Environmental Must-Reads – February 6, 2015


California permitted oilfield discharge in protected water

Regulators in California, the country’s third-largest oil-producing state, have authorized oil companies to inject production fluids and waste into what are now federally protected aquifers more than 2,500 times, risking contamination of underground water supplies that could be used for drinking water or irrigation, state records show.

While the permits go back decades, an Associated Press analysis found that nearly half of those injection wells — 46 percent — were approved or began injections in the last four years under Gov. Jerry Brown, who has pushed state oil and gas regulators to speed up the permitting process. That happened despite growing warnings from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency since 2011 that state regulators were out of compliance with federal laws meant to protect underground drinking-water stores from oilfield contamination.

Report: N.Y. landfills accept 460,000 tons of Pa. drilling waste

At least 460,000 tons and 23,000 barrels of waste from Pennsylvania drilling operations have been taken in by a few New York landfills since 2010, a new analysis Thursday indicates.

The report from Environmental Advocates of New York analyzed state data from Pennsylvania showing where natural-gas drillers reported taking their waste. Drillers hauled waste to five New York landfills from 2010 through 2014, including three along the Pennsylvania border: Chemung County Landfill in Lowman; Hakes Landfill in Painted Post, Steuben County; and Hyland Landfill in Angelica, Allegany County.

Fracking fight: St. Tammany Parish Council allocates another $50,000 for legal battle

Funding for St. Tammany Parish’s legal fight against fracking got a $50,000 hike on Thursday (Feb. 5), bringing the total to $175,000.  By unanimous vote, the Parish Council approved a resolution by Councilman Steve Stefancik to increase the budget for the court clash.

There was no discussion among council members and no members of the public asked to speak on the matter. That was unlike previous funding resolutions, which were discussed at length by council members and citizens, particularly those opposed to fracking.

List of Oil and Gas Wastewater Wells Dumping into Aquifers Grows

A total of 532 injection wells are now suspected of dumping toxic wastewater left over from oil and gas extraction into protected clean water aquifer, according to California’s Water Resources control board.

This revelation follows an investigation into this practice first exposed by NBC Bay Area in November, 2014 . The Investigative Unit showed that state officials had been allowing oil and gas companies to dump dangerous chemicals into pristine underground aquifers that are federally protected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Health, environmental groups seek fracking moratorium

Public health and environmental advocates gathered in Annapolis Thursday to push for a long-term moratorium on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, arguing that more time is needed to look into health threats posed by the drilling process commonly called “fracking.”

Regulations that would impose a variety of best practices and safeguards on drilling for shale gas were proposed in the final days of the O’Malley administration, and are out for public comment.

Anti-fracking Coalition Calls for Shutdown of Toxic Injection Wells

A coalition of anti-fracking groups and the Center for Biological Diversity today urged the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately shut down hundreds of injection wells that are illegally dumping toxic oil industry wastewater into scores of California aquifers during the midst of a record drought.

Oil and gas companies over decades used more than 170 waste disposal wells to inject oil and gas wastewater into dozens of aquifers containing potable water, in violation of state and federal law, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The majority of these violations are located in California’s Central Valley, while others are near San Luis Obispo and Santa Maria.

Western States Petroleum Association Spent $8.9M Lobbying Against Climate and Fracking Efforts in California Last Year

The oil industry continued its long reign as the top spender on lobbying in California in 2014, according to data just released by the California Secretary of State.

The Western States Petroleum Association (WSPA) led the list with $8.9 million spent on lobbying in 2014, nearly double what it spent in the previous year. WSPA spent $4.67 million in 2013.

Anti-Fracking and No Nukes Activists Join Forces Demanding Renewable Energy Revolution

Our Earth is being destroyed by fracking and nukes.

These two vampire technologies suck the energy out of our planet while permanently poisoning our air, water, food and livelihoods.

The human movements fighting them have been largely separate over the years.

No more.

Lawmaker Asks For Halt On Fracking Plans In Maryland

Health officials and environmental advocates in Maryland are asking for a temporary stop to fracking plans.

Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, D-Montgomery County, on Thursday proposed the Protect Our Health and Communities Act, which includes an 8-year moratorium on the natural gas drilling method so that more information can be gathered about public health risks that critics say was not properly studied by a review board.

London pressed to ban fracking

An environmental advocacy group said it’s time for the British government to follow its peers and enact a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

The Welsh parliament voted in favor of a measure proposed by Liberal Democrat assemblyman Aled Roberts to ban the shale drilling practice known commonly as fracking.

Coalition forms to fight against state permit for proposed Bakken oil pipeline

Representatives from 20 different groups are getting together to try and block the proposed Bakken oil pipeline’s path across Iowa. They’re calling themselves the Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition.

Cheryl Valenta is a member of Iowa Climate Advocates and the new coalition. “The role of our coalition is to educate Iowans about the facts of the proposed Bakken pipeline, and true consequences that exist for generations to come,” Valenta says. “Nobakken.com is our website that’s packed with great resources, including maps, land owner videos, calendar of events and action steps.”

As oil wells enter neighborhoods, townships push back

Jamie Calaguas mostly remembers the noise.

The grinding, whining, constant hum of industrial activity — but not from a factory. The clamor was coming from the 109-foot oil well West Bay Exploration was drilling outside her back door.

In a residential neighborhood.

Without any notification being given to the residents.

Authorities: 11 cars of freight train derail in Iowa; 3 cars catch fire, 3 plunge into river

Eleven cars of a freight train derailed Wednesday in a rural area in eastern Iowa where local authorities said three cars caught fire and three more plunged into the Mississippi River.

Ten of the derailed cars on the eastbound Canadian Pacific train were carrying ethanol, some of which was leaking into the river, Dubuque Fire Chief Rick Steines told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. He said it wasn’t immediately clear how much.

Ethanol From Derailed Train Leaking Into Mississippi River

Railroad officials said it was unclear Thursday how much ethanol has leaked into the Mississippi River from a train that derailed a day earlier in eastern Iowa, but that they were working to monitor the environmental impact and offload fuel from the train.

The cars went off the tracks Wednesday morning in a steep, remote area along the river about 10 miles north of Dubuque. Canadian Pacific said 14 of the derailed cars were carrying ethanol, and eight of them appeared to be leaking.

New derailment in northeast Iowa ignites calls for safer rail cars

Authorities began to clean up after a northeastern Iowa ethanol train derailment Thursday morning, at about the same time that rail safety advocates renewed calls to get rid of old, less safe rail tank cars that commonly carry crude oil through Minnesota and North Dakota.

Canadian Pacific workers began draining ethanol from 14 derailed tank cars along the Mississippi River near Dubuque Thursday and set up water monitoring equipment downstream, The Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Gazette reported. Three of the train’s 81 cars caught fire.

U.S. Transportation Dept sends oil train safety plan for final review

The U.S. Department of Transportation on Thursday said it had asked the White House to review its oil train safety plan as officials strive to prevent future fiery derailments.

The safety proposal will set standards for tank car design and proper handling of crude oil and ethanol that rely on train transport to reach refineries.

Scientists may have finally solved the mystery of the missing BP oil

It was July of 2010, more than a week after the final plugging of a calamitous oil leak near the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig, and a sense of confusion was quickly spreading throughout the scientific community. An estimated 4.2 million barrels had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico from an oil well. But within weeks of that spill, about one-half of the oil inexplicably went missing.

“What we’re trying to figure out is: Where is all the oil at? There’s still a lot of oil that’s unaccounted for,” said Coast Guard Adm. Thad Allen, who oversaw the federal response to a catastrophe that President Obama called the “worst environmental disaster America has ever faced.” One day, oil skimmers had been scooping out of the water 25,000 barrels of oil. Then the next, they were only snaring 200 barrels. What was going on?

GULF OF MEXICO: Greens fume over Obama’s bid to divert restoration funding

National environmental groups today blasted an Obama administration proposal to divert more than $3 billion in future oil and gas revenues due to Gulf Coast states to pay for land conservation, rural counties, wildlife grants, coastal restoration or other “national priorities,” warning that such a move would stymie coastal restoration projects in Louisiana.

The proposal tucked within Obama’s $4 trillion fiscal 2016 budget request has set off a firestorm of opposition among Gulf Coast lawmakers and drew a scathing review this morning by the editorial board of the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Native protesters threaten to close more wells in Peru oil block

Indigenous protesters plan to shut down more wells in Peru’s biggest oil block unless operator Pluspetrol agrees to pay compensation for pollution on ancestral lands, a tribal leader said on Wednesday.

The Achuar community of Nuevo Jerusalen in Peru’s Amazonian region Loreto gave Pluspetrol, an Argentine energy company, until Friday to respond to its demands, said Carlos Sandi, head of indigenous group Feconaco.

The Amazon’s oil boom: concessions cover a Chile-sized bloc of rainforest

Hungry for oil revenue, governments and fossil fuel companies are moving even further into one of the world’s last great wildernesses, according to a new study in the open-access journal Environmental Research Letters. The total area set aside for oil and gas in the Western Amazon has grown by 150,000 square kilometers since 2008, now totaling more than 730,000 square kilometers—an area the size of Chile.

“The hydrocarbon frontier keeps pushing deeper into the Amazon,” said lead author Matt Finer of the Amazon Conservation Association. “There needs to be a strategic plan for how future development takes place in regards to roads.”

Sunoco Logistics takes heat over ‘open houses’ on pipeline project

Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P., which has irked a number of community groups with its cross-state pipeline plans, has done it again by holding community events that appear to be open only to a select audience.

Environmental groups on Wednesday expressed outrage over a series of “open houses” Sunoco is conducting to explain its Mariner East 2 pipeline project, which would deliver natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale to Marcus Hook.

Prentice says Alberta-U.S. relationship is ‘much bigger than Keystone’

Keystone XL matters, but Alberta’s relationship with the United States is far larger and more important than any single pipeline, Premier Jim Prentice told a powerful business audience at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce just across from the White House.

The Premier’s long view in his measured, almost understated speech on Wednesday was in sharp contrast to the demanding urgency that has characterized the lobbying by some of his former federal cabinet colleagues.

Find Out How Your Senator Voted On The Keystone XL Pipeline

The 114th Congress started its session just over a month ago, and it seems like much of that month has been spent debating one thing: the Keystone XL pipeline and the long list of amendments attached to the bill approving its construction.

Now, a new scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters outlines how each U.S. Senator voted on the Keystone XL bill and 20 of its amendments, which included a provision stating that “climate change is real and not a hoax,” and one that sought to protect landowners along the pipeline’s path from getting their land seized through eminent domain.

IDEM cites Enbridge, Schererville for blue dye release in Little Cal

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management cited Enbridge Energy LLC and Schererville for pollution violations stemming from the release of blue dye into the Little Calumet River last month, state officials said Thursday.

“The Enbridge thing, it certainly surprised us,” IDEM Commissioner Tom Easterly said.

Twin moves on Arctic drilling stir environmental debate

Drilling for oil in Alaska seems to be on thin ice. The White House proposed tougher environmental protections last week for almost 5 million hectares of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, which it called “ecological treasure”. Another treasure deep beneath is an estimated 10.3 billion barrels of oil.

The US Department of the Interior also announced plans to ban drilling in almost 4 million hectares off the Alaskan coast, in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

Oil companies put Arctic projects into deep freeze

Within weeks a giant oil platform made in South Korea will begin its journey round the tip of Africa to a Norwegian fiord deep in the Arctic Circle.

The platform will then be towed 60km off the northern coast of Norway to play its role in the first oil production from the Norwegian Arctic. The Goliat field, operated by Italy’s Eni, will be the northernmost offshore oil production site in the world.

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.

4 Years After the Meltdown, Investigating Fukushima’s Ecological Toll

Until a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded on April 26, 1986, spreading the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima bombs of fallout across the entire Northern Hemisphere, scientists knew next to nothing about the effects of radiation on vegetation and wild animals. The catastrophe created a living laboratory, particularly in the 1,100 square miles around the site, known as the exclusion zone.

In 1994 Ronald Chesser and Robert Baker, both professors of biology at Texas Tech University, were among the first American scientists allowed full access to the zone. “It was a screaming place—really radioactive,” Baker recalls. “We caught a bunch of voles, and they looked as healthy as weeds. We became fascinated with that.”

Fukushima Dai-ichi Mission impossible

THE stricken Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is the world’s most complex and costly industrial clean-up. The first three of Fukushima Dai-ichi’s six reactors melted down in March 2011 and the fourth was damaged. TEPCO’s early guess was that decommissioning would take 30-40 years. That is certainly optimistic.

Engineers are grappling with problems with little precedent. Akira Ono, the plant manager, says cameras have begun peeking into the first reactor to check the state of 100 tonnes of molten fuel. A robot needs to be developed to extract the fuel. Last October the utility pushed back the start of this removal work by five years, to 2025. Dale Klein, a former chairman of America’s Nuclear Regulatory Commission, says that the schedule for decommissioning the plant is pure supposition until engineers figure out how to remove all the fuel.

Japan is aiming to restart nuclear reactor four years after Fukushima disaster

Japan’s government is aiming to restart a nuclear reactor by around June following a lengthy and politically-sensitive approval process in the wake of the Fukushima disaster, sources familiar with the plans said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has been pushing to bring some of the country’s reactors back online after all 48 closed following meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plant in March 2011, arguing they are key to economic growth.

Inspectors Find 4,000 Errors at Japanese Nuclear Plant Near Fukushima

Inspectors at a nuclear power plant not far from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan have found more than 4,000 violations in the inspection records for one of their reactors. The improper entries included monitoring equipment that didn’t exist and writing down incorrect serial numbers on some equipment.

The Onagawa nuclear power plant has been offline since the massive magnitude 6.6 earthquake in 2011 in northern Japan created a tsunami that devastated the area, including three of the four reactors at Fukushima.

Judge allows hearings on summer closings of New York nuclear plant

A judge in New York has ruled Entergy Corp cannot stop hearings on the state’s plan to shut the company’s Indian Point nuclear power plant for part of the summer to protect fish in the Hudson River.

In a ruling late Tuesday, an administrative law judge at the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) rejected Entergy’s latest attempt to stop the state from shutting the plant, at least for part of the summer.

‘Uncertain Radiological Threat’: US Navy Sailors Search for Justice after Fukushima Mission

On March 11, 2011, the American aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan received orders to change course and head for the east coast of Japan, which had just been devastated by a tsunami. The Ronald Reagan had been on its way to South Korea when the order reached it and Captain Thom Burke, who was in charge of the ship along with its crew of 4,500 men and women, duly redirected his vessel. The Americans reached the Japanese coastline on March 12, just north of Sendai and remained in the region for several weeks. The mission was named Tomodachi.

The word tomodachi means “friends.” In hindsight, the choice seems like a delicate one.

GOP senator pushes for more nuclear power, Yucca waste site

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said on Thursday that he’ll use the Energy Appropriations panel to encourage new nuclear power plants and construction of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste site, among other nuclear priorities.

Alexander, who is now chairman of the Appropriations Committee panel with power over the Energy Department’s budget, outlined a series of steps that he believes could boost the country’s nuclear industry, stop plant closures and spur new development.

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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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