Environmental Must-Reads – January 2, 2014


Fracking: The Bay Delta Conservation Plan Would Provide Water for Mining

“Will water pumped from the Delta be used for fracking in the Central Valley?” — that troubling question appears in the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) weekly forum, “Your Questions Answered.”

The answer is yes. According to the plan, fracking is a “reasonable, beneficial use” of water.

Dangerous Elements Occur Naturally in Fracking Brine

Research about naturally occurring chemicals, some radioactive, coming out of fracking wells is raising concerns for West Virginians. Avner Vengosh, professor of geochemistry and water quality, Duke University, has studied the salty water that comes to the surface when Marcellus Shale is fracked. He said the brine contains things like bromide and radium, which is naturally radioactive.

Vengosh noted that the levels of bromide in Marcellus brine are very high. Bromide is typically of little concern, but Vengosh said it combines in a dangerous way with the chlorine used to sterilize drinking water.

California’s fracking future takes center stage

Amidst ongoing efforts to develop California’s Monterey Shale, Governor Jerry Brown has been drawing tough criticism from activist groups and former staff members concerned about safeguarding the state’s water and environmental resources.

The Monterey Shale is a 1,750 square mile formation that stretches from the San Francisco Bay Area down to Los Angeles. Some geologists believe it holds 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil — that’s more than half the amount of recoverable shale oil estimated to reside in the United States’ lower 48. Naturally, that has attracted some attention.

North Dakota: Oil Train Hits Grain Car

At least 10 tank cars burst into flames on Monday after a train carrying crude oil struck another train about a mile outside the small town of Casselton, state officials said. The accident, which caused at least five powerful explosions, occurred after a westbound train carrying soybeans derailed and an eastbound train hauling oil ran into it, said Cecily Fong, public information officer with the North Dakota Department of Emergency Services. The two engines on the oil train were destroyed. Both trains were operated by the BNSF Railway Company. No injuries were reported, but residents within five miles to the south and east of Casselton were urged to evacuate to avoid contact with the smoke. The derailment occurred west of Fargo, between an ethanol plant and the Casselton Reservoir, Ms. Fong said.

N.D. Oil Train Fire Spotlights Risks of Transporting Crude

A 112-car train carrying grain derailed on Monday and collided with a 106-car eastbound train carrying crude oil, outside Casselton, North Dakota. The collision set off a blaze that engulfed at least 21 cars, according to the operator of both trains, BNSF.

The accident points to the dangers of rail transport of crude oil, sometimes overlooked amid a U.S. debate over the wisdom of building oil pipelines through the Midwest. The collision follows a deadly oil train tragedy earlier this year in Canada.

Is LNG fracking worth its weight in water?

More than seven billion litres of water were used for fracking in B.C. last year. If the government’s liquefied natural gas sector takes off, the water needed to get shale gas out of the ground in the northeast corner of the province will likely increase by 500 per cent, or more.

Much of that water is consumed with only minimal regulation. A new law set to be introduced in the spring would, for the first time in B.C., impose fees for the use of groundwater and allow for government to restrict water use in times of scarcity. But it’s not likely to rein in the practise of hydraulic fracturing, which is critical to the development of LNG.

Eagle Ford Shale: Breathe at Your Own Risk

Fracking is in full swing in the Eagle Ford Shale region of southern Texas, home to the most productive oil field in the United States.

For Cynthia Dupnik, whose Karnes County home is in the center of the region, life is no longer serene. At night, she says the landscape is frighteningly apocalyptic, marked by the roaring flares spreading pollutants across the sky from oil and gas operations.

Study: Few Americans understand fracking

Fracking is a buzz word, but few Americans know what it actually means. That is the conclusion of a recent survey published by researchers at Oregon State, George Mason and Yale universities.

More than half of the study’s 1,061 respondents reported knowing little or nothing of fracking. And almost 60 percent of those surveyed said they had no opinion on the subject.

‘Fracking’ the Monterey Shale — boon or boondoggle?

“Eureka!” reads the California motto, originated in the 19th century Gold Rush. Now some believe the state is on the cusp of a 21st century bonanza, only this time it will be oil that fuels a Golden State boom.

Modern prospectors are eyeing the Monterey Shale formation, a 1,750-square-mile resource-rich swath of land in the San Joaquin Valley. Lying deep beneath the valley’s surface is a trove of shale oil — some 15.42 billion barrels’ worth, according to an estimate by the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Gasbuggy was try at nuclear fracking

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing – fracking – for natural gas might have one thing to be grateful for: Development of that technology may have helped save them from nuclear fracking.

It’s not a joke, even though it sounds like something you might hear on “Saturday Night Live.”

Back in the ’50s and ’60s, after the atomic bomb had shown its grim effectiveness in a war setting, scientists and others in the federal government were eager to find peaceful uses of the powerful technology – if you can call anything “peaceful” that involves an explosion of that magnitude.

Impacts of Unconventional Gas Wells Increasing

The fracking revolution was late arriving in Lawrence County, Pennsylvania. But it’s here now.

Hydraulic fracturing — the practice of extracting natural gas from shale rock by pounding the underground shale with specially treated water — isn’t a new process. For several years, drilling companies have been fracturing along the Marcellus Shale layer, which runs from upstate New York through eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania into Kentucky.

Gas-drilling interests decry NY inaction in 6th year without fracking; opponents want ban

Born of the energy crisis of the 1970s, gas driller Lenape Resources flourished in western New York for more than three decades — until the revolutionary technology that sparked the nation’s shale gas boom brought the industry to a screeching halt in New York under a moratorium now in its sixth year.

Today, Lenape has just five employees, down from 100 in years past. “Those five, we’re trying to give them work in Pennsylvania,” said John Holko, the company’s president. “We’re not going to be here much longer.”

Frack water recycling plant fires up ‘Warriors’

When 2013 began, few if any city residents had ever heard of GreenHunter Water – or imagined they would get a frack water recycling plant at the northern tip of Warwood.

By spring, the “Wheeling Water Warriors” began sprouting up to protest the efforts of the Houston, Texas-based company, all the while emphasizing their fears that having such a site near a residential neighborhood will endanger the public.

EPA Nails Energy Company With Record Fracking Fine

America’s natural gas fracking bubble is still expanding, despite some signs that said natural gas bubble is getting ready to pop in a big way. Until the government starts listening (and the right people start talking), however, it might just be something we have to accept … but the government is starting to listen, and Chesapeake Energy just got whacked with a massive EPA fine for violating part of the EPA’s Clean Water Act! This is the same Chesapeake Energy Co., by the way, that is currently fighting off lawsuits in Arkansas for damage caused by fracking-related earthquakes. In other words: it couldn’t have happened to better people.

Goodrich reports clog at key Tuscaloosa shale well

One of the largest leaseholders in the Tuscaloosa marine shale oil field that spans central Louisiana and southwest Mississippi says it has run into problems with a key well in the area.

Houston-based Goodrich Petroleum Corp. said in a statement that test results for a well in Amite County, Miss., near the Louisiana border will be delayed until early 2014 as the company works to unclog it.

Guess who’s cashing in on fracking? The Amish

Since the Amish are opposed to cars, electricity, and orgies, you might think they’d frown on money, too. Like, “Keep your wealth in hay bales” could totally be an Amish saying, or maybe “bonnets over Benjamins.”

But while greed and materialism aren’t part of an Amish paradise, nearly 40 Amish families in eastern Ohio are taking piles of cash from oil and gas companies. Chesapeake Energy and others are paying them hundreds of thousands of dollars, tax free, in order to drill on their property. (The families are moving to Pennsylvania or New York, as buying different property is required as part of the tax loophole.)

BP renews request for 5th Circuit to require businesses to prove losses resulted from oil spill

BP this week renewed its request for the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to order a lower court to require that businesses prove their losses stemmed from the company’s 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in order to be paid under a settlement of private claims.

The request comes as part of a motion asking a three-judge panel of the appeals court to continue requiring U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to block payment of business claims until the appeals issues are resolved. In Barbier’s Dec. 24 order that is the focus of the new BP request, Barbier said an injunction on the payment of claims would remain in place pending further action by two separate panels of 5th Circuit Court judges.

Former BP engineer’s lawyers seek new trial in oil spill evidence destruction case

Attorneys for a former BP engineer convicted of trying to obstruct a federal probe of the company’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill have asked for more time to file requests for a new trial or a post-verdict acquittal.

On Tuesday, Kurt Mix’s lawyers asked U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. for a weeklong extension of a Jan. 2 deadline for filing the requests.

Fate of Exxon’s Burst Pegasus Pipeline to Be Decided in 2014

Industry analysts and others who have wondered whether ExxonMobil will restart the broken Pegasus pipeline that leaked Canadian oil across an Arkansas suburb should get their answer in 2014.

The 65-year-old pipeline hasn’t shipped any oil since it ruptured on March 29, costing Exxon as much as $450,000 a day in lost revenue, or up to $124 million as of Jan. 1. It’s unclear when exactly the company might resume pumping oil through the 858-mile line that crosses dozens of waterways, farms and residential neighborhoods on its way from Illinois to the Texas Gulf Coast—though a decision is underway.

Texas Brine draws up new sinkhole containment plans

Records show that Texas Brine Co. has developed a backup plan to replace the cracked southern section of a protective levee surrounding the sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish and may look to reroute Bayou Corne if conditions deteriorate further.

The Advocate reports the company’s new draft plan proposes “triggers” that would prompt the levee replacement. It also outlines an alternative of rerouting Bayou Corne if a replacement levee proves too unstable to maintain due to sinking of the remaining land between the sinkhole and the bayou.

Massive Louisiana Sinkhole In More Trouble

A massive sinkhole in Bayou Corne, La. is in more trouble, after the level surrounding it cracked during a wave of underground micro-tremors. It’s the second times in less than two months that the levee has cracked, Assumption Parish officials say.

It’s in the same place the earth-and-limestone levee sank a bit and cracks developed in late October, The Advocate reported. Those were repaired.

Tale of two oil spill stories

On Christmas Eve 2013, in the midst of one of the most destructive oil spills in the history of Trinidad and Tobago, two headlines carried contrasting stories. The Express headline shouted “SABOTAGE” over a report by Anna Ramdass. The report stated that “the oil spill at Rancho Quemado has already been classified as sabotage and a report was made to the police by operators Trinity Oil, Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine said yesterday.”

A contrasting tale appeared in the Guardian with its headline “Environmentalists fear eco-disaster…Shut down operations”. This story by Yvonne Baboolal quoted extensively from Gary Aboud of FFOS. According to this story, “Asked to comment on Petrotrin’s claim of suspected sabotage, he said: “Sabotage is a very convenient excuse for incompetence and gross negligence.”

Oil spill spreading north, says Aboud

The Gulf of Paria will become a toxic dead zone if thick crude is not vacuumed from the ocean floor before Petrotrin begins its underwater seismic surveys, president of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea Gary Aboud warned yesterday. Aboud made the claim as he accused Petrotrin of trying to cover up the magnitude of the massive oil spill which has wreaked havoc on plant, human and marine life along the south-western peninsula since December 21.

North Dakota Train Fire Adds Fuel to Keystone XL Debate

The derailment and fire that led to the evacuation of a North Dakota town has renewed the debate over whether it’s safer to ship oil by rail or pipeline as the U.S. completes a review of the Keystone XL project.

“Any time there is an incident, you have heightened talk and scrutiny on oil transportation,” Brigham McCown, a former director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said yesterday in an interview. “It will add to the conversation.”

Southern leg of Keystone XL to crank up Jan. 22

The operator of a $2.3 billion pipeline between Cushing and the Gulf Coast expects to begin shipping oil Jan. 22.

TransCanada began injecting crude oil into the 485-mile, 36-inch pipeline in early December. Spokesman Davis Sheremata said the process involves injecting about 3 million barrels of oil into the system at Cushing and moving it to the Houston area.

Albertan Bitumen Heading for the Great Lakes

It is no secret that oil transportation infrastructure in North America is strained and Albertan oil is having a difficult time getting to market. Pipeline construction is chronically delayed and rail companies are running out of oil tank cars, but oil companies are considering a new route. Calumet Speciality Product Partners, an Indiana-based company, is planning to spend $20 million to upgrade a dock in Lake Superior to load bitumen onto barges and ship it through the lake system to other refineries. While approval for the project is far from certain, it does signal a trend in the industry.

Marsh cleanup presents challenges for Coast Guard, state

When Mark Kulp first visited the marshes commonly referred to as Middle Ground, what he saw was disastrous for many other miles of the Louisiana shoreline: massive amounts of oil.

The marsh, which sets about 20 miles southeast of Venice was hit the earliest and hardest by BP’s Deepwater horizon spill, which spewed more than 200 million gallons of crude into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Judge Rejects BP Complaint Over Proof of Economic Losses from Gulf Oil Spill

BP Plc lost a bid to require businesses to provide proof their economic losses were caused by the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill under a $9.2 billion settlement over the disaster.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans, overseeing the settlement of lawsuits spawned by the blowout of BP’s Macondo well, found the London-based oil company would have to live with its agreement to pay billions of dollars in business losses tied to the disaster. An appeals court ordered Barbier in October to reexamine the accord’s terms to ensure claimants weren’t receiving improper payouts.

BP Oil Spill Damage Continues in the Gulf

The next time you hear politicians on Capitol Hill calling environmental regulations on the energy industry needless overkill on an industry that poses no serious threat to man or beast, please refer to the following two headlines from this week’s news:

– More massive tar mats from BP oil spill discovered on Louisiana beaches

– Dolphin Health ‘Grave’ After BP Oil Spill

The Deepwater Horizon gusher was capped off the Louisiana coast almost 2.5 years ago, but as the folks in this neck of the marsh say, “The oil may have stopped flowing, but the spill isn’t over.”

Keystone XL pipeline foes warn of heavy-crude oil spills

As the State Department readies its final environmental review of the Keystone XL pipeline, foes of the project are pressuring the Obama administration to pay attention to the challenge of mopping up spills of the heavy crude set to flow through it.

When the State Department issued its draft of the analysis in March, it largely ignored the issue, prompting a rebuke from conservationists as well as the Environmental Protection Agency, which has overseen the slow cleanup of oil-sands crude dumped into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River in July 2010.

Forget Keystone XL; Competing Pipelines Will Bring Oil-Sands From Alberta To US Gulf Coast

While the debate continues over whether or not to approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, similar pipeline projects that have gone relatively unnoticed may soon bring crude oil from Alberta and North Dakota to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The Eastern Gulf Crude Access Pipeline project would bring Canadian oil-sands as well as crude from North Dakota from Patoka, Ill., to St. James, La., to refineries along the Mississippi River and the Louisiana Gulf Coast.

Oil Company Looks To Great Lakes As Shipping Demand Booms

North Dakota and western Canada are producing crude oil faster than it can be shipped to refineries.

Rail car manufacturers can’t make new tank cars fast enough, and new pipeline proposals face long delays over environmental concerns. So energy companies are looking for new ways to get the heavy crude to market.

One proposed solution is to ship the oil by barge over the Great Lakes — but it’s a controversial one.

Oil spill in the Arctic at Statoil platform

Norwegian oil and gas giant Statoil had to shut down production on its Statfjord A sea platform due to an oil leak. The crew of the platform has been evacuated. The cause of the leak remains unknown.

The Statfjord field is the biggest oil field in the North Sea and is located 180 km away from the Norwegian coast. Statoil has three oil platforms in the zone, but only one has been affected by the incident. “Production was shut down,” Statoil spokesman Kjetil Visnes told Reuters. “About half of the staff were moved by two helicopters to platforms Statfjord B and C.”

Wyoming Oil Refinery May Inject Wastewater Underground To Stop Polluting Creek

A well being drilled at the HollyFrontier Corp. refinery in Cheyenne will assess whether the company will be able to dispose of selenium-tainted wastewater by injecting it deep underground.

The company has been discharging the wastewater into Crow Creek, a small stream that meanders through Cheyenne and south into Colorado. Selenium levels in the wastewater have been averaging several times higher than the state’s standard for selenium in surface water, according to the state Department of Environmental Quality.

Environmentalists Face Day of Reckoning on Keystone Pipeline

Here’s something to watch in 2014: the collective psyche of the green movement.

If President Obama green-lights the Keystone pipeline, the movement will face questions about its tactics and goals at a level unseen since major climate-change legislation collapsed on Capitol Hill in 2010.

Final ‘Arctic 30’ Greenpeace Activist Leaves Russia

The last of the 26 foreign Greenpeace activists who were detained after an Arctic protest left Russia on Sunday, the group announced, finally ending a saga that had caused global concern.

Polish national Tomasz Dziemianczuk, 37, flew out from Saint Petersburg to Warsaw, Greenpeace said in a statement, following 25 other foreign activists who had all left by Saturday following a Kremlin amnesty.

Special Report: Japan’s homeless recruited for murky Fukushima clean-up

Seiji Sasa hits the train station in this northern Japanese city before dawn most mornings to prowl for homeless men.

He isn’t a social worker. He’s a recruiter. The men in Sendai Station are potential laborers that Sasa can dispatch to contractors in Japan’s nuclear disaster zone for a bounty of $100 a head.

Japan: Homeless Used as Slave Labour to Clean Up Fukushima

Homeless people in Japan are being paid less than minimum wage to clean up the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and often end up in debt once their accommodation is docked from wages.

According to a special report by Reuters, the clean-up of the 2011 nuclear spill has become a playing ground for profiteering gangsters who are taking advantage of the need for cheap labour.

Former TEPCO employee seeks donations for downtrodden Fukushima workers

As a former employee of Tokyo Electric Power Co., Akihiro Yoshikawa says he knows about the miserable conditions, declining morale and how workers are treated like garbage at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

His mission now is to spread awareness of the circumstances surrounding those struggling to deal with the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and to help them get through the winter.

Evacuees in Fukushima return home to celebrate New Year’s

It is a bittersweet return home to Naraha for the New Year’s holidays for Haruo Suzuki, 75, and his wife, Michiko, 74, evacuees for the past three years after the March 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Evacuees from the town have been allowed to return from Dec. 28 until Jan. 4 on a “special” basis and spend New Year’s in their homes for the first time in three years.

14 Haunting Portraits of Life After Nuclear Disaster

If you lived near Chernobyl or Fukushima, would you stay?

On April 26, 1986, an explosion at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant changed history, sending radiation and political shockwaves across Europe. Radioactive fallout contaminated 56,700 square miles of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia, a region larger than New York state.

A generation later in Japan, on March 11, 2011, the Tohoku earthquake and the tsunami it triggered brought on multiple nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant. In the initial fires, Fukushima released ten to thirty percent as much radiation as Chernobyl, contaminating some 4,500 square miles of Japan—nearly the area of Connecticut. Radioactive water continues to leak from the Fukushima plant to this day.

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  • Thank you for fighting this fight. You restore my faith in humanity a bit.

    Greeting from
    A clean air, nature and animal lover.

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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