Environmental Must-Reads – March 17, 2014


West’s Drought and Growth Intensify Conflict Over Water Rights

Across the parched American West, the long drought has set off a series of fierce legal and political battles over who controls an increasingly dear treasure — water.

Just outside this minuscule farm town, Frank DeStefano was feeding a 500-acre cotton crop with water from the Brazos River 16 months ago when state regulators told him and hundreds of others on the river to shut down their pumps. A sprawling petrochemical complex at the junction of the Brazos and the Gulf of Mexico held senior rights to the river’s water — and with the Brazos shriveled, it had run short.

Thousands Turn Up For California’s Largest-Ever Rally To Ban Fracking

Thousands of environmentalists took to California’s state capitol on Saturday to demand Governor Jerry Brown ban hydraulic fracturing, in what is being called the largest anti-fracking mobilization the state has ever seen.

Fracking is a method of extracting fossil fuels that is coveted for its ability to increase the flow of oil or gas from a well. This is done by injecting high-pressure water and chemicals miles deep into the ground into subsurface rock, effectively “fracturing” the rock and allowing more spaces for oil and gas to come through.

Maps: Nevada earthquakes, fault lines and fracking locations

Hydraulic fracturing mining of oil, or fracking, is on its way to Nevada.

Oklahoma has had a surge in earthquakes beginning in 2009 following renewed interest in oil and natural gas mining by the use of fracking. A United States Geological Survey report links at least some of the earthquakes not to fracking but to the reinjection of water pulled out of the ground along with oil. It’s not clear that the type of fracking and water reinjection used in Oklahoma will be used in Nevada.

Health Concerns Grow as Frac Sand Mines Creep Into Missouri

For the past few years, frac sand mines in the Midwest have been popping up right alongside hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Frac sand is sold to oil and gas companies to use to prop open cracks made by drilling. It allows the collection of oil and gas. But as Kristofor Husted reports, an uproar of opposition based on health concerns is spreading down through the region into Missouri.

Do fracking arrangements violate B.C. law? Environmental coalition gets day in court

A coalition of environmental groups goes to court Monday to challenge the Oil and Gas Commission’s “systemic practice” of handing out repeated short-term water approvals for use in gas extraction operations in B.C.

A petition, filed in B.C. Supreme Court in November by the environmental law group Ecojustice on behalf of Sierra Club and Wilderness Committee, says the OGC is letting gas companies use billions of litres of water a year, for periods of up to five years, without obtaining a long-term water licence.

Rep. Rodrigues doubts fracking bill will pass Legislature this year

Last year, a bill aimed at creating hydraulic fracturing requirements was well on its way to the state House floor — sailing through all of its committee stops within the first month of the 2013 legislative session.

A year later, the bill’s sponsor said the mood in Tallahassee has changed, making the likelihood of the proposal passing much less likely.

Box Elder Creek: Latest battlefield in Colorado’s natural resources war

The meandering Box Elder Creek has become a battlefield as farmers and ranchers are facing off against a plan to drill wells along its banks to provide water for fracking and other oil-field operations.

While the creek wends its way north from Elbert County to the South Platte River in Weld County — Arapahoe County is ground zero for the fight.

A renewed search for western Colorado oil shale

Exxon Mobil has edged another step closer to undertaking oil shale research-and-development projects with the Bureau of Land Management’s approval of development plans.

For Exxon Mobil, the projects mark a renewed attempt to commercially extract petroleum from oil shale after what was then Exxon shut down its Colony Project in 1982. That shutdown resulted in some 2,000 workers losing their jobs and caused economic repercussions for years from Glenwood Springs to Grand Junction.

Scientists study Ohio’s quakes, fracking

For 100 years, Mahoning County had not experienced a sizable earthquake. But a little more than two years ago, the ground in the northeastern Ohio county started to shake. There have been a dozen earthquakes in the area near Youngstown since.

In fact, earthquakes have happened at a greater rate across Ohio in recent years than they had for more than a century.

ND may pay for cleanup of illegal oil field waste

North Dakota officials are trying to tap into a state fund generated by oil and gas tax revenues to pay for the cleanup of what may be the state’s biggest incident of illegal dumping of radioactive filter socks, a part used in the oil production process.

North Dakota oil boom: American Dream on ice

It’s a busy Monday night at Whispers strip bar in the oil boomtown of Williston, North Dakota.

A man in overalls drains his glass before showering money on a pole dancer. By the side of the stage, a half-nude woman is building a miniature house out of folded dollar bills. Strippers can earn $2,500 (£1,500) per shift here, says a bouncer.

But one employee, who goes by the name of Alexis, isn’t feeling especially motivated tonight.

Oil production on public lands grows as gas continues slide

Onshore oil production rose significantly in 2013, while natural gas production on federal lands and waters continued its decadelong slide, according to a Greenwire analysis of newly released Interior Department data.

Industry coaxed 133 million barrels of crude from onshore federal lands during the last fiscal year, a 7 percent jump over the previous year and the highest level in more than a decade.

With Disaster Still Unfolding, Gulf Opens for BP Drilling

Four years after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, oil still washes up on the Gulf Coast shore, and residents and cleanup workers face health hazards from the millions of gallons that spilled and BP’s chemical dispersant that followed. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that BP — after pleading guilty to 11 charges of manslaughter and lying to Congress about the disaster — will be allowed to start new drilling in Gulf waters.

“BP has ruined coastal areas in five states and killed 11 people,” said Monique Harden of the New Orleans-based Advocates for Environmental Human Rights in an interview with Common Dreams. “This has nothing to do with justice or people or sustainability of our environment. It is all about political deal-making.”

Four Years After Deepwater Horizon Disaster, U.S. Agrees To Let BP Oil Rigs Back Into The Gulf

Get ready, Gulf: BP is back.

The U.S. government on Thursday announced that it will lift the ban that prevented BP from seeking new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico, ending a lawsuit filed by the British oil company that said it was being unfairly punished for its disastrous 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The announcement comes nearly four years after the Deepwater explosion, which killed 11 crewmen and resulted in the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

Report: Cleanup of soil from oil spill complete

ExxonMobil has submitted a report to the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality saying it has completed the cleanup of soil stemming from last year’s oil spill in Mayflower.

The revised report was submitted last week and is subject to the department’s approval.

Questions as More Wastewater Flows in North Carolina

Duke Energy, the giant utility whose spill of toxic waste into a North Carolina river last month is under federal investigation, released wastewater last week from a second site upriver of Raleigh that state regulators said could be illegal.

Aerial photographs of two Duke coal ash ponds at the head of the Cape Fear River show portable pumps and hoses that appear to be siphoning water into a canal leading to the river.

Duke Energy Announces Coal Ash Spill Cleanup Will Take 2+ Years; Emails Show Collusion Between Regulators and NC Utility

Duke Energy, North Carolina’s largest electric and gas supplier, announced Friday it would take the company more than two years to clean up February’s massive coal ash spill that coated 70 miles of the Dan River with 60,000 tons of toxic sludge.

The cleanup is part of an effort that includes moving three leaky coal ash dumps away from waterways near Asheville, Charlotte and Danville, VA—a town located along the North Carolina border that uses the Dan River as a drinking water source, reports The Huffington Post.

Oil mars Ala. swamp 4 months after crude train crash; critics raise questions about oil trains

Environmental regulators promised an aggressive cleanup after a tanker train hauling 2.9 million gallons of crude oil derailed and burned in a west Alabama swamp in early November amid a string of North American oil train crashes.

So why is dark, smelly crude oil still oozing into the water four months later?

Bartiromo talks Keystone pipeline with Canada official

The Ukraine-Russia conflict is renewing calls for U.S. energy independence as Europe’s reliance on Russian gas is questioned. The European Union imports a third of its natural gas from Russia, much of it flowing through Ukrainian pipelines. But with Russian President Vladimir Putin controlling the spigot, the U.S. and Europe are watching for signs that the gas flow will be used as leverage.

President Obama says he’ll decide in the next few months on whether to approve the Keystone Pipeline. The 875-mile pipeline would carry oil from Alberta, Canada, into the Midwest and Gulf Coast.

The “Significance” Trap: New Economic Analysis Finds that Keystone XL Would Increase Tar Sands Production, Carbon Emissions

In its environmental assessment of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the U.S. State Department severely underestimated the project’s impact on oil production, and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions.

That’s according to a rigorous economic analysis published in a new report by the Carbon Tracker Initiative. Researchers found that, if constructed, the Keystone XL pipeline would increase global greenhouse gas emissions by roughly a whopping 5 gigatons over the course of its lifetime. For some perspective, that’s the equivalent of the annual emissions from 1,400 coal-fired power plants or 1 billion automobiles, according to the report’s authors.

Spirited Spat: Pipeline Battle Rages on Kentucky’s ‘Holy Land’

Corn-speckled lands owned by a group of Catholic Trappist monks and a convent full of nuns have become a battleground in a fight between Big Energy and the “singing sisters.”

The developers and the devout have clashed over an underground conduit called the Bluegrass Pipeline that would send natural gas liquids pulled from Pennsylvania fracking sites to a Gulf Coast export complex. The Oklahoma company behind the project plans to trench across northern Kentucky, where some landowners welcome the one-time payments they’ll pocket by allowing digs in their dirt. But others – including several hundred nuns who inhabit a green expanse known locally as the “Holy Land” – worry the pipe will carry environmental ruin.

1,500 gallons may have leaked from Ill. pipelines

Officials are increasing their estimate for how much gasoline and diesel might have spilled from two damaged pipelines near Kankakee.

Houston-based Buckeye Partners owns the lines. It says as many as 1,500 gallons might have spilled. Hazmat crews have been trying to keep the fuel from reaching the Kankakee River.

California energy official says state wasn’t aware of crude by rail facilities

A California Energy Commission official Friday said the agency wasn’t aware that the state had become a destination for crude oil shipments by rail, even though Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget proposal made note of it two months ago.

The Bee reported in January that the state was already receiving the shipments and expecting more. According to the energy commission’s own numbers, California received nearly 1.2 million barrels of crude oil by rail in December, up from fewer than 100,000 a year earlier.

Arctic 30 activists seek damages from Russia

Lawyers for the Arctic 30, a group of Greenpeace activists and freelance journalists who were detained in Russia last year, have applied to the European court of human rights for damages from Moscow.

They are also seeking a declaration Russian authorities broke international and Russian law when they seized a Greenpeace ship and arrested the group protesting against oil drilling in the Arctic.

Unskilled and Destitute Are Hiring Targets for Fukushima Cleanup

“Out of work? Nowhere to live? Nowhere to go? Nothing to eat?” the online ad reads. “Come to Fukushima.”

That grim posting targeting the destitute, by a company seeking laborers for the ravaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, is one of the starkest indications yet of an increasingly troubled search for workers willing to carry out the hazardous decommissioning at the site.

Squelching Efforts to Measure Fukushima Meltdown

In the chaotic, fearful weeks after the Fukushima nuclear crisis began, in March 2011, researchers struggled to measure the radioactive fallout unleashed on the public. Michio Aoyama’s initial findings were more startling than most. As a senior scientist at the Japanese government’s Meteorological Research Institute, he said levels of radioactive cesium 137 in the surface water of the Pacific Ocean could be 10,000 times as high as contamination after Chernobyl, the world’s worst nuclear accident.

Radioactive Fukushima Waters Arrive At West Coast Of America

Presenters at the annual Ocean Sciences Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Honolulu in late February said ocean water containing dissolved radionuclides from Fukushima’s crippled nuclear reactors has reached the northern west coast of North America (msn.com).

The scientific community found it interesting in an academic way. Some folks in the non-scientific community were quite worried.

Fukushima Watch: IAEA Says Controlled Release of Contaminated Water Should be Considered

Despite continued opposition from local fishing groups, a controlled release of lightly contaminated water at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant should be considered, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency said on Monday.

“Common practice is to treat contaminated water as much as possible…and then release it into the environment,” Yukiya Amano, Director General of IAEA, told a news conference in Tokyo, adding that he believed the current situation of ever-growing batteries of storage tanks is “not viable.”

Thousands in Japan protest nuclear power, conditions at Fukushima

Thousands of people in Tokyo have rallied against nuclear power as the government and utilities prepare to restart reactors in southern Japan.

More than 5,000 protesters gathered at Hibiya Park in Tokyo on Saturday to pressure the government not to restart the country’s nuclear power stations.

The Fukushima tragedy justifies nuclear skepticism

The findings of a Kyodo survey conducted in February this year reveal a stunning level of reluctance to restart Japan’s nuclear reactors in the host cities, towns and prefectures that stand to gain from revving them back up.

The nation’s 48 viable reactors are generating no electricity at present — and no local subsidies as long as they are idled. However, the spigot of financial inducements would open up again if the local governments in question were to green-light reactor restarts.

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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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