Environmental Must-Reads – July 23, 2015


Mandeville councilman asks why city sold water to company at proposed fracking site

A Mandeville City Council member on Wednesday (July 22) called on Mayor Donald Villere to explain why city water was sold to a subcontractor working at the site of a proposed fracking operation north of Mandeville.

Villere responded that water had indeed been sold to the subcontractor, but that he put a stop to it as soon as he discovered what had happened. Moreover, Villere said, no one at the city did anything wrong.

 ‘It’s the New World Record’: Earthquakes Linked to Fracking Are Getting Stronger in Alberta

One of three earthquakes that gently rocked a small northern Alberta oil town this year may have been the strongest seismic event ever caused by fracking, worldwide.

The shale fields around Fox Creek used to get one, maybe two, small earthquakes per year. Since 2003, when fracking companies began setting up shop in the nearby Duvernay formation, that number has shot way up. A 2015 study said 160 minor earthquakes have been detected since then, nearly all of them clustered around fracking operations. This year, scientists say, the tremors have started breaking records.

Gov. Brown Appoints Panel to Review California Rules for Fracking

Gov. Jerry Brown says he’s created a panel to study how California should monitor hydraulic fracturing for oil.

The panel will review a state-ordered fracking study released this month that found some of the chemicals used in California’s fracking boom likely pose a risk to public health. It said the state has failed to track them.

How to protect drinking water from shallow fracking

Investigations show that thousands of shallow oil and gas wells mined with the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing may threaten drinking water sources.

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.

Ruling overturns ‘fracking’ ban, Mansfield charter unaffected

An Ohio Supreme Court ruling in Athens County on June 30 has spurred Ohio environmental advocacy groups into action, but not Mansfield based Frack Free Ohio.

Frack Free Ohio organizer Bill Baker and Mansfield Law Director John Spon are confident that Mansfield will not have their charter amendment overturned, despite Ohio’s Supreme Court ruling in Athens County.

To protect its water, tiny Ohio village takes on a fracking giant

This story of a small village in Ohio came to our attention when Gulfport Energy Corporation [Gulfport], a fracking company, filed suit on March 5 of this year against the tiny Village of Barnesville, Ohio [Village]. At first look, this looked like a modern David and Goliath story but, as is often the situation where lawyers and politicians are involved, it had so many twists and turns that it seemed like unravelling a giant ball of yarn.

There are at least four major players involved: The Village of Barnesville (defendant), Gulfport Energy (plaintiff), Antero Resources Corp. [Antero] (another fracking company), and, of course, the residents who live in and around Barnesville. The only thing that was clear was that those residents wanted safe and clean drinking water.

No drilling in the Everglades

Environmentalists fretted — and rightfully so — over the Legislature’s chicanery with Amendment 1 funding for land conservation projects. One initiative high on their ultimately thwarted list was the purchase of nearly 47,000 acres in the Everglades owned by U.S. Sugar.

The property, south of Lake Okeechobee, would have cost $350 million. The South Florida Water Management District governors rejected the purchase in April, citing the cost. The Legislature declined to fund it through Amendment 1.

Fracking goes on trial

News was announced today (23 July) that a coalition of human rights lawyers and academics will put fracking on trial at hearings to be held in Britain and the United States.

The Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal (PPT), based in Rome, is a descendant of the 1967 Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal and hears cases in which prima facie evidence suggests a breach of the basic rights of ordinary citizens. Between 5 and 7 jurists of high standing in international human rights will hear witness testimony on the issue of fracking before deciding whether sufficient evidence exists to indict certain nation states on charges of ‘failing to adequately uphold universal human rights as a result of allowing unconventional oil and gas extraction in their jurisdictions’.

A big fight over a natural gas pipeline project divides Massachusetts

Massachusetts and other New England ratepayers paid $7 billion more for electricity the past two winters than they paid in previous years, estimates say.

The chief culprit, energy analysts say, is a lack of pipeline capacity, leaving the region choked off from access to natural gas in the massive Marcellus shale formation, some 300 miles away in Pennsylvania.

PG&E files claim against Fresno County in pipeline blast

Faulting Fresno County for causing the April 17 gas pipeline explosion at the Fresno Sheriff’s Foundation shooting range, Pacific Gas & Electric has filed a claim seeking more than $3 million.

The claim, filed Monday with Fresno County, notes that the county’s negligence was cited in a report by Exponent, which was hired by the California Public Utilities Commission. Exponent said the pipeline rupture and explosion occurred when a county worker struck the pipeline with a front loader he was riding on a road above the shooting range while county jail inmates worked nearby.

Judge considers Giles landowners’ pipeline-related lawsuit

Giles County landowners who are challenging Mountain Valley Pipeline’s right to survey private property without an owner’s consent left court without a ruling Wednesday.

They did not win. They did not lose.

Company that plans to build gas pipeline in San Elizario part of community meeting

ONEOK Partners, the company that plans to build one of two new gas pipelines in San Elizario, will take part in a community meeting on Saturday.

The meeting will be at 1 p.m. at the Clint Community Center, 200 North San Elizario Road in Clint, according to a notice posted on the city of San Elizario’s Facebook page. The planned pipelines have raised safety and environmental concerns among area residents.

BPU Déjà vu: Agency Approves Pinelands Pipeline for Second Time

In a matter of minutes, a state agency approved a proposal to build a controversial 22-mile natural-gas pipeline through the core of the Pinelands Forest.

For the second time in two years, the Board of Public Utilities endorsed the pipeline project proposed by South Jersey Gas, which would convert the B. L. England power plant from being coal-fired to using natural gas.

Protestors call for McAuliffe to reject pipeline

Chants rang out with signs held high, as protestors lined up outside the Stonewall Jackson Hotel Wednesday morning. Augusta County residents stood side-by-side with those from Nelson and Buckingham counties, among others, as each made it clear they want the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Mountain Valley Pipeline projects shut down.

“Call it off McAuliffe!” and “No Pipeline!” the protestors chanted as Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s car rolled up to the hotel. McAuliffe went inside to give a speech, as the protestors stood outside.

PennEast Pipeline surveyors blocked from mapping land in New Jersey

Mercer County is joining the list of landowners trying to block PennEast Pipeline LLC from surveying property — part of a county park — in order to build a highly contentious natural gas pipeline.

The county, which has opposed the project since last year, told PennEast yesterday that the company would no longer have access to the park in Titusville for the purpose of surveying the property to facilitate the project. The county cited soil borings on Baldpate Mountain, which it has deemed as potentially environmentally harmful.

South L.A. residents ask pope to intervene in fight over oil operation.

Residents of a low-income South Los Angeles community are asking Pope Francis to intervene with the Los Angeles Archdiocese to prevent an oil operation from reopening two years after its noxious emissions sickened neighbors.

Residents are sending the pope a videotape urging him to help stop AllenCo Energy Inc. from resuming operations on two acres it leases from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese. Pope Francis issued an encyclical a month ago calling on policymakers to take urgent action to pursue alternatives to fossil fuels.

Recent Spills Give More Reason to Move Beyond Oil

Big Oil has dealt North America a battering this month as we’ve seen spill after spill hit the headlines. Label it negligence or an inevitable reality of oil production, the impact is the same: oil and its byproducts are being dumped into our communities, our water supplies, and the delicate ecosystems that we value. Despite the industry’s slick rhetoric of reassurance about the safety of oil extraction, it is undeniably clear that Big Oil is unable to contain its destructive product to the detriment of our health, communities, and environment. It is high time our elected leaders embrace this indisputable fact and start taking serious steps to reduce our exposure to these risks–starting by saying no to the most extreme projects like drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic coasts or tar sands development–and ensuring that whatever extraction does occur is held to stringent safety standards. Ultimately, however, what the recent headlines make abundantly clear is that we will only be safe from the harms of fossil fuel production when we succeed in moving beyond oil to clean alternatives–and there is no time to waste.

Watch a Biodegradable Chemical Clean Up Spilt Oil

Time is of the essence in the wake of an oil spill. The faster the toxic mess can be cleaned up, the less severe the impacts on animals, the environment, and local livelihoods.

But the methods for reducing the ill effects of that noxious sludge leave plenty to be desired. Currently, most cleanup methods are chemical—either dispersants, which break oil up, or herders, which gather it for easier cleanup. These chemicals’ effect on marine life is poorly understood: The most effective commercial herders available contain long chains of silicone molecules that break down slowly, so they get the oil out, but leave behind tiny silicone threads that don’t degrade quickly. Dispersants aren’t much better—researchers found that Corexit, the dispersant used to clean up the BP spill, impeded the respiration of humans and wildlife who came into contact with it.

Five Years After Michigan Oil Spill, Unfinished Business Remains

Today the gently rolling Kalamazoo River in southern Michigan flows clear once again. There are few reminders that five years ago the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history turned 40 miles of the river black.

There is, however, a $100 million piece of unfinished business.

That’s the scale of the fine the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency may impose on Enbridge Inc., the Canadian pipeline company responsible for a 1 million gallon spill of highly toxic oil into the river in 2010. Under the Clean Water Act, the agency has until July 25—the fifth anniversary of the disaster—to levy punishment.

Jackson Oil Spill Bills Pass Assembly Committee

Two bills authored by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson in response to the Refugio Oil Spill passed out of the Assembly Governmental Organization Committee this week. SB 295 reinstates the State Fire Marshal’s role of inspecting nationally regulated oil pipelines and calls for yearly inspections. SB 414, or the Rapid Oil Spill Response Act, would create an enhanced program for local fishers to become paid responders, prohibit the use of toxic chemicals during cleanups, and require Office of Spill Prevention and Response officials to study more cutting-edge oil response technology. Both bills now head to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Nexen says may take months to pinpoint cause of Alberta pipeline spill

Finding the root cause of the oil-sands pipeline leak discovered earlier this month in northern Alberta, one of the biggest oil-related spills on land ever in North America, will likely take months, a senior Nexen Energy executive said on Wednesday.

Nexen, a subsidiary of China’s CNOOC Ltd, is putting a higher priority on cleaning up the spill from its pipeline and investigating its cause than on restarting the Kinosis oil sands project where the spill took place, Ron Bailey, Nexen’s senior vice president of Canadian operations, said during a tour of the site.

Enbridge Expects $40 Million Fine, EPA’s Stiffest Ever for a Pipeline Spill

The Environmental Protection Agency may penalize Enbridge Inc. with the stiffest fine ever imposed under the Clean Water Act for an oil pipeline disaster, based on an InsideClimate News review of EPA enforcement data covering the past 15 years.

Enbridge, a Canadian pipeline operator, expects a $40 million penalty for spilling 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River five years ago, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Under federal law, the EPA could levy $100 million or more, depending on whether the agency finds that the pipeline rupture resulted from negligence, and other factors. Enbridge, Canada’s largest transporter of crude oil, is worth an estimated $30 billion.

After A Year Without One, The U.S. Is Finally Getting A Pipeline Safety Chief

The important but little-known agency responsible for ensuring the safety of oil pipelines hasn’t had anyone officially sitting in the top spot since October of 2014. But that will soon change, at least if a recent Senate hearing was any indication.

On Wednesday, the Senate’s Commerce Committee held a confirmation hearing for Marie Therese Dominguez, slated to be the next administrator of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). And though confirmation hearings for Obama administration appointees have often been tense, senators from both sides of the aisle appeared ready, if not eager, to confirm Dominguez for the position.

Climate Scientist James Hansen Shut Out of Keystone XL Hearings in South Dakota

Though tribes and other opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline have been granted intervenor status in a series of hearings before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC), several tribal and climate-expert witnesses were excluded on July 22 from testifying at the evidentiary hearings that begin next week.

Among them: Renowned climate scientist James Hansen, lead author in a new study claiming that temperature-increase targets of two degrees Celsius are too high to avoid climate catastrophe. But climate change was not mentioned in the original permit, said Bob Gough, the attorney who represented the Intertribal Council on Utility Policy before the commission.

How a Chinese Company Slipped on Canada’s Oil Sands

China’s Cnooc Ltd.knew it was buying into trouble when it acquired Canada’s Nexen Inc. in 2013. It is now finding out just how much.

Weeks after the state-controlled oil company bought Nexen for $15 billion, its executives were in Calgary with a blunt message for the Canadian company, which had struggled for years to extract crude from the oil sands in the Alberta wilderness. Cnooc Chief Executive Li Fanrong told staffers Nexen provided just 2% of Cnooc’s profits, say attendees, warning that “2% is not enough.”

Inspectors find more oil train defects

Rail inspectors who check oil tanker cars and the tracks that carry them returned to the Kenwood Yard at the Port of Albany for the seventh time in little more than a year, where they found more than a dozen minor defects in either tracks or tanker cars.

In this case, inspectors found 10 “non-critical safety defects, including loose or missing bolts and cotter pins and an insecure switch point,” and three tanker cars with violations including “thin brake shoes and a defective air hose and hose valve,” according to a news release Wednesday from Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Nebraska will continue to reveal oil train traffic

Nebraska will continue to make public information railroads submit on Bakken oil train traffic within its borders after U.S. Department of Transportation warned railroads that they must continue to notify state emergency response agencies of large crude oil shipments.

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

Senate Republicans end bid to pare back oil train safety rule

Senate Republicans have backed away from a controversial proposal that would have repealed a new federal safety rule requiring oil trains to be equipped with advanced new braking systems.

Republicans eliminated the proposal from a multi-year surface transportation bill, after coming under pressure from the Obama administration and Democratic lawmakers, whose support they need for passage of the legislation, Senate aides said on Wednesday.

Way Cleared for Shell to Start Drilling in Arctic Ocean

The Obama administration cleared the way on Wednesday for Shell to start drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer, but the safety restrictions it is imposing could slow the pace at which rigs strike oil.

The authorization was widely expected, after the Interior Department gave conditional approval in May for the company’s long-delayed application to drill in the untouched waters of the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northwest coast.

Interior allows Shell to drill in Arctic, with limits

The Interior Department gave Shell approval Wednesday for exploratory drilling at two sites in the Chukchi Sea.

But Shell won’t be allowed to drill deep into oil-bearing zones and will face limits to avoid impacting walruses in the region, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement said. As a result, Shell will only be able to drill one site at a time.

Coast Guard designates protest area around arriving Shell oil drilling ship

Protestors unhappy with the arrival of a drilling-support ship in Portland will have to stay at least 100 yards away from the vessel, the U.S. Coast Guard said Wednesday.

The Coast Guard is designating a safety zone for people working on and around the Fennica, which is headed down the Columbia River to Portland. The zone will be in place until the Fennica leaves. A Coast Guard spokesman said they don’t know when it will arrive or leave.

Cries of Betrayal, Calls to Organize as Obama Approves Arctic Drilling

President Barack Obama on Wednesday afternoon gave the final go-ahead for Royal Dutch Shell PLC to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea near Alaska, flouting fierce public opposition to the extraction over the severe danger it poses to the ocean ecosystem, climate, and coastal communities.

“The president has made a big mistake allowing Shell back into the Arctic,” declared Center for Biological Diversity Alaska director Rebecca Noblin in a press statement released Wednesday. “The risks of a devastating oil spill in this harsh environment are just too great, particularly for a company with such poor performance record. This is a reckless move by a country that is still struggling to reduce its impact on global warming.”

Fukushima scrub-down aims to make villages safe, although woods may remain no-go zones

Sweating inside their plastic protection suits, thousands of men toil in Japan’s muggy early summer in a vast effort to scrub radiation from the villages around Fukushima.

The mission is to decontaminate hundreds of square kilometers that were polluted when reactors went into meltdown after huge tsunami struck the Fukushima No. 1 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.

Nuclear evacuees face dilemma over returning home

More than four years since Satoru Yamauchi abandoned his noodle restaurant to escape radiation spreading from the tsunami-wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, the central government is almost ready to declare it is safe for him to go home.

But like many of the displaced, he’s not sure if he wants to. “I want my old life back, but I don’t think it’s possible here,” he said on a recent visit to the dusty soba buckwheat noodle restaurant in Nahara that he ran for more than two decades.

Russia eases Fukushima-related seafood ban; Taiwan mulls loosening embargo

Russia’s farm ministry said it has partially lifted a ban on seafood imports from Japan imposed in the wake of the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear crisis.

A total of 23 fish processing companies in Aomori Prefecture will now be allowed to ship their products to Russia, but the trade embargo will remain for companies in seven other prefectures, the ministry said Tuesday.

Artists install in Fukushima’s radioactive zone

Leading international and Japanese artists have installed a series of works in the deserted radioactive zone established in the wake of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster early 2011. But the ongoing exhibition, titled Don’t Follow the Wind, may not be publicly accessible for decades because of health and safety fears after the nuclear fallout triggered by a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in the northeast region.

Over the course of a year, artists including Taryn Simon, Kota Takeuchi and Trevor Paglen have worked with the former residents of Fukushima, creating site-specific works at three contaminated sites: a home, warehouse and farm.

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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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