Environmental Must-Reads – January 8, 2014


Lawmakers call on Gov. Jerry Brown to halt fracking in California

Calling a recent bill to regulate hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in California insufficient, a group of lawmakers are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to halt the oil and gas extraction method.

The issue of fracking, in which sand, water and chemicals are injected into the ground to release oil and gas, was one of the most contentious battles in the Legislature last year. Brown signed a bill last Sept. by Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) that regulates the practice.

Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law.

Days later, on December 30, a Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) freight train owned by Warren Buffett carrying Bakken fracked oil exploded in Casselton, North Dakota. Locals breathed a smoky sigh of relief that the disaster happened outside the town center. In July 2013, a “bomb train” carrying Bakken oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people.

After Trying ‘All Other Means,’ Protesters Are Now Super-Gluing Themselves To Fracking Sites

It’s 2014, and three people in England have already super-glued themselves to various anchored items around hydraulic fracturing sites in acts of protest.

According to a report from the Manchester Evening News, two anti-fracking protestors were arrested on Tuesday for protesting at the Barton Moss fracking site in Manchester. This was not a normal protest, however — the women reportedly parked their Blue Ford Escort in front of the site, cut a hole in the bottom of the car, placed a barrel full of concrete in the hole, and superglued themselves into the barrel.

Martin Sheen’s Exposé on Fracking

Martin Sheen’s Breakthroughs program on PBS television recently released an expose on fracking featuring Environment America. As the debate over dirty drilling continues to mount, the Breakthroughs piece could reach as many as 60 million viewers in all 50 states.

“Fracking is taking a terrible toll on our environment and our health,” said John Rumpler, senior attorney for Environment America. “People should see and hear the truth before they find themselves living next door to dirty drilling.”

Texas Supreme Court Weighs Underground Trespassing Case

Just how far below the earth’s surface do property lines extend? And can someone trespass on another’s property — more than a mile underground?

The Texas Supreme Court grappled with those questions on Tuesday as it heard oral arguments in a groundwater case that the state’s surging oil and gas industry says could significantly impact production.

Ohio finds just 6 cases of water problems from drilling since 2010

Ohio has confirmed six cases of water contamination from oil and gas drilling since 2010, but none from fracking.

There were 190 complaints of mishaps making water undrinkable in wells and springs made to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, which regulates drilling statewide, and 14 are ongoing. ODNR spokesman Mark Bruce said none of the confirmed complaints came from fracking, but from traditional vertical wells.

Chapter 78: A guide to the proposed oil and gas regulations

State environmental regulators are gathering public comment on a proposed overhaul of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations that will change the way the industry operates above ground.

The wide-ranging revision will update Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code, the section of the state’s rulebook that guides the construction and operation of oil and gas wells. The proposals focus on surface activities on and off well sites: waste handling, spill prevention, pipelines, pits and the protection of public resources.

Sierra Club records bid in Ohio dumping case ends

An environmental group’s public records case against state regulators has ended in a settlement agreement, with Ohio turning over documents related to the alleged illegal dumping of oil and gas drilling wastewater in northeast Ohio and paying a fine.

PA Gov Accused Of ‘Trying To Confuse The Public’ With Environmentally-Friendly Fracking Agreement (Updated)

To some, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s most recent press release is a noble attempt to protect waterways and wetlands from fracking operations while the state fights to overturn a recent Supreme Court decision that struck down provisions of the state’s Marcellus Shale drilling law, Act 13.

To others, it is just the opposite.

Unexpected Source Calls For A Slowdown In Oil-Booming North Dakota

Last week’s derailment and explosion of an oil train in Casselton, North Dakota was enough to prompt a call for moderation from an unexpected source: Robert Harms, the chairman of North Dakota’s Republican party, who is also a consultant for the energy industry.

Harms told Reuters Thursday that the state needed to take a “moderated approach” after the crash, which didn’t cause any deaths but prompted the evacuation of many of Casselton’s 2,400 residents and burned for more than 24 hours.

BP, claiming fraud, wants to stop oil-spill payments

The Deepwater Horizon settlement agreement is in turmoil, with BP attempting to stop the payments and saying money shouldn’t have gone to an adult escort service, a global nuclear consultant and others that haven’t proved the monster 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico cost them business.

BP is waging an aggressive campaign in the courts and the news media against the settlement it signed two years ago. The company agreed to the settlement under pressure as claims mounted from the oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers, led to the biggest environmental disaster in U.S. history and did major economic damage to businesses in the region.

Vietnamese-American fishermen file lawsuit in BP oil spill claims process

A group of Vietnamese-American fishermen and business owners filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday against a Texas lawyer already accused of “brazen fraud” in the BP oil spill claims process.

The civil complaint, filed by Tam Le and 14 others against attorney Mikal Watts and his law partners Hunter Craft and Francisco Guerra, comes less than a month after BP itself filed suit against Watts for fraud.

BP Oil Spill Beach Report

The following is a summary of the daily beach oiling report issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). We will endeavour to publish this summary each day the FDEP issues such a report. While the media and public believe that the effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon Blowout and Oil Spill have been largely eradicated, this data suggests otherwise.

Texas Brine wants insurance company to pay claims

Texas Brine Co., the Houston company blamed for the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole, has filed a formal complaint with the Louisiana Department of Insurance, alleging one of the company’s insurers is not paying up as its policy requires.

Texas Brine officials charge Arch Specialty Insurance Co. has not reimbursed the costs of Assumption Parish government entities since Nov. 1 and never reimbursed Texas Brine for any of its $55 million in costs from the state-mandated response to the growing 26-acre sinkhole in northern Assumption.

American oil companies call for end to export ban

American oil companies have not been allowed to export crude for 40 years, but the industry wants to change that, even though the U.S. still consumes far more oil than it produces.

A surprising surge in domestic production of light, sweet crude — a particular type of oil that foreign refiners covet — has triggered growing calls to lift the restrictions, which were put in place after the Arab oil embargo of 1973.

Audit: Nevada inspects oil, geothermal wells infrequently

The Division of Minerals seldom inspects the 430 geothermal and 111 oil wells in the state and in one instance relied on an email from the oil producer that he had performed a required test on blowout prevention equipment.

So says a legislative audit released Tuesday that also noted that a well blowout occurred in December 2011 in rural Nevada. That blowout, which was blamed on defective equipment, took five days to control.

Former Obama insider urges Keystone approval

A former top adviser to President Obama, responsible for shaping the administration’s foreign policy, urged the president to approve the controversial Keystone pipeline project.

Thomas P. Donilon, the influential national security adviser in the Obama administration’s first term, begrudgingly told a think tank audience in Washington on Tuesday that he would advise his old boss to give the long-stalled pipeline the green light.

Trail carrying oil derails, burns in Canada

Canadian officials prepared aerial surveillance of a derailed freight train carrying crude oil and propane Wednesday morning to see if it was still burning, while dozens of nearby residents remained evacuated from their homes. There were no reports of deaths.

The derailment late Tuesday in a sparsely populated region of New Brunswick again raised concerns about the increasing use of rail to transport oil throughout North America.

Plaster Rock Trail Derailment: Evacuations Ordered

About two dozen homes in a sparsely populated region of northwestern New Brunswick were evacuated late Tuesday after a CN freight train carrying crude oil and propane derailed and caught fire.

Sharon DeWitt, emergency measures co-ordinator for the nearby community of Plaster Rock, said it’s unclear how big the fire is or whether anyone was hurt.

Oil train accidents force regulators to look at tank car safety

Oil train explosions like the one last week near Casselton, N.D., have revived long-standing worries that older railroad tank cars need to be strengthened to better withstand accidents.

Three disasters in the past six months in the United States and Canada have demonstrated the risks of carrying crude oil by rail. Oil tankers now carry more than 10 percent of U.S. oil, up 40-fold in five years, according to the Association of American Railroads.

Call to action issued after North Dakota oil train wreck

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said the number of accidents involving rail cars carrying oil means another layer of federal scrutiny may be required.

No injuries were reported when a BNSF line carrying oil from the Bakken reserve area in North Dakota derailed last week. Last year, more than 40 people were killed in a similar accident in Lac-Megantic, a town in Quebec, Canada.

More oil cars rolling through northeast Oregon

The rising amount of crude oil on trains headed through Pendleton to Portland is coming on mixed freight trains, rather than trains made up entirely of oil cars, a railroad spokesman says.

The oil boom in North Dakota means trains have been carrying crude through northeast Oregon since 2012 – before that ships handled the transportation – and the number of tank cars is slowly increasing, the East Oregonian reported

Was it dangerous to report from Fukushima?

When people heard that I would be traveling to Japan to report on Fukushima, the most common response was, “Will you be safe?” They assumed the radiation in and around the stricken Fukushima Daiichi plant might put our production team at an elevated risk of cancer. One acquaintance even seriously asked if I ever planned on having children. If so, he suggested, I might want to visit a sperm bank before I left.

So, when the “America Tonight” crew — consisting of correspondent Michael Okwu, director of photography Thierry Humeau and me — finally arrived in Fukushima Prefecture in a rented minivan, the specter of radiation was in the back of our minds. Spot checks with a borrowed Geiger counter outside the exclusion zone showed radiation at levels that are considered safe. But then we went inside.

Ex-Fukushima worker says ‘duct tape, wire nets’ used to repair leaking radioactive water tanks

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO), operator of the disaster stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons, one of them is the continuous leaking of radioactive waste water into the ground beneath the plant and into the Pacific Ocean. A former employee in the facility has come out saying that one of the reasons for the leaks may be the cost-cutting measures being applied by TEPCO, such as using duct tape and wire nets to mend the leaking tanks.

Renewable village offers lifeline to Fukushima farmers

It seems the most unlikely place to try to put a utopian blueprint into practice. Yet a patch of land in Fukushima, the Japanese prefecture contaminated by nuclear fallout in 2011, holds the foundations of a model village of the future.

The prefecture was affected by the meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, following the earthquake and subsequent tsunami in March 2011. Now construction has started on a community-run project in the coastal city of Minamisoma to reuse farmland contaminated by fallout. About two-thirds of the city’s farmland lies within the nuclear evacuation zone.

Gangsters and ‘slaves’: The people cleaning up Fukushima

In the depths of Japan’s nuclear crisis in March 2011, a small band of workers at the Fukushima power plant stayed behind, stomaching daily doses of deadly radiation to bring the plant under control after a massive earthquake and tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns. They became known as the Fukushima 50.

“We felt we had a responsibility to put things right,” nuclear engineer Atsufumi Yoshizawa told America Tonight. “And we felt that we were probably the only ones that could deal with the situation.”

U.S. sailors say Fukushima radiation made them sick

After Japan was pummeled by an earthquake and tsunami in 2011, the U.S. Navy sent the USS Ronald Reagan to deliver aid. The ship unwittingly sailed straight into a plume of radioactive pollution from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was melting down. Now at least 71 of those sailors are seriously ill.

The sailors are suing the Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, owner and operator of the plant, alleging that it downplayed the dangers of the radioactivity — radioactivity they say has left them riddled with cancers, thyroid problems, and other ailments.

Activists to join Fukushima suit

Taiwanese environmental activists and a legislator yesterday supported a call by Japanese environmental groups to join an international lawsuit against the builders of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant for compensation for mental anguish as a means to stop nuclear power plant construction.

Nuclear tests left more radiation in Earth’s stratosphere than thought

Levels of radioactive plutonium in Earth’s stratosphere from nuclear tests and accidents is higher than previously thought, but probably not dangerous to humans, scientists in Switzerland said Tuesday.

It was previously thought that plutonium radionuclides — radioactive atoms which can take decades or thousands of years to degrade — were present in the stratosphere only at negligible levels.

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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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