Environmental Must-Reads – March 6, 2014


U.S. Hopes Boom in Natural Gas Can Curb Putin

The crisis in Crimea is heralding the rise of a new era of American energy diplomacy, as the Obama administration tries to deploy the vast new supply of natural gas in the United States as a weapon to undercut the influence of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, over Ukraine and Europe.

The crisis has escalated a State Department initiative to use a new boom in American natural gas supplies as a lever against Russia, which supplies 60 percent of Ukraine’s natural gas and has a history of cutting off the supply during conflicts. This week, Gazprom, Russia’s state-run natural gas company, said it would no longer provide gas at a discount rate to Ukraine, a move reminiscent of more serious Russian cutoffs of natural gas to Ukraine and elsewhere in Europe in 2006, 2008 and 2009.

Drilling for Certainty: The Latest in Fracking Health Studies

For years, environmentalists and the gas drilling industry have been in a pitched battle over the possible health implications of hydro fracking. But to a great extent, the debate — as well as the emerging lawsuits and the various proposed regulations in numerous states — has been hampered by a shortage of science.

In 2011, when ProPublica first reported on the different health problems afflicting people living near gas drilling operations, only a handful of health studies had been published.  Three years later, the science is far from settled, but there is a growing body of research to consider.

Wisconsin Locals Fight For Regulation Of Carcinogenic Fracking Ingredient

A joint legislative committee public hearing on a bill designed to weaken local government control over sand mines drew crowds in Madison, Wisconsin on Monday. Before the hearing ended, over seven hours of testimony had been heard from industry officials, local leaders and concerned citizens from around the state.

The original legislation — Senate Bill 349 — would have barred local governments in Wisconsin from imposing rules on all sand mine operations. The updated version under discussion Monday — Senate Bill 63 — was scaled back slightly to just prohibit communities from imposing new rules on existing sand mines, leaving them free to regulate new sand mines.

D.C. Passes Resolution Prohibiting Fracking in George Washington National Forest

The Washington, D.C. City Council yesterday passed a resolution opposing hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling for natural gas in the George Washington National Forest due to concerns that such development might contaminate drinking water supplies. The 1.1 million-acre forest—located in Virginia and West Virginia—contains headwaters of the Potomac River, which is the sole source of drinking water for the nation’s capital.

Fracking health risks must be established now, before the industry grows

The Shale UK Summit conference is underway in London, bringing together geological, petroleum, engineering and energy economics experts. Despite all this expertise, and although much of the fracking technology used to extract the gas from shale rock is well established, there are still a large number of unknowns surrounding fracking, including the potential effects on health.

How fracking is exacerbating drought across America

Because it trades water for oil and methane, fracking is burning our future. There’s no other way to put it.

We’ve written about this before, how the fracking process is intensely water-hungry. The amount of water used to frack a well can vary, and wells can be fracked multiple times.

But I’ve seen ratios like the ones below in multiple places. Via Daily Kos and Dan Bacher, in an article that discusses industry estimates versus the estimates of critics, here’s information about Kern County (CA) fracking water-use

Commission Seeks to Lift Fog on Offshore Fracking

In August 2013, the Associated Press reported that oil companies have used hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and other types of “well stimulation treatments” to access oil beneath state and federal waters for decades without notifying state agencies that the practice has been occurring.

This discovery was a big wake-up call that sent some regulators scrambling to figure out how fracking had occurred without their awareness. The California Coastal Commission, which has jurisdiction over oil and gas activities that occur in or affect state waters, was the first agency to step up. In August, the Commission vowed to investigate the undisclosed fracking and to identify potential actions it could take to address the issue.

North Carolina Lawmakers Look At How To Tax Fracking Companies

North Carolina lawmakers are beginning to look at how they would tax the shale gas drilling companies for extracting gas from the ground in the state.

Members of the legislative commission that handles laws on energy heard Tuesday afternoon about how states that allow fracking charge companies for removing gas from the ground.

Algae in Glass Cases Could Determine Fracking’s Toll

Tucked away in back rooms above the dinosaur skeletons and gawking school groups at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia a series of file cabinets and drawers houses a whole lot of something you can’t see. This is the second-largest diatom herbarium in the world (behind only London’s Natural History Museum). Although a file cabinet or a hundred doesn’t sound all that sexy, the collection could help provide a way to sniff out some very controversial water quality problems.

Environmentalist: Methane emissions hurt benefits of natural gas

The energy industry must continue to manage “fugitive emissions” of natural gas that release methane into the atmosphere if it wants to  maximize the fuel’s potential as a sustainable source of energy, the head of the Environmental Defense Fund said Wednesday.

Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, said natural gas has massive potential as a sustainable fuel source. But he warned the release of methane — a greenhouse gas that can escape during production and transportation of natural gas — threatens the fuel’s potential as a greener energy source.

Groups Call for Additional Records Related to Kasich Administration’s Plan to Promote Fracking

Troubled by recent revelations about an internal memo drafted in 2012 in which the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) outlined a plan to promote fracking in state parks, Food & Water Watch along with other groups sent a request today to Gov. John Kasich and the ODNR to release of additional records related to promoting the controversial method of oil and gas drilling.

Florida joins lawsuit against BP over Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Florida is one of the states that is currently suing over the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection in Panama City filed the suit Wednesday.

Governor Scott said, “Today’s action is another step in our efforts to hold the parties related to the oil spill accountable for the environmental harm caused by the Deepwater Horizon tragedy.”

Assessors eye La. salt caverns as revenue source

Some Louisiana parishes with salt dome caverns are following Assumption Parish’s lead in trying to bring the massive man-made cavities carved from the giant deposits of salt onto their tax rolls — a move that could result in millions of dollars in tax revenue for the local governments.

Ascension Parish Assessor M.J. “Mert” Smiley Jr. has been taking procedural steps the past few weeks to hire the same auditing firm that helped Assumption Parish Assessor Wayne “Cat” Blanchard identify and value dozens of unreported or undervalued caverns and infrastructure last year in the Napoleonville Dome.

WEDNESDAY: Lieutenant General Russel L. Honore

Retired Lieutenant General Russel L. Honore joins Jim in the studio to discuss a plethora of issues and topics. In his usual passionate, loud and outspoken manner, the General talks about leading the Green Army, a loose network of environmental groups which tackles environmental issues such as saltwater intrusion in the Baton Rouge aquifer, the sinkhole at Bayou Corne, coastal erosion, and wetlands preservation. He touches on Louisiana’s HIV problem, the seafood industry, and “holding Louisiana politicians accountable” for what they say and do, and specifically what they don’t. The General wraps up the show by chiming in on Russia’s invasion of the southern Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea and  what might ensue as a result of Putin’s actions.

Investigation into Oil Spill at Lake Continues

The search is still on in Wayne County for the source of an oil spill that contaminated Lake Ariel.

Newswatch 16 was the first to show you the mess yesterday and Wednesday, investigators still had not found where the heating oil came from.

Physicist And Congressman Rush Holt On Keystone XL: Tar Sands ‘Sludge’ Is ‘A Climate Poison’

Rush Holt (D-NJ) saddened scientists and climate hawks everywhere when he announced last month he would retire at the end of his (eighth) term in Congress. Holt brought the unique sensibility of a research physicist to a body that has become increasingly hostile towards science.

He gave an extended interview to Salon last week, and as usual offered a blunt defense of both science and climate action. Here are some highlights.

Enbridge Announces $7B Line 3 Rebuild, Largest Project in Company History

In its largest capital project in history, Enbridge plans to do what Transcanada so far can’t — ship more than half a million barrels of heavy oil across the U.S. border without President Barack Obama’s direct approval.

Late Monday evening, Enbridge announced plans for its largest capital project in history— a $7 billion replacement of its Line 3 pipeline.

Environmentalists oppose oil pipeline replacement

Environmentalists vowed Wednesday to fight Enbridge Inc.’s plan to replace and sharply boost the capacity of a crude oil pipeline that runs from Canada to Wisconsin, saying the project will exacerbate climate change by carrying more tar sands oil to U.S refineries.

Calgary, Alberta-based Enbridge announced the $7 billion plan this week, calling it the largest project in the company’s history and the most efficient way to maintain the line’s reliability

13 Vermont towns oppose reversal of Portland-Montreal oil pipeline

More than a dozen towns voted to oppose any effort to pump oil from Canadian tar sands across the Northeast Kingdom at town meetings on Tuesday.

The Portland-Montreal pipeline carries crude oil from South Portland, Maine, to Montreal. The company, Portland Pipe Line Corp., is considering a reversal of the flow to bring tar sands oil to ports in Maine.

Iceland environmentalists protest as China joins Arctic oil race

An Icelandic environmental group poured cold water over the Arctic nation’s dreams of becoming an oil-producer Wednesday, following the approval of a Chinese-led exploration bid off the country’s north coast.

“Iceland should not bet on oil at a time when it is doubtful that humanity can reach its (greenhouse gas) goals,” Arni Finnsson, chairman of Iceland Nature Conservation Association, told AFP.

Dump Closure Leaves Nuclear Waste Stranded… In Parking Lot

With the U.S. government’s only deep-earth repository for nuclear waste above the lowest levels of radiation still closed, dozens of containers holding nuclear waste are being stored above-ground in a parking lot and a waste-handling building.

The federally-owned Waste Isolation Pilot Project, located in southeastern New Mexico, has been closed to underground waste dumping since early February as a result of a series of accidents, including an airborne radiation leak that contaminated at least 13 workers.

The radiation leak site that wants more nuclear waste

A recent radiation leak at America’s only nuclear waste repository threatens the future of waste storage in the country. But leaders in the city of Carlsbad, New Mexico, still want their area to be a destination for America’s radioactive history.

Senator Expresses Concerns About Nuclear-Waste Tanks

Thirteen employees who worked the night shift at a nuclear waste burial site in New Mexico after an underground leak are carrying radioactive materials in their bodies, but it is too soon to say how much health risk this poses, Energy Department officials said on Thursday.

The workers inhaled plutonium and americium, which if lodged in the body bombards internal organs with subatomic particles for the rest of the person’s lifetime. The dose calculation is a bit arcane because the dose in such cases will be delivered over many years.

Senator Expresses Concerns About Nuclear-Waste Tanks

Most of the youngest and sturdiest of the giant tanks that the Energy Department uses to store high-level radioactive waste at its Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington State show some of the same construction problems as a tank that began leaking in late 2012, according to documents released by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, whose state is across the Columbia River from the site.

19 More Reasons to Be Worried About the Hanford Nuclear Site

Problems at the most contaminated nuclear site in the nation continue to unfold.

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy confirmed that one of the 28 double-shelled tanks storing nuclear waste at the Hanford Nuclear Reservation was leaking.

Now, inspection report documents released by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) show that six other double-shelled tanks—which hold roughly 5 million gallons of high-level waste—have similar, significant flaws that could lead to a leak.

Fishing for data in the radioactive waters off Fukushima

With help from fisherman and citizen scientists, researchers in Japan and the U.S. are tracking the nucleotides in the ocean creatures who swim in the plume of water tainted with radiation from Fukushima. Their research is part of a long-term effort to figure out when — if ever — certain fish will be safe to eat. Science correspondent Miles O’Brien reports.

Fukushima Fallout: Japanese Scientists Develop World’s First Radiation Baby Scanner

University of Tokyo scientists have built the world’s first whole body scanner capable of accurately measuring internal radiation exposure in babies and children living in the Fukushima Prefecture. The aim is to ease the worries of concerned parents.

BABYSCAN is a whole body scanner specially designed so that children can lie down and play or read a book while being scanned, and the machine is able to detect up to 50 Becquerels per body.

The USS Reagan Is Fukushima’s Unlucky Dragon

Sixty years ago this week, a misfired hydrogen bomb test plastered with lethal radiation the Japanese fishing boat Daigo Fukuryu Maru—“Lucky Dragon”—and its 23-man crew. The March 1, 1954, test, code-named Castle Bravo, spewed a deadly ash cloud into wrongly predicted winds, contaminating a huge swath of the Pacific Ocean.

The Dragon’s crew fell ill with burns, hair loss, joint pain, nausea, headaches and other ailments diagnosed by medical experts as acute radiation syndrome. Radio operator Aikichi Kuboyama died six months later at the age of 40, praying that he would be “the last victim of an atomic or hydrogen bomb.” Liver cancer eventually killed more than a quarter of the crew.

Fukushima Stirs Diablo Fears

Perhaps a little prematurely, Santa Barbara commemorated the third anniversary of Japan’s now infamous and still-unfolding disaster at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plants, when a massive wave generated by this weekend’s storms slapped Moby Dick Restaurant, smashing the pier’s outer railings and shattering the establishment’s windows. It was hardly the one-two punch of a 9.0 earthquake followed by massive tsunami that laid waste to Japan’s once proud nuclear industry, but it was sufficient for those inclined to ask challenging questions about the safety of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to ask them a little louder.

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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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