Environmental Must-Reads – May 14, 2013


South African Anti-Fracking Activist Calls for Global Alliance

“We’ve got to stop doing this,” said Jonathan Deal, with a sense of urgency tinged with discomfort.

Deal could well have been talking about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the oil and gas drilling practice he has tirelessly fought to stop in his native South Africa.

But at this moment, he was talking about the energy-guzzling extravaganza in full swing all around us at a gathering in Washington, DC.  As we eyed hundreds of people in cocktail attire partaking of bounteous food and wine across a chandeliered room, I sensed Deal’s inner discord: this lavish event was in honor of him.

The Mines that Fracking Built, Part Two

Keith Fossen never expected to join a grassroots environmental group, let alone help organize one from the ground up.

“I was so far over there on the conservative side … whenever I heard of anyone trying to do something for the environment, I was suspicious,” Fossen said during an interview with Truthout. “I thought anything environmental was trying to control business.”

Grassroots campaigns can stop fracking one town at a time

City councils and local activists have stymied shale gas mining in New York, and could prove an example for others to follow

Fracking moratorium remains as many NY gas leases expire

New York’s five-year moratorium on shale gas development promised to be a blessing for many landowners eager to end leases they signed before anyone outside of the oil and gas industry had heard of fracking.

But actually getting out of a lease can be tricky. Many have clauses giving the drilling company the right to extend them for another five years. Gas companies have tried to extend thousands of leases by claiming an unforeseen barrier — the moratorium — has prevented them from drilling. And even when a lease has expired, landowners often have to take several legal steps to clear their land of claims.

Fracking: another contaminant surfaces

Contamination of drinking water has become a concern for cities surrounded by Marcellus Shale drilling due to the methods of recycling the wastewater surfacing from the aftermath of fracking. The toxicity of brine and bromide in large amounts can be hazardous to one’s health.

Brine is defined as naturally occurring water that is high in salt concentration and occurs deep within the earth.

Another contaminate that can be found in fracking wastewater is bromide. Bromide is similar to brine in that it is a salty substance found in water and can be highly corrosive in large doses.

Fracking Update: NY Appellate Court Affirms Zoning Bans At Local Level

In another setback for proponents of the natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” a New York appellate court affirmed the right of local governments to ban the process within their borders.

Federal Government Expected to Unveil Fracking Regulations For Public Lands Soon

The Obama Administration is expected to release new regulations for hydraulic fracturing on public lands soon.

Reuters reports Interior Secretary Sally Jewell told a Senate Appropriations subcommittee last week the Department of Interior is “very close” to releasing the new rules

Community Group Launches Cutting-Edge Project to Test Air Quality for Fracking Chemicals

Citizens for a Healthy Community (CHC) announced yesterday that it is launching a cutting-edge air quality sampling project. The project is designed to establish an air quality baseline for the Delta County region in Colorado by testing for toxic chemicals associated with natural gas drilling. Formed in 2009 by a group of concerned residents, CHC’s mission is to protect people and their environment from irresponsible oil and gas development in the Delta County region.

Fracking and Water Pollution: Remembering First Study to Establish “Definitive” Link

David Biello over at Scientific American had a story in 2011 that looked at research establishing a link between methane contamination in well water and nearby hydraulic fracturing of shale rock. The research came out of Duke University and was published online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The Duke researchers analyzed water samples from 60 wells located within a kilometre of active  shale-gas drilling operations — specifically, the Marcellus and Utica shale formations of northeastern Pennsylvania and upstate New York. They found that “average and maximum methane concentrations in drinking-water wells increased with proximity to the nearest gas well” and were at levels high enough to pose “a potential explosion hazard.”

WSFA 12 News Special Report: Toxic Tar Balls

Just this year, crews have collected more than 8,000 pounds of tar on Alabama’s shores – that’s equivalent to the weight of two cars.  WSFA 12 News picked up at least 2 pounds in a short walk along Orange Beach back in March.

We took the tar balls to Auburn University researchers to find out if the tar balls are in fact from the BP oil spill.  Professor Dr. Prabhakar Clement has studied the BP oil spill since tar started washing up on Alabama’s shores. “We got all kinds of samples from day one,” he tells us.

Gulf Coast Deepwater oil spill resources to be restored by $2.5B benefit fund

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) today announced the public launch of the Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund through which NFWF will administer and monitor $2.544 billion from plea agreements resolving certain criminal cases arising from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisiana Revisited: Anger and sadness on Grand Isle as BP oil spill worries continue

On February 5th, I watched a documentary on the Science Channel that was really disturbing. I grabbed a pencil and made notes. The name of the piece was “Seas of Death” — or so I thought but apparently, I didn’t catch the title correctly as for the life of me, I cannot find it anywhere.

In the documentary, according to scientists, the oxygen supply to the deep ocean had declined by 22 percent. It claimed that due to high temperatures, low oxygen and increased acidity, the ocean is not only suffocating, it’s undergoing a change in biology.

Like a pelican cooling its wings, the camera moved across the ocean providing beautiful vistas of big blue. But, the narrator warned, “In the Gulf of Mexico, all is not as it appears to be.”

Conflicts of interest and exclusion in Niger Delta oil spill investigation and clean-up

We have just come back from the Niger Delta, where we talked to scores of women and men from communities impacted by oil spills.

In our conversations, the women in particular shared their anger, anxiety, fear, pain and hopes with us. For many of them, being excluded from the process in the aftermath of oil spills compounded the damage they suffered from the events themselves.

Arkansas Oil Spill Health Issues, Lingering ‘Putrid Stench’ Worry Mayflower Moms

Genieve Long recalled the fear of waking to her 5-year-old son “wheezing and struggling to breathe” a few days after an oil spill hit her town of Mayflower, Ark.

Long, a mother of four, is just one of many Mayflower parents worried about their kids’ health, despite repeated assurances from ExxonMobil and local officials that toxic chemicals in the air have remained at safe levels since the company’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured on March 29, spewing 210,000 gallons of Wabasca heavy crude mined from Canada’s tar sands region into the community.

Water poured into giant Louisiana sinkhole after 4 breaches in containment berm

According to Sonny Cranch with Texas Brine, heavy rain is to blame for the four breaches that opened in the containment berm before dawn Friday. Cranch says two of the four breeches have been repaired.

Keystone XL pipeline opponents see double standard

Rep. Tim Griffin, a staunch supporter of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, recently asked ExxonMobil to move another, smaller oil pipeline away from a major water source in his home state of Arkansas.

It’s a contradiction that grates on opponents of the Keystone, which would run through part of a critically important aquifer that supplies irrigation and drinking water to Nebraska and seven other states.

Keystone Pipeline Not a Big Deal — Say Interests Supported By Oil and Gas Industry

Last week, the Washington, D.C. publication National Journal gave us the scoop, in an article entitled “What People Close to Obama Think About the Keystone XL Pipeline”: Obama-connected environmental experts “are now saying publicly what many Democratic energy and climate advisers have said more privately over the past couple of years: The Keystone XL pipeline is not that big of a deal.” The National Journal article seems designed to persuade the D.C. policy community of the inevitability — and maybe even the correctness — of a decision by the Obama administration to allow the controversial pipeline to go forward. In other words, game over.

Keystone XL Expansion Decision Won’t Be Made Anytime Soon

The Obama administration is unlikely to make a decision on the Canada-to-Nebraska Keystone XL pipeline until late this year as it painstakingly weighs the project’s impact on the environment and on energy security, a U.S. official and analysts said on Friday.

What happens if the Keystone XL pipeline is not approved

If Keystone XL is not approved by the Barack Obama administration, it will unleash shock waves through the halls of policymakers in Canada and the United States alike given the bilateral importance of energy security, notes Greg Pardy, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets.

TransCanada Sues To Stop Oklahoma Keystone Pipeline Protesters

TransCanada has filed a lawsuit in Atoka County seeking an injunction and restraining order that keeps protesters from disrupting its pipeline construction sites in Oklahoma.

White House Arctic strategy: What’s next for oil, gas drilling?

The tension between conservation and oil and gas drilling is evident in the White House’s new Arctic strategy paper. Shifting economic, climatic, and regulatory realities have contributed to what is at least a temporary pause in Arctic oil and gas drilling.

Arctic nations must urgently improve rescue services – Canadian experts

Arctic nations must urgently improve rescue services in the resource-rich region that is opening up fast to shipping, energy and mining companies, Canadian experts said on Monday

Hands Across the Melting Ice

With global warming rapidly melting Arctic sea ice and glaciers making valuable stores of energy and minerals more accessible, voices of doom are warning of inevitable competition and potential conflict — a new “Great Game” among the five Arctic coastal nations.

Why the world wants the Arctic

Ólafur Grímsson, the jovial, globe-trotting president of Iceland, likes to tell the story of his first state visit to Russia 11 years ago, when he asked to meet with Vladimir Putin to talk about the Arctic. The snow-haired Icelander was told that such esoteric matters would be best discussed with local authorities in Kamchatka and Murmansk, thousands of miles from the Kremlin. These days, says Grímsson with a chuckle, Putin himself gives speeches at Arctic conferences—and sends emissaries to Iceland to personally invite Grímsson to attend.

Arctic melting spurs U.S. exploitation strategy

Amid news that Earth’s atmosphere has reached a milestone in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations never before seen in the history of mankind, the United States has announced an aggressive policy that calls for the speedy exploitation of its Arctic oil and gas resources.

In what it calls an “all-of-the-above” approach to Arctic development, the U.S. claims it can combat climate change while at the same time exploiting the oil and gas reserves made accessible because of the rapidly warming climate.

How Fukushima Contamination May Have Spread via Waterways

A new study offers fresh insights into how radioactive contamination from the Fukushima nuclear disaster may have spread through Japan’s interconnected waterways, reaching some freshwater fish hundreds of kilometers away.

The research by two Japanese academics published in “Nature” magazine late last month reports traces of cesium found in 2011 “even in Shizuoka prefecture, 400 km south-west from the plant.”

TEPCO seeks fishermen’s approval for dumping groundwater off Fukushima plant

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) on Monday met with Fukushima fishermen looking for their approval for the utility company’s plan to dump the groundwater it has pumped from the premises of the disaster-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant. Groundwater that is collected in the ground from rain and precipitation may get mixed with the highly radioactive waste water in the plants already leaking underwater tanks, and the embattled utility company wants approval to redirect the groundwater before it mixes with the radioactive water in the tanks.

Cellphone logs help estimate radiation exposure of Fukushima evacuees

Chaos reigned during the early phase of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, and people who fled the area have no idea how much radiation they were exposed to before the evacuation. But a scientist has come up with a novel approach to better evaluate their radiation doses by utilizing the logs of GPS-equipped cellphones.

Cover on Fukushima reactor building to be demolished

Tokyo Electric Power Co. will demolish and replace the makeshift canopy covering a badly damaged reactor building at its Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant in order to remove rubble and radioactive material.

TEPCO, which announced the plan on May 9, said it will take about four years to complete a new cover for the No. 1 reactor building before removing fuel rods from the reactor’s pool.

Fukushima debris disposal falling short

The disposal of debris in Fukushima Prefecture from the March 2011 calamities will not be completed by the end of fiscal 2013, as originally planned, the Environment Ministry admitted Tuesday.

Palisades nuclear plant leak released low dose of radioactive water into Lake Michigan, NRC says

Palisades Nuclear Power Plant remains offline while employees and inspectors continue work to identify and repair a leaky refueling tank that the NRC said resulted in 79 gallons of “slightly” radioactive water being drained in Lake Michigan.

NRC, Southern Co. Settle Investigation into Radiation Exam Cheating at Farley Nuclear Plant

Southern Co. and federal regulators have reached an agreement to resolve allegations that an employee helped other workers cheat on exams at the Farley nuclear plant in Alabama.

Through a form of third-party mediation known as the alternative dispute resolution process, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the plant settled apparent violations that date back to 2010 and 2011. In a release Tuesday, the NRC said a Farley security officer helped other security officers during radiation worker training exams or took the test for them.

Kazakhstan’s Painful Nuclear Past Looms Large Over Its Energy Future

The central Asian country is positioning itself as a global nuclear leader, but it’s haunted by the lasting impacts of Soviet testing decades ago.

New smart robots to improve inspection of nuclear plants

Nuclear power accounts for one sixth of the European Union (EU)’s energy consumption, and there are power plants in 14 of the 27 member states. Safety is a priority and there are regular maintenance checks on every aspect of the plants. But what happens if cracks appear in the machinery that are so small and deep that they escape the human eye? And how can one check every corner of a nuclear reactor when some areas are, by necessity, shrouded in radiation?

San Francisco barred from warning consumers of cellphone radiation

San Francisco city leaders will revoke an ordinance requiring retailers to give consumers controversial warnings about radiation from cellphones, following a key loss in court against the cellphone industry.

San Francisco Drops Fight for Cell Phone Radiation Labeling Law

San Francisco city officials this week voted to adopt a settlement that ends a three-year-old lawsuit over the region’s controversial cell phone radiation labeling law.

By a vote of 10 to 1, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved the deal, which bans the board from enforcing the Cell Phone Right-to-Know Law, puts an end to litigation regarding that law, and drops CTIA’s request for attorneys’ fees.

Doctors report 50% hearing loss among cellphone users

Excessive use of cellphones can cause the deadliest of health hazards among users, from hearing loss to neuro-endocrine disruption, hormonal imbalance and cancer.

Over the last decade, cellular phone usage has grown exponentially with the introduction of new communication systems and newer and smaller phone models. But it is a mark of how much people use cellphones these days, that doctors report as much as a 50% hearing loss among users.

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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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