Environmental Must-Reads – March 31, 2015


With So Much Oil Flowing, U.S. May Be Reaching Storage Limits

Never before has the U.S. had so much oil spurting up out of the ground and sloshing into storage tanks around the country. There’s so much oil that the U.S. now rivals Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer.

But there has been some concern that the U.S. will run out of places to put it all. Some analysts speculate that could spark another dramatic crash in oil prices.

Health professionals call: ban fracking for five years

Medact, the organization of health professionals for a safer, fairer and better world, has called for a five year moratorium on fracking due to its serious hazards to public health, writes Paul Mobbs. Their new report is a powerful challenge to government policy that cannot be ignored.

Medact, the UK-based public health group concerned with the social and ecological determinants of health, have published their long-awaited report on the impacts of fracking upon public health.

New Obama administration fracking regs especially hurt Native Americans

Last summer, as President Barack Obama visited the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in Cannon Ball, North Dakota, he called the economic and educational hardships faced by Native Americans “a moral call to action.” The president has claimed he will write a “new chapter” by keeping promises to Native Americans, but sadly, his administration’s recent regulations deny Native Americans economic opportunities they sorely need.

Consider that the Department of the Interior last week released top-down regulation of fracking on tribal lands, which the federal government holds in trust. These redundant rules leave American Indians at a competitive disadvantage, quashing a huge opportunity for economic growth.

Texas House panel votes to bar cities from banning fracking

The Texas House Energy Resources Committee overwhelmingly approved a bill that would keep cities from regulating certain aspects of oil and gas, including adopting fracking bans.

Cities would be limited to enacting ordinances that regulate above-ground oil and gas activity, such as traffic, lights and noise. Cities could also adopt “reasonable” drilling setbacks. Regulatory power would otherwise reside with the state.

Doctors and academics call for ban on ‘inherently risky’ fracking

Fracking should be banned because of the impact it could have on public health, according to a prominent group of health professionals.

In a letter published by the British Medical Journal on Monday, 20 high-profile doctors, pharmacists and public health academics said the “inherently risky” industry should be prohibited in the UK.

During Fracking Hearing, Nebraskan Challenges Oil And Gas Commission To Drink Wastewater

Opposition to a proposal to dump out-of-state fracking wastewater in Nebraska went viral over the weekend, after a community group posted a video of a man offering chemical-laden water to a Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.

The commission was hearing public comment on a Terex Energy Corp. application to inject up to 10,000 gallons per day of wastewater from fracking in Colorado and Wyoming into an old oil well on a ranch in Sioux County, in the northwest corner of Nebraska.

Report: Big Oil Money Tried to Slow Earthquake-Fracking Research

There’s been whispers and reports for years now about a connection between hydraulic fracturing (fracking) and earthquakes, especially after the 2011 quake on the east coast. Now a Bloomberg report says the fossil fuel industry paid big money to slow research that was looking into connections between fracking in Oklahoma and a series of earthquakes in that state.

Bloomberg and other publications requested information on meetings between government officials and oil industry executives. While both sides deny wrongdoing, Bloomberg alleges that the industry influence slowed an investigation into the connection between earthquakes and underwater wastewater disposal by the Oklahoma Geological Survey, despite evidence by the U.S. Geological Survey that such a connection exists.

Energy’s New Legal Threat: Earthquake Suits

After an earthquake toppled her chimney, sending rocks crashing through the roof and onto her legs, Sandra Ladra didn’t blame an act of God. She sued two energy companies, alleging they triggered the 2011 quake by injecting wastewater from drilling deep into the ground.

Ms. Ladra’s lawsuit, now before the Oklahoma Supreme Court, highlights an emerging liability question for energy companies: Can they be forced to pay for damages from earthquakes if the tremors can be linked to oil-and-gas activity?

CSX fined over Lynchburg train derailment, oil spill

The State Water Control Board approved a consent order fining CSX Transportation Inc. more than $360,000 after a tanker spilled nearly 30,000 gallons of oil into the James River almost one year ago.

The board decided Monday to take the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality staff recommendation that CSX pay $361,000 in civil charges and $18,575 in investigative costs despite urgings by the James River Association that members delay their decision until the National Transportation Safety Board finishes its investigation.

Pipeline Reps Get Earful From Residents In Easement

Angry Priest Lake residents demanded answers from a gas pipeline company that said it is now enforcing decades-old regulations.

Monday night, neighbors who stand to lose thousands in property investments and overall property value let out their frustrations with Columbia Pipeline Group representatives.

PennEast Pipeline environmental impact contractor questioned

Environmental groups concerned about a natural gas pipeline proposed from northeastern Pennsylvania into New Jersey increased pressure Monday on the federal review agency’s choice of company for examining the project’s impact.

A coalition of environmental groups announced a letter went out last week to the inspector general of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, criticizing the agency’s contract with Tetra Tech to prepare the environmental impact statement for the PennEast Pipeline.

BNSF railroad adds new safety rules for crude oil trains

BNSF has started taking additional safety measures for crude oil shipments because of four recent high-profile derailments in the U.S. and Canada, the railroad said Monday.

Under the changes, BNSF is slowing down crude oil trains to 35 mph in cities with more than 100,000 people and increasing track inspections near waterways. The Fort Worth, Texas, based railroad also is stepping up efforts to find and repair defective wheels before they can cause derailments.

North Dakota’s new oil train safety checks seen missing risks

New regulations to cap vapor pressure of North Dakota crude fail to account for how it behaves in transit, according to industry experts, raising doubts about whether the state’s much-anticipated rules will make oil train shipments safer.

High vapor pressure has been identified as a possible factor in the fireball explosions witnessed after oil train derailments in Illinois and West Virginia in recent weeks.

Deepwater oil spill: BP steps up PR effort to insist all is well in the Gulf

In the run-up to the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill this April, BP is ramping up its effort to convince consumers that life is returning to normal on the Gulf coast.

Over the last month, the company has released PR materials that highlight the Gulf’s resilience, as well as a report compiling scientific studies that suggest the area is making a rapid recovery.

Report: BP Oil Spill Still Harming At Least 20 Animal Species

At least 20 animal species are still suffering from the effects of the largest oil spill in U.S. history nearly five years after it occurred, according to a National Wildlife Federation report released Monday.

The common loon, blue crab, red snapper, and sperm whale are among the animals named in the NWF’s report, Five Years And Counting: Gulf Wildlife in the Aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon Disaster. Those animals only make up a small portion of the 13,000 species in the Gulf, the federation’s president told reporters on a phone call Monday, implying the difficulty of determining the spill’s total long-term impact on animals.

BP spill continues to threaten Gulf wildlife, National Wildlife Federation says

The BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill continues to pose a significant threat to wildlife in and around the Gulf of Mexico, with at least 20 species seeing continued problems five years after the accident, according to a report released Monday (Mar. 30) by the National Wildlife Federation.

“Given the significant quantity of oil remaining on the floor of the Gulf and the unprecedented large-scale use of dispersants during the spill, it will be years or even decades before the full impact of the Deepwater Horizon disaster is known,” the report said. “It is clear that robust scientific monitoring of the Gulf ecosystem and its wildlife populations must continue — and that restoration of degraded ecosystems should begin as soon as possible.”

BP says paying a fraction of oil spill bill could put its U.S. unit in trouble

BP says fines above $2.3 billion for the Deepwater Horizon disaster would drain its U.S. oil business of available cash this year — even if U.S. crude returned to $100 a barrel – threatening its solvency and spending in the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s less than a fifth of the environmental penalties U.S. prosecutors want BP to pay for the oil spill that fouled the Gulf five years ago.

Five Years Later, the BP Oil Disaster Still Haunts the Gulf Coast

Whether it seems like the BP oil disaster happened only yesterday or eons ago depends largely on your proximity to the spill, but it actually occurred five years ago this month. It was then that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 people and spilling almost 5 million barrels of crude into the Gulf during the 87 days it took to cap the well.

Donna Shaver is one of the people for whom April 20, 2010 was only yesterday. She’s the head of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore, where the population of Kemp’s Ridley sea turtles continues to recover from the devastation.

Some Bayou Corne settlement recipients raise concerns about their legal representation

A former Bayou Corne resident says he and some of his former neighbors who were plaintiffs in a federal class-action lawsuit over the Assumption Parish sinkhole were manipulated by their attorneys and the special master overseeing the case.

Michael Schaff, 65, now of Pierre Part, wrote U.S. District Judge Jay C. Zainey earlier this month about those concerns and asked for a private meeting.

Burn victim accuses Chevron of negligence

A Louisiana oil rig worker has sued Chevron, alleging premises liability in a Gulf of Mexico accident. Kennedy Tasker filed a lawsuit March 13 in the Galveston Division of the Southern District of Texas against Chevron U.S.A. Inc., alleging negligence in workplace injuries he received.

According to the complaint, on March 22, 2014, Tasker was working on a fixed platform to complete a fire hydrant demolition when he was instructed to cut a pipe. Tasker, unaware the pipe was filled with raw oil, was splashed in an ensuing spill and covered in raw oil, the suit states, and he was then struck by heavy compressor clips and knocked down.

Reports: State Oil Spill in Venezuelan River Puts Thousands at Risk

On Sunday March 15, regional Venezuelan daily El Periódico de Monagas reported a possible petroleum spill in the Guarapiche River, northeastern Venezuela. The apparent leak originated from the local Jusepín complex, owned by state-run oil firm Petróleos de Venezuela (PDVSA).

Reporters Osmel Rodríguez and Henry Bastardo decided to investigate; just as Rodríguez had in February 2012 when 80,000 barrels‘ worth of oil spilled into the river within 20 hours. At the time, it was the worst oil slick Venezuela had seen in 74 years.

Crews Finish Oil Spill Clean Up, Still Monitoring Site

The oil spill clean up efforts in Sunnyside have been completed, but the site is still being closely monitored.

It has been three weeks since nearly 2,200 gallons of oil spilled into a creek in Sunnyside.  Crews finished the clean up, but they still have more work to do.

9 months after Amazonian oil pipeline spill, effects and fears linger

When Peru’s state-run oil company pulled out of this small Kukama Indian village in mid-December after cleaning up an oil pipeline spill, residents thought life could slowly return to normal.

But more than three months later, wisps of oil floating down the Cuninico River—along with a larger spill in the neighboring community of San Pedro—are a reminder that the problems are not over.

“The spill violated our rights,” says Galo Flores, the apu or president of Cuninico. “It has affected our entire life, but especially the water, because we don’t have safe water to drink.”

EPA Chief: Keystone Won’t Be A ‘Disaster for the Climate’

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy suggested on Monday that building the Keystone XL pipeline would not spell game over for the planet.

“No, I don’t think that any one issue is a disaster for the climate,” McCarthy said when asked if the controversial oil-sands pipeline would be a climate disaster at an event hosted by Politico‘s Mike Allen.

Canada Pushes Ahead with Keystone XL Alternatives

A decision on whether to allow the Keystone XL Pipeline to be built in the U.S. could come at any time, but there are myriad other projects on the table designed to do exactly what Keystone XL was designed to do: transport Canadian tar sands oil to refineries.

Those pipelines, both in the U.S. and Canada, are being designed to move the oily bitumen produced from the tar sands to refineries in Texas and eastern Canada, and to ports on the Pacific Coast where the oil could be shipped to Asia.

Environmentalists seek financial commitment from DuPont on Pompton Lakes cleanup efforts

Environmental groups are working to get assurance from officials that DuPont’s spinoff company will be financially able to complete the local contamination cleanup.

This news comes as the community is days away from knowing if the cleanup of the area of contamination in the borough known as the Plume will be handed over to a new company.

Shell will resume drilling off Alaska coast: U.S. Arctic envoy

Royal Dutch Shell will resume drilling off Alaska after suspending operations for two years in the wake of an accident, the special U.S. envoy to the Arctic said on Monday, but gave no details as to when.

Shell has been moving oil rigs to Alaska as it awaits the green light from U.S. authorities. It froze operations in 2013 after the grounding of a rig in Alaska prompted protests from environmental groups.

Shell cynically blocking action on climate change, says ex-diplomat

Shell and its oil and gas peers are narcissistic, paranoid and psychopathic, and engaged in a cynical attempt to block action on global warming, according to the UK’s former climate change envoy.

In an open letter to Shell chief executive Ben van Beurden, John Ashton said the company’s promised transformation in response to climate change is in reality “a manifesto for the oil and gas status quo”. The companies justified their strategy, he said, with the unsupported claim that the economic and moral benefits of providing cheap energy to the world’s poor exceeds the risks to the same people from climate change.

Clyde River, Nunavut, takes on oil industry over seismic testing

Clyde River can without exaggeration be called one of the most remote and inaccessible human settlements on earth.

The only way into this Nunavut hamlet is by air, and the surrounding landscape is mostly empty of humans for hundreds of kilometres in all directions.

But despite its size, remote location and relative anonymity, Clyde River is now getting more attention than it’s ever had before. All because it has decided to single-handedly take on the oil industry.

After failing to report tainted rainwater leak, Tepco vows to release all radiation data

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Monday it will release all available radiation data associated with its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, in response to criticism over its failure to swiftly announce leaks of radioactive rainwater into the sea.

According to Tepco, the company had a policy of disclosing radiation information for contaminated water stored at the plant facilities if there is a risk of the water leaking into the sea. But this policy was not applied to radioactive rainwater that may leak into the sea via drainage ditches.

4 years after Fukushima, Japan considers restarting nuclear facilities

On many Friday evenings, 38-year-old Tomo Iwabuchi and six friends can be found on a street corner in Fukushima City, banging drums, chanting and singing. “Zero nukes!” Iwabuchi yells into a microphone as a few pedestrians stride by.

“The Fukushima disaster — it’s not over yet,” chimes in Kazushi Machida, another demonstrator, referring to the nuclear power plant about 50 miles southeast that experienced a triple meltdown after Japan’s massive March 2011 earthquake and tsunami. “The cleanup is still going on, and yet the government wants to restart other nuclear plants!”

Radiation leak at Torness nuclear power station

According to the French state company that runs Torness, EDF Energy, radioactive tritium was discovered in water contained in part of the power station’s drainage system. The discovery was immediately reported to the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) and the UK government’s Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR).

A suspect waste discharge pipe at the plant has been taken out of service, and contaminated water has had to be been removed and disposed of. Government safety watchdogs have carried out an inspection and are being kept informed of investigations.

Browns Ferry worker injured, exposed to radiation in Wednesday fall

A Browns Ferry nuclear plant worker was cut and suffered radiation exposure after a five-foot fall at the nuclear plant Wednesday, the Tennessee Valley Authority said today.

The worker received a “minor amount of radiological contamination” after he fell and suffered a laceration to his forehead, TVA said.

Wine Country’s Nuclear Threat

The Hanford Site, a former nuclear-weapons production facility located in southeastern Washington State near the Oregon border, is one natural disaster away from a Fukushima-like catastrophe, according to environmental groups who also claim the site—which sits near some of the state’s best vineyards—is leaking radioactive groundwater into the nearby Columbia River.

Activists blame the dangers on the slow pace of the U.S. government’s efforts to clean up the radioactive waste spread across the site’s 586 square-mile expanse and in the groundwater beneath it. Washington State officials agree that cleanup efforts are behind schedule, and have once again taken the federal government to court seeking a judge’s order to get the Hanford Site’s radiation-remediation program back on track.

Regulators Plan to Drop Case At Closed San Onofre Nuclear Plant

Federal regulators intend to close a lingering case involving the installation of faulty equipment at the now-shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California.

The environmental group Friends of the Earth had asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review whether plant operator Southern California Edison sidestepped rules when it replaced steam generators in a $670 million overhaul 2009 and 2010.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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