Environmental Must-Reads – March 11, 2015


America is literally on fire: How out-of-control oil spills are destroying our population centers

It’s a good bet that someplace in North America is on fire right now, raging so out of control that officials have to let it burn itself out. And it happened because highly flammable oil was placed on a train for shipping, and something went drastically wrong. Because so much oil is transported by rail these days, the probabilities of catastrophe have elevated significantly. We haven’t ruined a major population center yet only through dumb luck; and we haven’t cracked down on this treacherous practice only because of the enormous power of the industry.

Rail industry pushes White House to ease oil train safety rules

The U.S. rail industry is pushing the White House to drop a requirement that oil trains adopt an advanced braking system, a cornerstone of a national safety plan that will soon govern shipments of crude across the country.

Representatives of large rail operators met with White House officials last week to argue against the need for electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, or ECP brakes, saying they “would not have significant safety benefits” and “would be extremely costly,” according to a handout from the meeting.

Oil train fires reveal problematic safety culture: Kemp

Two more serious derailments and fires involving trains carrying crude oil in the past week confirm there is a serious problem with the safety culture on North American railroads.

The latest fiery derailments occurred in northern Illinois involving a train operated by BNSF and northern Ontario involving a train operated by Canadian National Railway.

Wisconsin Dems want oil train rules on fast track

The Obama administration should take “immediate action” to boost the safety of moving crude by rail following a string of oil train explosions, argue a pair of Wisconsin lawmakers.

Wisconsin Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Ron Kind insist that the accidents — including two in Ontario, one in Illinois and another in West Virginia in the past four weeks — illustrate the need for a rapid phase out of “antiquated” tank cars that are prone to rupture as well as stepped-up standards for new models.

Fracking: communities may miss out on cash payments

Thousands of people exposed to disruption from fracking near their homes could miss out on promised cash payments, while new areas earmarked for drilling are unlikely to be identified until after the election, the Telegraph has learnt.

Energy giant Ineos, which wants to frack hundreds of wells around the UK, on Tuesday disclosed that it had not agreed to a Government-backed industry pledge to pay local communities £100,000 for every site fracked during exploration.

Flaring extension approved for 8 Cheyenne-area oil wells

Samson Energy can continue burning off byproduct natural gas from eight oil wells northeast of Cheyenne for two more months following a Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission vote Tuesday.

The extension allows Samson to keep flaring until the next commission meeting in May. In the meantime, Golden, Colorado-based Samson will need to file a report ahead of the April commission meeting on its prospects for ending the flaring, such as by building a gathering system to move the gas to a pipeline roughly 15 miles away.

Agencies admit failing to protect water sources from fuel pollution

The agencies charged with overseeing oil production and protecting California’s ever-dwindling water sources from the industry’s pollution all fell down on the job, one state official told a panel of peeved lawmakers Tuesday.

During a testy two-hour oversight hearing, officials from the California Department of Conservation, the department’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the state Water Resources Control Board promised senators a top-down overhaul of their regulation of the disposal of oil field wastewater.

Lawmakers grill state oil regulators on oversight failures

On Tuesday, state lawmakers took their turn lambasting California’s beleaguered oil and gas agency at a hearing in which senators called the agency’s historic practices corrupt, inept and woefully mismanaged.

For two hours, legislators grilled the leaders of California’s Department of Conservation, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources and the State Water Resources Control Board, seeking assurances that the state’s dwindling water supplies are protected from toxic oilfield waste.

Gov. Brown Sees No Harm In Fracking; California Report Suggest Otherwise

A new report suggests that fracking operations in California produce highly contaminate wastewater. According to the non-profit, non-partisan Environmental Working Group (EWG), leaders are taking the results of its report to Sacramento. But where does Governor Jerry Brown stand on fracking?

The governor is a supporter and like other supporters, he says there is no direct evidence of harm from fracking. Fracking supporters have also said the geology of California means less water is required for fracking here than is needed for the practice in other states.

Analysis of California’s Fracking Wastewater Reveals a Slew of Toxic Chemicals Linked to Cancer and Other Illnesses

California is currently the only state that requires chemical testing of fracking wastewater and public disclosure of the findings. That’s good. What’s not so good is what the testing and disclosure reveal.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has completed an analysis of data released by the state during the first year of new reporting requirements. It found that the high levels of the carcinogen benzene in California’s fracking wastewater isn’t the only thing Californians have to worry about from the state’s extensive oil and gas fracking operations and the injection of chemical-laced wastewater back into the ground once drilling is completed.

California senators focus on oil industry, drinking water

Lax oversight by the state has allowed the oil and gas industry to contaminate protected water aquifers and endanger the public, California regulators acknowledged Tuesday while pledging to intensify supervision.

When it comes to a balance between supporting the oil and gas industry in California — the country’s No. 3 oil-producing state — and protecting public resources and public safety, “I would suggest that … there has not been the proper balance between these two mandates” for state oil and gas regulators, John Laird, the state secretary of natural resources, told state senators in a scathing senate hearing. “And this is our chance to get it right.”

EARTHQUAKES:  Amid the shaking, Okla. regulators take a case-by-case approach

When an earthquake rocked Cherokee, Okla., in early February, cracking walls in the Alfalfa County courthouse, regulators told SandRidge Energy Inc. to shut down a disposal well about 5 miles away.

The move was part of an evolving regulatory approach in earthquake-plagued Oklahoma, where new disposal wells are getting extra scrutiny because of their potential to make the earth shake. Staffers at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission call it the “traffic light” method.

Ohio towns play wait-and-see in wake of drilling ruling

Almost three weeks after Ohio’s top court struck down a town’s restrictive drilling ordinances, lawyers and local officials are predicting another round of court cases to settle how much control local governments have over oil and gas development.

The state Supreme Court ruled that the Akron-area town of Munroe Falls could not require Beck Energy Corp. to get separate drilling permits, finding that only the state can issue drilling permits. But it left open whether cities can use zoning to control where drilling happens, and whether the outright drilling bans in some towns can continue to stand.

Panel accepts some fracking safeguards for state parks, rejects others

An Ohio House panel modified a fracking proposal yesterday to explicitly mandate “zero surface impact” on state parks and forests.

But by mostly party-line votes, the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee denied a pair of additional amendments that would have provided extra protection to public lands.

Finding solutions for a fracking wastewater problem

As shale plays in the US boom and bust – the rig count is down again – one thing remains relatively unchanged: fracking is a dirty business. That doesn’t mean it can’t improve, however. Low prices have put pressure on the rapid development of tertiary, or enhanced, recovery methods, but greener, more environmentally friendly innovations could soon pay dividends.

Water is the problem, and the scope is huge. Not water in general – on a gallon/MMBtu basis, water consumption for hydraulic fracturing actually ranks below both coal and ethanol production. Instead, what’s left is the issue.

We Keep Spilling Oil Into America’s Greatest Rivers

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a grave warning about the Mississippi River on Saturday. Because of an oil spill, it said, the cultural landmark is in “imminent and substantial danger” of being contaminated.

The oil spill came from a train carrying 103 cars of Bakken crude oil from North Dakota. On Thursday afternoon, 17 cars of that train derailed in northern Illinois, each carrying approximately 30,000 gallons of crude. EPA officials aren’t sure how much oil has spilled, but noted that a seasonal wetland has already been affected. The river, one of its tributaries, and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge are all in danger of contamination, the agency said.

At Least 400 Gallons of Oil Spill Into Delaware River Off New Jersey

Hundreds of gallons of oil that spilled into the Delaware River earlier this week washed up in New Jersey Tuesday.

The U.S. Coast Guard opened a report on the spill by the Pennsville Boat Ramp of Riviera Drive — south of the Delaware Memorial Bridge in Pennsville.

Houston Ship Channel Spill Cleanup to Take Several Days

Efforts to clean up one of the nation’s busiest seaports after a collision between two vessels on the Houston Ship Channel spilled a flammable chemical were expected to take at least several days, U.S. Coast Guard officials said Tuesday.

About a 4-mile to 8-mile stretch of the ship channel remained closed as crews worked to deal with the gasoline additive that spilled after two 600-foot ships collided on Monday in foggy conditions.

Scramble to Ensure Public Safety after Houston Spill

U.S. Federal, state and local agencies are working to ensure public safety as they respond to a toxic spill at Morgan’s Point on the Houston Ship Channel after a collision between a bulker and a tanker carrying methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE).

The Carla Maersk, a 45,000dwt chemical tanker, and the Conti Peridot, a 57,000dwt bulk carrier, collided on Monday in heavy fog, causing MTBE to leak from one of Carla Maersk’s cargo holds.

72 Vessels Waiting for Houston Channel Section to Reopen

A stretch of the Houston Ship Channel leading to more than 7 percent of U.S. refining capacity may reopen Wednesday after a collision released gasoline additive MTBE into the water.

The four-mile section of the channel between Light 86 and the Fred Hartman Bridge will be off limits until it’s deemed safe, Coast Guard Capt. Brian Penoyer said Tuesday at a news conference in La Porte, Texas. The section was shut after a Venezuela-bound tanker spilled an unknown amount of MTBE.

BP oil spill film used to fight SC drilling as business leaders counterpunch

Boosters of drilling for gas and oil along the South Carolina coast are punching back at a sustained effort by environmental groups to influence public opinion against a proposal that could allow offshore drilling.

As a public comment deadline nears, U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., and business leaders will hold a forum Wednesday near Charleston to explain why oil and gas would be the right industry for coastal South Carolina.

BP backs off Patrick Juneau, moves to dismiss motion to replace him

BP’s decided to end its fight to remove the chief in charge of approving property and economic claims related to the oil spill. If approved, the motion filed last week would essentially put a stop to the ongoing attempt to replace the claims chief.

The British energy company had been trying to get rid of Patrick Juneau, the claims administrator appointed by a federal judge to oversee the process, since last year.

Christie, Defending Exxon Deal, Says Environmental Damage Will Be Repaired

Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday defended his administration’s decision to settle a multibillion-dollar pollution suit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for a fraction of what the state had originally sought, saying the $225 million deal was “on top of” the company’s obligation to clean up the damage it caused.

“They have to fix everything that they polluted up to state standards, and there is no cap on what they have to pay,” the governor said in his first public comments on the settlement since The New York Times reported the deal last month. “So, no matter what it cost them to fix what they created, they have to pay, and then on top of that they pay another 225 million for having done the act in the first place.”

NC fines Duke Energy $25 million

The state-record $25 million fine North Carolina’s environmental agency filed Tuesday penalized Duke Energy for years of groundwater contamination.

Ash elements found in test wells around the Sutton power plant in Wilmington had broken state standards for as many as five years, state documents say.

Duke acknowledged contamination problems at Sutton in late 2013, when it agreed to pay up to $1.8 million for a water line to a low-income community near the plant.

Senators urge Obama to drop Atlantic oil drilling

Maryland Sens. Benjamin Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski joined 10 other senators Monday in urging the Obama administration to drop its proposal to allow oil and gas drilling off the Atlantic coast.

In a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, the senators contended there aren’t adequate safeguards against a catastrophic oil spill fouling Atlantic beaches. They also argued the industry already has ample offshore leases elsewhere, and that with seismic testing in the Atlantic still under review, leasing there is premature.

Keystone isn’t the only pipeline proposal out there

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Senate failed to override President Obama’s veto of legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, leaving the controversial project’s fate in the president’s hands. Obama has said he will make a final decision once the State Department finishes its assessment of whether or not the pipeline is in the national interest.

While the impact that Keystone would have on the climate, the economy and the communities it passes through should not be underestimated, some experts think that the amount of public attention the pipeline has received over the past six plus years has been a distraction from other, equally important issues related to North America’s energy boom.

Hill visits watershed’s oil line

U.S. Rep. French Hill said Tuesday that he wasn’t ready to take a position on whether to restart the Exxon Mobil pipeline that ruptured two years ago this month or move it out of the watershed of central Arkansas’ largest drinking-water supply.

His Republican predecessor, former Rep. Tim Griffin, had favored moving the pipeline out of the watershed.

Opponents call for end to port’s oil rig deal

Port of Seattle commissioners faced a big crowd largely opposed to a lease that will allow a vacant container terminal to be a home port for Shell’s Arctic offshore oil operations.

“You have signed a lease that will amount to a crime against this planet,” one speaker told the commission.

Seattle Mayor, Council Seek Review Of Shell Drilling Fleet

City officials said Monday they want to review whether current permits allow Royal Dutch Shell PLC to lease port property along the Seattle waterfront for its Arctic oil drilling fleet.

Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council directed planners to investigate whether Shell’s activities would be allowed under a shoreline development permit that the city granted to the Port of Seattle in 1995.

Fukushima disaster: Radiation levels posing cancer risks on fourth anniversary of earthquake

Four years ago today Japan was hit with a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and massive tsunami that caused widespread destruction, leaving almost 22,000 people dead or missing and triggering a crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The triple nuclear meltdown was the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

About 120,000 people still cannot return their homes because of high radiation levels, but the issue of long-term health implications like cancer are causing the greatest concern and controversy in Japan.

Fukushima residents doubt plans to rebuild

Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, has vowed to draw up a new five-year plan to speed up the rebuilding of the area of Fukushima after the tsunami disaster four years ago.

It caused meltdowns at the region’s nuclear plant and led to the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Fukushima, Japan four years on: ‘Nuclear power and humans cannot coexist’ – video

On 11 March 2011, the strongest earthquake in Japan’s history caused a giant tsunami that killed more than 18,000 people along the country’s north-east coast. It also triggered a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant that will take four decades to clean up at a cost of tens of billions of dollars. As Japan prepares to mark the fourth anniversary of the 3/11 disaster, the Guardian talks to key figures from the most critical days of the Fukushima crisis and to some of the tens of thousands forced to evacuate their irradiated communities and who continue to live in nuclear limbo

Fukushima No. 1?s never-ending battle with radioactive water

The disaster that struck four years ago may have abated for most of the Tohoku region, but the nightmare continues at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, which suffered three reactor core meltdowns and is plagued daily by increasing amounts of radioactive water.

Tepco hopes to improve the situation via two key measures: a 1.5-km-long sunken wall of frozen soil encircling stricken reactors 1, 2 and 3 and the damaged reactor 4 building to keep groundwater from entering and mixing with coolant water leaking in the reactor building basements, and “subdrain” wells around the buildings to pump up the tainted groundwater for treatment and ultimate discharge into the Pacific.

On nuclear energy, Abe and Merkel remain far apart

German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed on a number of things during her talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but where the two leaders parted company was on the issue of nuclear energy.

Merkel explained her decision to cancel Germany’s dependence on nuclear power plants was a direct result of the Fukushima disaster in Japan four years ago.

4 years after the tsunami, Fukushima residents hope to revive the prefecture

Muneo Kanno left his village to avoid radiation contamination after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster in Japan four years ago. But that has not stopped the evacuee from making daily trips back home.

The 64-year-old farmer is on a mission to reclaim the village he called home for most of his life and he has started a number of projects to achieve this dream. One of which involves measuring radiation levels at various sites in and around his village.

Four Years After Fukushima Meltdown, Japan’s Nuclear Reactors Remain Offline

In Japan thousands of people are still homeless and all of the nation’s nuclear reactors are still offline, four years after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake and tsunami caused the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has promised a five-year reconstruction plan for the areas still devastated by the disaster, but he remains a nuclear energy advocate despite strong public opposition.

More than 120,000 residents who lived within 20 kilometers of Japan’s Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in Fukushima were evacuated in March of 2011 after the damaged nuclear plant started leaking radiation.

Fukushima Water: the fictitious energy drink goes on sale

A high energy drink sourced straight from the Fukushima site. It sounds absurd and it is. But for the three Berlin art directors behind a new digital campaign this fictitious drink also raises an important issue: Four years on from the Fukushima nuclear disaster, contaminated water – being used to cool the plant – is still leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

“We were blown away by how weird it was that contaminated water is still being poured into the Pacific Ocean and that people have no idea,” says Kenzi Benabdallah, one of the trio of friends behind the campaign.

Japan pushes ahead with plans to reopen nuclear reactors

Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, visited the town of Futaba in the Fukushima prefecture on March 1 to be given a guided tour of a vast site that has been set aside for millions of tons of soil that was contaminated with radioactivity after the disaster at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in March 2011.

Abe climbed to the top of a building that had previously served as the office of the municipal government to gaze across the 16-square-kilometer site. On the horizon to the east, tall chimneys and cranes turned in the cold wind blowing in from the Pacific and mark the location of the nuclear plant, where teams of workers continue their efforts to decontaminate the site of one of the worst nuclear accidents in history.

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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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