Environmental Must-Reads – January 9, 2014


US city’s fracking ban intensifies debate

The US oil industry’s main trade group is launching a campaign to promote energy production.

But questions are being raised as to how much control residents have over their environment when pitted against the energy industry.

Newly released NY energy plan mum on fracking

New York’s newly released energy plan calls for increased use of renewable energy and clean technology and anticipates reduced utility bills and a more flexible distribution grid, but takes no position on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the fertile Marcellus Shale.

While the proposal of the State Energy Planning Board calls for expanding the use of natural gas, instead of oil, for heating and power generation to reduce emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide, it also notes that state officials are reviewing health and environmental concerns regarding fracking.

2,000+ New Yorkers Rally Against Fracking at Gov. Cuomo’s State of State Address

More than 2,000 New Yorkers from every corner of the state descended on Albany today to rally against fracking outside of Gov. Cuomo’s (D-NY) State of the State address. The concerned residents pointed to a significant and rapidly growing body of science showing harms of fracking to public health and the environment, delivering a clear message that fracking is inherently dangerous and Gov. Cuomo must ban it statewide. Those at the rally—representing more than 100 organizations—also urged the Governor to be a leader in clean, renewable energy for New York and the nation.

Debate intensifies on exporting U.S. liquefied natural gas

The U.S. debate over exporting liquefied natural gas is intensifying as the Energy Department considers an array of applications to ship the fuel to Japan, India and other countries where prices are far higher than in the United States.

Some large manufacturers that use natural gas say the department is moving too quickly to approve gas exports, pushing the United States into a “danger zone” that could raise prices and harm the economy. Environmental groups worry that tentative approval of several large export projects may accelerate a hydraulic fracturing or fracking boom that they say could harm public health and the environment.

Wetland contamination can be predicted in oil boom states, study finds

Federal scientists have developed a system that could help prevent some contamination of wetlands and groundwater from oil development in the booming Williston Basin in Montana and North Dakota, according to a new study.

Along with oil extracted from deep underground in the Williston Basin comes naturally occurring water called brine that is 10 times more saline than seawater and is dumped into reserve pits. Brine can contaminate local water sources through leaching from the pits, pipeline spills or accidents.

The 9 Biggest Moments in Fracking in 2013

This time last year, people were buzzing about Promised Land, or “the fracking movie,” starring Matt Damon and Francis McDormand. Our take was that the movie fell short of truly exposing the dangers of fracking.

Incredible milestones-and a few setbacks-would follow the release of the “fracking movie” in 2013 including historic bans and a bizarre move by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper.

Exclusive Interview with Biologist Shane Davis on Fracking Colorado

Colorado had quite a year in 2013. Aside from record setting forest fires, warming temperatures and continued pine beetle infestations, Colorado had a storm in September, typically our dryest month of the year, that has been referred to as a 100 year to a 500 year to even a thousand year flood. Whatever the case, it was a big, big flood with lots and lots of rain, around 17 inches of rain equivalent to around 20 feet of snow.

In BP Oil Spill Suit, Plaintiffs’ Attorneys Turn on Each Other

Just when you thought the BP oil spill litigation couldn’t get any weirder or more vicious, two titans of the plaintiffs’ bar have gone to war—against each other. It’s Godzilla vs. King Kong, as Danny Becnel of Louisiana sues Mikal Watts of Texas.

Becnel prefers to call himself The King of Torts. My Bloomberg Businessweek colleague Ken Wells wrote a crackerjack profile of him when Becnel materialized among the first group of mass-injury lawyers to file suit on behalf of victims of the April 2010 BP oil spill off the Louisiana coast. Becnel, the article noted, ”has represented plaintiffs in some of the highest-profile class actions in American history, from fen-phen diet pills and Big Tobacco to Dow Corning breast implants and the recent Toyota sudden-acceleration cases.”

Gulf Coast Wetlands Rapidly Declining

The Gulf of Mexico is losing more wetlands than anywhere else in the United States and it is losing them more rapidly than ever before, according to a new federal report that assessed the status of wetlands in the United States.

Why is this loss of this particular type of habitat so devastating?  According to the lead author of the report, Tom Dahl, the effects are far-reaching

Freeh asks judge to rescind oil spill award

A former FBI director conducting an investigation into alleged misconduct inside the settlement program for compensating victims of BP’s 2010 Gulf oil spill has concluded that a claim at the center of his probe was awarded more than $357,000 based on fraudulent information.

Giant Louisiana Sinkhole: Texas Brine says insurance company has put them in a hole

The company that accepted responsibility for the giant Louisiana sinkhole in Bayou Corne claims an insurance company has put them in a hole.

Texas Brine filed a complaint with the state insurance department saying Arch Specialty Company has not reimbursed them for any costs associated with the sinkhole.

St. James methanol plant gets state permit

South Louisiana Methanol LP has state permission to begin building its $1.3 billion methanol production plant in St. James Parish, company and government officials announced Wednesday.

Barry Williamson, SLM’s chief executive officer, said receipt of the plant’s air permit from the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality means the company “is on track to begin construction during the second half of 2014.” Williamson said the plant should begin operations in January 2017.

Exxon gets extension on Pegasus oil pipeline overhaul

A U.S. federal energy regulator granted Exxon Mobil an extension to submit a work plan to restart the Pegasus oil pipeline, which burst last year in Arkansas.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration gave Exxon Mobile Pipeline Co. until April 7 to submit a work plan. Monday was the previous deadline.

Arctic Cold Cuts Fuel Supplies as Refineries to Pipelines Freeze

Record cold weather pummeled energy infrastructure across the U.S., prompting gas pipeline operators to reduce flows, fuel terminals to shut loading racks and refineries to scale back production.

The cold snap pushed oil prices higher for a second straight day and boosted natural gas on the spot market yesterday to a 17-month high. Temperatures in several cities across the eastern half of the U.S. dropped to record lows, with New York’s Central Park hitting 4 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 16 Celsius) yesterday, breaking a mark for the date set in 1896, according to AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.

US tries to reassure senators about oil pipeline

A federal agency is trying to allay concerns of three U.S. senators who asked for evidence that an oil pipeline crossing a section of the Great Lakes is safe.

The Detroit Free Press reports Cynthia Quarterman, the head of the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, wrote U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow recently to say “significant safety improvements” have been made.

Crude oil spills are bigger from trains than pipelines

The flaming wreckage of a derailed train carrying crude in northern New Brunswick once again calls into question the safest way to transport crude oil across Canada.

A Global News analysis found that train spills in transit are larger than those from pipelines. And trucks, though they have a higher rate of accidents, tend to spill much less.

The Transport Canada database doesn’t include the most recent train accidents that have gripped the country – notably Lac-Megantic and Plaster Rock, NB. But it shows three major train accidents that spilled tens of thousands of litres of crude while in transit.

The false safety promise of Keystone XL

Tuesday night, a train in New Brunswick, Canada careened off the rail. Dozens were evacuated as the derailed cars, which carried crude oil and propane, burned well into Wednesday.

This followed an accident last week in North Dakota, where a train derailed and exploded in what was described as a “giant fireball”, along with three other incidents over the past year, one of which, in Quebec, resulted in the deaths of 47 people.

Edward McConnell, mayor of the town that narrowly avoided catastrophe last week, called the crash a “wake-up call.” In an interview with Midwest Energy News, he said, “Environmentalists are complaining that pipelines are dangerous to the environment, but if you’re going to wreck some land, it’s not as bad as blowing up a town.”

Canada crude train still burning after derailment

A train carrying crude oil and propane is still burning in the Canadian province of New Brunswick after partially derailing overnight.

More than 100 residents of nearby Plaster Rock were evacuated from the village on Tuesday night after 15 cars and one locomotive derailed.

Officials are using helicopters to determine the full extent of the fire.

Coast getting little radiation from Fukushima disaster

Scientists reported Wednesday that low levels of radiation from Japan’s Fukushima disaster first detected off the California coast two years ago have been declining ever since and remain well below any levels considered unsafe for humans.

The scientists, from UC Santa Cruz and Stony Brook University in New York, were responding to public concerns raised this week by an Internet video claiming that dangerously high radiation levels had been detected in the sands of Pacifica State Beach.

Is Fukushima at risk for another nuclear disaster?

At the Fukushima Daiichi plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Co., or TEPCO, is struggling to contain the ongoing nuclear disaster. Since the catastrophe almost three years ago, there has been disagreement about whether the plant is safe.

The official line from the Japanese government is that the situation is under control.

Fukushima’s Ghost Towns

(PHOTOS) Homes, businesses surrounding Japan’s shuttered power plant remain abandoned.

Fukushima Reactor 3 – TEPCO responds

Tepco has confirmed that steam is rising from Fukushima’s melted-down Reactor 3, but insists there is ‘no abnormality’.

The steam emanating from the top of Unit 3 Reactor Building indicates “no abnormality”, according to plant owner Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO).

Removal of nuclear fuel at Fukushima plant resumes after holiday break

Work to remove nuclear fuel from a damaged reactor building at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant was proceeding smoothly as efforts resumed Jan. 6 after the conclusion of the New Year’s holidays.

Work initially got under way on Nov. 18 at the storage pool of the damaged No. 4 reactor building to remove 1,533 nuclear fuel assemblies, but was suspended Dec. 22 for the holiday period.

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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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