Environmental Must-Reads – January 24, 2014


Dangerous Levels of Methane Found While Testing Natural Gas Leaks in D.C.

A team of scientists using portable methane detectors reported last week that it has detected 5,893 leaks of methane, the main component of natural gas, from gas utility lines in Washington D.C.

Last February, the team, composed of researchers from Duke and Boston Universities and led by Robert Jackson, a professor at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, determined that a dozen of those leaks were big enough to trigger explosions. Its members promptly reported the leaks to Washington Gas Co., according to a paper published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology. But when the scientists retested those sites in June, nine were still emitting dangerous amounts of methane.

Amidst Mega-Drought Hundreds Urge Gov. Brown to Ban Fracking at State of the State Address

Around 200 concerned Californians gathered outside the Capitol building today to urge Gov. Brown (D-CA) to mitigate the state’s drought by halting the water-intensive drilling technique called fracking, and other extreme oil extraction methods.

Upstate fracking is danger to city water supplies: mayor

Mayor de Blasio is jumping forcefully into the debate over fracking on upstate lands — calling it a danger to the city’s water supply.

Asked Thursday for his view of the drilling practice, also known as hydraulic fracturing, de Blasio first noted that “my purview is the five boroughs” before sounding off on the hot-button environmental issue.

“The one thing I am firm about is that I don’t see any place for fracking,” he told reporters.

Proposed fracking in national forest meets broad opposition

The headwaters of the Potomac River rise amid the hills and hollows of George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Small creeks dart past oak, white pine and hickory, become streams that nourish farmland and towns, and create a river that courses through two states and the nation’s capital.

About 4 million people depend on that water. For decades, the U.S. Forest Service identified preserving its purity as the top priority for the national forest. Now, the agency is considering allowing George Washington to become the first national forest to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Colorado’s 30 Percent “Solution” for Fracking Pollution

Very long ago a fellow named Lou Saban, then coach of the Denver Broncos, went for a tie late in a football game against the Miami Dolphins.  His explanation was that half a loaf was better than nothing.  The faithful wanted to run him out of town on a rusty goal post.  He never recovered his tough guy image.

Now fast forward to this past November, Governor Hickenlooper announced that he had just entered into an agreement with three of the biggest polluters in the state to reduce their toxic air emissions.  As it turns out, these three, Anadarko, Encana, and Noble Energy, along with their smaller cohorts, contribute more health threatening air pollution from their oil and gas operations than do all other sources in the state combined.  These pollutants, called Volatile Organic Compounds, VOCs for short, were measured at 275,000 tons annually in 2011 according to the Governor at his press conference.   Yes, that’s right, 275,000 tons of toxic gasses annually, and the number grows each year as thousands of new wells are drilled and more VOCs are allowed to escape into the atmosphere.

Fracking to be ruled out at protest-hit Balcombe drilling site

No fracking will take place at Balcombe, the Sussex village that became the centre of protests against the practice last summer, drilling firm Cuadrilla is expected to announce.

In a planning application to conduct tests at the site, likely to be published for consultation within days, the company will disclose that the rocks it drilled into last summer are naturally fractured.

It will therefore rule out ever fracking at the site in future on the grounds it would be unnecessary.

Convicted BP engineer asks judge in New Orleans to recuse himself

A former BP engineer convicted of obstructing a Justice Department probe of the company’s 2010 Gulf oil spill has asked a judge to disqualify himself from the case.

In a court filing late Wednesday, Kurt Mix’s lawyers say they learned last week that U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. and his law clerk assigned to the case filed civil claims in April 2013 for compensatory and punitive damages against BP.

Fmr BP Engineer Kurt Mix Asks For Judge Recusal Based On New Info

Attorneys for Former BP Engineer Kurt Mix have filed a motion to have U.S. District Judge Sandwood R. Duval, Jr. recused from case because of newly discovered information about Judge Duval’s personal claim for damages as a result of the BP oil spill in 2010.  Mix was convicted last year of obstructing justice by deleting text messages during the Deep Water Horizon accident in April 2010.

According to a motion for recusal (uploaded motion to Sribd) filed on January 22 by  Mix’s attorney, Joan McPhee,  Judge Duval and his law clerk both had conflicts related to hearing the Mix case.

Researchers to hold conference in Mobile to discuss after-effects of the BP oil spill

Almost four years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and researchers are still grappling with the after effects of the untold amount of the substance left behind in the Gulf of Mexico.

A group of scientists will meet in Mobile beginning Sunday to discuss some of the latest research concerning the environmental disaster.

Hebron oil spill drains into wetlands

State environmental officials say most of the 1,900 gallons of heating oil that spilled at a Hebron school last month leached into nearby wetlands.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection says the oil does not pose a threat to nearby Bog Brook, which flows downstream into Minot and Mechanic Falls.

Officials Considering Additional Cleanup Proposals After Oil Spill

The Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality and other agencies are studying a plan by ExxonMobil to clean up remaining contamination from last year’s rupture of an oil pipeline in Mayflower.

The company  is proposing the removal of soil and sediment about a foot deep from a cove near Lake Conway and drainage ditches leading to it.  The report was submitted a week ago with the goal of reducing the oil sheen in Dawson Cove.

David Suzuki: Rail Versus Pipeline Is The Wrong Question

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains

Backers: Report on Rail Risks Boosts Keystone XL

A government warning about the dangers of increased use of trains to transport crude oil is giving a boost to supporters of the long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

U.S. and Canadian accident investigators urged their governments Thursday to impose new safety rules on so-called oil trains, warning that a “major loss of life” could result from an accident involving the increasing use of trains to transport large amounts of crude oil.

Crude awakening: As Keystone opens in Texas, neighbors fight to protect their water

Wednesday at 10:45 a.m., Keystone XL South was supposed to begin piping tar sands crude from  Cushing, Okla. to refineries in Texas. That’s what the pipeline’s builder, Transcanada, had announced.

The pumps that keep crude moving through the pipeline were running last Thursday, as TransCanada performed last-minute tests of the system. But on Friday they went silent, according to observers in the area, and so far it looks like they haven’t started up since.

Companies opposed to Lac-Mégantic taking part in legal proceedings

A lawyer for Lac-Mégantic spent most of Thursday morning arguing that it should be able to take part in legal proceedings related to the cleanup and decontamination of the town.

Six companies are contesting orders issued by Quebec’s environment minister to deal with the nearly six million litres of oil that spilled in the July 6 train derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic. The town wants to take part in those proceedings, but the companies are opposed to it.

US court delays Shell Arctic drill plans

Royal Dutch Shell’s plans to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska face further delays after a US appeals court said the government acted illegally in opening up nearly 30m acres of US Arctic waters to oil exploration six years ago.

The ruling, by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the US, was a victory for a group of environmental and native Alaskan organisations that has waged a long-running campaign to block Shell from operating in what they consider a pristine wilderness.

Scientists: Cosmic rays can see through nuclear reactor, locate fuel

Japanese scientists have developed a method to use cosmic rays to see through a nuclear reactor, raising hopes for locating and accounting for melted fuel inside the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant.

“Installing several sensors outdoors for a month or so is enough to get a picture of internal structures,” said Fumihiko Takasaki, a particle physics scientist at the High Energy Accelerator Research Organization. “Our technology is well established, so I hope it will be used to help decommission the stricken reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.”

Sailors report illness after Fukushima mission — is it radiation-related?

The tsunami that hit the coast of Japan on March 11, 2011 caused the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. In the days following the tsunami, reactors within the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant exploded and leaked radiation into the environment. The United States announced a relief effort led by the Navy – Operation Tomodachi – in which 70,000 Department of Defense-affiliated personnel contributed to providing humanitarian aid to those affected.

Now, three years later, some Navy personnel say they’re experiencing mysterious symptoms, including hemorrhaging and cancer. In some cases, their doctors can’t provide diagnoses and therefore cannot determine if the illnesses are radiation-related. Convinced their illnesses were caused by radiation exposure, 71 of these sailors are banding together in a lawsuit against the Tokyo Electric Power Company – or TEPCO – which operates the Fukushima power plant.

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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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