Environmental Must-Reads – February 7, 2014


More than half of fracked wells in US are in drought areas: study

Of the almost 40,000 oil and natural gas wells hydraulically fractured in the US over a a nearly two-and-a-half years, more than half were in areas experiencing drought, according to a study released this week by non-profit group Ceres.

The study, which looks at 39,294 wells fracked between January 2011 through May 2013, found that 97 billion gallons of water were used, nearly half of it in semi-arid Texas. Ceres describes itself as a non-profit organization that advocates for sustainable business practices.

Report: Fracking raising water supply worries

The USA’s domestic energy boom is increasing demands on water supplies already under pressure from drought and growing populations, a new report says.

The water-intensive process used to extract oil and gas from shale underground — known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking — has required almost 100 billion gallons of water to drill more than 39,000 oil and shale gas wells in the U.S. since 2011, says Ceres, a green investment group.

Report finds fracking drains water from drought-stricken states

As states from Arkansas to California deal with economically crippling, record-breaking droughts, a new report has found that hydraulic fracturing — a process of drilling for oil and natural gas also known as fracking — could further deplete scarce water resources.

The report, issued by sustainable investing consultancy Ceres on Wednesday, found that since 2011 nearly half of all fracking wells were located in areas with high levels of “water stress.” Ceres defines water stress as occurring where “80 percent of available surface and groundwater is already allocated for municipal, industrial and agricultural uses.”

Fracking’s Thirst for Water: Investors Warned of the Hidden Financial Risks

Some of the nation’s driest, drought-plagued places have quickly become its busiest hot spots of drilling for shale gas and oil, especially in Texas, Colorado and California.

It’s a dust-bowl-sized problem likely to become worse, according to a study released Wednesday by the nonprofit sustainability advocacy group firm Ceres. Fracking, the controversial drilling technique, is consuming billions of gallons of water each year in states where water is increasingly scarce. The report warns that investors need to demand information about how energy companies are managing this problem or risk their investment portfolios being clobbered.

Fracking is depleting water supplies in America’s driest areas, report shows

America’s oil and gas rush is depleting water supplies in the driest and most drought-prone areas of the country, from Texas to California, new research has found.

Of the nearly 40,000 oil and gas wells drilled since 2011, three-quarters were located in areas where water is scarce, and 55% were in areas experiencing drought, the report by the Ceres investor network found.

Pennsylvania to start fracking sensitive state forestland

Pennsylvania has already leased out to frackers nearly half of the state forestland that sits above Marcellus shale natural-gas reserves. The rest is considered environmentally sensitive or difficult to access, and it has been protected from fracking since a Democratic governor imposed a limited forest-fracking moratorium in 2010.

But Gov. Tom Corbett (R), who took office in early 2011, thinks it’s time to frack the whole damn lot. He proposes opening up those lands to leasing, which his administration says could raise $75 million a year. The first year the money would go toward the general fund, but they say in subsequent years it would go to state parks and forests.

Fracking California during a drought?

More than half of the oil and gas wells fracked across America since 2011 lie in places suffering through drought — including California.

That’s one of the more eye-catching results of a hydraulic fracturing study released Wednesday by Ceres, a nonprofit group that works with investors and businesses to encourage sustainability.

Study associates some birth defects with proximity to natural gas development

Living near hydraulic fracturing (fracking) sites may increase the risk of some birth defects, according to a new study, though the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has countered that the findings indicate association, not causation, and should not cause great concern. The study found that an infant born to a mother who lives in an area with a high density of wells, defined as more than 125 per mile, had increased odds of being born with a congenital heart defect or neural tube defect.

Report: Water Availability a Risk for Oil, Gas Drillers

A new national report on hydraulic fracturing and water use suggests that oil and gas companies are at risk of running short on the precious resource — especially in South Texas, where the drilling boom took off just two years ago as a severe drought was taking hold and has not let up.

Homeowners: Fracking Happening 75 Yards From Front Doors

Some residents in Denton think 200 feet is too close to their homes for natural gas hydraulic fracturing (fracking), now they’re taking their protests to city leaders.

To back up their objections residents are pointing to a city ordinance that bans gas drilling within 1,200 feet of homes.

EPA shifts greenhouse gas permitting to Texas

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave Texas authority over greenhouse gas permitting on Tuesday, ending a long, often bitter battle between the federal agency and the state.

EPA’s administrator in Dallas, Ron Curry, said he signed the paperwork earlier Tuesday delegating authority over the program to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. It comes after months of negotiations concerning what the program would look like. There will be a 30-day public comment period on the program’s outline.

Canadian awaits verdict on fracking nightmare

Diana Daunheimer still finds it hard to believe that big mining companies have started fracking practically in her backyard. The Canadian vegetable grower sees a court case as her only way out.

Fracking Commission Seeks To Cut Water Contamination Liability For Drilling Companies

The head of the commission appointed to write North Carolina’s rules for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas asked lawmakers Tuesday to halve the area for which drilling companies would be responsible in case of water contamination.

James Womack, chairman of the state’s Energy and Mining Commission, asked that drilling companies be held liable for contamination up to 2,500 feet from excavation sites. Under Senate Law 143, which was signed in 2012, mining companies are liable up to 5,000 ft.

Toxins from Duke Energy ash spill threaten wildlife, group says

The Waterkeeper Alliance says it found arsenic and other heavy metals at up to 30 times the Dan River’s normal levels in samples taken Tuesday near the coal ash spill from Duke Energy’s closed Dan River Steam Station.

Donna Lisenby, the alliance’s Global Coal Campaign coordinator, says she took samples near the river bank at the location of the pipe that broke Sunday and sent up to 82,000 tons of ash into the river. At that point, the ash still formed a plume that hugged the bank, she says.

Duke Energy accesses break in pipe at coal ash spill

Duke Energy says crews have uncovered the break in a stormwater pipe under a coal ash pond that has dumped as much as 27 million gallons of polluted water into the Dan River.

Work crews and engineers at the shuttered Dan River Steam Station are working to determine how to repair the break and prevent additional coal ash from spilling into the river.

Duke Energy plants have history of environmental problems

In August, state environmental officials went to court to make Duke Energy clean up 12 coal-fired power plants.

Five months later, the two parties haven’t agreed on how to do it.

Meanwhile, workers are still cleaning up from Sunday’s accident at one of those 12 plants.

U.S.Geological Survey model could guide offshore oil spill cleanup

A computer modeling system could help guide cleanup efforts for oil spills like the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

The USGS said it developed a system that can track the movement of sand and oil particles found in the Gulf of Mexico since the 2010 accident, which killed 11 rig workers and, BP estimated, caused approximately 2.5 million barrels of oil to be spilled into the gulf for nearly three months.

BC coast risk of oil spill 68% higher if oil tanker traffic increases with new projects: study

The completion of three new major economic projects could increase the risk of tanker accidents off the west coast by 18 percent and the risk of oil out flow by 68 percent, according to a draft report on risk assessment and management funded by a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Covering the waters of the Salish Sea, American conservation organization Puget Sound Partnership has released a detailed report on the impact a significant increase in tanker traffic could have on the sound and on the waters off the coast of BC.

Mike Schaff: Evacuated Bayou Corne residents want closure

Should allegations that were brought to light in a federal complaint against Texas Brine regarding the sinkhole in Assumption Parish turn out to be true, Texas Brine did not heed the advice of their own consultants who reportedly informed them that they were in danger of penetrating the edge of the Napoleonville Salt Dome by mining below 5,000 feet in that location. This entire tragedy could have been avoided had they done so.

Green groups step up opposition to eastward Canada pipeline

Environmental groups are stepping up efforts to convince Canadian authorities to reject a major new pipeline to the east coast, with one think tank saying on Thursday that filling the new line would generate up to 45 percent more carbon emissions than the controversial Keystone XL.

Keystone XL’s Northern Leg: A Fracked Oil Pipeline Along with Tar Sands

On January 31, President Barack Obama’s U.S. State Department released its Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the northern leg of TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The State Department’s FEIS argues that the northern half of Keystone XL, if built, “remains unlikely to significantly impact the rate of extraction in the oil sands, or the continued demand for heavy crude oil at refineries in the United States.”

Keystone XL pipeline records sought in Sierra Club suit

Keystone XL pipeline records are being sought by the Sierra Club in a lawsuit claiming the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has to make public documents related to its review of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s project.

The Army Corps has wrongly withheld records describing the pipeline’s path in relation to communities and sensitive water resources, according to the environmental group’s complaint filed yesterday in federal court in San Francisco.

Tesoro bringing oil by rail, promises safer tanker cars

The Tesoro Corp. said Thursday it will move to use newer, safer rail cars as it imports increasing amounts of light Bakken crude oil from North Dakota to its Anacortes refinery on northern Puget Sound.

“The safe design of rail cars in crude service is of paramount importance,” Keith Casey, a vice president at Tesoro, said in a statement.  “We’re proactively making these commitments today, before expected changes in future federal regulations, because we believe it’s the right thing to do for our stakeholders.”

Communities along rail lines worry about oil explosions

Ever lapsed into daydreaming while you sit at a railroad crossing, waiting for a long freight train to go by?

After a fatal oil train explosion in Quebec last summer killed 47 people and flattened a downtown, people aren’t daydreaming anymore. That disaster served as a wake-up call to a lot of communities living close to railroad tracks, who suddenly realized that was crude oil rolling by in tanker. As oil trains have had more accidents, and governments are examining the safety of rail oil shipments, some local residents are applying the brakes on what they see as a dangerous rush to move oil by train.

Train spilled 12,000 gallons of oil across Minnesota

An oil train sprung a leak while traveling through southeastern Minnesota Monday, dribbling 12,000 gallons of crude oil over a 68-mile stretch of track. The spill was relatively small, but because of the way it spread, officials at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said they won’t be able to clean it up.

Train Spills 12,000 Gallons Of Oil In Minnesota, No Major Cleanup Effort Planned

12,000 gallons of crude oil leaked from a Canadian Pacific Railway train on Monday in Minnesota, dribbling oil along the tracks for 68 miles, according to local media reports.

Officials at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said Tuesday they would investigate the cause of the spill, but said no major cleanup effort was planned because of its relatively small size (one single tanker car carries 26,000 gallons) and the way that it happened: the tanker carrying the oil didn’t derail and leak all in one place, rather oil gradually splattered out of the car between the rails onto the track bed as the train was moving. The leak, according to the Star-Tribune, was traced to a valve or cap problem.

Are we prepared for a catastrophe in the Arctic?

As climate change warms the Arctic, oil rigs are opening, ships are making use of new shipping routes and tourists are flocking to see the icebergs. But experts warn that we are not adequately prepared for accidents.

UC Berkeley Researchers Study Kelp For Possible Radiation From Japan Fukushima Plant

Scientists studying the aftermath of the Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster, following the March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan, are now looking at kelp along the west coast, to gauge whether trace amounts of radiation released into the Pacific Ocean can be detected three years later.

“Kelp Watch 2014” is a scientific campaign launched by UC Berkeley Department of Nuclear Engineering Professors Kai Vetter and Keenan Thomas, who joined forces with Professor Steven Manley from California State University, Long Beach.

Algae to the rescue at Fukushima? Scientists say it could help

Not very widely known, perhaps, but “pretty self-explanatory” says Lee Newman, so long as you know that “phyto” means “plant.”

Newman’s a professor of biotechnology and phytoremediation at the State University of New York in Syracuse. And she says phytoremediation might just be a big help in decontaminating water at Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

Fukushima Pledges To Go 100% Renewable

The province of Fukushima in northeast Japan, devastated nearly three years ago by the earthquake and tsunami that caused a nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, has pledged to go 100 percent renewable by 2040.

Election’s nuclear focus draws mixed emotions from Fukushima evacuees

Evacuees from Fukushima Prefecture, relocated to the nation’s capital region following the 2011 nuclear crisis, will be among those closely following Sunday’s Tokyo gubernatorial election, with some voicing mixed feelings about the focus on nuclear power as an election issue.

“For evacuees, doing away with nuclear power is something that is taken for granted,” said Megumi Okada, a 31-year-old homemaker who moved out of Fukushima City.

Fukushima Watch: Small Step Toward Cutting Water Flowing Into Site

After a near year-long delay, new measures are being put in place to reduce the amount of groundwater flowing into the contaminated areas of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The ever-increasing amount of highly contaminated water at the plant has been a problem since the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to meltdowns at three reactors and the need to keep a steady flow of cooling water in place ever since. That has raised concerns of marine contamination in the ocean waters adjacent to the plant.

TEPCO revises strontium data at Fukushima plant to record level

Tokyo Electric Power Co. corrected its radioactivity readings for groundwater from a well at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant to a record-high 5 million becquerels of strontium per liter.

TEPCO officials said the strontium levels were gauged again because the previous data was wrong. They also said radioactivity readings for water taken from other wells before September were also likely erroneous.

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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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