Environmental Must-Reads – June 19, 2015


New study reveals potential contamination

A new peer-reviewed study reveals potential groundwater contamination in the Barnett Shale, a geological formation that underlies 17 counties in North Texas, including Denton County.

But the cause of the potential groundwater contamination is still under debate.

“These data do not necessarily identify unconventional oil and gas activities as the source of contamination,” the authors wrote. “However, they do provide a strong impetus for further monitoring and analysis of groundwater quality in this region as many of the compounds we detected are known to be associated with unconventional oil and gas activities.”

Community Empowerment Project Website Launched; Time to Protect Montana Against the Dangers of Fracking

The last few months of oil and gas headlines read like a horrible nightmare.

Oil train derailments in Illinois, West Virginia, North Dakota, and Canada forced resident evacuations and caused extensive environmental contamination.

Oil spills in North Dakota, Canada, California, and here in Montana.

Well blowouts in Texas and a drilling mud spill in Arkansas.

Fracking chemicals were detected in Pennsylvania drinking water, and a new University of Maryland study found that emissions from gas wells can be found hundreds of miles from the project site–even in states that forbid or strictly control fracking.

Government ordered to publish redacted fracking report in full

A heavily-redacted government report on the impacts of fracking on house prices, businesses and services in rural areas must be published in full, the UK’s information commissioner has ruled.

The report was released in July 2014 in response to a freedom of information request from Greenpeace but with 78 redactions, including 16 in the conclusion chapter.

Wastewater disposal causes sharp rise in central US earthquakes

Two new studies provide the strongest evidence yet that oil and gas companies have caused a rash of earthquakes in the central United States by injecting wastewater into underground wells.

One study, in Science, finds that the extraordinary increase in quakes took place almost exclusively within 15 kilometres of such wells1. The second, in Science Advances, confirms that most seismic activity in one state, Oklahoma, is linked to wells that are used to dispose of huge volumes of saltwater.

More evidence fracking causing seismicity increase

Fracking-induced earthquakes are on the rise through the middle of the United States. And injection wells aren’t just responsible for small rumbles — hydraulic fracturing has been blamed for several large quakes in recent years.

According to new research by scientists with the University of Colorado Boulder and the U.S. Geological Survey, between 2011 and 2012, high-rate injection wells were associated with earthquakes ranging in magnitude from 4.7 to 5.6. The most serious rumbles were measured in Prague, Oklahoma; Trinidad, Colorado; Timpson, Texas; and Guy, Arkansas.

Fracking’s Problems Go Deeper Than Water Pollution

Salty, chemical-laden fluid leaked for two hours before anyone from Vantage Energy let Arlington city officials knew there had been an accident at the hydraulic fracturing well next to the Baptist church. It would be another 22 hours before they plugged the leak. In that time, 42,800 gallons of polluted liquid would flow into the sewers and streams of this suburban city wedged between Dallas and Fort Worth.

That was two months ago, and this week Arlington officials announced their investigation into the accident—caused by equipment failure—was complete. After taking water and soil samples, they announced that the waste water spewed from the well did not cause any significant damage to the environment. Vantage Energy’s biggest sin was not notifying the city of the accident when it first occurred. Even with this conclusion, the spill has raised concerns in frack-friendly Texas and beyond.

Water Near a Bunch of Texas Fracking Sites Is Polluted for Some Reason

On the slick website of the Barnett Shale Energy Education Council, a lobbying organization for the local drilling industry, an anonymous man asks a question on behalf of his worried wife. “My wife is concerned about potential contamination of our 800-foot-deep well. Who will oversee the safe drilling of the well which assures no spilling effects to the water at that level?” he asks. The industry responds underneath with an assurance that all drilling activity, including water-related issues, is regulated by the Texas Railroad Commission, which is doing a great job.

DEP plans new fracking chemical disclosure site, promises more transparency

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is developing several tools to make information on natural gas drilling more accessible to the public. This includes a new fracking chemical disclosure site, a web portal for information on each natural gas well, and opportunities for the public to comment on proposed DEP policies.

DEP Secretary John Quigley says the effort is part of the Wolf administration’s commitment to “collaboration, transparency and integrity.” He spoke Wednesday night at the annual dinner of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council in Philadelphia.

New fracking jobs number likely more accurate, say economists

Pennsylvania’s new way of counting jobs related to Marcellus Shale drilling is probably more accurate, say economists who study the industry.

Last week Governor Tom Wolf’s administration changed the way the state Department of Labor and Industry tracks gas jobs. Approximately 30,000 people work directly in oil and gas sectors. Under the old method, the department used to count another 200,000 people in 30 related industries. Now the agency says nearly 90,000 jobs in Pennsylvania are linked to drilling.

Battle Over New Oil Train Standards Pits Safety Against Cost

The federal government’s new rules aimed at preventing explosive oil train derailments are sparking a backlash from all sides.

The railroads, oil producers and shippers say some of the new safety requirements are unproven and too costly, yet some safety advocates and environmental groups say the regulations aren’t strict enough and still leave too many people at risk.

Crude oil trains risk an environmental disaster

I’m glad the Maryland Department of the Environment has blocked Targa’s permit to run a new crude oil train through Baltimore City (“State denies permit for Baltimore crude oil terminal,” June 3).

Unfortunately, crude oil trains are already a threat to the city. They run through packed neighborhoods and past hospitals and community centers. They even run beneath the Inner Harbor and alongside the tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay.

One of these trains has derailed somewhere in North America every month this year. It’s only a matter of time before a crude oil train derails in the city.

Northampton City Council adopts resolution calling on gas companies to fix pipeline leaks

The City Council is calling for natural gas companies in Massachusetts to repair the existing pipelines rather than build the controversial Tennessee Gas Pipeline and throwing its support behind legislation that seeks to prohibit companies from passing on to customers the costs associated with such leaks.

That discussion was part of the council’s unanimous approval Thursday night of a nonbinding resolution that seeks greater transparency in the proposed expansion of the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, with its planned route through Plainfield in Hampshire County and eight Franklin County towns on its way from Pennsylvania to Dracut.

W.Va., Va. coalition takes a stand against natgas pipeline

A coalition of environmental and conservation groups in West Virginia and Virginia announced its opposition Thursday to the proposed 550-mile route of a natural gas pipeline.

The position represents a shift for the Allegheny-Blue Ridge Alliance, which was formed last September as an “information coalition” on the development of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

BP oil spill: Gulf Coast claims centers close Friday

Gulf Coast help centers for people interested in filing a claim under the multibillion-dollar BP oil spill settlement will permanently close Friday (June 19) as the program transitions into processing thousands of claims.

Oil spill claims administrator Patrick Juneau said the 10 remaining claims offices would close after three years of working with Gulf Coast residents to file claims. The offices are located in Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi and Florida.

Santa Barbara oil spill: El Capitan State Beach to reopen as leak probe continues

A popular Central California beach closed last month after a crude oil spill near Santa Barbara will reopen next week, state officials said Thursday.

El Capitan State Beach is about 3 miles east of the site where a pipeline ruptured May 19, releasing up to 101,000 gallons of oil. About 21,000 gallons flowed into the Pacific Ocean, creating a 9-mile slick on the water.

Coast Guard oversees oil spill on Carroll Island

The Coast Guard is overseeing a response to an oil spill Thursday at CP Crane Generating Station in Baltimore.

Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector Baltimore received a report from the National Response Center of approximately 3,000 gallons of lubrication oil in the discharge canal at CP Crane Generating Station in Baltimore.

Western Canada Marine shows how it cleans up oil spills in B.C.

There have already been two oil spills this year in and around B.C., and the unfortunate reality is it will likely happen again.

CBC got a look at Western Canada Marine, the company commissioned with cleanup of environmentally dangerous slicks, as it showed off some of its technology.

Welland Canal shut down indefinitely by oil spill

The Welland Canal was shut down to navigation Thursday by the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Ocean because of an oil spill at Port Weller. Details of the spill were not released and the timetable the reopening of the canal was also not released.

Radar Used to Determine Oil Spill Thickness

NASA participated for the first time in Norway’s annual oil spill cleanup exercise in the North Sea on June 8 through 11. The aim was to follow-up on spill response technology evaluated during the Deepwater Horizon spill of 2010.

Scientists flew a specialized NASA airborne instrument called the Uninhabited Aerial Vehicle Synthetic Aperture Radar (UAVSAR) on NASA’s C-20A piloted research aircraft to monitor a controlled release of oil into the sea, testing the radar’s ability to distinguish between more and less damaging types of oil slicks.

Increasing oil transport threatens orcas with extinction, Vancouver conference told

Increased transport of oil in the Salish Sea — including from the planned expansion of Kinder Morgan’s Trans Mountain pipeline — is putting endangered southern resident killer whales at risk of extinction from a spill, a Washington state official said Thursday.

Don Noviello, a biologist with the Washington department of fish and wildlife, said the worst-case scenario would be a spill occurring when three pods get together to form a “superpod” representing the majority of the estimated population of 80.

Lamphier: Time for tougher oilsands emissions rules

It’s nice to feel important. But let’s be honest. It can also dangerously skew one’s perspective.

Alberta is a wonderful place to live and work. But in global terms, it’s just not that big a deal, even when it comes to big issues like climate change policy.

The future of the planet simply doesn’t hinge on whether Alberta’s new NDP government rolls out new carbon emissions regulations or a carbon tax, despite what the folks at Greenpeace might like to believe.

Advocates blast Illinois EPA for passing on petcoke oversight

Petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” is still a problem in Chicago despite city regulations, and it could quickly become a problem in other parts of the state if there are no limits or rules on storage of the toxic powdery byproduct of oil refining.

That’s the message of groups that sent a letter to the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA) on June 11, decrying the agency’s decision not to pursue making such statewide rules.

200 turn out to learn details of proposed fuel spill agreement

About 200 concerned citizens turned out for a public hearing held by the Environmental Protection Agency to hear public comment on a measure that is supposed to address the damage caused by a 27,000-gallon fuel spill at the Navy’s Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in 2014 and to prevent any future spills by the Navy.

Many expressed concern at the EPA meeting at Moanalua Middle School on Thursday night about the health effects of the fuel in drinking water and the contamination of the land.

After river oil spills, senator calls for oversight hearing for nation’s pipeline safety agency

After two Yellowstone River oil pipeline breaks in five years, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont.,  is requesting an oversight hearing on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

PHMSA has been the nation’s pipeline cop for a decade and is up for reauthorization by September’s end. As part of the Department of Transportation, the administration has overseen two Montana pipeline disasters that together dumped at least 93,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone, the nation’s longest undammed river.

Tribes Incensed at Being Closed Out of Upcoming Keystone XL Hearings in South Dakota

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has ruled against allowing tribal input at a hearing at the end of July that will determine whether TransCanada needs to resubmit its application to run the Keystone XL pipeline through that state.

“Tribal Nations, traditional treaty council members and grassroots leaders are outraged over the decision to exclude aboriginal rights and off-reservation rights from the discussion on the whether the KXL pipeline permit should be granted re-certification,” said the Indigenous Environmental Network (IEN) in a statement. “The nine tribal nations of South Dakota all stand in resistance to the proposed tar sands pipeline.”

Preparation for oil drilling continues in Russia’s Arctic, despite sanctions

Western sanctions have made drilling in the Russian Arctic difficult, but seismic work continues and will be completed according to plan, says Russia’s Minister of Energy Aleksander Novak.

“As you know, last year turned out to be complicated,” Novak said at a meeting in the State Duma. “The industry simultaneously experienced several serious challenges: the sanctions imposed by the EU and the U.S., a significant reduction in prices of the main products from the fuel and energy sector, worsening financial and economic conditions and difficulties in attracting funding,” he said, according to Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

Radioactive leak reported at Peach Bottom plant

Radioactive material was detected in a monitoring well in April at an Exelon-owned nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania about 40 miles from Baltimore, according to nuclear regulators.

Exelon, the parent company of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. and the largest owner of nuclear power plants in the United States, notified the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it found dangerous levels of tritium, a radioactive isotope of hydrogen, in a monitoring well at Peach Bottom Atomic Power Station on the Susquehanna River in Delta, Pa.

Fukushima operator ‘knew of need to protect against tsunami but did not act’

The operator of Japan’s ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was aware of the need to improve the facility’s defences against tsunami more than two years before the March 2011 disaster but failed to take action, according to an internal company document.

The revelation casts doubt on claims by Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) that it had done everything possible to protect the plant, which suffered a triple meltdown after being struck by a towering tsunami.

House of Commons committee warns of dangers posed by cellphone signals, though the scientific evidence is mixed

A parliamentary committee has waded into the murky scientific debate over cellphones, warning that the ubiquitous devices may cause human harms from cancer to abnormal sperm and urging parents to shield their children from unnecessary exposure.

But a leading Canadian expert says cellphones and Wi-Fi devices pose less risk to humans than run-of-the mill fevers.

NRC sides with Entergy on Yankee trust fund

Federal regulators have cleared the way for Entergy Nuclear to tap into the $660 million Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust fund to help pay for one of the most expensive aspects of decommissioning — handling spent nuclear fuel.

Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulations prohibit such a use of the funds, but the NRC has been granting exemptions to nuclear power plants around the country for this purpose.

DOE probes worker radiation exposure at test site

The Department of Energy has launched investigations into two incidents over the past year where workers at the Nevada National Security Site were exposed to potential contamination while conducting nuclear weapons activities.

The episodes took place on June 16, 2014, and Oct. 21, 2014, at the National Criticality Experiments Research Center, the laboratory where the government maintains a substantial stockpile of nuclear material used for research and training.

Nuclear Test Risks Blowing Lid Off U.K.’s Plan to Keep Lights on

Builders of the U.K.’s first nuclear plant in two decades are about to take a vital component and break it.

The 110-ton spherical steel lid was destined to sit atop a reactor at the Hinkley Point site in Somerset. Instead it will be sacrificed to test the strength of a part already welded in place at similar atomic projects in France and China.

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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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