Environmental Must-Reads – March 2, 2015


Fracking Opponents Feel Police Pressure In Some Drilling Hotspots

Wendy Lee, an anti-fracking activist and philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, has always protested peacefully. So she was stunned last winter when a state trooper came to her home to ask her about eco-terrorism and pipe bombs.

The trooper was investigating an alleged trespassing incident that involved Lee and two other activists visiting a gas compressor in Pennsylvania’s Lycoming County in June 2013. Lee says they stayed on a public road and left when security guards told them to go away.

FracFocus promises improvements in access, accuracy

The groups that run the national fracking chemical registry FracFocus announced plans yesterday to make the site easier to use and less prone to errors.

The Ground Water Protection Council (GWPC) and Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission also announced a plan to reduce the amount of data kept hidden as trade secrets.

A frack too far: Yearnings to tap gas threaten to split a state in two

“I HONESTLY thought it was a joke,” says Sandy Pinney. She means the threat that Windsor, her hometown, along with 14 other towns along New York’s border with Pennsylvania, may secede and join Pennsylvania. But it is deadly serious.

The towns are in New York’s Southern Tier. They sit on top of the Marcellus Shale, which is full of natural gas. New Yorkers, unlike their Pennsylvanian neighbours, are not allowed to tap the gas because of a state ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) announced by Andrew Cuomo, the governor, on December 17th.

Fighting Fracking: Calvin Tillman Shares His Story of Standing Up to the Fossil Fuel Industry

Since I joined the fight to end fracking three years ago, I’ve had the privilege of meeting so many inspiring people across the U.S. fighting the oil and gas industry in their communities. Most recently, I met Calvin Tillman, Mayor Emeritus of DISH, Texas, who visited Southern California on a speaking tour of Carson, Brea and La Habra Heights. Each city is engaged in its own, unique struggle against Big Oil, but Tillman’s story of standing up to the industry hit home for residents of each of these communities.

Legal Petition Seeks Emergency Moratorium On Fracking in California

A coalition of over 150 environmental, health, and public advocacy organizations in California filed a legal petition Thursday seeking to compel Governor Jerry Brown to issue an emergency moratorium on fracking in the state.

The proximate cause for the legal petition seems to be revelations that fracking flowback in California was found to contain dangerously high levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, toluene and hexavalent chromium. But evidence has been mounting for months that drastic measures are needed, as state regulators have utterly failed to protect residents from the oil and gas industry in California.

How earthquakes linked to fracking are fracturing an Oklahoma community

When fracking started in Oklahoma, things went the way they had in the other oil-boom states. Trucks and men flooded in. They raised dust, clogged the roads, cleared scrub and sucked up water for the drilling. But the money flowed back thick and fast and many of the locals in a state long friendly with the oil industry decided they could live with the discomfort.

Then the earthquakes started. The number of perceptible earthquakes leapt from an average of two each year to 567 last year –  an increase of 28,250 per cent between 2009 when the fracking began and last year.

“It feels like a bomb going off,” says Mark Crismon, a Vietnam veteran, of the first wave of energy that hits with one of the larger quakes.

Fracking boosters, foes ponder what’s next

Without hesitation, Kirkwood resident Marchie Diffendorf can recall the exact date of the phone call: Dec. 7, 2007.

It was a landman with a natural-gas company: Would he be interested in leasing the natural-gas rights to his 60-acre property in the rural Broome County town he’s lived in his whole life?

Upstate New York towns consider secession after state bans fracking

An initially playful remark by an upstate New York town official about seceding to Pennsylvania after New York State banned hydraulic fracturing in December has spurred community interest into the possibility.

The statement came late last year from Jim Finch, a supervisor for the town of Conklin, located along the northern border of Pennsylvania in New York’s Southern Tier.

Oil train wrecks increase pressure for tougher safety rules

Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.

On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements.

Putting a brake to oil train derailments

The latest derailments of trains carrying crude oil in the U.S. and Canada are putting more pressure on government officials to end the fiery crashes.

In fact, Washington is moving closer to adopting proposals that would force improvements in the tank cars and other equipment used to haul oil as well as require new restrictions on operating speeds for those trains and new assessments of rail conditions. Ottawa has taken similar steps.

Oil train shipments expand under Cuomo

The companies involved in shipping crude oil through New York State have dramatically expanded their operations in New York during Governor Andrew Cuomo’s first term, while spending nearly $1 million on lobbying efforts.

Administration officials have recently begun to tout New York’s regulatory approach to oil trains as the “most aggressive” in the nation, but with a shortage of pipeline infrastructure relative to regional demand, New York’s rail lines, along with the Port of Albany, have become the primary routes for the nation’s crude oil shipments. Each day, oil is transported through Buffalo and Syracuse by CSX and down the Champlain Valley by Canadian Pacific. Much of it is offload in Albany on to barges and shipped down the Hudson River.

Exxon Settles $9 Billion Pollution Case in New Jersey for Far Less

A long-fought legal battle to recover $8.9 billion in damages from Exxon Mobil Corporation for the contamination and loss of use of more than 1,500 acres of wetlands, marshes, meadows and waters in northern New Jersey has been quietly settled by the state for around $250 million.

The lawsuits, filed by the State Department of Environmental Protection in 2004, had been litigated by the administrations of four New Jersey governors, finally advancing last year to trial. By then, Exxon’s liability was no longer in dispute; the only issue was how much it would pay in damages.

Gulf oysters face less immediate danger from ocean acidification than northern bi-valves, study says

Don’t break out the Tabasco sauce to celebrate just yet, but oysters in Mobile Bay and other estuaries along the Gulf of Mexico are facing less danger from ocean acidification over the next few decades than bi-valve molluscs (oysters, clams, mussels, scallops) in colder water, according to a new study titled “Vulnerability and Adaptation of U.S. Shellfisheries to Ocean Acidification.”

The study, published this week in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Climate Change, examined bi-valve fisheries throughout the U.S. to predict the likely impacts of ocean acidification, which can impede the molluscs’ ability to grow hard shells.

Officials say use caution with Yellowstone fish

Hydrocarbons have been found at detectable levels in fish taken from the Yellowston River prompting the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks to issue a warning of consuming fish caught below the January spill site.

Detectable levels of PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons), known carcinogens, were found to be in the muscle tissue of fish collected from below the pipeline breach, said Trevor Selch, fisheries pollution biologist. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean the fish are inedible.

Phillips 66 improving pipeline over Yellowstone River

While there’s been much publicity lately about pipeline failures along the Yellowstone River, some pipeline companies have been quietly making improvements to prevent future pipeline breaks.

For example, Phillips 66 is getting ready to replace a pipe near Billings and bury it deeper below the Yellowstone River.

The company has improved 60 of its pipeline river crossings in recent years and has 40 more to go.

Plaintiffs selected in ExxonMobil trial

Twelve families were selected today as plaintiffs in the initial trial against ExxonMobil for damages resulting from the 2013 rupture of the Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower, according to a press release from the law offices of Brazil, Adlong & Mickel, PLC.

The twelve families were randomly selected from zones 2, 5, 6, 7 and 8 during today’s proceedings held by Faulkner County Circuit Judge Charles Clawson. Six families from zones 1, 3 and 4, to be selected by plaintiffs, are due to the Court on Monday.

2015: Oil Industry Off to a Rough Start

So far, 2015 has not been good to the oil industry. In just the last two weeks, the bad news included two fiery oil railcar accidents, a refinery explosion, a scandal involving an industry-funded climate skeptic, a high-profile setback for an oil-by-rail project, a big retrenchment in Canada’s oil sands, and the president’s veto of the Keystone XL oil import pipeline.

And that’s not all. Those events have come on top of industry-wide ripple effects from the recent plunge in crude prices. In the last two months, a string of oil companies announced disappointing earnings, workforce layoffs and sharp spending cuts. On Feb. 1, union leaders began strikes at many U.S. refineries after contract talks stalled.

Investors ask oil companies to disclose refineries’ risks from climate change

Investors and nonprofits on Thursday asked the five largest US oil companies to disclose risks to their facilities from climate change.

In letters signed by Calvert Investments, Pax World Management, Walden Asset Management and other investors, as well as nonprofit advocates Ceres and the Union of Concerned Scientists, the groups express concern about “the lack of public disclosure of physical risks due to climate change”, such as from storms and flooding.

Sleepy La Habra Heights jolted into lively public debate over oil by Measure A

La Habra Heights, a small city on the southeastern edge of Los Angeles County, is set to become the latest battle ground in the debate over how much authority localities have to regulate the oil industry, as voters head to the polls to consider Measure A, an initiative that would ban new drilling.

“We’re all just so damn lucky to be here,” says Jane Williams, sitting in the garden of a house she has occupied since the city’s incorporation.

US bases inspected for oil pollution

Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) inspectors will soon find out whether underground water around U.S. Army bases in Yongsan is polluted with oil ? and if it is, ascertain the seriousness of the situation.

The city government said Monday it would ask a joint investigation committee of Korea and the United States for permission to take water samples from Yongsan Garrison and Camp Kim next month.

Nigeria: Oil Spill – 15,000 Ogoni Receive Shell’s Compensation

No fewer than 15,500 indigenes of Bodo in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State have so far received N600,000 each being the monetary compensation paid by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) to ameliorate the effect of oil spills that had occurred in the area over the years.

In 2010, Shell agreed on out-of-court settlement in a case brought against it by the people of Bodo community over the excessive oil spills from the company’s failed facilities, which had caused a damaging effect on the Ogoni environment and its people.

TransCanada Is Seizing People’s Land To Build Keystone, But Conservatives Have Been Dead Silent

For Julia Trigg Crawford, watching TransCanada construct the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline on a corner of her 600-acre farm was “gut-wrenching.”

Crawford, who lives in Direct, Texas, had been trying since 2011 to keep the pipeline company off her property. But she ultimately lost, the portion of her land needed for the pipeline condemned through eminent domain — a process by which government can force citizens to sell their property for “public use,” such as the building of roads, railroads, and power lines. Crawford can’t wrap her head around why TransCanada, a foreign company, was granted the right of eminent domain to build a pipeline that wouldn’t be carrying Texas oil through the state of Texas.

Pipeline company didn’t use remote sensors before leak

The pipeline that ruptured and spilled nearly 3 million gallons of saltwater, contaminating a nearby creek and two rivers near Williston, could have been monitored remotely but the system wasn’t turned on, a regulator said last week.

The investigation into the spill is still ongoing, but Helms estimates the pipeline was leaking for more than 12 days before the rupture was discovered Jan. 6.

Nuclear watchdog takes TEPCO to task for delay in leakage report

The nation’s nuclear watchdog body slammed Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Feb. 27 over its failure to disclose information on the leakage of radioactive rainwater into the sea from the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

Plant operator TEPCO disclosed many months later that a drainage ditch near the wrecked reactors showed high concentrations of radiation and rainwater had leaked into the sea outside the enclosed harbor.

Trio of approvals in Fukushima seals deal for radioactive soil dump

Ending a prolonged and often contentious process, Fukushima Prefecture and two town governments agreed to host an interim storage facility for contaminated debris from the 2011 nuclear crisis.

Fukushima Governor Masao Uchibori and the mayors of Okuma and Futaba met Feb. 25 with Environment Minister Yoshio Mochizuki and Wataru Takeshita, the reconstruction minister, to sign safety agreements, an important hurdle in the process.

Fukushima data show rise and fall in food radioactivity

A massive food-monitoring programme in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster has provided scientists with a unique look at how radioactivity peaks in different foods after a nuclear spill.

Almost four years since the incident, the first analysis of the data also confirms what multiple studies of Fukushima residents have already shown: few people are likely to have eaten food that exceeded strict Japanese limits on radioactive contamination.

Fukushima Leak Went Unreported For 10 Months, According to New Report

The Fukushima disaster has come roaring back into the news this week after it was discovered that Tepco, the company charged with cleaning up the spill, has been hiding radioactive water leaks from the public since May. Tepco stands for the Tokyo Electric Power Company.

The revelation came after sensors detected leaks of contaminated water with 70 times higher than normal levels of radiation. In an early report by AFP, Tepco said that they inspected the tanks, found no issues, but closed the gutter going out into the nearby bay just in case. A company spokesman went on record stating that they weren’t sure what caused the rise but that they’d be monitoring it.

Abe visits Fukushima storage site

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited the Fukushima Prefecture town of Futaba on Sunday to view the site planned for an interim storage facility for radioactive soil.

Abe told reporters that he thanks local governments and residents for agreeing to accept the facility. “We will proceed carefully [with construction of the facility] while respecting people’s feelings about their hometowns,” he said.

YUCCA MOUNTAIN: DOE, Pentagon considering new uses for Nev. site — lawmakers

House Republicans say two federal agencies are planning to use the remote Yucca Mountain site in southern Nevada for activities other than its congressionally authorized use as a repository for spent fuel from nuclear reactors.

“We have learned that officials from the Department of Energy and the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) have discussed the possibility of conducting activities at or near the Yucca Mountain site that are not related to the statutorily required uses for the site and adjacent lands,” three senior House Republicans wrote in a letter to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz.

Exelon, critics gird for battle as pro-nuclear bill is filed in Ill.

The stage is set for an energy policy showdown in Illinois after lawmakers from both parties introduced a bill aimed at aiding three Exelon Corp. nuclear plants that have struggled in recent years in the face of increasing competition from wind energy and natural-gas-fired generation.

The legislation filed in the House and Senate would replace the Illinois renewable energy standard with a low-carbon portfolio standard requiring 70 percent of electricity used in areas served by large investor-owned utilities to come from low-carbon sources of generation.

Radiation safety breaches up 50% in one year at Scotland’s nuclear bomb bases

There were 105 “nuclear safety events” officially recorded at the Faslane and Coulport submarine and bomb bases in 2013-14, compared to 68 in 2012-13. That’s by far the highest for at least the last six years.

Most of the incidents last year – 99 – involved the reactors that power Trident and other Royal Navy submarines. The remaining six involved nuclear weapons, which are carried by Trident submarines and stored at Coulport.

US Nuclear Facility Miscalculated Workers’ Radiation Exposure – Commission

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission stated that workers at the Palisades nuclear power plant in the US state of Michigan were not exposed to dangerous levels of radiation, but the plant’s operator failed to follow standard guidelines in measuring radiation exposure.

Michigan nuclear plant has safety rating downgraded

The safety rating for Palisades nuclear power plant in southwestern Michigan will be downgraded following a violation related to how some workers’ radiation doses were monitored and calculated, federal regulators said.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission this week announced a final ruling related to the violation, which is considered to be of low to moderate safety significance. The commission said a radiation measuring device wasn’t properly positioned while plant parts were replaced early last year.

Valve leak shuts down Limerick nuclear plant

One of the two reactors at Exelon Nuclear’s Limerick Generating Station shut down abruptly before 10 p.m. Monday night due to a problem with a steam valve, officials said.

Called a “hot shut-down,” the reactor for Unit 1 was “automatically shut down at about 9:40 p.m.,” according to statement released by Exelon Tuesday morning.

Algerians suffering from French atomic legacy, 55 years after nuke tests

Ahmed el-Hadj Hamadi was huddled into a building with the rest of his community by French soldiers early in the morning. They were instructed to lie down, close their eyes and cover their ears. He then remembers a sound like “the world coming to an end” and the windows turning white. A cord above their prone bodies swung erratically until the light bulb it held shattered.

“I thought it was the apocalypse. We all did,” he said. “We all thought we might die.” Later, the French military began tasking out labor to residents in the isolated desert region of Algeria. “They had built a kind of village at the explosion area, and even put animals in it,” Hamadi added. “After the blast we were sent out to gather all the rubbish. The ground was all burned, white, liquid.”

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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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