Environmental Must-Reads – March 6, 2015


Yet Another Oil Train Has Derailed and Caught Fire

Earlier today, yet another massive train carrying crude oil derailed and caught on fire, this time in northern Illinois near the Mississippi River. One-hundred-and-three of the the train’s 105 cars were carrying crude oil—from where was not immediately clear—eight of which derailed. Two of the derailed cars have caught on fire, according to BNSF Railway which owns the train, sending plumes of smoke and fire into the sky above Galena, Illinois, a town of just over 3,300.

BNSF oil train derails in rural Illinois; two cars aflame

A BNSF Railway [BNISF.UL] train loaded with crude oil derailed and caught fire on Thursday afternoon in a rural area south of Galena, Illinois, according to local officials and the company.

The incident marks the latest in a series of derailments in North America and the third in three weeks involving trains hauling crude oil, which has put a heightened focus on rail safety.

Exclusive: White House mulled, then balked at curbing explosive gas on oil trains

The Obama administration weighed national standards to control explosive gas in oil trains last year but rejected the move, deciding instead to leave new rules to North Dakota, where much of the fuel originates.

Current and former administration officials told Reuters they were unsure if they had the power to force the energy industry to drain volatile gas from crude oil originating in North Dakota’s fields.

West Virginia Derailment Raises Concerns About Volatility Of Bakken Oil

NPR’s Melissa Block speaks with Wall Street Journal reporter Russell Gold about the volatility of crude oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota. That’s the same oil that exploded when a train derailed in West Virginia two weeks ago.

Gogama train derailment: crude oil levels in waterways decreasing, CN says

The race is on to remove the oil from nearby waterways before the spring thaw, after a crude oil spill near Gogama, Ont. last month.

It’s estimated that over one million litres of bitumen was released after a CN train derailed last month.

CN says the crude oil has reached a nearby pond and a localized area of a lake — but it’s being detected at very low levels.

Nearly 19,000 gallons of saltwater spills north of Tioga

The state Department of Health says a pipeline has leaked nearly 19,000 gallons of saltwater in northwest North Dakota.

The pipeline owned by Continental Resources ruptured after it was struck by equipment excavating at the site about 16 miles north of Tioga.

Documents Reveal EPA’s National Fracking Study Halted by Industry Pressure

Fracking companies had extensive influence over a critical study of the groundwater impacts of fracking, according to insider documents released by Greenpeace.

In 2010, amidst growing worries about the environmental impacts of fracking, Congress compelled the EPA to conduct a study. The study was supposed to be a definitive look at the issue, exploring if and how fracking contaminates groundwater supplies. That study was supposed to be released in 2012 but has been delayed until 2016.

Aurora and Arapahoe county get the attention of oil companies and anti-fracking activists

A growing checkerboard of mineral rights and new oil and gas leases in urban, populated areas of Arapahoe County and Aurora has made the area a focal point for the state’s pro- and anti-fracking activists.

“If it’s done right, it’s a boon to our economy and the state,” said former Aurora City Councilwoman Polly Page, who last fall formed AREA, or Arapahoe Responsible Energy Advocates. Page is also a former Arapahoe County Commissioner and Republican appointee to the Colorado Public Utilities Commission.

California Orders Oil Companies To Stop Drilling Near Drinking Water Supplies

On Tuesday, California regulators ordered a dozen oil and gas wells to cease production over concerns that the wells may be contaminating groundwater.

Oil companies Chevron Corp. and Linn Energy LLC voluntarily stopped production at 10 of the Central Valley wells, while the two other wells were given cease-and-desist orders. While there is no evidence of drinking water contamination yet, the wells are located within a mile of the surface and within 500 feet of a water supply.

Can Brown Regulate Fracking in Kern?

Governor Jerry Brown’s administration shut down 12 oil wells in the Central Valley this week amidst revelations that the carcinogen benzine has leaked into fracking waste water at seven hundred times higher than federal standards.

Brown has staked his opposition to a ban or moratorium on fracking by arguing for what he calls “the toughest regulations in the country” aimed at the oozing center of California’s oil industry, in Kern County. The effectiveness of those regulations has come under fire from many environmentalists. Brown’s answer is that the regulatory overhaul is only beginning. Last year California shut down eight injection wells which have not been reopened.

Divided NC House drops fracking provision from funding bill

In a move that divided Republicans, the state House dropped a fracking provision from an unrelated funding bill Tuesday – reversing a vote taken Monday night.

The late legislative flurry took place just days before an expected March 17 deadline to lift the state’s fracking moratorium. And the 77-41 vote against the amendment was an unusual loss for House Majority Leader Mike Hager, who’d sponsored the proposal.

State Legislature Continues Fight for Fracking on Public Parks Land

Even after Gov. John Kasich unexpectedly reversed his position and threw down a de facto moratorium on fracking across Ohio’s public parks land, the Republican-fronted state legislature is still pushing for that sweet drilling action.

HB 8 would reroute the permitting process for new drilling wells, essentially diluting the regulatory power of the Oil and Gas Commission (which would otherwise demand an environmental study and public input) and opening the portcullis for horizontal drilling in and around public land.

Christie’s Office Drove Exxon Settlement, Ex-Official Says

For more than a decade, the New Jersey attorney general’s office conducted a hard-fought legal battle to hold Exxon Mobil Corporation responsible for decades of environmental contamination in northern New Jersey.

But when the news came that the state had reached a deal to settle its $8.9 billion claim for about $250 million, the driving force behind the settlement was not the attorney general’s office — it was Gov. Chris Christie’s chief counsel, Christopher S. Porrino, two people familiar with the negotiations said.

Christie Administration Officials Praise Deal With Exxon

The administration of Gov. Chris Christie offered details for the first time on Thursday about its settlement of a legal battle with Exxon Mobil Corporation over contamination in which the company agreed to pay a fraction of the damages that the State of New Jersey had sought.

A statement, issued by the state’s attorney general and environmental commissioner, said Exxon agreed to pay $225 million to end the litigation. The state’s experts had pegged the cost of environmental restoration and other damages tied to the company’s refinery operations in northern New Jersey at $8.9 billion.

Shortchanging New Jersey by Billions

THE decision by the administration of Gov. Chris Christie to settle an environmental lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for roughly three cents on the dollar after more than a decade of litigation is an embarrassment to law enforcement and good government.

Even more troubling are the circumstances surrounding the decision, which recently came to light. As a judge deliberated whether to assess the $8.9 billion in damages New Jersey sought, the administration stepped in and agreed to take about $250 million and settle the case.

N.J. senators plan lawsuit to block $250M pollution settlement from Exxon

State lawmakers are trying to block a reported pennies-on-the-dollar settlement with Exxon Mobil and get answers as to why Governor Christie’s administration reached that deal after a decade of litigation.

Days after the news of that settlement – a reported $250 million to end an $8.9 billion claim against the oil company for widespread contamination across Bayonne and Linden – legislators said they still don’t know why the state would strike a deal for a fraction of the estimated cost of damages, especially after the oil giant was found liable. But they are working to find out.

Critics lack options to halt N.J.’s $225M pollution settlement with Exxon

Governor Christie’s role in what many critics are calling a lowball settlement with Exxon Mobil over environmental damages generated more howls of protest on Thursday, but legislators acknowledged they can do very little to block the deal.

The $225 million settlement, officially announced on Thursday by acting state Attorney General John Hoffman, is far less than the $8.9 billion the state originally sought when it sued the oil giant more than a decade ago. Hoffman defended it as the single-largest environmental settlement in state history, saying it provided “a predictable, fair outcome for the people of New Jersey.”

Plantation owners seek answers about mercury soil contamination in St. James Parish

The owners of two historic plantations asked the St. James Parish Council Wednesday to pay for tests that would determine whether the Noranda Alumina plant near Gramercy is causing mercury soil contamination.

Norman Marmillion, owner of Laura Plantation in St. James Parish, and John Cummings, owner of Whitney Plantation in St. John the Baptist Parish, which is home to an acclaimed slavery memorial, said they were making the request in response to reports last month that Noranda officials believed the 55-year-old plant has been emitting mercury into the air for decades undetected and unpermitted.

The Town From “True Blood” Is Filled With Toxic Explosives the EPA Fears Will Blow Up

For the past few years, tiny Doyline, Louisiana, best known as the Southern Gothic setting of HBO’s True Blood, has been perched next to a powder keg. Next month, the Environmental Protection Agency will decide whether to light a match.

In 2012, an explosion at Camp Minden, a former military base just outside of town that had become a hub for munitions contractors, sent a 7,000-foot mushroom cloud into the Louisiana sky. The blast rattled homes as far away as Arkansas and forced Doyline residents to evacuate. “I thought I was in Afghanistan,” one resident told the Associated Press. State police investigators, who raided Camp Minden soon after, discovered that Explo Systems Inc., a munitions recycling company that operated there, was storing 15 million pounds of toxic military explosives on-site—with some of it in in paper sacks, cardboard boxes, or even outside. After the raid, the company, at the direction of state officials, moved the munitions into old bunkers the Louisiana National Guard had made available on the base in order to reduce the risk of an explosion caused by a fire or a lightning strike.

Indigenous Peruvians win Amazon pollution payout from US oil giant

Members of the indigenous Achuar tribe from the Peruvian Amazon have won an undisclosed sum from Occidental Petroleum in an out-of-court settlement after a long-running legal battle in the US courts.

They sued the company in 2007, alleging it knowingly caused pollution which caused premature deaths, birth defects and damaged their habitat.

BP: Petcoke will not be stored in Indiana

Northwest Indiana residents can breathe a little easier.

Huge piles of petroleum coke, or petcoke, that became a major cause of concern after they kicked up black clouds of sulphury dust in residential neighborhoods on Chicago’s Southeast Side aren’t going to just end up in Indiana instead.

BP will not store the petcoke it’s producing at its Whiting Refinery anywhere in Indiana, spokesman Scott Dean said.

Environmentalists file suit over California oil refinery project

Environmentalists in California filed a lawsuit on Wednesday against Contra Costa County over its approval last month of a plan to increase propane recovery at Phillips 66’s Rodeo refinery, saying the environmental review did not take into account the broader impact of the project.

In early February, the Contra Costa Board of Supervisors approved the company’s request to modify its 78,000 barrel-per-day refinery, located on the San Francisco Bay.

Looted and leaking, South Sudan’s oil wells become war-torn nation’s new nightmare

THICK black puddles and a looted, leaking ruin are all that remain of the Thar Jath oil treatment facility, once a crucial part of South Sudan’s mainstay industry.

Lying deep in the bush and swamps of Unity State, far north of the capital Juba, Thar Jath was once a collecting and processing point for crude oil pumped out of nearby wells and on to the Red Sea coast of Sudan for export to oil-thirsty Asian economies.

Clinton Emails Raise Red Flags for Keystone Review, Greens Say

Major environmental organizations are sounding the alarm over revelations that Hillary Clinton used a personal email account to conduct official business during her tenure as secretary of State, pointing to disputes about her review of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Green groups Friends of the Earth and 350.org warn that the private correspondence could have been used to cover up a conflict of interest during Clinton’s review of the controversial pipeline. And Clinton’s penchant for private email, first reported by The New York Times on Monday, is all but guaranteed to deepen distrust between the likely 2016 Democratic front-runner and her presumed allies in the environmental movement.

Canada’s Enbridge reduces costs of oil sands pipelines by C$400 mln

Enbridge Inc, Canada’s largest pipeline operator, said on Thursday it plans to boost the size of two lines carrying crude from the oil sands while shaving C$400 million ($320.4 million) from their original price tag.

The company said two planned regional lines, the Athabasca Twin and Wood Buffalo extension projects, will now cost a combined C$2.6 billion, down from its prior C$3 billion estimate.

The Government Is OK With a 75 Percent Chance of a Major Arctic Oil Spill. Are You?

The Department of the Interior reported recently that drilling in the remote Chukchi Sea in the Arctic would likely cause a major oil spill, which could kill polar bears and ringed seal pups, as well as threaten populations of loons, Pacific brant, murres, puffins, and bowhead whales. There would probably also be hundreds of additional smaller oil spills. Therefore, the department concluded, we ought to go forward with drilling.

There are no typos in that paragraph. No words are missing. The Department of the Interior thinks a 75 percent chance of a major spill—one of more than 1,000 barrels of oil—that would threaten the very existence of multiple species represents a “reasonable balance” between environmental and energy demands.

U.S. must invest in Arctic, Senate panel told

As Arctic waters open up for oil drilling, commercial shipping and even cruise ships, the United States needs to invest in icebreakers, maps and weather forecasting for the region.

That was the consensus of senators, the Obama administration’s Arctic envoy and expert witnesses during a Senate hearing Thursday exploring the “opportunities” at the top of the globe, timed one month before the United States assumes a two-year-chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

Idaho ex-governors say U.S. wants state to be nuclear waste dump

Former Idaho Governors Cecil Andrus and Phil Batt threatened on Thursday to sue the U.S. Energy Department to prevent what they said was its efforts to turn the state into “a nuclear waste dumping ground.”

In a letter notifying the Energy Department of a possible lawsuit, the pair accused it of violating a federal environmental law by planning to ship spent nuclear fuel from elsewhere for study at the Idaho National Laboratory, the department’s flagship nuclear research facility.

Cost of clearing nuclear waste at Sellafield rises £5bn in a year

The cost of cleaning up nuclear waste at Sellafield in Cumbria has increased by £5 billion in less than a year, according to the public spending watchdog.

The Nuclear Decommissioning Authority’s total estimated cost of the work now stands at £53 billion, up from £48 billion in March last year, the National Audit Office said in a report.

Colorado State to team up with Japan to study Fukushima nuclear accident

Colorado State University, in conjunction with Fukushima University in Japan, are funding a study of the effects of a nuclear accident in the Japanese city following a 2011 earthquake.

The two schools are combining to hire an authority on nuclear and radiation risks, CSU alumnus Thomas Hinton, to how radiation from the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant accident has affected wildlife and the environment.

UCLA researchers document disaster recovery in and around Fukushima

Since the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan in 2011, Yoh Kawano’s heart and mind have been set on venturing into the contaminated ruins of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant.

Recently, he achieved his goal. What he learned could help when the next disaster hits.

Muons probe Fukushima’s ruins

Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, destroyed 4 years ago by an earthquake and tsunami, won’t be truly safe until engineers can remove nuclear fuel from three reactors that suffered meltdowns. But first, they have to find that fuel. A novel way to map the scattered uranium may have come, literally, from out of the blue. Two groups of physicists plan to capture muons raining down from the upper atmosphere after they stream through the reactor wreckage, resulting in x-ray–like images that could pinpoint the uranium. Muon detectors have already been deployed at one reactor, and a second approach to muon imaging will be tried at a second reactor and, depending on results, the third as well.

Extensive damage slows Fukushima storage pool fuel removal

Beginning in fiscal 2015, Tokyo Electric Power Co. plans to begin removal of fuel assemblies from one of the storage pools at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, which was left crippled four years ago in Japan’s worst nuclear accident.

In the No. 3 reactor pool are 514 spent fuel assemblies and 52 unused assemblies. “Removing all fuel bundles from pools in the No. 3 and No. 4 reactors would substantially lower the level of risk at the plant,” says Toyoshi Fuketa, acting head of the Nuclear Regulation Authority.

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.

This chemical could protect plants from radioactive fallout at Fukushima

A synthetic chemical prevents a plant native to Japan from absorbing harmful radioactive elements, according to a study published today in Scientific Reports. The findings raise the possibility that it could be used to decontaminate farmland in Japan — a country still reeling from the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.

1 comment

  • Endless amount of weekly disasters to our environment and personal health and safety by the fossil fuel industry and nuclear power industry:

    We need to get off these energies pronto and move to safe,

    clean renewables…

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

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