Environmental Must-Reads – January 20, 2015


Respiratory, Skin Problems for Those Near Fracking Sites

Hundreds of hydraulic fracturing sites dot the landscape in rural southwestern Pennsylvania, and a new study hints that those who live near those sites and use water from a well might be at higher risk for adverse health symptoms than those who live further away.

In a survey conducted among residents of southwestern Pennsylvania’s Washington County in the summer of 2012, the number of reported health symptoms per person was higher among those living less than 1 km from a natural gas well (mean 3.27, SD 3.72) than those living more than 2 kilometers away (mean 1.60, SD 2.14, P=0.0002, according to Peter M. Rabinowitz, MD, at Yale University, and colleagues

Air Monitor in Texas Fracking-Boom Country Is Up and Soon to Track Pollution

The first air monitor in the heart of the fracking-intensive Eagle Ford Shale region of south Texas has been installed and will be in operation following calibration tests to assess its accuracy.

The 40-foot-by-40-foot monitor that looks like a cargo trailer with antennas was set in place on the grounds of the Karnes County courthouse on the main street of Karnes City last month by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.

Capping the Other Greenhouse Gas

In President Barack Obama’s fight against climate-changing emissions, carbon dioxide has so far been the chief target — and methane has been given a pass. So the president’s promise this week to finally create new rules that would cut methane emissions by almost half over the next 10 years is most welcome.

Methane makes up only a tenth of U.S. greenhouse-gas pollution and it breaks down in the atmosphere faster than carbon does, yet it’s 25 times more effective than carbon at trapping heat. It’s also very useful stuff, the main component of natural gas, so oil and gas companies have an incentive not to waste it by letting it escape into the air.

Climate hawks are not impressed by Obama’s methane plan

You would expect environmentalists to offer effusive praise as President Obama releases the final major component of his Climate Action Plan: a proposal to clamp down on methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. And at first glance, they did.

“This announcement once again demonstrates the President’s strong commitment to tackling the climate crisis,” said League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski. A number of other environmental groups echoed that sentiment. If you didn’t read between the lines, you might think Obama had given them all they wanted.

DEP releases study of radioactive oil and gas materials

The state Department of Environmental Protection released on Thursday what it says is the most thorough study conducted of radioactive materials associated with oil and gas extraction.

In January 2013, the DEP announced it would take a close look at radioactivity levels in solids, liquids and gases that make their way into the environment when drillers tap into the Marcellus Shale and other shale formations.

Sand turns a rural county upside-down

The fracking boom has transformed rural Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, and areas like it. There’s no oil or gas here —  just sand, the kind oil and gas drillers prefer. Fracking has made sand a $10 billion industry, and publicly traded companies have rushed in, digging enormous mines. Trempealeau — on the western side of the state, population 28,000 or so — has more mines than any other county.

“The onset of industrial sand-mining pretty much flipped our county upside-down,” says Kevin Lien, who runs the county’s Department of Land Management. “And that’s probably an understatement.”

Could Fracking Cause a Major Earthquake?

Shortly before midnight on Aug. 23, 2011, residents of Trinidad, Colo. and surrounding communities were startled when the ground started shaking beneath them, knocking bricks and stones loose from buildings. Fortunately, no one was injured. As far as earthquakes go, the 5.3 event and the aftershocks that followed were relatively mild.

Nevertheless, the Trinidad quake raised anxiety for another reason. The U.S. Geological Survey eventually concluded that it probably was a man-made quake, caused by the disposal of waste water produced by the oil and gas industry.

New York fracking ban has Pennsylvania implications

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration finalizes a ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing, New Yorkers will watch their southern neighbor continue its experiment with shale gas.

New York has been under a fracking moratorium since 2008, and people on both sides of the shale gas debate see the state’s Dec. 17 announcement as a milestone in Pennsylvania’s experience with the gas drilling industry. It could have implications for the Delaware River Basin Commission, a multi-state river compact that has held back gas development in Wayne and Pike counties since 2010.

Longmont seeks reversal of ruling in fracking case

The Colorado Court of Appeals should reverse a Boulder County District Court judge’s ruling that held that Longmont has no right to ban fracking within its city limits, the city argued in a newly filed brief to the appellate court.

“The city does not forbid what the state authorizes, because no state statute or regulation explicitly authorizes fracking,” Longmont’s lawyers said in that brief.

Kansas quakes likely caused by oil and gas fracking process

Kansas officials have been reluctant to link the mysterious earthquakes in south central Kansas to fracking, but last week they said for the first time the temblors are likely caused by disposal of the waste water that is a byproduct of the oil and gas extraction process.

“We can say there is a strong correlation between the disposal of saltwater and the earthquakes,” Rick Miller, geophysicist and senior scientist for the Kansas Geological Survey, told the Journal-World.

Fracking debate intensifies in Western Maryland

With natural gas drilling on the horizon in Western Maryland, dairy farmer Billy Bishoff welcomes the chance to supplement his income by collecting lease or royalty payments on the natural gas that lies beneath his family’s 330 acres a few miles northwest of Deep Creek Lake. The gas, locked far beneath the surface, is a “tremendous resource,” he said, that could bring jobs and prosperity to Garrett County, which many residents now leave to find work.

Not far away, Elliott Perfetti worries that drilling for gas could foul the region’s air and water, crippling the tourism and outdoor recreation industries, which have become linchpins of the local economy. “I think it could quickly erode the reasons that people come to Garrett County,” said Perfetti, operations manager at Blue Moon Rising, an eco-friendly resort overlooking the lake.

New Texas Governor Adds To Tension Between State, City Governments

Incoming Texas Gov. Greg Abbott created a stir last week during a speech to the conservative and influential think tank the Texas Public Policy Foundation, where he accused Texas cities of contributing to the “California-ization” of Texas.

“The truth is, Texas is being California-ized with bag bans, fracking bans, tree-cutting bans,” Abbott said. “We’re forming a patchwork quilt of bans and rules and regulations that is eroding the Texas model.”

Frac sand companies get creative with local politics

When officials in Trempealeau County, Wisconsin, tried to set limits on new sand mines, mining companies looked closely at how local government is structured in rural Wisconsin and got creative.

Sand mining has turned parts of rural Wisconsin inside out thanks to fracking for oil and gas. Fracking consumes 100 billion pounds of sand a year, and sand from a few midwestern states is highly prized.

Think of pollution as trespassing

In 2013, Colorado Gov. John Hicken-looper sat before a Senate committee and testified to drinking a glass of fracking fluid, in an attempt to illustrate just how safe hydraulic fracturing can be. He hoped, presumably, to allay growing concerns in what has become one of the West’s most contentious energy issues. But in doing so, the former geologist employed a basic assumption about wrongdoing that has long underlain the environmental debate. In my view, this assumption has done far more harm than good to the environmental movement.

Maryland Politics Trumps Science on Fracking

Two ambitious Democratic governors in the East faced the same tough choice late last year on whether to allow energy companies to extract natural gas from shale formations through high-volume hydrofracking. One said yes. The other said no.

Neither state has much natural gas to tap at current market prices. Even so, the decisions by Gov. Martin O’Malley of Maryland and Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York have national implications because they sat in judgment of the importance of the latest independent science. While environmental and medical experts were pointing to dozens of new peer-reviewed studies showing explicit health and safety risks, the energy industry was clinging to its assertions that all fracking risks are manageable.

Threat to NY’s fracking ban could come from Congress

When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month that the state would soon ban high-volume hydraulic fracturing, those who had opposed the controversial method of extracting oil and gas rejoiced.

But even as the anti-frackers gather in Albany this week for another celebration, uncertainty remains about whether the ban will be challenged in court, or perhaps undermined through legislative action in Congress.

Oil Spill Contaminates Montana Town’s Water Supply, EPA Says

Oil from a broken pipeline has seeped into the Yellowstone River and contaminated a Montana town’s water supply, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Monday evening.

The agency described the crude spill of roughly 1,200 barrels as significant. It occurred Saturday morning less than 10 miles south of Glendive, a town of about 5,000 residents which is roughly 40 miles west of the North Dakota border.

Updated w/ pics of spill. 50,000 gallons of oil spill into Yellowstone River

Crews working to clean up crude oil that spilled in and near the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana and prevent it from traveling further downstream were hampered by ice covering much of the river, officials said Monday.

Meanwhile, according to the Billings Gazette Monday morning, some Glendive residents are reporting the smell and taste of oil in their drinking water.

Drinking water trucked into Montana city after oil spill

Officials said Monday that they were bringing truckloads of drinking water to the eastern Montana city of Glendive after traces of 50,000 gallons of oil that spilled into the Yellowstone River were found in the city’s water supply.

Preliminary tests at the city’s water treatment plant indicated that at least some oil got into a water supply intake along the river, according to state and federal officials. About 6,000 people are served by the intake, Glendive Mayor Jerry Jimison said.

Pipeline at ‘moderate risk’ for failure; cleanup begins in Yellowstone River oil spill

The pipeline responsible for the Yellowstone River oil spill near Glendive was a moderate risk for failure in 2011, according the federal reports.

Bank erosion along the south side of the Bridger Pipeline crossing had made the 12-inch diameter oil line more vulnerable to damage, according to the Yellowstone Pipeline Risk Assessment.

The pipeline was determined to be a moderate risk for breakage In the 2012 Yellowstone River Pipeline Risk Assessment, which was completed the 2011 rupture in Yellowstone County.

BP’s Oil Spill Fines Reduced by Billions

A federal judge ruled on Thursday that BP’s maximum fine for the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will be $13.7 billion, far lower than the previous estimate of $17.6 billion.

Federal magistrate Carl Barbier found that only 3.19 million barrels had been spilled into the ocean, compared with the government’s estimate of 4.09 million.

Deepwater Horizon oil spill legal saga enters final chapter – maybe

This Tuesday, close to five years after an explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig claimed 11 lives and poured millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, a judge in New Orleans will begin his final reckoning for one of the worst environmental disasters in US history.

Judge Carl Barbier has presided over the complex case brought by the US government against the well’s operators and this week will start assessing the final fine BP, the oil company held most responsible for the disaster, will pay.

BP fighting $13 billion additional penalties in 2010 Gulf oil spill

Lawyers for the government and oil giant BP head to federal court Tuesday for a trial in that could add more than $13 billion in penalties to the billions BP already has shelled out as a result of 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Federal lawyers say BP should pay Clean Water Act penalties as high as $4,300 per barrel spilled after the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion at BP’s Macondo well. Based on a court finding that 3.19 barrels polluted the Gulf, the penalties could reach $13.7 billion.

Oil Prices to Play Into BP Fine

After its oil-well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, BP PLC caught one lucky break: Oil prices surged and boosted its cash flow, helping it to cover billions of dollars in legal and oil-spill cleanup costs.

Now BP is facing up to $13.7 billion in federal fines—about $10 billion more than it has set aside—in much less comfortable economic circumstances now that oil prices have plunged. The company is set to go to trial Jan. 20 in federal court in New Orleans over how much it must pay the U.S. government for each barrel of crude that spilled into the Gulf, in the final phase of litigation stemming from violations of the Clean Water Act.

Anadarko to Fight Oil-Spill Fine

When a federal judge ruled last fall on who was to blame for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, he didn’t point a finger at Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

But the energy company is facing a pollution penalty of as much as $3.5 billion because it owned 25% of the oil well drilled by the ill-fated rig, and would have gained a quarter of the crude it pumped if the well hadn’t exploded.

Corpus Christi research center leads Texas Gulf restoration

A research center at Texas A&M University at Corpus Christi has been chosen to lead the state’s efforts at Gulf restoration from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality announced the selection of the Harte Research Institute for Gulf of Mexico Studies to be the lead Texas RESTORE Research Centers of Excellence. An A&M-Corpus Christi statement says the University of Houston was chosen to study offshore energy development.

Uong River turns black after oil spill from Uong Bi thermopower plant

Pham Huu Sang, a man living near Uong River, said he discovered a black current spilling over from the Uong Bi thermopower plant’s waste water system at 5 am on January 7.

Officers from appropriate agencies turned up on the spot after they received calls from local residents several hours later.

According to Sang, some residents who were trying to fish in the river panicked and ran away with their boats.

Potentially Endangered Bat Could Change Enbridge Project

A potentially endangered species of bat could become a major obstacle to the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline in northern Minnesota.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is considering whether to declare the northern long-eared bat an endangered species because the spread of the white-nosed syndrome disease has reduced its population.

The Other Pipeline You Should Worry About: It’s Not Just Keystone XL, It’s Also Line 61

WHILE the ire of environmental activists remains fixed on the Keystone XL pipeline, a potentially greater threat looms in the proposed expansion of Line 61, a pipeline running the length of Wisconsin carrying tar sands crude. The pipeline is owned by Enbridge, a $40 billion Canadian company, which has been responsible for several hundred spills in the past decade, including one in 2010 near Marshall, Mich., reportedly the largest and most expensive inland oil spill in American history.

The Shifting Polar Paradox: As the Arctic Meltdown Continues, Will the Arctic Oil Rush Go On?

If I had to come up with one word to describe the gestalt of my first winter visit to Tromsø, Norway, it would be “paradox.”

I’m now here for my third winter trip, to attend the Arctic Frontiers conference, where the theme is “climate and energy.” I suspect the same word will apply — but this time for a different reason. Many things have changed since my first visit in 2013, including the price of oil, the recognition of how difficult it is to develop resources in the Arctic, and, possibly, public attitudes.

Norway Has Changed Its Definition Of Where The Edge Of The Arctic Is

Norway has set a new definition on where the edge of the Arctic ice lies, the environment minister said Tuesday, clearing the way for the government to launch its Arctic-focused oil and gas licensing round as early as this week.

The ice edge has been retreating for years and is now outside areas being considered for oil and gas exploration, environment minister Tine Sundtoft told news agency NTB.

China’s energy giant willing to cooperate in Arctic resources extraction

China’s energy giant PetroChina is willing to engage in cooperation in extracting oil and gas as well as other natural resources in the Arctic region, said a high-ranking official of the company on Monday.

Sun Xiansheng, president of the CNPC Economics and Technology Research Institute, made a presentation on Monday afternoon at the 2015 Arctic Frontiers conference, which runs from last Sunday to Friday.

Two workers die at separate Fukushima nuclear plants: Operator

A worker at Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant died Tuesday (Jan 20) after falling into a water tank, the country’s nuclear operator said, the second fatal accident to blight efforts to stabilise the tsunami-battered facility.

Separately on Tuesday, another worker died because of an incident at the Fukushima Daini nuclear power plant, which is located several kilometres south of the damaged plant, operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) said.

Two workers die in accidents at Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 plants

Two workers died Tuesday in separate incidents at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant and the nearby No. 2 complex.

The fatality at No. 1 was first there since March, although there has been a rise in the number of industrial accidents at the site as Tokyo Electric Power Co. stepped up cleanup efforts and brought in more workers.

Storage of Fukushima clean-up waste to start

The interim storage of contaminated soil and other wastes generated by decontamination efforts at Japan’s damaged Fukushima Daiichi plant and surrounding area will begin in March, the environment ministry has said.

In August 2014, the then governor of Fukushima Prefecture Yuhei Sato approved a central government plan to construct an interim storage facility on land on the border between the neighbouring towns of Futaba and Okuma. Authorities in Okuma gave their consent to the plan in December.

N-rumors push beef prices down in Fukushima Pref.

Beef cattle farmers in Fukushima Prefecture, who purchase calves to rear and fatten for market, are suffering due to the persistently low wholesale prices for their beef.

Although nearly four years have passed since the accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, groundless rumors about radioactive contamination persist, and wholesale prices of Fukushima beef remain about 10 percent lower than the average market price.

Federal District Court Ruling in Fukushima Daiichi Case Has Implications for Global Nuclear Liability Management

A recent ruling in Cooper v. Tokyo Electric Power Company, No. 12-CV-3032, S.D. Cal., Oct. 28, 2014, one of three lawsuits [1] filed in the United States related to the 2011 incident at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, highlights gaps in the application of methods for managing nuclear liability and the need for global expansion and strengthening of those methods.

Nuclear Waste Repository Repair Delayed Again

A nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico is facing more delays in the effort to repair a radiation leak. Officials estimate the work could take until 2018 to complete.

What’s known as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant is the nation’s only below-ground repository for Cold War-era nuclear waste. The facility has been shut down since last February after a radiation leak was detected.

Nuclear waste returning to Sydney from France

A shipment of radioactive waste being returned to Sydney from France by December has raised concerns Lucas Heights is becoming a “de facto” national store.

Federal government plans to build a national radioactive waste dump at Muckaty Station in the Northern Territory collapsed last year, and a new search for a site will begin in March.

Don’t let kids play with mobile phones, warns senior Oncologist

Renowned oncologist Dr. MV Pillai has asked parents not let their kids use or play with mobile phones. “Though mobile phone radiation is considered non-ionising, the soft skull of kids may not be able to resist them”, he said while delivering a talk on `Mobile Technologies and Health’ at a seminar organised by the Indian Medical Association and Trivandrum Press Club on Thursday.

Delhi firm creates chip that cuts down radiation from cell phones

With cellphones, laptops and Wi-Fi being part of nearly every household these days, the amount of radiation that we are exposed to is also rising. The youth is at a greatest risk simply because they interact most with electronic devices. A company called Environics are working on solutions to this hazard.

New bill would place warning labels on cellphones

A Conservative MP intends to introduce a law to force manufacturers to post warning labels on wireless devices indicating they can cause cancer.

Terence Young, who represents Oakville, Ont., is a believer in the evolving theory that cellphones emit dangerous, cancer-causing levels of radiation.

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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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