Environmental Must-Reads – June 15, 2015


 Plan for Fracking’s Waste Pits Could Save Millions of Birds

In parched Jim Wells County, Texas, the glistening pits brimming with oil and gas waste appear to be an inviting refuge for birds seeking a hospitable place to find water and rest.

But the pits offer anything but sanctuary–and safety––for birds. They are filled with oily sludge or liquid contaminated with toxic chemicals used by drillers to frack wells in the booming oil and gas fields of south Texas.

Small earthquake in Alberta could be linked to fracking

Northern Alberta experienced another small earthquake over the weekend in an area where two others earlier this year were linked with fracking.

Natural Resources Canada recorded a 4.4-magnitude earthquake about 36 kilometres east of the community of Fox Creek around suppertime on Saturday.

North Dakota drill rig count drops to lowest since 2009

State data show the number of oil drilling rigs in North Dakota is at the lowest level since 2009.

The state Department of Mineral Resources says there were 75 rigs drilling in western North Dakota’s oil patch on Monday. That’s 112 fewer than one year ago. There were 214 rigs drilling on the same day in 2012.

Council to revisit fracking ordinance

House Bill 40 looms large over Tuesday’s City Council meeting, with city leaders expected to consider both its short-term and long-term response to the unprecedented new law.

The council walked away from an all-out repeal of the city’s 7-month-old ban on hydraulic fracturing two weeks ago, after hearing more than four hours of public testimony on the citizens initiative.

After New EPA Fracking Report, Stanford University To The Rescue… Sort Of

Just days after the US Environmental Protection Agency issued its long-awaited fracking report, Stanford University announced that it would undertake a comprehensive research effort aimed at resolving several areas of concern in the natural gas industry. However, part of the aim is to grow the global market for natural gas, which doesn’t seems seem like a particularly sustainable way to address the core issues raised in the EPA fracking report.

Floods expose weakness in FWS’s oil and gas oversight

Swollen by a month of record rainfall, Lake Texoma inundated dozens of jackpumps, pipelines and other oil and gas infrastructure near the Oklahoma border.

Refuge officials who checked production sites on a boat tour late last month found trouble at the Blackwell Oil Production well pads in the northern reaches of the refuge.

U.S. study likely to fuel B.C. fracking debate

Both sides in the fracking debate in British Columbia say a new study in the U.S. backs their position.

A major study from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — in the works for five years — found hydraulic fracturing activities in the United States have not led to widespread, systemic effects on drinking water.

Cuadrilla wins partial backing for Lancashire fracking

Fracking should go ahead at a site in Lancashire, council planning officers recommended on Monday. But permission should be refused at a second site due to a “severe” impact on road safety caused by heavy lorries.

Lancashire has been at the forefront of the UK’s nascent shale gas industry, an issue that has divided opinion in the county. Cuadrilla have applied to carry out the country’s first full-scale fracking at Roseacre Wood and Preston New Road. Councillors will vote on whether to accept the planning officers’ recommendations on 23 and 25 June.

Texas pipeline rupture causes fire and evacuations, but no injuries

Seven homes were evacuated in southeastern Texas late Sunday after a natural gas pipeline ruptured, sparking a massive fire.

Spokeswoman Peggy Fonseca with the DeWitt County Emergency Operations Center says an Energy Transfer Partners pipeline ruptured near Lindenau, in a rural area of the county, around 8 p.m. Sunday. Fonseca said that gas had been rerouted away from the damaged pipeline and the fire had been extinguished as of midnight Monday.

Pipeline opponents fear Mountain Valley project may disturb Civil War cemetery

A small cemetery in the Catawba Valley is the final resting spot for generations of Jack Shelor’s family.

“Grandmother, grandfather, aunts and uncles,” said Shelor, a Roanoke County resident whose ties to the graveyard go all the way back to the Civil War.  His great-great grandfather fought for the Confederacy.

Opposition to Pipeline Questions Validity of Survey on the Issue

“The message we get from Dominion and our legislators is lots of jobs, lower gas prices, but there is a negative side that isn’t get publicized as much,” says Stu James, Nelson Co. Resident.

Opponents of Dominion’s proposed natural gas pipeline through central Virginia are questioning the results of a new poll that shows a majority of people in favor of the project.

New hearing set on controversial gas pipeline through Baltimore County

Baltimore County residents have another chance to speak up about a controversial natural gas pipeline that was recently halted in mid-construction by a court ruling.

The Maryland Department of the Environment is holding a public informational hearing Monday evening in Owings Mills on a request for a permit by NiSource/Columbia Gas Transmission to finish a 16-mile stretch of pipeline across the county. The company has already finished another 5.5 mile portion, mostly in Harford County.

Maine agencies to practice response to oil train accident

Maine officials are readying their response plans in the event of an oil train accident.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, public safety agencies and railroad officials will participate in training this month to practice the procedures and equipment they use to clean up an oil spill from rail tank cars. The training will take place from June 15 through 25 in Greenville.

New Jersey Senate panel to consider action on oil trains

A New Jersey state Senate committee is considering bills that would require operators of trains carrying Bakken crude to have emergency plans in place and submit bridge inspection records.

The bills are in response to the growing number of trains carrying the volatile crude.

U.S. oil companies eye tropical disturbance in south Gulf of Mexico

U.S. oil companies were closely watching a large tropical disturbance in the southern Gulf of Mexico, but were not changing operations despite the system’s 70 percent chance of developing into a tropical cyclone over the next 48 hours, according the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Leading oil producer in the U.S.-regulated Gulf of Mexico Shell Oil Co, the U.S. arm of Royal Dutch Shell, said it was monitoring the storm on Sunday.

Environmental Activism in the US Is Popping Up in a Surprising Place

A showdown between oil and gas companies, pro-drilling politicians, and a newly formed grassroots environmental group is brewing in South Carolina.

In late January, the Obama administration proposed to sell oil and gas leases for federally controlled areas in the Atlantic Ocean.

But in South Carolina opposition to offshore drilling quickly emerged. A group called SODA POP, short for Stop Offshore Drilling in the Atlantic — Prevent Oil Pollution is active in the Grand Strand, a strip of coastal land that includes Myrtle Beach and tight-nit communities like Murrell’s Inlet (known as the seafood capital of South Carolina) and Pawley’s Island.

There’s no spill-proof way to transport oil. That means leaks and worse will happen

To a historian of pipelines, last month’s Santa Barbara oil spill is a reminder that the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Since their first introduction in the late 19th century, pipelines have leaked regularly and ruptured occasionally. While it’s true that improved technology and regulation have reduced spills significantly – much like flying today is far safer than in the early years of commercial aviation – the fact remains that there exists no such thing as a spill-proof pipeline. Recognizing this historical reality is crucial to crafting future policy.

Santa Barbara Oil Spill Pipeline Cleanup Costs: How $62M Compares To Other US Environmental Disasters

he cost of cleaning up the oil spill that marred nearly 100 miles of pristine California coastline last month has totaled $62 million, according to the Orange County Register. Plains All American, whose pipeline near Santa Barbara burst on May 19, is expected to foot the bill. Compared with other recent and past environmental disasters, it’s a small price to pay for such a potentially tragic fumble.

About three-fourths of the 97 miles of beach where oil was deposited has been cleared since the spill, officials reported this week. “The beaches are fairly clean,” Coast Guard Capt. Jennifer Williams, who has led the response, told the Associated Press. “We’re making progress on the shoreline cleanup.” About 21,000 gallons of oil made its way into the Pacific Ocean and onto beaches. Nearly 1,200 people and 18 boats were involved at the height of the recovery effort in late May.

First rehabilitated pelicans returned into wild after Santa Barbara oil spill

The rehabilitated brown pelicans waddled out of their cages and into the surf at Goleta Beach on Friday, slowly stretching their wings after a three-hour car ride from a Los Angeles care center.

A large crowd of scientists, reporters and beachgoers gathered to watch the 10 pelicans return to the wild, the first rescued animals to be released after thousands of gallons of oil spilled along the Santa Barbara County coast last month.

Exxon must pay $1m for 2011 spill into Montana’s Yellowstone river

US officials have rejected Exxon Mobil’s request to reconsider a $1m penalty imposed against the oil company over a 63,000-gallon crude spill into Montana’s Yellowstone river.

The US Department of Transportation on Friday ordered the Texas company to pay the penalty within 20 days at a hearing in Billings, Montana.

U.S. denies Exxon request to reconsider Silvertip oil spill penalty

The U.S. oil pipeline safety office on Friday denied a request by Exxon Mobil Corp to reconsider a $1 million penalty for an oil spill into the Yellowstone River in 2011.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration said in a letter to Exxon Mobil that the petition was denied for the spill from the company’s Silvertip pipeline, that leaked about 63,000 gallons (238,480 liters) of crude into Montana’s Yellowstone River

Oil layoffs reach 150,000, recruiting firm says

Pelted by the oil-market crash, the energy industry’s job cuts reached 150,000 by the end of May, says energy recruiting firm Swift Worldwide Resources, and that figure had grown by a fifth since March.

While the pace of layoff announcements has certainly slowed in recent months, the United States has nonetheless seen the “the fastest and steepest decline,” Swift said in a recent update on job losses. Oil operations in the North Sea have also been hit hard.

Source of Manawatu oil spill unknown

Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council emergency manager Ian Lowe said they were alerted to the spill after 1pm.

He said blobs of oil were dotted intermittedly along Waitarere, Foxton, Himitangi and Tangimoana beaches, ranging from the size of a hand to a five cent piece.

Texas Brine donates to Habitat for Humanity possessions left by residents who fled sinkhole

In two metal storage buildings purchased during property buyouts, Texas Brine Co. holds the household possessions that families displaced in the nearly three-year sinkhole ordeal left behind on their way to new lives.

Like flotsam on the beach after the tide has departed, a mishmash of items has been collected inside the sheds on Sauce Piquante and Gumbo streets in Bayou Corne. It might make sense to discard some of it, but in others, it would be a waste.

Enbridge’s ‘domestic’ Line 9 is destined to export oil — without Indigenous consent

Any day now, Enbridge could begin using the 40-year old Line 9 pipeline to pump toxic tar sands to the east coast. While Line 9 ends in Montreal and Enbridge claims it is for domestic use only, residents in Maine have exposed Big Oil’s ultimate goal of export. Meanwhile, an upcoming legal appeal by the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation has highlighted the lack of consultation and violation of their rights.

Shell wins two more permits for planned Arctic drilling campaign

Shell has nabbed two more critical government approvals for its planned exploratory oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean this summer.

The latest authorizations came from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is allowing Shell to discharge wastewater from its contracted drilling rigs, the Transocean Polar Pioneer and the into the Chukchi Sea northwest of Alaska.

Shell Oil rig on the move, possibly leaving Seattle

Environmental activists say they believe Shell Oil will move its arctic drilling rig out of Seattle Monday morning. Those activists are planning to form a blockade of kayaks to prevent its departure.

The Polar Pioneer was seen departing from Terminal 5 in Seattle at 6 a.m., but Shell Oil had not confirmed the rig was leaving the Seattle area.

Parallels drawn between space race and Arctic offshore development

The reaction to the U.S. government’s decision to conditionally allow Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea this summer has been harsh in many media outlets.

The nonprofit organization Greenpeace is carrying out an aggressive campaign against Shell, which The Guardian — the newspaper behind the “Keep it in the Ground” campaign — is covering nonstop. The New York Times ran an op-ed by environmentalist Bill McKibben lambasting President Barack Obama’s “catastrophic climate change denial.” The media in Russia, however — a country where the petroleum industry accounts for 26.5 percent of GDP — has a different take on Arctic oil exploration. Gazeta, a privately-owned online Russian newspaper, published a story by journalist Alex Topalov on May 12 entitled “Americans rush to the Arctic.” The article depicts Shell’s plans as logical and future-oriented, while the subtext seems to be that Russia could have a new competitor in the Arctic offshore industry hot on its heels. The Bureau of Ocean and Energy Management’s conditional approval of Shell’s exploration plans is relevant to Russians for both environmental and industrial reasons.

South Korea Expected To Shut Down Oldest Nuclear Reactor Amid Safety Concerns

South Korea’s oldest nuclear reactor is expected to permanently shut down in 2017 amid growing concerns about the safety of the aging facility. A government energy committee on Friday called on the state-backed Korea Hydro and Nuclear Power Co. (KHNP) to close the Kori Reactor No. 1.

“The energy committee concluded today that the permanent closure of Kori No.1 is desirable for the mid- and long-term development of our nuclear power industry,” Yoon Sang-jick, the committee head and minister of trade, industry and energy, said, according to Reuters.

7,000 Tochigi residents seek compensation over Fukushima nuclear disaster

Some 7,000 people living in Tochigi Prefecture sought compensation Monday worth ¥1.85 billion through an out-of-court settlement with Tepco over the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Quake-proofing efforts lag at Fukushima schools

Education ministry data released earlier this month showed that only 84.9 percent of public elementary and junior high school buildings in Fukushima Prefecture had been quake-proofed as of April 1, 10.7 points below the national average.

Of the 2,053 buildings, 310 still need renovation and 67 are likely to collapse if a quake measuring upper 6 or higher on the Japanese seismic intensity scale to 7 strikes the area.

Fukushima Nuclear Disaster: Japan to Allow Thousands to Return Home

Japan will allow tens of thousands forced to flee their homes by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster to return home within two years, the government announced on Friday.

The government will lift evacuation orders for some 56,500 residents of two zones near the crippled plant after March, 2017, according to a statement on the Ministry of Economy and Industry’s website. No date was set for the remaining 33,100 who lived in towns adjacent to Fukushima and areas northwest of the facility that were harder hit by radiation leaks.

Fukushima to end housing aid for voluntary evacuees

The Fukushima Prefectural Government said Monday it will stop providing free housing at the end of March 2017 to nuclear evacuees whose homes are in official evacuation zones.

Housing assistance to the voluntary evacuees, currently set to expire in March 2016, will be terminated after a one-year extension.

What’s Really Going on at Fukushima?

Fukushima’s still radiating, self-perpetuating, immeasurable, and limitless, like a horrible incorrigible Doctor Who monster encounter in deep space.

Fukushima will likely go down in history as the biggest cover-up of the 21st Century. Governments and corporations are not leveling with citizens about the risks and dangers; similarly, truth itself, as an ethical standard, is at risk of going to shambles as the glue that holds together the trust and belief in society’s institutions. Ultimately, this is an example of how societies fail.

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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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