Environmental Must-Reads – July 20, 2015


Quiet lawsuit challenges NY’s fracking ban

East Rochester attorney David Morabito quietly filed a lawsuit two months ago against the state Department of Environmental Conservation, challenging the agency’s decision to prohibit him from fracking on land he owns in Allegany County.

To this point, the lawsuit has garnered little public attention, in part because Morabito initially chose not to publicize it and it was filed in state Supreme Court in Allegany County.

Florida Town Bans Fracking, But Will It Last?

The South Florida town of Bonita Springs has officially banned fracking. The city council voted early Wednesday to ban all types of well stimulation techniques to extract fossil fuels, which includes fracking, within the city limits.

Bonita Springs has now become the second municipality in the state of Florida to enact a ban on fracking.

Here We Go Again: Fracking Industry Mangles More Facts

A new set of peer-reviewed scientific papers pointing to 50 percent higher than estimated regional methane emissions from oil and gas operations in Texas were published this week. And like clockwork, the oil and gas industry’s public relations machine, Energy In Depth (EID), proclaimed that rising emissions are actually falling, and that the industry’s meager voluntary efforts are responsible.

This is, of course, wrong on both counts. In fact, it’s a willful misrepresentation of the findings.

One Congressman’s Fight To Keep Fracking Waste Out Of Drinking Water

The fracking industry has a water problem. Wastewater from fracking has been linked to drinking water contamination, and earthquakes.

But obviously oil and gas companies can’t dump fracking water into our public water treatment system, right?


Man-made earthquakes: Fact or fiction?

Scientists have known for a long time that humans can cause earthquakes, especially when we mess around with underground faults. The most dramatic example of this now can be found in the American Midwest.

Oklahoma has always had earthquakes, but they used to be rather rare – about one or two a year that people could feel. That started to change around 2009. And by 2014, things really went crazy.

Beware permitting fracking, says farmer who allowed coal methane borehole

A farmer who gave an energy company permission to dig a test borehole for coal bed methane gas out of a sense of national duty has warned other landowners not to allow fracking and other unconventional gas exploration companies on their land.

The potential of gas drilling to pollute water courses and the effect it could have on the value of farmland left Paul Hickson and his family stressed for years and no wealthier, he said.

Study shows more hospital stays in three fracking counties

Researchers comparing hospital visits in three rural Northeast Pennsylvania counties found a higher rate of hospital visits in counties with a heavy gas industry presence.

Residents of heavily drilled Bradford and Susquehanna counties were admitted to hospitals at higher rates than in neighboring Wayne County where drilling is banned, University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University researchers stated in a paper published in the peer-reviewed PLOS One scientific journal last week.

Morgan: Dangers of pipeline strategy in Virginia

Morgan and his wife are retired and split their time between Greenville, North Carolina, and their place near New Castle. Their home and property in the Sinking Creek area of Craig County is directly in the route of the Mountain Valley Pipeline, according to proposed alternate route 110J.

Whether you think you are for or against the use of natural gas or the expansion of that use or the building of the pipelines that will bring that gas to or through Virginia, you have to be concerned about the “master plan” — the goal for natural gas in the Commonwealth and how we get there.

Merrimack school officials oppose pipeline

As Kinder Morgan continues to study possible routes for a proposed natural gas pipeline through southern New Hampshire, Merrimack school officials voted last week to oppose any path that would place the pipeline near a local school.

“The Merrimack School District opposes, by unanimous vote of the school board, any route that comes within 1,000 feet of a district school building,” Christopher Ortega, chairman of the school board, wrote in a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission dated Wednesday

Another new path sought for pipeline in Nelson

Federal regulators want the Atlantic Coast Pipeline to consider another route for the proposed natural gas pipeline that will not affect either a pending historic district or a state wildlife management area in southern Nelson County.

In other words, an alternative to the alternative route that the pipeline developer announced on Wednesday to avoid the Norwood-Wingina Rural Historic District — soon to be listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register.

Neighbors bemoan pipeline compressor station would force them to move

If a 41,000-horsepower natural gas pipeline compressor station is built on a 200-acre spot in New Ipswich, a family of five says they will walk away from their home of 14 years, the owner of a farm for Newfoundland ponies says she would also have no choice but to leave, and Catholic nuns who run a retreat don’t know what they’ll do.

Kinder Morgan is the parent company of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company LLC, which is proposing the Northeast Energy Direct Project that would extend an existing natural gas pipeline across southern New Hampshire.

Nexus Gas sues in Ohio courts to finish surveys for pipeline project

The company planning to build an industrial-sized natural gas pipeline across northern Ohio has been waging — and mostly winning — court battles to allow surveyors onto people’s property to determine a preferred route that will be submitted to a federal agency for approval.

The $2 billion project is being proposed by Nexus Gas Transmission, a subsidiary of Houston-based Spectra Energy and Detroit-based DTE Energy. Attorneys for Nexus have obtained temporary restraining orders in Fulton, Lorain, Sandusky, Lucas and Wood counties that allowed surveyors onto the land of those sued.

Barge carrying 1M gallons of Naphtha petroleum catches fire

A barge carrying about 1 million gallons of the Naphtha petroleum product caught fire after a collision off the coast of Galveston, Texas, early Monday.

The incident began at about 1:20 a.m. on the Bolivar Peninsula section of the Intracoastal Waterway shipping channel, after a tugboat carrying a barge lost power and collided with another vessel. A rupture aboard one of the barges caused the fire.

BP Oil Spill 5 Years Later: 10 Key Questions And Answers

On April 20, 2010, BP’s Deepwater Horizon (DWH) drilling rig experienced a failure resulting in the discharge of gas and light sweet crude oil from a depth of approximately 5,000 feet.

Discharge continued for 87 days until July 15, 2010, five years ago this week, when the well was capped and the leak was contained.

The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative GoMRI, a large-scale, coordinated research endeavor, was created in response to the disaster to improve society’s ability to understand the impacts of the oil on the ecosystem, learn new ways to mitigate oil in the environment, and understand how to be better prepared should a similar event arise in the future. Here are 10 questions and answers they have prepared about the event and what has happened since.

Despite federal push after BP oil spill, number of aging temporarily sealed wells grows

Five years after the Obama administration promised to move swiftly to permanently plug unused oil and gas wells in the Gulf of Mexico, even more shafts are lingering for longer periods with only temporary sealing, an Associated Press investigation shows.

It is not clear how many incompletely sealed wells may have leaked — they generally are not monitored as carefully as active wells — but they contain fewer barriers to pent-up petroleum and rupture more easily. The threat to the environment increases with time.

The $50 billion plan to save Louisiana’s wetlands

Louisiana is in trouble. The Mississippi River Delta is disappearing into the Gulf of Mexico at the rate of 16 square miles a year, some of the fastest land loss on the planet.

The bayou lands are crucial to the nation’s fisheries, as well as regional oil and gas supplies. Perhaps ironically, activity by the energy industry is helping to destroy its own infrastructure.

In response, industry and government officials have created an unprecedented plan to save and rebuild these wetlands over the next 50 years at an estimated cost of $50 billion.

Pipeline Spill In The Heart Of Canada’s Tar Sands Industry Leaks 1.3 Million Gallons Of Oily Emulsion

An pipeline spill in Alberta, Canada has leaked some 1,320,000 gallons, or 31,000 barrels, of emulsion — a mixture of bitumen, produced water, and sand — south of Fort McMurray, a hub for Canada’s tar sands mining and refining industry.

The leak, which was discovered Wednesday afternoon, is the largest pipeline spill in the province in 35 years, when a 54,000 barrel oil spill became Canada’s worst-ever pipeline incident.

Alberta oil spill: When ‘failsafe’ leak detection systems fail

Nexen is investigating why its “failsafe” leak detection system failed to detect what turned out to be a massive spill that leaked 5,000 cubic metres of bitumen, sand and wastewater into an area of northern Alberta so remote the oil and gas company needs to build roads from scratch just to access the spill site.

But the failure of its leak detection system shouldn’t be such a mystery, says Anthony Swift, an attorney with the National Resources Defence Counsel: These systems, common among oil and gas companies, fail all the time. And 80 per cent of the biggest leaks go undetected by these systems, an Inside Climate News investigation found.

Nexen apologizes for oil sands pipeline spill, cause unknown

Nexen Energy apologized on Friday for an oil sands pipeline leak in the Canadian province of Alberta that is one of North America’s largest-ever oil-related spills on land, and said its clean-up crews were working around the clock.

The subsidiary of China’s CNOOC Ltd said it is still trying to find the root cause of the leak in the pipeline, which was new and installed last year. It found a visible breach about the size of a hand, which Nexen’s automatic dectection systems did not pick up.

Crews working around the clock to clean up major emulsion spill near Fort McMurray 

Clean up of a pipeline break south of Fort McMurray continued Sunday, four days after the five million-litre spill was discovered.

A contractor was walking along the pipeline at Nexen Energy’s Long Lake oilsands facility last Wednesday when he discovered the break.

Nexen says about 60 people are working to remove the bitumen emulsion from the site 36 kilometres south of Fort McMurray. The emulsion consists of 33 per cent bitumen and 67 per cent water, combined with minerals and sand.

Fort McMurray First Nation calls for long term cleanup of Nexen spill

The cleanup of a massive pipeline spill in northern Alberta must be conducted with the long-term future of the land in mind, says a local aboriginal group.

“Our biggest concern is the land,” said Byron Bates, a band councillor of the Fort McMurray First Nation, which sits about 10 kilometres from the five-million-litre bitumen spill.

Alberta pipelines: 6 major oil spills in recent history

Five million litres of a bitumen-water-sand emulsion were found to have leaked Wednesday from a Nexen Energy pipeline south of Fort McMurray, Alta. — one of the biggest oil spills in the province’s history.

It adds further fuel to the debate over pipeline safety that continues to rage on, most recently emerging as a point of contention among premiers meeting in St. John’s this week.

Database: Compare Kalamazoo River oil spill to other U.S. pipeline spills

The Kalamazoo River oil spill is among the top 10 oil spills in terms of barrels spilled compared to other spills from oil and petroleum pipes in the United States in the last 20 years.

It also is the spill that has caused the most property damage in dollars, according to data analyzed by the Associated Press.

It’s time to talk about the oilsands

The debate over energy, oilsands and pipelines in Canada is at best dysfunctional and at worst a twisted game that is making public relations professionals and consultants on all sides enormous amounts of money.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information routinely show our own government hiding scientific reports or meeting secretly to craft PR strategies with the companies they are supposed to regulate, while millions of dollars are spent on ads trying to convince Canadians that the oilsands are as toxic as peanut butter.

TransCanada boasts of benefits of North American pipelines

The shipment of the 1 billionth barrel of oil through the Keystone oil pipeline system shows commitment to U.S. energy security, TransCanada said.

The Canadian pipeline company said the pipeline system has brought in close to $200 million in taxes and generated more than 14,000 construction jobs since it was commissioned in 2010.

Emails: Enbridge Attorney, Lobbyist Wrote Provisions into Wisconsin Budget for “Keystone XL Clone” Pipeline Leg

Emails reveal that an attorney and lobbyist for Canadian pipeline company giant Enbridge helped draft the controversial provision placed into the 2015 Wisconsin Budget set to fast-track expansion of the company’s Line 61 pipeline.

The emails, published by the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau and first covered by Wisconsin Public Radio, emerge just months after DeSmog revealed emails showing Enbridge’s attorney for its border-crossing Alberta Clipper expansion project proposal, which connects to Line 61 in Superior, Wisconsin, doing much the same to curry favor with the U.S. Department of State to fast-track permitting for that project.

TransCanada pumps hundreds of thousands into S.D. ad campaign

The company behind the Keystone XL pipeline is spending thousands to shift opinions of South Dakotans about the controversial oil delivery system that would run through 11 of the state’s counties if approved.

“We want to be more than a pipeline company. We work hard to be a trusted neighbor.”

That’s the closing line in one of TransCanada’s recent advertisements in South Dakota to convince residents that the Keystone XL pipeline will benefit the state.

Bayelsa community accuses Shell of abandoning oil spill

The residents of Oruma-Yibama, Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa, have alleged that Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) is yet to clean up an oil spill that occurred in the area on June 2.

The Chairman of Oruma-Yibama Community Development Committee, Eliot Igbigikeme, stated this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria in Oruma-Yibana on Sunday.

Great Barrier Reef Oil Spill: 14 Ships Under Investigation

Earth’s biggest coral reef system has been under threat in the last couple of years due to various factors. And now, yet another one appears to plague the unique site – an oil spill 30 kilometers long.

“Fourteen ships have been identified as possible sources of a film of oil stretching, in broken sections, 30 kilometres long and five kilometres wide south of Townsville,” Brisbane Times reported recently.

Investigating a tragedy: Piecing together the events of Lac-Mégantic

When Don Ross drove his rental car down the steep road toward Lac-Mégantic, the first thing he noticed was the thick blanket of smoke that had gathered just above the small Quebec town.

Nearly 20 hours had passed since residents were awakened by a sudden metallic screech and the wail of fire trucks rushing downtown. The runaway train that had slammed into the centre of town that night sent a flood of burning oil through the streets, incinerating buildings and forcing some 2,000 people from their homes.

$86 million OK’d for families of Quebec train victims

Families of the 47 people killed in the 2013 derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, would split nearly $86 million from a settlement fund of more than $330 million, according to a disclosure statement that has been approved by a federal bankruptcy judge in Maine.

Creditors of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway will vote on the settlement in September.

Shell drill rigs underway, bound for US Arctic Ocean

Shell Oil’s two drilling rigs have left Unalaska on their way to the U.S. Arctic Ocean, where company officials hope to punch into hydrocarbon-bearing zones that haven’t been touched in roughly a quarter-century.

The 500-foot Noble Discoverer left Thursday evening. The 400-foot Transocean Polar Pioneer left port at 1 p.m. Friday.

Kayakers take to the Bay to protest Arctic drilling

About 40 people kayaked in San Francisco Bay Saturday to protest the potential for oil drilling this summer in the Arctic, according to the Center for Biological Diversity.

The protest started at about 1 p.m. at Pier 40 in San Francisco and also included 20 to 30 protesters on shore, the center’s spokesman Steve Jones said.

Why Shell had the worst week ever

This should have been one of Shell’s best weeks ever. Instead, it shaped up like the corporate equivalent of “The Hangover Part III.” And a happy ending is nowhere in sight.

This was supposed to be seven-day stretch of toothy smiles, hearty back-slaps and healthy runs on the company’s stock because Shell’s window for drilling in the Arctic Ocean officially opened on July 15. Under the terms of the plan, approved in May by the Obama administration, the company has until September 28 to work on the largest untapped oil reserve on Earth.

Shell’s Arctic drilling efforts come under fire in Unalaska

Shell came under criticism at a meeting in Unalaska last week from an unlikely pair, a representative of Greenpeace concerned about global environmental impacts and city official — and pro-developoment booster — Frank Kelty, complaining about local impacts brought by the influx of oil company workers filling up the hotel and displacing birders and other tourists.

“Shell’s taking over the whole place,” said Kelty, referring to the Grand Aleutian Hotel, and citing other impacts. Local residents are having to wait for deliveries from the United Parcel Service, because airplanes are filled up with Shell packages, said Kelty.

Despite meltdowns, a tsunami and public opposition, Japan may soon restart a nuclear power plant — or several

Next month, Japan may restart its first nuclear reactor in nearly two years. It would be the first time since the tsunami-triggered meltdowns four years ago that the government’s new regulatory agency, the Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA), has authorized the restart of a reactor.

The NRA was created to rebuild public trust in the wake of the devastating meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in 2011. But the potential decision to enable a return to nuclear power to generate electricity is not supported by public opinion.

Transfer of radiation-tainted soil from Fukushima Prefecture school starts

The Environment Ministry on Saturday started work to transport radiation-tainted soil and other waste from an elementary school in Fukushima Prefecture, home to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant damaged in the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, to an interim storage site in the same prefecture on a trial basis.

The ministry plans to finish the work before the end of August while schoolchildren are taking their summer holidays, officials said. A total of 1,500 cu. meters of soil and other tainted items from decontamination work are kept at Yashirogawa elementary school in the town of Tanagura.

Fukushima trials to explore viability of hydrogen fuel network

Fukushima and the Fukushima Renewable Energy Institute (FREA) are kicking off a renewable energy project with a view to making the prefecture a hydrogen supply center by as early as 2016.

The project is a collaboration between the prefectural government and the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), the parent of FREA. It will test and refine a model of hydrogen-supply infrastructure, which would then be used in creating a functioning supply center.

EDF Energy Pressed For More Post-Fukushima Enhancements

With EDF Energy publishing its Japanese Earthquake Response Programme ONR Recommendation Closeout Report in mid-June, concerning nuclear plant safety enhancements in Britain, it turns out the Office of Nuclear Regulation wants more from the company.

The Closeout Report documents three years of work that is the direct result and response to the March 2011 International Nuclear Event Scale 7 “Major accident,” at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on the East Coast of Japan, EDF Energy’s report says.

What’s The Cost Of Nuclear Decommissioning? Too Much

Earlier this year, Canada’s Nuclear Waste Management Organization (NWMO) began moving closer to selecting a location for the new Deep Geological Repository (DGR) they have been tasked to build. The DGR will be the final storage facility for the more than 48,000 tonnes of nuclear waste Canada has been accumulating over the past 65 years. The waste is currently being stored at Bruce Power, the world’s largest nuclear power facility, located near Lake Huron. While 11 communities (mostly in Ontario) vie for the billion dollar investment, little is known about the new technology and the long-term effects it will have on the community that is selected to house it.

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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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