Environmental Must-Reads – February 26, 2015


Fracking, Benzene, and Public Health: A California Nightmare

Benzene is back — and scarily so.

Drawing on analyses that the Center for Biological Diversity conducted, Bettina Boxall, an investigative journalist for the Los Angeles Times, has reported that “significant concentrations” of benzene, a cancer-causing petroleum derivative, are in fracking waste liquid in California.

How significant? Boxall notes that “benzene levels thousands of times greater than state and federal agencies consider safe” have been identified. This should give us serious pause, for since the late 19th-Century benzene has been directly linked to aplastic anemia and leukemia; it is a killer.

As Oil Prices Collapse, North Dakota Considers Weakening Standards on Radioactive Drilling Waste

As the collapse of oil prices threatens North Dakota’s shale drilling rush, state regulators are considering a move they say could save the oil industry millions of dollars: weakening the state’s laws on disposing of radioactive waste.

The move has been the subject of an intensive lobbying effort by drillers, who produce up to 75 tons per day of waste currently considered too hazardous to dispose of in the state.

Fracking banned for five years by Tasmanian Government

The Tasmanian Government will ban the controversial mining practice known as fracking for another five years.

Fracking involves injecting liquid at high pressure into underground rocks to extract oil or gas, and the practice has sparked controversy in New South Wales and Queensland.

Shale Gas Project Encounters Determined Foes Deep in Algerian Sahara

Deep in the Algerian Sahara, daily protests against a pilot hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, project are now well into their second month. The demonstrations have spread to several towns and have provided opposition parties with a new platform at an especially precarious moment for the government, as oil prices have slumped and the declining health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has removed him almost completely from public view.

Hundreds of police officers sealed off streets to block an antifracking march in the capital, Algiers, on Tuesday as opposition groups held rallies around the country in solidarity with the southern protesters in the distant oasis town of Ain Salah.

How ‘Orphan’ Wells Leave States Holding the Cleanup Bag

After a natural-gas boom in the Powder River Basin here petered out several years ago, few energy companies were interested in the leftover wells pockmarking the prairie. Then Ed Presley came along.

The burly, bearded speculator acquired roughly 3,000 idle wells, many for a few dollars. With a salesman’s charm, he vowed to revive the wells with a contraption called the Gazmo.

Frosh wades into fracking fight

Attorney General Brian E. Frosh entered the fight over hydraulic fracturing in Maryland on Wednesday, urging state lawmakers to pass a bill with liability standards so tough that critics and some supporters consider it a de facto fracking ban.

In the absence of “gold standard” regulations to monitor the industry, Frosh said, Maryland would need to find another way to protect residents and the environment.

Ballot proposal to ban fracking in Colorado in 2016? Not yet

A day after a new anti-fracking group called “Coloradans Against Fracking” announced its goal to ban fracking across Colorado, a spokeswoman for the group said she misspoke about how the group planned to achieve its goal.

The group, about 30 people, on Tuesday gathered outside the Colorado Convention Center for a press conference, then went inside to deliver a stack of studies they said outlined the health impacts of oil and gas operations.

Fracking may not stand chance in Maryland

Given the latest public opinion polling, current regulations and new legislation at the moment, fracking may not stand a chance in Maryland.

According to a new Goucher College poll released Wednesday, 45 percent of those polled oppose the extraction of natural gas from Marcellus Shale deposits, a process called fracking. Thirty-six percent said they support fracking and 19 percent said they weren’t sure or didn’t have an answer.

Bill Addresses Fracking Lawsuits

A measure under consideration by state lawmakers would hold natural gas drilling companies liable for damages in Maryland.

A Senate panel held a hearing on the bill Wednesday.

The drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, hasn’t been allowed yet in Maryland. But Sen. Robert Zirkin, the Baltimore County Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, says companies should be responsible for any future damages caused to the environment or residents.

Commission blocks citizens’ fracking questions

Kentucky citizens on Wednesday were blocked by a state commission from asking their questions about a rare permit for a proposed deep horizontal natural gas well that might that officials said would likely use a type of “fracking” technology that’s been controversial in other states.

The hearing before the Kentucky Oil and Gas Conservation Commission was held as legislation supported by both industry and environmental groups was moving through the Kentucky General Assembly to establish a regulatory framework for the practice.

Roman Abramovich Invests $15 Million in New U.S. Fracking Technology

Are the Russians coming to Texas riding the tailwinds of fracking? That depends on who you ask, as some believe Russian forces were behind the anti-fracking vote in Denton, while a $15 million investment in new Texas fracking technology by Roman Abramovich perhaps tells another story.

When the anti-fracking campaign started to heat up late last year in Denton, Texas — the heart of the shale revolution — conspiracy theories were spread from within the pro-fracking community that the Russians were behind the whole thing. The logic was that the American shale revolution threatened Russia’s market share.

Unanswered questions about oil trains

Two questions popped up Tuesday at a Washington House committee hearing on an oil train safety bill. No one could answer them.

The first came from Bob Rudolph, a resident of Steilacoom, a Pierce County city where a railroad line lies next to Puget Sound. He asked: Are there any plans to deal with a possible train accident spilling oil into Puget Sound? The hearing room held railroad, oil industry and government emergency officials, none of whom could answer.

A Hard Look At The Risks Of Transporting Oil On Rail Tanker Cars

Marcus Stern has spent the past year investigating the practice. Recent accidents in Canada and U.S. show that the cars aren’t built for carrying so much oil, he says, and tracks are deteriorating.

BP Appeals Federal Judge’s Ruling 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.

Keystone shows environmental review process is broken: Kemp

“Because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest – including our security, safety and environment – it has earned my veto.”

With those words, the president returned the Keystone pipeline authorization act (S.1) to the Senate unsigned, and challenged lawmakers to find the two-thirds majorities in both houses needed to enact the law without his approval, something that remains unlikely.

U.S. Tells Canada Its Climate Goal May Affect Keystone Decision

U.S. climate negotiators have told their Canadian counterparts that Canada’s plan to cut carbon emissions could be one of the factors that President Barack Obama weighs as he considers whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, a U.S. official said.

The U.S. hasn’t suggested it might approve the $8 billion proposed project in exchange for climate commitments, the official said. Canada is developing a proposal as part of United Nations-sponsored talks aimed at cutting carbon emissions that governments were encouraged to submit by next month.

NAFTA’s specter may haunt Keystone verdict

President Barack Obama may decide to kill Keystone XL for good, but that could be no easy task — thanks in part to the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The 21-year-old free-trade pact allows foreign companies or governments to haul the U.S. in front of an international tribunal to face accusations of putting their investments at risk through regulations or other decisions. The CEO of Keystone developer TransCanada has raised the prospect as a potential last resort if Obama rejects the $8 billion project, although for now the company is focused on getting him to say yes.

House GOP probes Obama’s Keystone XL decision

The House Oversight Committee is investigating the Obama administration’s ongoing process to review the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) asked Secretary of State John Kerry Tuesday to send him everything the State Department received from other federal agencies for its ongoing determination of whether Keystone is in the United States’ “national interest.”

Crude Awakening: How the Keystone Veto Dashes Canada’s ‘Superpower’ Dreams

Barack Obama’s veto of Keystone XL has placed the export pipeline for Canadian tar-sands crude on its deathbed. Earlier in February, the Environmental Protection Agency revealed that Keystone could spur 1.37 billion tons of excess carbon emissions — providing the State Department with all the scientific evidence required to spike the project, permanently. If the news has cheered climate activists across the globe, it also underscored the folly of Canada’s catastrophic quest, in recent years, to transform itself into a dirty-energy “superpower.”

Fort Peck tribes oppose Keystone Pipeline

The Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, concerned about an oil spill contaminating their water supply, have approved a resolution opposing construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Bill Whitehead, Fort Peck’s director of economic development, said he believes that the tribes are the first in Montana to oppose the pipeline. The resolution was passed unanimously, he said.

3 Animals Who Are Pretty Pumped That President Obama Rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline

After lengthy debates back and forth about the Keystone XL Pipeline, President Obama has officially put his foot down and vetoed the bill that would allow construction to begin on this environmental monstrosity. Although the pipeline has been lauded for its ability to get America off the ever-dreaded “foreign” oil and create permanent jobs for a whopping 35 people, there are many major environmental concerns that would come along with Keystone XL.

If constructed, the pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels of crude oil per day from the tar sand region of Alberta, Canada to a refinery in Houston, Texas. Traversing a staggering 1,702 miles, the likelihood that the pipe could spill is extremely high. Considering the fact that the pipeline would run across the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers and many vital wildlife preserves along the way, the risk of a spill cannot be taken lightly.

The Keystone pipeline debate is missing a huge human cost: Indigenous rights

On Feb. 24, president Obama vetoed a congressional bill that would have approved the Keystone XL pipeline expansion. Although the debate surrounding the project was widely seen as a conflict between environmentalists and industrialists, the case also raised important questions about one of America’s oldest bad habits: trampling on indigenous rights.

The Rosebud Sioux, also known as the Sicangu Lakota, reside on a reservation that includes all of Todd County, South Dakota, and additional lands in the four adjacent. That land, originally encompassing all of South Dakota west of the Missouri River, was entreatied to the greater Sioux nation in 1851 and 1868, but has been gradually reduced to its current boundaries by decades of territorial whittling by the federal government.

Effort to seize Nebraska land for pipeline remain on hold

The company trying to build a pipeline to carry Canadian oil south to the Gulf Coast says its efforts to force Nebraska landowners to agree to the project remain on hold because of several pending lawsuits.

Earlier this month, a Holt County judge issued a temporary injunction blocking TransCanada’s eminent domain efforts there. Company spokesman Mark Cooper says a York County judge is expected to issue a similar order Thursday.

Lawmaker proposes pipeline to ferry oil across state

Worried about North Dakota oil trains derailing, leaking or exploding in Washington state? Let’s build a pipeline.

That’s the solution state Sen. Michael Baumgartner unveiled Wednesday in response to concerns over dangers posed by the 19 crude-oil trains lumbering across Washington every week. Those trains can each carry more than 2.9 million gallons of oil in about 100 tank cars.

Enbridge enters dispute over Michigan pipeline permit

The owner of a major oil pipeline through Michigan has been allowed to enter a legal dispute over a federal permit.

A judge on Wednesday granted Enbridge Energy’s request to intervene in litigation in Bay City federal court. The Sierra Club is suing the U.S. Forest Service, saying it didn’t prepare an environmental analysis when it renewed Enbridge’s permit.

Shell Withdraws From Largest Tar Sands Project Yet

Keystone XL is not the only deciding factor in the future of tar sands extraction.

The outsized debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, which entered a new era yesterday after Obama wielded his veto pen against legislation approving its construction, is not the only element in the debate over whether the greenhouse gas-intensive tar sands get developed. Oil supply, demand, and cost are pulling some major levers too: with oil prices at rock-bottom lows, on Monday Royal Dutch Shell announced it was shelving plans to build a new tar sands mine in northern Alberta — the largest such project to be deferred.

Kinder Morgan, NEB Draw Ire for Oil Spill Response Plans Released in Washington State, But Not B.C.

Since DeSmog Canada broke the story two weeks ago that Kinder Morgan publicly released its emergency oil spill plans for the Trans Mountain pipeline in Washington State while withholding or severely redacting the exact same plans in B.C., there’s been a firestorm of activity on the topic.

The story has now been covered by the Globe and Mail, the CBC and the Canadian Press, the issue was raised in the House of Commons this week and the president of Kinder Morgan and the chair of the National Energy Board (NEB) have been forced to respond.

Trio of approvals in Fukushima seals deal for radioactive soil dump

Ending a prolonged and often contentious process, Fukushima Prefecture and two town governments agreed to host an interim storage facility for contaminated debris from the 2011 nuclear crisis.

Fukushima OK’s soil transfer

Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori has told the government his prefecture will allow the transfer of radioactive soil to a provisional site in the northeastern prefecture.

The governor announced the decision in a meeting with Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki and other central government officials at his office Wednesday in the city of Fukushima.

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.

Prince William in Japan: controversial visit to Fukushima during visit

The Duke of Cambridge has arrived in Japan for the start of a seven-day tour of the Far East that is likely to be his most controversial foreign mission to date.

The Duke was taken by boat to the city’s harbour before being formally welcomed with a traditional tea ceremony.

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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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