Environmental Must-Reads – July 2, 2015


Tennessee Train Derailment: 5,000 Residents Evacuated From Maryville

More than 5,000 residents were evacuated after a freight train carrying a “highly flammable and toxic gas” partly derailed and caught fire early Thursday just outside Knoxville, Tennessee, officials said.

Seven officers were hospitalized after breathing in fumes from the blaze, Blount County Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Marian O’Briant told NBC News.

What’s NORMal for Fracking? Estimating Total Radioactivity of Produced Fluids

Naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM) found in liquid wastes from hydraulic fracturing are an emerging environmental health concern.1 The heavily drilled Marcellus Shale, for example, contains isotopes of radium, polonium, and lead.2,3 However, the few studies that have focused on NORM in fracking wastewater (produced fluids) have reported on a single element—radium.4,5 In this issue of EHP, researchers estimate total reactivity for a mixture of isotopes present in liquid fracking waste from the Marcellus Shale.3

Fractivists Say NY’s Ban Is Influencing Moratorium Decisions Elsewhere

There’s word that the commissioner of the state’s environmental agency is leaving, just two days after Joe Martens issued the final environmental impact statement banning hydrofracking in New York. The final report on fracking is a signal for others to move on as well. Anti-fracking groups say they are using New York’s stance to help convince other states, and even countries to ban the gas drilling process.

Julia Walsh, who’s led the group Frack Action through years of protests, hearing testimony, and other actions, helped deliver a thank you petition to Governor Cuomo the day the fracking ban was formalized.

Official hopes reused drilling water can also help state’s ‘huge seismicity problem’

Oklahoma’s top energy and environment official is hoping to turn two of the state’s biggest problems into one big solution.

The first challenge: the massive increase in earthquakes trembling the state, a phenomenon caused in large part by the oil and gas industry’s disposal of wastewater into deep injection wells near critically stressed fault lines.

Recycled oil field wastewater is clean, Chevron test results show

Results of the most recent testing of recycled oil field wastewater that Chevron sells to Kern County farmers for irrigation showed no traces of methylene chloride, an industrial solvent that had appeared in previous testing conducted by a clean water advocacy group.

Chevron sells 21 million gallons of treated oil field wastewater per day to the Cawelo Water District, which provides water to 90 Kern County farmers. Before releasing it to the district, Chevron treats the wastewater in settling ponds and other processes designed to remove contaminants.

Water Use for Fracking Has Skyrocketed, Stressing Drought-Ridden States

Fracking operations in the U.S. have gotten thirstier in the last 15 years, consuming more than 28 times the water they did a mere 15 years ago.

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), in partnership with the American Geophysical Union, shows that not only has the number of such operations grown as fracking has expanded its reach and improved technology has allowed drilling in harder to reach locations, but individual wells are consuming more water as well. The median amount of water consumed by a single fracked well grew from 177,000 per oil and gas well in 2000 to more than 4 million gallons per oil well and 5.1 gallons per gas well in 2004. That’s far more than the 671,000 gallons a year used by a conventional or vertical well. In the 52 out of 57 watersheds with the highest average water use, more than 90 percent of the wells were involved in horizontal drilling in shale gas areas.

Fracking In US Is Consuming A Lot More Water Than It Used To

According to a new national scale analysis and map of water used in hydraulic fracturing operations, oil and natural gas fracking in the United States is now consuming over 28 times the water it did 15 years ago. The maps are part of a study by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), accepted for publication in a journal of the American Geophysical Union, just days after New York State officially banned fracking.

The USGS survey found that the amount of water needed to hydraulically fracture oil and gas wells varied widely across the country — from as little as 2,600 gallons to as much as 9.7 million gallons per well.

California OKs Fracking Regulations Before Scientists Finish Studying Risks

Gov. Jerry Brown’s scandal-plagued oil agency today finalized weak regulations for hydraulic fracturing that fail to protect California communities from fracking pollution.

The state’s Department of Conservation also finalized an assessment of fracking’s health and environmental risks, even though scientists working on a mandated, independent statewide scientific study have not finished evaluating fracking’s dangers. The study should have been completed six months ago.

State issues toughest-in-the-nation fracking rules

State officials on Wednesday formally adopted new rules governing hydraulic fracturing in California, setting in motion some of the toughest guidelines in the nation for the controversial oil extraction practice. The oil and gas agency also released its environmental impact report that concluded fracking could have “significant and unavoidable impacts” on a number of fronts, including air quality, greenhouse gas emissions and public safety.

In Oklahoma, Fracking Companies Can Now Be Sued Over Earthquakes

If you live in Oklahoma, and you’ve been injured by an earthquake that was possibly triggered by oil and gas operations, you can now sue the oil company for damages.

That’s the effect of a ruling by the Oklahoma Supreme Court, which on Tuesday rejected efforts by the oil industry to prevent earthquake injury lawsuits from being heard in court. Instead of being decided by juries and judges, the industry was arguing that cases should be resolved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, a state regulatory agency.

The state’s high court rejected that argument.

Fracking could hurt house prices, health and environment, official report says

Fracking operations to extract shale gas in Britain could cause nearby house prices to fall by up to 7% and create a risk of environmental damage, according to a government report that has been published in full for the first time.

Entitled Shale Gas Rural Economy Impacts, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) document was released on Wednesday after a freedom of information battle.

New maps, court rulings show disparate impact of environmental injustice

As the United States continues to embrace its expanded access to oil and natural gas, a number of new maps, mapping tools and studies — from a diverse set of sources — have evaluated the threats posed by pollution from and the transport of hydrocarbon-rich fuels. The results are perhaps unsurprisingly but all-too-disturbingly consistent: dangers to health and safety presented by expendable legacy energy sources fall disproportionately on poor and minority communities.

On Monday, the public interest groups Forest Justice and Communities for a Better Environment released their study, Crude Injustice on the Rails [PDF], which detailed the elevated threat faced by California’s communities of color from the expanded use of trains to ship oil across the state.

BP to Settle 2010 Oil Spill Claims With U.S., States

BP Plc reached an agreement with states and the U.S. in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill case, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.

The terms of the agreement aren’t yet available, the person said. A spokesman for BP declined to comment.

Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida sued BP for damages not covered by the company’s earlier settlements with businesses and individuals harmed by the worst offshore spill in U.S. history.

New NASA imagery reveals extent of California tar spill

When an oil pipeline ruptured near Santa Barbara, California, on May 19, it leaked 105,000 barrels of crude oil onto Refugio State Beach, and another 21,000 gallons into the Pacific Ocean in the north Santa Barbara Channel. The Refugio Incident created an environmental nightmare for local beaches and wildlife, which continues still.

NASA today released new images of the oil spill, captured with the help of an airborne instrument developed at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena to study the spill and test the ability of imaging spectroscopy to map tar on area beaches.

Oil Spill Cleanup Now Detailed in 22 Ecology Plans

When a large oil spill occurs in Washington, the state department of ecology follows detailed response plans when possible. The department just completed nine new plans for specific watersheds, by request of the 2014 legislature.

Lawmakers asked for the plans over concerns about the influx of oil trains traveling the state. Ecology preparedness planner Wendy Buffett says they need to send response as soon as they hear about an oil spill, and the plans help.

Church of England divests from Soco oil firm over Virunga operations

The Church of England (CoE) has sold its stake in a British oil and gas company over allegations of bribery, corruption and human rights abuses and what it said was the company’s failure to unequivocally rule out drilling for oil in Africa’s oldest national park.

London-listed Soco International has been criticised in the past two years by conservationists including WWF and Sir David Attenborough for its attempt to drill in Virunga in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is a world heritage site and home to around half the world’s mountain gorillas.

California spill shows risk to Mobile water from Plains pipeline

What would normally be a busy start of summer season for coastal tourism in Santa Barbara County, Calif., has been bustling for all of the wrong reasons.  Many local businesses were forced to close their doors in the wake of a ruptured pipeline spilling over 100,000 gallons of crude oil, coating some of California’s most beautiful beaches.

The Plains All-American pipeline spill sent 21,000 gallons into the Pacific Ocean, creating an almost 10-square-mile oil slick. State officials closed two beaches and banned fishing indefinitely in some areas.  Tar balls have been seen at beaches over 100 miles from the pipeline.  Sea lions, dolphins, birds, and countless fish and shellfish have fallen victim to the spill.

Hearing scheduled for crude oil pipeline

The North Dakota Public Service Commission will hold a public hearing in Belfield next week for a proposed crude oil pipeline in Billings and Stark counties.

Bridger Pipeline LLC proposes to construct a new 15-mile crude oil pipeline, a $10.4 million project. The 16-inch pipeline would run parallel to an existing Bridger pipeline to increase capacity by 125,000 barrels per day.

Regulators seek faster pipeline spill notifications

Federal regulators want operators of pipelines for oil and other materials to notify federal officials within an hour after breaches and leaks.

The Wednesday proposal came weeks after an oil pipeline was breached along the Pacific Ocean coast in Santa Barbara County, Calif., leaking over 100,000 gallons into the ocean and coating beaches.

This Is TransCanada’s Latest Justification for Constructing the Keystone XL Pipeline

An executive of TransCanada, the company proposing to build the Keystone XL pipeline, sent a letter to US State Department officials arguing that recent climate-friendly steps announced by the Canadian government justify approval of the stalled pipeline project.

Kristine Delkus, TransCanada’s executive vice-president and general counsel, points out that Canada has committed to reduce its emissions by 30 percent compared to 2005 levels by 2030. The letter also mentions the Alberta provincial government’s new emissions reduction goals, as well as its doubling of a tax on carbon. The TransCanada missive also references a pledge made by the Group of Seven to end the use of fossil fuels by 2100.

Keystone pipeline divides Congress as deadline nears

With a decision looming, both sides of the Keystone XL pipeline debate are making last-ditch appeals to President Obama, with opponents saying the project fails the White House’s climate test and supporters arguing it’s a no-brainer that will spur U.S. energy independence and economic growth.

TransCanada, the company proposing the massive Canada-to-Texas oil sands project, this week sent a letter to Secretary of State John F. Kerry, urging the administration to approve the project. The State Department now is undertaking its final review of Keystone and then will make a recommendation to Mr. Obama, who ultimately will render the final decision.

French nuclear waste will triple after decommissioning: agency

The amount of nuclear waste stored in France will triple once all its nuclear installations have been decommissioned, which will boost the need for storage facilities, French nuclear waste agency Andra said.

In a report released on Wednesday, Andra estimated that final nuclear waste volumes will eventually reach 4.3 million cubic meters, up from 1.46 million at the end of 2013 and an estimated 2.5 million in 2030.

Can the next generation of reactors spur a nuclear renaissance?

More than a quarter of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from burning fossil fuels to produce heat and electricity. In the United States, the Department of Energy projects load growth of 22 percent by 2040.

Meanwhile, greenhouse restrictions are poised to go into effect under the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.

Faulty insulation caused fire, oil spill at N.Y. nuclear plant

An insulation failure in a transformer caused the fire at a New York nuclear plant May 9 that spilled about 3,000 gallons of oil into the Hudson River.

Entergy, the operator of Indian Point Energy Center, announced Tuesday that the failed insulation — made of special paper — caused a short circuit in a high-voltage coil. The company regularly inspects its paper insulation for signs of degradation, but no problems were detected before the fire near the Unit 3 generator.

People living in Tularosa Basin tell Sen. Udall of health struggles in decades after Trinity test

For the first time ever, folks who live near the site of America’s firs nuclear bomb test got the opportunity Wednesday night to talk to the federal government about concerns over radiation exposure.

Sen. Tom Udall hosted a roundtable discussion with around 200 of the residents who live in and around Tularosa. It marks the first time an elected official has come here to listen to health concerns from the region’s rural residents.

How Toshiba Designed a Robot to Survive Extreme Radiation

Honeybee Robotics co-founder Stephen Gorevan discusses Toshiba sending a robot into the Fukushima nuclear plant and how artificial intelligence could power robots in space. He speaks with Bloomberg’s Cory Johnson on “Bloomberg West.”

Fukushima nuclear reactor will get mapped with subatomic particles

Scientists from Los Alamos National Lab have discovered how to look through and map just about anything with a new process: the science-fictionally sounding muon tomography. Even in places like the highly radioactive Fukushima reactor, the method doesn’t require any disassembly or any need for x-rays or ultrasound. Instead it logs the movement of muons (of course), a radioactive subatomic particle that exists, well, everywhere. Two giant aluminum sides are put either side of whatever needs looking into, and the system measures the trajectory of these muon particles. From this, the scientists are able sketch the object, given enough of the tiny things.

Can This Robot Make French Nuclear Power Plants Safer?

No, RIANA isn’t a pop star (she spells her name differently), but it could become extremely popular, especially among the nuclear energy crowd.

RIANA is the acronym for Robot for Investigations and Assessments of Nuclear Areas. Definitely not too sexy for its shirt, or any other item of clothing, but potentially valuable if you run an atomic power plant and need a mobile tool that can operate in radioactive environments to map, sample and measure radioactivity.

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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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