Environmental Must-Reads – June 22, 2015


Yes, Those Earthquakes Are Caused by Fracking Boom, Studies Confirm

The surge in earthquakes shaking Oklahoma, Texas and other parts of the nation’s mid-section are likely caused by million of gallons of toxic oil and gas wastewater being disposed of underground, two new studies have found.

Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder and the United States Geological Survey analyzed data from earthquakes and more than 106,000 active injection wells across the central and eastern part of the nation, the largest such study to date. They found that “the entire increase in the number of earthquakes in the U.S. midcontinent is associated with injection wells,” according to Matthew Weingarten, a doctoral candidate at the university who led the study.

Southern Ute tribe challenges new federal fracking law

The Southern Ute Indian Tribe has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior, challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s new hydraulic fracturing rule because tribe members say they have the right to decide their own land-use policies.

The rule, which is set to go into effect Wednesday, also is the subject of lawsuits filed earlier this month, including a joint suit by the states of Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota, as well as another filed by the Western Energy Alliance and Independent Petroleum Producers on behalf of 46 trade associations and royalty-owners groups.

Near a Fracking Center, Drinking Water Has More Chemicals and Carcinogens

Drinking water wells in Texas counties that are home to intensive hydraulic fracturing operations contain elevated levels of more than two dozen metals and chemicals, including carcinogens, according to a new study in Environmental Science & Technology.

The study is based on samples from 550 wells across the Barnett Shale natural gas formation in the Dallas area; it is one of the largest independent analyses of water quality to date of aquifers near fracking sites. Researchers found volatile organic compounds such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene, or BTEX, in more than two-thirds of the wells sampled. Benzene is a carcinogen, and the other compounds can damage the nervous system. An industrial solvent called dichloromethane, or DCM, was found in 121 samples, or more than 20 percent of the wells.

Cancer-Causing Chemicals Found In Drinking Water Near Texas Fracking Sites

Scientists have found elevated levels of cancer-causing chemicals in the drinking water in North Texas’ Barnett Shale region — where a fracking boom has sprouted more than 20,000 oil and gas wells.

Researchers from the University of Texas, Arlington tested water samples from public and private wells collected over the past three years and found elevated levels of heavy metals, such as arsenic. Their findings, released Wednesday, showed elevated levels of 19 different chemicals including the so-called BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene and xylenes) compounds.

Helis preparing St. Tammany site for oil drilling; first phase could begin next month

After more than a year of public tumult, the first stage of a controversial oil well project in St. Tammany Parish could begin drilling next month and be finished around the start of the school year in August.

After receiving a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers wetlands permit earlier this month, Helis Oil & Gas Co. workers have begun improving the 1-mile private road that stretches from near Lakeshore High School to the planned well site.

Helis tours fracking project progress, testing

The first buzz of activity linked to Helis Oil’s St. Tammany fracking project can be found at the corner of I-12 and Highway 1088.

A stalled subdivision development has become the company’s source for dirt, water and the first of two environmental monitoring locations. The dirt, dug up to create the neighborhood’s retention pond, is being used to revamp the main road through the drilling site, about a mile north on Highway 1088. The rainwater that has filled the pond will be included in the drilling process. Both have tested clean, according to Helis.

Fracking poses ‘significant’ risk to humans and should be temporarily banned across EU, says new report

A major new scientific study has concluded that the controversial gas extraction technique known as fracking poses a “significant” risk to human health and British wildlife, and that an EU-wide moratorium should be implemented until widespread regulatory reform is undertaken.

The damning report by the CHEM Trust, the British charity that investigates the harm chemicals cause humans and wildlife, highlights serious shortcomings in the UK’s regulatory regime, which the report says will only get worse as the Government makes further budget cuts.

Society calls for Scottish fracking review

Hydraulic fracturing in Scotland could give the Edinburgh government some autonomy over the energy sector with few environmental impacts, a policy paper read.

The Royal Society of Edinburgh, the premier scientific academy in Scotland, said the controversial drilling practice known also as fracking offers Scotland important options for onshore natural gas.

Fracking: New York urges Lancashire to protect its citizens

Elected officials from New York State have written to Lancashire County Councillors urging them to refuse two planning applications for fracking.

The US state banned fracking in December after its Department of Public Health completed a two year study which concluded that fracking poses significant public health risks.

Government ordered: release full fracking report!

As Lancashire councillors prepare to decide the planning application to frack in the county, the UK’s transparency watchdog has ordered the government to publish in full a report on the impacts of fracking, previously published only in a heavily redacted version.

In a victory for green campaigners the UK’s transparency watchdog has ruled that the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) must release an un-redacted version of its Shale Gas: Rural Economy Impacts report.

Forums will focus on upcoming decisions affecting oil train traffic

Laura Ackerman works at the Saranac Building in Spokane, a short walk from BNSF Railway’s train tracks.

Oil trains pass her office on a daily basis, and more will roll through downtown if a new crude oil terminal is built 350 miles away in Vancouver, Washington.

Upcoming decisions on Western Washington energy facilities will affect local residents, said Ackerman, oil policy director for The Lands Council. The council is among several environmental groups hosting coal and oil train forums in Spokane and Sandpoint this week.

Coalition in New Jersey says tighten safety regulations for oil trains

A coalition of three dozen environmental groups says it will focus lobbying efforts on pushing for greater regulation of trains carrying millions of gallons of volatile crude oil through New Jersey and stopping an oil pipeline from being built in part of the Highlands.

The newly formed Renewable Energy Coalition also seeks to ban fracking in the state, prevent offshore oil drilling and support additional subsidies for solar, wind and other green technologies.

California Nurses, Teachers Oppose Phillips 66 Oil Train Project

“What should be the top priority, student and school staff safety, or oil company profits? We hope that the elected officials of San Luis Obispo County believe that their first responsibility is to the health and well-being of students and families that go to school and live near the railroad tracks,” said Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers.

The CFT vote followed last weekend’s decision by the 325,000-member California Teachers Association to oppose the Phillips 66 oil train project.

NEXUS pipeline plans worry Lorain County couple

George and Sandra Springer have called rural Lorain County home for nearly four decades, taking pride in the home they refurbished and the 10 acres of woods they tend.

The retired autoworkers call their Camden Township property a sanctuary and place they find serenity, but they are adamant the NEXUS Gas Transmission Project will disturb what they’ve spent most of their lives working toward.

Lawsuit Challenges Railroads’ Right to Sell Pipeline Rights to Land Owned by Others

The right of railroads to make money off lands adjoining rail lines has been challenged in federal court, threatening a legal status that goes back a century and a half.

Plaintiffs Ernest and Hazel Terry sued Union Pacific in a New Mexico federal court claiming the railroad had no legal authority to sell land use rights to a petroleum pipeline company, Kinder Morgan, which also is named in the lawsuit.

Workers clean up oil spill on California beaches by hand

Along a stretch of beach heavily marred by a crude oil spill, workers in hard hats and white protective suits use wire brushes and putty knives to scrape the black liquid off cobblestones and cliff faces.

The painstaking task at Refugio State Beach marks a new front in the cleanup after an underground pipeline leaked last month and released up to 101,000 gallons of oil, about 21,000 gallons of which flowed into a storm drain, sullied the beach and washed out to sea. Because the region is home to threatened shorebirds and cultural resources, a decision was made early on to clean oil-stained beaches the old-fashioned way by using hand tools instead of heavy equipment or chemicals.

Refugio Oil Spill: The 80,000-Gallon Question

One of the stickier questions lingering a month after the 100,000-gallon Refugio Oil Spill is, what happened to the 80,000 gallons that didn’t make it into the ocean?

Some of the oil was quickly scooped off the ground near the ruptured pipeline or soon after scrubbed from the drainage culvert that funneled it toward the shore. But that accounts for just a fraction of the crude that spilled on land.

Judge sides with California in rail industry suit over oil spill law

A federal judge dismissed a challenge by two major railroads of a California law requiring the companies to have oil spill prevention and response plans and to certify their ability to pay for the cleanup should one occur.

Last October, BNSF Railway and Union Pacific, joined by an industry trade group, sued the state, claiming that four federal laws governing rail transportation preempted California’s S.B. 861. State lawmakers passed that law a year ago to address concerns about a rising volume of crude oil moving by train into California along major waterways.

Oil spills from Petrobras pipeline into Brazil coastal area

Oil spilled from a pipeline linking a main Atlantic Ocean terminal with a refinery near Rio de Janeiro on Friday, Brazil’s state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA said.

The spill contaminated a coastal wetland area and leaked into the ocean, a spokesman for the union representing employees at the refinery said.

The end of a down season

Louisiana’s shrimpers had a tough go of it this year.

Small harvests and low prices coincided to make this a more challenging season than most.

One local shrimper said his catches are just a fraction of what they were before the 2010 BP oil spill. Meanwhile, the prices the shrimpers are able to get for their catch have gone down. The same shrimper said prices this year were about half of last year’s take.

Republican Senator seeks the end for federal PHMSA and Yellowstone oil spills

In an article Thursday evening, United States Senator Steve Daines of Montana was covered for submitting a request to the Chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee for an oversight hearing on the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA). Senator Daines critically calls into question the possible reauthorization of the PHMSA in his letter to Chairman John Thune. The PHMSA federal pipeline safety programs were reauthorized by the White House in the Pipeline Safety, Regulatory Certainty, and Job Creation Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-90). Authorization of PHMSA could expire on September 30, 2015 without similar approval. Senator Daines has expressed his concern that the inadequacy of PHMSA to closely monitor the rapidly aging infrastructure of pipelines throughout the nation has led to numerous damaging environmental incidents.

Running for President Hasn’t Stopped Rick Perry From Taking Oil-Industry Money

When former Texas Gov. Rick Perry launched his bid for the Republican presidential nomination earlier this month, he declared his campaign would emphasize energy policy. “Energy is vital to our economy, and to our national security,” Perry said during his announcement speech. He vowed to green-light the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Perry’s staunch support of the energy industry is nothing new; he was a reliable ally of the energy sector throughout his 14 years as governor. But this year, Perry gained a new incentive for helping energy companies: He started working for one. And two weeks into his presidential campaign, he’s still on its payroll.

Firm: Nearly 60 percent of pipeline land in Iowa secured

A company planning to construct a crude oil pipeline across 18 Iowa counties says it has purchased easements from nearly 60 percent of landowners along the route.

Activists challenge that number, saying online records show far fewer easement purchases have been recorded.

North Dakota regulators plan hearing on proposed pipeline

The North Dakota Public Service Commission has slated a public hearing in Stanley to take comments on a new crude oil pipeline.

The hearing for the Bison Pipeline Project is being held Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the Stanley City Hall.

Pipeline opponents say Iowa utilities board flouting its own rules

A group opposing a proposed Bakken crude oil pipeline through Iowa accused the state utility board Friday of flouting its own rules to rush through a permit sought by a Texas-based energy company.

The Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition called for the Iowa Utilities Board, which has jurisdiction, to halt the permit process until Dakota Access LLC, a subsidiary of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, responds to more than 90 questions and deficiencies in the application identified by a state regulatory engineer.

Construction underway Enbridge on pipeline project

Construction of the controversial Southern Access Extension pipeline has started in Livingston County and is expected to begin in McLean County next month.

Work also has begun on the southern leg from Decatur to a terminal hub near Patoka, said Jennifer Smith, manager of U.S. Public Affairs for Enbridge, the Canadian company building the 168-mile pipeline under the limited liability corporation, Illinois Extension Pipeline Company.

Former Shell worker cites unsafe conditions on Arctic oil ship

A woman who was injured while working on one of Shell’s Arctic drilling support ships has filed a federal lawsuit saying the company compromised safety in its rush to drill for oil.

Anita Hanks says Shell maintained dangerous work conditions on the Arctic Challenger as it prepared to drill in the Arctic in 2012.

Foreign journalists visit Fukushima nuclear plant

Journalists from 11 countries recently visited Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to observe various facilities there and the progress of reconstruction in nearby areas of Fukushima Prefecture.

Fourteen journalists took part in the bus tour, which was organised by the Japanese Association of Science and Technology Journalists headed by Shigeyuki Koide. It was held in co-operation with entities including The Yomiuri Shimbun.

Largest offshore wind turbine unveiled in Fukushima

A huge floating wind turbine for an experimental offshore power generation project was unveiled Monday at Onahama port in Iwaki, Fukushima Prefecture.

With an output capacity of 7,000 kilowatts, the turbine is the largest piece of offshore wind power generation equipment in the world.

Review: Japanese Photographers Reflect on the Fukushima Catastrophe

What’s the purpose, what’s the effect of creating “art” photographs about natural disasters after they happen? News photographs will have already stirred up horror; will this be more of the same? The curators of “In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11” at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, pose those questions and more in this provocative exhibition by 17 photographers who reacted to the earthquake, tsunami and breach of the Fukushima nuclear plant in northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011, after the news-media coverage.

Extra steps taken for nuclear backup systems

In March 2011, a powerful earthquake struck off the east coast of northern Japan, setting off a chain of events leading to the worst nuclear power plant disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

The Fukushima I nuclear power plant was immediately shut down as a precaution. But when a gigantic tsunami triggered by the earthquake hit the coastal power plant about an hour later, the huge wave topped the 19-foot seawall.

‘Electrosensitive’ people are flocking to the West Virginia home of a deep-space telescope

‘Electrosensitive’ people are flocking to the West Virginian home of a deep-space telescope, attracted by the rules prohibiting phones, TVs and radios. But, as Ed Cumming reveals, their arrival means Green Bank is far from peaceful.

Up and up the roads to Green Bank went, winding into the West Virginian hills as four lanes thinned to one. It was early March and snow was still spattered on the leaf mould between the firs and larches. Hip-hop and classic rock radio stations were gradually replaced by grave pastors and bawdy men twanging banjos and, eventually, they too faded to crackling white noise. The signal pips on my phone hollowed out. I was nearly there.

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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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