Environmental Must-Reads – January 27, 2015


With Fracking Threatening Its Sole Drinking Water Source, A Coastal Community Fights Back

Since its founding as a Native American trading village, Abita Springs has staked its reputation on its clean air and pure waters. Princess Abita of the Choctaw tribe, as the local legend goes, was wasting away in filthy New Orleans in the 1780s until she traveled north and drank from the healing spring that gave the town its name.

A few hundred years later, Abita Brewery set up shop in town because of the “pristine” aquifer water it now uses in its internationally popular beers. “The safe, clean environment has always been very, very important to Abita Springs,” said the town’s mayor Greg Lemons. “The quality of life is high here.”

But now, residents fear that pristine aquifer, the sole source of drinking water for miles, could be under threat of contamination as a fossil fuel company eyes the oil and gas deposits below.

Study Raises Concerns About Toxic Oil and Gas Emissions in California Air

The infrared video showed an eerie scene: waves of volatile chemicals floating from the vent pipes of an oil-and-gas processing plant in the Lost Hills region of Kern County, Calif. The gas wafting into the air looked like heat shimmering off asphalt on a hot summer’s day.

The fumes are invisible to the naked eye, yet the special camera employed by researchers working with two environmental advocacy groups revealed the toxic emissions that flow from the facility every day it operates.

Installation of ND pipeline that spilled 3 million gallons of saltwater had no state inspection

State oversight of more than 20,000 miles of underground pipelines has been “very, very minimal” as it struggles to hire qualified inspectors, a spokeswoman for the North Dakota Industrial Commission says.

New rules approved by the Industrial Commission that took effect last year govern small gathering pipelines such as the pipeline that spilled nearly 3 million gallons of saltwater near Williston this month, the state’s largest spill on record.

Fracking brine leak in North Dakota reaches Missouri River, prompts state Democrats to call for more regulation

A pipeline leak near Williston, North Dakota, that began January 6 has spilled 3 million gallons of brine — a byproduct of hydraulic fracturing. The leak has reached the Missouri River, the Associated Press reported on Friday.

It’s the largest saltwater spill in the state’s history. Brine is considered toxic; it is saltier than seawater and often contains other fracking fluids and petroleum.

The leak contaminated two creeks near Williston: Blacktail Creek and the Little Muddy River. The Little Muddy River empties into the Missouri River, one of the town’s sources of drinking water.

Aging Boston Natural Gas Pipeline Infrastructure: Way Too Many Methane Leaks

Boston’s natural gas pipeline infrastructure is showing the signs of age, and is starting to leak like a sieve, according to a group of atmospheric scientists at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

Not only are these methane leaks pouring more carbon dioxide into an atmosphere already responsible for severe climate changes, the lost gas is worth almost $90 million.

Deal requires firms to justify fracking trade-secret claim

A legal settlement will require petroleum companies to provide justification when they claim the ingredients in the chemical products they pump underground during hydraulic fracturing in Wyoming are trade secrets that must be shielded from public disclosure.

Wyoming in 2010 became the first state to require companies to disclose to state regulators the ingredients they use during fracking, the process of pumping water mixed with sand and chemical products into oil and gas wells to crack open deposits and boost production.

Fracking Ingredient “Secrets” to Be Reviewed

A recent lawsuit settlement should make gray areas related to public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing more transparent in Wyoming.

The Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission will adopt new policies to review industry requests to keep fracking chemicals secret, a change approved by all parties, including Halliburton Energy Services. Earthjustice attorney Katherine O’Brien says the commission needed clear guidelines when faced with industry claims chemicals were “trade secrets,” even if public health could be at risk.

AGL Suspends Work at Fracking Site After Finding Chemicals

AGL Energy Ltd. (AGL), exploring for natural gas in Australia’s New South Wales state, suspended tests at a fracking site after finding chemicals in water samples.

None of the chemicals found are present in the fluid used in hydraulic fracturing at the Waukivory pilot project, Sydney-based AGL said today in a statement. The chemicals — benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene — are probably naturally occurring, it said.

U.K. Lawmakers Reject Fracking Moratorium, Accept Safeguards

U.K. lawmakers rejected a proposal to ban hydraulic fracturing for shale gas and oil for at least 18 months.

A moratorium, which would have allowed for an independent assessment of fracking’s effects on climate change, the environment, health and safety, and the economy, was defeated by 308 votes to 52 on Monday in the House of Commons. Lawmakers voted to accept a separate provision proposed by the opposition Labour Party to ensure 13 safeguards for the industry.

MPs: Ban fracking to meet carbon targets

An influential committee of MPs has called for a moratorium on fracking on the grounds that it could derail efforts to tackle climate change.

The government’s drive for shale gas should be put on hold because it would lead to more reliance on fossil fuels, the Environmental Audit Committee said.

Tories forced into U-turn on fast-track fracking after accepting Labour plans

The government made a major U-turn on plans to fast-track UK fracking on Monday after accepting Labour proposals to tighten environmental regulations.

David Cameron had previously said the government was “going all out” for shale gas development, but widespread public concern and a looming defeat by worried Tory and Liberal Democrat backbenchers forced ministers to back down.

Fracking to be banned in national parks, Government concedes

Fracking will be banned in national parks and new red tape imposed on shale gas companies, the Government has announced, in a major concession to Labour and opponents of the industry.

Amid a mounting political backlash over the Government’s staunch support for fracking, ministers on Monday announced a series of u-turns that will significantly restrict where the controversial drilling technique can take place.

Federal Court Order: Explosive DOT-111 “Bomb Train” Oil Tank Cars Can Continue to Roll

A U.S. federal court has ordered a halt in proceedings until May in a case centering around oil-by-rail tankers pitting the Sierra Club and ForestEthics against the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT). As a result, potentially explosive DOT-111 oil tank cars, dubbed “bomb trains” by activists, can continue to roll through towns and cities across the U.S. indefinitely.

“The briefing schedule previously established by the court is vacated,” wrote Chris Goelz, a mediator for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. “This appeal is stayed until May 12, 2015, or pending publication in the Federal Register of the final tank car standards and phase out of DOT-111 tank cars, whichever occurs first.”

Bayou Corne’s collapse among sinkholes examined by NOVA

As Jeffrey Bush slept in his Florida home, a sinkhole opened beneath his bed one night in February 2013 and pulled him into the depths, never to be seen again.

An entire community was abandoned in Pilatos, Spain, in the 1970s because of the continuing risk of sinkholes.

And, in Bayou Corne, the slow death of a community winds down after a sinkhole formed there more than 2½ years ago in the cypress swamp southwest of Baton Rouge.

State, local officials not notified of oil spill spotted at BP refinery

State and federal officials are investigating an oil spill from a railroad tank car discovered at BP Cherry Point Refinery last November, but key agencies were kept in the dark about it for at least a month.

The delayed notification of the spill highlights gaps in communication and enforcement as more crude oil shipments travel by rail.

BP Calls Witnesses as It Fights for Lesser Spill Penalty

BP struggled for 87 days to contain the millions of gallons of crude that spilled into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, but an expert witness on Monday called its cleanup response exemplary.

“They were very prepared,” said Frank Paskewich, a retired Coast Guard captain and president of Clean Gulf Associates Inc., an oil spill response cooperative.

BP had a sound plan for reacting to the deadly explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig, “and they pulled the trigger on that plan,” coming “out of the gate quick,” he said.

In oil spill trial, first BP expert witness to testify about effectiveness of response

BP will call its first witnesses Monday (Jan. 26) as it seeks a penalty lower than the $13.7 billion the federal government wants for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The company’s experts will testify to the effectiveness of BP’s effort to minimize the spill’s impact.

The Justice Department called its final witness Friday for the penalty phase of the civil trial over the disaster. The penalty phase started Jan. 20.

BP Witness Praises Oil Spill Response at Fines Trial

BP Plc “conducted an extraordinarily effective response” to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill, the company’s first witness testified Monday as the oil producer sought to minimize potential pollution fines.

BP immediately mobilized people and equipment and recovered spilled oil at the highest-ever rate, retired Coast Guard Captain Frank Paskewich told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans. The rate of recovery was almost five times better than in the response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, Paskewich said.

Supreme Court rejects BP executive’s appeal over Gulf of Mexico oil spill

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday declined to hear an appeal by a former BP Plc executive who contested whether he can be charged with obstruction of Congress for downplaying the severity of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Prosecutors say David Rainey misled members of Congress over the amount of oil spilled in the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon incident.

Rainey’s legal argument on appeal was that the government missed the deadline to file an appeal after a district court judge dismissed his obstruction charge.

BP will freeze pay for most of its employees

Oil giant BP said it will freeze most of its employees pay in 2015, after a collapse in crude prices has left oil companies scrambling to cut costs.

The announcement came today in an internal message to employees, said BP spokesman Brett Clanton in an emailed statement.

Houston man accused of lying about blowout preventer tests

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Orleans says a 49-year-old Houston man is accused of lying about a blowout preventer test on an offshore oil and gas platform in 2012.

A bill of information charges Race Addington with two counts of making false statements to federal agencies about tests run Nov. 27, 2012, when he was well site supervisor.

Yellowstone Oil Spill Missing from Keystone XL Coverage On CNN, Fox

CNN and Fox News repeatedly reported on the Keystone XL pipeline without connecting it to a major oil spill near the pipeline’s proposed route. By contrast, MSNBC and others in the media have reported on the spill, which occurred in the Yellowstone River in Montana, in the context of concerns about Keystone XL’s environmental risks.

Why we shouldn’t shrug off the latest pipeline spill(s)

It’s surprisingly easy to overlook news about a pipeline spill in North America, especially as common as they’ve become over the past five years. Unless you happen to live near the latest oil, gas or wastewater leak, the stories can run together and seem to dissipate over time.

So when a Montana oil pipeline burst on Jan. 17, releasing about 50,000 gallons into the Yellowstone River for the second time in less than four years, many Americans took fleeting notice. It wasn’t even the first big U.S. pipeline crisis of 2015, thanks to a North Dakota line that began losing oil-field wastewater in early January. That spill totaled 3 million gallons, officials revealed on Jan. 21 — almost triple a similar one in 2014, and by far the worst wastewater leak of North Dakota’s current Bakken oil boom.

Keystone Pipeline Bill Stalls in Senate, Prolonging Debate

The Senate on Monday rejected a procedural motion to advance legislation to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, prolonging the chamber’s debate over the project.

Amid a partisan fight over congressional procedure and absences due to weather and other conflicts, Senate Republican leaders couldn’t amass the 60 votes needed to end debate on the bill and move toward a final vote on approving the pipeline. The procedural vote was 53-39.

Democrats block Keystone bill in setback for Senate Republicans

Swift Senate approval of legislation to expedite the Keystone XL pipeline ran into trouble Monday after Democrats temporarily blocked the measure.

In the first notable test of Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell’s leadership, key Democratic senators said they were protesting what they viewed as the majority leader’s strong-arm tactics in bringing the three-week congressional debate over the pipeline to an end.

White House to Propose Allowing Oil Drilling Off Atlantic Coast

The Obama administration on Tuesday will announce a proposal to open up coastal waters from Virginia to Georgia for oil and gas drilling, according to a person briefed on the plan.

At the same time, in Alaska, the administration will ban drilling in some portions of the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, according to the personal familiar with the plans, who could not speak publicly about them until the announcement.

Obama proposes expanding oil-drilling ban in Alaska wildlife refuge

President Obama proposed designating 1.4 million acres of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as protected wilderness, drawing cheers from environmentalists but setting off a bitter new battle Sunday with the Republican-controlled Congress over oil and gas drilling in pristine areas of northern Alaska.

The plan would permanently bar drilling and other forms of development in the 19.8-million-acre refuge’s coastal plain, a narrow strip between the Brooks Range mountains and the Arctic Ocean where caribou give birth. The area, estimated to hold 10.3 billion barrels of oil, is home to more than 200 species, including polar bears, wolverines, musk oxen and thousands of migratory birds.

U.S. Seen Limiting Oil Drilling in Arctic, May Open Atlantic

The U.S. Interior Department will lay a framework as soon as Tuesday for oil exploration in the nation’s coastal waters in a five-year plan that is expected to withdraw areas off Alaska while possibly adding parts of the Atlantic.

Republican Lisa Murkowski said the head of the offshore energy office told her the agency will place areas of the energy-rich U.S. Arctic off limits. Those areas had been previously deferred from new leasing. Current leases in the Arctic, such as those held by Royal Dutch Shell Plc (RDSA), won’t be affected.

Republicans vow to fight administration on Arctic drilling

Republicans on Monday vowed to fight the Obama administration’s decision to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other coming actions expected to limit oil development in parts of Alaska and the waters surrounding it.

“This is a frontal attack on the state of Alaska,” said Republican Lisa Murkowski, the state’s senior senator. “We will not stand it, we will not tolerate it, and we will do everything we can to push back against an administration that has taken a look at Alaska and decided it is a nice little snow globe.”

Obesity rising among Fukushima children, survey shows

Children from Fukushima are the most obese in Japan, due in part to fears among parents that allowing them to play outside will expose them to harmful levels of radiation, a survey has found.

Almost four years after the triple meltdown at Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, concern is growing about the long-term health risks to inactive children from the prefecture.

Fukushima Watch: Tepco Two Months Behind on Cleaning Tainted Water

Tokyo Electric Power Co. says it will need an additional two months to process all the highly contaminated water in storage at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The power company previously said it would clean all the water by the end of March.

A Tepco spokesman said Friday that the process had been slowed down by the need for workers to frequently clean the filters of the water processing system. He also said the system needed more initial adjustments than first expected when it came into use.

JR East begins dismantling deserted railway station near Fukushima plant

Workers have begun tearing down structures at a train station here that was devastated in the deadly tsunami of 2011, citing the danger of collapse they pose to the growing number of visitors to the site.

The removal work got under way Jan. 13 on the JR Joban Line’s Tomioka Station as East Japan Railway Co. (JR East) workers were seen removing the station’s collapsing platform roofs. JR East’s Mito branch said an overpass at the station will be taken down by the end of March.

TEPCO to rely on cosmic beams to glimpse melted fuel inside Fukushima reactors

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will use cosmic rays at the crippled reactors at its Fukushima plant to identify sites with melted fuel.

TEPCO will install special equipment to observe muon beams, or particles generated when cosmic radial rays collide with the atmosphere. That will enable it to glimpse inside the reactors, which went into triple meltdown after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster.

Once again, no indictments against former TEPCO execs over Fukushima disaster

Prosecutors again decided not to indict three former executives of Tokyo Electric Power Co. over the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, essentially saying that the disaster was unpreventable.

The Jan. 22 decision by the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office rejected the stance of an independent judicial panel of citizens that former TEPCO Chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata and two former vice presidents, Sakae Muto and Ichiro Takekuro, should be indicted on charges of professional negligence resulting in death and injury.

Pump leak at Surry reactor prompts power reduction

A leaking pump at the Surry 2 nuclear plant prompted Dominion Virginia Power to reduce the reactor’s power output Monday, the company said.

“We took it down early this morning to 60 percent to allow workers to repair a pump,” company spokesman Rick Zuercher said.

Glendale Middle School parents worried about rooftop cellphone tower proposal

Parents and one member of the Salt Lake City School District are crying foul over a proposal to install a cellphone antenna on the roof of Glendale Middle School.

Board member Michael Clara said he’s worried the proposal has advanced too far without a public hearing or approval by the district school board, the school’s community council and the Glendale Community Council.

If built, the 8-foot-tall rooftop antenna would be the 14th cellular tower on school property in the Salt Lake City School District.

Still No Solution to Storage of High-Level Radioactive Nuclear Waste

A private consortium formed to deal with Europe’s most difficult nuclear waste at a site in Britain’s beautiful Lake District has been sacked by the British government because not sufficient progress has been made in making it safe.

It is the latest setback for an industry that claims nuclear power is the low-carbon answer to climate change, but has not yet found a safe resting place for radioactive rubbish it creates when nuclear fuel and machinery reaches the end of its life.

Add comment

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This