Environmental Must-Reads – May 11, 2015


Scientists probe the dynamics of Texas ‘earthquake country’

Yet another in a series of cluster earthquakes rattled the Dallas area on Thursday, the size of which only intensified a subterranean quest to find out how parts of Texas have become “earthquake country.”

The state has seen four separate earthquake clusters appear since 2009, two of them that overlay the Dallas metropolitan area, where last weeks’ magnitude 4 quake was felt. Thursday’s temblor was the 23rd since 2009 around a fault near Midlothian, Tex., and fifth in that cluster to exceed magnitude 3, which means it can be felt by people but causes minimal damage. Thursday’s earthquake was felt miles from the epicenter, causing noticeable shaking of indoor objects.

What’s causing Texas earthquakes? Fracking ‘most likely,’ report says

Jim and Gail Wells have lived in the upscale Las Colinas area of Irving, Texas, for 14 years.

Nestled between Dallas and Fort Worth, they love their quaint neighborhood for its custom homes amid rolling hills and large trees.

One of the neighborhood’s newer features is a spate of seismic activity.

U.S states move to quash local limits on drilling

Lawmakers in Texas and energy-producing states across the nation are rushing to stop local communities from imposing limits on oil and gas drilling despite growing public concern about the health and environmental toll of such activities in urban areas.

The slump in oil prices that has led to job losses in the oil patch has only added to the urgency of squelching local drilling bans and other restrictions the industry views as onerous. The number of jobs nationwide in the sector that includes energy production has fallen 3.5 percent since December, and Texas alone lost about 25,000 jobs in March, according to federal data.

Stokes County town could be first fracking site in region

These days, the Piedmont Triad’s debate over hydraulic fracturing centers on a chunk of ground just a few inches wide at the edge of this small Stokes County town, according to the Greensboro News & Record.

State officials plan to drill a “core hole” that size deep into the rock formation under a piece of land the town owns along a rutted, dirt road on the perimeter of a suburban neighborhood.

New rules on oil trains draw flak from firefighters, too

Lawmakers and environmental and industry groups criticized the federal government’s new safety measures for oil trains when they were announced earlier this month. Now another group has expressed disappointment in the new rules:

Emergency responders. They’re among the first in danger when a fiery derailment happens.

Vandalism on inactive rail line used to justify oil train secrecy

Part of the federal government’s justification for keeping details about oil trains secret is literally hiding in the weeds on the South Dakota prairie.

Itself hidden on page 255 of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s 395-page final rule on trains carrying large volumes of flammable liquids, the example is sure to raise additional questions about the government’s decision to shield routing and volume details on oil trains from public view.

Track where oil train derailed was inspected day before fiery accident, FRA says

Railroad tracks where an oil train derailed Wednesday in central North Dakota had been inspected by BNSF Railway a day earlier and by the Federal Railroad Administration about three months before the fiery derailment, an FRA spokesman said Friday.

“Neither of those inspections noted any defects or violations,” Kevin Thompson said.

Advocates say pipeline secrecy could make public less safe

As the oil and gas industry pushes for new laws exempting information about pipeline infrastructure from being released to the public in the name of national security, advocates say doing so could actually increase the risk for everyone.

And the lack of public knowledge about these issues — which extends to other kinds of energy infrastructure, like rail transportation and transmission lines — can place an even heavier burden on ill-equipped government regulators.

California fines 2 oil firms $11.5 million for waste violations

Two affiliates of a giant petroleum company that operates nearly 150 gas stations in the Bay Area will pay $11.5 million to the state for numerous violations of hazardous-waste laws, the California Attorney General announced Thursday.

Phillips 66 and ConocoPhillips agreed to pay the fine as part of a settlement of the violations, according to the final judgment filed Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court.

After Oil Spill, Unique Mangrove Forest Faces More Threats

On December 9, 2014, a wrecked tanker released approximately 94,000 gallons (78,271 Imperial gallons) of heavy fuel oil into the Shela River, which runs through the Sundarbans, the sprawling and remote mangrove forest shared between India and Bangladesh in the Bay of Bengal.

Now another shipping disaster is unfolding, as a capsized cargo vessel, Jabalenoor, leaks 200 tonnes of potash fertilizer into the Sundarbans’ Bhola River, southeast of the earlier oil spill.

LAKE ARROWHEAD: Fuel spill contaminates water near marina dock

A fuel spill contaminated the surface water near Lake Arrowhead Marina, where workers securely contained and removed the slick, say San Bernardino County Fire Department officials.

The problem was reported at 2:24 p.m. Sunday, May 10, near the marina dock.

Officials weren’t immediately sure of the amount of spilled fuel.

Belize plan to allow offshore drilling threatens Great Blue Hole, say critics

The government of Belize is considering new regulations that would allow offshore drilling in 99% of its territorial waters, a move which environmental groups say would threaten the second-largest coral reef in the world.

The draft regulations would allow companies to undertake offshore exploration for oil and gas near the Great Blue Hole, an astonishing submarine sinkhole that was named a Unesco world heritage site in 1996. The 124-metre sinkhole is visible from space, and was named by Jacques Cousteau as one of the world’s top 10 dive destinations.

Nearly 60 well owners near Belmont told to avoid water

Nearly 60 private well owners in the Belmont area of Gaston County have been told by the state to avoid drinking the water after testing showed several naturally occurring elements in samples exceeded state groundwater standards.

The homes are within 1,000 feet of a Duke Energy coal ash site, the Allen Steam Station, but the energy company is denying the issue is connected to the facility.

Residents near Duke coal ash ponds come to grips with contaminated well water

Channel 9 has learned more about dangerous chemicals found inside some local residents’ water wells.

Families near Duke Energy coal ash ponds are receiving letters, warning them not to drink their water.

“It looks great to me, it’s clear. What’s in there, I don’t know,” Bobby Cloninger said.

Alberta voters throw out pro-oil leader and may change Canada’s stance on climate

Stunning provincial election results Tuesday in Alberta — home to Canada’s vast oil sands region and fossil energy reserves — upended the nation’s political landscape, rattling the stock market and establishing a leader who is lukewarm on pipeline projects.

The surprising victory of Rachel Notley, the premier-elect and leader of Alberta’s left-of-center New Democratic Party (NDP), raises numerous energy questions critical for the country’s emissions trajectory: Will there be any slowdown with oil sands growth? Will the premier’s shift toward a climate change mitigation policy influence a U.S. decision on Keystone XL and bolster the country’s climate reputation internationally? Will there be a major push for renewable energy in a province known for being Canada’s equivalent of Texas?

Lakota Sioux Tribe Invokes “Bad Men” Treaty Clause Over Keystone Pipeline

Lower Brule, Lower Brule Indian Reservation, South Dakota – The Oceti Sakowin, or Great Sioux Nation as it known in English, pressed on in its fight against the Keystone Pipeline. In a press release dated April 29, 2015, the Lower Brule Lakota Sioux Tribe of South Dakota invoked a clause from the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 wherein the US Government agreed to “proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States.” The accused “offender” in this case: foreign tar sands pipeline company TransCanada.

The press release calls for the enforcement of this treaty clause against TransCanada, and also states that “roughly 40% of South Dakota is off limits to TransCanada.”

Grabbing Paddles in Seattle to Ward Off an Oil Giant

A dozen or so men and women, cinched into life jackets, paddles at the ready, were about to launch their kayaks into Elliott Bay early Thursday evening with Seattle’s glittering skyline as the backdrop. For some of the paddlers, it was a first-time experience, and with the water at 50 degrees and choppy, there were some obvious signs of trepidation.

“O.K., what hazards are we watching for?” Elizabeth Chiaravalli, their instructor, shouted, and a smattering of answers immediately bounced back. “The waves!” “The dock!” “The pilings!”

Then Cynthia Orr, a 67-year-old mental health counselor, spoke up. “Shell Oil!” she cried, standing by her boat. Her fellow kayakers — or kayaktivists, as they call themselves — roared.

The Many Unknowns of Inevitable Arctic Oil Spills

Scientists from around the world have spent decades trying to answer the question: What happens when oil spills in ice?

As global temperatures climb and the Arctic sea ice melts, shipping in the Arctic is on the rise and oil and gas companies are eyeing further development of the vast resources of the North.

Shell Demonstrates Arctic Spill Response Capabilities

Shell’s controversial plan to recommence drilling operations in Alaska’s Chukchi Sea has been met with protest by people from around the world. However, Shell’s Alaska program has gone to great lengths to make sure a worst-case scenario, such as an oil spill, never takes place, and the company has just released an animation demonstrating its spill response capabilities.

Shell is preparing 25 vessels to begin a two-year drilling program in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska. Although Shell had to pull out of the region in 2012 after an oil rig ran aground, the Arctic oil reserve “remains a massive value opportunity,” the company has said.

Foss Maritime plans to appeal Seattle mayor’s position against arctic oil-drilling services

Foss Maritime plans to appeal Seattle’s position that Royal Dutch Shell can’t use the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 5 under the existing permit.

The company says it intends to provide its customer, Shell, with the services it needs to prepare to explore for oil in Alaska.

Oil leaked into Hudson River after fire at nuclear reactor near NYC

Oil leaked into the Hudson River on Sunday after a transformer fire and explosion a day earlier at the Indian Point nuclear plant north of New York City, and Governor Andrew Cuomo said he was concerned about environmental damage.

Cuomo visited the plant for a briefing on Sunday. The governor, who in the past has called for the plant to be shut down because of its proximity to densely populated New York City, also visited the plant on Saturday.

Engineers Assess Fire Damage at Indian Point Nuke Plant as DEC Monitors Oil in Hudson River

Engineers and inspectors are examining damage caused by a transformer fire at the Indian Point nuclear power plant that forced a temporary shutdown of a reactor, officials said Sunday, as the Department of Environmental Conservation continued to monitor how much oil from the facility has leaked into the Hudson River.

The fire, which started at about 6 p.m. Saturday at the suburban New York facility, was quickly extinguished by the plant’s sprinkler system and utility managers declared the reactor safe and stable. No one at the plant was injured.

Nuclear plant owners to clean up oil spill in Hudson River

The owners of Indian Point are planning to clean up several thousand gallons of oil that potentially spilled into the Hudson River after a Saturday night transformer explosion and fire.

The fire, which began at 5:50 p.m., sent smoke billowing into the air and oil overflowing the plant’s moat, said Neil Sheehan, a spokesman for the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

Long-Delayed Nuclear Plant in Tennessee Nears Completion

Tom Wallace started working at the Watts Bar nuclear plant as a young man in 1979, hoping he could eventually become a reactor operator.

It remains a work-in-progress for the Tennessee Valley Authority. Wallace, 55, is still finishing that plant 36 years later, one of the longest building projects in U.S. history. In a bizarre turn, what could soon become the newest U.S. nuclear plant is a piece of 1970s-era technology.

Nuclear fallout renders Fukushima, nearby towns uninhabitable for next few decades

Radiation, the invisible threat. There is something about having no control over a situation that makes it that much more scary.

In most danger zones, you can prepare yourself with training courses and strive to keep out of harm’s way by avoiding potentially dangerous situations. Radiation, on the other hand, is everywhere. How do you defend yourself against that?

Nuclear remains cheapest power source despite Fukushima meltdowns: government

A panel of nuclear experts on Monday largely approved a government report saying that atomic power remains the cheapest source of electricity despite the rising safety costs triggered by the 2011 Fukushima core meltdowns.

Despite an expected glut in solar power, the government is looking to make nuclear power account for 20 to 22 percent of Japan’s electricity supply by 2030, underscoring its policy of sticking with atomic power even though the majority of the public remains opposed to restarting its idled reactors.

Three Stony Brook guests give testimonies to the horror of nuclear weapons

The morning of August 6, 1945 greeted 11-year-old Reiko Yamada and the rest of Hiroshima’s citizens with scorching temperatures and a cloudless sky. Sitting on the edge of a sandbox, Yamada noticed nearby students pointing to the sky and shouting, “It’s a B-29!”

The American bomber B-29 usually flew so frequently and harmlessly above that she and her friends found nothing unusual about that day’s plane sighting. However, she was terribly mistaken.

That B-29, more commonly known as the Enola Gay, dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, killing approximately 140,000 people and leaving most of its survivors with devastating long-term effects.

Leading doctor says mobile phone radiation a hotline to brain cancer

RADIATION from mobile phones and towers is contributing to a rise in brain cancer in Australia, according to a leading physician.

Dr John Tickell, who has fought his own brain cancer battle, believes that radiation is a significant contributing factor to the increasing rate of malignant brain tumours.

A San Francisco apartment that blocks cell phone radiation is up for grabs for $8.6 million

Imagine an apartment wrapped in tin foil. That’s what’s selling for $8.6 million in San Francisco’s Pacific Heights neighborhood.

The 3 bedroom, 4.5 bath co-op was last on the market in 2007 for $2.7 million, according to CurbedSF, who first spotted the unusual listing. It needed remodeling, and the buyers apparently went a step beyond installing a stainless steel six-range stove top and double ovens, transforming it into a cell phone radiation-blocking Faraday cage.

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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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