Environmental Must-Reads – June 10, 2015


Here’s What the EPA Has to Say About Water Contamination From Fracking

A major report from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on fracking has both environmentalists and industry representatives claiming a win in the debate over the health and safety impacts of the oil and natural gas drilling technique.

In the draft report, released on Thursday, the agency outlines the many ways in which fracking threatens surface and ground water supplies, including chemical spills, waste water disposal, and gases seeping from wells.

Did the EPA just say fracking is safe? Depends who you ask.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s recent report on hydraulic fracturing, more commonly known as fracking, may have given oil and gas companies cause for celebration, but the report’s conditions and exceptions drew enough attention to keep the debate alive.

Proponents of fracking rejoiced at the EPA’s announcement that it “did not find evidence that these mechanisms have led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.” Erik Milito, director of Upstream and Industry Operations at the American Petroleum Institute, said the victory for oil and gas companies came as no surprise.

Why there are gaps in public health studies on fracking

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that between 25,000-30,000 new oil and gas wells were drilled and hydraulically fractured annually in the U.S. between 2011 and 2014.

A feature article in the journal Health Affairs says the body of research on the potential health effects of all this fracking is “slim and inconclusive.”

EPA’s Less Than Adequate Fracking Assessment

After five years of research, the EPA’s less than adequate fracking assessment has been released. “It’s a bit underwhelming,” said Amanda Frank, from the Center for Effective Government. Dr Allan Hoffman, a retired senior analyst with the Department of Energy, referred to the draft report as “disappointing.” They were primarily referring to the extent that industry was allowed to thwart the EPA investigation.

What happens next with St. Tammany fracking project?

Both the state and Army Corps of Engineers-approved permits for Helis Oil’s plans for a site off of Hwy. 1088 allow only for a vertical well, for now.

The company says evidence of that work will be seen in a matter of days, starting with the road leading in.

US Shale Oil Boom Grinds to a Halt as OPEC Keeps Pumping

The shale oil boom that turned the U.S. into the world’s largest fuel exporter and brought $3 gasoline back to America’s pumps is grinding to a halt.

Crude output from the prolific tight-rock formations such as North Dakota’s Bakken and Texas’s Eagle Ford shale will shrink 1.3 percent to 5.58 million barrels a day this month, based on Energy Information Administration estimates. It’ll drop further in July to 5.49 million, the lowest level since January, the agency said Monday.

Is the Fracking Boom Coming to an End?

Since fracking began its boom period in the last decade, its supporters have promoted it as the answer to all of the U.S.’s energy issues. It would free us from dependence on foreign oil, they said, thereby strengthening national security. And in fact, the U.S. has become the world’s largest exporter of fossil fuels, while prices at the gas pump have dropped steeply as fracked oil and gas production has exploded. States like Texas, Colorado, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Ohio have welcomed frackers to their shale deposits, even though others, such as New York and Mraryland, have resisted the lure due to concerns about fracking’s impacts on human health and the environment.

Fund for victims of fiery oil train derailment grows to $345 million with latest contribution

The compensation fund for victims of a fiery oil train derailment that claimed 47 lives in a small town in Quebec has grown to $345 million with a contribution from the company that owned the shipment.

World Fuel Services Corp., which was accused in a lawsuit of downplaying the volatility of the crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region, agreed to contribute $110 million to the settlement fund, leaving Canadian Pacific Railroad as the only company with potential liability that has declined to contribute.

Pennsylvania lawmakers seek answers on oil train safety

As the shipment of oil by train has skyrocketed in Pennsylvania and around the nation, lawmakers in Harrisburg want to weigh in on safety issues. Unfortunately they have little authority, since the rail industry is regulated almost exclusively by the federal government.

Every week between 60-70 trains carrying crude oil from North Dakota travel through Pennsylvania. The state has had four oil train derailments since the beginning of last year, but none have led to the deadly accidents and explosions seen elsewhere.

Oil train crash in St. Paul Park could have been epic disaster

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton and state leaders are renewing their call to spend more money on rail safety, and they are using a near-disaster from this past weekend to make their point.

A semi hauling flour crossed an unguarded railroad crossing in St. Paul Park, Minn. on Sunday, and it was struck by a train carrying North Dakota crude oil. No one was injured, but it’s the kind of potential disaster that emergency planners across the state have been warning about.

BP Cherry Point oil train facility gets extra track

By the end of June, crews at BP Cherry Point refinery are expected to complete an additional rail loop at the crude oil train unloading facility off Grandview Road.

The third loop allows for more room to store empty crude oil tank cars until they can be taken away by BNSF Railway, BP spokesman Scott Dean said in an email.

Louisiana reopens waters closed after 2010 oil spill

Louisiana wildlife and fisheries regulators have reopened state waters in the Gulf of Mexico that were previously closed because of oiling from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, in a news release Tuesday, said the 100-yard buffer from any shoreline in a portion of the upper Barataria Basin centered near Bay Jimmy and Bay Batiste will reopen to all commercial and recreational fishing. Before the announcement, those waters were closed to all commercial and recreational fishing except for recreational and charter boat angling.

Gulf oil spill: Still poisoning dolphins to crickets

Scientists have just linked a massive, ongoing die-off of dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico with the April 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. But that’s not the only fallout from this spill, one of the biggest in U.S. history. Oozing oil is a recurring yet hard-to-control problem on marshes in a bay just south of New Orleans. One day, a patch of the wetland is green and lush. The next it’s drenched in thick, noxious goo.

And that surfacing oil is releasing toxic vapors. Biologists caged crickets and floated them in and around the bay’s marsh. And they’re dying. Even now.

BP oil spill claim deadline brings flurry of last-minute filers

Joe Baroni knew he was cutting it close.

“We filled all this out over the weekend,” he said, clutching a sheaf of documents as he stood in line behind a couple of dozen other people Monday, hoping to file a claim for economic damages from the 2010 BP oil spill ahead of a midnight deadline.

Research group heads back to Gulf for further assessment of oil spill effects

A team comprised of University of Georgia researchers and colleagues in the ECOGIG — Ecosystem Impacts of Oil and Gas Inputs to the Gulf — Research Consortium has neared the midway point in a three-and-half-week-long research cruise on board the R/V Endeavor, a vessel owned by the National Science Foundation and operated by the University of Rhode Island.

The team took a short break on Monday to host a media and education day Gulfport, Miss. Following that interlude the research cruise will resume in the Gulf of Mexico as the team continues to assess the ecological impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon accident. Over a period of 84 days, the Macondo well site discharged 210 million gallons of oil and more than 175,000 metric tons of methane gas into the Gulf.

Oil Spill Statements from Plains All American

Plains All American Pipeline provided the following update as cleanup operations continued near Goleta, Calif.  This update is for Monday, June 8, and is attributable to Patrick Hodgins, senior director, Safety & Security, Plains All American Pipeline, who is serving as the Plains Incident Commander and its representative within Unified Command.

Plains deeply regrets that this unfortunate accidental release occurred, and we are sorry for the resulting impact to the environment and wildlife, as well as for any disruption caused to residents and visitors. Plains is committed to doing everything in our power to make this right.

Request by Exxon to Haul Oil After Pipeline Break Denied

Officials denied a request Tuesday by Exxon Mobil to temporarily use tanker trucks to transport crude oil from offshore wells through Santa Barbara County after a recent pipeline break that has become the state’s largest coastal oil spill in 25 years.

The move came on the same day that California lawmakers formed a special legislative committee to investigate the May spill that caused as much as 101,000 gallons of oil to blacken beaches and create an ocean slick.

Enbridge Reaches First Settlement With Justice Dept Over 2010 Oil Spill

Enbridge Inc. has reached another settlement in connection with its massive oil pipeline spill into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River five years ago. The Canadian company will pay nearly $4 million to fund several restoration projects as a part of an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division.

The announcement earlier this week comes less than a month after Enbridge reached a $75 million settlement with Michigan officials to fund cleanup and restoration of areas fouled by the July 2010 spill, which dumped more than one million gallons of heavy crude oil into the Kalamazoo.

NTSB blames 2014 ship channel collision, spill on tugboat

Federal investigators say a tugboat captain’s attempt to cross the Houston Ship Channel ahead of a cargo ship is the probable cause of a 2014 collision that spilled 168,000 gallons of oil that drifted up to 200 miles down the Texas Gulf coast.

No crew members were injured in the March 22, 2014, collision between a fuel oil barge towed by the tugboat Miss Susan and the cargo ship Summer Wind in the channel of lower Galveston Bay.

SOCO Oil Company Paid Large Sums to Officer in Congo, Activists Say

When a British oil company began prospecting for oil in Africa’s oldest national park, drawing worldwide concern and inspiring an Oscar-nominated documentary last year, the company was adamant in denying any wrongdoing.

Though soldiers in the Democratic Republic of Congo may have engaged in a campaign of intimidation and coercion against nearby residents who are opposed to drilling in the park, the company said it could not be held responsible for their actions.

UK oil firm ‘paid Congolese officer who offered bribe to Virunga park ranger’

British oil company Soco International paid $42,000 (£27,000) to a Congolese military officer who allegedly tried to bribe opponents of its oil exploration in Africa’s oldest national park, according to a leading NGO.

Leaked documents released by Global Witness ahead of the company’s annual meeting in London appear to show Soco paid military liaison officer Major Burimbi Feruzi as it sought to search for oil in the Virunga national park.

Keystone protesters tracked at border after FBI spied on ‘extremists’

An activist was placed on a US government watchlist for domestic flights after being swept up in an FBI investigation into protests of the Keystone XL pipeline, linking a breach of intelligence protocol with accounts of continued tracking that environmentalists fear could follow them for life.

Twenty-five-year-old Bradley Stroot is one of several campaigners to go public, after the Guardian revealed an FBI investigation that labeled them “environmental extremists”, with new allegations of a continued crackdown. From an hours-long detention at the US border to a home visit by a terrorism task force and an encounter with police searching for bombs, the activists say law enforcement has tracked them from a peaceful Texas protest of the highly contentious oil project in 2012 and 2013 to the tony suburbs of Indianapolis as recently as the end of last year.

Chris Christie’s epic screw-up: Exxon giveaway is even more of an environmental disaster than we thought

While New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spends more and more time in New Hampshire, in hopes of igniting Granite State voter passion, his sweetheart deal with Exxon has sparked major grass roots outrage back at home.

Over 40,000 New Jerseyans used a public comment period that just closed to call for the rejection of Christie’s proposed deal with Exxon to settle $8.9 billion in environmental damage claims going back a century for just $225 million, or less than three cents on the dollar. Now, the state’s Department of Environmental Protection has to respond to those comments and make a recommendation to the state judge overseeing the Exxon litigation.

The Clean Energy Governor And The Columbia River Oil Refinery

A new oil refinery is the last thing you might expect Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s administration to be courting. After all, Inslee has developed a national reputation as a champion of curbing the use of fossil fuels.

And yet, Inslee’s administration has worked for months to facilitate such a project along the Columbia River. A Texas-based energy company wants to site a combined crude oil and biofuel refinery in Longview, Washington. The company’s goal is to capitalize on low carbon fuel standards championed by West Coast political leaders, including Inslee.

Enbridge Certificate of Need for Pipeline Is ‘Declaration of War’: LaDuke

To tribes’ consternation, the Minnesota Public Utility Commission (PUC) has granted Enbridge Inc. a certificate of need, meaning the agency has determined that it is indeed necessary for the company to construct a new pipeline across the state—one that cuts directly through indigenous wild rice beds.

On June 5 and 6, the White Earth and Mille Lacs bands of Ojibwe each came out strongly against the Sandpiper pipeline.

Oil Drilling in Arctic Ocean: A Push into Uncharted Waters

Last October, an unmanned barge with 950 gallons of fuel on board was in the Beaufort Sea when it broke free from the tug towing it. The weather was stormy and the tug captain decided it was too dangerous to try to retrieve the barge in turbulent seas. Ideally, the Canadian Coast Guard would have been on hand to deal with the situation. But the icebreaker it routinely dispatches to the Beaufort Sea had gone back to Vancouver for the winter. It would have taken a week for it to return.

Six ‘grannies’ detained in Seattle during Shell rig protest

Six older women were detained by Seattle police on Tuesday during a protest to block access to a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig that activists believe may depart this week to resume fossil fuel exploration in the Arctic, authorities said.

The six, members of an activist group known as the Seattle Raging Grannies, were questioned and released by police after blocking railroad tracks near the Port of Seattle, police spokesman Patrick Michaud said.

Phones, emails flooded in protest of Shell’s oil-fleet lease

Opponents of Shell Oil’s lease of a Port of Seattle terminal to stage the company’s Arctic drilling fleet have employed a new tactic in their battle against the oil giant: deluging phone lines and email accounts of firms supporting the company’s stay in Seattle.

Shell’s Arctic drilling is the real threat to the world, not kayaktivists

Shell has one or two rivals for the title of Planet’s Most Irresponsible Company, but it’s definitely the most ironic.

The grand irony, of course, is that, having watched the Arctic melt as global temperatures rose, Shell was first in line to drill the newly melted waters for yet more oil which would raise the temperature some more.

But lately, the planetary-scale irony was compounded by one of a more local variety, contained in the phrase safety zone.

Canada delays ruling on nuke waste site near Lake Huron

Canada’s environmental regulators are delaying until December a decision on whether to allow plans for an underground storage facility for nuclear waste near the shores of Lake Huron in Ontario.

The three-month delay, announced last week by the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, accommodates a 90-day comment period and bumps back the decision from Minister of Environment Leona Aglukkaq until after Canada’s federal elections.

Should Fukushima’s Radioactive Water Just Be Dumped In The Ocean? 

There is no permanent solution for Fukushima’s radioactive water, which has been leaking out of storage tanks again and again. Could the best option actually be just letting all into the ocean?

Over at Nautilus, Eliza Strickland has a snappy summary of the problem with Fukushima’s radioactive water, which is at 620,000 gallons and counting. This water is used to continuously cool the melted-down reactors, which means the problem is only growing. Storing it in tanks indefinitely is expensive and, as history has demonstrated, not a leak-proof proposition.

Start of reactor fuel removal at Fukushima No. 1 may be delayed up to three years

The government and Tokyo Electric Power Co. are planning to push back the start of removing melted fuel at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex by two to three years from the current schedule, government sources said Tuesday.

Under an envisioned revised road map for decommissioning reactors 1 to 4 at the plant ravaged by the March 2011 massive earthquake and tsunami, work to begin removing the fuel from reactor 3 is expected to be delayed until fiscal 2017 from the first half of fiscal 2015, the sources said.

Atkins to assess fire risk at Fukushima nuclear plant

UK-based consultancy Atkins has been awarded a contract by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) to undertake fire hazard analysis services at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station in Japan (pictured).

Last month experts warned that leaking containers at the plant, which was heavily damaged by the tsunami and earthquake in 2011, could be at risk of hydrogen explosions.

Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station ‘responsible for elevated risk of cancer,’ claims academic

A Welsh nuclear power station may be responsible for elevated levels of cancer found in communities downwind of it, according to an academic paper written by an environmental scientist.

Research supervised by Dr Chris Busby, who used to be based in Aberystwyth but is now attached to the Latvian Academy of Sciences in Riga, showed the incidence of breast cancer was five times higher downwind from Trawsfynydd Nuclear Power Station than would have been expected.

Microscopic safety inspectors could keep tabs on nuclear reactors

SAFETY inspectors are being downsized – in a good way. Tiny glass beads patrolling fibre-optic cables could keep an eye on the insides of nuclear reactors and other hazardous environments.

Fibre-optic cables may be best known for delivering your broadband connection, but they are also used as sensors, measuring things like cracks or chemical leaks that change the amount of light passing through them.

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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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