Environmental Must-Reads – July 22, 2015


Live Near A Fracking Site In Pennsylvania? You Might Be Going to the Hospital More Than Others

The United States leads the world in natural gas production and that status is in no small part due to the boom in fracking in places like northeast Pennsylvania, which sits atop the Marcellus shale formation.

As much as boosters of domestic fossil fuel production have pointed to the economic benefits of fracking, critics of the drilling technique have warned of its environmental and public health impacts.

Shallow fracking raises questions for water, new Stanford research shows

The United States now produces about as much crude oil as Saudi Arabia does, and enough natural gas to export in large quantities. That’s thanks to hydraulic fracturing, a mining practice that involves a rock-cracking pressurized mix of water, sand and chemicals.

Ongoing research by Stanford environmental scientist Rob Jackson attempts to minimize the risks of “fracking” to underground drinking water sources.

What if pro-fracking pundits actually had to live near fracking?

One thing that got under my skin last week was a little remarked-upon NYT column by Joe Nocera making the Very Serious Person’s case for a Sensible and Balanced™ approach to fracking. Environmentalists are dismissed as prone to “hyperbole” and “teeth gnashing,” and fracking is referred to as “a blessing.”

Meanwhile, the National Institute of Health just reported on a study showing how hospitalization rates jump near fracking sites. In particular, heart disease, neurological problems, cancer, urologic problems, and skin conditions were much higher near fracked areas. This isn’t exactly the first time such health concerns have been reported on, but Nocera’s article euphemistically sweeps them under the rug, referring abstractly to the “disruption” and “local controversy” that fracking causes in communities.

Halliburton Secures $500 Million for Re-Fracking

In a time when most oil producers are reducing new drilling, Halliburton has secured $500 million to help fund drilling in existing shale wells.

The process is called re-fracking, and helps cut down on 40 percent of the total cost new drilling typically provides.

Sierra Club to Support Fracking Ban in Michigan

Members of the Sierra Club are collecting signatures for a ballot initiative to ban the practice of fracking in Michigan. The ballot language would include a ban on high volume hydraulic fracturing and would call for a halt to the importing of radioactive fracking waste from other states.

The Sierra Club Michigan Chapter Executive Committee Chair David Holtz says both issues pose risks for Michigan.

Fracking-Harmed Pa. Residents Demand Action from Gov. Wolf

Individuals whose fracking-related health complaints were ignored by the state Department of Health (DOH) gathered outside the Scranton Courthouse today to discuss a letter calling on Governor Wolf to provide immediate help to their families and place a moratorium on fracking in Pennsylvania.

The event comes on the heels of recently released documents highlighting the DOH’s negligence of fracking-related health complaints. Food & Water Watch obtained the documents through a Right-to-Know-Law request, and released them last month with an accompanying analysis of the communications, demonstrating that DOH had been systematically neglectful of serious fracking-related health complaints.

Gas pipeline company downsizes proposed compressor station in Northfield

Kinder Morgan, which announced last week that its board had authorized a scaled-back version of its proposed Northeast Energy Direct natural gas pipeline, has also downsized plans for an 80,000-horsepower compressor station in Northfield to 41,000 horsepower, nearly halving it.

The compressor station, which has residents concerned about noise and the possibilities it might devalue property nearby or be a source of pollution, is arguably the No. 1 topic of controversy in the small town, according to Town Administrator Brian Noble.

2 men surveying land for pipeline plead no contest to charges

Two Ohio men pleaded no contest Tuesday in Craig County District Court to misdemeanor trespassing charges tied to surveying work for the Mountain Valley Pipeline project.

The charges against Josiah Kleinhens, 19, and Lawrence Brewer, 62, will be dismissed in six months, provided the men and law enforcement do not cross paths again.

Controversial gas pipeline in Joelton blocked by Metro Council

The Metro Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to block a controversial gas pipeline in Joelton.

Gold T-shirts filled the meeting as a large crowd packed the council chambers for public comment on the proposed gas compressor.

Residents were upset with the location of choice, an 82-acre area near three other gas pipelines, and lack of communication on the project. Many say there are alternate locations available around the city of Nashville.

Louisiana must safeguard BP settlement money for our coast: John Kennedy

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed 11 men and contaminated the Gulf of Mexico, BP is ready to settle with the impacted states. Louisiana’s portion of the settlement comes to $6.8 billion.

Maybe you were born in Louisiana or maybe you moved here later.  Regardless, you know that the Gulf of Mexico is as much a part of Louisiana as Natchitoches and New Orleans.  If you don’t have a relative who works offshore, then you probably have one who owns a camp in Grand Isle.

Flash flooding responsible for oil spill near Cuyama

San Luis Obispo County Environmental Health Services now says an intense thunderstorm was responsible for Monday’s oil spill near Cuyama off Highway 166.

“The spill was caused by storm water runoff that produced a flash flood and uncovered a 4-inch underground oil pipeline, which was then bent by the force of the water and subsequently fractured and released an estimated 2 to 5 barrels of oil,” said Environmental Health Specialist Scott Milner. “An alarm then went off which alerted the operators to shut the system down.”

Oil spill shuts down Highway 223

Highway 223 between Union Avenue and Fairfax Road has been closed since Monday afternoon due to a semi-truck spilling hundreds of gallons of oil on the roadway, officials said Tuesday.

It’s unclear when the road will re-open, California Highway Patrol spokesman Robert Rodriguez said Tuesday afternoon.

Brownsville Residents Voice Concern About Oil Spill

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is looking into an oil spill that happened at the Brownsville Public Works facility.

The city estimates 1,200 gallons leaked overnight; about half of that oil is said to have spilled into a nearby canal.

“I saw the canal dark this morning,” Marta Lagunes of Brownsville said. Her family lives behind the affected canal.

Nexen Energy to provide update on large oil spill in northern Alberta

Nexen Energy is scheduled to give an update today on its cleanup efforts following a major oil pipeline leak last week in northern Alberta.

The spill of about five million litres of bitumen, sand and produced water was discovered by a contractor last Wednesday near Nexen’s Long Lake oilsands facility, about 35 kilometres southeast of Fort McMurray.

Evidence doesn’t support the rumored Enbridge dump of harmful surfactant

Five years ago, on July 25, 2010, an Enbridge Energy pipeline burst, causing the biggest inland oil spill in U.S. history.

One of the rumors you can still hear about the incident is that the company must have dumped a surfactant into the Kalamazoo River to help break up the oil. The chemical is called corexit, and it can be harmful to humans.

Regulators and Enbridge deny corexit was ever used for the Kalamazoo spill. But that hasn’t put the rumor to rest.

The corexit rumor has roots in a lab report put out about a year and a half ago.

5 years after Enbridge spill, taking a look at debate over pipelines in Michigan

This weekend marks the five year anniversary of the Enbridge pipeline rupture in Marshall.

It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. History.

According to the DEQ, the failed southern pipeline released more than 800,000 gallons of heavy crude oil into the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River and surrounding wetlands.

State approves tar sands mine but requires water monitoring

Utah state officials have given the go-ahead for a tar sands mine under construction on the eastern flank of the state. They will, however, require the company to do water and air quality monitoring in a move environmentalists are calling a victory.

Utah Division of Oil, Gas and Mining director John Baza said Monday that his decision addresses concerns raised by opposition while acknowledging that U.S. Oil Sands Inc., the Canadian company building the mine, has complied with regulations.

Protesters make splash at Enbridge Energy Sandpiper pipeline session

As Enbridge Energy moves closer to building a new pipeline to deliver oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Oil fields, for many, anxiety grows.

In an attempt to help dispel some of the concern, Enbridge Energy is hosting a series of meetings across northern Minnesota, outlining the steps they take to ensure pipeline safety.

AG rebuts pipeline oversight suggestion

The Arkansas attorney general’s office told a federal judge Tuesday that it opposes Central Arkansas Water’s suggestion that the utility oversee a proposed consent decree between Exxon Mobil and the state and federal governments.

“[Central Arkansas Water] requests that it be granted third-party enforcement status of the Consent Decree but fails to cite any authority for third-party enforcement status,” Assistant Attorney General Jamie Ewing wrote in a letter to Judge Kristine Baker, who is presiding over a government lawsuit against two Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiaries in U.S. District Court.

PUC: No new pipeline testimony on tribal stewardship

South Dakota utility regulators won’t allow testimony on tribal land stewardship next week in the latest round of Keystone XL pipeline hearings.

TransCanada, the company seeking to build the pipeline, successfully argued Tuesday that the state’s Public Utilities Commission should not allow witnesses who want to talk about tribes’ responsibility to care for land beyond their reservations.

CSX Provides Update on W.Va. Oil Train Derailment Cleanup

CSX is continuing to closely monitor the environmental impact of a fiery oil-train derailment in southern West Virginia, a spokeswoman said Tuesday.

The company held a public informational meeting that drew a sparse turnout Tuesday evening at the Glen Ferris Inn.

Feds warn railroads to comply with oil train notification requirement

The U.S. Department of Transportation warned railroads that they must continue to notify states of large crude oil shipments after several states reported not getting updated information for as long as a year.

The department imposed the requirement in May 2014 following a series of fiery oil train derailments, and it was designed to help state and local emergency officials assess their risk and training needs.

Senate Working to Strip Braking Safety Requirements From Oil Train Regulations

As documented on DeSmog, the new oil-by-rail regulations contain major concessions to the oil and rail industries as the result of relentless lobbying during the rulemaking process. One logical safety measure that the rail industry failed to block from the new rules was a requirement for modern braking systems know as electronically controlled pneumatic (ECP) brakes.

However, the rail industry has a Plan B to avoid modernizing their braking systems and so far it is working quite well.

Seattle steps up complaints about oil trains

Almost a year to the day after a Burlington Northern Santa Fe train carrying crude oil from North Dakota derailed under the Magnolia Bridge, Councilmember Mike O’Brien and the mayor’s office today introduced a resolution calling for tighter restrictions on the transport of oil through Seattle. The Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee unanimously passed the resolution, sending it to a full council vote next Monday.

Seattle does not have the governmental teeth to impose its own regulations on trains passing through downtown. So, Tuesday’s legislation can only make recommendations and encourage the Washington Legislature and the federal government to act. Councilmember Nick Licata, while supportive, called the resolution “a disappointing acknowledgement of how little authority we have.”

ASRC acquires pipeline inspection firm

Arctic Slope Regional Corp. has acquired API, an independent oil field service company that tests and inspects pipelines on the North Slope and in Houston, Texas. ASRC President and CEO Rex Rock Sr. said the acquisition signals ASRC’s continued commitment to the oil and gas industry. API founder Royce Roberts retired from his role as president and was replaced by Jim Hildebrandt, who was formerly API’s vice president of operations.

Santa Barbara Says #ShellNo to Arctic Drilling

Local residents, environmental activists, and government officials rallied at Goleta Beach this past Saturday, July 18 in protest of Shell’s proposed exploratory Arctic drilling, as part of a national day of remembrance and action.

On May 11, Shell was granted approval by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) to conduct exploratory drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea, an area just northwest of the Alaskan Coast. Experts from the U.S. Geological Survey believe the Chukchi Sea is home to an untapped reserve of nearly 30 billion barrels of oil and gas. For many Santa Barbara residents and other environmental activists, the news comes at a moment where drilling and oil are still at the forefront of their minds.

Dear Mr. President: Prove Your Climate Rhetoric and Stop Arctic Drilling

Dear Mr. President:

I’ve often been struck by your soaring rhetoric on combating climate change, transitioning to clean energy sources, and protecting the natural environment. Clearly on some level you get it, as you’ve demonstrated in speech after speech. That’s why I don’t understand how you could even consider approving Shell’s dangerous plan to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean this summer – and why I’m imploring you to stop this reckless and short-sighted project.

Court Victory for Wilderness in the Arctic Refuge

Confirming once again that the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is off limits to oil and gas exploration, the U.S. District Court today rejected the state of Alaska’s effort, initiated by former Gov. Sean Parnell, to conduct harmful seismic exploration in important caribou calving habitat.

The 19.2 million-acre Arctic Refuge is America’s largest tract of pristine, wild land, and invaluable habitat for caribou, polar bears, wolves, fish and migratory birds, among other species. The 1.5 million-acre coastal plain is the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge. Its subsistence resources have sustained Alaska Native people for thousands of years.

Cellphone Ordinance Puts Berkeley at Forefront of Radiation Debate

Leave it to Berkeley: This city, which has led the nation in passing all manner of laws favored by the left, has done it again. This time, the city passed a measure — not actually backed by science — requiring cellphone stores to warn customers that the products could be hazardous to their health, presumably by emitting dangerous levels of cancer-causing radiation.

Under the so-called Right to Know ordinance, passed unanimously in May by the Berkeley City Council, retailers are supposed to notify customers, starting in August, that “you may exceed the federal guidelines for exposure” to radio frequency radiation by carrying a cellphone in a pants or shirt pocket, or tucked into a bra. The potential risk, the warning continues, “is greater for children.”

West Seattle neighbors continue battle against cellphone antennas

West Seattle neighbors will take their fight against proposed cellphone antennas to the city.

An appeal hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Verizon wants to put 12 new cell antennas on the roof of an apartment building on Southwest Stevens Street.

Sweaty work for Japan teams scrubbing away Fukushima radiation

The mission is to decontaminate hundreds of square kilometres (miles) that were polluted when reactors went into meltdown after a huge tsunami struck Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in March 2011.

No stone is left unturned: diggers scrape away the top layer of earth in fields, school courtyards and around the buildings of villages, while houses, buildings, roads and parking lots are scrubbed clean.

Tokyo under fire for plans to speed return of Fukushima evacuees

In a bid seen by critics as aiming to speed up reconstruction, the Japanese government is preparing to declare sections of the evacuation zone around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant a safe place to live. The ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe intends to revoke many evacuation orders by March 2017, if decontamination progresses as hoped, meaning that up to 55,000 evacuees could return to the homes they abandoned more than four years ago.

Moreover, Tokyo recently announced that the 7,000 residents of Nahara, a town in one of the seven Fukushima municipalities completely evacuated following the nuclear crisis, will be able to return home permanently from September 5. How many residents of the settlement, which lies just 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the plant, will return, however, remains unclear as many still have mixed feelings, according to a recent poll.

3,100 Fukushima residents file for damages from Tepco

Around 3,100 residents in the city of Fukushima are demanding ¥18.3 billion in damages related to the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, lawyers said.

A total of 3,107 residents of the Watari district want an out-of-court settlement for their psychological distress, including health concerns due to radiation exposure.

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.

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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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