Environmental Must-Reads – July 17, 2015


Report Fuels Fracking Ban Push in California

A new state-mandated report underscores how little is known about the risks associated with fracking in California, fueling a push by activists to temporarily halt the controversial practice statewide.

The study’s key takeaway is that “the state does not have adequate information to effectively regulate the process,” said Andrew Grinberg, oil-and-gas program manager at the environmental group Clean Water Action. “To me, it is a clear indication that a moratorium is needed.”

Pa. will stop using industry-favored FracFocus database

Pennsylvania oil and gas officials are breaking with fellow state regulators and planning to drop the FracFocus website for reporting the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Next year, the state Department of Environmental Protection will shift to using data reported directly to the state by oil and gas companies and integrating it with other data compiled by the agency.

Government makes ‘outrageous’ U-turn over fracking in precious wildlife sites

The government has made a U-turn on its promise to exclude fracking from Britain’s most important nature sites, arguing that the shale gas industry would be held back if it was excluded from them.

Campaigners accused ministers of putting wildlife at risk and reneging on their pledge earlier this year to ban fracking in sites of special scientific interest (SSSIs), which cover about 8% of England and similar proportions of Wales and Scotland.

U.K. Proposes Rules to Let Fracking Under National Parks

The U.K. proposed new rules for hydraulic fracturing that would allow drillers to frack for oil and gas under national parks and UNESCO sites, drawing criticism from environmentalists who called the plan “outrageous.”

The draft regulations would ban wells at the surface in national parks while allowing explorers such as Cuadrilla Resources Ltd. to drill horizontally from outside the areas to access oil and gas under them, the Department of Energy and Climate Change said Thursday in a statement on its website.

Bonita Springs Fracking Ban Headed To Court

Bonita Springs activists are bracing for lawsuits now that the city council has passed a fracking ban, the first of its kind in Florida in an active drilling area. The  controversial oil and gas drilling technique was one of the hottest issues in the last legislative session.

Anti-fracking activist Karen Dwyer says heavy-hitters Earthjustice  Justice and the Conservancy of Southwest Florida are prepared to slug it out in court with the drilling industry and landowners.

New Study Finds Link Between Fracking And Poor Health In PA

A new study shows an increase in hospitalizations in two Pennsylvania counties with large numbers of shale gas wells.

The study is the latest in a flurry of studies that show a link between gas drilling and health problems.

CA Officials Green-light Offshore Fracking As Santa Barbara Beach Is Set to Reopen After Oil Spill

Refugio State Beach in California, which was sullied by a large oil spill in May, is scheduled to reopen on Friday. Over 100,000 gallons of oil leaked from a corroded pipe operated by Plains All American Pipeline on May 19, and at least 20,000 gallons ended up in the Pacific Ocean. The oil claimed the lives of over 190 birds and more than 100 mammals. Millions of dollars have been spent on clean up costs.

At the same time, another oil-related issue is brewing off the California coast: the potential for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in offshore oil wells near the city of Long Beach, which lies about 150 miles south of the spill site.

Watchdog: EPA should do more on fracking chemicals

The EPA’s internal watchdog recommended Thursday that it improve oversight of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing.

Specifically, the EPA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) said the agency needs to crack down on the unlicensed use of diesel fuel in fracking and figure out whether to mandate public disclosure of fracking chemicals.

ODNR sets rules for fracking well pads

The Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced on Thursday that it is implementing new rules for the construction of horizontal well-pad sites.

Horizontal well pads are used for fracking, when a well is drilled vertically but then goes horizontally underground, allowing for more than one well.

Pipeline moves forward, despite lack of customers

Kinder Morgan Inc. said it will still try to build a 188-mile natural gas pipeline across Massachusetts and New Hampshire even though it has failed to line up prospective customers for more than half of its capacity.

The Houston company has not fixed a size for the pipeline but has estimated its capacity at 1.3 billion to 2.2 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day. So far, Kinder Morgan has contracts to ship only about 550 million cubic feet a day.

Gas pipeline bills threaten national parks

The grandeur of our national parks includes nearly every conceivable environment our country has to offer, from the dense woodlands of Shenandoah to the desert expanses of Death Valley. These parks were established to ensure these landscapes are protected and “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations,” but thanks to legislation working through Congress now, it would be easier to puncture these landscapes with natural gas pipelines.

Since the 1920s, pipeline companies have needed to get Congressional approval for a right-of-way across National Park Service lands to construct a pipeline. This is an important and time-tested provision that has allowed for reasonable development of our country’s natural gas resources while ensuring that the public gets a vote before allowing National Park land to be used to transport fossil fuels.

Voters asked to fight pipeline in Livingston County

“I don’t want that thing coming right through our property,” Sharen Westhoff said.

She just bought a brand new house in Putnam Township, then learned Rover Pipeline bought the lot next door so it could build a 710-mile natural gas pipeline.

She says Rover left a half-built house on the lot until the township took action. It makes her wonder how well the company will maintain the pipeline.

East bank levee authority approves $9.2 million oil spill settlement with BP

The east bank levee authority on Thursday (July 16) approved settlements of BP oil spill damage claims totaling $9.2 million, including $8.2 million for levee districts in New Orleans and St. Bernard and east Jefferson parishes, and $1 million for claims of the agency that regulates the non-flood protection assets of the Orleans Levee District.

Louisiana lawmakers back company responsible for decade-old Gulf 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.

Crude oil train derailment in Montana prompts evacuations

An oil train derailed Thursday in rural northeastern Montana, prompting the evacuation of some homes and leaving at least two of the cars leaking crude, authorities said.

There were no immediate reports of injury or fire, but of the 21 cars that derailed only two remained upright, Roosevelt County Sheriff Jason Frederick said.

2 Rail Cars Leaking Crude After Oil Train Derails in Montana

More than 20 cars on an oil train derailed in rural northeastern Montana and at least two of them were leaking crude, authorities said. Some area homes were evacuated.

There were no immediate reports of injury or fire, but of the 21 cars that derailed only two remained upright, Roosevelt County Sheriff Jason Frederick said.

Great Barrier Reef oil spill: aircraft to sweep area as slick confirmed

Specialist aircraft will leave Cairns early Saturday on an urgent mission to determine the extent of an oil spill near the Great Barrier Reef.

The slick was discovered in waters off Townsville by a fisherman Friday morning and confirmed Friday evening by the state government.

Pollution clean-up teams have now been placed on alert.

Australia on alert for potential oil spill off Great Barrier Reef

Australian authorities remain on alert for a potential oil spill in waters around the Great Barrier Reef despite finding little sign of a reported kilometre-long slick off the north Queensland coast.

Maritime safety authorities in Queensland confirmed that small patches of oily water were seen in waters south of Townsville where a fisherman had earlier reported seeing a slick close to 1km long.

Nexen pipeline leaks 31,500 bbls of emulsion at oil sands site

Nexen Energy, a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s CNOOC Ltd, has shut down a pipeline at its Long Lake oil sands facility in northern Alberta after it leaked 31,500 barrels of emulsion, the company said on Thursday.

Emulsion is a mixture of bitumen, produced water and sand that is a byproduct of oil sands extraction.

Cnooc Canada Unit Nexen Reports Pipeline Spill in Oil Sands

Nexen, the Canadian unit of China’s Cnooc Ltd., reported a spill of about 31,500 barrels of crude, sand and water in the oil-sands region after a pipeline failure, the Alberta Energy Regulator said.

The regulator is starting an investigation into the spill of so-called emulsion about 36 kilometers (22 miles) southeast of Fort McMurray, according to a statement Thursday. The pipeline was a 16-inch line connecting Nexen’s well pad to a processing facility, said Peter Murchland, a spokesman for the regulator.

Pipeline Spill Cleanup Near Santa Barbara Nears Completion

Nearly two months after an oil pipeline break fouled beaches near Santa Barbara, California, the costly cleanup is about finished, officials said Thursday.

About 300 workers remained on the job, mostly focused on an area near the site where oil flowed into the ocean through a storm drain culvert.

Santa Barbara may add legal muscle for claims against oil spill pipeline operator

The city of Santa Barbara is looking to add some legal muscle as battle lines are drawn against its behemoth foe, Plains All American Pipeline.

City Attorney Ariel Calonne, in a statement released July 16, is recommending that the Santa Barbara City Council retain special legal counsel to assist as co-counsel in preparing and pursuing claims for damages to the city arising from the May 19 Refugio oil spill.

Company slapped with $170K fine for Wyo. oil spill

A company operating in Big Horn County has agreed to pay $170,000 to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for alleged violations to the Clean Water Act after a March 2010 oil spill at the Bonanza Station.

According to a federal complaint filed in the U.S. District Court of Wyoming, Cottonwood Creek Inc., based in Enid, Oklahoma, spilled about 162 barrels into a tributary of the Nowood River. The oil allegedly discharged from a pipeline at the Bonanza Station that moved it from production facilities to storage tanks.

Mexico: 18 Companies Suspended Over River Contamination

In 2010, experts had already revealed that the industrial waste discharged in the river caused a high incidence rate of cancer in the region. In the central state of Tlaxcala, the Federal Attorney of Environmental Protection (PROFEPA) announced that 18 companies had been temporarily shut down for illegally discharging industrial waste into the Atoyac River. “From Feb. 3 to June 30 … the attorney carried out 70 inspections in total regarding the management of dangerous residue; out of them, a total of 18 have been temporarily shut down; we observed [environmental violations] in 26 companies,” said PROFEPA representative in Tlaxcala Jaime Rodríguez.

Even after the state’s pipeline report, the status of Line 5 below Lake Michigan is still unknown

People in Michigan are naturally concerned about the thousands of miles of pipelines crisscrossing the state. After all, Michigan suffered through the worst inland oil spill in U.S. history.

And there’s one pipeline in particular that people are quite concerned about: Enbridge’s Line 5 moves more than 500,000 barrels of oil and other liquid petroleum products (like propane) a day under Lake Michigan at the Straits of Mackinac.

Utility objects to settlement on oil pipeline

A federal judge should reject or at least delay the Justice Department’s proposed settlement with Exxon Mobil, Central Arkansas Water said in a letter that assailed the government for dismissing the utility’s request to move the Pegasus pipeline away from the Lake Maumelle watershed.

The underground pipeline, built in 1947-48, runs through about 13.5 miles of the lake’s watershed. Central Arkansas Water had said the oil giant should be required to relocate the Pegasus.

Al Gore criticizes Obama on climate change and ‘insane’ Arctic drilling

The former US vice-president and climate champion Al Gore has made a rare criticism of Barack Obama as Royal Dutch Shell prepares to drill an exploratory well in the Arctic Ocean, denouncing the venture as “insane” and calling for a ban on all oil and gas activity in the polar region.

With Shell planning to begin drilling in the oil-rich Chukchi Sea within days, Gore said in an interview with the Guardian that Obama was wrong to ever allow drilling in the Arctic.

Arctic Nations Ban Commercial Fishing In Fast-Thawing Seas Near The North Pole

Five nations, including the United States and Russia, signed an accord Thursday to prohibit commercial fishing in the international waters around the North Pole. The agreement, which aims to prevent further melting of sea ice in the region, came as an annual report on global climate warned of a drastic decline in the area of the Arctic Ocean covered by ice.

“We acknowledge that, due to climate change resulting in changes in ice distribution and related environmental phenomena, the marine ecosystems of the Arctic Ocean are evolving and that the effects of these changes are poorly understood, the signatories to the agreement — the U.S., Russia, Canada, Denmark and Norway — said, in a statement. “We share the view that it is desirable to implement appropriate interim measures to deter unregulated fishing in the future in the high seas portion of the central Arctic Ocean.”

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.

Radioactive water from Fukushima plant escapes

The operator of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant has found that radioactive water has overflowed from a drainage channel, spilling into the sea. This is due to heavy rain.

Workers at the complex discovered the leak at around 8:40 AM on Thursday.

Fukushima team studies Swiss nuclear experience

A Japanese delegation from Fukushima, site of a nuclear disaster in March 2011, has visited Switzerland to discuss energy policies, technologies and the development of renewable forms of energy.

“Almost five years after the explosions in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, 110,000 people still can’t return to live in their homes,” Masao Uchibori, mayor of the prefecture of Fukushima since November, told swissinfo.ch in Solothurn.

“The inhabitants of zones with raised levels of radioactivity can’t lead a normal life.”

Emperor and empress visit Fukushima, console evacuees

Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko on July 16 offered words of encouragement to six people who were evacuated from their hometowns after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami triggered the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

One of them, Kyoko Akaishizawa, 61, from Iitate village, told the emperor that she was unable to return home despite the decontamination work.

Vermont Wants To Assume Regulation Of Certain Nuclear Materials

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates all kinds of nuclear material — from isotopes used in health care to instruments used in industry.

NRC spokesman Neil Sheehan says Vermont now want the federal government to delegate those duties to the state.

Hearing tonight on request to build cell tower near McGee Elementary; Pasco neighbors opposed

A request to build a 49-foot cellphone tower on a lot near McGee Elementary School and park will go before the Pasco Planning Commission tonight.

Verizon Wireless has applied for a special permit to install the “stealth monopole antenna support structure and associated ground-based equipment” in a suburban zone.

Sister Megan Rice: the 85-year-old nun with a criminal record remains defiant

Rice spent two years in prison for breaking into a high-security nuclear facility in Tennessee as part of a protest but insists the crime being committed in this story is the US government’s, not hers

The start of the nuclear age

Seventy years ago today on July 16, 1945, scientists saw “the end of the world”—how one of those scientists’ descendants described to me the first ever-nuclear blast. Code-named Trinity, the blast occurred in a remote part of the New Mexico desert outside of Los Alamos National Laboratory.

Maj. Gen. Leslie Groves, the military commander overseeing the country’s race for the bomb, radioed back to Washington in coded message, saying the “results seem satisfactory and already exceed expectations.” Robert Oppenheimer, the director of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where the bomb was designed, thought about spiritual passages from Indian scripture. The nuclear age had begun.

The First Light of Trinity

The light of a nuclear explosion is unlike anything else on Earth. This is because the heat of a nuclear explosion is unlike anything else on Earth. Seventy years ago today, when the first atomic weapon was tested, they called its light cosmic. Where else, except in the interiors of stars, do the temperatures reach into the tens of millions of degrees? It is that blistering radiation, released in a reaction that takes about a millionth of a second to complete, that makes the light so unearthly, that gives it the strength to burn through photographic paper and wound human eyes. The heat is such that the air around it becomes luminous and incandescent and then opaque; for a moment, the brightness hides itself. Then the air expands outward, shedding its energy at the speed of sound—the blast wave that destroys houses, hospitals, schools, cities.

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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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