Environmental Must-Reads – July 13, 2015


California Has No Idea What’s In Its Fracking Chemicals, Study Finds

A scientific assessment on the impacts of hydraulic fracturing in California found that, in large part, the chemicals used are not being identified or tracked, and it’s nearly impossible to tell how damaging the process is to California’s water supply.

The study, carried out by the California Council on Science and Technology (CCST), recommended state agencies ban the reuse of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — for any use that could impact human health, the environment, wildlife, and vegetation until further testing can be done.

“These are things that require diligence,” CCST’s Jane Long told ThinkProgress. “There are a lot of potential issues.”

Meet the New York State Community That’s Standing Up to Big Energy

Let’s amend the famous line from Joni Mitchell’s “Yellow Taxi” to fit this moment in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. There, Big Energy seems determined to turn paradise, if not into a parking lot, then into a massive storage area for fracked natural gas. But there’s one way in which that song doesn’t quite match reality. Mitchell famously wrote, “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” As part of a growing global struggle between Big Energy and a movement focused on creating a fossil-fuel-free future, however, the residents of the Finger Lakes seem to know just what they’ve got and they’re determined not to let it go. As a result, a local struggle against a corporation determined to bring in those fracked fuels catches a changing mood not just in the United States but across the world when it comes to protecting the planet, one place at a time, if necessary.

Water and wildlife may be at risk from fracking’s toxic chemicals, panel finds

Hydraulic fracturing uses a host of highly toxic chemicals — the impacts of which are for the most part unknown — that could be contaminating drinking water supplies, wildlife and crops, according to a report released Thursday by a California science panel.

The long-awaited final assessment from the California Council on Science and Technology said that because of data gaps and inadequate state testing, overwhelmed regulatory agencies do not have a complete picture of what oil companies are doing.

Ballot Fight Over Fracking Could Be Shaping up in Colorado

Environmentalists and the energy industry have fought decisive battles over fracking in New York, Oklahoma and Texas, but the outcome is unclear in Colorado, where the issue could go to a ballot fight in the 2016 election.

A task force convened by Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper tried to find a compromise over who should regulate the industry — the state or local government — and to what extent. But fracking critics were bitterly disappointed when the panel suggested leaving regulatory power in state hands and avoided recommending specific health, environmental and safety rules.

Increased Fracking Water Use in Ohio: Compromising Watershed Integrity?

The water footprint of hydraulic fracturing is increasing in Ohio and around the nation, according to new findings from the U.S. Geological Survey.

A USGS report found an average horizontal gas well consumed more than 5 million gallons of water in 2014, up from around 177,000 gallons in 2000.

Painter: Illegal wastewater dumping continues throughout county

The illegal dumping of wastewater from oil and gas activity continues to beleaguer law enforcement agencies throughout the Permian Basin. Scofflaw haulers dump truckloads of waste water in remote sites in order to cut costs of proper disposal. Yet despite how directly law enforcement cracks down on the issue, it’s become seemingly impossible to snuff.

“We’re having a lot of trouble with some of these companies that are dumping waste oil — waste water that contains contaminants — in the ditches along county roads, alongside state highways,” Midland County Sheriff Gary Painter said. “We’re having that all over the place.”

Arsenic and Frackwater Waste

Frackwater contains many toxic elements and chemicals that contaminate groundwater, if it spills. The Allegheny Front’s Reid Frazier reports that when this wastewater from fracking spills, microbes start to clean it up, but the process can release arsenic, which also pollutes groundwater.

Environmentalists differ in mindset, willingness to work with frackers

On the battleground against fracking, critics who say they fight for the environment often are branded broadly.

Cast against an industry that says it can bring energy independence to the country and an economic boost to Pennsylvania, environmental groups in the state have made shale gas drilling a cornerstone issue — but disagree on how to address it.

In California, big oil finds water is its most prized commodity

California’s epic drought is pushing Big Oil to solve a problem it’s struggled with for decades: what to do with the billions of gallons of wastewater that gush out of wells every year.

Golden State drillers have pumped much of that liquid back underground into disposal wells. Now, amid a four-year dry spell, more companies are looking to recycle their water or sell it to parched farms as the industry tries to get ahead of environmental lawsuits and new regulations.

Fracking rigs ‘could surround national parks’ under Government plans

National parks and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty risk becoming surrounded by fracking rigs under Government plans to let energy companies extract shale gas from beneath them, campaigners have warned.

Ministers previously agreed to an “outright ban” on fracking in such protected areas, but are this week expected to put forward legislation allowing the controversial process to take place underneath the areas – so long as drilling rigs are stationed just outside their boundaries.

Fracking: Pennines residents mobilise to stop company drilling up to 950 wells in Thirsk and Malton

In the heart of the North Yorkshire countryside, the latest battle in the fracking war is well and truly under way. The gas company Third Energy wants to test the viability of using hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to extract gas from its existing well in the village of Kirby Misperton. Residents are mobilising, protests have been held, politicians lobbied and debates held in Westminster.

“This is about nothing less than the industrialisation of our countryside,” said Karen Garrett, who lives with her family just over a mile from the village. Mrs Garrett’s biggest concerns are “the environmental impact, the legacy once the company has gone, and the effects on tourism and agriculture”.

Protesters ‘rally and teach’ against bringing oil trains across L.A.

Plans by an oil company to run hundreds of trains carrying highly-explosive oil across Los Angeles were protested at the city’s center Saturday.

About 200 people attended a “rally and teach in” today at Los Angeles Union Station to protest plans by the Phillips 66 Company to bring in oil trains from Canada, organizers said. The rail cars carry a type of oil derived from tar sands that has exploded with disastrous results in rail accidents.

Phillips 66 oil-by-rail proposal prompts a statewide outcry

Cities, school districts and public officials throughout California have signaled their opposition to a proposed project at the Nipomo Mesa refinery that would allow it to receive oil by rail, but nearly all San Luis Obispo County public agencies have stayed out of the fray.

Only the city of San Luis Obispo and the Lucia Mar Unified Teachers Association have urged the county not to approve the project — despite intense local lobbying by regional and statewide opponents.

With a solemn remembrance and music, protesters decry oil-train accidents

Two years after a fatal oil-train derailment in Quebec drew national attention to the transport of crude oil, more than 100 people gathered Saturday in Center City to remember the victims and demand better train safety controls in Philadelphia.

“These trains go through our neighborhoods and right past our most important icons, and right by a major water supply,” said Tracy Carluccio, director of special projects at Delaware Riverkeeper Network, one of the groups that organized the rally at Schuylkill River Trails park, near tracks used by oil trains daily. “We are all exposed to this danger.”

Whatcom County environmentalists want to monitor oil trains

Whatcom County environmentalists want to step in as watchdogs and keep tabs on the trains rolling through their backyards.

For a few months, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities staff members have asked people who are interested in environmental activism if they own property near the tracks, and if they’d be willing to host a camera there to document train movements.

Opposing pipeline studies raise questions

A report commissioned by an opposition group calls into question the benefits of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline. The Southern Environmental Law Center hired Cambridge, Mass.-based Synapse Energy Economics to review earlier economic studies released by Dominion Resources and the group released its findings this past week. The News Virginian looked at both this report and the earlier ones commissioned by Dominion and found questions in each.

NEXUS Pipeline battle gets heated; goes before judge

Medina County property owners are trying to keep surveyors for the controversial NEXUS natural gas pipeline project off their land.

This is a case that could have far-reaching implications. Several homeowners are adamant about not letting surveyors onto their land.

Texas Brine shifts blame to Occidental Petroleum, others for causing Bayou Corne sinkhole

Texas Brine Co., beset by a series of lawsuits blaming it for the Bayou Corne sinkhole disaster, is seeking $100 million in damages from Occidental Petroleum Corp., claiming that the worldwide oil driller caused the now 31-acre hole in the south Louisiana swamp.

The claim, made Thursday in Assumption Parish through a series of suits filed in ongoing sinkhole litigation, puts forward a theory for the sinkhole’s beginning that tries to deflect any liability for Texas Brine and partly contradicts the official theory of the sinkhole’s appearance in early August 2012.

Reckoning With Oil Spills

Five years ago this week, engineers capped the leaking Macondo well 1,500 meters below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, effectively ending the largest marine oil spill in U.S. history. The Gulf spill started three months earlier, when the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig exploded into fire—an accident that killed 11 workers—and then sank into the sea. During the 86 days of the spill, 4.9 million barrels of oil and 200,000 metric tons of hydrocarbon gas spewed into the Gulf.

Earlier this month, BP, the principal developer of the oil field, announced a proposed $18.7 billion settlement with federal and state authorities for environmental and economic damage related to the spill. The deal would bring the total that the company will spend on the spill to more than $40 billion.

Questions still unanswered about Gulf oil spill settlement

Gulf Coast officials worry that their communities won’t get their fair share of Alabama’s $2.3 billion portion of the BP oil spill settlement.

Gulf Shores Mayor Robert Craft told AL.com that members of the Gulf Coast Recovery Council have unanswered questions about the settlement.

BP settlement: Tens of millions for lawyers, not nearly enough for the coast

Louisiana’s settlement with BP is a raw deal. U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier previously ruled that British Petroleum (BP) acted recklessly in disregarding warning signs that the well wasn’t properly sealed against gas leaks. With that ruling, the state of Louisiana was poised to hold BP accountable for the 2010 disaster in the oil giant’s Macondo field off the Louisiana coast, an explosion that killed 11 workers and coated the Gulf and its shorelines with more oil than any spill in U.S. history.

A strong settlement holding BP accountable would have served as a powerful and effective disincentive to oil and gas operators everywhere, essentially telling them: if you risk Louisiana lives and damage our coast and fisheries, you will be held accountable.

But that is not what happened.

Southern California beaches tested for tar balls after oil spill

The effort to track the impact of a crude oil spill on the Santa Barbara coast in May hit beaches this week as far south as Orange County, officials said Saturday.

Tar ball samples were taken Thursday and Friday from Gaviota to Newport Beach, about 170 miles away, for a better reference point of where oil is washing up and to improve reporting, according to a press release from officials overseeing the cleanup.

Plains reports oil spill near St. Louis

Plains All American Pipeline, the company behind one of California’s largest oil spills, said it was cleaning up a small separate spill near St. Louis.

Plains reported a spill from a pump station about 40 miles northeast of St. Louis late Friday. The company said about 100 barrels of oil spilled and some of that never migrated from the incident site.

Judge expected to decide next week if environmental groups can intervene in NJ Exxon case

A judge will decide next week whether seven environmental groups and a state senator are allowed to argue in court against the controversial pollution settlement between the Christie administration and Exxon Mobil Corp.

After two hours of arguments at a hearing Friday in Mount Holly, Superior Court Judge Michael Hogan said he will make his decision Monday or Tuesday. The groups want to intervene to convince Hogan to reject the $225 million settlement, which they consider to be too low, for a century’s worth of pollution at Exxon’s former refineries in Linden and Bayonne.

Fossil fuel industry must ‘implode’ to avoid climate disaster, says top scientist

An “induced implosion” of the fossil fuel industry must take place for there to be any chance of avoiding dangerous global warming, according to one of the world’s most influential climate scientists.

Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, an adviser to the German government and Pope Francis, said on Friday: “In the end it is a moral decision. Do you want to be part of the generation that screwed up the planet for the next 1,000 years? I don’t think we should make that decision.”

Shell may drop the word ‘oil’ from its U.S. operations

Royal Dutch Shell’s U.S. unit is considering dropping the word “oil” from its name.

The company’s director of upstream Americas business, Marvin Odum, told the Toronto Global Forum on Thursday that the name Shell Oil CO. is “a little old-fashioned, I’d say, and at one point we’ll probably do something about that,” Bloomberg reports.

Greenwash: Shell May Remove “Oil” From Name as it Moves to Tap Arctic, Gulf of Mexico

Shell Oil has announced it may take a page out of the BP “Beyond Petroleum” greenwashing book, rebranding itself as something other than an oil company for its United States-based unit.

Marvin Odum, director of Shell Oil’s upstream subsidiary companies in the Americas, told Bloomberg the name Shell Oil “is a little old-fashioned, I’d say, and at one point we’ll probably do something about that” during a luncheon interview with Bloomberg News co-founder Matt Winkler (beginning at 8:22) at the recently-completed Shell-sponsored Toronto Global Forum.

Pipeline spills more than 4,000 gallons of oil into Highland creek

Big concerns continue after an oil leak Friday near Highland, Illinois, not far from the Madison and Bond County line. Residents worry the oil may contaminate their water supply.

Crews have a lot of work to do after more than 4,000 gallons of oil leaked out of this Plains Pipeline Company Pumping Station in to a nearby ditch.  Trouble is, that ditch leads to a creek, which goes to Silver Lake, and that’s where the water for Highland comes from.

Union calls Wyoming company’s pipelines unsafe

A Casper company proposing a new crude oil pipeline in southwest North Dakota has a poor track record of spills and can’t be trusted to build and operate the project safely, a coalition of labor unions says.

The Laborers International Union of North America plans to urge North Dakota regulators to reject a pipeline from Bridger Pipeline LLC, the same company responsible for an oil spill in the Yellowstone River this year.

National Congress of American Indians opposes Enbridge Sandpiper project

On July 1, 2015, the National Congress of American Indians adopted a formal resolution calling for a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on Enbridge Energy’s proposed Sandpiper/Line 3 oil pipeline corridor across treaty-ceded territory in Northern Minnesota. The NCAI is the oldest and largest national organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments. The official resolution can be viewed on their website here.

Enbridge won’t be required to have additional insurance under state budget amendment

Enbridge Corporation was all set next week to appeal Dane County’s $25 million additional insurance requirement for a pipeline expansion but a last minute state budget provision may have come to their rescue.

Opponents said it’s the work of the company’s high paid lobbyists but Enbridge representatives said it’s a check on local government overstepping its bounds.

Here’s why we must stop Arctic Ocean drilling

Right now Shell Oil Company’s drilling rigs are on the way to the Arctic Ocean to begin exploratory drilling, perhaps even by the end of this month.

If history repeats itself, we are in trouble. Shell Oil Company’s 2012 attempt to drill in the Arctic Ocean was disastrous. It culminated with its drilling rig, the Kulluk, running aground near Sitkalidak Island, Alaska, and ending the year dismantled in China as scrap metal. Shell’s other drilling rig, the Noble Discoverer, had 16 safety and environmental violations and slipped an anchor, almost running aground, and caught fire at one point.

Damaged Arctic icebreaker’s route questioned

New marine tracking data shows a Shell-contracted icebreaker may have crossed through shallow waters that offered little clearance between the vessel’s bottom and the ocean floor before a 3-foot hole was discovered in its hull.

The Automatic Identification System data — location information captured every minute from the MSV Fennica — shows its July 3 route away from the Alaska Port of Dutch Harbor before a leak identified by a marine pilot and other crew onboard the icebreaker forced it to turn back.

On-site Piketon uranium disposal OK’d in decades-long plan

Waste from the decontamination and decommissioning of a Cold War-era uranium plant in southern Ohio will go to an on-site disposal facility under a U.S. Department of Energy plan approved by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The Portsmouth Gaseous Diffusion Plant in Piketon produced enriched uranium until 2001, and the shutdown left behind old buildings, industrial chemicals and radioactive areas.

Nuclear Plant Closing Reflects Overhaul of German Energy Production

In one of this country’s most popular novels for young readers, the nuclear reactor on the edge of this Bavarian town melts down, spewing a radioactive cloud that threatens all of Germany and robs a 14-year-old girl of her family and her hope for the future.

Last month, that nuclear power plant in Grafenrheinfeld, responsible for meeting the energy needs of industry-heavy Bavaria since 1981, came to a less dramatic but equally symbolic end. The plant became the first active reactor to be decommissioned since 2011, following Chancellor Angela Merkel’s about-face on nuclear power after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant catastrophe in Japan.

Downwinders seek acknowledgement that Trinity test caused suffering

Barbara Kent, 83, was living in El Paso in 1945, but on the July day that scientists from Los Alamos conducted the Trinity test in the Southern New Mexico desert, she was on a camping trip near Ruidoso with her dance teacher and 11 other young dance students.

“It was about 5 o’clock in the morning … and all of us in the upper bunks fell to the floor when the bomb went off,” Kent recalled recently. “Nobody could understand what was going on.”

Another jolt came later in the day when the girls saw what they thought must be snow falling from the sky. “We all thought ‘Oh my gosh,’ ” she said. “It’s July and it’s snowing … yet it was real warm.”

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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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