Environmental Must-Reads – May 1, 2015


Study links air pollution in Baltimore, DC to fracking outside Maryland

Even though Maryland has yet to permit any hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, emissions linked to the controversial drilling technique have been detected in the air in Baltimore and Washington, according to a new study.

In a paper published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, University of Maryland scientists reported finding that levels of ethane, a component of natural gas, rose 30 percent from 2010 through 2013 in air samples taken at a monitoring station in Essex.

Fracking Wells Could Pollute The Air Hundreds Of Miles Away

Air pollution from hydraulic fracturing operations can likely travel hundreds of miles, even into states with little or no fracking, a new study has found.

The study, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, looked at hourly measurements of air pollutants like ethane and methane — gases that are found in natural gas — in Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D.C. between 2010 and 2013. It found that ethane measurements increased by 30 percent between 2010 and 2013 in the region.

PG&E faces $48 million lawsuit for injuries in Fresno gas pipeline blast

A Fresno lawyer who compares the April 17 Fresno pipeline explosion to the San Bruno pipeline blast that killed eight people almost five years ago says Pacific Gas & Electric Co. should pay $48 million in punitive damages to his three clients.

Fracking behind the rise of man-made earthquakes, new maps show

New earthquake hazard maps signal a watershed moment: They show that fracking’s byproducts are clearly to blame for swarms of earthquakes plaguing several states.

The maps highlight 17 hotspots where communities face a significantly increased risk of earthquakes, and the accompanying report links the earthquakes to wastewater injection wells. Previous maps did not include earthquakes that are induced by human activities.

Citizens group appeals approval of Penn Township fracking plan

A citizens group has gone to court to appeal a decision by the Penn Township zoning board to approve a Marcellus Shale gas drilling operation in the northeastern part of the township.

The group, Protect PT, contends that the board’s approval of Apex Energy LLC’s planned operation violates a township ordinance requiring that drilling companies submit air-quality and geological studies in order to receive a permit. The board’s approval came with conditions, including that Apex submit those studies, along with an emergency response plan that must receive approval from the township zoning officer, before beginning drilling operations at the site near Route 22.

Fracking could wipe tens of thousands of pounds off house prices

Fracking could wipe thousands of pounds off the value of homes in areas where the controversial mining technique is allowed to go ahead.

The first extensive estate agents’ survey in Lancashire, Manchester and Sussex – areas in which energy firms have applied to start extracting shale gas – showed that two thirds of respondents thought house prices would suffer.

Anti-fracking activists now fight against oil infrastructure

Hydraulic fracturing is currently not allowed in New York State. But a group of medical professionals, advocates, and residents warn the industry still poses a grave risk to the Empire State.

It is not fracking that has caused worry. It is the industry infrastructure that has a large footprint in the state, despite the fact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation announced late last year that fracking would not be permitted in New York.

UT Energy Poll shows many people support allowing cities to ban fracking

Most people support allowing cities to ban hydraulic fracturing within their limits, according to a new poll released Wednesday by the University of Texas.

According to the University of Texas at Austin Energy Poll, 58 percent of those who responded said they supported municipal bans on fracking, while 25 percent said that they opposed allowing the bans.

City officials protest bill to stop outright fracking bans

A bill that could largely stop cities from banning fracking got a vote to go to the full Texas Senate, although a group of city officials sent in a letter to lawmakers protesting the move

House Bill 40 from state Rep. Drew Darby, R-San Angelo, already has passed the House after Darby worked out a deal to appease the Texas Oil and Gas Association and the Texas Municipal League.

New Docu-Series Paints a Complicated Picture of Life in a Fracking Town

“Fracking” is surely among the most loaded terms to emerge in the national conversation within the last decade. The arguments on both sides of the enviro-political aisle are vigorous. Is fracking a job-creating revolution in energy technology, or an environmental disaster exacerbating economic inequality?

Whatever your view, you’ve probably spent less time considering the communities behind the controversy. BOOMTOWNERS, a new documentary series on the Smithsonian Channel, follows the lives of the workers flooding into towns across the Bakken shale formation, dreaming of better lives made of black gold. While the show focuses heavily on the labor involved in hydraulic fracturing, it also raises questions about the meaning of community and the value of city planning as small towns across Montana and North Dakota struggle to meet the needs of a soaring—and transient—population.

Oil Train Bill Hits Railroads With Surcharge For Flawed Tank Cars

Oregon’s U.S. senators want to put a $175 fee on each older model railroad tank car used to ship flammable oil.

Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley joined four other Democrats in introducing a bill Thursday that would create a surcharge on each DOT-111, a tank car model known to be flawed and puncture-prone.

U.S., Canada ready oil train safety measures

Canada’s transport minister will be in Washington on Friday for a joint announcement with her U.S. counterpart aimed at harmonizing safety regulations on shipping crude oil by rail, a politically sensitive issue on both sides of the border.

Lisa Raitt and U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx are expected to demand that railroad companies equip cars with electronically controlled pneumatic brakes, a proposal the industry has aggressively resisted.

Kinder Morgan pipeline leak reaches 300,000 gallons in South Carolina

More than 300,000 gallons of gasoline have leaked from Texas-based energy company Kinder Morgan’s pipeline in Belton, S.C., since a structure failure in December, according to the Savannah Riverkeeper.

The spill was originally reported as 800 gallons, but was actually 800 barrels, Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said. There are 42 gallons per barrel.

Opponents of Palmetto Pipeline pointing to 300,000-gallon gasoline spill near Belton, S.C.

At the same time a Texas-based pipeline company faces little early opposition in South Carolina to its plans to build 100 miles of pipeline there, opponents in Georgia are pointing to a gasoline spill at the pipeline’s beginning point in Belton, S.C.

The 360-mile pipeline would cross the Savannah River near Augusta and then follow the river to near Savannah before turning south to its end in Jacksonville.

The BP Deepwater Horizon Disaster Isn’t Over for the Gulf’s Whales and Dolphins

Among the oil rig inferno images that filled our TV and computer screens five years ago were birds smothered in brown crude and dolphins washed up on Louisiana beaches. As BP’s Macondo well spewed oil from the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico for 87 days straight and responders poured oil dispersants into the sea, one of many questions lingering on people’s minds was, What was all that stuff going to do to the Gulf’s ecosystem?

Five years on, we’re still looking for answers.

Obama unlikely to unveil Keystone move during Canada election: sources

U.S. President Barack Obama is unlikely to deliver his verdict on TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL pipeline between mid-June and mid-October for fear of being seen as interfering in Canada’s upcoming election, said three Ottawa-based sources familiar with the matter.

Two of the sources said Obama – whose relations with Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper are generally cool – realized there was a risk that a decision before the election could be seen as a bid to influence the Oct. 19 vote.

Property owners puzzled by Mountain Valley Pipeline route mapping decisions

The irony rings clear for David Seriff. Seriff’s opposition to the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline emerged even before the revelation last fall that the route of the buried natural gas pipeline might directly impact residents of Preston Forest, a wooded subdivision of attractive homes in Montgomery County.

At the time, the proposed route of the 42-inch diameter interstate pipeline was roughly a mile from the Preston Forest home of Seriff and his wife, Bridget Simmerman, a holistic psychotherapist with a practice in nearby Blacksburg. Seriff, 57, is a senior training manager for AT&T.

Landowner rights outlined for opponents of pipeline project

Allen Trayer picked up some new tools in his fight against a Sunoco Logistics project that is bringing a new oil pipeline through Pennsylvania along the same path as an existing line.

The North Middleton Township landowner was among 50 residents who learned about landowner rights and the steps they can take to protect those rights during a meeting hosted in Carlisle by Cumberland and Perry Pipeline Awareness.

Enterprise plans new Texas pipeline amid oil slump

Enterprise Products Partners LP (NYSE: EPD) said April 30 it plans to develop a new pipeline to transport crude oil and condensate from Midland, Texas, to the Houston area.

The Houston-based master limited partnership said it now has approximately $7.5 billion of capital growth projects under construction.

Keystone pipeline hearing moved to late July

The state Public Utilities Commission on Thursday set new dates for taking testimony on whether TransCanada can still meet the conditions set five years ago for building the proposed Keystone XL pipeline through South Dakota.

The evidentiary hearing will be July 27-31, with Aug. 3-4 reserved if needed. The hearing had been scheduled for May 5-8 until the commission on Monday decided to push it back.

Valero CEO Joe Gorder speaks on Keystone, other pipeline projects

Stockholders gathered at Valero Energy Corp.’s annual meeting in San Antonio on Thursday morning had much to smile about. Valero (NYSE: VLO) reported handsome profits in 2014, with $5.9 billion of income reported from its refining activity alone.

Valero CEO Joe Gorder shared that good news and other developments at the Thursday meeting with the San Antonio Business Journal and other media outlets.

Shell pushes on with Arctic exploration as it awaits U.S. permit

Royal Dutch Shell is pushing ahead with plans to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean near Alaska this summer despite opposition from environmental groups.

The Anglo-Dutch oil major is preparing “an armada of 25 vessels” to begin a two-year program to explore two to three wells in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska, Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry said on Thursday.

Shell Prepares Armada to Begin Arctic Exploration

Royal Dutch Shell is pushing ahead with plans to explore for oil in the Arctic Ocean near Alaska this summer despite opposition from environmental groups.

The Anglo-Dutch oil major is preparing “an armada of 25 vessels” to begin a two-year program to explore two to three wells in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska, Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry said on Thursday.

U.S. government to pay New Mexico $73 million over radiation leak

The U.S. Energy Department will pay New Mexico $73 million in road and other infrastructure projects for violations by an underground nuclear waste dump and nuclear research lab that led to a radiation leak last year, officials said on Thursday.

The deal struck between the department and New Mexico forgoes fines and instead applies funds to upgrades to federal nuclear facilities and surrounding communities in the state, according to settlement documents.

Is Radioactive Water Worth Worrying About?

On a sunny lunch hour last June, Tricia Stevens and one of her colleagues from Lush, a cosmetics company with offices in Vancouver, British Columbia, headed to the beach with a collapsible five-gallon jug, a funnel, two zip ties, and a red plastic crate with a prepaid U.P.S. shipping label. They waded into Burrard Inlet and filled the jug with seawater (the same seawater that gives Lush’s Sea Spray Hair Mist its pep), then sealed it up and sent it across the continent, to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts, where it was tested for radiation. A week later, the results were in: Stevens’s sample had a cesium-137 level of 0.4 becquerels per cubic metre, making it about two thousand times less radioactive than the average banana.

Wildfires in Chernobyl Exclusion Zone Prompt Radiation Fears

Ukraine’s emergency services appealed for calm Wednesday as wildfires raged in the exclusion zone surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine that went into meltdown in 1986.

“Levels of background radiation are normal … don’t panic! Everything is in order,” Ukrainian emergency services head Zoryan Shkiryak was cited by Russian media as saying, adding “the situation is 100 percent under control.”

‘We have to have an answer’ on Ill. nuclear plants by summer’s end, Exelon says

An Exelon Corp. executive told Illinois legislators yesterday that the fate of three unprofitable nuclear plants in the state will be decided later this summer and that action on a bill to help them survive must be passed before the General Assembly adjourns a month from now.

The comments followed criticism of the bill to create a low-carbon portfolio standard by the Illinois attorney general’s office, which categorized the bill as an unnecessary bailout that would benefit a single company at the expense of consumers across the state.

Birds Are in a Tailspin Four Years After Fukushima

The first time Tim Mousseau went to count birds in Fukushima, Japan, radiation levels in the regions he visited were as high as 1,000 times the normal background. It was July 2011, four months after the Tohoku earthquake and subsequent partial meltdown at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant, and the nation was still recovering from massive infrastructure damage. Still, when Mousseau and his research partner rented a car and drove up from Tokyo, they encountered little resistance on the road.

Worker injuries double at Fukushima plant; TEPCO cites inexperience

One worker died and 63 others were injured in industrial accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in fiscal 2014, double the casualty figure from a year earlier, the plant operator said.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said April 30 that about half of the injured workers in fiscal 2014 had worked at the crippled plant for less than six months, indicating that inexperience was a key factor behind the rise in labor accidents during decommissioning and other work.

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

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