Environmental Must-Reads – February 4, 2014


Ex-BP oil disaster and fracking executive to lead big government projects

A former oil executive criticised for his role in the BP refinery explosion, and whose last company was fined over 50 health and safety violations connected with fracking, has been appointed to lead the government’s Major Projects Authority.

John Manzoni, who has worked in the oil industry for 30 years, will be responsible for overseeing big-budget projects including the HS2 high-speed rail line and the new nuclear programme.

Fracking: landowners form legal block against drilling in South Downs National Park

Fracking opponents have claimed an early victory in the battle over British shale gas exploration, forming a “legal blockade” to thwart the controversial process at a site in the South Downs National Park.

Five landowners including Viscount Cowdray have written to Ed Davey, the energy secretary, to say that they do not give permission for any drilling beneath their land, which surrounds a proposed exploration site near Fernhurst, West Sussex.

French minister supports allowing ‘clean’ shale gas fracking

A split over France’s ban on shale gas development has emerged within the government, with one minister supporting an experimental type of “clean fracking.”

French Minister for Industrial Renewal Arnaud Montebourg, a member of President Francois Hollande’s Socialist Party, is calling on the president to reconsider his opposition to hydraulic fracturing due to what he calls the emergence of environmentally safer methods to extract natural gas trapped in shale rock.

Study: Living near a fracking well may increase the risk of birth defects

A new study in Colorado by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences found that mothers living near hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — wells were up to 30 percent more likely to give birth to newborns with congenital heart defects.

Now, correlation does not imply causation. This means that more studies in lots of other geographic areas are necessary to determine whether this is a real association or just an unfortunate coincidence. The fracking industry points to a list of studies that have shown no health impact from fracking (although none of these studies looked at data on birth defects). It is also not yet possible to assess data on long-term health impacts, if only because fracking has not been around long enough.

Property Owners Threaten Second Suit Over Delay on Fracking Study

A coalition of property owners announced Jan. 31 that it will sue New York state over its delay in issuing a long-awaited environmental impact statement on hydraulic fracturing unless the state provides a reasonable timeline by Feb. 13 for finalizing the process.

EPA approves fracking wastewater well in Elk County

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has approved an application by Seneca Resources to operate a deep injection disposal well in Elk County.

The oil and gas industry uses these deep injection wells to dispose of wastewater, which has a high salt content, as well as chemicals, heavy metals, and naturally occurring radioactive material.

Elk County well to take fracking wastewater

Seneca Resources Corp. has received federal approval to operate a new drilling wastewater injection well in Elk County, and more of those deep injection wells for the disposal of Marcellus and Utica shale gas drilling wastewater are on tap for Pennsylvania.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced last week that it had approved Seneca’s proposal to convert one of its existing vertical gas wells into an injection well that will pump up to 60,000 gallons a day of drilling wastewater and salty brine about 2,400 feet below the surface into the Elk 3 Sandstone formation.

Radionuclides in Fracking Wastewater: Managing a Toxic Blend

Naturally occurring radionuclides are widely distributed in the earth’s crust, so it’s no surprise that mineral and hydrocarbon extraction processes, conventional and unconventional alike, often produce some radioactive waste.1 Radioactive drilling waste is a form of TENORM (short for “technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material”)—that is, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) that has been concentrated or otherwise made more available for human exposure through anthropogenic means.2 Both the rapidity and the extent of the U.S. natural gas drilling boom have brought heightened scrutiny to the issues of radioactive exposure and waste management.

N.Y. Health Dept. fracking review done in secret

After four rounds of hearings, hundreds of thousands of public comments, two governors and a pair of voluminous draft reports, New York’s review of hydraulic fracturing is now taking place entirely behind closed doors.

It’s been 16 months since state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah was first tasked with analyzing New York’s review of large-scale hydrofracking, 5 1/2 years since the state first put shale-gas drilling on hold and a full year since Shah first said his work would be finished within “the next few weeks.”

The State of the Gulf’s Beaches: BP Oil Spill Weekly Pollution Summary, 1/26/14-2/01/14

Contrary to BP’s assertions that the Gulf is making a strong recovery and that any lasting effects from the company’s Deepwater Horizon Blowout are minimal, I offer this weekly summary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s (FDEP) daily beach monitoring surveys.

Since the end of BP’s active cleanup efforts in June 2013, government agencies (not BP) have documented and removed over 32,874 Surface Residue Balls (SRBs), better known as tar balls, and more than 476 pounds of Deepwater Horizon oil from Florida’s beaches alone (not including Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana or Texas). On an average survey day, the FDEP team covers no more than 1,000 yards of beach, less than 1% of Florida’s shoreline that was impacted by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Canadian National Railway Derailment In Mississippi Spills Hazardous Materials

A Canadian National Railway Co train carrying fuel oil and other hazardous materials derailed and was leaking in southeast Mississippi on Friday, forcing the evacuation of nearby residents, officials said.

No one was injured in the incident which involved the derailment of 21 railcars, eight of which have spilled their contents, a Canadian National Railway spokesman said.

Yet another reason to reject Keystone: Canada vastly underestimated the tar sands’ cancer-causing toxins

Its impact on the environment and climate change aside — something that environmentalists say was at once acknowledged and yet underestimated by the State Department’s impact report — the Keystone XL pipeline has been linked to a potential human health risk. According to a study released Monday, the Canadian government critically underestimated emissions of a carcinogenic toxin from the country’s oil sands.

Keystone XL Pipeline Report Creates Political Headache For Obama

Any expectation that a would clarify the Keystone XL pipeline issue went up in smoke in recent days.

In the aftermath of a conclusion that downplayed the oil pipeline’s potential effects on climate change, the issue has gotten even more politically complicated for the Obama White House. Environmentalists are ramping up their opposition to the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline, while Republicans have intensified their push for approval. As for Democrats, well, that depends on their election prospects.

Ten key numbers in the Keystone XL pipeline report

On Friday, the State Department released it final environmental impact statement on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport heavy crude oil extracted from bitumen deposits in Canada to the United States. Here are 10 key numbers from the analysis you need to know

Environmentalists in Louisville protest Keystone XL pipeline

More than 60 environmental activists gathered outside the federal courthouse in Louisville on Monday afternoon to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Canada to the U.S and beyond.

Critics see the pipeline as a threat to the environment as well as producing dangerous carbon emissions that will affect climate change. Supporters say it would reduce the nation’s reliance on Mideast oil and create jobs.

Keystone XL Pipeline protestors rally in Portland

Monday evening, protestors took to the streets in Portland and in other cities around the country to lodge their objections to the Keystone XL pipeline.

Demonstrators in Portland’s Monument Square also called on President Obama to reject the reversal of a pipeline that runs from South Portland to Quebec so it would not be able to transport tar sands oil either.

Hundreds Protest Keystone XL Oil Pipeline in San Francisco

Environmentalists who voted for President Barack Obama expressed their frustrations at rallies across the country Monday over the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline.

In San Francisco, hundreds of protesters gathered outside the United States Department’s Office, carrying signs and shouting chants like “Mister Obama we don’t need no pipeline drama.”

Protestors calls for Obama to halt Keystone pipeline

The chant resounded across East Liberty Street and South 5th Avenue on Monday night, when more than 20 students and Ann Arbor locals petitioned the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, an oil line expected to cause hazardous environmental effects.

The protest took place outside of the Ann Arbor Federal Building. It was one of many united KXL protests that occurred throughout the country supported by CREDO, National Rainforest Network, the Sierra Club, 350.org and a number of other associations dedicated to environmental conservation.

Santa Rosa demonstrators oppose Keystone pipeline

About 100 people demonstrated Monday evening in downtown Santa Rosa against the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which has become a flashpoint in the political debate over climate change.

Demonstrators lined both sides of Sonoma Avenue near the Shea Federal Building to urge the project be halted, part of numerous similar protests being staged by environmentalists in other parts of the country.

Activists hold vigil against Keystone XL Pipeline

Topeka was one of nearly 270 sites that had a protest vigil Monday night urging President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL Pipeline, said Dan Brennan, a Topeka MoveOn member.

Marchers through downtown Wichita protest Keystone XL Pipeline

At 37 degrees with a major snowstorm headed Wichita’s way, it was a cold day to protest global warming.

And that was kind of the point, said protester Kent Rowe, a professor of aeronautical science and military history for the United States Air Force.

Spokane City Council seeks oil train scrutiny

Local leaders say railroads and government regulators must take more steps to prevent a disaster along the rails in Spokane.

The Spokane City Council on Monday unanimously approved a resolution asking state and federal officials to scrutinize oil shipments via rail.

Fukushima Wash-Up Fears in U.S. Belie Radiation Risks: Energy

Seaborne radiation from Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant will wash up on the West Coast of the U.S. this year.

That’s raising concerns among some Americans including the residents of the San Francisco Bay Area city of Fairfax, which passed a resolution on Dec. 6 calling for more testing of coastal seafood.

Fukushima village’s young stay away

Two years have passed since Yuko Endo, mayor of the village of Kawauchi, made a widely publicized plea calling on residents to return home after being forced to evacuate because of the Fukushima nuclear crisis.

While some residents have returned, there have been few young people among them, posing a challenge for village officials in restoring the community to what it was.

Japan radio host quits, told not to discuss Fukushima disaster

In many countries, the media can sway public opinion on many issues, and if those issues are detrimental to an election, the politicians get nervous. This apparently was the case in Japan this week, when a radio host was asked to change his commentary.

Toru Nakakita, a professor of economics at Tokyo University, has been the host of the Business Outlook segment of Radio Asa Ichiban, owned by NHK, for the past twenty years. But on Wednesday the director of the morning news asked Nakakita to change his commentary after reviewing what he was going to discuss on Thursday, according to the Japan Times.

Kelp Off California Coast to Be Tested for Fukushima Radiation

Researchers are gathering kelp from along the West Coast to analyze it for traces of radioactive material that leaked into the Pacific Ocean from Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant.

U-T San Diego reports the Kelp Project is a research program launched by Steve Manley, a Cal State Long Beach biologist who has been studying the environmental impact of the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that damaged the plant in March 2011.

EPA seeks to modernize nuclear standards

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking to modernize Nixon-era radiation standards for nuclear power plants.

The proposed standards, which haven’t been updated since the 1970s, would establish new limits on how much radiation nuclear plants can emit during the course of normal production of electrical power without endangering public health.

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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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