Environmental Must-Reads – June 8, 2015


Lawsuit Forces Government To Disclose Extent Of Offshore Fracking In Gulf of Mexico

In August of last year, 21.6 million acres of the Gulf of Mexico were auctioned off to the dirty energy industry so that they could expand their offshore fracking activities in an area that was still reeling from the effects of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

As DeSmog’s Steve Horn reported at that time, many of the leases sold by the government in August were located in the Lower Tertiary Basin, an area defined by hard-to-penetrate rock where the crude is located in deep water, making the practice of hydraulic fracturing exceptionally risky and prone to environmental disaster.

Fracking Has Not Had Big Effect on Water Supply, E.P.A. Says While Noting Risks

A landmark Environmental Protection Agency report on the impact of hydraulic fracturing has found no evidence that the contentious technique of oil and gas extraction has had a widespread effect on the nation’s water supply, the agency said Thursday.

Nevertheless, the long-awaited draft report found that the techniques used in hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, do have the potential to contaminate drinking water.

EPA says no ‘widespread’ pollution of drinking water from fracking

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, does not lead to widespread or systematic contamination of drinking water resources, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said Thursday, although the agency acknowledged that its conclusion could have been affected by a lack of available data.

The EPA identified key areas of vulnerability in the fracking process for its draft report on the practice’s potential effects on drinking water resources. But it said that, based on available data, fracking did not lead to systematic contamination.

Both Sides Claim Victory Over EPA Fracking Study

The Environmental Protection Agency has found no evidence that fracking has let to widespread, systemic pollution of water. Correspondent Jeff Brady tells NPR’s Rachel Martin what the report means.

Fracking Study Undercuts Environmentalists’ Calls for Regulation

It was always a longshot that the Obama administration or Congress would crack down on the golden goose of hydraulic fracturing.

The chances shrunk further Thursday with the release of a landmark U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study that found the drilling method had no widespread impact on drinking water.

“That is as close as the federal government gets to saying, ‘I’m not that interested in you,’” said Michael McKenna, a pollster and lobbyist close to Republican lawmakers.

DEP to investigate creek near mine discharge for radioactivity

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will investigate whether there are radioactive materials in Ten Mile Creek, a major tributary of the Monongahela River in Greene and Washington counties.

The Monongahela is a primary source of drinking water in the region, but John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said it is too early to tell whether there are any public health concerns.

Fracking Returns, but Denton Vows to Keep Fighting

Two weeks after Denton’s fracking ban was rendered illegal by a sweeping new state law restricting local control of oil-and-gas activities, residents of the north Texas town are frustrated, upset and conflicted about how best to respond.

Emotions were on display at this week’s Denton City Council meeting, where more than 30 people weighed in on whether the city should repeal the ban. Following the public’s advice, the seven-member council decided against repealing the ban—for now—after more than five hours of testimony and discussion.

Study finds lower birth weights near Pa. gas sites

Women living close to a high-density of natural gas operations were more likely to have babies with lower birth weights than women living farther from such operations, according to a new study from researchers at the University of Pittsburgh.

The study from Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health does not argue that proximity to gas wells caused the lower birth rates, but reports an “association” that emphasizes the need for more and larger such examinations to “evaluate the potential public health significance” of the boom in natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region.

More study needed on fracking, birth link

Pregnant women who live close to multiple fracking wells in Pennsylvania were more likely to have babies with lower birth weights than were those who live farther away, a study published on Wednesday shows.

University of Pittsburgh researchers, however, caution that their findings do not mean there is a conclusive link between fracking and lower birth weights.

Exxon to Face Regulators’ Questions Over Quakes

Texas regulators are scrutinizing some of the biggest U.S. energy producers in the wake of several earthquakes that have rocked the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

An Exxon Mobil Corp.Subsidiary and EOG Resources Inc.,one of the biggest shale-oil and gas pumpers, are facing questions about their use of injection wells to dispose of wastewater from hydraulic fracturing operations. The state’s oil-and-gas regulator on Wednesday begins a series of hearings in Austin to assess some oil companies’ role in causing the temblors.

Top California oilfield permitting regulator resigns

A top California oil and gas regulator has resigned amid questions about oilfield contamination of the state’s water supplies, officials confirmed Friday.

Mark Nechedom had come under intensifying scrutiny by federal environmental officials and state lawmakers for the way his agency, the Department of Conservation, handled permitting and oversight of oilfield operations. He submitted his resignation Thursday, officials said.

U.S. environmental report fuels fracking debate in Canada

Both sides of the contentious fracking debate in Canada are claiming vindication from a new report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The draft report says researchers “did not find evidence that hydraulic fracking as “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

Cuomo administration keeping fracking ban in New York despite report that it causes no ‘widespread’ water contamination

The Cuomo administration is sticking by its decision to ban hydrofracking in New York despite a federal report Thursday that found it caused no “widespread” water contamination.

A spokesman for the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation said New York’s decision not to allow the controversial natural gas drilling process was based on factors beyond possible water contamination.

Lawsuit: Conspiracy by Gov. Brown, oil companies tainted aquifers

A conspiracy involving Gov. Jerry Brown, state regulators, Chevron Corp. and the oil industry let petroleum companies inject their wastewater into California aquifers despite the devastating drought, a lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges.

The suit claims that Brown in 2011 fired California’s top oil regulator under pressure from the industry after she started subjecting some of the oil companies’ operations to greater scrutiny, particularly requests to dispose of oil field wastewater underground. Brown then replaced her with someone who promised to be more “flexible” with the oil companies, according to the complaint.

Gas leaks mapped in Chicago neighborhoods; big source of climate pollution

Two weeks after an investigation slammed Peoples Gas for mismanaging a multibillion-dollar program to replace aging pipes under Chicago streets, new online maps have detailed wasteful and environmentally damaging methane leaks throughout several neighborhoods.

The nonprofit Environmental Defense Fund found nearly 350 leaks — about one every three miles — with methane-detecting equipment added to Google Street View cars that mapped areas of the Northwest, West and South sides from September to December.

North Dakota orders oil wells shut in over flooding concerns

North Dakota oil regulators ordered small, privately held Zavanna LLC to shut in oil wells near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers on Wednesday after more than 1.5 inches (3.8 cm) of rain raised flooding concerns.

The state’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMR) said it was concerned that the confluence, near the state oil capital of Williston, could exceed flood stage levels of 22 feet (6.7 meters) by this weekend after Tuesday’s rainfall, which easily surpassed the record of 0.9 inch (2.3 cm) set in 2002.

Oil train-truck accident spills only flour, but raises rail safety concerns

A collision between an oil train and a semi truck in a southeast metro suburb Sunday afternoon didn’t cause any injuries, but raised anew some urgent questions about rail safety in Minnesota.

The BNSF train collided with the semi, which was full of flour, near First Street and Hastings Avenue in St. Paul Park about 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The crash tore a hole in the side of the trailer, spilling bags of flour on the road and causing the intersection to be closed for several hours, according to the South Washington County Bulletin.

New York state investment chief wants oil train answers

With the state pension fund holding about $1.8 billion in stocks from energy companies involved in crude oil trains, Comptroller Tom DiNapoli wants answers from them about steps being taken to reduce the risk of derailments, explosions and fires.

Columbia River Gorge oil train traffic sharply declines

Oil train traffic through the Columbia River Gorge has declined one-third or more from its peak amid an oil price decline that has pressured crude-by-rail shipments nationwide.

A new report from BNSF Railway Co., one of the country’s major crude-by-rail haulers, shows between eight and 12 trains, each a mile long, now haul oil through the gorge each week. That’s down from as many as 18 each week in 2014.

Sharing lessons learned in oil train fires, explosions

Robert Lipscomb has seen what happens after an oil train derails and explodes in flames. On Sunday, he stood near the fence at the Ezra Prentice Homes on South Pearl Street in Albany, looking at oil tanker cars just a few yards away.

“I am very surprised that this is so close to a residential area,” said Lipscomb, who is a battalion fire chief in Lynchburg, Va., where a July 2014 derailment of 16 oil tanker cars caused a fiery explosion that spread into the James River.

Midnight Deadline Approaches for Oil Spill Settlement Claims

With a midnight Monday deadline approaching to file claims under a 2012 settlement over the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the claims administrator said he expected a last-minute rush of filers.

“There’s always a rush, for myriad reasons,” Patrick Juneau said in a telephone interview last week. Juneau said more than 328,000 claims had been filed as of the middle of last week. More than 20,000 of those were filed last month.

Ex-BP exec David Rainey not guilty of lying in oil spill

A federal jury found a former BP executive not guilty Friday of making false statements to investigators in connection with the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Prosecutors said David Rainey, in the early days of the spill, had manipulated calculations to match a far-too-low government estimate of the amount of oil spewing into the Gulf following the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig. He was charged with lying about having done so during a 2011 interview with federal investigators. However, defense attorneys said Rainey’s figures were made honestly and that he had no reason to lie.

Santa Barbara oil spill: Pipeline firm told California spill ‘extremely unlikely’

A Texas company whose ruptured pipeline created the largest coastal oil spill in California in 25 years had assured the government that a break in the line while possible was “extremely unlikely” and state-of-the-art monitoring could quickly detect possible leaks and alert operators, documents show.

Nearly 1,200 pages of records, filed with state regulators by Plains All American Pipeline, detail a range of defenses the company established to guard against crude oil spills and, at the same time, prepare for the worst should a spill occur.

Owner of ruptured oil pipeline has history of big spills, fines

Nearly two decades ago, Plains All American Pipeline embarked on a buying spree across the United States and Canada, acquiring thousands of miles of aging pipeline.

The purchases turned Plains into one of North America’s biggest energy pipeline companies. But it also left the firm with a patchwork of pipes, some in need of crucial maintenance.

Inspectors find ruptured California pipeline badly corroded

A section of pipeline that ruptured sending as much as 2,400 barrels of crude oil into the Santa Barbara coastline in May was severely corroded, federal regulators said on Wednesday.

Third-party inspectors estimated that corrosion of the line owned by Texas-based Plains All American Pipeline had degraded to 1/16th of an inch, said a U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) corrective action order document.

Santa Barbara spill is prime suspect in L.A.-area tar balls

They hit Summerland more than two weeks ago, globs of oil stinking up the beach bad enough to induce headaches. Then they struck Oxnard, Malibu and the South Bay. This week, like a bloom of black jellyfish, they landed in Long Beach.

Although beach tar has long been a nuisance of Southern California life, viscous balls of crude oil washing up all over has not.

With pipeline ruptured, Exxon seeks to move oil with fleet of tankers

How do you move thousands of gallons of crude a day with a key oil pipeline out of commission indefinitely?

Exxon Mobil officials are seeking permission to truck the oil through Santa Barbara County after a ruptured pipeline sent oil spilling into the Pacific Ocean and brought the company’s oil transportation operations to a halt.

Exxon’s 25 Years of ‘No’: Timeline of Resolutions on Climate Change

InsideClimate News reviewed 25 years’ worth of shareholder proposals at the three largest U.S. oil companies—ExxonMobil, Chevron and ConocoPhillips—to see how they responded to investor concerns about climate change.

The examination showed that investors submitted more than 100 climate-related resolutions to prod the companies to acknowledge and quantify the climate risks they face. The measures asked the oil companies to set goals for cutting carbon emissions and take steps to assure their survival in a low-carbon future, among other things. Shareholders voted on 83 of the resolutions, but none of them won the majority vote necessary to pass.

In Halliburton’s hometown, oil giant is both hero and menace

Voris “Pee Wee” Owens and his wife, Charlotte Owens, used to love to sit together on their back porch, looking out over their nearly 4 acres of land, the geese and mallards in the pond, the goats that kept the lawn as tidy as a city park, the racehorses that Pee Wee trained and a large garden that yielded so much produce that the couple shared the bounty with neighbors and almost never bought vegetables at the store. He filled his pond and watered his animals and garden with the water from their well, which was also the couple’s source of drinking water.

Since moving to the property in 1987, the land and little home on it had been the Owens’ paradise. But from their vantage point on the back porch, the couple saw troubling things too. Smoke plumes rose from the fenced-in Halliburton property locals call the North 40, less than a half mile west of their house in semirural northern Duncan, Oklahoma. Twice in the 1990s, Pee Wee stocked the pond with fish, but they all turned belly up. His horses refused to drink from the pond. Some of his nanny goats had so many stillborn kids, he lost count, and a few of the newborn goats couldn’t move their legs.

State regulators say oil wells near Missouri, Yellowstone rivers ready for flooding

Oil companies with wells near the confluence of the Missouri and Yellowstone rivers are ready for flooding that’s projected to occur this weekend, state regulators said Friday.

Companies with wells in the most flood-prone areas have either shut down wells or secured the sites to prevent spills or incidents, Department of Mineral Resources spokeswoman Alison Ritter said.

Rick Perry Says He’ll Approve Keystone XL ‘On Day One’ If Elected President

If elected president, former Texas Governor Rick Perry said that he would immediately approve the Keystone XL pipeline, authorize natural gas exports, and freeze the Obama administration’s proposed regulations on carbon dioxide.

“On my first day of office I will issue an immediate freeze on pending regulations from the Obama administration,” Perry said while announcing his second bid for the White House at an event in Addison, Texas on Thursday. “On day one I’ll also sign an executive order approving the construction of the Keystone pipeline. … On day one I’ll sign an executive order authorizing the export of american natural gas and freeing our allies from the dependence of Russia’s energy supplies.”

Pipeline protest draws marchers to St. Paul

Thousands of protesters marched through downtown St. Paul to the State Capitol on Saturday, calling for the cancellation of the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline that would travel near some of the state’s pristine waters.

Though an independent tally was unavailable for the Tar Sands Resistance Rally, organizers estimated that 5,000 anti-pipeline and climate change activists took part in the colorful and peaceful march, marked by dozens of national speakers and live music and dance. Police reported no arrests.

Appeals Court Rules Keystone XL South Approval Was Legal, Lifting Cloud Over TransCanada

In a 3-0 vote, the U.S. Appeals Court for the Tenth Circuit has ruled that the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was permitted in a lawful manner by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Keystone XL South was approved via a controversial Army Corps Nationwide Permit 12 and an accompanying March 2012 Executive Order from President Barack Obama. The pipeline, open for business since January 2014, will now carry tar sands crude from Cushing, Oklahoma to Port Arthur, Texas without the cloud of the legal challenge hanging over its head since 2012.

Even protesting the Keystone XL pipeline could land you on an FBI watch list

It may take less to land yourself on an FBI watch list than you imagined. Simply opposing the Keystone XL pipeline may be enough.

New reports from Texas show FBI investigators have equated environmental protests with extremism. The documents also indicate the FBI violated its own protocols and opened sensitive probes into protesters without proper authority.

NC to retest wells after homeowners told water safe to drink

North Carolina officials say they will retest seven residential wells near Duke Energy coal ash dumps for contamination after homeowners were prematurely assured their water is safe to drink.

The homeowners were sent letters by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in recent weeks saying water from their wells met all state health screening levels. Agency spokeswoman Alexandra Lefebvre now says the tests performed by the commercial laboratory that processed the samples weren’t sensitive enough to measure potentially harmful chemicals down to the state screening levels.

Environmentalists protest Christie administration settlement with Exxon

About 45 environmental activists on Thursday staged a Statehouse protest against the settlement between Gov. Chris Christie’s administration and ExxonMobil and in favor of a constitutional amendment that would dictate how money would be spent in similar environmental litigation settlements.

The measure (SCR163/ACR230), if approved, would put a motion on the ballot for voters to choose whether they would want dedicate all money from environmental damage settlements to “repair damage to, restore, or permanently protect the State’s natural resources.”

Tim Hortons’ pulled Enbridge ads spark backlash in Alberta

It is, presumably, not how Tim Hortons wanted to mark international doughnut day on Friday.

The popular coffee-and-doughnut chain is facing a growing backlash over its decision to pull ads for Enbridge Inc. from its in-store screens in the face of a social-media campaign organized by the Vancouver office of a U.S.-based environmental group. The company remained silent, clearly hoping the tempest would blow over, while pro-industry partisans are determined not to let that happen.

Ohio hazardous-waste incinerator, neighbors at odds over pollution issues

Alonzo Spencer has been fighting toxic waste for more than 30 years. Spencer is 87 and once marched with Martin Luther King Jr. to demand equality among races.

But the civil-rights battle that has consumed his life for the past three decades is mainly about health: Spencer believes that people, no matter their age, no matter their race, no matter their income, deserve to breathe clean air.

Spencer lives in East Liverpool, an eastern Ohio city of about 11,000 that is home to one of the nation’s few hazardous-waste incinerators.

For green activists, Arctic drilling could be the next big thing

Michael Brune is pleased that activists in kayaks are training for another “Paddle in Seattle” to confront an expected Royal Dutch Shell rig on its way to the Arctic to explore for oil. What makes the head of the Sierra Club just as happy is the effect Shell’s Arctic ambitions are having on his own environmental organization.

Sierra’s funding drive against the resumption in Arctic drilling has taken in three times more money than usual campaigns by the nation’s oldest green group, said Brune, though he wouldn’t reveal specific amounts. And the group’s petition opposing President Barack Obama’s decision in favor of Shell last month has collected more signatures than any appeal in two years.

Oil and Arctic Ocean Make A Highly Troublesome Mix

As the U.S. and Russia take the first halting steps to drill for oil and gas in the Arctic Ocean, experts say the harsh climate, icy seas, and lack of any infrastructure means a sizeable oil spill would be very difficult to clean up and could cause extensive environmental damage.

Shell’s Arctic oil drilling faces fresh court challenge from environmental groups

A dozen environmental groups have told a US federal court they are renewing a challenge to the leasing in 2008 of areas off Alaska’s north-west shore, where Royal Dutch Shell hopes to drill exploratory wells this summer.

The groups have twice obtained court rulings that said environmental analysis preceding the Chukchi sea sale was flawed. The Department of the Interior in March concluded it had corrected mistakes.

Shell Oil’s Arctic rig permit hearing set for July 23

A hearing has been set for July 23 for the Port of Seattle and Foss Maritime’s appeal to the City of Seattle’s interpretation that the port needs a new permit to host Shell’s Oil’s rig Polar Pioneer.

Representatives from all parties attended a prehearing conference Wednesday with deputy hearing examiner Anne Watanabe to discuss the timeline and to estimate how much time the parties will need for witness testimony.

3 Reasons Santa Barbara Oil Spill Underscores Why Obama Must Say #sHellNo to Arctic Drilling

Two weeks ago, a major oil spill in Santa Barbara County made headlines after a ruptured pipeline dumped as much as 101,000 gallons of crude oil on the California coastline. The spill stretched across roughly nine miles of state beach with tens of thousands of gallons entering marine protected areas in the Pacific Ocean.

The spill took place just days after activists gathered in Seattle to oppose Shell’s plans to begin drilling for oil in the Alaskan Arctic this summer.

The Santa Barbara spill underscores what environmental leaders have been saying for decades, and the core of the message delivered to President Obama on Arctic drilling. When we drill, we spill.

New Mexico senator takes a beating over toxics regulation

Sen. Tom Udall prides himself on personally answering constituents’ questions. So the Democrat has spent a lot of time recently assuring outraged New Mexicans that his bill to overhaul the nation’s chemical safety law was not written by or at the behest of industry, as critics charge. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in one-on-one conversations on the phone answering everybody’s questions,” Udall said in a recent interview in his Capitol Hill office.

The Toxic Substances Control Act, now awaiting a full Senate vote, might well become the rare piece of major legislation that makes it through one of the least-productive Congresses in history. But along the way, it’s opened an unusually ugly rift among Democrats, while creating unexpected alliances among senators who rarely agree.

Fukushima business owners at a loss over plan to terminate compensation

Business operators that evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear disaster criticized plans to end compensation payments, citing the destruction of their normal bases of operation and the time needed to attract new clientele.

“It is premature to stop paying compensation,” said Ikuo Yamamoto, 56, who used to be a rice dealer in Tomioka, Fukushima Prefecture, all of whose residents were forced to evacuate. He currently lives in Iwaki.

Radiated Fukushima Prefecture soil disposal facility to be nationalized

Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki told Fukushima Prefecture leaders Friday that the central government plans to nationalize a private facility intended for the disposal of relatively low radioactive waste in the prefecture.

In a meeting with Fukushima Gov. Masao Uchibori and others, Mochizuki also said the government plans to launch a new subsidy program for revising the local economy.

Four years on from nuclear disaster, Fukushima workers get own rest area

Tokyo Electric Power Co., the utility that runs the destroyed Fukushima nuclear plant, has opened a rest area and canteen for cleanup workers, more than four years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

The center, on the western edge of the power station, opened on Sunday, replacing pre-fabricated facilities used by workers since an earthquake and tsunami triggered multiple meltdowns on March 11, 2011, forcing more than 160,000 residents to flee from nearby towns.

Japan’s first reactor restart delayed to August: Kyushu Electric

Japan’s Kyushu Electric Power said on Tuesday it has delayed the restart of its Sendai nuclear plant in southwestern Japan, the first to be brought back into service under new rules introduced after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The delay to mid-August from the previous target of late July follows a warning by Japan’s nuclear regulator in April that the utility’s schedule for a restart was too optimistic.

Fukushima youths ready to desert irradiated hometowns, survey finds

In 30 to 40 years from now, a majority of the young people living in 12 radiation-contaminated municipalities in Fukushima do not plan to be living in the same place where they experienced the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, it has been learned.

A survey by a panel from the Reconstruction Agency found that more than 50 percent of those respondents between the ages of 10 and 29 stopped short of choosing their prefectural hometowns as the place where they want to be living three or four decades from now.

Storage bunkers sealed off at nuclear dump closed by leak

Hundreds of containers of waste have been entombed at the federal government’s underground nuclear waste repository in southern New Mexico now that workers have closed off storage areas affected by a radiation leak, officials said Tuesday.

After months of work, crews finished sealing the last of two bunkers at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant late Friday. The milestone was announced by state Environment Secretary Ryan Flynn as he updated lawmakers gathered in Santa Fe on recovery efforts at the plant, which has been closed since the February 2014 leak.

At DARPA challenge, rescue robots show future of disaster relief

In a narrow parking lot, Brett Kennedy and Sisir Karumanchi stand around what looks like a suitcase. But then four limbs extend from its sides, bending and clicking into position. Two spread out like legs and two rise up like arms as the robot goes through several poses, looking for all the world like a Transformer doing yoga.

This is RoboSimian, a prototype rescue robot whose builders at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory hope can win the $2-million prize at the DARPA Robotics Challenge. The goal: to foster a new generation of rescue robots that could help save lives when the next disaster hits.

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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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