Environmental Must-Reads – March 9, 2015


Crime In North Dakota’s Oil Boom Towns Is So Bad That The FBI Is Stepping In

High levels of crime in North Dakota’s oil fields have prompted the FBI to set up shop in the region.

The FBI is opening an office in Williston, North Dakota and plans to have it fully staffed by later this year, The Hill reported Thursday. The FBI office — which will be North Dakota’s fifth — comes in response to North Dakota lawmakers’ and local officials’ calls for the FBI to step up its presence in North Dakota’s oil fields, which have seen a surge in criminal activity since the state’s oil boom began.

Illinois oil train derailment threatens Mississippi River

An oil train derailment and spill in northwest Illinois poses an “imminent and substantial danger” of contaminating the Mississippi River, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said Saturday.

The spill from the derailment, which occurred Thursday, also threatens the Galena River, a tributary of the Mississippi, and the Upper Mississippi National Wildlife and Fish Refuge, one of the most complex ecosystems in North America.

Fires Finally Dwindling Days After Illinois Oil Train Derailment

Firefighters were still working Sunday to extinguish the last of a series of fires that erupted when a BNSF Railway train loaded with crude oil derailed two days ago in a rural area south of Galena, Illinois, a local official said. The incident marked the latest in a series of derailments in North America involving trains hauling crude oil, heightening focus on rail safety.

Nobody was injured in the fiery Thursday wreck, in which 21 cars of a 105-car BNSF train that originated in North Dakota derailed about 3 miles outside Galena, a town of just more than 3,000 near the border with Wisconsin. Five of the 103 cars packed with Bakken crude oil caught fire, sending plumes of black smoke and fireballs over the area, city and company officials said.

Illinois Oil Train Derailment Involved Safer Tank Cars

The rail cars that split open and burst into flames during a western Illinois oil train derailment this week had been retrofitted with protective shields to meet a higher safety standard than federal law requires, according to railroad officials.

The fire continued to burn Friday, a day after the derailment in a rural area south of the city of Galena. No injuries were reported, but the accident was the latest in a series of failures for the safer tank-car model that has led some people calling for even tougher requirements.

CN Rail, BNSF Tackle Accidents as Group Seeks Ban on Oil Trains

Canadian National Railway Co. is building a 1,500-foot (457 meter) long track to bypass a burning train that derailed Saturday in northern Ontario, while BNSF Railway Co. crews are working to reopen track in rural Illinois after a train carrying oil derailed three days ago.

CN crude oil train derailment in Gogama, Ont., ‘very concerning,’ transportation minister says

Another train derailment in northern Ontario has added new fuel to the ongoing debate over whether rail is a safe way of transporting crude oil.

First Nations and environmentalists are among those expressing alarm over Saturday’s derailment of a CN Rail train that caused numerous tank cars carrying crude oil to catch fire and spill into a local river system.

Crude Oil Train Derailment In Ontario, Canada Is Third Accident In Less Than A Month

A Canadian National Railway Co train carrying crude oil derailed near the northern Ontario community of Gogama, with multiple cars on fire and some leaking oil into a waterway, the company said on Saturday.

There were no injuries reported from the derailment, CN’s second in the region in just three days and third in less than a month. It was the latest in a series of North American derailments involving trains hauling crude oil, raising concerns about rail safety.

Wrecks Hit Tougher Oil Railcars

In a string of recent oil train derailments in the U.S. and Canada, new and sturdier railroad tanker cars being built to carry a rising tide of crude oil across the continent have failed to prevent ruptures.

These tank cars, called CPC-1232s, are the new workhorses of the soaring crude-by-rail industry, carrying hundreds of thousands of barrels a day across the two countries.

Recent derailments raise concerns about transporting oil by trains

A string of train derailments involving tank cars carrying crude oil from the Bakken field in North Dakota has spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil, set off explosive fires and forced the evacuation of hundreds of people from North Dakota to Virginia over the past couple of years.

The dramatic rise in oil transported by train and reports of fiery derailments have raised concerns in Louisiana about the possibility of a crude oil derailment near a populated area and the state’s ability to respond.

Road De-Icing Fluids May Contain Unhealthy Chemicals

During this seemingly endless winter road crews have been in a continual battle to keep streets and highways safe. Their chief weapon: saltwater. It adheres to the pavement better than bouncing rock salt and keeps ice from forming on top of it. But on some roads this salty solution may contain other potentially harmful substances.

Most state transportation departments mix this brine themselves, using either simple salt and water or natural brine extracted from underground deposits. But in states with conventional natural gas and oil drilling wells, spreading the well wastewater on roads can be a cost-saving way to de-ice.

Environmental movement blocks fracking in Algeria’s remote south

An unprecedented environmental protest movement in a remote part of Algeria has disrupted the country’s multibillion-dollar shale oil programme and is making political waves across the North African nation and the wider region.

Since the start of January, thousands of protesters have turned up daily in the rural town of Ain Salah, in the heart of the Sahara, to take part in increasingly raucous rallies against a $70bn hydraulic fracturing project they say will pollute the groundwater and disturb the environment.

Oil Glut Sparks Latest Dilemma: Where to Put It All

In a world awash in crude, oil producers and traders are facing a billion-barrel conundrum: where to put it all.

U.S. crude-oil supplies are at their highest level in more than 80 years, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, equal to nearly 70% of the nation’s storage capacity. A U.S. storage hub in Cushing, Okla., is expected to hit maximum capacity this spring. While estimates are rough, Citigroup Inc. believes European commercial crude storage could be more than 90% full, and inventories in South Korea, South Africa and Japan could be at more than 80% of capacity.

Oklahomans gather at State Capitol, ask for moratorium on fracking

Earthquakes in Oklahoma are increasing, and many Oklahomans are wondering why.

Before 2009, Oklahoma was barely on the earthquake map, but in 2014, Oklahoma recorded 562 earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or higher.

Pipeline Company Threatens Legal Action Against Survey Holdouts

Mountain Valley Pipeline LLC sent out letters threatening legal action against property owners who refused access to their land for surveying. Groups opposed to the pipeline believe there is no basis for legal action. The issue appears far from black and white.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline, or MVP, is a proposed 42-inch diameter, 330-mile line that would connect hydraulic fracturing operations in West Virginia to a transmission pipeline in Virginia. EQT and NextEra Energy are partnering on the project.

Kinder Morgan pipeline foes lawyer up; form regional non-profit

Foes of a proposed Kinder Morgan natural gas pipeline in Massachusetts and New Hampshire have formed a regional nonprofit and hired a Boston attorney, said Katherine Eiseman, director of Massachusetts Pipe Line Awareness Network, or MassPLAN.

The recently-incorporated Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast have engaged Richard Kanoff, a former Assistant Attorney General for Massachusetts who specializes in energy law, Eiseman said.

A Proposed Pipeline Could lower gas Prices but Poses Risks

Mixed feelings about a proposed pipeline coming through Georgia. The company over the project, is making plans to build a petroleum pipeline down the Savannah River, but not everyone is on board.

The company, Kinder Morgan, says The Palmetto project will lower gas prices and increase competition.

Are There More Oil and Gas Wells in LA Than Movie Stars?

The story of the rise and fall of Edward Doheny, the first oil baron of Southern California, would seem the archetype of a LA noir tale: A man rises from rags to riches and presents a veneer of respectability to the outside world, but behind closed doors lurks corruption, even violence. Elaborate stagecraft—Hollywood’s specialty—hides the machinery and political machinations that fuel what boosters like to call “progress.” A kind of prosperity veils danger. Here’s how the story goes.

Ghost Town Left in the Wake of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Louisiana

Bayou Corne, 77 miles west of New Orleans, can be added to the growing list of communities destroyed by industrial accidents.

“I wanted to stay in Bayou Corne for the rest of my life. I wanted to die here,” Mike Schaff, who recently moved out, told DeSmogBlog. “Texas Brine took that away from me. It’s like a ghost town now.”

BP Drops Opposition to Gulf Oil Spill Claims Chief It Criticized

BP has abruptly switched legal strategies—again—in the multi-billion-dollar liability fight stemming from the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The company dropped a campaign to oust a settlement administrator it had accused of tolerating waste and fraud. The move seeks, in part, to mollify a federal judge in New Orleans who could sock BP with an enormous judgment in an environmental suit filed by the U.S. government.

Five years after BP blowout, Florida’s oil and health problems evade national attention

It’s almost five years after the Deepwater Horizon blowout and Bellona’s Karl Kristensen and I have just struck oil on a beach in Cat Point, Florida – a state whose post-spill wounds have gone untreated for too long.

Guided here by Tampa area nurse and biologist Trisha Springstead – who is a one-person clearinghouse for the impact Florida sustained from the spill – we’ve shoveled through about 50 centimeters of freshly laid sand to discover a black, flakey layer of what Kristensen says is oxydized oil consistent with what poured out of BP’s Macondo well off the west coast of Louisiana.

Exxon Wants $1 Million Fine for 2011 Yellowstone Oil Spill Reduced Again

More than three and a half years after an ExxonMobil pipeline spilled 63,000 gallons of oil into the Yellowstone River, the world’s second-most-valuable company is still fighting regulators over being assessed a $1 million fine.

Exxon last month attacked the legal underpinnings of the government’s case, which stems from the July 2011 rupture of the Silvertip Pipeline near Laurel, Mont. The oil giant argued that it complied with federal regulations and that pipeline regulators overstepped their authority in interpreting the legal requirements. It also said that all but one of the violations should be dropped and that the government should, at a minimum, “significantly reduce” the penalties.

Montana pipeline that spilled gets partial re-start approval

Federal safety regulators have approved the limited resumption of operations for a pipeline that spilled 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River near Glendive.

The Department of Transportation says Wyoming-based Bridger Pipeline LLC can use a 50-mile stretch of the line that begins on the south side of the river and continues south to Baker, Montana.

What’s in the air we breathe?

Word that four state and federal government agencies decided on their own last year that an open tray burn would be the best way to get rid of a stockpile of millions of pounds of increasingly unstable M6 propellant at Camp Minden didn’t immediately trigger alarms.

But when the realization hit and folks like property owner Dolores Blalock began dissecting the components of the M6 pellets and realized the potential amount of cancer-causing toxins that would be released into the atmosphere through an extended open burn of more than 15 million pounds of M6, citizens throughout Northwest Louisiana rose united in opposition to the decision.

Duke pollution could continue under proposed permits

Duke Energy could legally leak pollutants from some of its coal ash dumps under new wastewater permits proposed Friday by North Carolina regulators.

Just days after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against Duke over the leaks, the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources released new draft permits for three of Duke’s coal ash sites. New permits for Duke’s remaining coal ash dumps across the state are to follow.

Keystone XL oil pipeline: What you need to know about the dispute

One of the biggest environmental controversies of the Obama administration got locked up in Congress again this week, when the Republican-controlled Senate failed to override President Obama’s recent veto of legislation that would have forced a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline.

From the halls of Congress to courthouses in heartland states, the project has created a stark divide. Critics believe the planned 1,179-mile pipeline undermines efforts to slow climate change and could threaten a crucial aquifer. On the other hand, construction of the pipeline would undoubtedly create jobs. But what then?

Oxy pays confidential sum to settle Peru pollution case

Indigenous communities that sued Occidental Petroleum over contamination in Peru’s northern Amazon have reached an out-of-court settlement in which the California-based oil company will pay them an undisclosed sum.

The amount is confidential, under a settlement that was reached in 2013 in Los Angeles federal court but not announced until Thursday. The money is to fund community development projects.

GOP senator: US is ‘woefully behind’ in Arctic oil exploration

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) on Thursday warned that the United States is “woefully behind” other countries, when it comes to development in the Arctic.

Murkowski and other members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee raised concerns over the nation’s lack of preparation for the changing situation in the Arctic.

Maine’s Sen. King co-creates Arctic Caucus

Sen. Angus King is partnering with Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to influence U.S. policies on Arctic issues.

King, an independent, and Murkowski, a Republican, on Wednesday announced the creation of an “Arctic Caucus” in the Senate. Both senators believe the United States should be a leader in guiding international policy decisions that affect the Arctic.

Tom Udall’s Unlikely Alliance With the Chemical Industry

Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico has earned a reputation as an environmental champion. He helped lead the fight against oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and pushed through legislation for a new federal wilderness area in his home state of New Mexico.

It is part of his family legacy, dating back to the Kennedy administration, when his father, Stewart, served as the secretary of interior, and later played a vital role in enacting the landmark Clean Air and Clean Water Acts.

The plot to destroy the Arctic: George W. Bush, Big Oil and the “Sixth Extinction”

Here’s a Jeopardy!-style question for you: “Eight different species of whales can be seen in these two American seas.” Unless you’re an Iñupiaq, a marine biologist, or an Arctic enthusiast like me, it’s a pretty good guess that you can’t tell me what those seas are or what those whales are either. The answer: the Chukchi Sea and the adjacent Beaufort Sea, off Arctic Alaska, and you can commonly spot bowhead, beluga, and grey whales there, while fin whales, minkes, humpbacks, killer whales, and narwhals are all venturing into these seas ever more often as the Arctic and its waters continue to warm rapidly.

Statoil delays development of Arctic oilfield

Statoil has again delayed committing to the development of its Johan Castberg oil discovery deep inside the Arctic Circle, citing falling oil prices and expected high operating costs.

The Norwegian oil group said it would not make a decision about whether to proceed with the project until next year at the earliest. The field is thought to contain between 400m and 600m barrels of oil.

Scientists Outline Research Wish List for Nuclear Energy

Engineers and researchers from national laboratories and universities around the country said Thursday that the United States needs to develop a proving ground where the latest innovations in nuclear energy can be put to the test instead of losing designs to China and other countries.

Groups gathered at the University of New Mexico, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a few other sites around the country as part of an effort by the U.S. Department of Energy to narrow the list of critical research problems the nation needs to address when it comes to nuclear energy.

More needs to be done to help Fukushima evacuees return home

A large number of residents in Fukushima Prefecture were forced to evacuate because of the crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. As many as 119,000 people still remain evacuees in and outside the prefecture.

It is essential to enhance support for the evacuees to help them return to their own, dear homes.

Japan Gets a Look at Its Future Population Drain in Fukushima Today

Japan will honor its dead this week from the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the coastline north of Tokyo on March 11 four years ago.

For those who have spent those years helping survivors in the northeast region known as Tohoku, the experience has thrown up the challenge of how to knit back together communities built over centuries, then shattered in the space of minutes on that Friday afternoon in 2011.

Radioactive water detected again at Fukushima plant, source unknown

A relatively high level of radioactivity was detected in ditch water around tanks at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, but Tokyo Electric Power Co. has not pinpointed the cause of the latest contamination.

TEPCO said on March 5 that the tanks store water containing high concentrations of radioactive materials, but no leaks have been found in them.

Path to Restoration / Contaminated water plagues Fukushima decommissioning

This is the sixth and final installment in a series.

On Feb. 25, a meeting of local fisheries cooperative chiefs of the Fukushima Prefectural Federation of Fisheries Cooperative Associations was held in Iwaki in the prefecture. Standing in front of grim-faced fishery operators, Tsunemasa Niitsuma, deputy head of Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Revitalization Headquarters, bowed his head, saying, “I am terribly sorry for causing so much trouble.”

Wanted: blogger to tout the charms of Fukushima

Fukushima is looking to recruit someone willing to visit the prefecture and help publicize its tourist appeal on a blog or other social media platform.

The position pays ¥10,000 an hour. Applications should be filed by March 15.

Labor of love left to wither and die in Fukushima

On March 11, 2011, Futaba, a sleepy Fukushima town and bedroom community for employees of the nearby No. 1 nuclear power plant, suddenly became a place known around the world — for all the wrong reasons.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, and the ensuing meltdowns, explosions and massive radiation leakage at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s No. 1 plant, approximately 57,000 Fukushima residents fled their homes in the prefecture, many abandoning communities they had been a part of for generations.

Japan’s contaminated Fukushima debate four years on

On 24 February 2015, the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) issued a press release saying that the source of high radiation levels in one of its drains came from a puddle of rainwater that had accumulated on the rooftop of Unit 2 at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station. The drain leads to open seawater. It was thus suspected that contaminated water may have leaked into the sea, although TEPCO found ‘no increase in radioactivity’ in the seawater in the area.

Nuclear waste, arsenic at SC coal plant raise concern

Just a few hundred yards from Lake Robinson lies an old waste pond that, until this year, was among the least of Duke Energy’s worries in the Carolinas.

The pond had virtually dried up and, as coal ash basins go, didn’t appear to present the same threat to groundwater, rivers or lakes that other ash basins do, environmentalists say.

Parents help scuttle deal on cell towers at school

Even though school funding is getting harder to come by, parents from Collier Elementary School rebuffed thousands of dollars that could have been generated by a cellphone tower lease, citing health concerns.

Such leases, already in place at nine Tucson Unified School District campuses, have brought in nearly $355,000 a year — the majority of which goes directly to the school sites.

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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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