Environmental Must-Reads – June 23, 2015


Fracking foes trying a new tack in St. Tammany Parish

Last week, Helis Oil & Gas Co. officials showed off the start of construction on their controversial St. Tammany Parish oil well. This week, an environmental group in St. Tammany launched a new effort to curtail the project.

The group, Preserve St. Tammany, plans to ask the Parish Council to put a referendum before voters on whether to require what they are calling an industrial impact bond from this and other large projects.

Citizens group starts petition spawned by fracking concerns

The Preserve St. Tammany Initiative may have just started three months ago, but organizers have already placed a heavy task on their shoulders.

Starting Monday night, they’re hoping to collect thousands of signatures to take to the parish council asking to decide on a ballot whether heavy industrial projects should pay up-front for potential effects, from road damage to a major accident, through an industrial impact bond.

What’s Killing the Babies of Vernal, Utah?

Every night, Donna Young goes to bed with her pistol, a .45 Taurus Judge with laser attachment. Last fall, she says, someone stole onto her ranch to poison her livestock, or tried to; happily, her son found the d-CON wrapper and dumped all the feed from the troughs. Strangers phoned the house to wish her dead or run out of town on a rail. Local nurses and doctors went them one better, she says, warning pregnant women that Young’s incompetence had killed babies and would surely kill theirs too, if given the chance.

“Before they started spreading their cheer about me, I usually had 18 to 25 clients a year, and a spotless reputation in the state,” says Young, the primary midwife to service Vernal, Utah, a boom-and-bust town of 10,000 people in the heart of the fracked-gas gold rush of the Uintah Basin. A hundred and fifty miles of sparse blacktop east of Salt Lake City, Vernal has the feel of a slapdash suburb dropped randomly from outer space. Half of it is new and garishly built, the paint barely dry after a decade-long run of fresh-drilled wells and full employment. “Now, I’m down to four or five ladies, and don’t know how I’ll be able to feed my animals if things don’t turn around quick.”

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.

Dutch government cuts gas drilling in quake-hit region

The Dutch government is further cutting production of natural gas in the north of the country in an attempt to reduce the number of small earthquakes blamed on the drilling.

Economic Affairs Minister Henk Kamp announced Tuesday that production in the Groningen region this year will be brought back to 30 billion cubic meters (39.24 billion cubic yards) of gas from the previously announced maximum of 39.4 billion cubic meters (51.53 billion cubic yards).

Frontier Fracking Showdown Pits Feds Against Western Boom States

High noon for the Obama administration’s stricter rules for fracking on public lands has arrived on the Wyoming range.

Four western states at the center of the shale oil boom are headed for a courtroom showdown Tuesday over who should have the last word on rules for extracting oil and natural gas from federal property within their borders.

Where industry makes earthquakes

Human-induced earthquakes are happening in places like Colorado, New Mexico, Wyoming and Utah. Though some fracking-related quakes have now been documented (including a 4.4-magnitude quake in Alberta this January), the majority of non-tectonic quakes are caused by the disposal of industry wastewater through underground injection. Even relatively minor quakes can be dangerous when they happen in unprepared places, such as the Interior West, where hazard maps and building codes may not have been created with tremors in mind. Complicating the issue, it’s hard for officials and researchers to predict where drilling or mining might create problems.

Potentially harmful chemicals found in oil field water used for irrigation

Testing of recycled oil field wastewater used on about 45,000 acres of farmland in the Central Valley shows the water contains small amounts of potentially harmful chemicals, including oil, benzene and acetone.

Local water regulators in April ordered comprehensive testing of the irrigation water to check for the presence of chemicals used in oil production.

Fracking and the Franciscans

Pope Francis is one of the world’s most inspiring figures. There are passages in his new encyclical on the environment that beautifully place human beings within the seamless garment of life. And yet over all the encyclical is surprisingly disappointing.

Legitimate warnings about the perils of global warming morph into 1970s-style doom-mongering about technological civilization. There are too many overdrawn statements like “The earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.”

How Fracking Is Fueling A Power Shift From Coal To Gas

When you flip on a light switch, odds are, you’re burning coal. But as the fracking boom continues to unleash huge quantities of natural gas, the nation’s electric grid is changing. Power plants are increasingly turning to this low-cost, cleaner-burning fossil fuel.

Bill Pentak stands in the middle of a construction site, looking up at his company’s latest project towering overhead — a new natural gas power plant.

U.K. Panel to Decide on Fracking

A bare patch of land here in northwest England’s countryside of wheat and barley fields and grazing dairy cattle has become the focus of a question vexing Europe: to frack or not to frack?

This week, that debate falls to the Lancashire County Council, a local English government expected to decide as soon as Tuesday whether to allow the first onshore hydraulic fracturing for shale gas in western Europe since 2011. The controversial drilling technique has unleashed an oil-and-gas boom in the U.S. in the past decade, but has proved politically toxic in western Europe, where law makers have blocked it.

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

On June 4, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a report on how fracking for oil and gas can impact access to safe drinking water. Although the report claims not to have found any “widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States,” a new study in Texas provides more evidence that contamination of drinking water from fracking might be occurring.

ND Files Injunction to Delay New Fracking Rules

New federal rules on hydraulic fracking will go into effect this week, but North Dakota has filed an injunction to delay them.

North Dakota joined Wyoming and Colorado in a suit against the Bureau of Land Management.

New charges brought in 2013 Quebec oil train disaster

The Canadian government filed new charges Monday in the runaway oil train explosion that killed 47 people in Quebec two years ago.

Regulatory agency Transport Canada said the charges have to do with an insufficient number of hand brakes being applied and that the hand brakes were not tested properly.

Lead engine of train hauling empty oil cars catches fire

The lead engine of an eastbound train pulling empty oil cars caught fire near Columbia Falls. No one was injured.

BSNF Railway spokesman Matt Jones tells the Daily Inter Lake the fire started at about 2 p.m. Sunday as the train rolled past the Columbia Falls Aluminum Co.

Mexico Announces Underwater Gas Pipeline To Texas

The Mexican government has announced plans for nearly $10 billion worth of electricity and natural gas infrastructure projects, including a gas pipeline under the Gulf of Mexico from Texas to the port of Veracruz.

The Federal Electricity Commission said Monday that the costliest project would be the 500-mile underwater pipeline for carrying natural gas from South Texas. The pipeline is intended to go into operation in June 2018.

Truck collision causes hazmat leak from pipeline in Houston

An 18-wheeler truck hit a gas pipeline in La Porte, Houston, killing the driver and causing a leak of hazardous material on Monday, news website myfoxhouston.com reported.

Fire officials said the ruptured pipleline leaked a large quantity of propylene on Highway 225, blocking the road between Allen Genoa and Goodyear, according to the report.

Fire, oil leak reported at Pemex offshore oil rig

Petroleos Mexicanos reported its third platform fire in three months as troubles at Mexico’s state-run oil operator mount prior to the opening of the country’s energy industry to private competition.

Pemex, as the world’s ninth-largest crude producer is known, reported a fire today at its Akal-H platform in the Gulf of Mexico, according to the company’s official Twitter account. Leaking natural gas and oil have been detected at the platform, the company said.

Pemex confirms Gulf oil platform accident, impact unclear

Mexico’s state-run oil company, Pemex, confirmed on Monday there was an accident on an oil platform at one of its major operations in the southern Gulf of Mexico, but said any impact on output remained unclear.

The company said the accident was caused by an oil and gas leak and three workers performing routine inspections had been evacuated. It said there were no reports of any injuries on the platform, which was uninhabited and operated remotely.

Gulf spill debt could hit BP hard over next few years, says ratings agency

A major credit ratings agency says BP’s impending environmental fines for the Deepwater Horizon disaster combined with cheap crude could weigh heavily on its balance sheet for years.

Fitch Ratings changed BP’s credit-ratings outlook from stable to negative Monday, saying BP’s debt levels could rise well above its cash from operations for the next few years if crude stays cheap and if a federal judge hands down high penalties for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Transocean’s June drilling contracts come in at year high

Transocean won $109 million in new drilling contracts from mid-May to mid-June, by far its highest take all year, even as it idled more offshore rigs.

In its monthly fleet status update, the Swiss rig contractor said Monday it drew up four new contracts to drill off the coasts of Thailand and Nigeria and in the UK North Sea and in the Gulf of Mexico.

Some tarballs on L.A. County beaches came from Santa Barbara oil spill

Crude oil from a pipeline rupture in Santa Barbara County last month floated down the coast to beaches in Ventura and Los Angeles counties, according to separate lab results released Monday by both state officials and the Texas pipeline company.

One sample of tarballs found in Manhattan Beach matched crude oil released into the ocean when the pipe broke May 19, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response.

Oil Seep on Bolivar Coast Brings Emergency Response

The U.S. Coast Guard, state and local officials on Saturday laid absorbent boom to soak up seeping oil from the ground along a 100-yard area of the Gulf beach side of the Bolivar Peninsula about four miles west of Rollover Pass.

The Coast Guard found the oil seep around midday Friday during a beach patrol.

After Elk River Spill, Congress Will Vote on Bill Regulating Toxic Chemicals

James Lewis still remembers the licorice smell of the water and how his skin itched when he showered.

After 7,500 gallons of a coal processing chemical leaked into the Elk River in January 2014, Mr. Lewis was one of 300,000 people in the Charleston area who were ordered to stop using tap water for several days. But like many people, Mr. Lewis, a construction worker and former chemical plant employee, and his girlfriend, a nurse, spent hundreds of dollars so they could use bottled water for several more months, just to be safe.

Ecopetrol pipeline bombing spills more oil into Colombian river

Crude oil has spilled into another Colombian river, state-run oil company Ecopetrol said on Monday, in the latest of a slew of bomb attacks on the company’s pipelines that the army has blamed on leftist rebel groups.

The company said it had suspended pumping of crude through the 300-km (186-mile) Transandino pipeline after a bomb ruptured a stretch of the line near the Pacific Coast, causing crude to gush into a river at high pressure.

Permits OK’d for crude pipeline under Lake Sakakawea

Crude oil will soon have another route under Lake Sakakawea after the North Dakota Public Service Commission voted unanimously Monday to grant a permit for a nearly $105 million pipeline.

Hess North Dakota Pipelines LLC plans to take an existing 8-inch gas pipeline that was installed 6 feet beneath the lake bottom in 1992 and convert it to a crude oil pipeline.

Repair planned for small leak in trans-Alaska oil pipeline

A small leak reported last month in the trans-Alaska oil pipeline is dripping so slowly that an employee is able to contain it by periodically wiping the drip with a rag, according to the Aleyeska Pipeline Service Company.

The pipeline service company’s Fairbanks shop is now building a metal sleeve to contain the leak in a fitting between two pipes, according to company spokeswoman Michelle Egan.

Port Metro Vancouver on environmental safety following oil spills, chemical fire

A diesel spill earlier this week and the larger leak of bunker fuel from the Marathassa in April have illustrated just how easily Vancouver’s fragile marine ecosystem can be damaged.

Port Metro Vancouver is mandated to respond to such incidents, and its crews were some of the first on scene when the Marathassa was reported to be leaking.

South Dakota PUC Sets July Public Meeting Date On Keystone XL Pipeline

The state Public Utilities Commission is holding a meeting for the public to provide input to the regulatory board on the portion of the Keystone XL pipeline that would run through South Dakota.

The commission announced Monday that the public meeting is scheduled for July 6 at the South Dakota state Capitol in Pierre.

Summary judgment sought in wrongful death suit against TransCanada Keystone, Sunland Construction

A motion for summary judgment was recently filed in a wrongful death suit brought against TransCanada Keystone Pipeline and Sunland Construction.

Representing the estate of Kevin Fairman, Ralinda Fairman filed suit against the companies on Sept. 10 in Jefferson County District Court.

Harry Potter star supports Nunavut town’s fight against seismic testing

Oscar-winning British actor Emma Thompson has thrown her support behind the Inuit of Clyde River and their fight against seismic testing.

In a news release published through Greenpeace, Thompson signed her name to a statement requesting that the National Energy Board reverse a decision that approves offshore seismic surveying in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait.

Coast Guard clears Shell drillship bound for Arctic

As one of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs makes its way to Alaska, a second is waiting in the wings.

The Noble Discoverer, now docked in Washington state waters, has received a critical “certificate of compliance” from the U.S. Coast Guard verifying it meets a host of safety and security requirements. Since a May 20 Coast Guard inspection, Shell and Noble cleared more than a dozen violations documented at the vessel.

World’s Largest Offshore Wind Turbine Unveiled in Fukushima

Japan officially unveiled today its 7 megawatt (MW) wind turbine, the world’s largest offshore turbine to date. It is slated to be operational by September.

The Fukushima Wind Project, located about 12 miles off the coast of Fukushima, installed a 2 MW wind turbine in November 2013. The turbines are part of a pilot project led by Marubeni Co. and funded by the Japanese government with research and support from several public and private organizations, including the University of Tokyo and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Toshiba Still Struggles With Fukushima Impact

About a week after Japan’s March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, Toshiba Corp.agreed to buy a Switzerland-based provider of “smart grid” technology.

The deal seemed to align neatly with Japan’s goal of cutting electricity consumption after the disaster. Two years later, Tokyo Electric Power Co., which operates the stricken Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, hired Toshiba to help build a smart metering system for 27 million homes, using the Swiss technology.

Rep. Kildee: Great Lakes, nuclear storage don’t mix

I strongly disagree with the idea that permanently burying millions of gallons of Canadian nuclear waste is the ‘best option’ for our Great Lakes. The logic of storing nuclear waste less than a mile from Lake Huron fails in three important ways.

First, even when a pure science suggests a potential site may be safe, such an analysis fails to account for human error. And sadly we’ve seen nuclear radiation leaks happen recently due to human error, despite assurances of safety.

Nuclear Plants Invest in Backup Systems After 2011 Disaster

In March 2011, a very 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.

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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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