Environmental Must-Reads – January 22, 2014


North Texans Protest Fracking, Earthquakes At Railroad Commission Meeting

Dozens of North Texas residents were in Austin Tuesday, urging the Texas Railroad Commission to take action after a swarm of earthquakes.

When it comes to shutting down disposal wells though that have been connected to the quakes, an attorney told commissioners that the law does not allow it.

Are you opposed to fracking? Then you might just be a terrorist

Over the last year, a mass of shocking evidence has emerged on the close ties between Western government spy agencies and giant energy companies, and their mutual interests in criminalising anti-fracking activists.

In late 2013, official documents obtained under freedom of information showed that Canada’s domestic spy agency, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), had ramped up its surveillance of activists opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline project on ‘national security’ grounds. The CSIS also routinely passed information about such groups to the project’s corporate architect, Calgary-based energy company, Enbridge.

Fracking Away Our Air, Water and Land

The gas and oil industry would like to craft a wholesome image of natural gas as a clean resource and a “nonfossil” fuel. Neither of these characterizations is accurate. Yes, gas does burn with a nice blue flame at the end user’s stove. However, getting that gas to the stove is seriously contaminating our air and water. This is because pumping it in means using high-volume, slick-water hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Unbeknownst to many, the process has profound health and environmental impacts. Thanks to aged and faulty infrastructure, often built on the cheap and left unchecked for years, gas inevitably leaks on the way from wells to pipelines. Add up all the dangers along the way, and one will soon find that gas has a larger global climate impact than oil or coal. Actual measurements of methane leakage have not been included in the accounting of greenhouse gas levels by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Instead—whether because it lacks the necessary technology to test leak rates or because of political pressure—the agency generally uses emission estimates compiled by the gas industry. As a result, government policies regarding greenhouse gas emissions have been based on false data about the impact of natural gas.

Panel hears testimony about fracking, Kan. quakes

Geologists on Tuesday told a Kansas House committee that more seismic monitoring in the state could help determine if hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is connected to earthquakes.

Rex Buchanan, interim director of the Kansas Geological Survey, testified before the House Energy and Environment Committee that no evidence exists that the fracturing of rocks deep beneath the earth’s surface was producing earthquakes that can be felt.

Proposal would let communities ban fracking, other businesses

The same group behind Lafayette’s fracking moratorium has submitted paperwork to put a measure on the November ballot that would allow cities across Colorado to block oil and gas development — and any other business it views as a threat to the community’s health, safety and overall well-being.

The proposed amendment to the state constitution, which is still pending review in two weeks, was filed Tuesday by the Colorado Community Rights Network, a group of anti-fracking activists.

Shale gas ‘boom’ is a long way off, claim experts

A British shale gas boom is a far more distant prospect than ministers have suggested, with at most one or two wells likely to be fracked this year, according to industry experts.

Michael Fallon, the energy minister, last week unveiled new incentives for councils that host shale gas sites, saying: “We expect 20 to 40 wells to be drilled in exploration over the next couple of years.”

Surge in quakes near Cushing storage hub doesn’t worry oil companies

Earthquake activity has picked up in the region around Cushing since 2009, but energy company officials at the oil storage hub worry more about tornadoes.

The 30-year period from 1978 to 2008 was relatively quiet for earthquakes, said Austin Holland, a research seismologist with the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Shale gas: make polluters pay for the social cost of fracking

While the prime minister has shown unequivocal support for exploiting Britain’s shale gas reserves, stating the country should “go all out for shale gas”, more cautious voices point to possible effects such as minor earthquakes, contamination of water sources and industrialisation of the countryside.

Besides these, shale gas will contribute to climate change in two ways, from carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions when the gas is burnt, and from the fugitive emissions of underground methane (CH4) that leak into the atmosphere as the gas is extracted. These concerns have led to protests against the drilling of shale gas exploratory wells. Others are more willing to accept shale gas, but as a fuel used only for a few years as the country gears up for a low carbon future.

BP Seeks Rehearing in Oil Spill Settlement Dispute

BP on Tuesday asked an appeals court to review a ruling upholding a multibillion-dollar settlement to compensate victims of the company’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In a filing with the full 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, BP argued that a divided three-judge panel from the court erred earlier this month when it affirmed a U.S. district judge’s approval of the company’s settlement with a team of private plaintiffs’ lawyers. The New Orleans-based appeals court has 14 active judges and eight senior judges who also hear cases.

Ex-Halliburton Manager Avoids Jail Time for Destroying BP Oil Spill Evidence

A former Halliburton manager was sentenced to probation Tuesday for destroying evidence after the massive 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Anthony Badalamenti pleaded guilty in October to one misdemeanor count of destruction of evidence for instructing his employees to delete data during a post-spill review of the cement used in the Macondo well that burst, the Associated Press reports. The former cementing technology director avoided a potential prison sentence and will instead serve one year of probation, perform 100 hours of community service, and pay a $1,000 fine.

Halliburton manager gets 1 year probation in Gulf oil spill

A former Halliburton manager was sentenced Tuesday to one year of probation for destroying evidence in the aftermath of BP’s massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Anthony Badalamenti, of Katy, Texas, had faced a maximum of one year in prison at his sentencing by U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey. Badalamenti pleaded guilty in October to one misdemeanor count of destruction of evidence.

Keystone pipeline’s southern leg to begin transporting oil to U.S. Gulf Coast

TransCanada will start shipping crude oil through the southern leg of the Keystone pipeline Wednesday, easing the bottleneck at the sprawling storage-tank farms in Cushing, Okla., and feeding refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

But the company is still waiting for the State Department to decide whether to issue a permit for the 1,179-mile northern leg that would carry predominantly heavy oil from Canada’s oil sands, cross the border in Montana and run to the small town of Steele City, Neb. There it would connect with existing pipelines.

Only You Can Discover Oil Pipeline Spills, Since 80 Percent Of The Time The Companies Miss Them

On September 29, a North Dakota farmer who had gone out to harvest his wheat fields discovered a 20,600-barrel oil spill from an underground pipeline. The farmer, Steve Jensen, was the first to find the spill — Tesoro Corp., the company that owned the pipeline, hadn’t detected the leak in their pipeline, despite the fact that it had been spewing oil for 11 days and had covered an area of about the size of six football fields.

According to a new review by the Wall Street Journal, this scenario is common in the U.S. — more often than not, it’s people who discover pipeline leaks, not the pipeline’s leak detection equipment. The WSJ looked at Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration data for 251 pipeline incidents over four years, and found that nearby residents or company employees were nearly three times as likely to detect a leak in a pipeline than pipeline technology was. Leak-detection software, special alarms and 24/7 control room monitoring discovered leaks just 19.5 percent of the time.

Koch Ends Plans for Pipeline to Illinois From Bakken

Koch Pipeline Co. called off plans to build a 250,000-barrel-a-day crude line to Illinois from North Dakota’s Bakken formation, where a shale boom has helped lift domestic production to the highest in a quarter-century.

The indirect subsidiary of Koch Industries Inc., one of the largest private companies in the U.S., is no longer developing the so-called Dakota Express pipeline, Jake Reint, a Koch spokesman, said by e-mail yesterday. He didn’t provide a reason for the decision. The Wichita, Kansas-based company was scheduled to begin a 45-day open season to gauge interest from potential shippers on the line in July.

Nebraska landowners plot strategy on fighting Keystone pipeline

Nebraska pipeline opponents toasted news over the weekend that the Canadian government might be kept waiting longer for a decision on the Keystone XL project.

The group of anti-pipeline landowners met at a fairground near the epicenter of the Keystone battle to discuss strategy in a dispute that has dragged in two national governments.

Ontario pipeline expansion is quietly approved

Federal regulators quietly approved a capacity increase on a 57-year-old Enbridge pipeline that runs from Sarnia to Hamilton.

There were no public hearings and one municipality that Line 7 runs through, Hamilton, didn’t even know about the proposal until after it got the go-ahead from the National Energy Board in the fall.

Maine railroad in deadly Canada derailment sold

A railroad that went bankrupt after a fiery oil train derailment killed 47 people last summer in Canada was sold at auction Tuesday to a subsidiary of a New York City-based investment management company.

Railroad Acquisitions LLC, a subsidiary of Fortress Investment Group, won the closed-door bidding for Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, according to one of the losing bidders. The winning bid goes before a U.S. bankruptcy judge in Maine and a Superior Court judge in Quebec on Thursday.

Safety fears prompt call for US oil transport regulation

The US oil industry is pushing for speedy regulation of the rapidly growing business of transporting crude oil by train, following a series of accidents that have raised public concerns over what is becoming an essential part of the country’s energy infrastructure.

The American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil companies’ lobby group, has urged the administration to “get its act together” and implement new safety standards recommended by the industry to clarify the outlook for regulation. The recommendations include more stringent specifications for tank cars, better track maintenance to prevent derailments and improvements in brake systems.

Exclusive: North Dakota governor: railcar safety standards for crude needed now

Provisional safety standards for railcars carrying crude oil are needed as soon as possible, not next year as the U.S. Department of Transportation expects, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple said in an interview on Tuesday.

While Dalrymple has little power over federal regulators, his bully pulpit as head of the second-largest oil-producing state carries much weight as a national debate rages over the safety of shipping crude oil by rail.

Alabama oil train disaster met with official neglect

Shortly after midnight on Nov. 8, 2013, a train carrying crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation derailed and caught fire in western Alabama, spilling nearly 750,000 gallons of its 2 million gallon load of crude in wetlands a half-mile south of the town of Aliceville. The wetlands drain into a tributary of the Lubbub Creek, which empties into the Tombigbee River.

The amount of crude spilled near Aliceville was almost as much oil as was spilled by U.S. railroads from 1975 to 2012, according to an analysis by the McClatchy news organization — a total of 800,000 gallons over the 37-year period.

Oil, Industry and Arctic Sustainability

I arrived at the university campus for Arctic Frontiers Tuesday morning to find a row of young people waiting to welcome the Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg with a banner protesting against fossil fuel drilling in the Arctic.

Ingrid Skjoldvear, the deputy leader of Norway’s biggest youth environment organization told me they want the prime minister to stop Arctic drilling in Norwegian seas and be serious about cutting emissions and taking their climate goals seriously. She knows it brings in a lot of revenue, but says we need to start a transition now for a future with renewables. WWF’s Nina Jansen told me she thinks there is a growing awareness in Norway of the link between fossil fuel emissions and the climate change that is affecting the Arctic so dramatically.

Williams Olefins contests OSHA findings stemming from explosion at Geismar plant

Williams Olefins is contesting six workplace safety violations and $99,000 in civil penalties federal regulators proposed last month for a fatal explosion June 13 at the company’s Ascension Parish plant, Williams officials and regulators said.

The blast at Williams’ Geismar ethylene and propylene facility killed two and injured 114 after a flammable vapor cloud ignited from ruptured equipment in the company’s propylene fractionation unit, causing a massive fireball.

New radioactive water leak discovered at Fukushima plant

The video was released by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) as they continue their efforts to make safe the nuclear plant wrecked by Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Highly radioactive water was detected inside the No. 3 reactor building at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear plant, Tepco said.

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.

David Suzuki ‘regrets’ claim that another Fukushima disaster would require mass evacuations in North America

Three months after making the wildly overblown claim that a second nuclear emergency at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant would require the evacuation of the North American West Coast, environmentalist David Suzuki said he “regrets” the comments.

Nevertheless, the Nature of Things host did not seem to go so far as to renege the claim, which has baffled nuclear scientists.

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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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