Environmental Must-Reads – June 29, 2015


Which oil and gas companies are leaking the most methane?

Over the years, ConocoPhillips — an energy company so rich that it earns as much in a year as Croatia — has positioned itself as a good guy among its peers when it comes to greenhouse gas pollution.

It is a member of a U.N.-led initiative to reduce emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the primary component of natural gas. In the United States, it is a longtime participator in U.S. EPA’s voluntary program to curb methane leaks. In January, Ryan Lance, CEO of ConocoPhillips, said in Washington, D.C., that the industry is working diligently to tackle the problem.

Utah among tops in nation for wasted natural gas

A new report says oil and gas companies need to do a better job of repairing leaks and minimize venting and flaring at well sites, both to conserve natural gas and improve air quality.

Dan Grossman, Rocky Mountain regional director of the Environmental Defense Fund, which commissioned the report, says that’s one reason the Bureau of Land Management is releasing new rules this summer for drilling on public land.

Fracking application rejected by Lancashire county council

Lancashire county council has rejected a planning application by shale gas explorer Cuadrilla to frack in the county, in a major blow to what would have been the UK’s biggest round of fracking so far.

Hundreds of anti-fracking campaigners outside the council’s town hall in Preston, where the verdict was announced, reacted with delight and cheers, and people in the council chamber applauded.

Fracking: Energy Secretary’s advisor received £5,000 election donation from company set to benefit from controversial technique

A new advisor to the Energy Secretary Amber Rudd, who has vowed to “deliver” fracking in Britain, received a £5,000 donation to his local party from a company set to benefit from the introduction of the technique, The Independent can reveal.

Addison Projects, part of a £25m engineering company based in Lancashire which has said it wants to play an “active role” in supporting fracking, made the donation to the constituency party of Conservative MP Paul Maynard in March.

Earthquake spike pushes Oklahoma to consider tighter fracking regulations

Oklahoma is considering tightening regulations on its oil and gas industry, after a spate of earthquakes which regulators say were probably related to an increase in fracking in the state.

Between 17 and 24 June, Oklahoma experienced 35 earthquakes of 3.0 or greater magnitude, a huge jump from the average of about 12 a week experienced over the last year, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Seismologists monitor northeastern Kentucky as companies show interest in fracking Rogersville shale

If the continued interest in exploring for oil far below the surface of northeastern Kentucky ever results in a production boom, researchers will be ready to gauge the effect on earthquakes.

Seismologists with the Kentucky Geological Survey at the University of Kentucky are installing a network of highly sensitive seismic monitoring stations in the area this summer.

Drillers to submit electronic records on fracking chemicals for Pa. DEP to check, enforce

Pennsylvania will require shale gas companies to disclose electronically the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing in a new state-run database by next summer.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said the department will end its partnership with FracFocus, an independent online catalog of fracking records, and develop what he considers a more comprehensive and user-friendly online database.

Green group’s unconventional fight against fracking

The residents of Grant Township, Pennsylvania, were worried about Little Mahoning Creek, a picturesque trout stream best fished in the spring when the water runs fast.

The Pennsylvania General Energy Company had acquired a federal permit to drill an injection well down 7,000 feet about seven miles from the creek to dispose of wastewater from its natural gas hydraulic fracturing operations.

Hey Bill Nye, Are You For or Against Fracking?

Have you been wondering what Bill Nye the Science Guy thinks about fracking? If so, now is your time to find out.

Thanks to a question from Susan on last week’s The Big Think, Nye spends nearly 11 minutes sharing his thoughts on this technology and the future of renewable energy.

Residents worry that Kansas City, Kan., rail yard threatens their health

At the vast BNSF rail yard in Kansas City, Kan., dozens of trains stretch into the distance. You can feel them rumble. You can hear the roar of 4,400-horsepower diesel locomotives.

And you can smell their exhaust.

For generations, the rail yard has been the economic lifeblood of the economically challenged Argentine and Turner communities, employing more than 2,000 people. But lately, residents have worried that air pollution from the yard could be damaging their health.

In Lac-Megantic disaster, oil train operators face criminal charges

Criminal charges have been filed against the rail line involved in the huge oil train crash in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people in 2013, along with a subsidiary and several individuals for allegedly violating Canadian safety and environmental laws.

Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Railway Ltd. (MM&A), the now-bankrupt railroad based in Hermon, Maine, and its subsidiary, the Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Co., were charged with breaking the federal Railway Safety Act and the Fisheries Act.

East End residents voice fears about the oil trains that surround them

On a sultry Saturday, when others were thinking about baseball, gay pride parades or weekend chores, about 30 East End neighbors focused on a national debate – the safety of trains used to transport highly flammable crude oil.

It’s an issue that has landed like a bomb in their backyards.

“I live 200 yards from a railroad track,” said Lynn Rodriguez. “And I have a big issue with the oil trains. They’re a hazard, and I don’t think the companies follow the rules.”

Nelson Co. HOA Works to Protect Residents from Proposed Pipeline

Another Nelson County neighborhood is fighting the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

The Woods Mill Homeowners Association just sent letters to Dominion and federal regulators, showing the project cutting right through the middle of the development.

There are 18 houses set back in the forest. The gravel roads there are private and every home runs on well-water.

Questions remain in pipeline review process

Dominion Resources annually files standards and specifications reports with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Those reports detail the utility’s construction projects in Virginia and the way erosion and sediment will be controlled. A DEQ administrator said Dominion would have to develop a site specific erosion and sediment control program when constructing the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Artists capture Cahas Mountain and other landscapes before pipeline

When Jane and Joe Stogner moved to Franklin County some 45 years ago, Jane, an artist, traveled back roads to scout for a property where they might someday build a home and studios for their creative endeavors.

On one such outing she spotted an aged barn whose graceful lines captured her painter’s eye. Roughly two weeks later, the barn’s owner dismantled the structure to salvage the valuable chestnut planking used in its construction.

“I thought, ‘I better get busy and paint these barns and these views before they disappear,’?” she recalled.

Assumption Parish starting to reap millions in back taxes owed discovered after the Bayou Corne sinkhole

One silver lining to the Bayou Corne sinkhole disaster is this: millions of dollars in back taxes being paid by companies operating on the salt dome where the sinkhole appeared nearly three years ago.

Assumption Parish officials settled a property tax dispute this week with the fifth of seven companies operating underground caverns in the Napoleonville Salt Dome.

The Birds of British Petroleum

Uncertainty was king five years ago in the Gulf of Mexico, from the moment the BP Deepwater Horizon rig blew, killing 11 men, and for the next 87 days, as hundreds of millions of gallons of crude oil spewed into the Gulf. By late June I had grown sick of other people telling the story, so I picked up an assignment from an environmental magazine and headed off to see the disaster for myself. For the next month I toured the tar-balled coasts, hitched a helicopter ride with the Cousteau film team to see the rig and the giant oil slicks, and talked with local fishermen and politicians while observing the media circus that I was part of. Traveling along the marshes and barrier islands, I had the deep sense that no one knew what the hell was going on: not BP, not the government, not the scientists, not the media, not the stunned locals, and certainly not those who captained the cleanup boats, the Orwellian-named “Vessels of Opportunity.”

California oil spill cleanup continues as state may allow expanded production

Just over a month after California experienced its worst oil spill in decades, the state is considering allowing a company to triple its oil production off the coast of Santa Barbara and run the oil through the same pipeline that leaked on 19 May.

Both oil producers Venoco and ExxonMobil had to halt operations in the region this week as crews continued repairing the ruptured pipeline and cleaning the beaches surrounding it. But that didn’t stop regulators at the State Lands Commission from holding a hearing for Venoco in Goleta, California.

‘Another 10 years’: Guadalupe dunes still recovering from oil spill

As cleanup proceeds in the 101,000-gallon oil spill from a ruptured pipeline near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County, workers in San Luis Obispo County have continued to quietly toil in a two-decade-long effort to clean up millions of gallons of oil that leaked in the Guadalupe oil field.

Like the Santa Barbara spill, this one also reached the ocean, although most of the contamination was onshore, saturating a large area of the Guadalupe-Nipomo Dunes in the southwestern corner of San Luis Obispo County.

Environmentalists Wanted $50 Million For This Toxic Spill. They Got $2.5 Million.

Virginia sent a clear message to polluters on Thursday that it’s not really a big deal to dump toxins in the water.

At least that’s according to environmental advocates, after the state fined Duke Energy $2.5 million for spilling approximately 39,000 tons of toxic coal ash from a facility six miles upstream in North Carolina. The utility has admitted responsibility for the spill, and environmentalists had suggested a $50 million fine from the state.

NJ senators join criticism of Pilgrim Pipeline route through North Jersey Highlands

The state Senate is expected today to join the Assembly, four counties and 35 towns in formally opposing a dual oil pipeline that would carry as much as 16.8 million gallons of crude and refined fuel through parts of North Jersey every day.

Pilgrim Pipeline Holdings has not yet filed any formal applications with state regulators for the $1 billion pipeline after saying it would do so earlier this year.

China Sets Up Oil Spill Fund

China has established a national compensation fund for oil spills caused by ships.

“This marks a new milestone for China’s compensation mechanism for ship-caused oil pollution and will better safeguard the interests of the victims of accidents,” said He Jianzong, deputy transport minister, at the inauguration ceremony, reports Want China Times.

Alberta puts pressure on oil sands with plan to double carbon fee

The top environmental official in Alberta — home to the Canadian oil patch that would be the point of origin for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline — announced yesterday that the province will raise its carbon price next year. Shannon Phillips, Alberta’s minister of environment and parks, said the exiting fee of $15 per metric ton will climb to $20 per metric ton in 2016 and $30 per ton in 2017.

“Our regulations are now obsolete,” said Phillips, telling reporters that the current regulations represent “essentially” a $2-per-ton fee.

An Oil Rig Arrives In Alaska, On Its Way To The Arctic

The rig is scheduled to head into the Arctic later this summer as part of an exploratory offshore drilling operation. That drilling is controversial — at least in the lower 48 states.

Shell’s Arctic oil drill platform Polar Pioneer heaves into Dutch Harbor Alaska — its first port of call in the North for Shell’s plan to drill the Chukchi Sea this summer.

The 300 foot high floating oil rig that Royal Dutch Shell intends to install in the Arctic Ocean’s Chukchi Sea this summer arrived in Dutch Harbor, Unalaska Is, Alaska, early on June 27, 2015. Pulled by two ocean-going tugs, the huge machine appeared off Unalaska Island in the pre-dawn, 13 days after it left Seattle WA. In contrast to the active protests, “kayaktivist” flotillas and native American opposition in Puget Sound, there were no apparent protestors at the arrival in the Aleutian Islands. The Polar Pioneer now floats well off the Dutch Harbor airport in front of the steep mountains of Unalaska, the volcanoes like Mt Makushin that make up these islands. Strong winds formed lenticular clouds over the peaks in the dawn light.

Is Arctic oil a losing gamble?

Eighty-three billion barrels: That’s how much oil could be present in the Arctic, according to a high-profile U.S. geological survey report released in 2008. But the wave of excitement from the report is now receding, as some harsh realities sink in.

First, 83 billion barrels is not actually that much. It would provide enough oil to satisfy world demand for just three years at our current level of consumption.

Imperial Oil, BP delay Beaufort Sea drilling plans indefinitely

Imperial Oil and BP have delayed plans to drill for oil in the Beaufort Sea off the Northwest Territories.

In a letter sent to the Inuvialuit Settlement Region’s Environmental Impact Review Board on Friday morning, Lee Willis, Imperial Oil’s exploration operations manager, says the companies have suspended all regulatory work for the project.

Idaho aquifer decline could hinder radioactive monitoring

A continued drop in underground water levels could make it more difficult to monitor the movement of radioactive contamination in an aquifer below an eastern Idaho nuclear facility, scientists say.

Researchers with the U.S. Geological Survey in a 36-page report released Monday said the Eastern Snake River Plain Aquifer level has dropped below two wells and about a dozen others are in danger due to ongoing drought.

“We’re starting to have some concern that some of them could go dry,” said Geological Survey scientist Roy Bartholomay.

Tepco touts Fukushima Daiichi cleanup, but long road ahead

Progress has been slow in decommissioning the wrecked Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, four years after the devastating the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami led to a meltdown at the power station in northern Japan.

The government has drawn up a road map, published June 12, for mothballing the plant over the next 30-40 years. But the cleanup faces mounting challenges, particularly the removal of radioactive water from the site.

Let Them Eat Waste: The Microbes Helping To Clean Up Fukushima

A reindeer chews absent-mindedly on a bale of hay, framed against a backdrop of lush, rolling hills. It’s picture-perfect pastoral Japan, but the scene belies a vast project underfoot. Five-hundred meters below, in a dark, sprawling warren of underground labs, scientists are at work on one of the nation’s most pressing problems: what to do with its nuclear waste. The challenge is immense. In a country still reeling from the second-largest nuclear accident in world history behind the 1986 Chernobyl accident, the sinister legacy of nuclear energy could not be more apparent.

Is Fukushima Getting Worse?

The Fukushima multiple nuclear disasters continue spewing out hot stuff like there’s no tomorrow. By all appearances, it is getting worse, out-of-control nuclear meltdowns.

On June 19th Tepco reported the highest-ever readings of strontium-90 outside of the Fukushima plant ports. The readings were 1,000,000 Bq/m3 of strontium-90 at two locations near water intakes for Reactors 3 and 4. Tepco has not been able to explain the spike up in readings. The prior highest readings were 700,000 Bq/m3. (Source here).

Areva puts U.S. nuclear radiation business Canberra up for sale

French state-owned nuclear group Areva has begun the sale process for the planned disposal of its U.S. nuclear radiation measurement business Canberra, it said in a statement on Monday.

The sale of Canberra is part of a revamp of loss-making Areva, with utility EDF poised to buy its nuclear reactor business.

Public radiation dosage from Pickering, Darlington nuclear stations ‘negligible’

Should residents be concerned with what’s coming out of the nuclear stations that bookend Durham Region?

According to Ontario Power Generation, the answer is absolutely not. According to the environmental monitoring program (EMP) OPG does every year that checks radiation emissions from the plants, the public dosage is a fraction of the legal limit.

Clemson helping S.C. agriculture prepare for nuclear disaster — just in case

Clemson University Public Service and Agriculture is collaborating with state and federal agencies to plan for an unlikely yet potentially catastrophic event – the widespread release of radiation from a nuclear plant.

South Carolina has four fixed nuclear power plants and one federal facility, making it one of the nation’s top producers of nuclear energy. There also are three more power plants situated near the state’s borders.

The hidden world of America’s almost-Armageddon: The abandoned facilities dotted across the US that were once dedicated to all-out nuclear war

During moments of the Cold War humanity stood on the brink of nuclear war, with the US and the Soviet Union readying large stock piles of missiles in case of an attack.

The threat of two superpowers destroying each other with nuclear weapons is no longer a threat, though the physical remnants of the US nuclear deterrent are reminders of the widespread fear of global destruction.

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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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