Environmental Must-Reads – March 26, 2013


Sierra Club Slams Environmental Groups for Backing Fracking

Several national and regional environmental groups should seriously reconsider their relationship with the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies, the Sierra Club said last week, following a new partnership in which gas companies and environmental groups will work together to establish “strict” fracking guidelines through a new Pittsburgh-based Center for Sustainable Shale Development.

Three Bills Seek to Halt California Fracking

Three California assembly members have introduced bills to halt hydraulic fracturing in the state and mandate review of the threats the practice poses to the environment and public health. Fracking uses huge volumes of water mixed with sand and dangerous chemicals to blast open rock formations and extract oil and gas. The controversial technique—currently unregulated and unmonitored by state officials—has been used in hundreds and perhaps thousands of California oil and gas wells.

Ernest Moniz And Fracking Drive Environmentalists Off Of The Rails

Many environmentalists are unhappy about President Barack Obama’s nomination of Ernest Moniz, a professor of physics and engineering at MIT, to be Secretary of Energy.

New panel to advise EPA on ‘fracking’

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Monday announced the formation of an independent body to peer-review that agency’s research on hydraulic fracturing, as the Obama administration weighs new regulations.

The Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel, a group of 31 academics and experts, was created by EPA’s Science Advisory Board (SAB) to review a congressionally ordered report looking at the potential health impacts of hydraulic fracturing on drinking water.

EPA Announces Fracking Study’s Peer Review Panel

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Science Advisory Board has named members of the independent panel tasked with reviewing the agency’s draft fracking study.

The federal study won’t be released until 2014, but the agency recently published a progress report. The EPA is examining five stages of hydraulic fracturing, and assessing each step’s risk of contaminating drinking water. That includes everything from where drillers withdraw their water, to what chemicals they mix in, to how fracking fluid is stored on drilling sites. The study will also probe well construction standards and waste disposal methods.

Judge sides with Wyoming in fracking chemical suit

A judge in Casper has sided with the state of Wyoming and ruled against environmentalists who sought to obtain lists of the ingredients that go into hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Environmental groups had requested the ingredient lists from the Wyoming Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, arguing that the public needs to know what chemicals companies are putting underground.

Fracking vs. Democracy: State laws subvert home rule and property rights

One of the most fascinating and disturbing issues that comes up again and again around fracking is the multitude of exemptions and entitlements that have been handed to the industry at the expense of citizens. Exemptions from the federal drinking water law. Exemptions from citizen challenges. Exemptions from local land use standards and licenses that have protected private property and neighborhoods.

PA Doctors, Health Advocates and Residents Urge NY Health Commissioner Shah to Consider PA Fracking Health Impacts in NY Review

Dear Dr. Shah:

We the undersigned doctors, public health advocates, citizen leaders and residents of Pennsylvania, share your belief that health care is an ecosystem—which was to be the topic of your now-cancelled public lecture today. Bereft of any concern comparable to that shown by the Governor of New York and by you, we are in crisis, subject to a wholesale onslaught by the unconventional gas drilling industry. Outside the public gaze, we endure health impacts from volatile organic chemicals, blowouts, fires, contaminated water, hazardous air pollutants, diesel exhaust and more. We would like to make sure our voices are heard today while you are visiting our state.

New Fracking Standards Not Supported by Environmental Organizations

Environmental organizations are objecting to a misleading announcement coming from the oil and gas industry that says they have “made peace” with environmentalists by agreeing to voluntary fracking standards.

According to the announcement made, the oil and gas industry believes the new standards “could ease or avert some of the ferocious battles over fracking that have been waged in statehouses and city halls.” They’re wrong. In fact, the anti-fracking movement is large and getting larger as evidence mounts that fracking cannot be done safely, contributes to climate change, endangers the human and animal health and safety, tears apart communities, and pollutes our air and water.

Whistleblower Bill Would Criminalize Exposing Wrongdoing at Factory Farms and Fracking Sites in PA

Chickens crammed into wire cages next to the rotting carcasses of other chickens. The floor of a barn coated with flies. Hens with their heads jammed between cages and feeding machines.

The Humane Society of the U.S. released a video last year depicting those conditions at what it said was Kreider Farms in Manheim, Pa., in Lancaster County.

There was no criminal investigation. The owner of Kreider Farms, the largest egg supplier in the state, denied the charges and questioned the authenticity of the video. Later, state inspectors said that the Manheim location had met standards for agricultural facilities in previous years.

Unsealed Records in Contamination Case Show Lax Oversight by PA DEP

A Washington County PA couple settled a high profile Marcellus Shale contamination case for $750,000 and signed affidavits that say no medical evidence ”definitively” connects their children’s health problems to drilling activity. Stephanie and Chris Hallowich also signed an affidavit that says their children were in good health.

Frack Water Too Contaminated For Sewage Treatment Plants

When energy companies extract natural gas trapped deep underground, they’re left with water containing high levels of pollutants, including salts, benzene and barium. Sometimes the gas producers dispose of this contaminated water by sending it to wastewater treatment plants that deal with sewage and water from other industrial sources.

But a new study suggests that the plants can’t handle this water’s high levels of contaminants: Water flowing out of the plants into the environment still has elevated levels of the chemicals from natural gas production

Controversial Head of DEP Leaving Agency to Work on Behalf of Energy Industry

The head of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection, Michael Krancer, announced today he will be leaving the agency on April 15 to return to Blank Rome, an influential Philadelphia law firm where he worked during the 1990?s.

Krancer will become chair of Blank Rome’s Energy, Petrochemical and Natural Resources Practice, where he will be, “enhancing the firm’s existing energy and public policy talent and advising US and global energy clients,” according to a Blank Rome press release.

Study: Dispersant chemicals in Orange Beach during BP oil spill came from local pollution, not Deepwater Horizon disaster

A scientific study published nearly three years after the BP oil spill found that dispersant chemicals detected around Orange Beach as oil washed ashore in 2010 most likely originated from local sources.

The study, “Provenance of Corexit-related chemical constituents found in near shore and inland Gulf Coast waters,” was published in the Marine Pollution Bulletin.

Texas Brine Agrees to Louisiana Sinkhole Buyouts

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says a Texas company blamed for the sinkhole that formed after the collapse of an underground salt cavern has agreed to provide settlement offers, which include buyouts, to the residents of the Bayou Corne community in Assumption Parish who were forced to evacuate the area as a result of the massive sinkhole.

Sinkhole Study Group Created as Tremors Continue

The head of Louisiana’s Department of Natural Resources has named 13 scientists and other experts to serve on a commission to determine the long-term stability of the area around northern Assumption Parish’s sinkhole.

The 13-acre sinkhole and fears of a methane explosion have forced evacuation of 350 residents for more than seven months.

Anti-tanker ad marks anniversary of Alaskan oil spill

The Exxon Valdez disaster of March 24, 1989 was one of history’s worst oil spills, and twenty-four years later, a B.C. First Nations group is pointing to the tragedy as proof the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline project should not go forward.

The province’s waters are no place for massive tankers exporting oil to Asian markets, according to the executive director of Coastal First Nations, Art Sterritt.

 “An oil spill is ‘the sound of silence’”

Twenty four years ago, many Alaskans woke up to a changed world.

The Exxon Valdez had ploughed into Bligh Reef and was spewing millions of gallons of oil into the pristine Arctic waters.

In the aftermath of the disaster, fisheries and wildlife were devastated, livelihoods destroyed, lives ruined and communities ripped apart.

The Climate Consequences of Arctic Oil Drilling

In order to avoid the catastrophic consequences of climate change, enormous fossil-fuel reserves will need to remain in the ground untouched.

2012 was supposed to be a banner year for Royal Dutch Shell, as the company planned to embark on the first Arctic offshore exploratory drilling activity in decades and set itself up to make billions of dollars prospecting for oil in the far-flung region off Alaska’s North Slope. But that’s not how things turned out.

Environmentalists worry as millions of gallons of oil move across Maine

Millions of gallons of crude oil from the nation’s heartland are crossing Maine in railroad tank cars bound for a Canadian oil refinery, raising concern among environmentalists and state officials about the threat of an accident and spill.

The oil is primarily coming from the Bakken shale-oil field in North Dakota, with lesser amounts from neighboring Canada, where oil production has boomed in recent years. Trains carried nearly 5.3 million barrels of the light crude — more than 220 million gallons — across the state and into New Brunswick last year, and the volume is growing.

Yellowstone Oil Spill: Regulators Propose Penalty For Exxon Pipeline Rupture In Montana River

Federal regulators proposed $1.7 million in civil penalties against Exxon Mobil Corp. on Monday for safety violations linked to a pipeline rupture that spilled an estimated 63,000 gallons of crude oil into Montana’s scenic Yellowstone River.

In a notice sent to the company, U.S. Department of Transportation regulators alleged a chain of bad decisions by Exxon leading up to the spill and in its immediate aftermath. That included Exxon employees’ failure to close an upstream safety valve, which could have significantly reduced the size of the spill after it was first detected.

Exxon fined $1.7M over Yellowstone River oil spill

The Department of Transportation has fined Exxon Mobil Corp. $1.7 million over pipeline safety violations relating to a 2011 oil spill in the Yellowstone River, regulators have said.

Exxon’s Silvertip pipeline, which carries 40,000 barrels per day of crude in Montana, leaked about 1,500 barrels of oil into the river in July 2011 after heavy flooding in the area.

Chevron pipeline oil spill is third major leak in Utah in three years

Chevron’s third pipeline spill in Utah in as many years on March 25 released hundreds of barrels of oil, polluting a river and leading to the closure of a state park and the evacuation of campers. Dozens of cleanup workers are now mopping up the fuel along the north-eastern edge of the Great Salt Lake in an attempt to avert a wildlife disaster.

Lightest Material on Earth Could Mop up Oil Spills: Uses for the Graphene Sponge

Researchers have created a new substance that is now the lightest material on Earth. Known as graphene aerogel, the substance is less dense than helium and could potentially be used to clean up oil spills.

Fukushima evacuee kids made welcome in Saitama school

With little hope of returning home, children from the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, are making new friends at a school in Saitama Prefecture that took them in two years ago after the meltdowns of March 2011 ruined the area.

Confirmed: ‘Rat-like animal’ caused massive Fukushima power outage

A “rat-like animal” was the cause of a power supply problem that disabled cooling systems at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant last week. The rodent touched a switchboard and triggered a short circuit, Tepco Electric Power Company (TEPCO) said.

Lessons from Fukushima, two years on

Companies have valuable lessons in transparency to glean from the Fukushima disaster, said the author of an independent report on the accident that famously called it “Made in Japan”.

Dr Kiyoshi Kurokawa, the chairman of the committee appointed by Japan’s parliament to investigate the March 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station, blamed a lack of transparency and a fear of authority for the extent of the crisis in the landmark 641-page report published last year.

Fukushima clean up workers instructed to lie during ‘surprise’ inspection

News broke out that contractors hired to do cleanup work in Fukushima Prefecture have told their workers to flat-out lie when a supposed “surprise” inspection took place. The workers were advised to tell the inspectors that they were receiving their full pay, including hazard pay and board and lodging allowances, even though they were not. At least one company official even threatened the workers that they would lose their jobs if the inspectors are not convinced.

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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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