Environmental Must-Reads – March 10, 2015


Crude oil spilled in CN derailment will impact ecosystems for long time, activists say

It could take weeks or even months to understand the real environmental impact of the crude oil spill from a derailed CN train near the town of Gogama, Ont., on Saturday, activists say.

“Everything goes somewhere … The vast majority of what has already leaked or burned will never be recovered,” said Keith Stewart of Greenpeace Canada.

The crude oil will end up in the environment around Gogama, a tiny town about 100 kilometres south of Timmins, and “will affect that area for a long time to come,” Stewart said.

Fire still burning in Gogama, questions about derailment still unanswered

Investigators hope to get their first good look today at the wreckage of a fiery train derailment near Gogama, Ont.

For the past two days, the heat of the flames has kept officials from better understanding why the cars jumped the tracks and how much oil was spilled.

It all started on Saturday morning. A train carrying 94 cars of Alberta crude oil, rolled through Gogama and then about four kilometres away, 35 cars jumped the tracks and caught on fire.

La Crosse area residents sue to block BNSF expansion

A group of concerned citizens is challenging the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources’ decision to allow BNSF Railroad to build a second set of tracks through the La Crosse River marsh.

With help from the nonprofit Midwest Environmental Advocates, members of the group Citizens Acting for Rail Safety filed a petition for judicial review in La Crosse County Circuit Court asking a judge to block a wetland permit and to require the DNR to complete a more thorough environmental review of the project.

Senate passes oil train safety bill

The state Senate passed a measure Monday night to improve the safety of oil transportation, one of two competing bills that deal with the increasing shipments of crude oil through the state.

Senate Bill 5057, sponsored by Republican Sen. Doug Ericksen of Ferndale, passed 26-23 after extended debate. The House passed a competing bill last week.

German gas industry urges decision on fracking rules

Germany’s oil and gas industry urged the government on Monday to ensure that new gas fracking rules will support future domestic production and technological development.

The environment ministry is preparing a legal framework to govern drilling and has promised strict environmental audits, which include a ban on drilling in water conservation areas.

Hamm defends 2013 meeting with Okla. seismologist and OU president

Continental Resources Inc. Chairman Harold Hamm is defending his 2013 meeting with Oklahoma’s state seismologist. He says he was simply seeking information from a state agency, not pressuring seismologist Austin Holland to change scientific findings.

“The insinuation that there was something untoward that occurred in meetings with Austin Holland is both offensive and inaccurate,” Hamm said in an email sent to The Oklahoman newspaper Friday. “Austin works for a state agency. Upon its founding, the Oklahoma Geological Survey had a solid reputation of an agency that was accessible and of service to the community and industry in Oklahoma. We hope that the agency can continue the legacy to provide this service.”

NC House Members Want Air Emission Rules for Fracking

Three North Carolina Republican lawmakers want to make clear a state environmental panel must draw up rules designed to minimize toxic emissions related to any upcoming natural gas exploration through fracking.

The Wake County House members filed the bill Monday, a week after a flap over a provision inserted into another bill by the House majority leader. That floor amendment would have opened the door for the Environmental Management Commission to avoid developing such rules if it determined current state or federal rules were good enough.

As Winter Electricity Prices Jump, Mass. Debate Over Natural Gas Pipelines Heats Up

If you’re shocked by your current electric bill, you’re not alone.

In the coming weeks, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker is planning to host fellow New England governors for an energy summit. Topic one for the Boston gathering will be the soaring cost of electricity.

For many ratepayers, bills have gone up as much as 40 percent this winter. And that’s on top of what are typically some of the highest electricity rates in North America.

Cumberland County residents sound off over proposed natural gas pipeline

Supporters and opponents of a proposed natural gas line sounded off Monday night to a federal agency deciding whether or not to approve the project.

Steve Hammond said he just wants to know how his property in Robeson County will be affected by the proposed Atlantic gas pipeline. He hoped to hear some answers Monday night but did not.

“If they are going to use it, why don’t they pay the taxes on the land,” said Hammond, “or buy the land from us.”

Another Algonquin pipeline expansion proposed

The operator of the Algonquin natural gas pipeline is proposing additional, larger pipes in the Lower Hudson Valley.

Spectra Energy’s Atlantic Bridge Project would expand the delivery of natural gas to New England and Canada’s Atlantic provinces. The expansion of the existing Algonquin Gas Transmission pipeline includes about seven miles of pipeline replacement in Rockland and Westchester counties.

Bayou Corne sinkhole’s endangered neighbors: 38 feral cats in need of a home

Teleca Donachricha didn’t even consider herself a cat person. But beginning around August or September of 2013, she somehow found herself the caretaker of dozens of feral cats — the remnants of an empty neighborhood in Bayou Corne in Assumption Parish, left behind when the residents left their homes as a massive sinkhole grew nearby.

Now, with almost all the residents gone and their properties bought out, Donachricha feels responsible for the cats’ fates, and needs help relocating the 38 cats that remain. The empty homes in the neighborhood are soon to be demolished, and the cats — most of which will never be tame enough to be pets — have nowhere to go.

Lawmakers move to halt New Jersey’s $225M Exxon settlement

A New Jersey legislative committee advanced a resolution on Monday calling for the rejection of a deal Gov. Chris Christie’s administration announced last week to settle a decade-old lawsuit against Exxon Mobil for $225 million, a fraction of what the state previously sought for environmental damage from the oil company.

The resolution that the state Senate’s environmental committee sent to the full Senate was the first formal action that lawmakers have taken about the settlement.

Report details why New Jersey orginally sought $8.9 billion from Exxon

As lawmakers tried Monday to stymie Governor Christie’s controversial $225 million environmental damage settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp., a 9-year-old report shows why New Jersey originally sought $8.9 billion from the oil giant.

The report, prepared for the state Department of Environmental Protection, said that Exxon’s waterfront refineries in Linden and Bayonne caused so much “widespread contamination” over a century that the area surrounding the plants will probably never be restored to ecological health. In order to compensate the state for the loss, the report recommended that Exxon be required to restore more than 30,000 acres elsewhere in the state at a cost of $6.4 billion. The rest was for mitigation of the land near the two plants.

Chunk of New Jersey’s Money From Exxon Settlement Is to Go to Legal Fees

New Jersey’s decision to settle a multibillion-dollar pollution lawsuit with Exxon Mobil Corporation has come under broad criticism, as lawmakers and environmentalists have questioned why the state would agree to accept only $225 million — a small fraction of the $8.9 billion in damages it was seeking in court.

But if the deal is approved, the state will not even get that much: New Jersey’s recovery will most likely total about $180 million or so, after legal fees and costs are deducted, records show.

Stretch of Houston Ship Channel Closed After Vessels Collide

A Venezuela-bound tanker spilled an unknown amount of gasoline additive MTBE into the Houston Ship Channel after a crash with another vessel, shutting down a portion of the waterway and one container terminal.

The Carla Maersk, a 45,000-deadweight ton tanker, was heading out of the ship channel and had set course for Amuay Bay in Venezuela at the time of the collision with the MV Conti Peridot, a 57,000-deadweight ton bulk carrier that was traveling into the channel, according to vessel tracking data compiled by Bloomberg. A total of 28 ships are waiting to enter the area and 21 are waiting to leave, Andy Kendrick, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman, said Tuesday by phone from Houston.

Tanker, bulk carrier collide in Houston Ship Channel

Two ships collided Monday in the Houston Ship Channel, causing a leak of flammable liquid.

According to the U.S. Coast Guard, two large vessels — the Conti Peridot, a Liberian bulk carrier, and the Danish-flagged Carla Maersk, a chemical tanker — collided in foggy conditions just after 12:30 p.m. CT near Morgan’s Point.

Murphy Oil reports leak up to 17,000 barrels in northern Alberta

Murphy Oil says up to 17,000 barrels of petroleum product have spilled at its Seal heavy oil site in northern Alberta.

The U.S.-based company says on the afternoon of March 1, it found condensate near the surface in three areas.

USW to ask city councils for support, rally in Chicago

The United Steelworkers union wants to stir up more public support locally as national oil bargaining talks resume.

USW Local 1010 will ask various city and town councils across Northwest Indiana to adopt resolutions asking for an amicable end to the BP Whiting Refinery strike. Local 1010, which represents workers at ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor East, hopes for votes of support from city and town councils in Highland, Hammond, East Chicago, Whiting, Portage. St. John and other communities, member Terry Steagall said.

On the Front Lines: Diné Women Stand Firm Against Increased, Unfettered Oil Development

In Navajo stories, the Twin Heroes Naayéé? Neizghání and Tóbájíshchíní fought many evils and monsters, including dinosaurs. Today some people worry that the battles are being repeated, though with oil drills instead of monster reptiles. And a handful of Navajo women are at the vanguard, trying to draw attention to the effects of drilling on their communities and keep the fossil fuel industry at bay.

“It’s almost like we’re standing against an evil giant,” said Etta Arviso, an advocate for Navajo Code Talkers who is concerned at the growing number of oil leases being sold by allotees to their land. “This has gotten way out of hand. It’s like they’re bringing the dinosaurs back to life.”

A meeting with high implications for the Arctic

This week, in a quiet and unassuming European conference centre, a small committee that is part of an international Convention very few people have ever heard about, is meeting to discuss an issue of global significance.

Cynics might point out that this isn’t particularly surprising or newsworthy, but when the OSPAR’s Offshore Industry Committee (OIC) sits down in the German city of Bonn today, they will have to grapple with the thorny issue of whether or not to regulate oil exploration in Arctic waters. And we think that is big news.

City aims monkey wrench at homeport for Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet

Seattle city officials on Monday tossed a carefully aimed monkey wrench into plans, approved last month by the Seattle Port Commission, to use the Seattle waterfront as base of operations for Shell Oil’s Arctic oil drilling fleet.

The city’s Department of Planning and Development will “review, investigate and determine” whether the port’s plan to play host to Shell — or, to be exact, Foss Maritime — is allowed under the current shoreline substantial development permit granted to Terminal 5.

Tepco claims it will be more forthcoming with data from Fukushima No. 1

Tokyo Electric Power Co. says it is planning to change its information disclosure policy for the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant and release all data on radiation-contaminated dust and water if it is deemed they are affecting the surrounding environment.

The decision, made during a board meeting last Friday, was in response to the failure to disclose a leak of radioactive rainwater that came to light last month.

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Ex-panel chief says Japan still hasn’t learned lessons from Fukushima crisis

The Abe administration is recklessly trying to restart nuclear reactors across Japan without learning lessons from the Fukushima crisis and failing to prepare effective countermeasures against another potential disaster, a former accident panel chief said.

Yotaro Hatamura, former chairman of a government panel that investigated the accident at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, said in a recent interview with The Asahi Shimbun that the atmosphere surrounding nuclear power is returning to the pre-disaster days of complacency.

Japan’s nuclear plants are ‘better prepared’ now than before

Four years ago, on March 11, 2011, Japan faced the combined forces of nature and physics. A powerful earthquake and the tsunami that followed not only devastated the region surrounding the Fukushima Daichi atomic power plant, but also led to a nuclear disaster.

The ensuing social and environmental crisis would turn the global focus on the risks associated with nuclear energy. Before the disaster struck, Japan used to rely on nuclear power for 30 percent of its electricity needs. In the wake of the catastrophe, however, Japan halted operations at all 48 of its reactors. The disaster’s impact on nuclear power generation was also felt beyond the nation’s borders, with Germany announcing plans to denuclearize the country by 2022.

Four Years After Fukushima Nuclear Accident, Farmers Struggle for Viability

Four years after a devastating nuclear accident, Muneo Kanno is getting ready to plant rice in a field just 40 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactors. Tests last fall showed that the radiation levels of his crop were so low they weren’t detectable.

Mr. Kanno won’t be selling any of his rice, however, because commercial farming in most of Iitate is still prohibited. He took an unusual step and decontaminated part of his land on his own and started producing rice that he now donates for consumption. Elsewhere in Fukushima prefecture, farther from the reactors, the reputational taint forces farmers to sell their crops below market rates.

Fukushima residents torn over nuclear waste storage plan

Norio Kimura lost his wife, father and 7-year-old daughter Yuna in the March 2011 tsunami.

Now, he fears he may lose his land, too, as Japan’s government wants to build a sprawling radioactive waste storage site in the shadow of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant.

Like many here, Kimura is angry the government is set to park 30 million tons of radioactive debris raked up after the nuclear accident on his former doorstep. Few believe Tokyo’s assurances that the site will be cleaned up and shut down after 30 years.

Deaths tied to Fukushima nuclear disaster up 18%

A fresh report in Japan shows the number of deaths by radiation from the country’s Fukushima nuclear power plant disaster in 2011 increased by 18 percent last year.

The report published on Tuesday by the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbun said figures from authorities in Fukushima Prefecture showed a total of 1,232 deaths in 2014 were linked to the nuclear disaster.

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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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