Environmental Must-Reads – July 16, 2015


Living Near Fracking Wells Linked to Increased Hospitalization Rates

Study after study links hydraulic fracturing wells to air pollution and water contamination. Now, researchers have drawn a correlation between living in an area where fracking is underway and elevated rates of hospitalizations for heart conditions and neurological illnesses.

In a study published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, scientists from Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania looked at hospital admittance rates from 2007 to 2011 for 18 ZIP codes in three counties in northeastern Pennsylvania, where the fracking industry has boomed in recent years. Two of the counties, Bradford and Susquehanna, saw a surge in new drilling activity during this period. The third, Wayne County, functioned as a control; it had no producing natural gas wells after a 2010 ban on drilling due to its proximity to the Delaware River watershed.

Study shows increased hospitalizations in Pennsylvania shale gas region

A study released today in the journal PLOS One shows a rise in hospitalization rates that researchers say correspond to an increase in the number of shale gas wells in Northeast Pennsylvania. The report used information from the Department of Environmental Protection along with data from the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council between 2007 to 2011 in Bradford, Susquehanna and Wayne counties. Bradford and Susquehanna counties experienced a drilling boom during that time period, as well as an increase in the number of patients admitted to hospital.

Parents protest fracking near schools

More than 50 protesters stood in front of the Mars Area High School in Middlesex Township, Butler County on Wednesday, bearing signs that said “Ban Fracking Now” and “Stop Fracking by Our Schools”.

The protesters targeted a plan that would allow hydraulic fracturing near local schools. Rex Energy has a permit to drill several wells at the Geyer well site, about a half mile from the high school.

ADM plans to use fracking technology to clean up groundwater pollution

Archer Daniels Midland Co. plans to use fracking technology on a small scale to clean up a lingering groundwater contamination problem at its soybean extraction plant in northeast Lincoln.

The Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality in June gave the Decatur, Illinois-based corporation preliminary approval to inject emulsified iron and vegetable oil solutions under high pressure into the ground to help get rid of carbon tetrachloride and other contaminants that have been there for decades.

Long Beach fracking needs tough scrutiny

Long Beach oil wells on and offshore inject water and chemicals into the ground to extract crude oil.

The profits from that oil prop up the city’s budget, but, for the most part, overwhelmed regulatory agencies don’t know the full impact the practice has on the environment. They should, and a series of studies have made clear tighter regulations and more information are needed. That means better enforcement from the California Department of Conservation.

Ground to dust: fracking, silicosis and the politics of public health

Let me tell you an outrageous yet all-too-common tale of how public health science is politicized to serve powerful interests. There are many poison pills attached to a recent funding bill passed by a U.S. Senate committee, but none taste as bitter to scientists and advocates of worker safety as a provision that would prevent the government from protecting workers from exposure to silica dust.

Silica dust is created through construction, mining and other industries that grind down rock, concrete, masonry and sand. Over-exposure to the dust causes an irreversible scarring of the lungs called silicosis. Approximately 2.2 million American workers are exposed to this hazard, and this contributed to the death of 1,437 Americans from silicosis between 2001 and 2010.

Florida City Bans Fracking

The city council of Bonita Springs, Florida, voted unanimously Wednesday to prohibit the controversial petroleum extraction technique, according to attendees.

The ordinance doesn’t ban “conventional oil drilling and routine well cleaning,” he writes.

Although Florida is generally not known for its oil and gas industry, there has been small-scale petroleum production since 1943. In the past several years, prospectors have viewed Florida’s untapped crude as a potential game-changer for the industry.

Official defends fracking rules for federal lands

A top administration official is defending new standards for hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, on land owned by the federal government and Indian tribes.

Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze told lawmakers on Wednesday that new rules are necessary to “address modern practices” such as fracking and to account for the increase in drilling on federal lands.

Federal Judge Block’s Obama’s New Fracking Rules

In a legal setback for the Obama administration’s environmental agenda, a federal judge in Wyoming sided with the Attorneys Generals of Colorado, North Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming,  temporarily blocking implementation of the administration’s regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal land, hours before they were set to take effect.

On June 23, the U.S. District Court of Wyoming issued a preliminary stay to Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) planned June 24th launch of the administration’s first major rewrite of fracking regulations on energy companies that lease federal land.

Maryland Bans Fracking Despite Governor’s Opposition

Maryland has placed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, also called “fracking,” for energy extraction in the state until October 2016.

The bill became law without Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) signature and contrasts strongly with Oklahoma’s embrace of fracking.

Study Finds Contaminants in California Public-Water Supplies

Nearly one-fifth of the raw groundwater used for public drinking water systems in California contains excessive levels of potentially toxic contaminants, according to a decade-long U.S. Geological Survey study that provides one of the first comprehensive looks at the health of California’s public water supply and groundwater.

One of the surprises in the study of 11,000 public supply wells statewide is the extent to which high levels of arsenic, uranium and other naturally occurring but worrisome trace elements is present, authors of the study said.

NEA Opposes California’s Phillips 66 Oil-train Project Over Risks to Students

Out of concern for the safety and wellbeing of students and teachers, the National Education Association today opposed the proposed Phillips 66 oil-train offloading facility in San Luis Obispo County. If approved the project would bring millions of gallons of hazardous crude oil nearly every day through highly populated areas near hundreds of schools.

With nearly 3 million members in 50 states and the District of Columbia, NEA is the nation’s largest professional employee organization and union. Its Representative Assembly voted earlier this month to send a letter urging the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors to reject the project permit.

Locomotive rear-ends train; 18 cars derail, 20,000 gallons of lube oil spills

More than 20,000 gallons of lube oil spilled after a freight train was rear-ended by another train traveling in the same direction Tuesday in western Virginia, causing 18 cars and a locomotive to derail, Norfolk Southern said.

The oil, which is commonly used in machinery, spilled from one of the derailed rail cars. Scrap metal spilled from another car. The other cars that went off the tracks were empty, Norfolk Southern spokeswoman Susan Terpay said Wednesday in an e-mail.

Records: Louisiana lawmakers intervene on behalf of New Orleans company responsible for decade-old oil leak

Capitol Hill lawmakers from Louisiana have intervened on behalf of a New Orleans company that has failed to stop a decade-old oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico but lobbied for a refund of money reserved for spill containment work, according to letters obtained by The Associated Press through public records requests.

Since December, at least four members of Louisiana’s congressional delegation have urged the Obama administration to take up a settlement proposal by Taylor Energy Company, the letters show. The company is down to one full-time employee and is no longer active in the offshore drilling industry, but its CEO is a prominent philanthropist and generous political donor.

Refusing BP’s spill settlement, Orange Beach prepares for court fight

Orange Beach has rejected an offer to settle the $50 million lawsuit it filed against BP following the 2010 oil spill.

“We’re going to stand strong until we feel like — and this is using BP’s words — we’re made whole,” Mayor Tony Kennon said.

Oil majors shun Mexico offshore auction as blocks go unsold

The largest oil companies have chosen to skip bidding for blocks in Mexico, as that nation tries to entice foreign investment 77 years after seizing energy assets.

Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. and Total SA all passed on the first 14 shallow-water oil blocks auctioned by Mexico today in the country’s first-ever sale of territory in the Gulf of Mexico. Only one of Mexico’s first five oil blocks auctioned received a qualifying bid.

Texas company to pay $170K for 2010 oil spill in Big Horn County

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Wednesday it had reached a settlement with a Texas-based company over a 2010 oil spill in Big Horn County.

Enduro Resource Partners, of Fort Worth, Texas, will pay $170,000 to resolve alleged Clean Water Act violations resulting from the March 10 spill, which saw 162 barrels of crude discharged from a pipeline into a tributary of the Nowood River.

Federal lawsuit filed after Highland oil spill

A Highland resident has sued the Plains All American Pipeline Co. in federal court here, less than a week after 4,200 gallons of oil spilled from a company pump station.

The plaintiff, Kevin Nodine, filed the class-action lawsuit on behalf of himself and others who live by the areas affected.

New oil spill in Siberia

The discovery by a local resident was highlighted by local NI channel.

Reporter Konstantin Scherbina, at the scene, said:  ‘In the middle of the oily lake is sticking a valve.

‘Oil layer covers the entire visible surface of the water within a radius of 10-15 metres.

‘Along the way, right on the surface lies a pipe, presumably the pipeline.

Democrats And Republicans Are Actually Agreeing On An Environmental Regulation

Environmental regulation — measures to protect water, reduce carbon emissions, and limit mercury — is divisive in the 114th Congress. Almost all Democrats support it, and almost all Republicans despise it.

But there’s at least one area of environmental regulation lawmakers are agreeing on these days: Fixing our old, decrepit oil and gas pipeline system. At a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, representatives from both sides of the aisle took the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) to task for failing to implement several provisions of a pipeline safety law.

Canada regulator says Enbridge safely operating pipelines, despite violations

Canada’s energy regulator has concluded that Alberta-based Enbridge Inc is operating safely, despite finding the pipeline operator had violated rules designed to identify threats to the public and protect whistleblowers.

The National Energy Board (NEB) released the findings on Wednesday in a comprehensive audit that examined six areas of Enbridge’s operations over a 15-month period, including its safety oversight, emergency planning and environmental practices.

Farmers say Enbridge pipeline work is damaging farmland

Tim Killian’s farmland south of the Hudson/Stuckey Blacktop hasn’t been tilled for 30 years.

That allows the organisms in the soil to consume any residue and slows the flow of water, keeping the soil in place, he said.

Old Oak Park Road residents raise concerns over oil pipeline project

Residents along a road in unincorporated SLO County are concerned about the construction of an underground oil pipeline but are probably too late to stop it.

Over the last few weeks, residents along Old Oak Park Road, located northeast of Arroyo Grande, watched as construction and digging equipment was staged for the project along the road. The project is a planned 5.6-mile oil pipeline that will run from the Freeport-McMoran oil operation in Price Canyon to an existing pipeline in Arroyo Grande, which connects to the Santa Maria oil refinery on the Nipomo Mesa. The pipeline will allow Phillips 66 to transport between 1,500 and 10,000 barrels of oil per day at a pressure of 700 to 1,480 pounds per square inch to the refinery, resulting in potentially 18 fewer trips per day for oil tanker trucks along SLO County roads.

Sanders Calls Out Clinton’s Silence on Keystone XL

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton met behind closed doors with House and Senate Democrats Tuesday to talk about her positions on key issues. According to the members of Congress who attended the lunch, she told them that climate change can be a winning issue for Democrats, especially among younger voters, if they can develop a message to persuade voters that action is essential.

Poll shows bipartisan support in West for federal grouse plans

A bipartisan poll shows voters in states with sage grouse habitat support sweeping federal plans to protect the bird across millions of acres of public land, even if doing so restricts some energy development.

The poll of 600 voters in all 11 Western states with sage grouse habitat — California, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, Nevada, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington and Wyoming — found that 61 percent of survey respondents expressed support for federal plans to protect the grouse and avoid the need to list the bird for protection under the Endangered Species Act.

China’s Pollution Quagmire And Its Alberta Tar Sands Connection

China’s efforts to reduce air pollution could be negated by its unregulated and unmonitored burning of petcoke, a fuel dirtier than coal, an expert on Chinese climate and energy policy said Tuesday in Washington D.C.

Petroleum coke is a cheap byproduct of oil refining that China has increasingly consumed in the last decade, as runaway demand for industrial fuel has driven up coal prices. Most of the 33 million metric tons of petcoke burned in China in 2013 came from Chinese refineries, said Wang Tao, a resident scholar with the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy in Beijing, but 7 million tons came from the U.S.

Northern Canada proposes potential Arctic oil pipeline

Canada’s provincial Northwest Territories government has been talking to pipeline companies about shipping crude oil through the Arctic, according to the territory’s minister in charge of resource development.

David Ramsay, the territory’s minister of industry, and N.W.T. Premier Bob McLeod, have been touting the concept of an “Arctic Gateway” pipeline, which could see Alberta crude moved north for shipment from a port on the Beaufort Sea coast.

N.W.T. in talks about Arctic Gateway oil pipeline

The Northwest Territories minister in charge of resource development says there have been preliminary discussions with pipeline companies about shipping crude oil through the Arctic.

David Ramsay says there’s interest in a concept that the territorial government has been advocating for some time, but he adds that it’s still early days.

Environmentalists insist feds must block Shell’s Arctic drilling while icebreaker is away

The Obama administration cannot allow Shell to launch exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean — even initial site preparation — without the company’s two contracted icebreakers on site, environmentalists argue.

One of those icebreakers, the MSV Fennica, is headed to Oregon for repairs after its hull was gouged July 3, and it could be weeks before it is able to patrol the waters around Shell’s drilling site in the Chukchi Sea.

Debate: Cell phone health hazards

A recent House of Commons Committee report has stated that, “the potential risks of exposure to RF (radio frequency) fields are a serious public health issue that needs to be brought to the attention of Canadians.”

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Health released a report in June that recommended a precautionary approach when dealing with the electromagnetic radiation cell phones produce, and recommended, among other things, that Health Canada conduct a comprehensive review of all existing literature relating to radiofrequency fields and carcinogenicity based on international best practices.

Japan’s Plutonium Stockpile Creates a Nuclear Headache

As Japan prepares for the return of nuclear-generated electricity to its grid next month after a two-year hiatus, an old problem has resurfaced: what to do with its huge pile of plutonium.

Two nuclear reactors on Japan’s southern island of Kyushu are set to resume operations as soon as mid-August, with another reactor on nearby Shikoku island likely to restart several months later. They will be the first to restart under new Japanese regulations adopted after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011.

TEPCO to Resume Fukushima Protective Cover Removal in Late July – Reports

Japanese utility company TEPCO will resume work to remove a protective cover from the stricken Fukushima reactor building in late July, a public Japanese broadcaster said.

A dome was installed over Reactor No.1 in 2011 to stop radioactive particles from escaping into the atmosphere after the facility suffered a meltdown when a tsunami caused by a powerful earthquake crippled the Fukushima nuclear plant.

Deformed daisies from Fukushima disaster site gain Internet fame

Photos of flowers on Twitter and Instagram may be as commonplace as sunsets and selfies, but one Japanese amateur photographer has captured something a bit more unique than a beautiful bloom.

Twitter user @san_kaido posted a photo of mutated yellow daisies last month, found in Nasushiobara City, around 70 miles from Fukushima, the site of the 2011 nuclear disaster.  The photos show daisies with fused yellow centres and with the petals growing out the side of the flower.

Tokyo urges Manila to accept Fukushima farm produce

Tokyo is pressing Manila to relax its import restrictions on farm products from the Fukushima prefecture in exchange for more trade concessions under the Japan-Philippines Economic Partnership Agreement (JPEPA), the Department of Agriculture (DA) revealed on Wednesday.

Agriculture Undersecretary Segfredo Serrano said that Japanese negotiators want to resume exports of Fukushima-grown produce —including dairy, rice and fresh vegetables—to the Philippines after these were suspended amid concerns about radiation contamination following the nuclear crisis in March 2011.

Feds say more nuclear workers, survivors owed compensation

A federal program that has paid out more than $52 million to former Apollo area nuclear workers for radiation-related illnesses is still looking for more workers throughout the region who might be eligible for compensation.

The Department of Labor will hold an information meeting for former workers in the nuclear materials industry or their survivors on July 22 at the Clarion Hotel in New Kensington. The government established the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Act (EEOICPA) in 2000 to pay sick nuclear workers a lump sum of $150,000 and coverage of related medical expenses.

Radiation in the postwar American mind: from wonder to worry

Seventy years ago at a remote site in New Mexico, the first test of a nuclear bomb was detonated, producing a massive explosion. The test, which presaged the atomic bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan in August 1945, forever changed the course of world affairs. Subsequent nuclear explosions, and the radioactive fallout they produced, quickly gave rise to worries over the dangers of radiation.

But what does “radiation” mean? And how have attitudes toward radiation changed over time?

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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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