Environmental Must-Reads – May 12, 2015


Fracking science: Why oil and gas extraction is causing earthquakes

If you’ve been following the news lately, chances are you’ve heard about – or even felt – earthquakes in the central United States. During the past five years, there has been an unprecedented increase in earthquakes in the North American mid-continent, a region previously considered one of the most stable on Earth.

According to a recent report by the Oklahoma Geological Survey, Oklahoma alone has seen seismicity rates increase 600 times compared to historic levels.

Fracking The Reason For Texas’ Earthquakes? Report Rules Out ‘Natural’ Causes For More Tremors

The ground under North Texas didn’t always shake, but today the tremors never really stop. Researchers have pinned the recent rise in small earthquakes around the region on fracking, the process of injecting water into the ground at high pressure to break apart the rock and release oil and natural gas. All of the earthquakes in the last seven years have occurred above the Barnett Shale, a geological formation that has become a major fracking site for petroleum companies. It’s “most likely” that many of the quakes were manmade, according to a recent report by researchers from Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

Natural rockface or tribal sculpture? Peru and US’s Hunt Oil don’t care

Do you see what that man in the photo above sees in the rock in front of him? That’s what some Harakbut indigenous people call the “Rostro Harakbut” – the “Harakbut Face” – located in a spectacular, super-remote part of the south-east Peruvian Amazon.

Is the “Rostro” natural – whatever that means really – or has it been sculpted, or does that even matter? Is it true it was effectively “rediscovered” by someone working for a firm contracted by US-based company Hunt Oil which was cutting seismic lines through the area and detonating 1000s of explosives underground? Just how important is the “Rostro” to the Harakbuts, and can its existence help them to protect their wonderful forests and rivers from gold-miners and gas exploration by Hunt?

Hamm says he wasn’t pressuring Okla. scientist, but seeking information

Continental Resources Inc. founder, chairman and CEO Harold Hamm says he wasn’t trying to bully Oklahoma’s state seismologist when he sought a meeting in 2013, but simply trying to learn what proof the scientist had for saying hydraulic fracturing was causing earthquakes.

“We care about the industry,” Hamm said. “When people disparage parts of it, I want to know why. I want to know what basis they have for doing that.”

Study underlines need for better well guidelines

A recent report by the U.S. Geological Survey makes clear that, when it comes to fracking, too little is known about disposal of the millions of gallons of wastewater generated by the typical well. To protect the environment and public safety, scientists and regulators will have to catch up.

The report looked at incidents in which earthquakes have occurred near fracking sites and found a direct connection between the quakes and injection wells used to dispose of the wastewater. It also found a less-common connection between earthquakes and the original drilling of wells by fracking, which involves pumping a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into shale formations deep underground, to shatter the rock and free the trapped gas and oil.

House lawmakers take another swipe at Denton fracking ban

House lawmakers took another swipe at the Denton fracking ban Monday by approving legislation to bar cities from holding an election on citizen petitions that would restrict a person’s use of their mineral or other private property rights for economic gain.

Denton fracking opponents used voter referendum to win authorization of a city-wide ban on hydraulic fracturing, the process of blasting water and chemicals deep into the earth to release natural gas.

Oil train derailments: Inspectors looking for track defects

On a snowy morning in February 2014, a Norfolk Southern freight train snaked east through rural Westmoreland County with 83 of its cars loaded with crude oil.

It was cruising at about 30 mph near Vandergrift when it hit a section of track where the rail was slightly too far apart. The spikes designed to hold the rails in place were missing or defective, according to preliminary company-reported federal data.

The train derailed, violently tossing 21 cars — 19 carrying crude oil, two carrying propane — from the tracks. The force punctured four cars and spilled 4,300 gallons of oil across the banks of the Kiskiminetas River.

10 North American Oil Trains Have Now Exploded in 2 Years

The crude oil train that derailed and burst into flames last week near tiny Heimdal, North Dakota (population: 27), was the latest explosion in a disturbing series across North America. Over at Sightline, Eric de Place and Keiko Budech now count at least 10 oil train accidents over just the past two years—dating back to the July 2013 crash in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. Others during that span have occurred in the likes of Illinois, West Virginia, and Alabama.

A Silver Lining in North Dakota Oil Train Derailment

Last week, news broke of another oil train derailment, this time near Heimdal in central North Dakota.

Anti-oil activists could almost be heard panting in their excitement, rushing to the media with talking points about “bomb trains” and lax regulation of oil shipped on America’s rail lines.

Rep. Ron Guggisberg, a North Dakota Democrat from Fargo, went on MSNBC to make political hay claiming the state’s first responders aren’t prepared for these derailments.

Southeast Iowa landowner accuses pipeline agent of improper offer

A landowner from southeast Iowa today said he has recorded proof a land agent for the proposed Bakken Pipeline offered to get him an 18-year-old prostitute if he’d grant access rights to his property so the pipeline may pass through.

A spokeswoman for the pipeline developers issued a written response this afternoon.

Vonore residents fight gas pipeline expansion project

No one likes it when the government threatens eminent domain. In Monroe County a proposed natural gas pipeline has caught the wrath of many local residents.

Monday night, at a meeting room at the Grand Vista Hotel, company representatives from East Tennessee Natural Gas are likely to get an earful from people whose property may be affected by the proposed Loudon Expansion Project. East Tennessee Natural Gas has filed an environmental assessment plan with the federal government and hearings required as the project is under consideration.

Supervisor Says Pipeline Should Be Scrapped After Indian Point Incident

Cortlandt Town Supervisor Linda Puglisi said the Spectra Energy gas pipeline should not proceed as planned since it will pass so close to Indian Point Energy Center, the power plant where a transformer fire occurred Saturday.

“The incident is another reason why the recently approved Spectra natural gas line by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission should not be allowed to go forward,” Puglisi said in a statement, “especially since it’s been rerouted only a few hundred feet from Indian Point and these nuclear plants.

Administration Gives Conditional Approval for Shell to Drill in Arctic

The Obama administration on Monday gave conditional approval to allow Shell Gulf of Mexico to start drilling for oil off the Alaskan coast this summer, a major victory for the petroleum industry and a devastating blow to environmentalists.

The decision adds a complex new chapter to the legacy of President Obama, who has pursued the most ambitious environmental agenda of any president but has sought to balance those moves by opening up untouched federal waters to new oil and gas drilling.

Shell to resume Arctic drilling off Alaska as green groups warn of disaster

The US government has given Shell approval to restart drilling in the Arctic despite repeated warnings from environmentalists that it could lead to an ecological disaster.

The Obama administration on Monday approved Shell’s plan to resume drilling for oil and gas in the treacherous and fragile waters off the coast of Alaska, three years after the Anglo-Dutch oil giant was forced to suspend operations following a series of potentially dangerous blunders.

Shell’s Chukchi exploration plan wins federal approval

Federal regulators on Monday approved Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to resume oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean three years after a series of mishaps, mistakes and legal problems forced the company to temporarily shelve its drilling program.

The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s approval for Shell’s drilling plans in the Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska is conditioned on additional permits from government agencies and on adherence to special rules crafted for Arctic conditions, officials said.

‘Kayaktivists’ plan protest of Shell’s oil spill response vessel in Bellingham

Local “kayaktivists” have decided to join the fight of their counterparts in Seattle, taking to the water to protest the Arctic Challenger, part of Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet that resides on Bellingham Bay.

A handful of Whatcom activists paddled rented kayaks into the bay Sunday, May 10, getting close to the Arctic Challenger, the oil company’s barge-mounted oil well blowout containment system. They held up small signs that said “sHell No” and “Save the Arctic,” and then left.

BP wins bid to appeal certain Gulf oil spill claims, Reuters reports

BP has won the right to appeal certain damage payments awarded to businesses and people under the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill settlement, Reuters reports.

The report says the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans ruled Friday (May 8) that BP did not waive its right to challenge certain claims when it agreed to the settlement in 2012.

Judge Zainey disregards Bayou Corne class complaints, grants class counsel $12 million in legal fees; Residents consider asking Bar for reprimand

A federal judge overseeing the Bayou Corne sinkhole case has approved $12 million in legal fees, just weeks after the plaintiffs said their lawyers “mistreated and manipulated” them into accepting a subpar settlement.

Despite complaints from class members and a legal watchdog, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey granted the full amount of legal fees to the Bayou Corne legal team for their work on the case. While critics said the compensation was outrageous – a court watcher estimated the lawyers made about $1,300 an hour – Zainey said the compensation request was fair.

N.J. Gov. Christie vetoes environmental bill passed after Exxon deal

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie on Monday vetoed legislation that would have directed more money from environmental legal settlements to be used to fund cleanups of pollution.

The Democrat-led legislature passed the bill in the wake of a controversial $225 million settlement the Christie administration reached with Exxon Mobil Corp.

Revealed: FBI violated its own rules while spying on Keystone XL opponents

The FBI breached its own internal rules when it spied on campaigners against the Keystone XL pipeline, failing to get approval before it cultivated informants and opened files on individuals protesting against the construction of the pipeline in Texas, documents reveal.

Internal agency documents show for the first time how FBI agents have been closely monitoring anti-Keystone activists, in violation of guidelines designed to prevent the agency from becoming unduly involved in sensitive political issues.

Survey: Climate change ranks surprisingly low among reasons that people oppose Keystone XL

When it comes to political hot potatoes, there may not be a better example than the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Since Canada-based TransCanada Corp. first proposed the pipeline in 2008, it has served as a litmus test for where President Obama stands on energy, economic and environmental issues. One of those latter issues is climate change, as environmental groups that oppose the pipeline argue that approving it would be bad news for the climate.

Tesoro cancels Utah crude pipeline project

Tesoro Corp has canceled a crude pipeline project in Utah because of low oil prices and economic challenges, the company said on Monday.

Tesoro might reevaluate moving forward with the 135-mile (217 km) insulated pipeline “in the future under more favorable conditions,” a spokeswoman said.

Tesoro had proposed the pipeline to move black waxy crude produced in Utah’s Uinta Basin to Salt Lake City-area refineries.

Bill would exempt pipeline companies from FOIA requests

A bill introduced last week in the state House would make it harder for residents in St. Clair County to obtain information on pipelines running under their communities.

House Bill 4540 would exempt information about existing and proposed energy infrastructure from disclosure under the Michigan Freedom of Information Act.

Enbridge creates new environmental grant program

To lessen the environmental impact along pipeline construction routes, Enbridge announced Monday the creation of a new grant program.

Called the Ecofootprint Grant Program, communities in North Dakota, Minnesota and Wisconsin along the route of the proposed Sandpiper pipeline, along with the Line 3 replacement project, are eligible for grants to “help protect and restore the natural environment” on right-of-ways, an Enbridge press release said.

Indian Point nuclear plant oil slick smelled, seen from Rockland

Walter Garschagen got strong whiffs of oil Monday morning as he stood on the Stony Point and Haverstraw shoreline, two days after an Indian Point transformer exploded and spilled oil into the Hudson River.

“I see oil slicks,” said Garschagen, who works on the river as owner of Sea Tow Central Hudson, which helps with boaters in distress. “The discoloration of oil is all over the beach here. … Where is the cleanup? The current around Indian Point and the water flow is pushing the oil downstream.”

Indian Point nuclear reactor remains shut down after blast and fire

A reactor at the Indian Point nuclear power plant upriver from New York City remained temporarily out of operation on Monday, following a debilitating transformer failure and fire late on Saturday.

The failure happened at Indian Point 3, one of two operating reactors at the Indian Point Energy Center in Westchester County, New York, 38 miles north of New York City. It caused an explosion and a fire, which led to thousands of gallons of transformer fluid – or oil – overwhelming a containment moat and seeping into the Hudson River.

Reactor at New York nuclear plant that spilled thousands of gallons of oil could be offline for weeks

A reactor at a New York nuclear power plant could be offline for weeks because of a transformer fire and oil leak.

Several thousand gallons of oil spilled into the Hudson River after a Saturday transformer fire on the non-nuclear side of the Indian Point plant.

Scores of Scientists Raise Alarm About the Long-Term Health Effects of Cellphones

Are government officials doing enough to protect us from the potential long-term health effects of wearable devices and cellphones? Maybe not. A letter released today, signed by more than 190 scientists from 38 countries, calls on the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and national governments to develop stricter controls on these and other products that create electromagnetic fields (EMF).

“Based on peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices,” reads the letter, whose signatories have collectively published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed papers on the subject. “The various agencies setting safety standards have failed to impose sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of EMF.”

OPG welcomes federal seal of approval on Kincardine nuclear waste site

Ontario Power Generation has welcomed a decision which gives an overall seal of approval to the controversial nuclear waste disposal site proposed for a subterranean crypt below the Bruce nuclear station near Kincardine.

“We’re pleased that the panel has given its approval,” said OPG’s Neal Kelly, who called the Kincardine project a permanent safe solution for nuclear waste disposal. “We’re very confident that you can store this material in rock 450 million years old and at a depth of 600 metres.

Meeting To Discuss Arkansas Nuclear One Rating Of Nation’s Worst

Entergy’s nuclear power plant, Arkansas Nuclear One, is currently the worst in the country, according to a ranking by the federal regulators. The reasons for the poor performance rating and plans for improvement will be discussed Tuesday night at 6 p.m.  during a public hearing in Russellville.

“The meeting is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s end-of-cycle public meeting, which occurs every year. And the significance of this particular meeting is that since the last public meeting Arkansas Nuclear One has been placed in ‘Column 4’ of the reactor oversight process,” said Sarah Millard, a spokeswoman for Entergy’s Arkansas Nuclear One.

Fukushima Watch: Cesium-Absorbing Canola Project Triples in Size

A bright yellow expanse of canola flowers about 25 kilometers from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant is providing more than just a blaze of color: The flowers are also helping to remove radioactive cesium from the soil.

The flowers were planted as part of a project aimed at decontaminating land and generating power in Minamisoma, a coastal city that straddles the edge of the evacuation zone around the Fukushima plant.

Fukushima aquarium succeeds in breeding ctenophore discovered by emperor

Researchers have successfully bred for the first time a mysterious heart-shaped, jellyfish-like creature known as “kotokurage,” according to officials at Aquamarine Fukushima.

Lyrocteis imperatoris, the scientific name for the species, is a ctenophore commonly referred to as a comb jelly, but is a phylum separate from common jellyfish, such as Nomura’s jellyfish and the moon jellyfish. Many kotokurage are known to produce the colors of a rainbow when they reflect light.

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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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