Environmental Must-Reads – June 5, 2014


St. Tammany Parish may seek injunction to block fracking

In an effort to block a proposed fracking project, St. Tammany Parish Councilman Marty Gould will offer a resolution Thursday night to hire outside attorneys to seek an injunction prohibiting the issuance of drilling permits in the parish. The resolution calls for hiring attorneys Guice Giambronne III and Aldric C. Poirier Jr. of BlueWilliams LLP, who have experience in matters of constitutional law, zoning and oil and gas.

In a news release, Gould noted a recent report by the state Legislative Auditor that was critical of the state Office of Conservation’s oversight of drilling operations in Louisiana.

North Carolina governor signs law paving way for fracking

North Carolina’s governor signed a law on Wednesday that will lift a longtime state ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, allowing shale gas exploration to begin as early as next year.

The Republican-led state legislature moved quickly last week to fast-track permits for fracking, in which rock formations are cracked and infused with chemical-laced water to extract natural gas.

NC to start test drilling for natural gas to lure energy industry

Gov. Pat McCrory’s signing of major energy legislation into law Wednesday sets the stage for preliminary exploration of North Carolina’s shale gas potential, with the state government taking the lead where private industry has been reluctant to commit.

State-sponsored drilling is expected to get underway this fall in Eastern North Carolina as part of a $550,000 state effort approved last year to help the energy industry assess fracking prospects here.

It’s Watershed vs. Pipeline in Latest Fracking Battle

In Mobile, Ala., the water utility spent decades buying 8,000 acres of land to protect drinking water for around 200,000 people. So alarms went off when officials learned that Plains All American Pipeline LP planned to build a line to transport up to 8 million gallons of crude oil a day through the property.

“Do we really want oil in our drinking water?” said a black-and-blue banner on the Mobile Area Water & Sewer System’s home page.

Fracking deal closer, but special session not imminent

Sources in Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office reported some progress in brokering a deal on local control over fracking on Wednesday, but shot down rumors that a special session is imminent.

“The Governor has 100 percent not concluded that there will be a special session,” said a staffer, speaking with 9NEWS on condition of anonymity due to a lack of permission to speak publicly on the matter. “In no way, shape or form is a special session imminent at this point.”

Official on key EPA fracking advisory board has suspect degree

An official on the Environmental Protection Agency’s hydraulic fracturing scientific advisory board got a doctorate degree from an unaccredited, shuttered online correspondence school that congressional auditors targeted a decade ago in an investigation into diploma mills.

The advisory board member is listed as Dr. Connie Schreppel in EPA records, which highlight her doctorate from Kennedy Western University and a master’s from Greenwich University.

UK Protesters Stage Mock Fracking Site Around Prime Minister’s Home

Protesters staged a mock fracking site around UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s country home on Wednesday, to protest a looming British law that would allow companies to drill under homes without permission.

The Greenpeace protesters arrived in hard hats and high-visibility jackets, and set up a fence line around Cameron’s home in Oxfordshire, a period cottage in the Cotswold hamlet of Dean. Another group of campaigners delivered a mock check to Cameron’s front door for for £50 [$83], representing the highest level of compensation the upcoming law would give to home and landowners should a franking company drill under their property, according to Greenpeace.

More Pipelines in Texas for a Smelly, Deadly Gas

Hydrogen sulfide — a gas that smells like rotten eggs — can be insidious in its lethality. Its odor will be unmistakeable to its victim. But the gas can quickly numb the sense of smell, leading to the belief that the threat has passed. Unconsciousness and death can follow.

“Unfortunately, if you come in contact with hydrogen sulfide there are not a lot of second chances,” said Sheldon McKee, director of business development at AMGAS, a Canadian company that makes equipment to remove hydrogen sulfide in the oilfields, where it can be a deadly risk for workers.

Canada’s 500,000 Leaky Energy Wells: ‘Threat to Public’

A new University of Waterloo report warns that natural gas seeping from 500,000 wellbores represent “a threat to environment and public safety” due to groundwater contamination, greenhouse gas emissions and explosion risks wherever methane collects in unvented buildings and spaces.

The 69-page report on wellbore leakage cowritten by three expert UofW professors outlines a longstanding and largely invisible engineering problem for Canada’s oil and gas industry.

No injuries reported in fire at Westlake Chemical

A fire broke out late Wednesday morning at Westlake Chemical Corporation’s vinyls plant inside a refrigeration unit that stores a nonhazardous, but reactive organic chemical used in making common household plastic PVC.

The blaze, which lasted about an hour and caused no injuries, sent out a dark plume of smoke from the polyvinyl chloride facility along La. 30 in Ascension Parish, company and emergency officials said.

AG recommends veto for levee board lawsuits bill

Though it’s a bill Gov. Bobby Jindal long wanted, the Louisiana attorney general recommended Wednesday that the governor veto the measure that would kill a lawsuit filed against 97 oil and gas companies by a New Orleans-area levee board.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell said the bill’s language is “vaguely broad” and could undermine environmental damage claims being made by state and local governmental entities for past energy production as well as claims arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and release of 4.9 million barrels of crude oil.

Sinkhole officials say gas has been reduced significantly

Residents in the community of Bayou Corne are staying on top of the developments surrounding the 29-acre sinkhole there.

At a meeting Tuesday night, Texas Brine reported gas remains in three areas. A spokesman says the amount of gas has been reduced substantially.

BP, Anadarko May Face Billions in Fines on Spill Ruling

BP Plc (BP/) and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) could face billions of dollars in fines after an appeals court ruled they were automatically liable for pollution-law violations as co-owners of the well that blew out and started the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans yesterday upheld a lower-court decision that allows the U.S. to seek a maximum fine from London-based BP of $18 billion if it’s found grossly negligent for its actions surrounding the spill. Anadarko, which owned a 25 percent interest in the well, is facing a maximum penalty of $4.6 billion.

Court: BP Must Pay Clean Water Act Fines for Spill

The owners of the blown-out Macondo well cannot avoid federal fines for the 2010 oil spill by blaming another company’s failed equipment, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The oil came from a well owned by BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp., so they are liable, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said. It upheld a 2012 ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier, who has scheduled a trial in January to help decide how much the oil giant owes in federal Clean Water Act penalties.

BP loses ruling on blame for Gulf oil spill

A federal appeals court says BP and a minority partner in the blown-out Macondo well cannot avoid Clean Water Act fines for the 2010 oil spill by blaming another company’s failed equipment.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Wednesday in an appeal by BP and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. from a 2012 ruling by federal Judge Carl Barbier.

Minnesota Oil Spill of 1979 Still Aids in Research

The site of one of the largest crude oil pipeline spills in Minnesota is still producing significant discoveries for researchers three decades later.

A Lakehead Co. pipeline northwest of Bemidji split on Aug. 20, 1979, and released about 440,000 gallons of crude oil. Today, the site attracts scientists from around the world who are collecting data from sensors that sample soil, water and air.

Michigan: No Long-Term Health Risk From K-Zoo Oil Spill

Michigan’s health agency says there’s no long-term health risk from swimming and fishing in the Kalamazoo River, the site one of the costliest onshore oil spills in U.S. history.

The state Department of Community Health said Wednesday it finalized its public health assessment of the July 2010 spill. A pipeline operated by Enbridge Inc. ruptured and spewed hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River in Calhoun and Kalamazoo counties.

State Health officials release report on the Enbrige Oil Spill.

Michigan Publc Health officials say there should be no long term harmful effects for recreational users of the 30-mile stretch of the Kalamazoo River contaminated by the Enbridge Oil Spill,

Spokesperson Angela Minicuci says the fish are as safe to eat as they were before the spill. She says that means there may be no residual chemicals in the fish from the oil spill, but they still may have PCB’s and Mercury and other contaminants.

Hundreds of scientists to Canada PM: Pipeline report ‘deeply flawed’

Hundreds of scientists have signed a letter sent to Canada’s prime minister blasting a federal review recommending the approval of the Northern Gateway tar sands pipeline as biased, Canadian media reported.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper is expected to decide whether to approve the $7 billion pipeline, which will extend from Alberta to British Columbia, this month.

Canada Has Its Own Gas Pipeline Problem: The Northern Gateway

While most of the Keystone XL Pipeline protests are happening south of the border on Capitol Hill, hundreds of Canadian scientists have petitioned against the proposed Enbridge Northern Gateway Pipeline connecting Alberta’s oil fields to the coast of British Columbia.

In a letter addressed to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the scientists argued that the Joint Review Panel report recommending the pipeline’s approval from last December is systemically flawed.

Keystone XL pipeline opponent cites terrorism concerns

Billionaire Democratic donor and environmental activist Tom Steyer opened a new front Wednesday in his campaign to derail the Keystone XL project by commissioning a study of the oil pipeline’s vulnerability to terrorism.

The three-month study, conducted by former Navy SEAL David M. Cooper, concluded that Keystone XL was an especially attractive target for terrorists because of its high political visibility and route through parts of the Ogallala aquifer, which is the source of drinking water for millions of people in the Plains states.

Former Chief of Navy SEALs Finds Keystone XL an Easy Terror Target

If reporting on the battle over the Keystone XL pipeline has taught us anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Even so, we didn’t see this one coming.

Hedge fund billionaire Tom Steyer, a climate change activist and staunch opponent of the prospective 1,179-mile pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Cushing, Okla., has hired retired Navy SEAL chief David “Dave” Cooper to assess how vulnerable the Keystone XL might be to deliberate sabotage. In a 14-page report made public today (but redacted to keep it from being a playbook for aspiring terrorists), Cooper concludes that a small group of evildoers could easily cause a catastrophic spill of millions of gallons of diluted bitumen, or tar sands crude, from the Keystone XL.

Washington City Rejects Massive Oil Train Project, Citing ‘Unacceptable Risks’

Flanked by hundreds of concerned residents, the City Council of Vancouver in southwestern Washington State voted early Tuesday morning to formally oppose what would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest crude oil train terminal, saying the project poses “unacceptable risks” to the city’s population of 160,000.

The council’s decision came after six hours of testimony from more than 100 residents, most of them opposed to Tesoro Corp.’s plan to develop a large train terminal at the Port of Vancouver, which would receive up to 380,000 barrels of North Dakotan crude oil per day and transfer it to ships bound for West Coast refineries. That amount of oil, which would come through the city on four separate unit trains per day, is just less than half the daily amount that would be transported by the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

Japan Starts Constructing Ice Wall at Crippled Fukushima Power Plant

Tokyo Electric Power Co., operator of crippled Fukushima power plant, has started constructing a huge underground ice wall around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant. This plan is seen to control and manage the production of toxic water at the complex devastated by a tsunami that was triggered by a magnitude 9 earthquake in March 2011.

The massive underground 1.5 km (0.9 mile) ice wall, similar to the snow-capped North Wall in the Game of Thrones, will be made by inserting 1,550 pipes into the ground. Coolant will circulate in the pipes thus freezing the surrounding soil.

Nuclear Safety Officials To Testify On Post-Fukushima Response In Senate Committee Hearing

Nuclear safety officials will testify Wednesday morning at a U.S. Senate committee hearing on what they’ve done to safeguard nuclear power facilities in the wake of Japan’s 2011 Fukushima Daiichi disaster.

The U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is holding the 9:30 a.m. ET oversight hearing, available via live webcast. All five commissioners from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) will attend. The commission formed a task force nearly three years ago to issue proposals for improving safety at nuclear plants, and today’s hearing focuses on the actions taken thus far to put those recommendations into place.

Robot Inside Fukushima Reactor Discovers Source of Water Leaks

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) said a robot sent inside Unit 1 of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power station has discovered the source of water leaks plaguing decommissioning work.

A robot designed by Hitachi-GE Nuclear energy, a venture between Hitachi Ltd. (6501) and General Electric Co. (GE), for the first time took clear pictures showing water drips from the reactor containment vessel into the building’s basement via an elastic pipe joint, the company known as Tepco said.

Problems still plague ALPS decontamination system at Fukushima plant

High radiation levels and technical difficulties continue to stymie full-scale operations of key decontamination equipment at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant even though tests started more than a year ago.

The multi-nuclide removal equipment, called ALPS (advanced liquid processing system), began trial runs in March 2013 to reduce levels of 62 kinds of radioactive substances in contaminated water, such as strontium, to below detectable limits.

Japan pledges another $15bn for Fukushima

In the three years since the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s utilities have pledged $15bn to harden their nuclear plants against earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and terrorist attacks.

But as Japan’s nuclear safety regulator prepares to rule on whether the first of the country’s 48 idled reactors is ready to be come back online, the post-Fukushima debate about how safe is safe enough has turned to a final risk: volcanoes.

Atop Pacific ‘Ring of Fire,’ debate flares over volcanic risk to Japan’s nuclear plants

In the three years since the Fukushima disaster, Japan’s utilities have pledged $15 billion to harden their nuclear plants against earthquakes, tsunamis, tornadoes and terrorist attacks.

But as the nuclear safety regulator prepares to rule on whether the first of the country’s 48 idled reactors is ready to come back online, the post-Fukushima debate about how safe is safe enough has turned to a final risk: volcanoes.

Group Launches Campaign Warning Expecting Mothers About Wireless Radiation

Could your cell phone cause harm to your unborn baby?

As CBS 2?s Dr. Max Gomez reported, that is the concern being raised by one environmental group which launched a nationwide awareness campaign on Wednesday.

The founder of the Environmental Health Trust, Dr. Devra Davis, wants expecting mothers to know about the danger they may not know emanates from their cell phone.

Compensation for radiation exposure discussed at event

More than 60 years after the testing of nuclear weapons at the former Nevada Test Site, the people who were affected are being compensated with the help of a school program.

The UNLV School of Medicine became the first institution to offer medical outreach and education to Nevada residents affected by nuclear weapons testing at the Nevada Test Site from 1951 to 1962. An outreach event took place May 16 at the Centennial Hills Active Adult Center, 6601 N. Buffalo Drive.

Activists seek radiation study at Oyster Creek

Ocean County activists said Wednesday night that they want researchers to take a close look at historic radiation releases from the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant.

In particular, they want a review of 1979, when the plant in Lacey had high atmospheric emissions in the same year when a near-accident dropped reactor water levels dangerously low.

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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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