Environmental Must-Reads – January 3, 2014


Colorado Ballot Measure Could Let Towns Ban Fracking

As the natural gas industry tries to fight Colorado’s voter-passed fracking bans in court, organizers are working on a ballot initiative that would ensure local governments have the right to ban drilling.

In November, four Colorado towns passed ballot initiatives that either banned or put moratoria on hydraulic fracturing: Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette, and Boulder. Broomfield’s vote was so close that its results are pending a ruling from a judge, prompted by a separate energy industry lawsuit. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) quickly filed suit over two of the bans, arguing that only the state has the authority to ban drilling, and that communities can’t decide for themselves.

Colorado Communities Could Ban Fracking Under New Proposed Amendment

A proposed amendment to Colorado’s constitution that would give municipalities the power to ban or restrict fracking and other industrial activities would be the first of its kind nationwide if it passes.

The Daily Camera first reported that the Colorado Community Rights Network is planning to submit the language for a ballot measure as soon as next week that would flip the tables on pro-fracking groups.

Pennsylvania appeals state Supreme Court ruling on fracking law

The state of Pennsylvania appealed on Thursday against a December decision from the state Supreme Court that struck down parts of an oil and gas law.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted 4-2 in mid-December saying key provisions in Act 13, a 2012 law that governs oil and gas drilling, is unconstitutional.

All fracking operations in state now must disclose chemicals used

More information is now available on oil and natural gas wells drilled throughout Oklahoma.

Beginning this year, operators of all oil and gas wells in the state must report the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing either directly to the website FracFocus.org or to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, which will add the information to the FracFocus database.

The new regulation is an extension of a rule that required operators of horizontal wells in the state to disclose the makeup of their fracking fluids beginning in 2013.

Public Health Study in PA Marcellus Drilling/Fracking Areas Continues

Almost two years after it began, a much-publicized plan to study possible health impacts from gas drilling is still in the process of collecting data.

Geisinger Health Systems, of Danville, began seeking partners for the long-term project in early 2012. It’s secured at least $1.3 million in funding and has attracted a wide range of medical, environmental and academic partners. For now, the main goal is to build a data warehouse available to researchers.

Mark Ruffalo Wants You to Imagine a 100 Percent Clean Energy Future

For Mark Ruffalo, environmental activism started out with something to oppose, to be against: Fracking. It all began when the actor, perhaps best known for his role as Bruce Banner (The Hulk) in Marvel’s The Avengers, was raising his three small children in the town of Callicoon, in upstate New York. At that time the Marcellus Shale fracking boom was coming on strong and was poised to expand into New York, even as the area also saw a series of staggering floods, each one seemingly more unprecedented than the last.

Bakken crude may be more flammable than previously thought: U.S. regulator

Crude oil produced in North Dakota may be more flammable and prone to explosions than earlier thought, U.S. officials said on Thursday as they examine whether gas trapped in crude-by-rail shipments could explain a spate of fiery accidents.

In the latest crash involving fuel produced in an oil patch known as the Bakken, several tank cars exploded after a collision on a desolate stretch of North Dakota track on Monday.

North Dakota blast prompts review of oil train safety

A federal safety alert Thursday warned that crude oil flowing out of new fields in North Dakota may be more flammable than expected, a caution that comes several days after a train carrying about 3.5 million gallons of the same oil crashed in the state and set off a massive explosion.

The accident on the BNSF Railway, the fourth such explosion in North America involving crude oil trains, has fed mounting concerns over public safety as the rail industry sharply increases the use of rail to transport surging crude production in North Dakota, Texas and Colorado.

A Sharp Rise In Earthquakes Puts Oklahomans On Edge

For the past three decades, Oklahoma averaged about 50 earthquakes a year. But that number has skyrocketed in the past few years. In 2013 — the state’s most seismically active year ever — there were almost 3,000.

The quakes are small, and they’re concentrated in the central part of the state, where the Erwins live.

Pennsylvania appeals state Supreme Court ruling on fracking law

The state of Pennsylvania appealed on Thursday against a December decision from the state Supreme Court that struck down parts of an oil and gas law.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court voted 4-2 in mid-December saying key provisions in Act 13, a 2012 law that governs oil and gas drilling, is unconstitutional.

Charges against Texas natural gas driller headed to court

All criminal charges against a Texas natural gas drilling company over a fluids discharge at a Lycoming County natural gas well site will go to court.

District Judge James G. Carn Thursday found the state attorney general’s office had presented sufficient evidence against XTO Energy Inc. of Fort Worth to support alleged violations of the state’s clean streams and solid waste laws.

BP Wins Expedited Appeal of Bid to Stop Spill Payments

BP Plc (BP/)’s bid to block economic-loss payments tied to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill unless the claims can be directly linked to the disaster won fast-track consideration by an appeals court.

The London-based company said last week that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans has ignored the appellate court’s earlier decision requiring him to review causation in determining which claims should be paid. The company asked an appeals panel for immediate review while lawyers for spill victims sought a delay.

Former BP engineer says juror misconduct tainted verdict

Defense attorneys for a former BP engineer convicted of trying to obstruct a federal investigation of the company’s 2010 Gulf oil spill claimed Thursday that jurors engaged in misconduct that warrants a new trial.

Kurt Mix’s attorneys asked U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. to throw out the jury’s Dec. 18 verdict convicting Mix of one count of obstruction of justice for deleting text messages to and from a BP supervisor.

Texas Brine to build new barrier at sinkhole

Texas Brine Co. says it will build a new protective barrier along the southern side of the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole amid rising concerns about rapid sinking under part of the levee holding back the hole’s briny and oily contents.

In the interim, Texas Brine is moving to repair and raise the existing levee section that sank.

“They started yesterday building back up the existing berm,” said Sonny Cranch, Texas Brine spokesman, on Thursday.

Oil recycler opens Baton Rouge distribution center

A Wichita, Kan., company that re-refines used motor oil has opened a 12,000-square-foot distribution center in Baton Rouge.

The center will serve Universal Lubricants’ customers in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Exxon, Chevron Spend Big Against Oil Tax Referendum

Exxon and Chevron have made major contributions to a campaign that wants to preserve a controversial oil tax law that passed this year, according to recent filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission.

Exxon gave $350,000 to the group “Vote No On One” in December, matching contributions previously made by fellow North Slope producers BP and ConocoPhillips. Chevron, which has a smaller footprint in Alaska, gave $150,000.

Train Fire Restarts Safety Debate as U.S. Reviews Keystone XL Pipeline

The derailment and fire that led to the evacuation of a North Dakota town has renewed the debate over whether it’s safer to ship oil by rail or pipeline as the U.S. completes a review of the Keystone XL project.

“Any time there is an incident, you have heightened talk and scrutiny on oil transportation,” Brigham McCown, a former director of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, said yesterday in an interview. “It will add to the conversation.”

2 injured at La Porte pipeline facility where fire burned for four hours

A fire that burned for four hours at a pipeline facility in La Porte caused two injuries before it was extinguished, officials said.

Two contractors were treated for minor injuries from the blaze at a barge loading facility owned by pipeline giant Enterprise Products Partners, company spokesman Rick Rainey said. The contractors were treated and released from care, he said.

Exxon Russia Ambitions Show Oil Trumps Obama-Putin Spats

As Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin argue over human rights in Russia and the fate of fugitive U.S. intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, the countries’ biggest oil companies are preparing to drill for giant discoveries together in the Arctic Ocean.

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM) and OAO Rosneft (ROSN) are set to start their first Arctic well this year, targeting a deposit that may hold more oil than Norway’s North Sea. It will kick off a series of landmark projects and cement an alliance begun in 2011. They also plan to frack shale fields in Siberia, sink a deep-water well in the Black Sea and build a natural-gas export terminal in Russia’s Far East.

Fukushima Ghost Towns Struggle to Recover Amid High Radiation Levels

Nearly three years after a major earthquake, tsunami and nuclear radiation leak devastated coastal and inland areas of Japan’s Fukushima prefecture, 175 miles north-east of Tokyo, Namie has become a silent town of ghosts and absent lives.

Namie’s 21,000 residents remain evacuated because of continuing high radiation levels, the product of the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, six miles to the south. Homes, shops and streets are deserted except for the occasional police patrol or checkpoint.

Radioactive soil from Fukushima disaster found in airline luggage

Radioactive soil from the Fukushima disaster area in Japan was found in the baggage of a Japanese man arriving at an airport in Ukraine, officials say.

Border guards at Kiev’s Borispol Airport said the passenger’s luggage was flagged with a radioactivity detector during a routine check of bags arriving on a flight from Frankfurt Tuesday, RIA Novosti reported.

TEPCO announces a new company for leaks and Fukushima Daiichi decom

TEPCO is setting up a new internal company for Fukushima Daiichi decommissioning, and contaminated water.

TEPCO said that this organization ‘will clarify the framework of responsibility and work intensively’ on these measures. It will also have responsibility for using Fukushima 5&6 for decommissioning training work, after TEPCO announced plans to shut them in December.
The internal company’s president — Naohiro Masuda, a former TEPCO executive, has been proposed — will function as chief decommissioning officer for these issues, ‘so that he may swiftly and flexibly respond to the various tasks arising from the site.’

Drawing out the demons and dreams of Fukushima

Geoff Read, artist and activist, hopes one portrait can echo thousands of miles. His poignant “artistic collaborations” indeed reverberate with the whispers of society’s marginalized.

For more than 20 years, his collaborations have detailed the lives of homeless people from Mexico to England to Japan, and Read has also used art to help in drug rehabilitation and occupational therapy. His current focus: to broadcast the suspended dreams of Fukushima’s children.

Evacuated towns surrounding Fukushima face uncertain future

With recent leaks of contaminated water and a problematic clean-up process at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, many Japanese towns remain ghost towns, nearly three years after a major earthquake and tsunami caused a dangerous radiation leak.

Those living within the 20-mile evacuation zone have to decide whether they will ever return to their former hometowns, but locals, the Guardian reported, don’t think many younger people will return. And, as of right now, no one is allowed to stay overnight.

Photographing Hiroshima, Fukushima and Everything in Between

Kikujiro Fukushima’s life in photography took off when he promised to avenge the Hiroshima bombing. It was 1952, and Mr. Fukushima — a watchmaker, volunteer social worker and photographer — met Sugimatsu Nakamura, a 43-year-old fisherman, who was gravely ill from the atomic bomb’s effects.

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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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