Environmental Must-Reads – February 9, 2015


Thousands march and rally in Oakland to call for ban on fracking

Thousands of people from up and down California marched in Oakland on Saturday for the largest protest to date against the state’s use of hydraulic fracturing to harvest oil and natural gas.

Environmentalists said they chose to have the March for Real Climate Leadership in Oakland Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown’s home city to highlight their plea for him to take a stance against fracking.

New York Banned Fracking, But 460,000 Tons Of Fracking Waste Have Been Dumped There

New York’s ban on fracking hasn’t been enough to completely shield the state from its public health and environmental risks, a prominent state environment group charged on Friday.

In a report titled “License to Dump,” the group Environmental Advocates of New York (EANY) accused seven state landfills of accepting potentially hazardous waste from Pennsylvania’s fracked oil and gas wells. Using information obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the group said at least 460,000 tons of solid drilling waste — which can contain heavy metals, chemicals, and naturally occurring radioactive material — have been dumped in those landfills since 2010.

Black history and heritage bulldozed by gas boom

Stacey Ryan already knows where he’ll be buried.

It will be in Perkins Cemetery, the same place his mother and father were laid to rest after dying from cancer. It’s where his aunts, uncles, grandfather and great-grandfather are interred, having been felled by various malignancies, diabetes, and ailments of the heart, respiratory system and pancreas.  Most of Ryan’s family is there, along with almost everyone else who ever died in Mossville, an unincorporated area founded by freed slaves.

Soon, the cemetery may be all that is left.

N.Y. landfills taking 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 handful of New York landfills since 2010, according to a new analysis Thursday.

The report from Environmental Advocates of New York analyzed state data from Pennsylvania showing were natural-gas drillers reported to take their waste.

Groups urge DEC to toughen frack waste disposal rules from Pa. drill sites

Critics of natural gas hydrofracking called on the state Thursday to toughen rules that allow fracking companies in Pennsylvania to send low-level radioactive fracking waste for disposal at up to seven landfills in central New York.

A report by Environmental Advocates of New York, relying on public records from Pennsylvania, found the landfills between 2010 and 2014 took about 460,000 tons of solid waste — ground-up, naturally radioactive rock brought to the surface by drilling — and 724,000 gallons of liquid waste.

Murky responses cloud plan to ship frack waste on Ohio River

A Texas company’s announcement that it plans to ship fracking wastewater on the Ohio River has touched off a controversy, with environmentalists worrying that the company got around federal permitting requirements and federal agencies hedging on just how much permission they’ve given the company.

GreenHunter Resources Inc., based in Grapevine, Texas, announced last week that it had secured permission from the Coast Guard to ship thousands of barrels of wastewater from the Marcellus and Utica shale fields to its disposal wells in Ohio. The Army Corps of Engineers gave it permission to build a barge facility on the Ohio side of the river, the company said,

Gov. Jerry Brown’s fracking problem

California Gov. Jerry Brown has done more to fight climate change than perhaps any other elected official in the United States. So what accounts for the environmentalists heckling him during speeches and planning to confront him Saturday at an Oakland March for Real Climate Leadership? One word: fracking.

“I challenge anybody to find any other state” that’s doing as much about climate change, Brown shot back to anti-fracking protesters during his speech at the California Democratic Party’s convention last March. California was on track to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 25 billion tons by 2020, Brown accurately pointed out. The state will also obtain at least 33% of its electricity from solar, wind or other non-carbon fuels by then, he added.

Gov. Kasich’s fracking-tax hike proposed at ‘worst time,’ industry says

Gov. John Kasich is back for a third go-around in his quest to dramatically increase the taxes paid on the oil and natural gas that drillers extract from Ohio’s Utica shale fields.

And the governor wants more money than ever, prompting the industry to counter that Kasich is renewing the fight at the “absolute worst time.”

Butte supervisors to act on proposed fracking ban

Tuesday the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to act on an proposed ordinance that would ban the use of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” within Butte County.

At their April 8, 2014, meeting the supervisors voted 4 to 1, with Chico Supervisor Larry Wahl the only nay, to have the county staff prepare an ordinance banning fracking.

Voices in Arlington, Texas Unify to Protect Environment and Community From Fracking

Liveable Arlington, a new Texas grassroots environmental group, joins the growing number of anti-fracking groups forming around the world. The group was established at the end of January, as the battle to impose stricter ozone standards intensifies and the call for fracking bans and tighter ordinances on industry increase nationwide.

Arlington, Texas, a Dallas suburb, sits atop the natural gas rich Barnett Shale. ”Once Arlington was known as a bedroom community. Now we are in the forefront of a potentially dangerous industrial experiment,” Ranjana Bhandari, one of the co-founders of Liveable Arlington, told DeSmogBlog. “We have lived with fracking all around us for many years now and have experienced its negative effects on air quality, public health, and now the earthquakes,” she says.

Tuscaloosa Marine Shale Fracking Slows as Operators Watch Oil Prices

When crude oil prices sank this winter, companies scaled back their fracking plans in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale deposit, running from central and southeast Louisiana into Mississippi. Exploration and drilling is mostly on hiatus there until crude rebounds, industry members said last week. Oil dropped below $45 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange in late January from over $100 last summer. In early February, prices were edging up again.

TMS activity has slowed to a snail’s pace for the most part, Baton Rouge-based landman and minerals consultant Dan Collins said last week. Capital spending by Goodrich Petroleum, Encana Corporation, Halcon Resources and others this year will be smaller than initially planned, he said.

Florida’s Expanding Sinkholes Won’t Deter Fracking

Years ago, I had a part-time job working in the back office of a Florida engineering firm that handled foundation restoration claims. Its commercial success was not only evidence of Tampa’s burgeoning population, but also the growing number of sinkholes that were beginning to appear across West Florida’s “Sinkhole Alley” at the center of the state.

The report of a sinkhole accident meant priority response, not only because lives could be in danger as the hole grew larger, but also because sinkhole claims were a bit like auto accident claims: The faster you were on site, the better chance the distraught homeowner, who was watching his house disappear, would assign you the lucrative job of handling the insurance claim.

River Fracking Debated

Although a potential $40 million windfall awaits West Virginia’s coffers if Gastar Exploration drills and fracks for natural gas under the Ohio River, at least one legislator does not believe the money outweighs the potential environmental risk such a plan could bring to the region’s drinking water supply.

More than 100 concerned students, residents, community leaders and elected officials turned out Saturday for a public discussion at Wheeling Jesuit University regarding Gastar’s plans to draw natural gas from beneath the river in Marshall County.

Year starts poorly for oil patch

By any measure, 2015 got off to a rocky start in the oil patch.

The year started with tough financial news for Bakken crude, but, far worse, two men died in unrelated oil field incidents, three people — two of them teenagers — were killed in collisions with oil field semis and the month saw the worst environmental spill in North Dakota’s oil history.

Safest mode of transport for oil and gas debated

The more oil and gas that is pulled from the ground by drilling and fracking, the more that will need to be moved from wellheads in North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio to refineries and ports throughout the country.

But the best, safest way to transport oil and gas, which can be toxic and explosive, is still being debated.

Marcellus life: A Native American protest to stop a Pa. pipeline

Chief Carlos Whitewolf beat a small hand drum and sang a Native American prayer for Mother Earth in the cold January air in Hershey, Pa.

Many of the 50 or so other protesters outside the Hershey Lodge, where national Republican leaders were attending a retreat, demonstrated against issues such as the Keystone XL pipeline and climate change.

Critics say proposed oil pipeline along New York State Thruway presents bigger danger than rail, barge transport

Riverkeeper attorney Kate Hudson likens choosing among rail, river barges and pipelines for transporting crude oil through the region to “picking your poison.”

She said she has grave concerns about the proposed 178-mile Pilgrim Pipeline that, if built, would more or less follow the New York State Thruway right-of-way and carry Bakken crude oil from a terminal in Albany to refineries in Linden, New Jersey, and refined products back north.

Oil train regulations hit final stage

A much-anticipated regulation to improve the safety of crude oil and ethanol trains was sent to the White House for review Thursday, the final stage in a process some lawmakers and industry officials say has moved too slowly.

The U.S. Department of Transportation submitted the rulemaking package to the Office of Management and Budget nearly a week after its self-imposed deadline of Jan. 30.

Officials say oil train leaked as it crossed Washington state

A train loaded with Bakken crude oil needed to have more than a dozen leaking tank cars removed at three separate stops as it traveled through Idaho and crossed Washington state in mid-January.

The leaking train, which was headed from North Dakota’s Bakken region to the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes on Jan. 12, was detected just two months after an oil-stained rail tank car was discovered at BP Cherry Point.

Oklahoma residents say major 2011 quakes were a surprise

As residents in North Texas wonder if a bigger earthquake is on the way, many in the town of Prague, Oklahoma, have been watching from afar.

In 2011, Prague experienced a 5.7-magnitude tremor preceded by a 5.0 quake.

The larger quake significantly damaged or destroyed more than a dozen homes, buckled part of a state highway and even injured a few residents.

First Nationwide Oil Worker Strike In Decades Grows Even Bigger

On Sunday, workers at two BP oil refineries in Ohio and Indiana walked out as part of a nationwide oil worker strike being led by the United Steelworkers Union (USW). Citing unfair labor practices and dangerous conditions, including leaks and explosions, the approximately 1,440 workers will join nearly 4,000 that began striking a week ago on February 1.

The first nationwide strike by oil refinery workers since 1980, the addition of BP’s Whiting, Indiana, refinery and the company’s joint-venture refinery with Husky Energy in Toledo, Ohio, brings the total number of plants with strikers to 11, including refineries accounting for about 13 percent of total U.S. oil refining capacity. The original strike included workers in California, Kentucky, Texas and Washington.

WWLTV report: BP wants claims administrator out for helping fish oil company

A fish oil company with ties to a former Republican president enlisted the help of Gov. Bobby Jindal to get its oil spill claim paid four years ago, and now BP is arguing in federal court that the independent settlement claims administrator should lose his job because of it.

The fish oil company is Houston-based Omega Protein Corp., a spinoff of an old oil company founded by George H.W. Bush and later run by the late sports mogul Malcolm Glazer.

Should U.S. government end ‘relentless pursuit’ of BP over oil spill fines?

The Financial Times on Thursday (Feb. 6) called on the U.S. government to end its “relentless pursuit” of BP for pollution fines from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, arguing the company has already paid a high cost for the disaster. The editorial says BP has paid more than $35 billion to clean up the oil, cap the well, pay fines, compensate those affected and restore the coast — enough to make any company think twice before acting recklessly while drilling offshore.

Does BP Deserve Mercy in Setting Deepwater Horizon Penalty?

The long march toward what is certain to be a multibillion-dollar penalty for BP and its partners for their role in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill reached a milestone last week when testimony concluded in the final phase of a two-year, multi-front trial. In coming weeks — and more likely, months — a federal judge will weigh just how much the company ought to be fined for the mess, which dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico when its undersea well blew out, killing 11 workers and setting off a gusher that spewed freely into the ocean for months.

BP Abuses Oil Spill Claims Appeal Process

I have written before about BP saying one thing while doing the opposite. Unfortunately for the people of the Gulf, such is the company’s modus operandi.

When trying desperately in 2012 to win judicial approval for the company’s Settlement Agreement with Gulf Coast businesses and individuals affected by the disaster, BP lead attorney Richard Godfrey said the following to a packed New Orleans courtroom:

“The settlement is placing large sums of money today and tomorrow and next week into the hands and the communities of the Gulf, the victims of this tragic event. We believe that it’s fair, just and reasonable, and that this process should not be interrupted or stopped based upon the objections of the few for the purpose of injuring the many who need to be compensated now.”

Analysis: La. environmental lobby gains prominent ally

Environmentalists have always had a tough slog in Louisiana, where the oil and gas industry provides tens of thousands of jobs and chemical plants dot the landscape along the Mississippi River.

But the cause has picked up a high-profile sponsor in the last few years, retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, the military leader who won acclaim for restoring calm and order to New Orleans in the chaos after Hurricane Katrina nearly 10 years ago.

Study Says USDA Effort Benefits Birds after 2010 Gulf Oil Spill

A newly released study says the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) effort to create habitat on private lands for migratory birds following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill has provided significant benefits to ducks, geese and other birds. The independent study conducted by Mississippi State University (MSU) on USDA’s Migratory Bird Habitat Initiative (MBHI), a Farm Bill conservation effort, shows that wetlands created and enhanced by farmers provided migration and winter habitat for many more birds than unmanaged sites.

Plan calls for expanding Gulf of Mexico reef sanctuary

A federal marine sanctuary protecting coral reefs in the Gulf of Mexico could grow five times in size under a plan being proposed to safeguard an even larger area of the Gulf from scavengers looking for historic shipwrecks, ships dropping anchor, commercial fishing and oil and gas drilling.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration wants to enlarge the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary from 56 square miles to cover 280 square miles.

Carl Hiaasen: Drilling in Atlantic raises alarm

As a monster storm roared up the northeastern seaboard last week, the White House announced plans to open a wide swath of offshore waters to gas and oil exploration. Nice timing.

Although drilling is years away, future rigs in the Atlantic would lie in the path not only of fierce winter clippers but also hurricanes, presenting the year-round potential for devastating winds and pounding seas.

The risk doesn’t trouble the oil companies or the governors of Virginia, Georgia and the Carolinas, all eager for a piece of the action.

Yellowstone Oil Spills Expose Threat to Pipelines Under Rivers Nationwide

Bridger Pipeline LLC was so sure its Poplar oil line was safely buried below the Yellowstone River that it planned to wait five years to recheck it. But last month, 3.5 years later, the Poplar wasn’t eight feet under the river anymore. It was substantially exposed on the river bottom—and leaking more than 30,000 gallons of oil upstream from Glendive, Montana.

An ExxonMobil pipeline wasn’t buried deeply enough for the Yellowstone River, either. High floodwaters in 2011 uncovered the Silvertip pipe, leaving it defenseless against the fast-moving current and traveling debris. It broke apart in July, and sent 63,000 gallons of oil into the river near Laurel, Montana.

Yellowstone oil spills fuel arguments over Keystone line

Oil pipeline accidents have become increasingly frequent in the U.S. as Congress presses the Obama administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline — a project that would pass near the spot where 30,000 gallons of crude spilled into Montana’s Yellowstone River earlier this month.

The Montana pipeline breach temporarily fouled a city’s water supply and emerged as the latest in a string of spills to highlight ongoing problems with maintenance of the nation’s 61,000 miles of crude oil pipelines.

Oil spill caught Montana city off guard

Unlike a tornado or another type of quick-strike natural disaster, the oil-spill crisis this eastern Montana community faced built up gradually and then, just like that, a volatile organic compound known as benzene was in the town’s water supply.

“It wasn’t, ‘Push the panic button, here we go,’” Rhett Coon, a Glendive City Council member, recalled one day last week at the water treatment plant, a stone’s throw from the frozen Yellowstone River, where 30,000 gallons of oil from a pipeline spilled Jan. 17.

Tanker driver cited after 12,000 gallons of oil spills; 10 acres burned

State troopers shut down a portion of Highway 40 in Daniel’s Canyon Friday night. Around 9:45 p.m., an oil tanker carrying 12,000 gallons of crude oil crashed and the truck was burned beyond recognition.

“When we were arrived, the truck was fully engulfed and the flames were going up the hill,” said Lt. Janet Carson from the Wasatch County Fire Department.

EPA to assess cleanup options at Dover site

A 30-year federal cleanup investigation in the heart of Delaware’s capital is moving into a new phase after investigators failed to rule out all health risks from toxic groundwater exposure risks.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Superfund report on the Dover Coal Gas site found some elevated potential for current cancer and non-cancer health risks across the sprawling area now and in the future, particularly for construction workers who might be exposed to groundwater or vapors during excavation in contaminated areas.

Anti-oil sands activists in the U.S. are getting visits from the FBI

Unexpected visitors have been dropping in on anti-oil activists in the United States — knocking on doors, calling, texting, contacting family members.

The visitors are federal agents.

Opponents of Canadian oil say they’ve been contacted by FBI investigators in several states following their involvement in protests that delayed northbound shipments of equipment to Canada’s oilsands

Local oil pipeline capacity to exceed proposed Keystone

Proposed upgrades to a pipeline cutting across central Wisconsin would allow it to carry far more crude oil than the much publicized Keystone pipeline.

Enbridge Energy Inc. has begun upgrading and installing new pumping stations to increase the flow of crude oil from 560,000 barrels a day to 1.2 million. The Keystone pipeline would carry 860,000 barrels.

Pipeline to bring Savannah gas, diesel and ethanol from Gulf.

The parent company of Elba Island’s liquefied natural gas facility is planning a new 360-mile pipeline that will parallel the Savannah River and bring gas, diesel and ethanol from Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina to Savannah and Jacksonville, among other destinations.

Kinder Morgan’s new Palmetto Pipeline will hook up with existing pipelines to move 167,000 barrels a day of refined petroleum products from Baton Rouge, La.; Collins and Pascagoula, Miss.; and Belton, S.C., to North Augusta, S.C.; Savannah; and Jacksonville.

NEB approves Enbridge’s Line 9 reversal with revised safety plan

The National Energy Board has given Enbridge Inc. the all-clear to open its reversed Line 9 pipeline, providing western oil producers with direct access to Quebec refineries for the first time in 17 years.

The approval came as the oil sands industry and its governmental backers won a long-fought battle in Europe to avoid punitive treatment on fuel regulations aimed reducing carbon emissions, a victory that could allow for Canadian crude exports to the continent.

China, Others in Asia Showing More Interest in Arctic Region

Earlier this year, a group of Chinese officials and scientists visited the Norwegian city of Tromso for the ninth Arctic Frontiers conference, where matters related to the northern region were discussed.

The meeting brought together 1,400 government officials, scholars and activists from 30 Arctic and non-Arctic countries from January 18 to 23 to discuss climate change and energy matters related to the Arctic.

Skeptical Fukushima residents monitoring radiation levels in their communities

On a recent day in late January, a minicar departed from the Iitate village office in Fukushima Prefecture with stickers attached that said, “We are driving slowly because we are measuring radiation levels.”

The vehicle, operated by Fukushima Saisei no Kai (Resurrection of Fukushima), a local residents’ nonprofit organization, is equipped with GPS and radiation measurement equipment, allowing it to record locations and airborne radiation levels.

Japan Readies First Robot to Probe Melted Fukushima Reactor

A snake-like robot designed to examine the inside of one of three melted reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant is ready to begin its expedition.

Assessing the damage inside the reactors is a crucial step in the decommissioning of the plant, which was badly damaged by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Use of a remote-controlled robot is essential because no humans can go close to the reactor chambers because of their fatally high radiation levels.

Fukushima: Contaminated water leakage still a ‘challenging issue’

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) team that will review Japan’s decommissioning work at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant this week, said on Monday (9 February) that contaminated water leakage remains a challenging issue.

Since the devastating March 2011 earthquake that caused triple meltdowns at the Fukushima plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) has struggled with the initial crisis and subsequent unprecedented work needed to decommission the facility.

VOX POPULI: Lessons of Fukushima fading fast in national consciousness

Hiroshi Takeyama (1920-2010), a survivor of the 1945 atomic-bombing of Nagasaki, left many poignant poems about the nuclear devastation. His poems have occasionally been quoted in this column.

Let me introduce readers to a Takeyama poem that expresses quiet indignation about the fading of memories.

“My grandchild, my young loved one. This nation’s throat has forgotten the hot thing.”

Ukrainian Wildfires May Bring Chernobyl’s Radiation Back to Life

The legacy of the world’s worst nuclear accident lives on—and it might be causing new problems, according to researchers from the Norwegian Institute for Air Research.

The 1986 nuclear plant explosion saw the 4800 square kilometres of land surrounding it evacuated and abandoned. The exclusion zone has been taken over by a dense boreal forest over the following decades—and now wildfires are spreading the radiation from the incident further than we’d hope.

No cause for concern over nuclear explosion in ‘closed city’, say officials

One worker seriously injured and panic among nearby residents in secretive community, but public being reassured about incident.

A small explosion at nuclear facility in a Siberian ‘closed city’ is being downplayed by the authorities, despite panic spreading among the population.

For seventh time, Crapo pushes ‘downwinder’ bill, tries to get Idahoans compensation for radiation fallout

“Downwinders” are people who suffer health problems from the radioactive fallout of nuclear tests in the Nevada desert from 1951 to 1962. A compensation fund for victims has paid out $923 million to more than 23,000 claimants since it was established 25 years ago.

Although Idaho is home to four of the five counties where test fallout was worst, no compensation has made its way to residents here or in a handful of other Western states.

Lawmakers from those states have, for the seventh time, introduced legislation to change that.

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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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