Environmental Must-Reads – March 5, 2015


Local communities rebelling against, and for, fracking

On Thursday, voters in Washington, Connecticut will vote on whether to reject the storage or disposal of waste from hydraulic fracturing, according to the News-Times.

The ban would be the first in state, and would go farther than Connecticut legislators did in June 2014 when they imposed a three-year moratorium on fracking waste disposal to give state regulators time to study its effects.

But voters in Washington, with a population of 3,500, wouldn’t be the first to impose this kind of ban. High-profile battles have been waged in Texas, New York and California to end hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and processes related to the drilling technique which blasts water and chemicals underground to expose oil and natural gas.

Oklahoma scientists pressured to downplay link between earthquakes and fracking

Oklahoma has been experiencing an earthquake boom in recent years. In 2014, the state had 585 quakes of at least magnitude 3. Up through 2008, it averaged only three quakes of that strength each year. Something odd is happening.

But scientists at the Oklahoma Geological Survey have downplayed a possible connection between increasing fracking in the state and the increasing number of tremors. Even as other states (Ohio, for example) quickly put two and two together and shut down some drilling operations that were to blame, OGS scientists said that more research was needed before their state took similar steps.

Industry Pressure Kept Oklahoma’s Scientists Silent on Earthquake-Fracking Link Since 2010: Report

For years, the Oklahoma Geological Survey (OGS) avoided acknowledging that Oklahoma’s dramatic increase in earthquakes had anything to do with the oil and gas industry, even while federal scientists fully acknowledged the link.

According to new reporting from EnergyWire, OGS’s reluctance to point fingers may have been due to the industry itself.

USGS: More data needed to link fracking to pollution

A new study by the U.S. Geological Survey says more data is needed to be able to say for sure if a link exists between unconventional oil and gas development and degraded water quality.

The study published in the American Geophysical Union journal Water Resources Research finds no evidence hydraulic fracturing is polluting nearby surface water.

Litchfield County town proposes state’s first fracking ban

A Litchfield County town could become the first in the state to ban the storage or disposal of fracking waste.

Washington residents are to vote on the ban at a special town meeting at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in Bryan Memorial Town Hall.

No one hurt in gas pipeline fire; environment not harmed

No one was hurt in a natural gas pipeline fire on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, and state officials say there are no worries about harm to the environment.

EOG Resources spokeswoman K. Leonard says a company pipeline had a gas leak and fire about 3 miles west of Parshall on Monday night. Workers used valves to shut off the gas supply and extinguish the blaze.

Feds approve expansion of natural gas pipeline

A federal agency has approved the expansion of the controversial Algonquin natural gas pipeline.

The pipeline would run about 20 miles from Stony Point in Rockland, through Westchester and out through the town of Southeast in Putnam.

Roberta Gordenaire, of Verplank, and her neighbors fought for two years to stop Spectra Energy from replacing its pipeline with one that is nearly twice as big in diameter. She lost her fight Tuesday when the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave Spectra the green light.

Northwest Oil Terminal Plan Would Mean Jobs — And More Oil Trains

America’s oil boom is going through some growing pains. But despite the recent dip in oil prices, some segments of the industry are focused on long-term growth.

In southwestern Washington state, oil companies want to build the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the country at the Port of Vancouver, on the banks of the Columbia River.

Schumer joins call for stabilizing crude oil on trains

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York is joining the chorus of public officials calling for steps to make crude oil less volatile before it’s put into freight rail tank cars.

Schumer told reporters in a conference call Wednesday that a new federal safety standard for rail tank cars — due to be released by mid-May — won’t cover the volatility of the crude oil the tank cars carry.

“We’ve asked,” he said. “It’s not.”

Record amounts of crude oil still being hauled by train, report shows

Trains continue to haul record amounts of crude oil in the United States, according to the latest numbers released by the American Association of Railroads.

Freight trains carried an average of 14,809 car loads of petroleum and petroleum products per week for the first two months of 2015. That’s a 4.3 percent increase from the same period in 2014.

Motor Oil Spill Contaminates Washington River, Coating Birds And Endangering Wildlife

More than 1,000 gallons of used motor oil leaked into a river and irrigation canals in Washington state this weekend, oiling at least 50 birds and contaminating an area that’s rich in wildlife, according to state officials.

About 1,500 gallons of used motor oil, which can contain toxins and heavy metals, leaked from an aboveground storage tank into Washington’s Sulphur Creek and Yakima River Sunday. Cleanup crews are trying to recover and contain the spilled oil by laying down booms and using vacuums.

Oil spill near Sunnyside, Washington, may top 2,200 gallons

State environmental officials now say up to 2,200 gallons of used motor oil spilled into irrigation ditches and the Yakima River in south-central Washington.

Officials initially reported as much as 1,500 gallons of oil leaked from an aboveground storage tank on Sunday. But Ecology Department spokeswoman Lisa Copeland says officials determined the tank on a former feed lot near Sunnyside could hold as much as 2,200 gallons.

ExxonMobil: A continuous series of unfortunate events

It’s only March, and it has already been a year to forget for ExxonMobil as the company announced more devastating news that it will be slashing its capital budget over the course of several years to $34 billion in 2015 and lower until 2017, FuelFix reports. The $34 billion is nearly 12 percent lower than the $38.5 billion the company spent in 2014. However, it is not all doom and gloom for ExxonMobil.

“We are capturing savings in raw materials, service, and construction costs,” chairman and CEO Rex W. Tillerson said. “The lower capital outlook also reflects actions we are taking to improve our set of opportunities while enhancing specific terms and conditions and optimizing development plans.”

Kinder Morgan’s Oil Pipeline Plan Hits Mountain

Between Canada’s landlocked oil sands producers and their dreams of shipping millions of barrels of heavy crude oil to refineries in China stands this mountain peak, topped by a public park and overlooking the skyline of downtown Vancouver.

Kinder Morgan Inc. wants to burrow through Burnaby Mountain to reach an oil-loading ship terminal on the other side, but the pipeline operator has encountered fierce resistance from local officials in and around Vancouver, a birthplace of the modern environmental movement and increasingly a hotbed of opposition to fossil-fuel development.

Senate Fails to Override Obama’s Keystone Pipeline Veto

The Senate on Wednesday failed to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would have approved construction of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.

A bipartisan majority of senators were unable to reach the two-thirds vote required to undo a presidential veto. The vote was 62 to 37.

The measure’s defeat was widely expected, and was the latest twist in the clash over the proposed 1,179-mile pipeline, which would move about 800,000 barrels of carbon-heavy petroleum per day from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada, to ports and refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Federal pipeline regulators push back on Enbridge’s Line 9

Federal pipeline regulators are pushing back after Enbridge asked some municipalities along its Line 9 route, which cuts across the GTA, to sign non-disclosure agreements prior to receiving complete copies of emergency plans.

In a February 2015 letter to the pipeline company, National Energy Board chair and CEO Peter Watson wrote that officials representing Quebec municipalities had informed him of the company’s request for confidentiality agreements.

Public need for pipeline challenged

More than 60 people packed a public hearing Wednesday evening about a proposed petroleum pipeline that will run through 210 miles of Georgia.

Kinder Morgan plans to build the 16-inch diameter steel pipeline to bring gasoline, ethanol and diesel from the Gulf Coast and from South Carolina to North Augusta, S.C., Savannah and Jacksonville. It will run 4 feet underground along a proposed route that parallels the Savannah River then heads south to Jacksonville. A terminal will be built south of Richmond Hill to serve the Savannah area.

Nigeria: Group Slams Shell Over Poor Oil Spill Response in Bayelsa

Environ-mental Rights Action/ Friends of the Earth Nigeria, ERA/FoEN, has slammed Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, for its poor response to the oil leak within its oil fields in Bayelsa State.

ERA/FoEN, an environmental rights group in its field report on the incident regretted that Shell was yet to take steps to stop the leak from its Seibou Deep facility and save the environment from further despoliation.

Feds weighing Shell bid for more time in Arctic

The Obama administration will decide soon whether to give in to Shell’s request for extra time to hunt for oil in Arctic waters, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

Without action, Shell’s oil and gas leases in the Beaufort Sea will begin expiring in 2017, followed by its drilling rights in the neighboring Chukchi Sea two years later.

U.S. to decide soon on Shell request for extra time on Arctic leases

The Obama administration will decide soon whether to sign off on Shell’s request for extra time to hunt for oil in Arctic waters, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Wednesday.

Without action, Shell’s oil and gas leases in the Beaufort Sea will begin expiring in 2017, followed by its drilling rights in the neighboring Chukchi Sea two years later.

Fukushima, site of nuclear disaster, wants to host 2020 Olympic baseball

Fukushima, the site of 2011 nuclear plant meltdowns caused by an earthquake and tsunami, hopes to host preliminary baseball and softball games for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

“We are still in the process of recovery from the disaster, and it would be a dream to have world-class athletes play here,” said Fukushima city official Hiroaki Kuwajima, according to AFP.

Fukushima fears no longer a drag on tourism

The 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster laid waste to Japan’s tourism industry even as it left the Tohoku coastline in ruins, killed thousands and sparked the worst nuclear crisis in a generation.

But four years later, tourism is bouncing back, shattering expectations on visitor numbers largely owing to the weak yen and fading fears about the fallout from Fukushima No. 1.

FOUR YEARS AFTER: 71% of residents dissatisfied with work at Fukushima nuclear plant

Around 71 percent of Fukushima Prefecture residents remain dissatisfied with the central government’s handling of the nuclear disaster four years after the triple meltdown forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes, a survey showed.

Only 14 percent of respondents were satisfied with the central government’s efforts at the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, according to the telephone survey conducted jointly by The Asahi Shimbun and Fukushima Broadcasting Co. on Feb. 28 and March 1.

More Fukushima evacuees are deciding to stay away for good

Around 120,000 residents of Fukushima Prefecture remain evacuees due to lingering fears of radiation exposure four years after the start of the nuclear crisis.

Although the central government lifted evacuation orders on some areas last year, evacuees have been slow to move back and an increasing number are choosing to rebuild their lives in new places without returning to their old homes.

Workers still scarce at factories in village near Fukushima No. 1

A labor shortage has been plaguing new factories in areas near the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant.

Thanks to efforts by the central and prefectural governments to create jobs to prepare for the return of locals who evacuated because of the nuclear crisis, businesses opened factories in the village of Kawauchi, close to Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s shattered facility.

Hiroshima institute plans lifelong health monitoring for 2011 Fukushima No. 1 plant workers

A Hiroshima-based research institute plans to conduct lifelong health monitoring of people who worked at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant after the tsunami-triggered meltdown disaster struck there on March 11, 2011, it was learned on Wednesday.

This will be the first such long-running survey on the people who worked there, according to the health ministry.

Cosmic rays employed to spot melted fuel in crippled Fukushima No. 1 reactors

Where is the melted fuel in the stricken reactors at Fukushima No. 1? This remains a question four years after the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, triggered the three meltdowns at the Tokyo Electric Power Co. power station.

High levels of radioactivity are blocking efforts to pinpoint the melted fuel in each of the three reactors. Still, Tepco and the government hope to begin removing the fuel in the first half of fiscal 2020.

Transfer of Fukushima clean-up waste gets go-ahead

The transfer of radioactive soil and waste generated from clean-up work following the March 2011 accident at the Fukushima Daiichi plant to a provisional storage site has been approved by the governor of Fukushima prefecture and the mayors of Futaba and Okuma.

In August 2014, the then governor of Fukushima Prefecture Yuhei Sato approved a central government plan to construct an interim storage facility on land on the border between the neighbouring towns of Futaba and Okuma.

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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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