Environmental Must-Reads – March 24, 2015


Fracking Fumes Force Texas Resident to Shutter Home Business After a Decade

It’s the height of tax season, when Texas tax preparer Lynn Buehring would usually be working horribly long hours to keep ahead of the crush of clients wanting to beat the April 15 filing deadline.

Not this year. After a more than a decade in business, Buehring has closed her Karnes County office.

New Fracking Rules Deliver Progress and Controversy

The new rules announced Friday by the Obama administration governing how energy companies frack for oil and gas on federal lands managed to anger environmentalists and the industry alike, but represent a significant step toward protecting drinking water resources in some of the most heavily drilled parts of the country.

The rules mark the first time the federal government has stepped in to enact protections to limit risks posed by a technology that has been both criticized for causing environmental harm and credited with making the nation one of the leading producers of oil and gas.

Fracking bills in Legislature fuel city-control debate

It was standing room only at a House hearing on two bills that would restrict how cities can regulate oil and gas activities.

The bills would prevent cities from passing oil and gas ordinances that are not “commercially reasonable” and require them to make up tax revenue lost because of oil and gas restrictions.

The Texas Legislature Wants to Charge Towns That Ban Fracking

Fumes that smelled like “a skunk dissolved in acetone” and vibrating noise “like a constant bass” penetrated Maile Bush’s Texas home for months after a fracking company started drilling across the street in 2013. About 250 fracking wells popped up in Bush’s quaint town of Denton over the course of a few years — in subdivisions, near parks, and by schools.

“I’m trying to raise my kids here. You can’t grow children in a gas patch,” Bush, a mother of two, told VICE News outside her suburban brick house, where she said pollution had reached such a zenith she stopped letting her children go outside.

Fracking moratorium bill fends off amendments, heads to vote

A bill to place a three-year moratorium on fracking in Maryland survived eight amendments and is headed to a vote in the House of Delegates.

On Monday, the Protect Our Health and Communities Act dodged attempts by House Republicans to change the legislation and make it easier for fracking to start in western Maryland. Currently there is no fracking in Maryland.

Scientists launch study of emissions over fracking sites

The Daily Camera reports researchers are taking to the air to measure trace gas emissions over production sites in the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota, the Niobrara shale formation of northern Colorado and Wyoming, and the Four Corners area.

Scientists from the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plan 15 research flights between Monday and May. They are using aircraft equipped with chemical instruments. They tell the Camera that once their data is collected, it will take more than a year to synthesize.

Kinder Morgan willing to move pipeline route in Wilmington

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners has indicated that they are willing to revise their route for a proposed natural-gas pipeline through Wilmington in order to avoid the town’s drinking water wells, Town Manager Jeff Hull told selectmen Monday.

The route for the Lynnfield Lateral, which branches off of the main pipeline at a hub in Dracut and winds south through Wilmington and Tewksbury, had drawn criticism from Wilmington selectmen for its close path to two of the town’s primary drinking water well fields: the Browns Crossing well field and the Salem Street GP well field.

Alternative route proposed for Nexus pipeline would cross two Medina County townships

The city of Green in Summit County on Monday filed a re-route option with federal authorities for the proposed Nexus gas pipeline that would travel through Medina County.

The city has been working with members of the Coalition to Reroute Nexus, or CORN, for months to try to come up with an alternate route for the project.

Northeast gas pipeline progresses, to some landowner dismay

The 124-mile Constitution Pipeline will likely bring some relief from high natural gas prices to residents of New York City and New England, but it will also bring anguish to some landowners in the wooded hills and valleys in its path.

It will slash a mile-long gash through a pristine forest tended by the Kernan family for seven decades. It will spoil Andrew Havas’ plans to build a home and automotive shop. It will disrupt farming operations for dairyman Ken Stanton. It will dash hopes Bob Lidsky and Bev Travis had of building the hilltop home where they planned to retire with their five huge mountain dogs.

With continued rise of oil train traffic, volunteer firefighters face big risk

Volunteers at the Galena, Illinois, fire department were hosing down the smoldering wreck of a derailed BNSF oil train on the east bank of the Mississippi River on March 5 when a fire suddenly flared beyond their control. Minutes later, the blaze reached above the treetops, visible for miles around.

“They dropped the hoses and got out” when the flames started rising, said Charles Pedersen, emergency manager for Jo Daviess County, a rural area near the Iowa border which includes Galena. “Ten more minutes and we would have lost them all.”

Heavy oil trains may be contributing to track failure

Canadian National Railway’s safety record deteriorated sharply in 2014, reversing years of improvements, as accidents in Canada blamed on poor track conditions hit their highest level in more than five years, a Reuters analysis has found.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said on Tuesday that track failure may have played a role in CN’s three recent Ontario accidents, which have fueled calls for tougher regulation. The agency said oil unit trains, made up entirely of tank cars, could make tracks more susceptible to failure.

March 24, 1989: Exxon Valdez spill is world’s worst oil pollution accident

One of the greatest environmental disasters of modern times occurred on this day in 1989, when the US supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Bligh Reef, Prince William Sound in Alaska, spilling at least 11 million gallons of oil into the ocean.

As the video above recalls, the spill affected 1,300 miles of shoreline and would cover over 11,000 square miles of ocean, killing hundreds of thousands of birds and sea mammals and hugely disrupting the economy of the area.

The $37 Billion Oil Spill

Everyone remembers how it started: on April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform exploded off the coast of Louisiana, rupturing the Macondo well below it. Over the next 87 days, as much as four million barrels of oil surged into the Gulf of Mexico—the worst marine spill in history.

Over the ensuing weeks, BP, which operated the rig, launched a massive cleanup campaign: 810,000 barrels of oil were skimmed off the surface or captured from the wellhead, 1.8 million gallons of chemical dispersant were pumped into the waters, 411 surface fires were lit, miles of floating booms were deployed, and tens of thousands of workers cleaned beaches. Whether you turned on Fox News or the Today show, the Gulf was the story.

Louisiana’s no friend to sea turtle

For those of us who have been lucky enough to watch a giant sea turtle lumber ashore and lay her eggs, or seen baby hatchlings scamper out of their nest back to the sea, the reasons to protect these gentle creatures are clear and compelling.

One of the most fascinating and also the most endangered sea turtle in the world is the Kemp’s ridley. This ancient species is the only sea turtle that arrives in mass nesting emergences during daylight hours, primarily on Mexico’s Gulf Coast. Yet it spends most of its life in the coastal waters of the U.S. Gulf and Eastern Seaboard, feeding on crabs and shrimp as it migrates to places such as the Long Island Sound, storing up the nourishment it needs for its annual re-migration back to the southern Gulf to nest.

TransCanada, Keystone proponents say pipeline not dead

Following the U.S. Senate’s failure to override Pres. Barack Obama’s veto of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada and supporters of the project are vowing to continue to push for its completion.

Currently, it’s up to the Obama Administration to decide whether building the pipeline is in the nation’s best interest, a decision that’s been pending for more than six years while the U.S. State Department reviewed TransCanada’s proposal. In an interview with Reuters earlier this month, the president said his decision would come in “weeks or months.”

Fossil Fuel Industry Is Quietly Building Pipeline Network That ‘Dwarfs Keystone’ XL

Despite public opposition that has so far blocked the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, the fossil fuels industry has successfully—and quietly—expanded the nation’s domestic oil network by installing thousands of miles of pipeline across the country, according to new reporting by the Associated Press.

“Overall, the network has increased by almost a quarter in the last decade,” the AP reports. “And the work dwarfs Keystone. About 3.3 million barrels per day of capacity have been added since 2012 alone—five times more oil than the Canada-to-Texas Keystone line could carry if it’s ever built.”

What Is the US Government Doing to Prevent the Next Oil Pipeline Disaster?

Spring has finally arrived in Michigan, which for many of us means renewed hope that Enbridge, the company responsible for spilling more than 1 million gallons of tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River in 2010, will finally leave us alone.

Not long after that spill, Enbridge received state approval to replace 210 miles of its aging Line 6B pipeline across Michigan — including a section that runs literally through my backyard. For more than three years, those of us along the pipeline route have endured noise, nuisance, and disturbance as Enbridge has ripped up our property to install their new pipe. The new line has been up and running for nearly a year, transporting thousands of gallons of tar sands oil every day. Meanwhile, landowners continue to wait for the day when our properties are fully restored and construction crews are gone for good.

Longview firm developing plan for $100M pipeline to Shreveport

The owner of the Plains Atlas Terminal in Longview is teaming up with a Tennessee-based company to build a $100 million pipeline to haul crude oil from Longview to refineries in Shreveport.

Plains All American Pipeline LP said Monday it formed a joint venture with Delek Logistics Partners LP to develop the 12-inch Caddo Pipeline, which will move 80,000 barrels of domestic crude per day to the Louisiana refineries and Delek’s refinery in El Dorado, Arkansas.

Houston companies partnering with Tennessee refiner to build pair of Texas pipelines

A pair of Houston-area pipeline operators are partnering with a Tennessee-based refining and logsitics company to build two Texas pipeline projects next year, the companies announced Monday.

Delek Logistics Partners LP, based in the Nasville, Tennessee-area, said it’s teaming up with Plains All American Pipeline LP to build an 80-mile pipeline connecting a Plains terminal in Longview with refineries in Shreveport, Louisiana.

Oil pipeline slated for hearing

A public hearing will be held Monday at Crosby to hear an application by Meadowlark Midstream Co. to build a 46-mile crude oil pipeline in Burke and Divide counties from a pump station near Fortuna to a Basin Transload Rail facility near Crosby.

The pipeline will carry 50,000 barrels per day at full capacity. The $33 million project also includes a 400-barrel aboveground storage tank and related facilities.

Arctic still high on oil-industry agenda

What drives interest in Arctic oil? Among the general public, the conventional wisdom is that the price people are paying at the pump determines how eager oil firms are to go after tough oil.

But for those involved in the industry, there is another, more important consideration: technology. And that, says Hans Kristian Olsen, the managing director of Nuna Oil, Greenland’s nationally owned exploration firm, has only made looking for oil much easier than in the 1970s, when the first studies of his country’s continental shelf were made.

At Beaver Valley, upgrades are underway in response to Fukushima disaster

At the fortified entrance of FirstEnergy’s Beaver Valley nuclear power plant — before submitting to the background check, the metal detectors, the puffer machines and the scan of all personal belongings — employees and visitors pass by an LED sign displaying what could be any workplace safety platitude: “Low risk is not the same thing as no risk.”

But here, the birthplace of commercial nuclear power, the words carry particular significance, underscoring the U.S. nuclear industry’s philosophy shift in the four years after the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Japan Audit: Millions of Dollars Wasted in Fukushima Cleanup

Japanese government auditors say the operator of the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant has wasted more than a third of the 190 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in taxpayer money allocated for cleaning up the plant after it was destroyed by a March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

A Board of Audit report describes various expensive machines and untested measures that ended in failure. It also says the cleanup work has been dominated by one group of Japanese utility, construction and electronics giants despite repeated calls for more transparency and greater access for international bidders.

Costs in problem-plagued struggle at Fukushima plant near 600 billion yen

Tokyo Electric Power Co. and the government have spent 590 billion yen ($4.93 billion) battling the Fukushima nuclear disaster, but problems persist and taxpayers could lose if the situation doesn’t improve, the Board of Audit said.

Muon data confirms fuel melt at Fukushima Daiichi 1

Initial results from using a muon detection system at the damaged Fukushima Daiichi unit 1 in Japan appear to confirm that most of the fuel has melted and dropped from its original position within the core, Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) announced.

The company completed installation of the muon detection system on 12 February. Two detectors were installed: one on the northwest side of the reactor building and the other on the north side. Since then, data collection continued until 10 March (a period of 26 days). The initial results have now been analysed.

8-limbed robot to help Japan’s Fukushima cleanup

They call it the Octopus and it just might prove instrumental in the cleanup of the rubble left over after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Armed with four arms and four leg-like crawlers, this remote-controlled robot can traverse complex terrains, extinguish fires and remove fallen trees. It also can be equipped with a fiber laser allowing it to cut through stone and a grappler allowing it handle nuclear waste.

Team develops method to estimate thyroid radiation dosage soon after Fukushima accident

A team of researchers has developed a method to more precisely estimate the doses of radiation to the thyroid glands of people who received medical examinations shortly after the Fukushima nuclear crisis unfurled.

Nuclear Safety in a Post-Fukushima World: Is the US Falling Behind?

Four years ago, on March 11, 2011, a powerful earthquake triggered a massive tsunami that struck Japan’s northeastern Fukushima prefecture and led to a nuclear disaster – multiple reactor core meltdowns – at the Fukushima Daichi nuclear power plant. Unsurprisingly, that event prompted numerous national governments to reevaluate existing nuclear power plant safety regulations, with differing results.

Re-examinations of nuclear reactor security were launched in many of the 31 countries around the world, which possess “over 435 [operable] commercial nuclear power reactors (…) with over 375,000 MWe of total capacity [while about] 70 more reactors are under construction,” World Nuclear Association data show.

US Nuclear Corp (OTCBB: UCLE) Receives New Order for Radiation Monitors From Nucleoelectrica Argentina S.A. Nuclear Power Company; DTC Eligibility Has Been Approved by DTCC

US Nuclear Corp. (OTCBB: UCLE) announced today that the company has received a new order for Portal/Personnel Monitors from Nucleoelectrica Argentina S.A., the state-run nuclear power company. “Nucleoelectrica Argentina is one of our valued partners in nuclear energy in South America,” said Robert I. Goldstein, President, CEO and Chairman of US Nuclear Corp. He added, “Energy demands in South America, particularly in Argentina continue to expand and we recognize them as drivers of growth and opportunity for us to provide premium, high quality, reliable tritium equipment, monitors and radiation detection devices. We believe Argentina will continue to be a key growth market for our products as they build out new and advanced nuclear power plants.”

Report: Feds to exceed costs for cleaning up nuke waste

The cost of cleaning up radioactive waste at one of the federal government’s premier nuclear laboratories has already exceeded expectations and more cost overruns are expected, according to a report released Monday by a government watchdog.

The National Nuclear Security Administration spent about $931 million as of the end of the last fiscal year to remove contaminated rags, tools, equipment and soil from Los Alamos National Laboratory. That’s $202 million over 2006 expectations, according to the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.

What Lies Beneath

As a kid in the 1960s, Jeff Held thought that having a nuclear company in his backyard made life more exciting in Apollo, Pennsylvania. About 2,400 people lived alongside the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), the town’s main employer. Held’s neighborhood subsisted on atomic lore: Just 33 miles down the road in Pittsburgh, the Westinghouse Corporation had helped construct the world’s first nuclear submarine, and in Apollo, NUMEC consequently manufactured the requisite nuclear fuel, a source of stirring pride minted by the Cold War.

To Held, the plant, its lights flickering over the western edge of town on the banks of the Kiskiminetas River, was “kind of neat.” When one of the town’s radiation monitors went off, children would dash through neighbors’ backyards to reach the facility—it was housed inside a refurbished steel mill with dirt floors, big windows, and dozens of smokestacks—to see what had happened.

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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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