Environmental Must-Reads – March 8, 2013


As Fracking Increases, So Do Fears About Water Supply

CARRIZO SPRINGS, Tex. — In this South Texas stretch of mesquite trees and cactus, where the land is sometimes too dry to grow crops, the local aquifer is being strained in the search for oil. The reason is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling process that requires massive amounts of water.

“We just can’t sustain it,” Hugh Fitzsimons, a Dimmit County bison rancher who serves on the board of his local groundwater district, said last month as he drove his pickup down a dusty road.

The New Oil Landscape

When Susan Connell arrives at the first oil well of the day, she tosses her stylish black-rimmed glasses onto the dashboard of her 18-wheeler, climbs down from the cab, and pulls the zipper on her fire-resistant coveralls up to her neck. It’s early July, about 7 a.m. We’re on the Fort Berthold Reservation, in western North Dakota. Connell, 39, the mother of two young girls and one of the few female big-rig drivers in the oil patch, is hauling water. Produced water, as it’s officially known. The drivers call it dirty water. During the early days of pumping at a new well, oil is accompanied by fluids and other substances used during drilling, along with salt water, which is abundant above the subterranean layers of rock where the coveted sweet crude is found. Eventually the man-made additives diminish, leaving mostly salt water. Five of the three-story-high tanks in front of us contain oil; the sixth, everything else. That’s what Connell is here to transfer to a waste-disposal well.

Illinois Fracking Deal Could Be The National Model

CHICAGO — After years of clashing over the drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” the oil industry and environmentalists have achieved something extraordinary in Illinois: They sat down together to draft regulations both sides could live with.

If approved by lawmakers, participants say, the rules would be the nation’s strictest. The Illinois model might also offer a template to other states seeking to carve out a middle ground between energy companies that would like free rein and environmental groups that want to ban the practice entirely.

A look at Illinois fracking bill drafted with help from oil industry and environmentalists

Illinois House Bill 2615 would regulate a controversial method of oil and gas drilling known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking. The legislation is unusual because it was negotiated with the help of industry and environmental groups.

New York Assembly Passes Two Year Fracking Moratorium

In a roll call vote of 95-40, the New York State Assembly has passed a two-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), the toxic horizontal drilling process through which oil and gas is procured that’s found within shale rock basins across the country and the world.

The bill, if passed by the Senate and signed off by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would close the state’s doors to the oil and gas industry’s desire to begin operating in New York’s portion of the Marcellus Shale basin until May 2015. New York has had a moratorium on the books since 2008.

In the fracking fields, a fight over who regulates

In the natural gas fracking debate, all eyes are on Harrisburg, Pa. Any day, the state supreme court will rules in a case that goes to the heart of this drilling boom: Who makes the rules? Can companies drill and frack wherever they want?

Oil group pushes for separate fracking rules

Oil producers in western Kern County could escape some proposed fracking regulations under an industry plan that has drawn a skeptical response from environmentalists.

A trade group is talking with state lawmakers about drawing a distinction between modern hydraulic fracturing in highly populated areas and the kind of less-intensive fracking that has gone on for decades in western Kern.

Is ‘fracking’ in Florida’s future? Some lawmakers think so

The national debate about a type of oil and gas drilling known as “fracking” has never hit home in Florida.

But state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, says that “every indication is at some point in the future” fracking —or, more formally, hydraulic fracturing — will happen in Florida.

Public-Health Expert Warns of Poor Drilling Safeguards

Dr. Bernard Goldstein isn’t opposed to drilling for shale gas. But Goldstein, a physician and professor emeritus in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health, warns that in Pennsylvania, the law governing disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fails to protect public health. And he says that the drilling industry is “managing” the story of gas extraction to divert our attention from fracking’s real risks.

Ban on Radioactive Fracking Waste Passed by Putnam County, NY Legislators

A coalition of health and environmental groups gathered in Carmel, New York yesterday following the meeting of the Putnam County Board of Legislators to congratulate the legislators for voting to prohibit the sale, application and disposal of waste products in the County from natural gas drilling operations.

EPA Accused of Violating Clean Water Act Through Approval of Corexit in BP Gulf Oil Cleanup

Oil Spill Eater International (OSEI), through the Gulf Oil Spill Remediation Conference group, issued a press release this week saying that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) effectively blocked or otherwise delayed scientific advancement in the cleanup of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster by refusing to acknowledge the toxicity of the oil dispersant Corexit.

Waterkeeper Alliance Files Lawsuit Against U.S. Coast Guard Over Ongoing Oil Spill

On March 4, Waterkeeper Alliance, in collaboration with several Gulf of Mexico Waterkeeper organizations, filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Coast Guard over unfulfilled requests for public records related to the ongoing Taylor Energy oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP oil spill trial: Blowout preventer on Macondo well had dead battery, miswired solenoid, expert testifies

The blowout preventer used on the BP Macondo well contained a dead battery and a miswired solenoid, a fatal combination that resulted in the complex piece of machinery failing to stop the flow of oil and gas that triggered the explosion and fire on April 20, 2010.

That means that blind shear rams, scissors-like instruments designed to cut through drilling pipe and block the flow of oil in an emergency, failed, an expert witness testified Thursday.

BP, Transocean botched safety tests, witness says

BP and Transocean officials on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig botched safety tests the night it blew up and sent oil spilling into the Gulf of Mexico, an expert on drilling told a judge.

Activist Brockovich to Speak with Residents Near Louisiana Sinkhole

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich and a California attorney hired by a group of Assumption Parish, La., residents are coming to Pierre Part to discuss the legal options for residents evacuated from the Bayou Corne area due to a giant sinkhole.

Los Angeles personal injury lawyer Thomas V. Girardi tells The Advocate he and Brockovich will attend a community meeting at the American Legion Hall to answer residents’ questions.

Interior secretary nominee grilled about offshore drilling stances

U.S. Interior Department secretary nominee Sally Jewell said Thursday that she wants to find an “appropriate resolution” for increasing revenue sharing for states like Louisiana that allow offshore oil-and-gas production near their coasts.

Jewell was quizzed for nearly three hours by members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which must next consider approving her nomination and sending her name to the Senate floor for final confirmation.

Senator feels bad for BP, wants it to bid on new Gulf drilling leases

Pity poor BP.

That’s the message from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La). She is among the lawmakers who say the federal government needs to cut the company some slack and allow it to bid on Gulf Coast drilling leases when they’re auctioned off by the Department of Interior later this month. The company was temporarily banned by the EPA in November from bidding on new leases because of the “lack of business integrity” it demonstrated “with regard to the Deepwater Horizon blowout, explosion, oil spill, and response.”

BP officially quits the solar business

Remember when BP tried to rebrand itself as “Beyond Petroleum” and came up with a new logo designed to evoke solar power? Well, looks like the company might have to call in some new branding consultants. NPR’s Morning Edition reports:

“We have thrown in the towel on solar,” [BP CEO] Bob Dudley said after delivering a wide-ranging speech Wednesday.

China, Keystone in a showdown over oil pipeline

A Chinese oil company last week bought a small but significant player in the Canadian oil sands, the third-largest deposit of accessible oil in the world and the source of more than a quarter of U.S. oil imports.

The sale of Nexen to the Chinese National Offshore Oil Company, or CNOOC, for $15.1 billion was the largest Chinese overseas acquisition ever, and continues a patient, strategic Chinese campaign to secure energy assets in North America.

Environmental Justice and the Keystone XL Pipeline

On March 1, in an unexpected move, President Obama’s U.S. Department of State released its draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline section that will cross the U.S. and Canadian border in Montana and travel into Steele City, Nebraska.

Landowners meet oil industry in Beaumont courtroom over Keystone XL

Representatives of two things held sacred in Texas – the oil and gas industry and private property owners – met in a Beaumont courtroom Thursday in a legal battle that questions more than a century of legislative process that presumes what’s good for the oil business is good for the general public.

TransCanada and the Texas Land Partners presented their cases to the judges of the Ninth Court of Appeals  in a dispute over the condemnation of Southeast Texas farmland for the Keystone XL pipeline.

La. nuclear plant problem cited

A “near-miss” at River Bend Nuclear Station near St. Francisville in May was one of 14 near-misses in 2012 at 12 nuclear plants across the country highlighted in a report the Union of Concerned Scientists released Thursday.

None of these near-misses caused any worker injuries or any harm to the public, said Dave Lochbaum, director of the Union of Concerned Scientist’s Nuclear Safety Project and the author of the report.

Stress emerges as major health issue in Fukushima

MINAMI-SOMA, Japan — Japan’s radiation nightmare has turned the lively home that truck driver Takahiro Ishitani once shared with his wife and three sons into a cluttered bachelor pad.

A coffee mug full of cigarette butts, a towel and other odds and ends sit on a low table in the apartment’s small living room. He offers a visitor a takeout box lunch, his main source of sustenance these days. Laundry hangs inside so it won’t absorb the radiation that remains in the ground, two years after an earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns and explosions at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, about 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the south.

Rare tour of Fukushima reveals colossal decontamination efforts

Journalists have been given a rare glimpse inside Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled in the 9-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that hit the country two years ago.

The tour of the plant ahead of the March 11 anniversary  of the disaster – which killed nearly 19,000 people and forced about 160,000 from their homes – sheds light on the colossal effort to decommission the nuclear reactors. The process is expected to take up to 40 years.

Google sends Street View car into Fukushima dead zone

Google’s Street View project took an unusual left turn this week after one of it’s familiar camera mounted cars took to the streets of Namie – a town in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture deserted nearly two years ago after the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

A Google spokesperson confirmed to The Reg that the unusual project to photograph the town’s streets was undertaken at the behest of its mayor, Tamotsu Baba.

Greenpeace: Fukushima victims are victims once again

Two years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, radiation levels in the city of the same name remain far higher than normal. Heinz Smital, of Greenpeace, believes residents are being kept in the dark over the dangers.

Fukushima today (PHOTOS)

Members of the media wearing protective suits and masks are escorted by TEPCO employees as they go on a visit near the No.4 reactor (C) and its foundation construction (R) for the storage of melted fuel rods at Tokyo Electric Power Company’s (TEPCO) tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Fukushima prefecture March 6, 2013, ahead of the second-year of anniversary of the disaster. Members of the media were allowed into the plant on Wednesday ahead of the second-year anniversary of the March 11, 2011 tsunami and earthquake, which triggered the world’s worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl.

Inside Fukushima two years on: radiation levels too high to enter reactors

Two years on from the second-worst nuclear disaster in history, The Telegraph’s Julian Ryall visits the Fukushima nuclear plant to see what progress – if any – is being made.

Reality of Fukushima cleanup hits Japan

OKUMA, Japan – Two years after an accident at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant triggered the worlds’ worst nuclear crisis since Chernobyl, decommissioning is set to begin. The threat of extremely hazardous radioactive contamination from the plant – which suffered a triple meltdown and hydrogen explosions – forced tens of thousands of farmers, families and elderly to evacuate from their homes.

TWO YEARS ON: NPO continues volunteer activities to provide radiation data in Fukushima

As the crisis started to unfold at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, tech-savvy individuals on both sides of the Pacific banded together to help fill the void of information that residents so desperately needed.

For Pieter Franken, his role in the venture was more personal. His Japanese wife had relatives in a city devastated by the tsunami that led to the nuclear accident on March 11, 2011. He also feared for the future of his daughter in Japan.

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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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