Environmental Must-Reads – March 12, 2015


Train derailments raise concerns about volatility of Alberta crude

Two trains that derailed and caught fire in Northern Ontario were carrying crude from Alberta’s oil sands, suggesting concerns about the volatility of oil-by-rail shipments cannot be limited to the Bakken crude that was involved in the Lac-Mégantic tragedy and a spate of other major accidents.

The Ontario derailments of Canadian National Railway trains come after a series of conflagrations involving crude drawn from the Bakken formation, which straddles North Dakota, Montana, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Bakken crude is widely believed to be more volatile than conventional oil and operators in North Dakota will soon be required to take extra precautions to reduce its volatility.

Canada to propose tougher oil tank standards after a string of derailments

The Canadian government has proposed tough new standards for rail tank cars used to transport crude oil in response to a string of fiery crashes.

The proposal, posted online Wednesday by Transport Canada, would require the cars to have outer “jackets,” a layer of thermal protection, and thicker steel walls.

Dangerous Trains, Aging Rails

A CSX freight train ran off the rails last month in rural Mount Carbon, W.Va. One after another, exploding rail cars sent hellish fireballs hundreds of feet into the clear winter sky. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency, and the fires burned for several days.

The Feb. 16 accident was one of a series of recent fiery derailments highlighting the danger of using freight trains to ship crude oil from wellheads in North Dakota to refineries in congested regions along America’s coastlines. The most recent was last week, when a Burlington Northern Santa Fe oil train with roughly 100 cars derailed, causing at least two cars, each with about 30,000 gallons of crude oil, to explode, burn and leak near the Mississippi River, south of Galena, Ill.

Thanks to California’s disclosure law, we’re finding out what’s in fracking wastewater, and it ain’t pretty

On so many issues, California is the green leader, showing other states how it should be done better. But better is not necessarily the same thing as flawless. Right now, California is doing a better job of regulating fracking than any other state that allows it — but, of course, many local activists would rather the state just banned it, as New York has.

Chesapeake Energy testing waterless fracking at Ohio well

Chesapeake Energy Corp. is partnering with GasFrac Energy Services Inc. to test waterless fracking at one of its Ohio oil wells.

The most-active driller in the Utica shale play is in the early stages of the test on a Tuscarawas County well, the company confirmed.

What Should We Expect from EPA’s Study on Fracking and Drinking Water?

The Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to release a draft of its long awaited study on hydraulic fracturing’s potential impacts on drinking water this spring.

When EPA announced the creation of this study way back in March 2010, it was expected to be the first of its kind in answering critical scientific questions. While a lot of good science on the risks hydraulic fracturing (or “fracking”) poses to drinking water has been conducted by other institutions in the past five years – and indicates legitimate cause for concern – we remained hopeful that EPA’s study would still be unique by being the first-ever to ask a broad range of questions and to analyze the enormous amounts of data that EPA was able to access. In other words, we expected this study to in many ways be the first – not the last – look at the relationship between fracking and drinking water of this scope and scale.

Ohio senator seeks stricter fracking waste penalties

A state senator wants increased penalties and stiffer permit rules for improperly disposing of gas-drilling waste and toxic brine in Ohio.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni’s legislation would raise the state’s penalties for knowingly disposing of oil and gas waste illegally to levels found in the federal Clean Water Act.

Toughest bill yet filed to block Texas cities from banning fracking

Texas cities could have a tougher time banning hydraulic fracking if a trio of bills proposed in the Texas Legislature are adopted.

The strongest bill yet was filed this week by State Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, which gives all the authority for regulating oil and gas to the Texas Railroad Commission. House Bill 40 makes it clear that state law preempts the regulations passed by cities and counties related to oil and gas.

Western Maryland business owners, residents call for moratorium on fracking

Concerned about public health, dozens of business owners and residents from western Maryland are calling for an eight-year moratorium on fracking in the state.

Garrett and Allegany counties have huge deposits of Marcellus shale that reportedly contains natural gas.

Ineos buys fracking rights in central Scotland

THE owner of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant has acquired full fracking rights for a massive swathe of central Scotland as part of a deal worth £30 million with the UK’s largest shale gas developer.

Announcing its latest step towards fracking in Scotland, Ineos, the Swiss multi­national operator of the plant, said yesterday it will buy out IGas’ interest in the shale gas licence.

House passes controversial air quality rule on drilling

Language that would let state regulators opt out of creating specific air quality regulations for natural gas drilling operations has passed the state House as part of a larger package of changes to environmental laws.

The measure, which first surfaced last week as an amendment to another bill, says that the Environmental Management Commission may rely on existing state and federal regulations to ameliorate emissions from drilling operations if those existing regulations are found to be “adequate.”

Federal fracking rules imminent–clean water, wild places must trump oil & gas industry interests

In late February, U.S. Secretary of Interior Sally Jewell said that publication of the Bureau of Land Management’s new rules for fracking on the nation’s public lands would be “soon.”

Such rules are long overdue — its been decades since they have been updated, and the current rules on the books are completely insufficient to protect drinking water public lands, and nearby communities from the risks of fracking.

BP Labors to Cast Doubt on Gulf Spill Study It Dislikes

BP Plc has apologized again and again for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Lately the company has been sounding less remorseful.

Take a look at “The Whole Story.” It’s a web page operated by the London-based company that regularly addresses what BP calls “misinformation” about the region’s recovery and legal issues surrounding the 130 million-gallon (500 million-liter) spill, the largest in U.S. history.

Court upholds dismissal of manslaughter charges against BP employees

A federal appeals court upheld a district judge’s decision to drop manslaughter charges against two former BP Plc well site managers over their roles in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil drilling disaster that killed 11 people.

Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine were the two highest-ranking supervisors on board the Deepwater Horizon rig when disaster struck on April 20, 2010, sending millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Truck spills 15 tons of reclaimed oil after driver falls asleep

A dump truck turned over on Hwy 64 West in Vilonia around 2 a.m. Wednesday, spilling 15 tons of reclaimed oil and closing the road until 11:30 a.m.

Vilonia Director of Emergency Management Keith Hillman said the driver of the vehicle fell asleep while driving, crossed the median and turned over. No other vehicles were involved in the accident, and no one was injured.

Update: Remediation almost complete at Vilonia oil spill site

An accidental oil spill in the Faulkner County community of Vilonia had officials scrambling to clean up the mess Wednesday.

Katherine Benenati with Arkansas Department of Environmental Equality (ADEQ) said a total of 12 drums of oil-based drilling mud were spilled. She said the accident took place at the Highway 64 bypass at Highway 107 around 2:19 a.m.

Ship Channel could reopen Thursday after accident, spill

A federal investigation of a collision that spilled a flammable chemical into the Houston Ship Channel began in earnest Wednesday as work continued to remove a punctured tanker from the vital waterway.

With the recovery effort well underway, Port of Houston Authority officials said they were hopeful that the channel could reopen by 10 a.m. Thursday after a three-day shutdown.

There’s No Fine Too Small for ExxonMobil to Fight in Court

You’d think that when a company earns $32 billion in a single year, it might be willing to pay the occasional fine for the mistakes it makes. That’s not ExxonMobil’s policy, however. Despite being the world’s second most profitable company, Exxon’s team of lawyers routinely oppose fines the government assigns, making a mockery of any attempts at environmental justice.

Plans To Explore For Oil Offshore Worry East Coast Residents

As the Obama administration opens the door to offshore drilling, the oil industry is promising more jobs and less reliance on foreign oil. Some people who live along the Eastern Seaboard are saying, “no thanks.”

Coastal towns and cities in several states are formally opposing offshore drilling and oil exploration.

Obama asked to protect whales from sound blasting

Keep the Atlantic free of noisy oil exploration to protect whales, dolphins, fish and other marine life. That’s the message of a letter signed by 75 scientists and sent last week to US President Barack Obama.

They fear that loud airgun blasting methods used to detect oil and gas deposits beneath the seabed will wreak havoc on marine life along the US Atlantic seaboard. Last month, the Obama administration announced that parts of the Atlantic coast would be opened up for drilling, with leases for oil and gas development to be awarded from 2017.

Lawmakers Move to Regulate Pipelines, After a Record Spill in a Drilling Boom

Two months after the biggest fracking-related spill in recent North Dakota history, state lawmakers are pushing legislation that could help prevent similar disasters in the future.

More than 2 million gallons of toxic wastewater gushed from a hole in the type of pipeline known as a “gathering line” near the town of Williston between the last week of December and first week of January. The spill contaminated at least two local waterways. The rupture went unnoticed for about 12 days before a pipeline worker discovered it.

Obama embraces Keystone skepticism

President Obama has increasingly sided with the most negative assessments of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline, leading both opponents and supporters to believe that he’ll reject the contentious project’s permit.

As anger among Republicans in Congress has grown stronger when it comes to Obama’s years-long delay on judging Keystone, the president has gradually abandoned attempts to avoid weighing in on the project’s merits, gravitating instead toward arguments against it.

Oil spill cleanup on Yellowstone River on hold until ice melts

A Wyoming company is preparing to resume oil shipments through a pipeline that broke and spewed 30,000 gallons of crude into Montana’s Yellowstone River.

Cleanup work on the spill upstream of Glendive remains on hold due to ice with only about 10 percent of the oil recovered.

Pipeline section reopens near Glendive oil spill

The pipeline company responsible for the leak of a large amount of crude oil into the Yellowstone River near Glendive on Jan. 17 reopened a portion of the line Wednesday.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration approved Bridger Pipeline LLC on March 6 to re-open a 49-mile portion of the Poplar System pipeline beyond the point where it ruptured, according to the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Oil Shipments to Resume in Pipeline That Broke Under River

A Wyoming company is preparing to resume oil shipments through a pipeline that broke and spewed 30,000 gallons of crude into Montana’s Yellowstone River, even as most of the spilled oil remains unrecovered.

Cleanup is on hold near the small city of Glendive, where the water supply for 6,000 residents was temporarily contaminated.

Pipeline Foes Appeal to Nebraska Lawmakers in Testy Hearing

Opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline appealed to Nebraska lawmakers on Wednesday in their latest effort to overturn the state law that allowed former Gov. Dave Heineman to approve a route through the state.

About 60 landowners and activists rallied at the state Capitol in Lincoln as pipeline developer TransCanada Corp. defended its use of eminent domain to gain access to property owned by holdouts.

Oil exploration of the Arctic region is slowing down

In 2014 maritime, energy and mining companies looked to the Arctic as a new region to exploit natural resources, spending billions in the process.

But with plummeting oil prices and growing tensions with Russia, plans to explore the region may need to be put on hold.

City to study whether it can block base for Shell drilling fleet

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the City Council buoyed the efforts of environmental activists Monday, saying the city might have the power to delay or block the Port of Seattle’s plan to serve as a base for Shell Oil’s Arctic Ocean drilling fleet.

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will “review, investigate and determine” whether the plan is allowed under the Port’s Shoreline Substantial Development Permit for Terminal 5, Murray and the council said.

Shell expects to drill offshore Alaska this year

Drilling in the arctic waters of Alaska should proceed this year assuming timely approval from the U.S. federal government, Royal Dutch Shell said Thursday.

Shell’s preliminary drilling program in arctic waters offshore Alaska in 2012 was plagued by problems, including a grounded drilling rig, violations of air pollution limits, engine failures on a tow ship and an oil spill containment system damaged during testing.

Four years after tsunami, Japanese coastal town near nuclear plant remains deserted

The word for the number four sounds much like the word for death in Japanese. Now, four years after a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Japan, causing a mega tsunami that devastated a large stretch of the Japanese seaside and triggered the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, death is a fitting word to describe the fate of many coastal towns.

While some places have started to allow residents to move back in, others such as Namie in Fukushima prefecture have been designated as “difficult to return to” by the government. Located just more than five miles from the crippled Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, there’s little mystery about why.

Japan fisherman in post-tsunami town sees hope in ‘dream oysters’

After pulling on his army-green fisherman’s overalls, Hiromitsu Ito crams a cigarette between his lips and guns the throttle on his boat, steering it out into the waters that have sustained and betrayed him.

Five minutes offshore, he idles along some buoys. His rotund nephew and a 17-year-old apprentice haul in a net. Ito grabs a shell bigger than a man’s palm, opens it with a rusty blade, and quickly rinses it with seawater. “Yume-gaki,” he says, foisting the shell on two visiting city slickers. “Dream oyster. Try it!”

Japan remembers the 18,000 victims of 2011’s triple disaster

People across Japan fell silent on Wednesday to remember the thousands of victims of the tsunami that wrecked its north-east coast four years ago.

But remembrance services held in Tokyo and along the flattened coastline were tinged with frustration at the slow pace of rebuilding, with almost a quarter of a million people still displaced.

More than 18,000 people died on 11 March 2011 after the strongest recorded earthquake in Japan’s history triggered a tsunami that laid waste to entire towns and villages and caused a triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

NRA chief warns of ongoing risks at wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant

The situation still remains risky at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant four years after a series of meltdowns, the chairman of Japan’s nuclear regulator said Wednesday, vowing utmost efforts to avoid further trouble there.

After 4 years, Fukushima nuclear cleanup remains daunting, vast

Neon pink and yellow banners flutter along the roadsides, their gentle flapping breaking an eerie stillness. The houses here are shut tight, the streets are nearly deserted, the fields that once sprouted rice, tomatoes and cucumbers are fallow.

Shigeo Karimata dons a hard hat and a mask and prepares to get out of his car.

“Some people say, ‘Oh, it looks like a festival!’” says the avuncular 62-year-old Environment Ministry worker. “Then they see the writing on the flags: ‘Decontamination Work in Progress.’”

Fukushima nuclear pollution hasn’t hit B.C. shore, says researcher Jay Cullen

Four years after a massive earthquake struck Japan, creating a nuclear disaster in Fukushima, research shows nuclear pollution is making its way towards B.C., but isn’t affecting fish.

“According to all the measurements that we’ve made thus far, and with our partner Health Canada who have been making measurements of fish since 2011, we’ve yet to detect that marker isotope for fish caught along the coast,” Jay Cullen, a University of Victoria professor, told Daybreak North’s Carolina de Ryk.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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