Environmental Must-Reads – July 14, 2014


Expert: Pa. didn’t address fracking health impacts

Pennsylvania’s former health secretary says the state has failed to seriously study the potential health impacts of one of the nation’s biggest natural gas drilling booms.

Dr. Eli Avila also says the state’s current strategy is a disservice to people and even to the industry itself because health officials need to be proactive in protecting the public.

As rail moves frac sand across Wisconsin landscape, new conflicts emerge

Wisconsin’s boom in the production of sand used for hydraulic fracturing has fueled a large increase in rail traffic moving the commodity to other states, causing conflicts and raising safety concerns.

While the number of Wisconsin car-train accidents has remained relatively steady in recent years, and derailments actually are down, some residents who live near train tracks used for transporting sand, primarily in western and northwestern communities, complain about noise and traffic delays in addition to safety worries.

BSNF Railways Workers Forced To Ignore Oil Train Safety

One of the largest freight railroad companies in North America, BNSF, transports much of the country’s flammable oil supplies through the Northwest. But BNSF management has forced workers to skip critical safety checks, and fired employees who blow the whistle on unsafe practices. Ashley Ahearn reports from the State of Washington.

What you should know about crude oil on trains coming through PA

More trains carrying crude oil to East Coast refineries mean a greater risk of accidents. Derailments in Pennsylvania and throughout the country are a signal to some that an accident could be disastrous.

Ohio fracking water reuse questioned

Since January, Ohio has approved operating permits for 27 centers that take drilling mud, radioactive rocks and wastewater from fracking wells and store or “clean” it before sending it on to landfills or injection wells.

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has approved every permit — considered temporary until the state writes rules that regulate the centers — without any public notification or input.

‘No drill, no spill’: Protestors in Skaneateles urge Cuomo to enact statewide fracking ban

As the evening hour reached Skaneateles Thursday, one man yelled “Tell me what democracy looks like!” while the crowd around him responded “This is what democracy looks like!”

More than 50 people gathered in Clift Park to protest against hydraulic fracturing and in favor of a statewide ban on natural gas drilling. As they held anti-fracking signs and shouted such lines as “No drill, no spill,” several motorists honked their support as they drove past the scene.

Texas company ends controversial oil drilling in Florida; keeps pumping from one well

A Texas company that sparked controversy by drilling for oil in Florida panther habitat near the Everglades — and then violating its permit — announced Friday that except for its lone well that’s producing oil, it is ending all its operations there.

Officials from the Dan A. Hughes Co. “assessed their capital budget and their prospects in other parts of the country and decided to allocate their resources to other project areas,” spokesman David Blackmon said.

Renewed Push For Oil Sparks Concern In Florida; Laws Unclear Even As Company Pulls Out

Florida officials are grappling with how to regulate fracking after a Texas-based oil company used a similar procedure in a Southwest Florida exploratory well. Now the company says it’s pulling out of the area, but its activities have brought the issue of fracking to the forefront.

There’s a mistaken impression fracking is illegal in Florida. And until recently, no one was talking much about it. But earlier this year, prior to the start of the legislative session, one of the few conversations about fracking in Florida occurred. Representative Ray Rodrigues (R-Fort Myers) tried, and ultimately failed, to pass a bill regarding public disclosure of fracking chemicals.

Oil and gas regulator chairman makes fracking plea

The head of the agency that regulates the oil and gas industry in Texas is asking officials of Denton in North Texas to withhold support from a grass-roots petition advocating a ban on hydraulic fracturing within the city limits.

The university town sits on the Barnett Shale, believed to hold one of the largest natural gas reserves in the U.S.

Md. regulators recommend tight limits on shale-gas drilling aimed at protecting environment

State regulators on Friday recommended some of the nation’s tightest restrictions on shale gas drilling, aimed partly at protecting drinking water from being contaminated by methane leaking from drill sites in western Maryland.

The “best practices” recommended by the departments of the environment and natural resources include a general, 2,000-foot buffer between hydraulic-fracturing drill rigs and private water wells. That’s twice the distance Maryland currently requires between gas wells and private water wells, and a bigger setback than any other state mandates, said Brigid Kenney, a senior policy adviser with the Department of the Environment.

California’s New Fracking Regulations Delayed Half a Year

California’s new regulations for hydraulic fracturing will be delayed by six months, after state legislators approved a bill in late June authorizing the change.

The wide-reaching regulations were scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2015. Now, the regulations will begin on July 1, 2015, though the Department of Conservation must still finalize them by the end of this year.

Why A Texas City May Ban Fracking

Denton, Texas, is considering a ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and a new study links this process of energy extraction with earthquakes. NPR’s Arun Rath considers the risks with science writer Abrahm Lustgarten.

Fracking Protest to March on Federal Energy Regulatory Commission HQ

Activists are planning to rally against the government’s plan to export fracked and liquefied natural gas from U.S. coastlines.

The protest, called “Stop Fracked Gas Exports,” wants to stop the development of the Cove Point export terminal in Lusby, Maryland. The group is calling on President Obama and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to halt approval of all LNG export projects and protect communities from fracking.

‘All is Lost’ director J.C. Chandor to helm the drama ‘Deepwater Horizon,’ about the BP oil spill

“Deepwater Horizon,” a planned big-screen drama about the 2010 BP oil spill, has a director — and it’s someone who knows a thing or two about shooting a tense drama on open water. J.C. Chandor, who directed Robert Redford in last year’s critically acclaimed boating drama “All is Lost,” has been brought on board to helm the film, according to Deadline.

The project will be based on The New York Times’ Dec. 25, 2010, article “Deepwater Horizon’s Final Hour,” a blow-by-blow account of the April 2010 oil-rig explosion some 40 miles off Louisiana’s coast. That article was written by David Barstow, David Rohde and Stephanie Saul. Matthew Sands wrote the first draft of the screenplay on which Chandor’s film will be based, with Matthew Michael Carnahan writing the most recent version.

Cleanup area extends nearly 2 miles after ND spill

The path of brine spilled from an underground North Dakota pipeline extends nearly 2 miles down a steep ravine, but dead vegetation is limited to about 200 yards from the source of the spill, a company official said Thursday.

Miranda Jones, vice president of environmental safety and regulatory at Crestwood Midstream Partners Inc., said the cause of the spill appears to involve a separation of the pipe that carries saltwater, a byproduct of oil and natural gas production. Crestwood subsidiary Arrow Pipeline LLC owns the pipeline.

Near spill, reservation wrestles with oil’s impact

Growing up, Ruth Anna Buffalo would follow the dirt track behind her house into the rugged North Dakota badlands, swimming in creeks picketed with beaver dams, finding artifacts and climbing bluffs overlooking Lake Sakakawea. For the young, the lake and the land around it were a wonderland.

Buffalo’s grandfather, though, looked at the lake with pained eyes. Created by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ building of the Garrison Dam in the 1940s and ’50s, it flooded out a significant portion of the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation and swallowed his town of Elbowoods. Families were forced to leave their homes for higher ground.

A Pipeline Threatens Our Family Land

MOUNTAIN LAUREL, tufted with pink blooms each spring, and leathery emerald rhododendron line the Tucquan Glen, a steep hollow in southern Lancaster County, Pa. The Tucquan Creek, home to towering tulip poplar and oak trees and the occasional red fox, rushes over natural rock dams and plunges into secluded swimming holes before it meets the Susquehanna River and continues to the Chesapeake Bay.

I know this creek, the way it tastes and sounds, because I grew up with it, playing in the ferns and wild columbine along its banks. My father moved to the hollow as a single parent in 1976. When he died 30 years later, my sister, Malinda Harnish Clatterbuck, decided to raise her two daughters in the home where we were raised.

DEP investigating ‘significant’ spill in Lackawanna River

What once helped heat Scranton may now be seeping into the Lackawanna River.

The Department of Environmental Protection is investigating a “significant” petroleum-based spill in the river as fuel oil leaking from an old steam energy plant has covered plants along the shoreline for as far as 2 miles, according to an initial inspection by DEP.

Enbridge wrapping up oil spill cleanup

Cleanup efforts following the leak of about 800,000 gallons of crude from an underground pipeline in western Michigan are nearly complete, according to the Canadian oil company that owns the pipeline.

Contaminated soil is expected to be removed from the Morrow Lake delta near Comstock Township in Kalamazoo County by mid- to late summer, Enbridge Inc. spokesman Jason Manshum told the Kalamazoo Gazette.

Burst pipeline could restart within a year, but questions remain about repair plan

Exxon Mobil could restart the northern leg of its Pegasus oil pipeline within a year, but the company’s pre-startup tests could leave behind threats large enough to endanger the public, according to a review of Exxon’s proposal.

Those details and others are laid out in Exxon’s repair plan for the Pegasus northern segment, a document that was submitted to federal pipeline regulators at the end of March. The so-called “integrity verification and remedial work plan” was not publicly released, but InsideClimate News obtained a copy through a public records request.

PBS focusing NOVA’s lens on Bayou Corne sinkhole

The Public Broadcasting Service television series NOVA is focusing its documentary lens on the nearly 2-year-old sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish.

A film crew associated with the venerable, award-winning science program finished up four days of interviews and shooting in Bayou Corne on Friday, said NOVA producer Larry Klein. A one-hour program is set to air in the winter of 2015.

Oil pipeline plan for eastern S.D. may trigger a battle

Gary Hanson has been here before.

In 12 years on South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission, Hanson was there for the fight over Canadian oil giant TransCanada’s Keystone pipeline running through eastern South Dakota. He still was there when TransCanada asked to build a second pipeline, Keystone XL, that became an international political battlefield.

Third oil pipeline to cross century-old Livingston County farm

Jim McCabe was about 12 years old when the first oil pipeline was installed across the family farm in rural Pontiac.

It was 1952. The 22-inch Sinclair Oil Corp. line extended 650 miles to Cushing, Okla. Enbridge, a Calgary, Alberta, Canada, company purchased the line in 2003.

Last year, about 50 feet north, Enbridge installed a second pipeline across the century-old farm owned by McCabe and his wife, Marleen, and his brother and sister-in-law, Don and Brenda McCabe.

Lopsided lobbying on Keystone Pipeline

The oil and gas groups that want the Keystone XL Pipeline built lobbied significantly harder for the project than the environmentalists fighting against it. But the pressure and passion is so intense on both sides that the lopsided lobbying hasn’t been enough to move the needle.

The Obama administration continues to punt the ultimate decision of whether to allow construction of the crude oil pipeline crossing the U.S.-Canadian border, yet the sectors lobbying in support of it keep on pushing.

NEB says it will weigh Imperial, Chevron’s Arctic spill response plans

Two big energy players aiming to drill in the Beaufort Sea will get clarity from the National Energy Board as to whether their proposals to deal with a potential undersea blowout are adequate.

In letters to Imperial Oil Ltd. (TSX:IMO) and Chevron Canada Ltd. posted Friday, the NEB agreed to review the companies’ contingency plans before they file formal applications.

Public, Industry Weigh in on Oil Train Safety

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration is drafting regulations to improve the safety of rail shipments of crude oil following a series derailments, explosions and fires. With billions of dollars at stake, the railroad, oil, ethanol and chemical industries have been trying to shape the rules to their advantage in a series of meetings with the White House and PHMSA. A key issue is tougher standards for tank cars used to ship oil. The public has weighed in primarily through letters, emails and phone calls to the agency.

New York Won’t Keep Oil Train Details Secret

New York’s homeland security agency is refusing requests from freight railroads to further restrict public information about their crude oil shipments, concluding it’s not sensitive security information and will be given to local emergency planners.

Federal officials reached a similar conclusion in June, ordering railroads to give state officials details about oil-train routes and volumes so emergency responders can be better prepared for their duties.

Doubts over ice wall to keep Fukushima safe from damaged nuclear reactors

In fading light and just a stone’s throw from the most terrifying scenes during Japan’s worst nuclear accident, engineers resumed their race against time to defeat the next big threat: thousands of tonnes of irradiated water.

If all goes to plan, by next March Fukushima Daiichi’s four damaged reactors will be surrounded by an underground frozen wall that will be a barrier between highly toxic water used to cool melted fuel inside reactor basements and clean groundwater flowing in from surrounding hills.

Powerful 6.5 Earthquake Strikes in Area of Fukushima, Japan

A powerful earthquake struck early Saturday off the coast of northern Japan — rattling nerves in a region rocked three years ago by a deadly tremor, tsunami and nuclear crisis, though thankfully the latest episode didn’t nearly measure up.

Minor tsunami hit Fukushima coast after strong quake

Minor tsunami hit Tohoku’s coastline early Saturday, including in a city near the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant, after a strong 6.8-magnitude earthquake struck off the Pacific coast.

There were no immediate reports of damage, however, and authorities lifted all advisories roughly two hours later.

Survey: Fukushima evacuees traveled average 273 km in search for shelter

Evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster moved to different shelters an average of four times and traveled 273 kilometers during the month after the crisis unfolded in March 2011, a survey showed.

The joint survey by the University of Tokyo and Nagoya University on about 10,000 evacuees showed that they traveled an average of 57 km during their first relocation, mainly to their relatives’ homes or evacuation centers.

Sophisticated radiation detector designed for broad public use

Nuclear engineers at Oregon State University have developed a small, portable and inexpensive radiation detection device that should help people all over the world better understand the radiation around them, its type and intensity, and whether or not it poses a health risk. The device was developed in part due to public demand following the nuclear incident in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, when many regional residents were unsure what level of radiation they were being exposed to and whether their homes, food, environment and drinking water were safe.

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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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