Environmental Must-Reads – March 16, 2015


2,500 gallons of saltwater and 200 gallons of oil spill near Bowbells, ND

Near Bowbells, ND (WDAY TV) – The State Department of Health says about 2,500 gallons of saltwater and 200 gallons of oil have been spilled and have impacted a tributary of a creek in Northwest North Dakota.

The department says the approximately 60 barrels of brine and five barrels of oil impacted a tributary of Stony Creek near Bowbells. It says impacted water has been diked to prevent further runoff downstream. It wasn’t immediately clear Saturday what caused the spill.

Figuring Out Fracking Wastewater

Almost 3 million gallons of concentrated salt water leaked in early January from a ruptured pipeline at a natural gas drilling site near Williston, N.D. The brine, a by-product of the oil and gas extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, spilled into two creeks that empty into the Missouri River, according to news reports. Although a state health official said the salty water was quickly diluted once it reached the Missouri, the spill—large by North Dakota standards—raised questions about the contents of the brine.

Accidental spills like this one occur with some frequency, so scientists would like to understand the contaminants they release into waterways and elsewhere in the environment. Their findings could help officials guide the cleanup of sites or mitigate damage.

Fracking Next to a Cemetery? 10 Unlikely Sites Targeted for Drilling

Last November, when 6,700 acres of public land in Colorado were auctioned for oil and gas drilling, one lot came with an unusual caveat: It held an active graveyard.

Kanza Cemetery sits on a 320-acre expanse east of Colorado Springs offered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The rural graveyard, where more than a hundred people are buried, has been there for at least a century. Its land was leased for $26 an acre.

Rail Industry Lobbied Against New Oil-by-Rail Safety Regulations The Day After Rail Accident

With the recent run of exploding oil train accidents, it isn’t surprising that the rail industry has publicly expressed concern about hauling highly flammable oils like Bakken light crude and diluted tar sands. But that’s all the industry has done: express concern. It certainly hasn’t done anything to act on its concerns.

For instance, Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian Pacific railway and the man who is on record as saying that regulators “overreacted” to the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, recently said Canadian Pacific might get out of the oil hauling business.

Feds require removal of oil train parts involved in leaks

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is ordering freight rail companies to remove faulty parts it says have been involved in multiple oil train leaks recently.

The agency said the parts, which are valves that were manufactured by Tennessee-based company McKenzie Valve & Machining LLC, are resulting in “tank cars leaking small quantities of hazardous materials” when they are not properly configured.

Oil industry must join U.S. railroads to boost train safety -regulator

Rail operators are going to great lengths to prevent oil train derailments but the energy sector must do more to prevent accidents from becoming fiery disasters, the leading U.S. rail regulator said on Friday.

Oil train tankers have jumped the tracks in a string of mishaps in recent months that resulted in explosions and fires.

Train deaths rise amid energy-driven rail transformation.

Every week in the United States in 2014, about 16 people were killed by trains—a 17 percent increase over the previous year and adding up to the highest number of rail casualties since 2007, federal government data shows.

None of these victims died in fiery crude oil explosions like the ones visible for miles around train derailment sites this month in Illinois and Ontario. But in some regions, there are signs that the increasing deaths may be tied to a massive energy-driven transformation underway on U.S. railroads

Fast-growing railroads will miss safety system deadline.

The US National Transportation Safety Board, which investigates major train accidents but has no power to regulate, has been calling for railroads to implement an automated Positive Train Control system for 45 years.

Congress finally mandated that it be deployed by the end of 2015. But the railroads say that they need a little more time.

“You and I can open the garage door, and arm the house alarms from our iPhone, but the railroad industry, which is a multibillion dollar industry, refuses to invest in public safety unless there’s a fundamental change that requires them to,” says Robert Pottroff, who for years has represented victims of train accidents and their survivors in cases against the railroads.

NATURAL GAS: Shipping LNG by rail? Alaska railroad wants to make it happen

At a time when Alaska state officials are eager to provide low-cost fuel to the energy-hungry Fairbanks region, the Alaska Railroad Corp. is seeking to become the first U.S. company to ship liquefied natural gas by rail.

The Alaska railroad and three other companies — Union Pacific, BNSF Railway and Florida East Coast Railway Co. — have applied for Federal Railroad Administration permits to ship LNG on their rail lines.

Some fighting state proposal on disclosure of fracking chemicals

Environmental groups, people who live in Ohio’s oil-and-gas country, and some emergency responders say that a proposal by Gov. John Kasich to filter information about chemicals used in fracking activities through the Ohio Department of Natural Resources could leave firefighters without what they need during an emergency.

The department, some groups and residents argued this week before state legislators, already has proved it can’t get that information to the people who need it when a fracking site catches fire. And that worries people who live near oil and gas sites.

USGS study points out huge fracking data gaps

Oil and gas companies like to present fracking as benign, and, for the most part, government regulators play along. For example, a recent oil and gas task force in Colorado barely touched on the subject of groundwater impacts from fracking.

But the reality is that we know very little about how the injection of massive quantities of fracking fluids will play out in the long run. And we probably won’t know the full scope until it’s too late, following the classic pattern of environmental pollution problems.

Campaign Aimed at Altering Route of Natural Gas Pipeline

Opponents of the proposed Virginia route of a 550-mile natural gas pipeline from West Virginia to North Carolina have launched a campaign to enlist more allies in their fight.

The “All Pain, No Gain Campaign” delivered that message Sunday in paid media spots in central and western Virginia markets.

Proximity to air base raises concerns about National Fuel subsidiary’s pipeline plans

A National Fuel subsidiary’s plans for a major new natural gas pipeline may undergo some changes because of its proximity to Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station.

Town Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said the plans for the upgrade of the Empire Pipeline currently call for a natural gas dehydration station to be built at the southern end of Vantage International Pointe, as the former Inducon Industrial Park is now known.

WMass towns part of Kinder Morgan pipeline plan

Energy Company Kinder Morgan introduced a new outline for their pipeline expansion project.

In an environmental report released Friday, Kinder Morgan outlined plans, including a meter station in Longmeadow and another in Deerfield. Meter stations are used to record and monitor the amount of natural gas in the pipeline system.

Meskwaki tribe opposes Bakken oil pipeline through Iowa

The Meskwaki Indian tribe, which has had an Iowa settlement near Tama since 1857, is objecting to a Texas company’s plans to construct a 343-mile crude oil pipeline across 18 Iowa counties.

The tribe — officially known as the Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa — has expressed its opposition in a letter to the Iowa Utilities Board. The letter, signed by tribal chairwoman Judith Bender, raises concerns that the Bakken oil pipeline would damage the environment and harm Native American graves while crossing through ancestral and ceded treaty lands.

Environmental group throws legal wrench into pipeline construction

Freshly felled pine trees lay strewn next to siblings Brian and Sheila Cooper’s mother’s home on Blue Ridge Trail, filling the air with their sharp scent.

“It looks like a tornado hit it,” Cooper said, surveying the logs piled atop one another like a giant game of pick-Up sticks.

Cooper walked to the top of the hill above his mother’s home, where the light filtered through a stand of half-century old pines that once connected to the cleared zone.

U.S. appeals ruling on size of BP oil spill

The U.S. government is appealing a federal court ruling that reduced the potential penalty BP Plc must pay for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill by almost $4 billion.

The appeal, which was filed on Friday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, challenges a January decision by U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier that set the size of the spill at 3.19 million barrels. The appeal did not detail what aspects of Barbier’s ruling it was challenging.

BP Win Cutting Gulf Spill Tab by $4 Billion Fought by U.S.

The U.S. is fighting a judge’s decision that shaved more than $4 billion off the maximum pollution penalties BP Plc must pay for its 2010 Gulf of Mexico disaster, the biggest offshore oil discharge in U.S. history.

The spill size was set in January by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans at 3.2 million barrels. He also rejected claims London-based BP was reckless in preparing for a disaster or had acted unreasonably in responding to the spill.

Wife of Deepwater Horizon victim none too pleased about upcoming film based on BP oil spill, newspaper reports

As actor Mark Wahlberg and director Peter Berg prepare to begin filming their Deepwater Horizon drama in New Orleans later this month, at least one person is making it clear she’s not happy about it. Becky Wheeler, the wife of Wyman Wheeler — one of those injured in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil-rig explosion — recently said she’s opposed to the Hollywoodization of one of the region’s most notorious tragedies, according to Biloxi’s Sun Herald newspaper.

“I’d rather it not be made at all,” Wheeler was quoted as saying about the film, produced under the Summit Entertainment banner. “But if they’ve got to do it, we’d like to at least be consulted.”

US appeals court: Federal Chemical Safety Board can probe offshore oil spills, including BP’s

In a case with potentially far-reaching consequences, a federal appeals court has again found that the U.S. Chemical Safety Board has the authority to investigate offshore oil spills.

The board has been looking into the catastrophic blowout of a BP PLC well five years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. The drilling company, Transocean Deepwater Drilling Inc., contends that the board lacks authority to demand its documents.

Oil Company Lease Stirs Revolt in Green Seattle

The environmental messaging never stops here, whether from a city-owned electric utility that gets nearly 98 percent of its power from sources untainted by carbon (and is not about to let residents forget it) or the fussy garbage collectors who can write tickets for the improper sorting of recyclables.

So when a lease was signed allowing Royal Dutch Shell, the petrochemical giant, to bring its Arctic Ocean drilling rigs to the city’s waterfront, the result was a kind of civic call to arms. A unanimous City Council lined up alongside the mayor to question the legality of the agreement with the Port of Seattle, a court challenge was filed by environmental groups, and protesters, in bluster or bluff, vowed to block the rigs’ arrival — though the exact timetable is secret, for security reasons — with a flotilla of kayaks in Elliott Bay.

The collapse of Big Oil: How the industry priced itself into oblivion

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.

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.

Oil pollutants in water plant from Montana spill

Though a conservation order remains in place, responders to a January oil spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana said water treatment has been effective.

Officials in the city of Glendive, Mont., last week called on area residents to conserve water after detecting higher than normal levels of pollutants at the region’s water treatment plant. Filtration in place since Saturday brought pollutant levels to zero, though authorities said Sunday a conservation plea remains in place while the treatment plant refills its reserve tanks.

West Virginia Rolls Back Tough Rules on Above-Ground Storage Tanks

West Virginia lawmakers approved a measure on Saturday to roll back strict water-protection rules enacted last year after a chemical spill contaminated drinking water for 300,000 people in West Virginia’s capital.

The bill, which exempts thousands of above-ground storage tanks statewide from last year’s rules, is expected to be signed by Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat who had supported easing some regulations. Spokesman Chris Stadelman said Gov. Tomblin would review the bill before making a final decision.

Ohio River again tops list for industrial pollution

The Ohio River once again leads the nation for industrial pollution.

That’s even as the eight-state commission that sets the river’s water quality standards recommends relaxing rules on mercury and certain other toxic chemicals.

Pipelines Are Still Booming, Despite The Fight Over Keystone XL

In a far corner of North Dakota, just a few hundred miles from the proposed path of the Keystone XL pipeline, 84,000 barrels of crude oil per day recently began flowing through a new line that connects the state’s sprawling oilfields to an oil hub in Wyoming.

In West Texas, engineers activated a new pipeline that cuts diagonally across the state to deliver crude from the oil-rich Permian Basin to refineries near Houston. And in a string of towns in Kansas, Iowa and South Dakota, local government officials are scrutinizing the path of pipeline extensions that would pass nearby.

Fight over Keystone XL project doesn’t stall pipeline boom

America is in a crude oil pipeline boom, with about 3.3 million barrels per day of capacity coming online since 2012.

New pipelines are being built from western North Dakota, through the Midwest and across Texas. The expansion is a counterpoint to the federal stalemate over the Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry Canadian tar sands oil to the Gulf Coast.

Energy East: Worse than Keystone XL?

The Energy East Pipeline is a $12 billion project proposed by TransCanada Corp. that will combine existing, converted natural gas pipelines with new pipeline construction to carry oil some 2,800 miles across Canada from Alberta’s tar sands fields to export terminals in Quebec and New Brunswick. Unlike TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline proposal, which aims to transport oil from Alberta to Nebraska, Energy East would not directly cross into the U.S. But environmentalists on both sides of the border are concerned since Energy East would transport 1.1 million barrels of tar sands oil a day—25 percent more than Keystone XL—and will be the longest oil pipeline on the continent.

Mooringsport oil spill moves into monitoring phase

Ongoing cleanup at the site of a major crude oil spill that happened five months ago near Mooringsport has progressed well enough it’s moved into a long-term monitoring and maintenance phase.

Still, no timeline is offered as to when the work can be considered complete. Oversight agencies will keep an eye on wildlife and vegetation in their assessment of what, if any, penalties are filed against Sunoco Logistics, owner of the 20-inch Mid-Valley Pipeline that carries crude oil from Longview, Texas, to Samaria, Michigan.

Oil Spill From Shell’s Seibou Well In Bayelsa Traced To Equipment Failure

The oil spills from Seibou oil well operated by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) in Bayelsa State has been traced to a ruptured and dilapidated pipeline. A joint investigation visit (JIV) report on the incident obtained by SaharaReporters estimated that some 549 barrels of SPDC’s crude was discharged into Ogboinbiri River in Southern Ijaw local government area. The spill has affected several communities in the area.

As Arctic rapidly thaws, Lapland warms up to visions of mining, shipping and more tourists

In one of this nation’s northernmost cities and at the close of a winter that citizens here have called unusually mild, foreign ambassadors spoke of their nations’ hope to do business in the Arctic, Finnish spokesmen outlined their plans to attract international money, and business owners burnished their cases for investment in the polar north.

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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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