Environmental Must-Reads – June 16, 2014


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.

Feds inspected 1 high pollution-risk Alabama well

Nearly all of Alabama’s 8,000 gas and oil wells are located on private land, and it is up to a small team of state regulators to inspect them.

Seven agents at the Alabama Oil and Gas Board are responsible for inspecting them, but state law doesn’t spell out how often that must happen.

Risky state oil sites evade flags

Federal and state inspectors have found no cause for concern when it comes to the six “high priority” oil wells in Pennsylvania.

Located in an environmentally sensitive watershed within the Allegheny National Forest, the wells drilled in 2009 have never been the source of permit violations in inspections by the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service and Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

Trial date to be set in Sovereign’s fracking lawsuit against Broomfield

A trial date is expected to be set by the end of the week as the next step in the Sovereign oil and gas company’s lawsuit against Broomfield’s controversial, voter-approved five-year moratorium on fracking.

Sovereign is suing, claiming an agreement it had in place before the measure was approved by voters in November should be exempt from the moratorium. Sovereign in 2013 planned to drill new wells in Broomfield, but was not able to because of the passage of the moratorium.

High-Intensity Oil Extraction Ban Headed to Ballot

Seven months and one day removed from their controversial approval of Santa Maria Energy’s 136 cyclic steam injection wells, the Santa Barbara Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Friday to place a measure on the November ballot that would ban new cyclic steaming, hydraulic fracturing, and acidizing operations in the unincorporated areas of the county. Although the four-hour hearing’s conclusion was foregone — it was either put the initiative on the ballot or adopt it outright — its messages echoed those of Santa Maria Energy meeting in November.

Fracking decision may affect local areas

Local officials in Fulton and Montgomery counties are closely watching a case in New York state’s highest court that could overturn six local bans on shale gas development using hydraulic fracturing.

New York state’s seven-member Court of Appeals is considering two cases simultaneously, in which a midlevel appellate court unanimously concluded last year that state oil and gas law doesn’t trump the authority of local governments to control land use. The final decision is expected to either uphold or eliminate the ability of local governments to ban hydraulic fracturing, the controversial process known as fracking, which uses chemical-laced water injected at high pressures into natural gas wells to free deep rock deposits of natural gas. About 170 municipalities in New York state have passed local moratoriums on fracking, most of them outside of the region where shale gas is most abundant: New York’s piece of the Marcellus Shale formation along the Pennsylvania border.

Fight continues to prevent drilling near Mars Area School District property

The Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t plan to rule on a controversial Marcellus shale drilling application from Rex Energy until after the state agency sits down with community opponents and the energy company next month.

“We’re not doing anything until everybody gets a chance to meet,” said DEP spokesman Gary Clark. “It’s not a given we’re going to give them a permit.”

Where will water come from for fracking?

It takes between 6 million and 11 million gallons of water to frack an oil well in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale formation of southwest Mississippi and central Louisiana.

Some two dozen wells have been fracked in Amite and Wilkinson counties since 2007, when TMS drilling got underway.

BLM races to keep up with wells in the West

The number of high-priority oil and natural gas wells on federal and tribal land in New Mexico has nearly doubled over the past two years, and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management is racing to keep up with inspections.

BLM officials in New Mexico say they have nearly 650 wells that are classified as high priorities due to their production levels, risks for contamination, the safety records of their operators and other reasons.

New natural gas pipeline to NC could dampen interest in fracking

North Carolina could soon be deluged with cheap and abundant natural gas from the Marcellus Shale through a major pipeline expansion that could dampen urgency to incubate a home-grown fracking industry.

Proposals to build a new interstate transmission line by late 2018 could double the volume of natural gas flowing into North Carolina from gas-producing regions. Duke Energy’s natural gas-burning power plants would be the primary customers; but the fuel would also be available for local industrial and manufacturing operations to buy.

Petitioners oppose silica sand transfer station in Tunkhannock

Over 400 signatures have been collected so far in an online petition addressed to State Representative Karen Boback to stop a proposed silica sand transfer station on State Route 6 in Tunkhannock. Ninety-six additional signatures were needed as of June 11 to reach the goal of 500.

Fracking water use may lead to droughts

With some groups touting the economic benefit hydraulic fracturing could have locally, scientists fear the effect of current trends for the future of the Muskingum River Watershed.

The Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District, an 18-county political body responsible for the 19 percent of Ohio’s landmass that is the Muskingum River basin, is considering the sale of large amounts of freshwater to the shale drilling industry at a low price — $4.25 per 1,000 gallons.

Public won’t see Pavillion water report data until after its been reviewed, corrected by Encana, EPA

East Pavillion landowners, and others, expressed concerns Thursday afternoon that the public will not have an opportunity to look at independent expert reviewed data on the East Pavillion water well investigation until after the Environmental Protection Agency and Encana Oil and Gas have had a chance to review the data and make corrections.

Bobby Jindal agrees to $1 billion earmark of BP oil spill money

Gov. Bobby Jindal has agreed to pour $1 billion in BP oil spill recovery money into Louisiana’s “rainy day” fund and an elderly trust fund that was drained to plug budget gaps.

The governor’s office announced Friday that Jindal signed the bill that contains the oil spill money plan, along with other short-term maneuvers to keep next year’s budget balanced.

Agencies assess oil spill damages

Federal and state agencies have started looking at natural resource damage in an effort to come up with a dollar estimate from a March barge and cargo ship collision in the Houston Ship Channel that dumped thousands of gallons of oil into Galveston Bay.

“You’ve got all kinds of different wildlife that could be impacted,” Chip Wood, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, told The Galveston County Daily News . “You’ve got marshes, you’ve got sand beach, you’ve got recreational issues, so it’s quite an extensive evaluation.”

Obama Administration Takes First Step Toward Selling Offshore Gas and Oil Leases

If President Barack Obama’s historic carbon emissions rules made you forget about his “all of the above” energy policy, well, it shouldn’t have.

While the president recognized that coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 40 percent of the country’s emissions, he didn’t denounce oil and gas. His federal Interior Department on Friday gave us all a reminder of that when it announced its first step in selling offshore oil and gas leases that would allow companies to explore the nation’s waters for energy sources.

States concerned about proposed Coast Guard rules’ impact on oil spill preparedness

As the U.S. Coast Guard moves to assert its federal authority over maritime issues, officials in Washington, Alaska and other states are concerned by what it may mean for states’ rights in preventing and preparing for oil spills.

State officials in Washington, California and New York have asked the Coast Guard to withdraw rules it proposed in December.

Chevron Hides Evidence That Proves Guilt in Ecuador Rainforest Contamination Case

In the wake of a controversial U.S. court ruling that a $9.5 billion Ecuador judgment against Chevron is fraudulent, the oil giant has been touting loudly its innocence of any environmental crimes in the South American country.

Chevron’s lawyers even successfully pressured some CBS News corporate suits to yank a damning 60 Minutes piece from the network’s website about the deliberate contamination of the Ecuador rainforest from 1964 to 1992 by Texaco, which Chevron later bought.

John Devens, mayor of Valdez at time of oil spill, dies at 74

On the eve of March 24, 1989, John Devens was living what was, for him, a near-perfect life. He was serving as the mayor of Valdez, Alaska, and as the president of a community college he’d expanded. He also had a license to operate a charter boat, and was running a small audiology practice on the side.

Then the Exxon Valdez oil tanker ran aground on a reef in Prince William Sound, spilling nearly 11 million gallons of Alaska crude into the water and altering forever the course of Devens’ career.

In Bemidji, a research site reveals secrets of an oil spill

The rusty, 1950s-era drilling rig bored noisily in the sandy soil, stopping at a depth of 27 feet. As workers lifted out the spiral bit, a whiff of petroleum drifted up the hole. “That’s some Bemidji crude oil,” said Jared Trost, a hydrologist for the U.S. Geological Survey in charge of the rig.

Thousands of gallons of crude oil gurgle underground at this spot off a gravel road 12 miles northwest of Bemidji, Minn. It isn’t a new shale oil discovery.

The crude oil is the stubborn remnant of a massive 1979 pipeline rupture. Over the past three decades, this site has become a science center unlike any other in the world. Using data collected mostly from bore holes, scientists have produced a gusher of research discoveries, including some that have influenced U.S. pollution cleanup policy.

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.

Canadian Anti-Pipeline Activists Had Their Computers Confiscated Over Graffiti Charges

“Get down on the ground!” Vancouver police shouted at Gord Hill and his girlfriend as they raided their house last week, with their handgun pointed at his chest.

In an interview, the Kwakwaka’wakw activist and author accused the police of using “No Pipelines” graffiti charges against another roommate — since dropped pending an investigation — as an excuse to confiscate all four residents’ phones, computers, video cameras and USB sticks and to search their house.

Why Are Pipeline Spills Good For the Economy?

Energy giant Kinder Morgan was recently called insensitive for pointing out that “Pipeline spills can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies, both in the short- and long-term.” The company wants to triple its shipping capacity from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, in part by twinning its current pipeline. Its National Energy Board submission states, “Spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers.”

Sen. Udall confirms he will vote ‘no’ on Keystone XL pipeline

Sen. Mark Udall said Thursday he will vote to reject construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline for the fourth time, according to Nick Juliano, a reporter covering congress for Environment & Energy Publishing (E&E).

E&E Publishing LLC is an online news source for environmental and energy policy.

Canada Tries Turning Up Heat on Obama as Keystone Stalled

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government, which has failed to persuade President Barack Obama to approve TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL, moved yesterday to turn up the heat on the U.S. administration.

Finance Minister Joe Oliver, Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird traveled to New York this week, arguing in media interviews and at an energy conference that Obama has unfairly entangled the $5.4 billion pipeline with U.S. politics. According to Oliver, Canada’s intention is is to keep the issue alive with the U.S. public and business.

Lawmakers want oil companies to take on more responsibility

Assembly members began a crusade against oil companies on Saturday, arguing the companies pose a significant danger to tens of thousands of New Yorkers.

The concern is a tragedy like the one in Quebec could happen in Menands. Last summer, an out-of-control oil train exploded in Quebec, leaving behind $2 billion dollars in damage.

After Accidents, Two States Beef Up Oil-by-Rail and Pipeline Safety

Alarmed by a string of explosive and disastrous oil spills, two states recently passed laws aimed at forcing rail and pipeline companies to abide by more rigorous emergency response measures instead of relying on the federal government.

The moves by New Hampshire and Minnesota reflect a desire for more control over in-state hazards, as well as mounting frustration over gaps in federal law involving oil pipelines and oil trains, superficial federal reviews and the secrecy surrounding spill response plans submitted to U.S. regulators.

Moderate quakes hit near Japan’s Fukushima

Two moderate earthquakes struck off Japan’s eastern coast near Fukushima in the early hours of Monday, the US Geological Survey said, predicting a low chance of any major damage being caused.

The epicentre of the first quake, with a magnitude measuring 5.7, was located some 91 kilometres (56 miles) off the coast of Honshu, Japan’s largest and most populated island, at a depth of 22 kilometres shortly after 3:00am local time (1800 GMT Sunday).

Fukushima’s Children are Dying

Some 39 months after the multiple explosions at Fukushima, thyroid cancer rates among nearby children have skyrocketed to more than forty times (40x) normal.

More than 48 percent of some 375,000 young people—nearly 200,000 kids—tested by the Fukushima Medical University near the smoldering reactors now suffer from pre-cancerous thyroid abnormalities, primarily nodules and cysts. The rate is accelerating.

Fukushima hotline gets record calls

A suicide-prevention hotline in Fukushima Prefecture received a record 18,194 calls in 2013, signaling that scars from the events of March 2011 still weigh heavily on residents’ minds.

Counselors at the hotline, Fukushima Inochi no Denwa, say consultations related to the triple disaster still stand out from the other issues.

State fails to convince Fukushima residents to accept intermediate storage facilities

While the central government concluded its final explanatory session on June 15 for areas near planned intermediate storage facilities for radioactive debris from the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster, few residents or local officials came away satisfied from the series of briefings.

Despite residents’ repeated calls for an explanation about concrete steps to be taken, government officials failed to provide specifics of the plan to process and temporarily store contaminated soil and other radioactive materials.

Fukushima No. 1 meltdowns stir industry quest for ‘safer’ nuclear fuel

In response to the disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 plant, the U.S. government dramatically increased funding to develop tougher protective skins for nuclear fuel, hoping to spur innovation in designs that had not changed much in years.

While the Department of Energy was spending $2 million on fuel designs before the March 2011 meltdowns, the funding reached as much as $30 million afterward.

NRA reveals cesium readings for seabed off Fukushima No. 1

The Nuclear Regulation Authority has disclosed the results of its fiscal 2013 research into seabed radioactivity off the leaking, heavily damaged Fukushima No. 1 power station.

Ocean soil collected about 6 km away from the crippled power plant, run by Tokyo Electric Power Co., contains as much 2,000 becquerels of cesium-137 per kilogram. The half-life of cesium is about 30 years.

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.

Sudan: 70 Workers Exposed to Radiation At Chinese Oil Company in Sudan – Report

A Chinese oil company operating in Sudan evacuated dozens of workers to Khartoum in order to undergo medical tests on suspicion that they were exposed to radiation resulting from a radioactive device left outside its designated area in an apparent act of negligence.

Al-Taghyeer daily published in Khartoum reported that 70 workers stationed at a field in West Kordofan were directly exposed for three consecutive days to the radiation emitted by a device called “Source.”

Sudan’s oil ministry acknowledges radiation incident, downplays its impact

Sudan’s oil ministry acknowledged on Sunday reports that foreign workers have been exposed to radiation at an oil facility in West Kordofan state attributing the incident to a common technical error.

The state minister at the Ministry of Oil, Hatim Abu al-Gasim, said that oil facilities in Sudan are subject to high security and safety procedures according to international standards which allows it to avoid oil incidents that occur in similar facilities worldwide, pointing that errors like that which took place at Baleela oilfield last week are common despite the precautionary measures.

Why CNET compiles cell phone radiation charts

Earlier this week, Nate Ralph and I revived a portion of CNET’s long-standing cell phone radiation charts. The two galleries, the cell phones with the highest radiation levels and the cell phones with the lowest radiation levels, were quick to gather reader comments, a few of which I’d like to address here.

But first, here’s some background. If you aren’t familiar, CNET has tracked the Specific Absorption rate, or SAR, of every cell phone that we’ve reviewed for more than 10 years. In fact, updating the charts was one of my first tasks when I arrived here in 2003. And as other CNET editors like Lynn La dutifully took it over, the list kept growing.

How Your Cell Phone Might Be Hurting Your Sperm

Men may want to reconsider how closely they store their mobile phone to the family jewels.

A meta-analysis of ten past studies, led by researchers at University of Exeter, U.K., found a small but consistent drop in sperm quality if the men (or their, uh, samples) had been exposed to mobile phone radiation. While researchers found no link between mobile phone radiation and an actual drop in fertility rates, the finding could contribute to understanding the global — and still unexplained — drop in sperm count.

Radiation from mobile phones causing ‘infertility’ among men: Study

Radiation emitting from mobile phones kept in trouser pockets has now been confirmed to be causing male infertility.

British scientists announced on Tuesday that men who keep a mobile phone in their trouser pocket could be inadvertently damaging their chances of becoming a father, thanks to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation (RF-EMR) emitted by the devices.

‘Wireless radiation could cause cancer’

An American scientist has warned that children and pregnant women should avoid using cellphones, cordless phones, tablets and smartphones that use wi-fi as such devices expose them to wireless radiation that could cause cancer.

Dr Devra Davis, an environmental health researcher and head of the US-based Environmental Health Trust said not only do pregnant women expose their unborn babies to a possible human carcinogen, there was evidence that cellphone radiation negatively affected the development of a foetus.

New cell phone tower opposed in Laurelton

Residents in Laurelton are up in arms.

They are opposing the installation of a 60-foot cellular tower by Verizon at 229th Street and Merrick Boulevard, an area filled with small stores and two-story houses.

Neighbors are concerned about health, noise and landscape issues.

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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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