Environmental Must-Reads – June 9, 2015


Is our drinking water safe from fracking?

IN THE ongoing war over fracking, the loudest voices try their best to obscure this essential point: The controversial drilling technique doesn’t need to be banned; it needs to be well regulated. That’s how we explain the seemingly contradictory reaction to the Environmental Protection Agency’s assessment of fracking’s effects on drinking water, a draft report released last week that industry and environmental groups each spun to support its side. In fact, it supports neither side.

The EPA doesn’t pretend to have a final and precise answer on the scope of fracking’s impact on drinking water. There were sharp limits on its data. But the agency used 950 sources of information from government, industry and environmental groups, so their findings represent the best that science can offer right now. The conclusion: The EPA couldn’t find evidence that fracking has “led to widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources in the United States.”

Fracking Associated With Smaller Babies

A new study has found an association between hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and smaller babies.

The scientists used data on 15,451 live births in southwest Pennsylvania from 2007 to 2010. They categorized the mothers by how close they lived to gas wells and the concentration of wells in the area.

Wetlands permit approved for fracking project in St. Tammany

The Army Corps of Engineers said Monday (June 8) it has approved a wetlands permit for Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s controversial proposed drilling project in St. Tammany Parish. The permit is the final regulatory hurdle for the project, which is being challenged in court by St. Tammany Parish government and a citizens group.

“Helis is pleased with the corps’ decision after such thoughtful and meticulous review,” company President David Kerstein said in a statement.

Fracking test drilling begins ahead of schedule in Walnut Cove

Shale gas, the natural resource that has led to both economic booms and earthquakes in other states, won’t lie in the ground any longer here without being probed.

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources on Monday started assessing the Dan River basin for the presence of shale gas. Five days ahead of schedule, a drilling crew set up machinery on publicly owned land near the predominately black community of Walnut Tree to move ahead with a $91,500 project financed with public money.

Josh Fox Gets Kicked Off of Fox News While Exposing Misleading Coverage of EPA Fracking Report

Josh Fox was kicked off of Fox’s Varney and Co. this morning after he called out host Stuart Varney on his hypocritical stance on fracking.

Varney said he wouldn’t frack his own land in upstate New York because it’s in a “watershed” but promoted, on air, last week (while not letting Sandra Steingraber finish a sentence) that we should frack the rest of New York.

Pavillion Landowners don’t Fully Buy EPA’s Fracking Report

Last week the Environmental Protection Agency released their findings on whether hydraulic fracking contaminates drinking water, they say it doesn’t. But landowners near Pavillion who deal with contaminated water on a daily basis say people aren’t looking at the whole picture.

“They can’t say that this is a risk free procedure,” says John Fenton, Landowner Near Pavillion

Montana reaction mixed on EPA fracking report

A draft report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the effect of fracking on drinking water is drawing opposite views in Montana.

Hydraulic fracturing has been key to the petroleum boom in the Bakken shale formation in eastern Montana. In fracking, large amounts of water – a median of 1.5 million gallons per well, the EPA states – containing a variety of additives is used to fracture petroleum-bearing rock.

Veterans of oil-train disasters convene in Albany

People incinerated. Fireballs in the sky. Firefighters retreating from burning oil tankers.

Those were just some of the horrific images described by emergency officials who have responded to oil-train explosions around the country and in Canada. They traveled to Albany on Monday for a forum hosted by Albany County executive Dan McCoy to address the dangers posed by the great number of oil trains now moving through New York.

Cities, Conservation Groups Seek Notification on Explosive Oil Train Traffic

A coalition of municipalities, Riverkeeper groups and conservation organizations has challenged the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) over emergency responder and public notification provisions in the department’s oil tank car safety rule.

The groups’ administrative appeal, filed June 5, asks the DOT to modify the final rule to keep previous notification requirements in place and eliminate provisions that make it difficult for emergency responders to gather information on oil trains rumbling through their communities.

Pipelines winning as crude slump hits oil by rail

The flow of North American crude oil by rail will stall this year at about 700,000 carloads – instead of rising by 40 per cent – amid low prices and new pipeline capacity, says Taylor Robinson, president of Chicago-based PLG Consulting.

Shippers in Western Canada have been favouring pipelines over crude by rail as the price difference between Western Canadian oil and West Texas intermediate has narrowed amid crude’s plunge. Currently, the spread between the two grades is less than $8 (U.S.), far less than the $24 it costs to move one barrel from Alberta to the Gulf Coast. It costs about $12 to ship a barrel by pipeline.

Pipeline opponents call for separate hearings

Opponents of the proposed PennEast natural gas pipeline are calling on the Delaware River Basin Commission to hold separate hearings on the controversial project.

In a letter, Maya van Rossum, executive director of Delaware Riverkeeper Network, asked the commission’s executive director, Steven Tambini, not to combine DRBC hearings with those of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Pro-gas pipeline group makes regional push with new TV ad

A group with ties to the proponents of the Northeast Energy Direct pipeline, proposed by the Kinder Morgan energy company, has begun advertising on WMUR and other television stations in New England.

The Coalition to Lower Energy Costs has purchased time to air an ad 30 times over two weeks on the New Hampshire’s largest television station at a cost of more than $70,000.

Rocky Mount council hears residents’ concerns about pipeline

The Mountain Valley Pipeline has sparked discussion — and criticism — from officials in several of the counties that will be affected. But Franklin County officials have largely remained silent.

Though the county has yet to take a stance on the issue, the town of Rocky Mount may be getting closer to taking an official position.

BP oil spill claimants speak as the deadline to file nears

A long line formed outside the Deepwater Horizon Claims Center in Metairie on Monday afternoon June 8, 2015. From restauranteurs in New Orleans to fishermen in St. Rose, there was a variety of people filing claims throughout the day. The deadline to file a claim under the multibillion-dollar BP oil spill settlement is midnight Monday (June 8).

Lines for oil spill claims filled with those in service industry

The last day for filing BP oil spill claims brought thousands of people out to beat Monday’s midnight deadline.

People having been standing in line for hours on end as they rush to beat the deadline to file their claim at the Deepwater Horizon Claim Center on Veterans Highway.

44% of coastline clean after Santa Barbara County oil spill, officials say

More than 40 miles of California coastline has been cleared of oil from the Plains All American Pipeline oil spill off Santa Barbara County, officials say.

Cleanup crews have cleared 44% of 96.5 miles of shoreline from Santa Barbara and Ventura counties – mostly sandy beaches that had only trace amounts of oil, according to a statement from the oil spill’s joint information center released Sunday.

Pipeline firm assured California a spill was ‘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 — a company with a history of violations — 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.

Underwater Camera Kept 500 Yards From Oil Spill Zone

The same oil company in charge of recovering oily evidence in Santa Barbara County is also under investigation.  That’s not uncommon after a medium to large spill.

But it has some residents wondering if there is enough oversight.

State Attorney General Kamal Harris said she has assigned a team of prosecutors to pursue criminal charges against Plains All-American Pipeline.

Santa Barbara Anti-Drilling Bill Passes Senate

Two weeks after a ruptured pipeline led to a devastating oil spill along the Santa Barbara County coastline, a bill jointly authored by Senator Mike McGuire (D- Healdsburg) and Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) to ban new offshore oil drilling in a nearby Marine Protected Area in the Santa Barbara Channel known as Tranquillon Ridge passed off the Senate floor. The vote was 21-13.

Looking back at the Mega Borg oil spill 25 years ago this week

On June 8, 1990, the Norwegian oil tanker Mega Borg suffered an explosion while undergoing operations in the Gulf of Mexico, just 50 miles from the Texas coast. Millions of gallons of oil soon leaked into the sea, necessitating a massive cleanup operation.

All this happened just over a year after the catastrophic Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska. That spill resulted in 11 million gallons of crude in the Pacific Ocean.

Mayor de Blasio Tells New Jersey to Reject Deal With Exxon

New Jersey’s proposed $225 million pollution settlement with Exxon Mobil Corporation has a prominent and new opponent: the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York, which has asked that the deal be rejected, saying it “appears wholly inadequate.”

The agreement, reached by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration earlier this year, seeks to end a decade of litigation in which New Jersey demanded $8.9 billion in compensation for natural resource damage to more than 1,500 acres of wetlands and marshes at refinery sites once owned by Exxon in Bayonne and Linden.

Environmental group brings in activist to organize pipeline opposition

With multiple proposals for oil and natural gas pipelines into and through New Jersey – and a slew of organizations fighting those proposals – one state environmental group is hoping a soft-spoken activist can organize the pipeline opposition.

Thomas A. Gilbert, 45, a longtime activist known for his land preservation work, will begin working June 15 as a campaign director at New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Several Thousand Gather For St. Paul Protest Against Pipeline

Organizers of a march and rally in St. Paul on Saturday called it the largest oil protest ever in the Great Lakes states.

Several thousand people marched to call for an end to the practice of drilling for oil in the Canadian and North Dakota tar sands.

6 of 8 pipeline lawsuits settled in Kankakee County, trials for the others

A 79-mile pipeline that will travel through about 15 miles of northwestern Kankakee County farmland is under construction.

However, the value of the land for eight property owners near Reddick still was unsettled even though the pipeline already is going underground.

Canadian Oil Sands Resume Output as Wildfire Threat Recedes

Two major Canadian oil sands operators said Monday they have resumed output at sites that had been shut down by a more than two-week old wildfire in northern Alberta, which exports much of its crude oil production to the U.S.

The blaze had shut-in nearly 10% of Canada’s oil sands output, or about 233,000 barrels a day, since it was first detected on May 22.

How One Native American Tribe is Resisting the Keystone XL Pipeline

The Dakotan sky is starting to blacken: “Something bad is coming this way; that wind came out of nowhere; something’s wrong, something’s very wrong,” a voice behind me warns.  It’s almost midnight at the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s “Spirit Camp” and the winds in the middle of the Great Plains are gusting alarmingly fast. “Are we OK out here?,” I shout above the flapping tents and flying debris, suddenly concerned that five teepees won’t give much shelter against the oncoming storm. The reassurance I am looking for is not forthcoming: “A prayer wouldn’t go amiss.”

Enbridge to pay additional $4 million settlement for Kalamazoo River oil spill

 Enbridge Energy will pay an additional $4 million to fund multiple restoration projects along the Kalamazoo River as part of a “natural resource damage” settlement the company reached with tribal, state and federal officials over the 2010 oil spill that sent 800,000 gallons of oil into the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Midwest Region announced in a press release Monday.

The Story of 30 Greenpeace Activists Arrested in the Arctic for Trying to Stop Oil Drilling

When the crew of the Greenpeace ship ‘Arctic Sunrise’ scaled a Russian oil platform, their protest was met with brutal force, arrests and a potential 15-year prison sentence. Tune in Tuesday when legendary ship captain Pete Willcox will join us to tell the story, as Shell now prepares to drill in the U.S. Alaskan Arctic. We’ll also speak with Ben Stewart, who was a leading figure in the campaign and is the author of a new book about their dramatic arrest and trial, called Don’t Trust Don’t Fear Don’t Beg: The Extraordinary Story of the Arctic 30. Read chapter one of the book below and see all of our climate change coverage.

This Is What It’s Like to Hang On to the Anchor of a Shell Oil Ship for 63 Hours

As Royal Dutch Shell prepares for its summer Arctic drilling plans, environmentalists, indigenous communities, and concerned citizens alike are ramping up their efforts to stop it. Last month, “kayaktivists”—that is, activists in kayaks—surrounded one of Shell’s oil drilling rigs while it temporarily docked in the Port of Seattle, and earlier this past week, a group of environmentalists and native Alaskans challenged the sufficiency of the operation’s environmental analysis in the federal court of appeals.

Reaching for Remote Hydrocarbon Riches, Shell Oil Plans to Drill In Arctic Ocean, Despite Setbacks, Protests and Lawsuits

Where are we heading now in our quest for more “cheap energy”? North, to the Arctic!

Despite the Obama Administration’s jawboning about the dangers of climate change and the Administration’s Climate Action Plan, it has recently given conditional approval to Shell Oil to drill for oil in the perilous waters of the Chukchi Sea.

Experts who know the risks of drilling in those cold and remote waters say there is a high probability of an oil spill and that Shell has no credible means of cleaning it up. The company’s record scarcely inspires confidence.

At governing body, UN atomic agency chief spotlights uranium fuel bank, Fukushima report

A new report on the 2011 nuclear accident in eastern Japan’s Fukushima area and two agreements related to the establishment of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reserve of low enriched uranium were among the key points highlighted by Director General Yukiya Amano to the Agency’s Board of Governors today.

The preparation of the report on the Fukushima Daiichi accident, which is scheduled to be made public at the IAEA General Conference this September, involved some 180 experts from 42 IAEA Member States and several other organizations.

Slogan writer seeks to keep Fukushima pro-nuclear signboard in place

The man who as a young student coined a rosy slogan promoting nuclear energy in Fukushima Prefecture that was splashed on a prominent signboard near the Fukushima No. 1 power plant has submitted some 6,500 signatures to the local government to keep it in place.

“Nuclear Power: Energy for a Bright Future” is now an ironic reminder of the overweening confidence the industry had prior to the March 2011 disaster. The sign still stands in the town of Futaba, one of the municipalities that host Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s shattered plant.

No Way Home: The Inescapable Plight of One Fukushima Community

It was a conversation with Takahashi Masato that finally convinced me that Nagadoro was finished.

I was visiting him and his wife at their unit in the Matsukawa Number Two temporary housing complex. They have been living in a cramped prefabricated apartment there for four years now. He explained that his oldest son, Masahiro, had recently signed a contract to acquire a plot of land in the city of Fukushima on which to build a house. He had asked Masato and his wife if they would like to come and live with them once the house is ready. And Masato had said yes. He would pay for the house to include a second kitchen and bathroom to avoid getting in the way of the younger generation.

Robots compete in Fukushima-inspired US challenge

Robots from six countries including the United States, Japan and South Korea went diode-to-diode Friday in a disaster response challenge inspired by the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

The winner of the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC), to be announced Saturday after a two-day competition in California, will take home $2 million followed by $1 million for the runner-up and $500,000 for third place.

South Korean team wins $2M in disaster-response robot test

The robots drove, walked through rubble, climbed stairs, turned valves and sometimes fell, amid cheers and groans from a crowd of thousands at the Fairplex in Pomona, California.

After three years of research, development and an obstacle course of competition, a South Korean team on Saturday won the three-year and $3.5-million U.S. contest to create a robot capable of responding to disaster conditions that are unsafe for humans.

Israel exploded 20 ‘dirty bombs’ in nuclear tests; drones checked radiation, blasts, Haaretz reports

Israel built and exploded “dirty bombs,” explosives laced with nuclear material, to examine how such explosions would affect the country if it were to be attacked by the crude radioactive weapons, the Haaretz daily newspaper reported Monday.

Israeli defense officials and scientists refused to comment on the report when reached by The Associated Press. However, Israel has what is widely considered to be an extensive nuclear weapons program that it has never declared.

Six nuclear incidents at Plymouth dockyard including employee contaminated with radiation

Plymouth’s naval base is facing legal action after an employee suffered a dose of radiation.

The safety breach is one of six highlighted at Devonport Naval Base by the Office for Nuclear Regulation from the end of last year.

Radioactive water from the cooling system of a nuclear reactor was also mistakenly discharged into a submarine.

Housing blooms at last at once-toxic Hunters Point shipyard site

The flush of excitement that new homeowners get as they move into 88 new units of housing at the former Hunters Point Naval Shipyard this spring and summer is providing an extra glow for San Francisco officials, who have been battling the Geiger counter for decades to get the homes built.

The 420-acre shipyard was one of the nation’s most polluted sites, the center of a federal nuclear program in 1946 that included a secret laboratory where tests were conducted to determine the effects of radiation on living organisms. Military equipment and ships contaminated by atomic bomb explosions were kept at Hunters Point, and the grounds were also polluted with petroleum fuels, pesticides, heavy metals, PCBs, organic compounds and asbestos from the grading of serpentine rock in the hills.

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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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