Environmental Must-Reads – March 29, 2013


Sand From Fracking Could Pose Lung Disease Risk To Workers

When a workplace safety expert named Eric Esswein got a chance to see fracking in action not too long ago, what he noticed was all the dust.

The dust was coming off big machines used to haul around huge loads of sand. Sand is a critical part of the hydraulic fracturing method of oil and gas extraction. After workers drill down into rock, they create fractures in that rock by pumping in a mixture of water, chemicals and sand. The sand keeps the cracks propped open so that oil and gas are released.

Exxon discussing fracking with German authorities

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been discussing hydraulic fracturing with German regulators and communities as it looks at future exploration in the country, the company said in its 2012 financial and operational review released this week.

“Future exploration activities await the outcome of ongoing discussion with regulators and communities on the subject of hydraulic fracturing,” Exxon said in the document.

As Fracking Proliferates, So Do Wastewater Wells

In a dusty lot off the main highway in this South Texas town, Vern Sartin pointed to a collection of hose hookups and large storage tanks used for collecting wastewater from hydraulic fracturing jobs.

“We run about 30 to 40 trucks a day, 24-7,” Mr. Sartin said. “Depending on how the oil fracking is going out there, if they’re hustling and bustling, then we’re hustling and bustling.”

Mr. Sartin is a watchman at a disposal well operated by Gulf Coast Acquisitions, where each day oil and gas companies dispose of wastewater by pumping it deep underground.

Fracking chemicals to stay ‘trade secrets’

A district judge in Wyoming has shot down a group of environmentalists who tried to gather information about the long-term effects of fracking, ruling that they do not have the right to know what ingredients are used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Anti-fracking group announces petition drive to put fracking ban on the state ballot

The “Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan” announced a series of events aimed at collecting enough signatures to get a ban on “fracking” on a statewide ballot.

The group said Thursday, March 28, that it intends to start collecting signatures on April 12, hoping to get 258,088 signatures within the required six-month period to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.

More Than a Matter of Opinion: Ed Rendell’s Plea for Fracking Fails to Disclose Industry Ties

Former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell took to the New York Daily News op-ed page Wednesday with a message to local officials: stop worrying and learn to love fracking.

As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo agonizes over whether to allow the controversial natural gas drilling technique, Rendell invoked his own experience as a Democratic governor who presided over a fracking boom. New York state, Rendell argued, has a major part to play in the nation’s fracking “revolution” — and it can do so safely. He rejected what he called the “false choice” of “natural gas versus the environment.

Fracking: A Faustian bargain?

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, is fraught with documented incidents of water and air pollution, induced earthquakes, crop losses, loss of insurance, property foreclosures, and health risks. Anyone who drinks water, eats food, breathes air or aspires to true energy security should oppose it. California fossil fuel proponents paint a rosy picture: a utopia with endless fossil fuel supplies, boundless economic riches for state coffers and jobs. The only obstacles to this economic nirvana, they say, are pesky environmentalists. But let’s review what’s really at risk.

A New Study Links Fracking Fluids To The Largest-Ever Earthquake In Oklahoma

Lots of people are talking about a new study linking fracking activity to the largest earthquake instrumentally recorded in Oklahoma.

Researchers from Oklahoma and Columbia universities found that over time, injecting used-up frack water into the ground may have snapped geological tension that had built up near rural Prague, Oklahoma, causing a 5.7 quake that destroyed 14 homes and injured two.

Grassroots Activism Leads to Fracking Ban in Pristine Canadian Wilderness

It’s not so easy being a giant oil company these days. First, you have half the world angry at you for keeping us all hooked on petroleum products. Yes, it’s true that most people were all so high on the collective buzz that they hardly paid attention to those who warned that the hangover could last for a hundred years or more – and the oil companies didn’t help. It turns out the warning was right the hangover will be nasty.

Now, it seems that we’ve used so much of the stuff that it’s getting harder and harder to find. Tricky sources, that 30 years ago were deemed “unconventional” have now become the center of attention. These include deep-sea drilling, tar sands, methane hydrates, and of course, shale gas and oil. All of these are extremely difficult to access and involve enormous environmental risks

Hickenlooper, Jones to debate on fracking

Should the state of Colorado be able to overrule local governments on regulation of oil and gas extraction companies’ use of hydraulic fracturing?

Gov. John Hickenlooper and Boulder County Commissioner Elise Jones will debate the issue at a forum to be held Monday. April 1, at the University of Denver.

How Fracking Causes Earthquakes, the Animated GIF

Contributing writer Michael Behar has an intriguing feature today that details the science behind the link between injection wells and earthquakes. For a visual rundown of the fascinating process, check out the GIF below.

Some WV Drillers Commit Multiple Wastewater Violations

Some oil and gas operators in West Virginia spilled wastewater into the environment even after getting multiple citations from the WV Department of Environmental Protection. Between 2011 and 2012, companies including Raven Ridge Energy LLC, Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, and EQT Corp. were cited for repeated violations including working without a permit, spilling wastes into state waters, and failing to properly construct roads and pads.

U.S. Army Corps Okay’s Controversial Pipeline Project

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted permission for a controversial pipeline project to cross wetlands, rivers and streams in the Delaware River watershed. The Corps issued the permits last Friday. Environmentalists who oppose the project had pinned their hopes on having it blocked by the Corps, which issues the wetland permits. Richard Pearsall, a spokesperson for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia, says after reviewing public comments, Corps staff determined the permits are “not contrary to the public interest.”

Frackers dodge responsibility for earthquakes, science be damned

We’ve known for a couple of years that fracking for oil and gas has been linked to some sizable earthquakes. The shaking doesn’t actually come from the high-pressure fracking itself, but from the injection of tons of post-frack dirty wastewater into disposal wells. Only Ohio requires a risk assessment for quakes around the state’s injection wells.

Mother Jones digs into this story, speaking with numerous scientists who agree: Frack the earth and it will frack you back. “There is no shortage of evidence,” writes reporter Michael Behar.

Former BP Engineer Kurt Mix Still Deleting ‘Stuff,’ Government Alleges

Former BP drilling engineer Kurt Mix was arrested last April on charges of obstructing justice related to information that he had collected, and allegedly deleted, during his role of trying to stop oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 BP oil spill.  Mix and other engineers had worked tirelessly to calculate the flow rate of oil from the Macondo Well in order to develop a means of stopping the spill.  Those calculations could also be used later in the government’s prosecution of BP in determining the amount of fines it would pay (determined by the amount of oil spilled).   The government came down on Mix when they claimed that he violated a government order to maintain all documentation associated with work done in the process of stopping the spill.  The crime he was accused of perpetrating was deleting text message strings from his iPhone…many of which had no relevance to the spill, or business in general (‘what time for lunch’, ‘my back hurts’, etc.).  However, government prosecutors are pushing this case hard.

Trial over Gulf oil spill set to resume Tuesday with more testimony by Halliburton witnesses

BP’s cement contractor on the drilling rig that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 will continue presenting its defense next week at a trial over the deadly catastrophe.

Colorado lawmakers want to jack up ridiculously low oil-spill fines

We told you last week about the underground leak of a mysterious “natural-gas liquid” near a gas-processing plant along a creek in western Colorado. The spill was discovered on March 8, and has been spilling ever since, but plant owner Williams Corp. still doesn’t know for sure where it’s coming from.

Meanwhile, some Colorado lawmakers are expressing dismay that state fines for such spills have been capped at $10,000 for the past half century unless the spills are deemed to have “significant adverse impact” on public health or the environment.

Crude oil spills from Minnesota derailment

Oil spilled from a rail car in Minnesota likely won’t have a long-term environmental effect because of frozen ground, a state pollution official said.

One car in a Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. derailment in Parkers Prairie, Minn., spilled nearly all of its 26,000-gallon payload. Two other cars were leaking minor amounts of oil, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency said.

Utah governor upset at Chevron pipeline leaks

A series of spills from ruptured pipelines operated by Chevron has Utah’s governor calling for more oversight.

Gov. Gary Herbert left no doubt about his displeasure Thursday when asked about the latest spill at a monthly televised news conference.

Utah governor says Chevron’s third pipeline leak in state in 3 years is unacceptable

Utah’s governor calls Chevron’s latest pipeline spill unacceptable.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday he will make certain Chevron cleans up the mess. The pipeline ruptured last week at Willard Bay State Park, spilling diesel fuel into marshes.

Feds are failing in pipeline oversight, says Utah governor

The state will take a more active role in inspecting gas pipelines to prevent future leaks, Gov. Gary Herbert said Thursday, in the wake of last week’s 27,000-gallon diesel spill from a Chevron pipeline at Willard Bay State Park.

“If anything has been disappointing in these past couple of weeks, it has been this Chevron oil spill. This is just not acceptable,” Herbert said during his monthly KUED news conference. “We need to take a more proactive stance as a state.”

Willard Bay State Park Beaver Dam Partially Contained Chevron Oil Spill, Officials Say

Talk about unlikely heroes.

A group of at least six beavers at a Utah bird refuge have emerged as key players in helping contain a fuel leak that left half of them with severe burns. The Chevron fuel spill leaked about 27,000 gallons of crude oil into soil and marshes at Willard Bay State Park last week after a split in a Salt Lake City-to- Spokane, Wash. pipeline.

Giant Louisiana sinkhole swallows access ramp and more trees

Work at the sinkhole in Bayou Corne has come to a halt again. This comes after the giant sinkhole swallowed an access ramp to a well pad and more trees Thursday morning.

Assumption Parish leaders say seismic monitors have picked up fluid and gas moving beneath the surface.

Bayou Sinkhole Update: Increased Seismic Activity, Access Ramp Caves In

At 12:15 pm Central time, on March 28, the Assumption Parish Police Jury announced that elevated subsurface seismic activity had been detected and the alert code status has been raised to Code 2, effectively ceasing all work in and over the sinkhole.

Another area caved in on the morning of the 28th. This is the third such cave-in in just 11 days, which is a record for this site.

Keystone komics: The incredible, illustrated history of the Keystone XL oil pipeline

Ever wonder who cooked up the idea of digging up all of Canada’s tar sands and piping them across the continent? All of your questions are answered here, in a single, cartoon-tastic slideshow.

Gulf Coast refineries good place for Canadian crude, IHS analysts say

Environmentalists opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline say it would transport dirty Canadian crude through the heartland of America, only so it can be refined on the Gulf Coast.

Google Reveals Views of Japan’s Nuclear Ghost Town

Visitors to Google Maps can now roam virtually through the overgrown streets of an abandoned town where time has stood still since a tsunami crippled Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant two years ago.

The Internet giant’s mapping site is offering views of the deserted streets of Namie, half of which sits within the 20-kilometre (12-mile) no-go zone around the nuclear plant, wrecked when the 2011 tsunami crashed into Japan.

Google Releases Street View Images From Fukushima Ghost Town

Google Inc. (GOOG) released images taken by its Street View service from the town of Namie, Japan, inside the zone that was evacuated after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2011.

Google, operator of the world’s biggest Web search engine, entered Namie this month at the invitation of the town’s mayor, Tamotsu Baba, and produced the 360-degree imagery for the Google Maps and Google Earth services, it said yesterday in an e-mailed statement.

Fukushima: A legacy of unforeseen health problems

The death rate of elderly people evacuated from old people’s facilities around the damaged Fukushima nuclear plant has tripled, according to research. The University of Tokyo tracked 328 senior evacuees and found 75 had died within one year, close to three times the annual average death rate.

Tohoku Electric axes planned Fukushima nuclear plant

Tohoku Electric Power Co. on Thursday dropped its plan to build a new nuclear plant in Fukushima Prefecture.

The utility apparently decided it was impossible to go through with the construction amid strong local opposition following the triple meltdowns at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant. The site also falls within the fallout evacuation zone. The plan was excluded from the firm’s management plan for fiscal 2013 released later Thursday.

Study: Nuclear Plant Shutdown Results in 4,319 Fewer Cancer Cases

Researchers studying the incident rate of cancer for 20 years after the closing of a nuclear power plant find a noticeable drop in cancer for women, children, and Hispanics.

Sleeping With Your Phone is Bad For Your Health — Obviously

In an age where smartphones are always beside their owners, who does not keep them in close proximity while sleeping? Smartphones have replaced so many traditional devices that we use at night watches, alarm clocks, calendars, flashlights, nightstand books, etc., that separating ourselves from them, even while we sleep, seems almost impossible. Shepard Smith of Fox News admits to using his phone throughout the day from early in the morning right until bedtime to consume information. We all do the same, and leave our phones to charge at night, right beside us, because, of course, we need them.

Cell Phone Radiation Lawsuits: Bernstein Liebhard LLP Notes New Study Finding Cell Phone Radiation May Cause Brain Tissue Damage

Bernstein Liebhard LLP, a nationwide law firm representing clients in cell phone radiation lawsuits, notes that a new study has found that radiation from cell phones may cause damage to brain tissue.

According to a report from the Daily Mail, researchers with Finland’s Radiation and Nuclear Safety Authority found that one hour of cell phone radiation can cause cells in blood vessel walls to shrink, allowing potentially harmful substances in the blood to ‘leak’ into the brain. The two-year study also found that repeated exposure to cell phone radiation could make the blood-brain barrier more permeable, leading to increased brain damage. “Repeated occurrences of these events on a daily basis, over a long period of time, could become a health hazard due to possible accumulation of brain tissue damage,” the study authors concluded.*

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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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