Environmental Must-Reads – June 13, 2014


Fracking Companies Used 45 Million Pounds Of Toxic Chemicals In Los Angeles Last Year

The oil and gas industry in the Los Angeles area used about 22,500 tons of chemicals that, if released into the air, can be toxic and even carcinogenic last year, according to a new report.

The report, published by the Center for Biological Diversity and three other health and environmental groups, looked at oil and gas industry-reported chemical data for 477 fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing operations in Los Angeles and Orange counties in California. It found that companies have used 44 different air toxics over the last year, pollutants that include formaldehyde, a chemical that’s a known carcinogen, as well as crystalline silica, another carcinogen, and hydrofluoric acid, which can be deadly.

44 toxic chemicals used in local oil and gas operations, report says

For the past year local air regulators have been tracking the chemicals companies use in oil and gas exploration around Southern California. In a report released Wednesday, four environmental groups crunched the tracking reports to find that more than 40 toxic chemicals have been used in dozens of drilling operations, often near homes, schools, and hospitals.

BLM Approval of Fracking Project on Public Land Jeopardizes Human Health, Nevada’s Environment

The Bureau of Land Management in Nevada has just approved an oil and gas project that would use hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands that provide important habitat for the imperiled greater sage grouse and other wildlife. Noble Energy’s Mary’s River Project will drill 20 wells on BLM-managed public lands four miles northwest of Wells, Nev. The total project area encompasses 20,622 acres — about 52 percent of which is administered by the federal agency, with the remainder in private ownership.

“Fracking on these sensitive public lands in Nevada could threaten human health and our spectacular natural heritage,” said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada-based senior scientist with the Center for Biological Diversity. “Use of this polluting techno

4 in 10 higher risk wells aren’t inspected by feds

Four in 10 new oil and gas wells near national forests and fragile watersheds or otherwise identified as higher pollution risks escape federal inspection, unchecked by an agency struggling to keep pace with America’s drilling boom, according to an Associated Press review that shows wide state-by-state disparities in safety checks.

Roughly half or more of wells on federal and Indian lands weren’t checked in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, despite potential harm that has led to efforts in some communities to ban new drilling.

Was This Fayette County Waste Pit Leaking?

Danny Webb Construction began shutting down above ground pits last month in Fayette County that held oil and gas waste. The waste likely came from horizontal drilling operations.

In a more recent development, the DEP says a tank that was holding some of that waste, leaked during the process, but was cleaned up.

Group asks for order to stop company from injecting waste fluid into wells

An environmental group is asking the West Virginia Environmental Quality Board to order a Fayette County construction company to stop injecting waste fluids from oil and natural gas exploration into wells near Lochgelly.

Your Lawn Need Fracking?

On September 9, 2009, Suzanne Matteo’s neighbor knocked on the door of her home, a former schoolhouse built in the 1800s. The house, painted white, sits on four acres in rural Pulaski Township, Pennsylvania, surrounded mostly by fields. With a panicked look, the neighbor told Matteo that she had to get down to nearby New Castle with the deed to her land. A drilling company, Hilcorp, was giving landowners in Matteo’s area $3,000 per acre they owned, plus the promise of royalties on gas production, in exchange for their signatures on drilling leases.

Is fracking safe? ‘Hell, yeah,’ Houston CEO says

Houston-based Ultra Petroleum Corp. (NYSE: UPL) Chairman, President and CEO Mike Watford certainly didn’t mince words when asked if hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is safe for the environment.

“Hell, yeah, it’s safe,” Watford said.

States study fracking regs to stop earthquakes

A group of states led by Ohio is working with energy companies, government agencies and universities to research how regulations on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, could prevent human-caused earthquakes.

The effort comes after Ohio officials concluded that five small earthquakes in eastern Ohio were probably caused by fracking and injecting fracking waste into the ground, the first time that has happened in the Northeast, The Associated Press reported.

Wiretap: Fracking bans are contagious

As negotiations continue in Denver to head off citizen ballot initiatives that seek to win greater local authority to establish drilling setback distances from housing and to limit drilling-related noise and dust and fumes, it’s worth noting that Colorado is not alone in reacting at the ballot box and city council meetings to neighborhood invasions of boom-time fracking — which is partly why some of the oil companies in negotiations with the governor right now are loath to give any ground in the battle. They’re afraid Colorado people-power will spread across the country. But it’s already spreading across the country, in sometimes breathtaking ways. As was widely reported, in Texas in February, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson sued to keep drillers off his land, and two Texas cities, Dallas — Dallas — and Denton have passed bans or effective bans this past spring. Indeed, Denton passed a moratorium in May and citizens are working now to turn that pause in drilling into a permanent halt.

Study examines concerns over ‘fracking’ in Michigan

As debates occur nationwide over the continued use of hydraulic fracturing — colloquially known as fracking — to extract oil and natural gas from shale deposits deep beneath the surface of the earth, University researchers have released a report examining public perceptions of this controversial practice in Michigan.

Former BP engineer will get new trial; oil spill conviction tossed

A federal judge has tossed out a former British Petroleum engineer’s conviction for obstructing an investigation into the 2010 spill that leaked billions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, court records show.

Kurt Mix, a Texas resident and drilling engineer, was convicted in December of obstructing an investigation into the spill by deleting text messages that would have been relevant to the federal inquiry.

Ex-BP Engineer Wins New Trial in Oil Spill Evidence Case

A former BP Plc (BP/) senior engineer found guilty last year of destroying evidence related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was granted a new trial based on his claim of juror misconduct.

Kurt Mix was convicted by a federal jury in December of one of two counts of obstruction of justice. Prosecutors said Mix deleted from his mobile phone text messages and voice mails related to BP’s effort to estimate the size of what turned out to be largest U.S. offshore oil spill.

BGA Exclusive: Behind the Scenes of BP Oil Spill

The March oil spill in Lake Michigan from BP’s northwest Indiana refinery will likely cost the company some money. But the fines are expected to only be in the tens of thousands, a relatively small amount for a giant company like BP.

More surprisingly, the company paid no fines over the past dozen years for multiple violations of water pollution permits. A review of government inspection reports by the Better Government Association found that despite more than a dozen violations of water pollution regulations since 2002, BP wasn’t fined once by its frontline regulator, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

BP gets ‘kid gloves’ treatment from regulators, Durbin says

The BP refinery at the center of an oil spill in Lake Michigan in March received no fines for polluted wastewater discharge violations over the past 12 years despite repeated problems documented in government inspection reports.

While warnings were issued for breaches such as excessive pollution levels that violated the refinery’s permit, regulators gave the BP Whiting facility a pass after follow-up visits and no fines were assessed for more than a dozen problems cited since 2002, a Better Government Association review found.

Oil companies lobby to diminish spill cleanup fund

The Western States Petroleum Assn. and the California Chamber of Commerce led business groups in sending out an “alert” to lawmakers about a budget proposal that would provide oil-spill protection for lakes and rivers.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s $107-billion state budget calls for a program to prevent and clean up crude oil from pipeline and rail-car spills, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Four Years After BP Spill, a Shallow-Water Revival

For well over a decade, oil and natural-gas drilling in the shallow federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico have been in a seemingly unending decline.

Federal data show that oil production in waters less than 1,000 feet deep—a rough benchmark for shallow water, or the “shelf”—fell from 830,000 barrels per day in 1997 to 381,000 a decade later and has kept falling. Gas production dropped significantly too.

Oil spill clean-up still incomplete

Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is special in a lot of ways. It not only showcases spectacular geology but was also the first national monument to be managed by the Bureau of Land Management, rather than the National Park Service.

Moreover, it is the largest national monument in the country, clocking in at an impressive 1.8 million acres. Add to this mix the five active oil wells within the monument, and it’s clear that BLM managers face a difficult monitoring problem. So difficult, in fact, that several oil spills remained unreported by an oil company and undetected by the BLM – probably for decades.

EPA continues to monitor Denbury oil spill near Conroe

The Environmental Protection Agency is monitoring an oil spill of Carpenter Road in Southeast Montgomery County in an effort to ensure there is no public health threat.

Officials with Denbury Resources Inc. have been working on the cleanup since June 2.

Fort Detrick works to clean 19-year-old oil spill

An underground oil spill that contaminated groundwater at Fort Detrick may not be completely cleaned up until a decades-old boiler plant is demolished.

The oil leaked from underground storage tanks that fueled the boiler plant. The boiler plant and tanks were installed in the 1950s, according to Fort Detrick environmental restoration program manager Joe Gortva.

On Keystone XL Pipeline, Sen. Mary Landrieu’s indispensability and clout diminish: James Varney

When it comes to the Keystone XL Pipeline is Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., waffling on her indispensability? Perhaps she is just clarifying it.

In a rather curious comment to reporters Thursday, Landrieu seemed to shrink both her power and her responsibility. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which she chairs, will hold a vote next week on the Keystone XL Pipeline and after that, Landrieu said, her work is done.

Local officials have some say on Keystone XL pipeline, federal regulator says

The Canadian company that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline has long said local attempts to regulate pipeline safety in Nebraska could violate federal law.

While that’s true, local governments still have “broad powers” to control land use and property development near pipelines, according to a recent letter sent to TransCanada Inc. from a federal regulator. Those powers include authority to create emergency plans in the event of a pipeline rupture.

Decision imminent on huge pipeline/oil port in British Columbia

The Canadian government is slated, in the next five days, to announce whether it is approving a $7.9 billion proposed pipeline and oil port that would bring Alberta tar sands oil to a port at the head of a long, treacherous fjord on the British Columbia coast.

The proposed Northern Gateway pipeline would be used to feed supertankers, which would transport oil to Asian markets.  It is seen by advocates in Canada as an alternative to the stalled  Keystone XL pipeline, which would link Alberta to U.S. Gulf States ports.

Judge backs expansion of Alberta Clipper oil pipeline across Minn.

A judge on Thursday backed a proposed upgrade of the Alberta Clipper crude oil pipeline across the state, saying it’s needed to supply petroleum refineries serving Minnesota and neighboring states.

State Administrative Law Judge Eric Lipman concluded that the planned $160 million expansion project proposed by Enbridge Energy will benefit consumers.

State OKs permit to triple Enbridge oil pipeline capacity

The state Department of Natural Resources on Thursday approved an air permit that gives an oil pipeline company the go-ahead to triple capacity between Superior and the Illinois state line.

Enbridge Energy Co. has plans to boost the volume of oil through a cross-state pipeline to 1.2 million barrels a day. The increase would send more oil from Canada and North Dakota across Wisconsin than the proposed Keystone XL pipeline linking western Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Governor Inslee on oil trains: ‘I want to know’ risks

Gov. Jay Inslee says he wants a full assessment of the risks of using the rails to ship volatile crude oil from North Dakota to Puget Sound-area refineries and a proposed Columbia River terminal that would take four mile-long oil trains each day.

The governor on Thursday instructed state agencies to “begin developing spill response plans for affected counties” and get ready to coordinate with neighboring states and British Columbia.  The state Department of Ecology will submit findings on Oct. 1.

Documents: Railroads want to hit brakes on some oil train safeguards

The railroad industry is warning the White House against some potential safety rules for trains carrying explosive crude oil, saying freight and passenger rail traffic could be disrupted for years if companies must obey 30 mph speed limits, install more sophisticated brakes and keep the trains manned at all times.

Trailblazing California-Quebec Climate Plan Faces Fossil Industry Pushback

When you combine climate change, an unlikely partnership between Californians and French-speaking Canadians—and the prospect of an 8-cents-a-gallon rise in gasoline prices—what do you get?

The energy industry vs. California. And Quebec.

Fee on oil transported by rail a key issue in state budget debate

With a Sunday deadline for a state budget agreement, a proposed fee on oil transported by rail cars across California has emerged as a major target for opposition by oil companies and business lobbyists.

The controversial fee was proposed by the Brown administration to raise $6.7 million in new revenues to pay for prevention and cleanup of potentially disastrous, rail-related oil spills in rivers, lakes and other waters. It is supported by environmental groups.

Insider’s notes as Fukushima crisis unfolded describe disinterested TEPCO officials

Like many government officials dealing with the initial stages of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, Kenichi Shimomura was shocked by the paucity of information available.

As it turns out, updates were pouring in, but Tokyo Electric Power Co., the operator of the stricken plant, was reluctant to turn them over.

Fukushima – the continuing catastrophe

Fukushima has largely disappeared from the mainstream news, writes Harvey Wasserman. After all, who wants to read about children with cancer, continuing huge radiation leaks, and the very real possibility of another catastrophe as big as Chernobyl?

EU agrees tougher nuclear safety rules after Fukushima disaster

The European Union has agreed a new law to strengthen safety standards and improve supervision of nuclear facilities in response to lessons learned from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the European Commission said on Wednesday.

In March 2011, an earthquake and tsunami caused the world’s worst nuclear accident in 25 years, spewing radiation over a swathe of Fukushima and forcing 160,000 people from their homes.

Fukushima Fires Up Atomic Industry’s Removal-of-Liability Drive

Japan will introduce legislation this year to ratify a controversial treaty backed by General Electric Co. and other atomic-plant manufacturers seeking protection from damage claims caused by nuclear accidents.

The treaty, known as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage or CSC, will encourage experienced U.S. companies to assist in the cleanup and decommissioning at the Fukushima atomic accident site, Japan’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement today.

Japan may ratify atomic treaty for U.S. aid in Fukushima cleanup

The Abe administration will likely introduce legislation this year to ratify a civil nuclear power treaty that will encourage U.S. companies to assist with the cleanup at Fukushima No. 1, U.S. Deputy Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said.

The treaty, known as the Convention on Supplementary Compensation for Nuclear Damage, or CSC, is being promoted by the U.S. as a means to compensate victims of accidents and to protect nuclear plant manufacturers from liability.

Robot wields mop in Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup

In a marriage of low and high technology, a robot is using a mop to clean up Japan’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant.

Operator Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) has modified a demolition robot and put it to work decontaminating the interior of the Unit 2 reactor building at the plant, which was crippled in the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011.

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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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