Guard.

House Dems: Did Big Oil seek to sway scientists in climate debate?

A key Democratic lawmaker is seeking an expanded inquiry into whether fossil-fuel companies have been secretly underwriting the research of some of the country’s most prominent scientific skeptics of climate change.

Rep. Raul Grijalva (D- Ariz.), the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, sent requests to seven universities asking for detailed records on the funding sources for affiliated researchers who have opposed the scientific consensus on man-made global warming. Grijalva cited concerns over possible conflicts of interest involving scientists who have sought to influence the public debate on climate.

Obama Vetoes Bill Pushing Pipeline Approval

— President Obama on Tuesday rejected an attempt by lawmakers to force his hand on the Keystone XL oil pipeline, using his veto pen to sweep aside one of the first major challenges to his authority by the new Republican Congress.

With no fanfare and a 104-word letterr to the Senate, Mr. Obama vetoed legislation to authorize construction of a 1,179-mile pipeline that would carry 800,000 barrels of heavy petroleum a day from the oil sands of Alberta to ports and refineries on the Gulf Coast.

President Obama vetoes Keystone bill; GOP plans override vote

President Barack Obama vetoed the Republicans’ Keystone XL pipeline bill Tuesday, rejecting Congress’ attempt to take the project’s fate out of his hands — and leaving the GOP on track for an override vote that will most likely fail.

Obama’s veto message was delivered within hours of the legislation arriving on his desk, the latest step in six years of pushing and pulling over a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline that has become a symbol in the debate over jobs versus the environment. Even before Obama whipped out his veto pen, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to hold an override vote, which the Republican leader’s office said would occur no later than March 3.

Obama’s Veto of Keystone XL Pipeline Probably Doesn’t Mean the Endgame

President Obama on Tuesday briskly vetoed legislation to approve construction of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. The bill, which had easily passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate last month, was rejected within hours of its official delivery to the Oval Office.

The White House said Obama rejected the bill because it would have short-circuited his administration’s prolonged review of the pipeline, a project that over the years has become a litmus test of his commitment to fighting climate change.

Even Pickaxes Couldn’t Stop The Nation’s First Oil Pipeline

One-hundred-fifty years ago, a man named Samuel Van Syckel built the nation’s first commercial oil pipeline in the rugged terrain of northwestern Pennsylvania.

His pipeline transformed how oil is transported — and it would change the modern world, too — but not before a battle that makes the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline look meek by comparison.

Judge OKs eminent domain for pipeline

The proposed Constitution Pipeline project has taken a major advance forward, with a federal judge granting it eminent domain rights to easements on properties whose owners had been resisting right-of-way agreements.

Pipeline construction is now expected to begin this summer, said Christopher Stockton, a spokesman for Williams Partners, the energy company that is the lead partner in the consortium of firms behind the $700 million project, which would run 124 miles from northeastern Pennsylvania to the Schoharie County town of Wright.

Too Many Broken Pipelines: Fort Peck Reservation Passes Resolution Opposing Keystone XL Through Montana

The Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation have passed a resolution opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, the first reservation in Montana to do so.

The pipeline would jeopardize drinking water projects for the reservation, tribal officials told Indian Country Today Media Network.

Chicago petcoke announcement raises more questions

A few days before today’s municipal election in Chicago, there was big news about the controversial piles of petroleum coke, or petcoke, owned by a Koch Industries subsidiary and stored on the city’s Southeast Side.

“KCBX to eliminate coal and petroleum coke piles,” said the headline on a Feb. 19 press release from the company. For almost two years, local residents have been complaining about black dust blowing off the piles and asking elected officials to ban or place a moratorium on petcoke in the city.

Shell Withdraws Application for New Canadian Oil Sands Mine

Royal Dutch Shell PLC said Monday that it was indefinitely postponing plans to develop a proposed oil-sands surface mine in Western Canada, the energy company’s latest sign of retrenchment amid a drop in crude oil prices to six-year lows.

The company said it would withdraw its regulatory application to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency for a 200,000-barrel-a-day oil project known as the Pierre River North surface mine in northern Alberta.

Why U.S. East Coast Should Stay Off-Limits to Oil Drilling

When it comes to the Obama administration’s recent move to open portions of the Atlantic coast to oil exploration, I’m a bit out of synch with environmentalists who are worried about the big spill. They warn of another Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez-type fiasco coming to the Southeast. But to me, it’s just about the day-to-day business of chasing oil, the wrong-headedness of it all.

W.Va. Senate starts work to scale back law after chem spill

A year after the West Virginia Legislature passed a bill responding to a massive chemical leak into the water supply of 300,000 people, legislators took their first action Tuesday to scale back the measure, which spells out safeguards to prevent future contaminating spills.

A Senate committee voted without opposition Tuesday to drop regulations on about 36,000 aboveground storage tanks covered under the protective law. The new version would home in on tanks within a certain distance of drinking water supplies, ones that hold hazardous materials, or both.

DEQ gives Noranda 30 days to determine the scale of its yearslong mercury emissions in St. James Parish

The Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality has given Noranda Alumina one month to say how it plans to determine the breadth and severity of possible unpermitted mercury air emissions from its St. James Parish facility.

In a new compliance order signed Friday that threatens a host of fines, DEQ also directed Noranda to conduct and submit the results of those efforts just 30 days after the agency grants its approval to the monitoring plan, known as an air modeling protocol.

Fukushima operator finds new source of radiation leak into sea

The operator of the tsunami-crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant said on Tuesday it had found a pool of highly contaminated water on the roof of a plant building and that it had probably leaked into the sea through a gutter when it rained.

The finding comes four years after a massive earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc’s Fukushima reactors, and 1-1/2 years after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe assured the International Olympic Committee that radiation leaks at the plant were “under control”.

Radioactive Fukushima Water Leak Was Unreported for Months: Official

The operator of Japan’s tsunami-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant admitted it failed to report a radioactive rainwater leak from the facility for about 10 months.

The company noticed a spike in radiation levels in the plant’s drainage system, particularly after rainfall, in April, according to a Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) official who spoke at a televised press conference on Tuesday.

Fukushima governor OKs contaminated soil transfer to provisional dump

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori said Tuesday he will allow the transfer of radioactive soil to a provisional site in the prefecture.

The provisional site is part of a planned interim storage facility for soil and other radioactive waste from decontamination work in the prefecture following the nuclear disaster at Tepco’s Fukushima No. 1 power plant.

Former Japanese PM Naoto Kan: ‘Fukushima radically changed my perspective’

On March 11, 2011, a magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, causing massive devastation and ultimately sending three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant into meltdown. It was the worst atomic accident in a generation. Hundreds of thousands of people were evacuated around the plant amid fears of rising radiation, with about 120,000 people still unable to return to their homes four years later.

The man in charge of running the country at the time was Naoto Kan. The DPJ politician, who served as PM between June 2010 and September 2011, was confronted with the challenge of tackling the threefold disaster. Despite being heavily involved in efforts to respond to the crisis and adopting a hands-on approach, Kan faced widespread criticism over his handling of the situation.

4 years on, problems accumulate at TEPCO’s Fukushima plant

March will mark the fourth year since the crisis began at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No.1 nuclear power plant, where decommissioning work continues.

About 6,000 to 7,000 workers are working every day to try to bring the situation under control at the buildings and facilities still scarred by the accident. On Monday, we entered the nuclear plant.

Radioactive Water at Fukushima Site Leaks Into Ocean, Tepco Says

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said it’s investigating the cause of a spike in radiation levels in drainage water that it believes subsequently leaked into the Pacific ocean from its wrecked Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant north of Tokyo.

The radioactivity increase was detected on Sunday, the company said in an e-mail yesterday. No workers were exposed and tests of radiation levels in sea water in the port adjacent to the plant showed no significant increase, the company said.

Valve leak shuts down Limerick nuke plant

One of the two reactors at Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station shut down abruptly before 10 p.m. Monday night due to a problem with a steam valve, officials said.

Called a “hot shut-down,” the reactor for Unit 1 was “automatically shut down at about 9:40 p.m.,” according to statement released by Exelon Tuesday morning.

Landmark Federal Court Decision: Will It Speed Diablo Nuke’s Demise?

New revelations about earthquake dangers have shaken the future of California’s Diablo Canyon nukes.

In a rare move, Washington DC’s Federal U.S. Court of Appeals will hear a landmark challenge to their continued operation.

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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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