Environmental Must-Reads – January 22, 2015


Nearly 3M gallons of brine spill; ND oil boom’s largest leak

Nearly 3 million gallons of saltwater generated by oil drilling have leaked from a North Dakota pipeline, an official said Wednesday, the largest such spill since the state’s current oil boom began and nearly three times worse than previous record spills. Two creeks have been affected, but the full environmental effect might not be clear for months.

Operator Summit Midstream Partners LLC detected the pipeline spill on Jan. 6, about 15 miles north of Williston and told health officials then. Officials say they weren’t given a full account of the size until Tuesday.

Cleanup underway for 3 million gallon saltwater spill from North Dakota pipeline

Cleanup is underway after nearly 3 million gallons of brine, a salty, toxic byproduct of oil and natural gas production, leaked from a pipeline in western North Dakota, the largest spill of its kind in the state since the current energy boom began.

The full environmental impact of the spill, which contaminated two creeks, might not be clear for months. Some previous saltwater spills have taken years to clean up. A contractor hired by the pipeline operator will be on site Thursday, assessing the damage.

China Backpedals On Shale Gas

In the verdant forests of China’s southwestern Sichuan province, the discovery last spring of the first commercially viable shale gas field buoyed government hopes that China will be the next big market for the trapped hydrocarbons. But the lack of environmental regulation and impact studies is a problem, analysts and government officials say. The slashing of government output targets for shale gas last summer has left some environmentally minded people breathing a little easier.

Cuadrilla fracking plans should be refused, officials say

Fracking should not be allowed to take place at two sites in Lancashire due to concerns about noise and traffic, the council’s planning officer has said, in a major blow to the Government’s plans for shale gas development.

Proposals by Cuadrilla to drill and frack at Preston New Road and Roseacre Wood should both be refused by councillors when they vote next week, the official said, in documents published on Wednesday.

Campaigners urge Cameron to reconsider his stance on fracking

A petition with more than a quarter of a million signatures urging the prime minister to rethink his “all out” support for fracking has been handed in by environmental campaigners.

The 267,933-strong petition was delivered to No 10 ahead of MPs voting on fracking legislation in the infrastructure bill, and the decision next week by Lancashire County Council (LCC) on whether to give the go-ahead to two new shale gas sites.

New shale gas fracking sites set to be refused planning permission over noise fears for neighbours

Proposals for ‘fracking’ for shale gas at two sites in Lancashire should be refused, planning officers have recommended.

Lancashire County Council has published reports with recommendations on planning applications from shale company Cuadrilla to develop two new sites to explore for shale gas by drilling, fracking and testing the flow of gas.

Drill ban backed in poll

New Yorkers across geography, age, income, political persuasion and religious affiliation gave Gov. Andrew Cuomo a big thumbs-up for his decision last month to ban natural gas hydrofracking, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Siena College Research Institute.

Overall, supporters of the ban trounced opponents, 57 percent to 23 percent, with even self-professed conservatives and Republicans narrowly supporting the measure. Upstaters also backed the governor by a wide margin.

‘Ban fracking now’ protesters urge Gov. Wolf at inauguration

“Ban fracking now” shouted protesters during Gov. Tom Wolf’s oath of office from Soldiers’ Grove, who promised it will be words he will hear throughout the coming year.

After a morning rally at Grace Methodist Church on State Street, a group of about 250 from new statewide coalition Pennsylvanians Against Fracking marched to Soldiers’ Grove, across from the Capitol where inauguration festivities were held.

Penn Township looks to ban fracking within 600-foot buffer zone

Penn Township commissioners voted Monday to relax proposed setback requirements for Marcellus Shale gas drilling, reversing an earlier decision to increase them by hundreds of feet.

Reverting to their initial proposal, commissioners plan to ban hydraulic fracturing operations within a 600-foot buffer zone around homes, schools and businesses on properties encompassing less than a certain acreage. At a work session last week, they agreed to expand that zone to 1,000 feet, citing a desire to increase protections for landowners near proposed drilling sites.

KEF: Fracking poses threat to groundwater

Environmental activist Craig Williams urged the city of Berea to go on record Tuesday in opposition to hydraulic fracturing in the Berea area. The controversial method of extracting oil and gas from deep shale beds could potentially degrade the water, air and soil in all of Madison County, he said.

The same request will be presented to the Madison Fiscal Court and the Richmond City Commission, Williams added.

“Needless to say, there are countless people who are concerned about having this sort of exploration and drilling occur in this region,” he said, addressing the council on behalf of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation (KEF).

Report puts fracking, oil well, back in the spotlight

A state-commissioned report by an Oklahoma firm has “concluded with confidence” that the Collier-Hogan oil well was hydraulically fractured at the end of 2013 — a practice that is under increasing scrutiny across the country.

The report directly contradicts an earlier statement by the Texas-based driller, the Dan A. Hughes Co., that it did not hydraulically frack the well.

Can Louisiana Hold Oil Companies Accountable For Its Vanishing Coastline?

Flying due south from the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, the Louisiana coast looks at first just as it did decades ago, with thick, marshy wetlands broken only by freshwater lakes and streams. Within minutes, however, that landscape gives way to a different scene: tufts of grass clinging to tiny slivers of land, the wild curves of the remaining patches broken by thousands of razor-straight lines where oil and gas companies have laid pipelines and dredged canals to give their boats easier access to the rigs and wells that dot the coastline. Just below the water, the murky outline of recently submerged land is visible from 1,000 feet in the air.

Keep flying south and a glimpse of the future of the coast emerges — open water as far as the eye can see.

U.S. witness: Spill response removed far less crude than BP expert estimates

A retired Coast Guard official testified Wednesday the massive oil spill response BP managed out of Houston in 2010 fell short of typical efforts to remove crude from the ocean.

Skimming removed just 5 percent of the oil from BP’s blown-out Macondo well, compared to the 10 percent to 15 percent such mechanical measures have historically recovered in U.S. open ocean spills, retired Coast Guard Captain Mark VanHaverbeke told a federal judge during the second day of BP’s oil spill trial.

How badly did the 2010 BP oil spill hurt Gulf of Mexico environment, economy?

The 2010 BP oil spill’s long-term effects on Gulf of Mexico sea life and coastal marshes remain uncertain, an environmental expert testified Wednesday as federal attorneys laid out their case for penalties against the oil corporation that could hit $13.7 billion.

Donald Boesch, a professor at the University of Maryland, testified for the Justice Department, which is pressing for high penalties against the oil giant. Aside from the obvious harm — among his examples were oiled wildlife, fouled coastal marshes and damage to mangroves — Boesch recounted potential harm to sea life populations based on the effect of oil on microbes at the bottom of the natural food chain.

BP oil spill caused ‘serious and widespread’ harm to Gulf Coast communities, expert testifies

The BP oil spill disrupted Gulf Coast residents’ way of life in a surprising and unfamiliar disaster that “caused serious and widespread sociocultural harm to coastal communities,” an anthropology expert testified for the Justice Department on Tuesday.

Diane E. Austin, University of Arizona School of Anthropology director and professor, was among the first witnesses called by the U.S. government in the third and final phase in the trial over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The Justice Department is seeking the maximum $13.7 billion fine be levied against BP under the Clean Water Act.

BP oil spill trial: Feds call more witnesses Wednesday

The U.S. government will call on several more witnesses starting Wednesday morning (Jan. 21) to help bolster its argument that BP should pay the maximum $13.7 billion fine for its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The experts will be talking about the economic and environmental impact of the spill as well as BP’s response as oil washed ashore.

The Justice Department brought its first three witnesses to the stand on Tuesday, after attorneys for both sides shared opening statements to start the third and final phase of the civil trial over the spill.

Montana oil spill renews worries over pipeline safety

A second large oil spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River in less than four years is reviving questions about oversight of the nation’s aging pipeline network.

Investigators and company officials on Wednesday were trying to determine the cause of the 40,000-gallon spill that contaminated downstream water supplies in the city of Glendive.

Water supply off-limits in Montana town after Yellowstone River oil spill

More than 5,000 people in the rural Montana city of Glendive have been told not to use municipal water because elevated levels of cancer-causing benzene were found downstream from a weekend crude oil spill into the Yellowstone River.

Officials said they were distributing fresh water being trucked in after a warning was posted for the residents not to drink or cook with the city water supply because of the high level of benzene, which has a sweet odor and could be a health danger over the long term.

“It’s scary”: City rushes to rid water of cancer-causing agent after oil spill

Authorities scrambled to decontaminate a water system serving 6,000 eastern Montana residents after a cancer-causing component of oil was found downstream of a Yellowstone River pipeline spill.

Up to 50,000 gallons of crude oil was released Saturday, and elevated levels of benzene were found Monday in samples from the water treatment plant serving the agricultural community of Glendive near the North Dakota border.

Montana residents line up for pure drinking water after major oil spill contaminates supply – in pictures

After a major oil spill along the Yellowstone river in Montana on Sunday, elevated levels of benzene – a cancer-causing component of oil – were detected in the drinking water of the nearby Glendive. While the EPA supervises the spill cleanup, truckloads of bottled water were brought in for the 6,000 people in and around the agricultural community

Crews work to clear Yellowstone river of 40,000 gallon crude oil spill

Clean-up crews were working against potentially dangerous winter conditions to clean up the estimated 40,000 gallons of crude oil that spilled into the Yellowstone river last weekend, as residents of a high-plains town a few miles downstream from the broken pipeline queue for clean water.

The agricultural community of Glendive, Montana, was set on edge after the cancer-causing chemical benzene was detected in the public water supply, just six miles from the spill, near the North Dakota state line.

U.S. crude oil pipeline projects: Kinder Morgan acquiring Hiland Crude

Oil pipelines in the United States are undergoing a historic realignment in response to new production in the Eagle Ford development in south-central Texas, redevelopment of older production in the Permian Basin, and new flows of oil from the Midwest and Canada that have oversupplied Midwest markets.

Kinder Morgan Inc (KMI.N) on Wednesday announced plans to buy Hiland Partners, a pipeline and logistics company founded by Continental Resources Inc (CLR.N) Chief Executive Officer Harold Hamm, for $3 billion including debt. The deal is expected to close during the first quarter.

The forgotten tar sands pipeline: 1/3 larger than the Keystone XL

A battle in Dane County, Wisc. has been raging over the construction of additional capacity for the Line 61 tar sands pipeline. Line 61, which is owned by the Canadian company, Enbridge, is presently one of the largest pipelines in the United States, carrying 400,000 barrels of tar sands and crude oil per day through Wisconsin and branches off to refineries in Chicago and a pipeline network extending to the Gulf of Mexico.

The present dispute in Wisconsin centers around whether or not Enbridge will be allowed to triple the capacity of Line 61, expanding Line 61 to flow 1.2 million barrels a day. Such an expansion would make Line 61 one of the largest pipelines in the world and 1/3 larger than the notorious Keystone XL pipeline.

Bayou Corne sinkhole featured on LPB show Jan. 28

The sinkhole at Bayou Corne will be featured in a scientific look at what causes sinkholes and the destruction they can bring when “Sinkholes — Buried Alive” premieres on NOVA and Louisiana Public Broadcasting at 9 p.m. Jan. 28.

Bayou Corne residents were evacuated in August 2012 after a sinkhole developed on a Texas Brine site forcing the evacuation of the homes in the area. The one-acre sinkhole has now expanded to 31 acres.

Keystone Pipeline Challengers Seek Nebraska Court Rehearing

The path of TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline through Nebraska is being challenged again by the three landowners who sued unsuccessfully to overturn the law opening up its route through the state.

The property owners, who fell one vote shy of winning their case against the siting of the pipeline at the state Supreme Court this month, asked the seven-member panel to reconsider. They said in a court filing Tuesday that the judges who denied them their victory overlooked key facts.

Senate GOP Accused Of ‘Closing Off Debate’ During Keystone XL Pipeline Votes

Democrats in the Senate are accusing Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of breaking his promise of an “open amendment process” for legislation to approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, after two Democrat-sponsored amendments were not brought to a vote on their merits on Tuesday.

Instead of taking up actual “yes” or “no” votes on the amendments, the Senate voted to table — meaning, effectively kill — those two measures. One, sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), would have required that all the Canadian oil shipped through the Keystone XL pipeline stay in America, and not be shipped overseas. The other, sponsored by Sen. Al Franken (D-MN), would have required that only American-made steel and iron be used to build the pipeline.

Suncor expects Enbridge Line 9B to start up towards end of Q2 2015

Suncor Energy expects Enbridge Inc’s reversed Line 9B crude pipeline to start up towards the end of the second quarter of 2015, the company’s chief financial officer Alister Cowan said on Wednesday.

Suncor is a committed shipper on the pipeline, which will take crude from Ontario, to Montreal, Quebec.

Enbridge halts Indiana tank testing after dye release

Enbridge Energy crews have halted pressure testing of new oil storage tanks after a blue dye used in the testing spread along miles of northwestern Indiana waterways over the weekend.

Indiana Department of Environmental Management spokesman Dan Goldblatt said the dyed water did not harm fish, animals or humans when it entered between six and eight miles of the Littler Calumet River’s tributaries.

Arctic Oil: Who Owns It? China, Russia And Other Nations Debate

The prospects for Arctic shipping and oil extraction in the new year loom large among representatives from polar nations gathered to deliberate the state of the region in Tromsø, Norway, this week.

Russia is at the Arctic Frontiers conference to ponder the event’s theme of “Climate and Energy.” And China, too, is proving an eager participant. The weeklong meeting is the annual forum for world leaders to consider the Arctic through many lenses — as a scientific frontier, as a budding business opportunity for shipping firms and oil companies, and as a political arena replete with power grabs and cross-border cooperation.

“Arctic oil is incommensurate with 2ºC target”

Air temperatures rising, sea ice melting, snow cover declining, permafrost warming, glacier retreat accelerating, ocean surface warming, air temperatures rising and Greenland ice sheet melting. The list of evidence for global warming is long.

Speaking at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromsø, Samantha Smith questions the arguments from the Norwegian government that the high north of the Barents Sea is ice-free enough and ready for drilling.

Climate worry grows at Arctic Frontiers

I have followed the past two days, the political section of the Arctic Frontiers conference, with great interest, with the thought of the Paris climate conference in November always at the back of my mind.

Clearly, in a country rich from the sale of oil, cutting climate-killing emissions is a tricky issue. The oil sector was strongly represented here, but so too were those who see the need for a transition away from fossil fuels in the interests of the global climate.

Prosecutors won’t indict former Tepco execs over Fukushima

Japanese prosecutors have stuck to their decision not to indict three former Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco) executives over their handling of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, but a rarely used citizen’s panel could still force an indictment.

The prosecutors decided not to issue indictments because of insufficient evidence, a spokesman for Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office said on Thursday.

Fukushima executives to be spared charges over nuclear disaster

Japanese prosecutors said Thursday that executives in charge of the Fukushima nuclear plant will not be charged, setting up a possible showdown with a citizens’ panel that wants someone brought to book for the disaster.

The move is the latest in a tussle between legal authorities and an angry public over who should take responsibility for the tsunami-sparked reactor meltdowns in 2011 that forced tens of thousands from their homes.

National Nuclear Security Administration to conduct radiation testing in Valley this week

Officials say not to be concerned if you see a low-flying helicopter this week; it’s will be conducting radiation surveillance.

The National Nuclear Security Administration announced that a twin-engine Bell 412 helicopter will fly over areas in Phoenix, Scottsdale, Glendale and Tempe to measure naturally occurring background radiation.

Cancer risk study moving forward

A pilot planning phase of a study on the risks of cancer in populations near nuclear facilities recently concluded.

According to a recent report issued by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), the organization was asked to undertake the study, “Analysis of Cancer Risks in Populations near Nuclear Facilities,” by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Seven nuclear facilities were chosen to participate in this study, including Nuclear Fuel Services (NFS) in Erwin. NFS is the only fuel cycle facility included in the study, according to the NAS report.

Developer wants to keep historic atom smasher in Forest Hills

The owner of the Westinghouse atom smasher, which crews took down Tuesday for repairs, is trying to persuade the company that built it to help him turn it into a monument.

Gary Silversmith, president of P&L Investments, said contrary to fears that he would destroy the Forest Hills nuclear monument, he wants to turn it into something approachable for visitors. The brick-and-mortar base of the 150-ton nuclear reactor needed to be replaced, and on Tuesday, Silversmith received a demolition permit from the borough to remove the base.

These Priests’ Invention Could Help Us Drill Into Icy Alien Worlds Someday

In June 1968, Karl Philberth arrived at Jarl-Joset Station, a forlorn cluster of buildings near the center of the Greenland Ice Sheet. He had traveled for two weeks to reach this place, trundling along at walking speed in a caterpillar-tracked personnel carrier. A series of beacon towers, planted in the snow by another expedition years before, had guided the convoy across hundreds of miles of flat, wind-blown snow. Philberth was a self-employed physicist and inventor from Munich, Germany. He had come here, at age 39, to investigate an ambitious but controversial plan: to store the world’s nuclear waste deep in the ice sheets of Greenland or Antarctica.

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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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