Environmental Must-Reads – February 4, 2015


Colorado Oil And Gas Task Force Weighs Disclosure Of Fracking Chemicals

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s task force on oil and gas discussed proposals Monday that would force energy companies to disclose all the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and give local governments more of a say on where wells can be drilled.

The task force is winnowing down a list of 56 suggestions from members before making its recommendations to Hickenlooper on Feb. 27 on ways to resolve disputes over local control and landowner rights.

Fracking Failures, Organizing Successes

It’s been an inspiring week in the fight against fracking, the drilling technique that’s contaminated water, caused air pollution, and sickened communities around the world. Last week, the Scottish government issued an indefinite moratorium on the practice. Here in the United States, following dogged organizing by Pennsylvania activists and in fulfillment of a campaign promise, newly-elected Gov. Tom Wolf reinstated the Keystone State’s moratorium on drilling in state parks and forests.

Communities organizing against fracking are making progress for good reason. From the very beginning of clearing a site for drilling, through extraction, transport and delivery of finished products, fracking poses significant risks to our air and water and to human health.

California’s leaders must mend cracks formed by fracking

Standing in front of her Inglewood home, Geneva Morgan points to the dramatic cracks in her driveway, house and street and declares to a camera, “The truth is that when they frack, they go underneath our houses.” Standing in front of the neighboring Inglewood Oil field, she turns straight to the camera and asks, “The governor that I voted for, why is he not doing anything? We wanted you to help us, and you turned your back.”

She is not alone. Don Martin, resident of West Adams, logically connects his granddaughter’s life-threatening Hodgkin’s lymphoma to the toxic fumes to which his community is constantly subjected by the hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — site next door. “They want to keep us out, but do they keep their chemicals in?”

Environmentalists fear use of fracking in Uruguay

The Uruguay Free of Megamining environmental group said Tuesday it was concerned that officials might allow the use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” to produce oil in the Salto and Piedra Sola formations if petroleum is discovered in the areas.

The National Fuel, Alcohol and Portland Administration, or ANCAP, confirmed on Jan. 13 that 20 potential oil wells existed in the Salto and Piedra Sola formations in northern Uruguay.

Anti-fracking group’s signs being vandalized

As earthquakes shook Payne County on Monday, a group that believes fracking is the cause of all the quakes had its world shaken by theft and vandalism.

At least 10 members of the group Stop Fracking Payne County claim their anti-fracking signs were stolen, run over, ripped out of the ground or vandalized recently.

“I just want to be able to put up my sign because I care about it and I think it’s important,” said Ariel Ross, who is a member of Stop Fracking Payne County.

Does Earthquake Insurance Exclude Fracking?

If buying earthquake insurance, read your policy carefully.

At least one policy endorsement obtained by The News showed that earthquakes caused by hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” were excluded from earthquake coverage.

It could mean potential litigation if a claim was ever filed and denied by the company, Kansas’ former insurance commissioner noted.

NDP call for independent review after earthquake felt near Fox Creek fracking operations

The Alberta NDP is calling for an independent “science-based” investigation into the possible connection between a recent earthquake felt near Fox Creek and fracking operations in the area.

On January 22, a 4.4-magnitude earthquake was recorded roughly 30 kilometres west of Fox Creek, a town of about 2,000 people 260 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. Alberta Energy Regulator (AER) spokesperson Ryan Bartlett said the earthquake was preceded by a “cluster” of smaller seismic events “and that suggests it may have been an induced earthquake.”

I’m Marching for Real Climate Leadership: Stop Fracking California

Earlier this month, almost every Republican in the U.S. Senate went on record that “climate change is real and not a hoax.” All but a handful, however, balked at agreeing that humans are contributing to that change. The “not a scientist” club has a new line in the sand: “Climate change? Sure, whatever, but humans are not the problem.”

Oddly enough, they almost have a point—if only by accident. The blame game won’t get us anywhere. When it comes to climate change, what’s most important isn’t whether humans are causing the problem (as the real scientists keep insisting), but whether humans can be part of the solution. Fortunately, we don’t need a vote in the U.S. Senate to answer that question.

State tests railroads’ ability to respond to oil spills

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency is testing the ability of railroads that run trains in the state to respond to an oil spill.

Increased oil train traffic through Minnesota has raised public safety and environmental concerns.

Railroads file a basic disaster response plan with the state, but are not required to provide detailed plans. To assess their readiness to handle disasters, the MPCA earlier this year sent take-home drills to all four major railroads operating in the state and gave them 30 days to explain how they would respond.

Legislation Would Mandate Bigger Crews On Oil Trains

A growing number of oil trains rolling through Washington has emergency responders and rail workers calling for bigger crews on board to better protect human health and the environment.

A set of bills, one introduced in the House and one in the Senate, would require all freight trains coming through Washington to have a minimum of two crew members. Trains carrying hazardous materials would be required to have a third crew member at the rear of the train. Oil trains more than 50 cars long would be required to have two crew members at the rear of the train.

Maps: Oklahoma’s earthquake problem is getting worse

A lawsuit claims that Oklahoma’s great increase in earthquake activity has been caused by pumping waste from drilling operations back underground. The suit involves the largest measured quake in the history of the state, a 5.6 tremor that happened in Prague, east of Oklahoma City in November 2011. As the volume of drilling waste pumped underground has grown, the number of earthquakes with magnitude 3 or higher has increased. In particular, as the drilling has intensified along the northern border, the quakes have followed. The Prague 5.6 magnitude quake in 2011 had one 4.8 magnitude foreshock and one 4.8 magnitude aftershock.

As California Water Resources Dwindle, New Fears Over Drilling Waste Contamination

With the blessing of California state regulators, drilling companies have injected an untold amount of toxic wastewater left over from fracking and other drilling operations into aquifers, according to an investigation by the San Francisco Chronicle published on Sunday.

In October, it was confirmed that nearly 3 billion gallons of oil industry wastewater had been illegally dumped in aquifers through at least nine disposal wells. According to data reviewed by The Chronicle, it is now evident that more than 170 such wells injected a mix of “briny water, hydrocarbons and trace chemicals,” including acid, into aquifers suitable for drinking and irrigation.

California Regulators Allowed Oil Industry To Drill Hundreds Of Wastewater Injection Wells Into Aquifers With Drinkable Water

The fallout from the ongoing review of California’s deeply flawed Underground Injection Control program continues as new documents reveal that state regulators are investigating more than 500 injection wells for potentially dumping oil industry wastewater into aquifers protected under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act as well as state law.

Last July, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ordered an emergency shutdown of 11 wastewater injection wells in California. In October, nine of the wells were confirmed to have been illegally dumping wastewater into protected aquifers.

BP Urges Judges to Remove Head of Oil Spill Settlement Fund

BP was back in court Tuesday, trying to oust the man responsible for doling out billions of dollars in settlement money to businesses claiming they were hampered by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

It’s the oil giant’s latest legal effort to limit its losses from the nation’s worst offshore oil spill. BP says the claims administrator, Patrick Juneau, failed to disclose that he worked on previous oil spill litigation for the state of Louisiana when he was hired to oversee settlement payouts.

Ruling on BP fine over 2010 U.S. oil spill months away: lawyers

It may be months before a final verdict is issued on the size of the fine BP Plc will pay under the Clean Water Act for its 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, lawyers said on Tuesday after the last phase of the trial ended.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, Louisiana, is scheduled to receive post-trial briefs from government prosecutors and BP through April 24.

Barbier might rule before then although a decision after all briefs are filed is more likely, the lawyers said.

2010 BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Is Still Contaminating the Gulf: Study

Scientists recently made a stunning discovery that proves the effects of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill are still widespread in the Gulf of Mexico.

During a recent study, as many as 10 million gallons of crude oil from the 210-million-gallon spill were discovered in sediment on the Gulf floor. The study was led by Jeff Chanton, Professor of Oceanography at Florida State University, who traveled some 60 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta to perform the survey.

BP reports quarterly loss of $4.4 bln amid oil price drop

BP sounded a somber note on the oil industry Tuesday, saying producers may have to adjust to an extended period of lower prices, as the company reported a fourth-quarter loss of $4.4 billion and announced spending cuts.

The London-based oil company followed Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron in curbing spending after the price of crude oil dropped about 50 percent last year.

Yellowstone River oil spill cleanup work on hold due to ice; less than 10 percent recovered

Cleanup work on a 30,000-gallon oil pipeline spill into the Yellowstone River near Glendive is effectively on hold for a month or more until ice on the river melts, state and pipeline company officials said Tuesday.

About 25 people remain at the site to watch for oil-damaged wildlife and respond to any crude oil seen on the river. That’s down from a peak of about 125 people during the initial response, officials said.

In Stand for People and Planet Over Profit, Green Groups Back Oil Worker Strike

In what may seem like an unlikely alliance, environmental groups are throwing their full support behind oil industry workers who on Sunday announced a widespread work stoppage over complaints that Big Oil companies “value production and profit over health and safety.”

The strike, which marks the largest national strike of oil workers since 1980, was called by the United Steelworkers Union (USW) after negotiations with Royal Dutch Shell, which is leading the industry-wide bargaining effort, broke down.

E.P.A. Review of Keystone Pipeline Notes Potential Rise in Greenhouse Gases

An Environmental Protection Agency review of the Keystone XL pipeline emphasized that the recent drop in global oil prices might mean that construction of the pipeline could spur increased development of the Canadian oil sands — and thus increase planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions.

That review might influence President Obama’s long-delayed verdict on the 1,179-mile pipeline, which could bring about 800,000 barrels of oil per day from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. Mr. Obama has said that an important element of his decision will be whether construction of the pipeline would contribute significantly to climate change.

The EPA Just Gave President Obama Cover To Reject The Keystone XL Pipeline

If President Obama was looking for an official reason to conclude that the Keystone XL pipeline was not in the national interest of the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency just delivered it to him in the form of a letter.

The EPA told the State Department, which has handled the decision of whether or not to approve the pipeline because it would cross an international border with Canada, that the tar sands oil transported by the pipeline would pose a number of risks. These include: potential spills, a “significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” and due to global oil price volatility, an increased likelihood that much more tar sands oil would get burned if Keystone gets the green light.

Botched Again: EPA Tells State Department to Redo Its Keystone Analysis

The Environmental Protection Agency has called on the State Department to reconsider a key finding that led its Keystone XL review team to suggest that the pipeline wouldn’t worsen climate change. The EPA said the recent sharp decline in oil prices makes it more likely that the project would significantly increase emissions of greenhouse gases.

In a memo filed Tuesday as President Obama’s decision on the Keystone seemed to be drawing near, the EPA challenged the year-old environmental review’s assertion that with oil prices relatively high, no single pipeline would significantly affect tar sands production or greenhouse gas emissions.

Setting up first veto, House to vote on Keystone bill next week

Setting up the first presidential veto, the House of Representatives will vote next week on the Senate-passed bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, told reporters Tuesday that the measure would pass and would be sent to the President’s desk. The House already passed a similar version of the legislation last month, but rather than reconciling the minor differences on the two bills in a conference committee, House Republican leaders decided to go the quickest route and take up the Senate bill.

Canada ‘Can’t Hide’ From Climate Impacts of Energy East Pipeline, Groups Say

More than 100,000 messages from people across Canada were hand-delivered on Monday to the National Energy Board’s office in Calgary demanding climate impacts be considered in the agency’s review of the proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline.

The largest petition ever delivered to the NEB—organized by environmental and civil society groups including 350.org, Leadnow.ca, the Council of Canadians, Greenpeace, and Avaaz—calls on NEB head Peter Watson to “either include climate impacts and community voices in his review, or lose all credibility and legitimacy in the eyes of the Canadian people.”

Enbridge applies to fill new 570,000 bpd oil pipeline next month

Enbridge Inc, Canada’s largest pipeline operator, plans to begin filling its new 570,000 barrel per day Edmonton to Hardisty, Alberta, pipeline with oil on March 17, according to a regulatory filing.

The company has applied with Canada’s National Energy Board for permission to open the line, which must first be filled with crude prior to entering service.

Lundin pledges to continue Arctic oil drilling

Lundin Petroleum is bucking the trend among its peers and pledging to continue drilling in the Arctic despite the tumble in the oil price since last summer.

The Swedish oil company, which is the second-largest explorer off the coast of Norway, said it would keep scouring the Barents Sea for new fields after it found the one big find last year in the Norwegian Arctic.

Off-shore oil? Forget about it

One of Greenland’s leading political voices of the past 40 years has gone against the country’s elected leadership and suggested that off-shore drilling not be permitted.

Speaking at the annual meeting of the West Nordic Council in Aasiaat, Greenland, on Saturday, Lars-Emil Johansen, who is currently speaker of Inatsisartut, the national legislature, and who led the country as premier from 1991 to 1997, said a moratorium would protect the region’s fisheries.

Land secured in Fukushima opens door for 1st shipment of radioactive waste

The government has begun prep work on a parcel of land near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to receive its first delivery of radioactive debris from decontamination work in the area.

The Environment Ministry began the work for the interim storage site on Feb. 3, following its announcement last month that it had secured 60,000 square meters of land in industrial parks in the towns of Okuma and Futaba as a first step.

Work begins on interim soil dump near Fukushima No. 1

Workers on Tuesday began building interim facilities near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to store contaminated soil and other waste gathered during cleanup work across Fukushima Prefecture.

The dump will cover around 16 sq. km and is located in the seaside towns of Okuma and Futaba. The complex will be able to hold around 30 million tons of soil and other waste such as radioactive ash. It will not receive waste generated from the plant itself.

IAEA to Inspect Japan’s Fukushima Nuclear Plant Cleanup February 9-17

Experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will arrive at the Japanese Fukushima-1 nuclear power plant on February 9 to monitor decommissioning and cleanup, the organization said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The mission will provide advice on safety and technological aspects of decommissioning, waste management and other related activities, as well as on the planning and implementation of decommissioning and pre-decommissioning work,” the statement read.

US firm fined $243K for nuclear safety violations

A contractor in the US has been fined $243,750 for violating nuclear safety and radiation protection rules.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) said Fluor B&W Portsmouth (FBP) was “responsible for decontamination and decommissioning activities” at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant located in Ohio.

DOE cites Fluor B&W Portsmouth for nuclear safety violations

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a Preliminary Notice of Violation (PNOV) to Fluor B&W Portsmouth (FBP) for violations of the DOE’s nuclear safety and radiation protection regulations, and has proposed a $243,750 civil penalty.  FBP is responsible for decontamination and decommissioning activities at the Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant located in Piketon. Ohio.  Nuclear safety and radiation protection are a priority for the DOE and its enforcement program supports this priority by holding contractors accountable for meeting nuclear safety and radiation protection regulatory requirements.

Obama budget would reduce funds for New Mexico nuclear dump

President Barack Obama’s proposed budget would provide less money for the nation’s underground nuclear waste repository but keep funding relatively stable for two major Energy Department weapons labs in New Mexico.

Funding for the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant near Carlsbad would be cut by more than $76 million to $248 million.

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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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