Environmental Must-Reads – January 13, 2014


Spirit of cooperation frays in fracking debate

After environmentalists, lawmakers and the oil industry got together last year to draft Illinois’ first regulations for hydraulic fracturing, the rest was supposed to be easy.

The unusual collaboration was praised as a potential model for other states and a rare example of political foes finding common ground on a complex issue.

Fracking for an energy renaissance that will not come

The hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling used to extract oil from shale deposits is supposed to glut the world with oil and drive down the price. The record so far is not compelling, Cobb writes, and talk of an American energy renaissance is essentially baseless.

Shell Venture Starts Fracking Giant Russian Shale Oil Formation

Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA) and OAO Gazprom Neft began a drilling campaign to assess the potential of Siberia’s Bazhenov formation, reckoned to be one of the world’s largest deposits of shale oil.

Salym Petroleum Development, the venture between Shell and Gazprom Neft, has started drilling the first of five horizontal wells over the next two years that will employ multi-fracturing technology, according to a statement today.

EPA Issues New Rule to Require Chemical Disclosures for Offshore Fracking

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published a rule on January 9, 2014 requiring oil and gas companies using hydraulic fracturing off the coast of California to disclose the chemicals they discharge into the ocean. Oil and gas companies have been fracking offshore California for perhaps as long as two decades, but they largely flew under the radar until recently.

Complaints Mount Against Fracking Pollution

Last year saw hundreds of complaints mounted against well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling in US, but the jury is still out as to whether hydraulic fracturing is to blame, news agencies report.

Complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas—key venues of the US oil and gas boom—continue to suggest that drinking water is being contaminated by oil and gas operations, which has been confirmed in a number of cases, but not across the board.

4 ways fracking is more dangerous than you thought

By now you’ve likely heard that the U.S. is expected to overtake Russia this year as the world’s biggest producer of oil and gas. The surge in production comes from a drilling boom enabled by using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, along with, in many places, horizontal drilling. These technologies have made previously inaccessible pockets of oil and gas in shale formations profitable.

But at what cost? Accidents, fatalities and health concerns are mounting. Here’s a look at what we’ve learned about the dangers of fracking in the last few weeks.

US mulls seismic tests to map oil drilling potential in Atlantic

The Obama administration is nearing a decision on allowing seismic testing off the Atlantic Coast, a critical step in opening waters off Virginia, the Carolinas and elsewhere to oil drilling.

A study of what the controversial seismic tests would do to whales, dolphins and fish is on track for release at the end of February, an Interior Department official told lawmakers Friday. The proposal received more than 55,000 public comments.

Explosive Fracked Oil Destined For Bay Area, Neighbors Rail Against Chemical Trains

Fear of fracking in California used to be about the drilling. Now there’s a new potential danger: trains. Major plans are underway to bring fracked oil to the Bay Area by rail from North Dakota. It turns out the oil is not your average crude.

A toxic cloud of smoke and flames in North Dakota. A town in Quebec leveled, with 47 dead.

Train derailments involving unusually powerful explosions are on the rise and they have a common cargo: crude oil fracked from North Dakota’s Bakken shale fields.

Lifting the crude-oil export ban would be bad news for the environment

Oil companies and their shills in politics are pressuring the federal government to repeal a 38-year-old ban on exporting crude oil, as Grist’s John Upton noted last week. The industry is working up a lawsuit to try to get it overturned, and the American Petroleum Institute is telling anyone who will listen how bad the ban is. Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who’s likely to soon chair the Senate Energy Committee, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), the committee’s ranking member, have suggested that we “relook at” the rule and repeal it, respectively. Last month a Washington Post editorial called for removing the ban.

Earthquake Hits Eagle Mountain Lake Area

A 2.2 magnitude earthquake hit the Eagle Mountain area at 2:55 p.m. on Jan. 11.

The quake was pin pointed at 32.88°N 97.49°W, which coordinates to Eagle Mountain Lake near Twin Points Park.

Fracking in the UK: ‘We’re going all out for shale,’ admits Cameron

David Cameron is to declarethat his government is “going all out for shale” as he announces that councils will be entitled to keep 100% of business rates raised from fracking sites in a deal expected to generate millions of pounds for local authorities.

In a renewed attempt to win support for the controversial expansion of fracking, the prime minister will also say that revenues generated by shale gas companies could be paid directly in cash to homeowners living nearby.

UK offers local councils incentive to accept shale gas drilling

British local councils that allow shale gas developments will keep 100 percent of a levy they collect from the sites under a government move to persuade communities to accept the fracking process used to extract the gas.

The local tax, known as business rates, is levied by councils on commercial properties in England and Wales. Councils use business rates to pay for local services.

Panel Blocks Gas Pipeline in New Jersey Pinelands

The New Jersey agency charged with protecting the Pinelands, a vast and fragile expanse of sand pines, gnarled oaks and river deltas, narrowly defeated a proposal on Friday to run a 22-mile natural gas pipeline through it.

The decision dealt a defeat to Gov. Chris Christie, whose administration vigorously lobbied for the pipeline, saying it was an important economic development tool for southern New Jersey. The Pinelands sit atop a shallow, trillions-of-gallons-large aquifer that serves millions of residents. There are 17 species of plants that are found there but nowhere else, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, an environmental group.

Spill Lesson: “Protecting Clean Water Is Not a Luxury”

Many West Virginians have decided that the lesson from the Freedom Industries chemical spill is to better protect their water from pollution. For years, the state has seen legal and political battles between industries and citizen groups over clean water rules.

While waiting in line for bottled water this weekend, Marilyn McGeorge of Charleston said she believes the accident showed clear signs of widespread negligence – not just by the company, but by regulators as well.

West Virginia chemical spill: Does it threaten clean water gains?

Coming after the deadly explosion at a chemical storage facility in Texas last year and three years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the leak of an estimated 5,000 gallons of a toxic coal-processing chemical into West Virginia’s Elk River has quickly become a reminder of how deeply involved Americans are with heavy industry in their midst.

US court upholds BP settlement for Gulf oil spill

A US federal appeals court upheld a multibillion-dollar settlement between BP and the coastal residents and businesses hit by the company’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.

The British energy giant reached a $7.8 billion settlement in 2012 with thousands of claimants struck by the worst environmental disaster in US history.

Appeals Court Blesses BP Spill Settlement but the Legal Battle Drags On

On Friday a federal appeals court in New Orleans signed off on the settlement of one component of BP‘s hellishly complicated liability for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Plaintiffs’ lawyers celebrated the upholding of a pact that has already channeled billions of dollars to private businesses claiming harm from the environmental disaster.

Not so fast.

Dolphins With Hormone Abnormalities Linked to BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill

New research has linked the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill to the deterioration of dolphin health in the region of the Gulf of Mexico that received heavy and prolonged oil exposure as a result of the spill.

A study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Cornell University tested approximately 30 bottlenose dolphins in Louisiana’s Barataria Bay, revealing the cetaceans to be in less than ideal states of health when compared to dolphins tested at a control site in Florida’s Sarasota Bay.

After Accidents, North Dakota Senators Want Stiffer Rail Safety Rules

After train accidents involving North Dakotan crude oil, the state’s political leaders are putting pressure on the Obama administration to improve railroad safety regulations, with some even urging a slowdown in drilling until safety solutions are found.

The drive by both state Republican and Democratic leaders is creating fissures among them and the oil industry, and between rail and oil interests, about what should be done to avoid future accidents.

Canada expects action on oil tanker cars “fairly soon”-minister

Canadian and U.S. officials will introduce new safety standards for the kind of tanker cars involved in a recent spate of fiery oil-by-rail accidents “fairly soon”, Canadian Transport Minister Lisa Raitt said in an interview broadcast on Saturday.

The focus is on whether to require older versions of the DOT-111 tankers to be upgraded to stronger standards or phased out. Since October 2011, new cars have been built to safer requirements, but the vast majority of cars used are of the older variety deemed more vulnerable to leaks and explosions.

Oil-train accidents draw attention from Congressmen

After a series of recent oil-train accidents including a fiery explosion in North Dakota, leading Democratic senators this past week called on the Obama administration to examine current regulations and safeguards for transporting crude.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, the chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation panel, urged the Transportation and Energy departments to swiftly launch an investigation into the issue.

Defying Japan, Rancher Saves Fukushima’s Radioactive Cows

His may be one of the world’s more quixotic protests.

Angered by what he considers the Japanese government’s attempts to sweep away the inconvenient truths of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Masami Yoshizawa has moved back to his ranch in the radioactive no-man’s land surrounding the devastated plant. He has no neighbors, but plenty of company: hundreds of abandoned cows he has vowed to protect from the government’s kill order.

West Coast radiation from Fukushima disaster poses no risk, experts say

Radiation detected off the U.S. West Coast from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan has declined since the 2011 tsunami disaster and never approached levels that could pose a risk to human health, seafood or wildlife, scientists say.

Experts have been trying to dispel worries stemming from a burst of online videos and blog posts in recent months that contend radiation from Fukushima is contaminating beaches and seafood and harming sea creatures across the Pacific.

Fish with very high levels of cesium found near Fukushima

A fish contaminated with extremely high levels of radiation was found in waters near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, a government-affiliated research institute said.

The Fisheries Research Agency said Jan. 10 the black sea bream had 12,400 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium, 124 times the safety standards for foodstuffs.

Fukushima Update: The Nuclear Disaster That Won’t Go Away

When was the last time you heard an update about the Fukushima nuclear disaster on the evening news? Yeah, that’s what I thought. You might take the silence to mean that everything’s fine, but it’s not. In fact, if the little blips and pieces of news coming out of Japan are any indication, things are far from fine, and are getting worse by the second. Those of us in other countries, even on the other side of the world, may soon get our own taste of nuclear fallout.

Fukushima Plant: Fish Detected 124 Times Highly Radioactive, Cancer More Prevalent in Japan in Next 50 Years?

Fish caught in waters near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant have been detected 124 times highly radioactive than the accepted limit, a report by the Asahi Shimbun said.

The Fisheries Research Agency, a Japanese government-affiliated research institute, revealed over the weekend that a fish called black sea bream caught at the mouth of the Niidagawa river in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture contained 12,400 becquerels per kilogram of radioactive cesium. It was way 124 times over the safety standards for foodstuffs.

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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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