Environmental Must-Reads – July 1, 2015


Just Weeks After Oil Spill, California Officials OK Nine New Offshore Fracks

In the wake of the devastating Refugio oil spill near Santa Barbara, the Center for Biological Diversity today urged Gov. Jerry Brown to halt plans for extensive new offshore fracking near the California coast.

The state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources recently approved permits for nine new fracks in Long Beach Harbor. The new offshore fracks, which would begin in August and continue through December, would be the first in state waters since 2013.

Oklahoma Court Rules Homeowners Can Sue Oil Companies Over Quakes

The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that homeowners who have sustained injuries or property damage from rampant earthquakes they say are caused by oil and gas operations can sue for damages in state trial courts, rejecting efforts by the industry to block such lawsuits from being decided by juries and judges.

The case has been closely watched both by the energy industry and by fracking opponents across the United States, and the 7-to-0 ruling opens the door for homeowners in a state racked by earthquakes to pursue oil and gas companies for temblor-related damage.

Environmentalists Want California to Stop Offshore Fracking

Environmentalists Tuesday called on Gov. Jerry Brown to halt plans for months of hydraulic fracturing in the waters off Southern California, warning that it could lead to chemical pollution or an oil spill.

State regulators this month approved nine permits for operator Thums Long Beach Co. for so-called fracking operations between August and December in Long Beach Harbor.

New data reveals which U.S. fracking wells needed the most water to drill

Drillers in the Eagle Ford Shale use among the most water in the country to drill for oil and gas, according to a study from the U.S. Geological Survey released Tuesday.

Using data collected from IHS Energy on more than 81,000 wells across the U.S., USGS researchers said they created the first map providing a comprehensive look at the rate of water usage across the nation’s major shale plays.

Study: Water Use Skyrockets as Fracking Expands

Oil and natural gas fracking, on average, uses more than 28 times the water it did 15 years ago, gulping up to 9.6 million gallons of water per well and putting farming and drinking sources at risk in arid states, especially during drought.

Those are the results of a U.S. Geological Survey study published by the American Geophysical Union, the first national-scale analysis and map of water use from hydraulic fracturing operations.

Shocking Documents Reveal Fracking Health Complaints Swept Under the Rug in Pennsylvania

Heavily-fracked Pennsylvania is a battle ground in the fight to protect affected families from the harms of the toxic drilling method. Last week after months of resisting our efforts, the state finally delivered more than 100 pages of documents to Food & Water Watch that were requested through a public Right-to-Know request. And what we received was shocking. The documents clearly demonstrate an ongoing pattern of alarming negligence and incompetence by the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) in responding to scores of fracking-related health complaints from state residents.

New study identifies organic compounds of potential concern in fracking fluids

A new University of Colorado Boulder framework used to screen hundreds of organic chemical compounds used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, shows that 15 may be of concern as groundwater contaminants based on their toxicity, mobility, persistence and frequency of use.

Using a fast groundwater transport scenario, the team predicted that 41 of the 659 organic compounds screened would have 10 percent or more of their initial concentrations remaining at a transport distance of roughly 300 feet. That is the average state “setback” distance in the United States between a fracking well and a drinking water well, said CU-Boulder Professor Joseph Ryan, the principal investigator on the study.

Local reactions to the DEC hydrofracking ban

New York formalized its ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas on Monday, concluding a seven-year environmental and health review that drew a record number of public comments.

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said in announcing the decision. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

DEC On Fracking: “Not In New York”

Environmentalists are welcoming the official end to the years-long fracking debate in New York.

State Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens released a 43-page “Findings Statement” Monday afternoon, which effectively prohibits high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the Empire State.

Scientific Case for banning fracking on federal land

The final fracking review has been released and the paperwork has been completed to make New York’s long-awaited fracking ban official. We are proud to celebrate Governor Cuomo’s bold and necessary decision, which confirms what many of us working in healthcare already knew – fracking anywhere in New York would put public health and safety at great risk. As a doctor and a nurse, we can speak to the objective, scientific examination of shale drilling and fracking from a public health standpoint, on which Governor Cuomo wisely based his decision in order to protect the health and water of all New Yorkers.

Sunoco takes pipeline plans for Mariner East 2 to Chesco, Delco residents

Sunoco Logistics officials were on hand at West Chester University’s Sykes Student Union to answer questions from Chester County residents regarding the Mariner East 2 pipeline project Monday night.

“These are the last of the county-by-county meetings we have been doing for landowners,” said Jeff Shields, communications director for Sunoco Logistics. “As we start the land acquisition process and we start knocking on people’s doors and sending them letters, we like to have these meetings to tell them exactly what’s going on, what our plans are and what we do, in terms of building the pipeline, operating the pipeline and our safety measures.”

Mexico Moving Forward With Major Natural Gas Pipeline

On June 22, Mexico’s Federal Electricity Commission (CFE) announced it would tender a new round of 24 energy infrastructure projects totaling $10 billion, including a $3 billion underwater pipeline bringing U.S. natural gas from Texas to Tuxpan, Veracruz. Amidst a grand national “gasification” strategy that has promoted Mexican imports of U.S. natural gas, this may be one of the most ambitious projects yet.

Of course there are concerns around potential risks associated with the project – whether there is the local capacity to carry it out, and whether it’s really necessary – all of which must be resolved if the pipeline is to begin transporting the proposed 2.6 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day by 2018.

Gulf of Mexico oil spill: Appeals court rules BP engineer Kurt Mix should get new trial 

A former BP engineer is entitled to a new trial on an obstruction of justice charge stemming from an investigation of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling that granted Kurt Mix a new trial because of jury misconduct in his 2013 trial.

Pipeline firm aims to control conversation on Santa Barbara oil spill

Two days after the ruinous May 19 oil spill that fouled fisheries, sea birds and beaches, Santa Barbara County Supervisor Janet Wolf and her chief of staff drove to the county’s emergency operations center to get the latest intelligence and offer support on the evolving disaster.

But they were stopped at the gate by a man asking Wolf who she was and whom she worked for. She identified herself and threw the same questions back at the gatekeeper:

” ‘Who do you work for?’ And he says, ‘I work for Plains.’ ”

Coast Guard continues to monitor palm oil spill in Savannah River

The Coast Guard continues to monitor the response to a palm oil spill that occurred Friday along the north shore of the Savannah River in the vicinity of Hutchinson Island.

“As of 8 p.m. Monday, approximately 50 percent of the shoreline has been cleaned,” said Coast Guard spokesman Anthony Soto. “Less than half a mile of the product remains within the containment boom along the river shoreline, and the majority of the product is contained.”

Russia’s Rosneft charged over pipeline leak that caused oil to come out of taps

Russia’s environmental watchdog has opened a case against state-owned oil corporation Rosneft after a pipeline leak resulted in oily water filling backyards and flowing out of locals’ taps in Siberia.

RN Yuganskneftegaz, a subsidiary of Rosneft, has been charged with an administrative violation of water protection regulations leading to contamination. The leak occurred last week just outside Nefteyugansk, a major oil town near the Ob river in the Khanty-Mansiysk region of Siberia, and quickly contaminated several hectares of water in the area, which has been suffering from flooding. The leak had been stopped as of Monday, the watchdog said.

Pilot program to settle landowner, pipeline reclamation battles is underway

A newly formed pilot program for pipeline reclamation is handling eight complaints since its start eight weeks ago and three more since the beginning of June.

The North Dakota Department of Agriculture is overseeing the program, which was passed by lawmakers this session and targets landowner problems with non-transmission pipelines installed after Jan. 1, 2006.

Great Lakes Line 5 Oil Pipeline Safety Study Nears

The Great Lakes Petroleum Pipeline Task Force, a high-level state panel, is poised to release a long-awaited report on the safety of Line 5, a 62-year-old pipeline that transports up to 540,000 barrels of oil a day across a deep, 8-kilometer-wide (5-mile-wide) strait at the top of Lake Michigan.

The report from the year-long task force, convened by the Michigan attorney general and the director of the state Department of Environmental Quality, is expected to reveal new facts about the oil pipeline’s design, operations, and maintenance, and make recommendations on state responsibility and oversight. Other members of the task force are the Michigan Public Service Commission, Michigan Department of Natural Resources, Michigan Office of the Great Lakes, Michigan Department of Transportation, and the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division of the Michigan State Police.

Canadian climate change initiatives bolster case for Keystone XL: TransCanada

TransCanada says recent Canadian climate change announcements should bolster the case in Washington for building its long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline.

The Calgary-based company makes that argument in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and other American officials as the U.S. regulatory process nears its seventh anniversary.

Keystone developer says new regulations justify the project

Recent Canadian action on climate change helps justify the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, a TransCanada executive said in a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry this week.

The Alberta government’s hike of the province’s carbon tax, as well as Canada’s commitment to international climate change agreements, means the Keystone project has to meet high environmental standards in both Canada and the United States, Kristine Delkus, TransCanada’s executive vice president and general counsel, wrote in the letter.

U.S. walrus protections hit Shell’s Arctic drilling plan

The Obama administration dealt a setback to Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic oil exploration plans on Tuesday, saying established walrus and polar bear protections prevent the company from drilling with two rigs simultaneously at close range, as it had planned.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued Shell a permit which emphasized that under 2013 federal wildlife protections, companies must maintain a 15-mile (24-km) buffer between two rigs drilling simultaneously.

Arctic oil rig departs Seattle-area port despite protest

U.S. Coast Guard and police boats cleared a way through protesters in kayaks at a Seattle-area port on Tuesday so Royal Dutch Shell’s second of two Arctic drilling rigs could depart for Alaska.

The activists, who have staged frequent demonstrations during the past two months against Shell’s planned oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea, said 21 protesters in kayaks took to the waters just beyond the Port of Everett from where the oil rig left.

Scorpion-Style Toshiba Robot to Enter Fukushima Nuclear Reactor

Toshiba Corp. and the International Research Institute for Nuclear Decommissioning unveiled a new scorpion-shaped robot that will be sent inside a containment vessel at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in August.

The robot, which is approximately 54 centimeters long and nine centimeters wide, weighs about five kilograms. It will be powered via a wire and carry two cameras, LED lights, a radiation counter and a thermometer.

Space Particles Are Helping Map the Inside of Fukushima

In just about every industrial factory you’ll see them: huge lead pipes. These move fluid—often super hot, or even steamed water. Over time, the fluids wear the pipes down. Or maybe they get dinged by a passing forklift. Or maybe changes in temperature cause tiny cracks to appear. Then the pipe bursts, and people get hurt.

Inspecting pipes is a pain in the tochus. Usually these pipes are covered in insulation and pumping hot, high pressure steam. To inspect them, you have to shut down the pipe, take it out of service, remove the insulation, then apply X-rays or ultrasound—both of which require special certification to use because of the radiation involved.

TEPCO told to pay 27 million yen to family of Fukushima evacuee who killed himself

Tokyo Electric Power Co. has been ordered to pay 27 million yen ($219,500) in compensation to the bereaved family of a male evacuee who committed suicide after being displaced due to the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Presiding Judge Naoyuki Shiomi of the Fukushima District Court ruled on June 30 that the main reason Kiichi Isozaki, 67, from Namie, near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, killed himself was “stress related to the nuclear accident.”

Redeeming lives of Fukushima’s irradiated animals

In the wake of the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, much remains unknown about the long-term health effects of the radioactive substances released.

Seeking answers, Tohoku University Prof. Manabu Fukumoto has been examining the blood and other factors of slaughtered cattle and wild animals caught by hunters mainly within a 20-kilometer radius of the plant.

Search is still on for device tracking Fukushima debris

A transponder that spent more than three years floating in the Pacific Ocean before washing up on Vancouver Island has become the subject of a wide-ranging scavenger hunt after mysteriously winding up in Campbell River last week.

The transponder, part of a group of 12 dropped in the ocean near Fukushima, Japan in January of 2012, was meant to give oceanographic researchers information on the travel pattern and duration of debris washed out to sea in the tsunami that struck near Fukushima in March, 2011.

Watts Bar is first nuclear plant to meet post-Fukushima upgrade requirements

The Watts Bar Nuclear Plant near Spring City, Tenn., has become the first nuclear power plant in America to gain regulatory approval for meeting new equipment and safety standards adopted in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said the Tennessee Valley Authority has upgraded plant safety systems, emergency pumping equipment and preventative maintenance programs to sufficiently protect Watts Bar against any natural or man-made disasters similar to what crippled the safety systems at three of the five reactors at the Fukushima plant.

Public radiation dosage from Pickering, Darlington nuclear stations ‘negligible’

Should residents be concerned with what’s coming out of the nuclear stations that bookend Durham Region?

According to Ontario Power Generation, the answer is absolutely not. According to the environmental monitoring program (EMP) OPG does every year that checks radiation emissions from the plants, the public dosage is a fraction of the legal limit.

Researchers pin down risks of low-dose radiation

For decades, researchers have been trying to quantify the risks of very low doses of ionizing radiation — the kind that might be received from a medical scan, or from living within a few tens of kilometres of the damaged Fukushima nuclear reactors in Japan. So small are the effects on health — if they exist at all — that they seem barely possible to detect. A landmark international study has now provided the strongest support yet for the idea that long-term exposure to low-dose radiation increases the risk of leukaemia, although the rise is only minuscule (K. Leuraud et al. Lancet Haematol. 

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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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