Environmental Must-Reads – January 20, 2014


8 Frightening Facts About Fracking

Fracking is the slang term for hydraulic fracturing. It is the process of breaking apart (fracturing) dense shale rock in order to release the hydrocarbons (like gas and oil). A gel cocktail comprised of water, sand and chemicals referred to as fracking fluid is injected under high pressure into the rock deep underground, creating new fractures that allow access to deposits previously out of reach.

Interestingly, while Big Oil and Gas like to tell the public and the media that fracking is a safe technology that has been employed for decades, they also tell investors that drilling operations are inherently risky and include leaks, spills, explosions, blowouts, environmental damage, personal injury and death.

An Alternative to Fracking & California’s Drought Emergency

California is home to the popular-for-rafting Kern River, Big Sur sunsets, the endangered blunt-nosed leopard lizard, some of the world’s most important blue whale foraging habitat, strawberry valleys, rolling farms, cowboy towns, and big bustling cities.  All of this is put at risk from the heavy industrial oil and gas extraction process called fracking.

Russia concerned by Ukrainian fracking

The Russian Natural Resources Ministry said Friday it was concerned hydraulic fracturing in neighboring Ukraine could pollute regional water supplies.

The ministry issued a statement Friday saying it was concerned about the prospects for shale natural gas development in neighboring Ukraine.

D.C. Methane Leaks Threaten Explosions, Climate

Methane leaks in natural gas pipelines have long been a concern with the shale gas and fracking boom in Pennsylvania, Colorado and elsewhere. A new study shows methane leaks are also a hazard in major U.S. cities, posing an explosion risk and a threat to the climate.

Nearly 5,900 methane and other gas leaks have been found in ageing natural gas pipelines in Washington, D.C., where some manholes were found to have methane levels 10 times the threshold for an explosion, according to the study conducted by researchers from Duke University and Boston University.

Netherlands reduces gas output after tremors increase

The Netherlands will cut gas production at Groningen, the largest gas field in western Europe, by about a quarter over the next three years, the Economics Ministry said, bowing to public concerns over earth tremors in the area.

The decision to cut production will mean lower revenues for the government at a time when it is already struggling to meet the European Union’s budget deficit targets, even after years of austerity measures.

Potential use of acid-mine water in fracking draws criticism

The natural gas industry wants to use water from abandoned coal mines for hydraulic fracturing operations, replacing fresh water with acid-mine drainage that now poisons thousands of miles of Pennsylvania streams.

What’s not to like?

Plenty, it seems.

Pa. charity keeps funding gas drilling research

The Heinz Endowments are continuing to strongly support research and advocacy relating to environmental and health impacts of natural gas hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in spite of significant turnover in its senior management.

The Pittsburgh-based Endowments told the Associated Press that it gave out over $3.3 million in 2013 for grants specifically related to gas drilling. That estimate doesn’t include grants to other groups who spend only part of their time on drilling issues.

Experts share environmental, health impacts of frac sand mining

A couple hundred people attended the Frac Sand Mining Citizens’ Summit in Winona Saturday to hear from environmental and health experts on the potential impact of frac sand mining.

Frac sand mining is the removal of silica sand, sand needed for a process called hydraulic fracturing, where natural gas and other energy products are excised from the earth.

New testing finds contamination in North Texas water spreading; scientists point to driller

Texas’ oil and gas regulator has opened a new investigation into allegations that methane is contaminating North Texas water after residents complained that independent sampling by university researchers revealed high levels of the explosive gas in their residential wells, the state agency and scientists said.

Small Emission Sources Could Mean Big Pollution, But No One’s Counting

Some landowners with oil and gas wells on their property complain about emissions affecting their air quality and health. But though there may be a lot of wells, they’re considered small facilities, so their cumulative effects are never counted up and regulations are more lax than for large emitters. Wyoming Public Radio’s Irina Zhorov reports that that could be a problem since in aggregate, their pollution can be significant.

Wet weather cited as cause of Hants County fracking wastewater leak

The latest bout of wet weather has caused fracking wastewater to spill out of holding ponds in the Kennetcook area.

Lori Errington, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia Environment, said the department is working with Triangle Petroleum, the American company responsible for the production of the wastewater, to reduce the likelihood of brine water pouring out of the holding ponds again.

Fracking water concerns residents

Hanover Township residents made their doubts about a proposed fracking water recycling facility in the township known during a public hearing preceding Thursday’s township supervisors’ meeting.

More than 50 residents attended the meeting on Blossburg, Pa.-based Hydro Recovery’s conditional use application for a parcel located between U.S. Route 22 and Old Steubenville Pike, adjacent to the township park.

BP claims appeals coordinator resigned after improperly forwarding claims information, new report says

The appeals coordinator for the BP oil spill private claims program resigned Oct. 7, three days after a federal magistrate judge was told the coordinator improperly forwarded information about a claim to the law firm handling the case, according to a report filed Friday by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Texas Lawyer Seeks Hold on BP Spill Suit

A Texas lawyer being sued by oil giant BP over allegations that he falsely claimed to represent thousands of deckhands who lost money in the 2010 Gulf oil spill has asked a federal court to delay the lawsuit while a criminal investigation plays out.

Friday’s filing on behalf of Mikal Watts says federal officials have seized and copied material from Watts’ law firm regarding oil spill claims. Watts’ attorney, Robert McDuff, says in the filing that there is a “real, appreciable and non-speculative prospect” for an indictment of people involved with the case in the federal Southern District of Mississippi. He said he expects to know whether there will be an indictment within two months.

BP Can’t Stop Seafood Payments, Gulf Oil Spill Lawyers Say

BP (BP/) Plc should keep paying more than $2.3 billion to seafood-industry interests as part of a settlement of claims over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill while a fraud probe tied to the accord is pending, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

BP is overreaching by seeking to suspend all payments to seafood workers and companies while the U.S. Justice Department investigates whether a lawyer claiming to represent eligible deckhands falsified client lists, the plaintiffs’ committee overseeing the BP settlement said in a court filing today.

Letter: Texas Brine has made progress

Over the past year, significant progress has been made in response to the sinkhole near Bayou Corne. We understand there is still frustration, and we’re sorry lives have been disrupted. We remain focused on completing the four key objectives identified by local and state officials: confirming dome stability, sinkhole containment, venting natural gas and supporting the community.

As we developed a better understanding of the environment, operations became more targeted and ultimately more effective, leading to many positive developments vital to ensuring public safety and meeting environmental objectives.

Alberta Clipper pipeline restarted after oil spill south of Regina

Enbridge Inc. says it has restarted the Alberta Clipper pipeline after is it was shut down briefly due to an oil spill in southern Saskatchewan.

The leak happened at the Rowatt Station just south of Regina on Saturday just before 11 a.m. CST.

It’s estimated that about 125 barrels were released from the pumping station.

Pa. Eminent Domain Pipeline Fight Headed to Court

Ron and Sallie Cox’s house in North Strabane Township is nestled behind a lush forest they are fighting to protect from a new natural gas pipeline inching toward their property.

The couple are so adamant about preserving their land that they have found themselves among more than two dozen property owners in Washington County involved in a complicated legal battle challenging Sunoco Pipeline’s right to cross their land.

In N. Dakota, derailment strengthens pipeline push

The explosive derailment of an oil train near Casselton last month has North Dakota’s senators pushing harder than ever for expanded oil pipelines.

Both Republican John Hoeven and Democrat Heidi Heitkamp are longtime supporters of expanded pipelines. But the accident in Casselton that produced a fiery wreck and forced residents to briefly evacuate have the senators renewing their pitch to federal officials in recent days.

Going to Jail on MLK’s Birthday to Stop Keystone XL South: ‘The Fierce Urgency of Now’

You wouldn’t know it from the lack of focus and attention by the environmental establishment, but the 485-mile southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has been built, is being filled and is scheduled to start up on Jan. 22. Front line reports from landowners in Texas and Oklahoma say that TransCanada has patrol planes flying up and down the line, with foot patrols searching for leaks. In a few short days, this 485-mile fuse to one of the biggest carbon bombs on the planet will be lit.

Desperate to stop this, several prominent Texas landowners urgently requested a face-to-face meeting with President Obama in early December, only to be spurned by the White House. In response, I spearheaded an emergency direct action on Jan. 15, the 85th birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., outside the White House to demand that the President order the shut down of Keystone XL south.

Vulnerable tank cars will keep carrying crude

The nation’s thirst for oil is likely to keep weak and outdated railcars moving flammable crude through American cities for years, even if regulators require upgrades to the cars at a cost that could exceed $1 billion.

Although four recent derailments, including one that killed 47 people, drew attention to potential dangers, it could take a decade to replace all the older tank cars, and there’s little clamor to pull them from service and slow the oil rush.

Oil by rail: Area leaders prep for disaster while calling for tougher standards

A string of train accidents involving crude oil shipments in the U.S. and Canada is causing uneasiness in Spokane and other communities bisected by railways. And the safety of rail cars and hazardous cargo is under intensifying scrutiny.

With the number of oil trains from the upper Great Plains expected to increase through the Spokane area, the risk of spills and potentially deadly fires is a growing concern, City Council President Ben Stuckart said.

Reduce seismic testing noises to protect whales, study recommends

A study by a group of experts including two Canadians is offering recommendations to reduce the impact of seismic surveys by oil and gas companies on vulnerable whales and other marine species.

The research, compiled over a six-year period ending in 2012, outlines a set of guidelines developed by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Sakhalin Energy Investment Company in their seismic testing off Russia’s Sakhalin island, just north of Japan.

Crippled Fukushima Reactor Springs Another Mysterious Leak

Japanese media is reporting yet another mysterious and previously undetected leak inside one of the crippled nuclear Fukushima reactors this weekend.

According to Asahi Shimbum, citing an announcement from the Tokyo Electric Power Company, a “new water leak, possibly from the effort to cool a crippled reactor, has been detected on the first floor of a reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

Tepco Probes Cause of Latest Radioactive Water Leak at Fukushima

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) is investigating the cause of another leak of radioactive water at its wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, a reminder of the challenges remaining at the site of the world’s worst atomic accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The company, known as Tepco, is probing the origin and cause, spokeswoman Kaoru Suzuki said today by telephone. Tepco revealed the leak in a statement on its website this weekend.

Fukushima’s operator says spin-off an option only for the future

Spinning off the clean-up project at Japan’s wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant from the rest of operator Tokyo Electric Power’s business could be an option in the future if the decommissioning runs smoothly, the company’s president said.

Nearly three years after a devastating earthquake and tsunami hit the plant, Tokyo Electric (Tepco) is still struggling to contain radioactive water at the site and turn around its battered finances.

US residents monitor Fukushima radiation

John Bertucci carries his Geiger counter wherever he goes. The counter, which is a little larger than his hand, measures radiation levels in the air around him.

“I’m still learning how to use the device but it gives me peace of mind to know that I can do something to inform and protect myself,” said Bertucci, who lives in Petaluma, a small town close to California’s northern coast.

Fukushima fears still radiate; government officials say radiation not a threat to West Coast

Nearly three years have passed since the deadly 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the resulting Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant disaster, yet fears of radiation contamination on the North Coast have not dissipated.

Mark McCulloch of Mr. Fish Seafood in Eureka said he still gets inquiries about his seafood being contaminated with radiation “several times a week.”

Tepco May Spend 2.67 Trillion Yen as Growth Path Charted

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), operator of the crisis-ridden Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant, is considering spending about 2.67 trillion yen ($25.6 billion) on strategic investments through partnerships as it seeks to chart a path to growth beyond the Fukushima disaster.

Of the planned investments, the utility known as Tepco plans to borrow 2 trillion yen in fresh loans from lenders, President Naomi Hirose, 60, said in an interview in Tokyo on Jan. 18. The utility will make loan requests to banks as soon as possible, Hirose said, declining to specify a timeframe.

YouTube celebrity re-elected mayor of disaster-hit city in Fukushima

The mayor of a city in Fukushima Prefecture who appeared on the U.S. Time magazine’s annual list of the world’s top 100 influential people for his YouTube post following the March 2011 disasters was re-elected in Sunday’s poll.

Katsunobu Sakurai, 58, defeated former Mayor Issei Watanabe, 70, and former city assembly speaker Motoe Yokoyama, 65, in the mayoral election in Minamisoma.

Fukushima kids’ teeth to be checked for strontium-90

The Fukushima Prefecture Dental Association will spearhead efforts to determine whether children’s teeth contain the radioactive isotope strontium-90 amid worries they were exposed to fallout from the triple core meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011.

The research, part of an Environment Ministry project to examine the health impact of the Fukushima disaster, would be the first large-scale examination to be conducted of children’s teeth. Dental associations nationwide, including in Hokkaido and Kyushu, will cooperate with their Fukushima counterpart in the study.

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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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