Environmental Must-Reads – January 23, 2015


Millions of gallons of saltwater leak into North Dakota creek

Almost 3 million gallons of potentially toxic saltwater leaked from a western North Dakota pipeline into a creek that feeds the Missouri River, the largest spill of its kind in the state’s history.

The leak, from a four-inch saltwater pipeline operated by Summit Midstream Partners LP approximately 15 miles north of Williston, occurred earlier this month and was reported to state officials on Jan. 7. It’s not clear what caused the leak and an investigation is underway, a Summit spokesman said.

Barriers set up, water being testing at North Dakota site of 3 million-gallon saltwater spill

Earthen barriers have been set up across a creek and water was being tested Thursday around the site of a nearly 3 million-gallon leak of saltwater generated by oil drilling, the largest spill of its kind during North Dakota’s current oil rush.

The berms were built at Blacktail Creek to prevent potentially contaminated water from flowing out of the creek and into a bigger body of water that eventually leads into the Missouri River.

Companies allowed to secretly drill test wells in Michigan

Residents of northern Michigan got a surprise last summer. They found out some drilling for oil and gas can be done confidentially. That unnerved some people in Emmet County, who now want their local government to do something about it.

When all the hubbub about fracking for oil and gas started up in Michigan a few years ago, Carrie Ketterer was alarmed. So, she went to a few meetings and did some research.

Seismologist to head up examination of link between earthquakes and fracking

A consortium that includes B.C.-government backed Geoscience BC has appointed a seismologist to a two-year term to examine monitoring data from continuing small earthquakes in northeastern B.C. linked to fracking.

Alireza Babaie Mahani, an engineering seismologist with a doctorate in geophysics, will work closely with other seismologists at Natural Resources Canada’s Pacific Geoscience Centre and the B.C. Oil and Gas Commission.

Fracking Boom Expands Near Chaco Canyon, Threatens Navajo Ancestral Lands and People

Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale, are tell-tale indicators of the fracking boom.

Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land.

Just When California’s Drought Problems Couldn’t Be Worse, Fracking Pollutes 9 Aquifers

California is a state of drought emergency and there are no signs that this will change any time soon. Residents are being urged to save water in any way they possibly can to protect the state’s highly strained water resources. In the midst of this time where conserving water is crucial, however, it has been discovered that at least nine underground water aquifers have been purposely contaminated by fracking waste water.

A recent investigation found that the California government has allowed oil and gas companies to dump nearly three billion gallons of waste from the fracking process into perfectly potable drinking water reserves. You’ve got to be fracking kidding us, right?

How We Banned Fracking in New York

My friends, we are unfractured.

And thereby hangs a tale.

It’s a tale in which we all are—each one of us is—a starring character and a co-author. We are the maker of this story that has been shaped by our unceasing, unrelenting efforts—all of which mattered and made a difference.

U.K. Lawmakers Seek to Ban Fracking Unless ‘Loopholes’ Closed

U.K. opposition lawmakers are seeking to ban oil and gas fracking unless “loopholes” on safety are closed.

A Labour Party amendment to the Infrastructure Bill working its way through Parliament will mean barring hydraulic fracking unless 13 gaps in regulation are filled, it said in a statement.

Ban fracking, says former Tory environment secretary Caroline Spelman

The former Tory environment secretary, Caroline Spelman, has called for a ban on fracking in the UK ahead of a report by an influential committee of MPs that is expected to conclude fracking could derail efforts to tackle climate change.

The intervention by Spelman, a member of the Environmental Audit Committee, comes as the government’s drive for fracking came under heavy political attack on Thursday.

BP oil spill rippled through ‘fabric of Gulf Coast economy,’ witness testifies

The 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill took an economic toll that “reached out into the fabric of the entire Gulf Coast economy,” an impact only modestly countered by BP’s spending and investment in the region, an economic expert testified on Thursday (Jan. 22).

Economist Charles Mason was among the parade of witnesses the U.S. government has called upon as the penalty phase of the civil trial over the 2010 oil spill continues. The trial began on Tuesday.

BP oil spill’s economic harm eyed on trial’s third day

A government witness in a trial to determine civil penalties against BP for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill says the disaster hurt a wide array of industries over a broad geographic area.

Charles Mason also testified Thursday that the harm was only modestly countered by BP’s spending and investment in the region.

BP boss says Deepwater liabilities exceed cost of Hurricane Katrina

I interviewed Bob Dudley, the chief executive of BP, at Davos and after a lot of interesting discussion about the global oil price (he thinks it could stay flat for as much as three years), the conversation turned to America and the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

We are approaching the fifth anniversary of the accident which led to the death of 11 people.

BP is still wrapped up in legal actions which will finally set the full costs the oil company is expected to pay in fines, clean-up costs and compensation to those affected.

Lawyer who filed initial lawsuit against BP over Deepwater Horizon oil spill says settlement irreparably broken

Daniel Becnel is a longtime attorney working out of his offices in sleepy St. John the Baptist Parish, a rural suburb of New Orleans, where he has over the past 45 years built a thriving plaintiffs’ firm that has increasingly been involved in class action lawsuits, most notably the Deepwater Horizon oil spill class action which he now considers to be deeply flawed.

EPA Offers New Standards For Oil Spill Dispersant Use; Still Won’t Ban Toxic Agents

After years of ignoring the dangers of the oil dispersant Corexit, the Environmental Protection Agency has finally decided to enact stricter standards for how dispersants are used during offshore oil spills… Sort of.

According to Truth-Out reporter Dahr Jamail, the EPA has proposed a slew of new standards that would better govern the use of dispersants for future spills. But, as Jamail points out, American doctors and scientists are concerned that the agency is not doing enough to protect the public and the environment from the dangers of the dispersants

Montana city gets OK to drink water after oil spill in river

Thousands of people in an eastern Montana city were told Thursday they can resume using tap water after tests showed no further signs of contamination from a weekend oil spill into a nearby river.

The 6,000 residents of Glendive had relied on bottled water since Monday after elevated levels of cancer-causing benzene were found in the public water supply. The chemical came from 40,000 gallons of oil that spilled on Saturday from a pipeline breach beneath the Yellowstone River, about six miles upstream of the city.

Ruptured Yellowstone Oil Pipeline Was Built With Faulty Welding in 1950s

The aging Poplar Pipeline that spilled oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana on Saturday was built with pipe made using faulty welding techniques, and its owner has had a series of spills on the line. These two factors put the pipeline at a higher risk for problems.

First, the pipeline’s owner, Bridger Pipeline LLC, has had nearly double the number of incidents per mile of pipe than the average company with pipelines carrying oil, gas or other hazardous liquids over the last six years, according to data compiled by the Pipeline Safety Trust. Federal records suggest that most of Bridger’s incidents occurred on the Poplar line and were preventable.

Montana Oil Spill Renews Worries

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.

A lesson for landowners: How to deal with an oil spill

Ah, memories. In July of 2011, my farm was flooded in oil from an Exxon pipeline that burst under the Yellowstone River. Landowners along the river grouped up pretty quickly since many of our families lived there for decades and together we went through months of dealing with cleanup workers, water and soil testing, chronic coughs and stress.

Now we sit back and watch you go through an oil spill. Although the circumstances are different, I can tell you these things shake out the same way, all over the country.

Bayou Corne sinkhole to be featured on ‘NOVA’

The massive sinkhole at Bayou Corne in Assumption Parish will be featured on an episode of PBS’ NOVA Jan. 28, The Daily Advertiser reports.

According to the NOVA website, sinkholes happen gradually, “when the surface subsides into bowl shaped depressions or suddenly when the ground gives way.”

Defenders of Tradition in Keystone Pipeline Fight

An unpainted wooden barn sits in a snow-dusted cornfield along a gravel road, one of many that dot the rural horizon here.

This barn, however, contains no horses, tractors or farming tools. Its roof is covered with solar panels, there is a windmill out front, and the interior is plastered with signs with slogans like “Build Our Energy” and “#NOKXL,” in protest of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which could run under the property if President Obama approves the project.

The Company Proposing to Build the Keystone XL Pipeline Wants to Seize the Property of Nebraska Landowners

The battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has been waged on a national scale since the massive construction project was first proposed six years ago. And, as the 114th Congress gets underway, the proposal to transport 800,000 barrels of oil a day from the Canadian tar sands to Gulf Coast refineries has been pushed to the forefront of public discussion about jobs, climate change, and environmental policy.

While the Senate debates legislation to approve the project, the company that has proposed to build the pipeline, TransCanada, filed legal papers in nine Nebraska counties. The company is seeking to seize via eminent domain the property of homeowners along the route of the pipeline who have held out on giving TransCanada permission to build.

Canada Faces Tough Tar Sands Pipeline Options after Keystone XL

So where does Canada go from here?

The combination of a presidential veto threat on the Keystone XL pipeline, an uncertain State Department outcome, low oil prices and environmental challenges to alternative pipeline proposals has put the northern nation in a financial and policy bind. The uncertainty raises the question of whether Canada will make a renewed push to develop new oil sands pipelines in its own country that have also stalled or are moving slowly.

Yet many analysts say that is not likely to happen, at least not this year, because of looming national elections in Canada, regulatory processes that could take years and lingering environmental challenges.

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.

Norway Offers New Arctic Leases, Stoking Polar Energy Rush

Despite sinking oil prices, Norway this week signaled its commitment to drilling for Arctic oil by offering new leases in the region for the first time since 1994.

The Norwegian move came as President Barack Obama issued an executive order setting up new oversight of U.S. Arctic activity, including energy exploration. And it follows Denmark’s claim last month to oil and gas beneath the North Pole. (See related story: “Denmark Eyes North Pole, But How Much Oil and Gas Await?”)

Norway offers 34 Arctic blocks along Russian border

Oil companies will have an opportunity to get licenses at unprecedented latitudes and along the border to Russia.

More than half a year after the original schedule, Norway’s Minister of Petroleum and Energy Tord Lien on Tuesday announced the country’s 23rd License Round. The announcement includes a total of 57 blocks, 34 of them in the formerly disputed waters with Russia. The minister calls the license round “a milestone” in Norwegian petroleum history.

A textbook example of an Arctic conference out of sync

This week scientists, NGOs and ministers from as far away from Singapore gathered in northern Norway at the high-level conference Arctic Frontiers. Sadly, it turned out to be a textbook example of everything a prestigious Arctic-themed conference should not be.

What it should be is a forum for constructive talks on the challenges ahead of us. A place where in-depth, honest discussions on issues such as Arctic oil, indigenous rights, climate change in the North and sustainable development were at the height of the agenda.

Safeguarding the Arctic: Why the U.S. Must Lead in the High North

While many Americans do not consider the United States to be an Arctic nation, Alaska—which constitutes 16 percent of the country’s landmass and sits on the Arctic Circle—puts the country solidly in that category. Consequently, it is with good reason that the United States has a seat on the Arctic Council. As Arctic warming accelerates, U.S. leadership in the High North is key not only to the public health and safety of Americans and other people in the region, but also to U.S. national security and the fate of the planet.

Russia to Continue Developing Arctic Oil, Gas Resources Despite Sanctions

Russia to continue implementing Arctic oil and gas projects despite Western sanctions and low oil prices, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said in an interview to the Rossiiskaya Gazeta that will be published on Friday, January 23.

“We will continue developing the Arctic shelf, as it is our strategic resource,” he said.

TEPCO executives won’t face charges over Fukushima disaster, Japan prosecutors say

Japanese prosecutors say three former Tokyo Electric Power Co (TEPCO) executives will not be charged over their handling of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, setting up a possible showdown with a rarely used citizen’s panel that could still force an indictment.

A spokesman for the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office said the prosecutors decided not to issue charges due to insufficient evidence.

Fukushima Watch: Prosecutors Again Decline to Indict Ex-Tepco Executives

The Tokyo District Prosecutor’s Office has again decided not to indict three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011, saying the size of the tsunami that struck the plant couldn’t have been predicted.

In its decision, announced Thursday, the office said “the scale of the tsunami was far beyond forecasts by national institutions.”

Fukushima operator to miss deadline on decontaminating water

The operator of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, Tokyo Electric Power Co, said it would not be able to meet a self-imposed deadline to decontaminate water containing highly radioactive substances by the end of March.

The admission by the utility known as Tepco is another setback in its struggle to cope with the contaminated water, which is mostly contained in hastily constructed tanks.

JR East to run bus through Fukushima no-entry zone

East Japan Railway Co. said Thursday it will start a bus service through the effective exclusion zone around Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear station.

The service, starting on Jan. 31, will be the first public transport to enter the zone within 20 km of the power station, which suffered three reactor meltdowns in March 2011.

Nuclear radiation drugs offer protection up to 3 days after exposure to fallout

Drugs that can protect against the fallout from a nuclear disaster have been found to be effective up to three days after administration.

The Fukushima disaster in 2011 and the threat of radiation terrorism has highlighted the danger posed by nuclear fallout, and the need for effective drugs following exposure.

Anti-radiation drug could work days after exposure

After a nuclear meltdown, exposure to DNA-damaging radiation levels can happen in minutes – but accessing therapies that might combat the effects can take days. A new drug could help: in mice, it reduced death rates from radiation sickness even if given three days after exposure. It may one day protect astronauts heading for Mars from harmful cosmic rays.

Cells try to repair damage to their DNA after radiation exposure, says Gábor Tigyi at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Nashville, but the process isn’t foolproof. If the cell doesn’t recognise the errors left in its DNA it might ultimately turn cancerous. But if the cell does recognise the errors the outcome is even worse: it will self-destruct, and if enough cells follow that route, death will follow within weeks.

20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Nuclear Accidents

1. The worst nuclear accident in history, the 1986 Chernobyl disaster in Ukraine — then part of the Soviet Union — will leave measurable radioactive contamination in a 15,000-square-mile area for 300 years.

2. Shortly after the accident, needles on pine trees in a 1.5-square-mile area around the crippled nuclear plant turned red. The trees now growing there resemble mangled, warped bushes and lack central stems.

3. Scientists studying barn swallows near Chernobyl from 1991 to 2006 discovered 11 types of abnormalities, including malformed beaks and deformed feathers.

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

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