Environmental Must-Reads – March 13, 2015


CN Rail says some oil product spills in Manitoba derailment

Thirteen cars on a Canadian National Railway Co train went off the tracks in rural Manitoba on Wednesday night and spilled some petroleum product on the ground in the company’s third derailment in a week.

There were no injuries and no threat to the public from the latest derailment, CN spokesman Brent Kossey said on Thursday. The train was carrying refinery cracking stock, which spilled from one car.

N. Dakota loading facility sanctioned in oil train leak discovered at BP Cherry Point

The Federal Railroad Administration has issued a violation against a North Dakota loading facility over a leaking oil car in northwest Washington state that initially wasn’t reported to state officials for a month.

The leak was discovered at the BP Cherry Point refinery near Ferndale, Wash., in early November by federal inspectors.

Crude-oil train wrecks raise questions about safety claims

Four accidents in the last month involving trains hauling crude oil across North America have sent flames shooting hundreds of feet into the sky, leaving some experts worried that public safety risks have been gravely underestimated.

Crude trains have crashed in Illinois, West Virginia and twice in Ontario, Canada, forcing evacuations of residents and causing extensive environmental contamination.

The industry acknowledges that it needs to perform better, but says the trains are involved in derailments no more frequently than those hauling containers, grain or motor vehicles. Although the public doesn’t pay much attention, about three freight train derailments occur every day on average.

Improperly disposed radioactive oil field waste found in North Dakota

State health officials say radioactive oil field waste has been illegally dumped in western North Dakota.

Officials on Thursday said up to 100 filter socks were found in a property within the city limits of Williston. The socks are the nets that strain liquids in the oil production process.

Groups File Suit to Protect Chaco Canyon From Fracking

Environmental groups including the Navajo organization Diné CARE filed suit against two federal agencies on March 11 in an attempt to keep fracking from harming the ancient astronomical site of Chaco Canyon.

The suit was filed by the Western Environmental Law Center and WildEarth Guardians against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Department of the Interior on behalf of Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE), the Natural Resources Defense Counsel and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, among other groups. The groups are objecting to the approval over the past two years of more than 130 proposals for fracking operations, the Western Environmental Law Center said in a release.

Colorado’s Fracking Wars Reignite

You’ve got to have a mind of winter to fully appreciate the pall Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s Task Force on Oil and Gas cast over the concept of good government in this state.   Termed Blue Ribbon by the governor, it easily was not.  It included not one person from the many local citizen groups that have organized to protect themselves against a rampaging oil industry given free license to drill at will by a benighted legislature and a puppet governor.

Penn Township zoning board concludes testimony on fracking plan

A hearing concluded Thursday on an application for a Marcellus Shale gas drilling operation in Penn Township after hours of comment from the drilling company and its critics.

The zoning board in the Westmoreland County township conducting the proceedings is scheduled to issue a decision at its next meeting on April 9. Thursday’s hearing was a continuation of an initial one in February.

Senate gives preliminary OK to fracking rules provisions

The state Senate on Thursday gave preliminary approval to a change in the way North Carolina must establish rules regulating air pollution from shale-gas operations, which use a drilling method known as fracking.

A final vote in the Senate will likely come up Monday.

Williams in bed with fracking lobbyist

MAYORAL candidate and state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams’ campaign website contains a fairly detailed “Issues” section, with one exception – it lacks a stance on environmental issues.

His wife, Shari Williams, however, has quite a robust outlook, but one that isn’t likely to please environmentalists.

As a highly paid executive with a pre-eminent gas-drilling lobby, she writes essays for an industry magazine extolling the virtues of what is commonly referred to as “fracking” and advocates a vision of Philadelphia as a major oil and gas processing hub.

100+ Maryland businesses call for fracking moratorium

More than 100 businesses in western Maryland have come out in support of a bill that would establish a moratorium on oil and gas exploration via hydraulic fracturing, citing concerns over pollution, health and tourism consequences.

Lawmakers in Maryland are currently considering bills that would either place an eight-year moratorium on fracking or ban the practice completely, much like New York did late last year.

Pennsylvania environmental regulators plan to create pipeline task force

Pennsylvania environmental regulators are planning to create a collaborative task force to develop ways to “plan smarter” as companies build out tens of thousands of miles of pipelines in the next decade to bring Marcellus Shale gas to market.

Acting Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection John Quigley told the House Appropriations Committee during a budget hearing in Harrisburg on Wednesday about the pipeline initiative and other programs aimed at modernizing the agency’s operations and diversifying the state’s energy production portfolio.

Bottom Creek is top concern for landowners near proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline

When we talk about the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline, “Not in My Backyard” is an almost constant refrain. But the natural gas line would cut through Bottom Creek on Bent Mountain, and that water system impacts thousands of backyards, even those miles away from the pipeline. Scientists and landowners who live on the creek warn the pipeline could be devastating.

PennEast natural gas pipeline may run past Bethlehem’s water supply

The idyllic Carbon County acreage where Bethlehem gets its drinking water — called one of the last great places on Earth by one conservancy group — might get a natural gas pipeline.

On a 114-mile route from the Wilkes-Barre area to a distribution terminal outside Trenton, N.J., the proposed PennEast pipeline would pass close to a pair of spring-fed reservoirs holding 10 billion gallons of water.

The battle for the oil and gas soul of Louisiana

With little fanfare beyond its marshy borders, there is a fight going on for the soul of Plaquemines Parish, and a major battle in that conflict is set to take place this Thursday.

The parish that hugs the final 80 miles of the Mississippi River is Ground Zero in Louisiana’s losing battle against coastal erosion. It’s the place where a football field of land disappears every hour, oil and gas access canals slice into what’s left and river levees block a continent’s worth of sediment from naturally restoring what’s been lost.

Chemical Safety Board prevails in Deepwater Horizon case

A federal appeals court on Thursday affirmed the authority of government investigators to probe Transocean’s involvement in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

By a vote of 9-6, the New Orleans-based Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals rejected Transocean’s petition for a rehearing of its challenge to government subpoenas tied to the explosion of its drilling rig nearly five years ago.

In blow to energy industry, federal judges return 7 parish environmental damage suits to state courts

In a setback for the energy industry, two federal judges have ordered seven environmental damages lawsuits filed by Jefferson and Plaquemines parishes against dozens of oil and gas companies returned to state courts for trial.

In decisions made between Jan. 29 and Wednesday (March 12), U.S. District Court Judges Lance Africk and Ivan Lemelle ruled that the cases were not properly removed by the energy companies from state courts to the federal judiciary. The rulings said the parish claims stemmed only from alleged violations of state permits, and at least one defendant company was based in Louisiana, so the cases belong in state courts.

New Fire At Troubled Exxon Refinery Quickly Extinguished

The Torrance fire department says that it quickly extinguished a fire at the local ExxonMobil refinery last night. The 155,000-barrel-a-day facility, which exploded on February 18th, has been operating at reduced capacity in recent weeks.

Torrance fire Captain Steve Deuel told ThinkProgress that the fire was possibly related to the larger explosion. “There was a cracked pipe which was leaking and was the cause of the incident,” he explained. “It was in the vicinity of the unit that failed in the explosion, so the pipe could have been damaged then and we just didn’t know it until now.”

The ‘Insane’ Plan To Burn 80,000 Pounds Of Chemical Explosives, Out In The Open, Every Day For A Year

Just a few miles away from the population center of Minden, Louisiana, 15 million pounds of military explosives are sitting in cardboard boxes, waiting to detonate.

The massive stockpile of explosive M6 propellant has been stored at a Louisiana National Guard military training site called Camp Minden since 2010, when the U.S. Army sold it to a company to be destroyed. But the company, Explo Systems, never actually disposed of it — they just left it in the boxes. Now the M6 is rapidly deteriorating, and by August, its risk of spontaneous combustion will greatly increase.

Ship Channel reopens after damaged tanker moved

Shipping traffic through the Houston Ship Channel resumed Thursday after a three-day shutdown caused by the collision of two ships that spilled a flammable chemical into the vital waterway.

The U.S. Coast Guard lifted the closure of the channel between Morgan’s Point and the Hartman Bridge, a five-mile stretch that connects Houston’s oil refineries and other port facilities to the Gulf of Mexico.

Thaw shifts oil spill response in Montana

A unified command established to respond to a January oil spill in Montana said it started a new response phase as ice melts in the Yellowstone River.

About 1,000 barrels of oil spilled from the Poplar Pipeline near the Yellowstone River in Glendive, Mont. Around half of the oil released had been recovered before weather forced a suspension of response operations in late February.

13 March 1991: Exxon fined $1bn for oil spill

In 1967 a major oil field was discovered at Prudhoe Bay in the north of Alaska. Production began in 1977 and by the late 1980s output from this and other Alaskan fields accounted for a quarter of total US production.

To transport the oil from the far north, the trans-Alaska pipeline was built, running 800 miles from Prudhoe Bay to the town of Valdez, the nearest ice-free port. At Valdez, oil was loaded into tanker ships to be transported further south.

Reported ‘sheen’ on Tehuacana Creek raises oil pipeline concerns

The Texas Railroad Commission and private pipeline operators were looking for signs of a petroleum leak Thursday at Tehuacana Creek, a few miles east of Waco on State Highway 6.

The commission, which oversees the oil and gas industry, got a call Wednesday from a pilot who had noticed a “sheen” on the flooded creek, commission spokeswoman Ramona Nye said. The pipeline companies joined the commission and the U.S. Department of Transportation in investigating the incident, and crews laid down foam “booms” across the creek to capture any surface pollution. However, no sheen was clearly visible from the ground Thursday, and Nye said the status of the investigation was unclear late that day.

Residents raise environmental, property rights concerns over pipeline that would cross Georgia to supply fuel to Jacksonville

A proposed $1 billion pipeline that would cross 12 Georgia counties to deliver gasoline, diesel fuel and ethanol to Savannah and Jacksonville drew some opposition at the fifth and last public meeting in Georgia on the project.

Kinder Morgan, which plans to have capacity of 167,000 barrels daily would stretch from Belton, S.C., to terminals in North Augusta, S.C., and Savannah before heading south to Jacksonville.

Department of Energy data shows Keystone XL is an export pipeline

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) has released export data that clearly corroborates President Obama’s recent assertion that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is primarily about export. Politico reports that refineries in Port Arthur and Houston – which would be the primary recipients of crude oil delivered by the Keystone XL pipeline – exported over 60% of their refined product in 2014.

The EIA data shows that Houston and Port Arthur refineries exports reached over two thirds of their production in December 2014. This is the continuation of a trend that Oil Change International (OCI) first identified in 2012, when Texas Gulf Coast refineries began exporting slightly over half of their total refined product internationally.

Big Oil’s Broken Business Model: The Real Story Behind the Oil Price Collapse

Many reasons have been provided for the dramatic plunge in the price of oil to about $60 per barrel (nearly half of what it was a year ago): slowing demand due to global economic stagnation; overproduction at shale fields in the United States; the decision of the Saudis and other Middle Eastern OPEC producers to maintain output at current levels (presumably to punish higher-cost producers in the U.S. and elsewhere); and the increased value of the dollar relative to other currencies. There is, however, one reason that’s not being discussed, and yet it could be the most important of all: the complete collapse of Big Oil’s production-maximizing business model.

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 Since Fukushima, Calls Grow for Nuclear-Free World

Four years since disaster struck the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant on March 11, 2011—with nightmare yet to abate—the call for a future beyond nuclear power also continues.

In the wake of the three reactor core meltdowns, which were triggered when the plant was hit by a tsunami stemming from a 9.0 earthquake, widespread nuclear contamination remains. Tokyo Electric Power Company, or TEPCO, continues to wrestle with how to contain increasing amounts of radioactive water, which was pumped in to cool the melted fuel rods within the reactors.

Japanese Coastal Town Still Struggling to Rebuild From 2011 Tsunami

The spot where the town’s center once stood is now a dusty construction site filled with diggers and dump trucks toiling amid huge, man-made mesas of earth and gravel. The work is part of an $850 million project to elevate the land by seven feet and shield it behind a towering 48-foot wall.

Four years after a colossal tsunami swept away most of this remote fishing community on Japan’s mountainous northeastern coast, Otsuchi is starting to rebuild.

‘Don’t underestimate risks’: Fukushima investigator’s words of advice for South Australia’s nuclear industry

A Fukushima nuclear disaster investigator has warned South Australians to consider risks carefully before getting involved in an expanded nuclear industry.

A royal commission will look into the potential to expand South Australia’s role in the nuclear industry from next week and will include the consideration of power generation.

Delivery of radioactive soil to interim storage begins in Fukushima

Workers on Friday began delivering soil and other radiation-tainted waste generated by the decontamination work following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear crisis to a makeshift storage yard at a storage facility in the prefecture.

FOUR YEARS AFTER: Fukushima cleanup takes step forward on 4th anniversary of first explosion

March 12 marked the fourth anniversary of the first hydrogen explosion at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, a terrifying moment in Japan’s worst nuclear disaster.

Four years later, work started to transport soil and other debris contaminated by the radioactive substances to intermediate storage facilities near the stricken nuclear plant.

Food supply was protected after Fukushima, study finds

On the 4th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that triggered meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, there is one bit of reassuring news: A new study concludes that contaminated food was likely kept out of the market.

“In my honest opinion, the Japanese government did a terrific job to keep their people safe” from contaminated food, says Georg Steinhauser, an environmental radiochemist at Colorado State University,  Fort Collins, who led the study.

Food in Fukushima is Safe, but Fear Remains

Sae Ochi should know better, and she knows she should know better. As the director of internal medicine at Soma Central Hospital, just 30 miles from the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant that melted down after a tsunami in 2011, part of her job is to monitor local radiation exposure levels. She has screened thousands of people, and only a few showed levels high enough for her most sensitive instruments to detect. She eats locally grown food sold at the supermarket and even the occasional wild berry, which probably does contain a bit of radiation. “When I go hiking, I will eat a berry or two, because it’s only a tiny amount and it looks so delicious,” Ochi says. But then she adds a caveat: “That’s because I have no children.” If Ochi were a parent, she says, she wouldn’t do it—even though she knows local radiation levels are negligible. “All mothers,” she says, “try to take zero risks.”

3 ways the Fukushima nuclear disaster is still having an impact today

Four years ago, after a devastating tsunami left 18,000 Japanese dead, Japan faced another, potentially bigger, catastrophe: 300,000 people had to be evacuated as several reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant started to melt down on March 11, 2011.

In 2015, has the world forgotten the threat that was posed by Fukushima? Here are three ways the disaster is still having an impact today.

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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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