Environmental Must-Reads – May 19, 2014


Grassroots Power Puts Fracking Ban Within Reach

A swelling grassroots coalition is hoping they can stop their county from becoming another landscape “scarred” by fracking.

The Santa Barbara County Water Guardians gathered roughly 16,000 signatures — 3,000 more than required — to put a measure to ban the controversial extraction technique on the November ballot.

A Fracking Boom Where There Is No Fracking

For John LaRue, sand was the harbinger of the change.

Several years ago LaRue, the Port of Corpus Christi’s executive director, began seeing the smooth quartz grains arriving in bulk from Wisconsin and Minnesota. It’s used in fracking, one of the materials injected into shale rock formations to free oil and natural gas and coax it topside.

None of that fracking is happening in this industrial port city down the Gulf Coast from Houston. Instead, Corpus Christi is the waypoint for the sand that’s trucked inland to the surging Eagle Ford Shale formation.

Read The Secret Trade Memo Calling For More Fracking and Offshore Drilling

The European Union is pressing the Obama administration to expand U.S. fracking, offshore oil drilling and natural gas exploration under the terms of a secret negotiation text obtained by The Huffington Post.

The controversial document is an early draft of energy policies that EU negotiators hope to see adopted under the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) trade deal, which is currently being negotiated. The text was shared with American officials in September. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative declined to comment on the document.

Energy Companies Try New Methods to Address Fracking Complaints

Frackers are trying to clean up their act.

Thanks to hydraulic fracturing—a technology that uses water, chemicals and sand to unlock oil and gas trapped in dense underground rocks—communities from Pennsylvania to North Dakota are experiencing a boom in energy production. But the industry is facing more intense pressure from communities and environmentalists over its role in increased air and water pollution.

N.J. Sierra Club warns of fracking effects in South Jersey as EPA seeks public opinion

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has announced that it will be asking for public comment regarding whether drilling companies should be required to disclose what’s in the chemicals used for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

However, environmental groups like the New Jersey Sierra Club said they need to go further by increasing regulations on the industry.

Youngstown, Ohio, is a city changed by fracking

You might think an earthquake would be enough to make a town turn against fracking, but no, not here, not with a new billion-dollar steel plant open along the river and more new jobs everywhere you look.

This worn-out notch in the Rust Belt, long known for industrial decay and a Bruce Springsteen song about an unemployed steelworker fixing to die, doesn’t seem to mind being shaken up every once in a while if that’s the price to pay for an economic comeback.

NC struggles to balance cost, promise of fracking

Four years ago, an agent for a gas exploration company pulled up to Jon Woolard’s cow pasture in northwestern Lee County.

The land man, who smiled “store-bought teeth” and wore comfortable clothes on the warm spring morning, wanted permission to drill for natural gas on the family’s 65-acre farm, Woolard recalled. He and his parents declined, but the agent called back that evening.

“I hadn’t changed my mind,” Woolard told him.

Fracking opponents seek restraining orders on St. Tammany oil well permitting processes

A St. Tammany Parish citizens group has asked state and federal courts for temporary restraining orders to halt the Army Corps of Engineers’ and state Department of Environmental Quality’s reviews of permit applications from a company that wants to drill an oil well near Mandeville. Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany says the permitting processes for Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s applications fail to meet various legal requirements and that the public comment periods should be restarted.

Retired Gen. Honore storms fracking battlefield in St. Tammany as recall efforts begin for elected officials

The anti-fracking movement in St. Tammany Parish reached a boiling point Friday as separate recall petitions were circulated against Parish President Pat Brister and all 14 members of the Parish Council, and Brister became the target of criticism from retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, a hero of the post-Katrina rescue efforts and now the leader of an environmental movement.

Ohio oil-drilling spills increasing

When thousands of gallons of gas, crude oil and benzene, a cancer-causing agent, spilled from a shale well in Morgan County this month, the state called the incident rare.

But there were at least 40 crude-oil spills, blowouts and leaks related to oil and gas drilling last year in Ohio — the most since at least 2009, according to data kept by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

HYDRAULIC FRACTURING: N.C. bill would make it a felony to disclose fracking chemicals

People who disclose confidential information about hydraulic fracturing chemicals in North Carolina would be subject to criminal penalties and civil damages, under a bill in the state Legislature.

The “Energy Modernization Act,” which was introduced yesterday, would make it a Class I felony to disclose trade secrets related to hydraulic fracturing, while spelling out how the information is supposed to be provided to emergency workers. Class I is the lowest-level felony, punishable by a few months’ imprisonment.

HBO’s ‘Crude Awakening’ examines effects of BP oil spill cleanup

While lots of attention has been focused recently on a “60 Minutes” report on BP’s claims of fraud in the settlement over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, a report on HBO’s “Vice,” airing over this week, sharply criticizes the company’s use of chemical dispersant in its cleanup efforts.

“Crude Awakening,” which premiered Friday (May 16), examines the effects on the chemical Corexit on everything from the ecology of the Gulf of Mexico and the seafood currently being harvested from it to the health of the citizens of the Gulf Coast region still grappling from the aftermath of the oil spill.

VIDEO: Is the BP Oil Spill Cleanup Still Making People Sick?

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, when an oil rig explosion sent five million barrels of oil gushing into the Gulf of Mexico, the company behind the spill, BP, went swiftly into damage-control mode. One of its first steps was to buy up a third of the world’s supply of chemical dispersants, including one called Corexit that was designed to concentrate oil into droplets that sink into the water column, where in theory they can be degraded by bacteria and stay off beaches.

Budget lacks money for Gulf oil spill litigation

Louisiana’s budget for next year doesn’t include any money for the state’s ongoing legal case against BP for damages caused by the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

Attorney General Buddy Caldwell is asking lawmakers to add $15 million to the 2014-15 spending plans to continue the casework. Without it, Caldwell’s office says it won’t be able to pay its outside attorneys and experts working on the litigation in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

BP Settlement — No Oil? No Problem? No, Not Really.

A couple of weeks ago, I had two separate yet related conversations with two couples.  The first conversation was with an incredibly sweet husband and wife from South Louisiana.  The husband worked for over a year cleaning up BP’s oil spill along the Louisiana coast.  He now has a myriad of health problems which they believe are related to his exposure to the oil and to Corexit, a chemical used by BP to sink the oil during the cleanup operations.  The other conversation was with two professionals from Miami who told me that they thought all of the problems with BP’s oil spill had been “cleaned up and resolved.”  When I asked the Miami couple why they thought that, they looked at each other and then to me, and said, “Because that’s what BP’s commercials say.”

The LA oil spill was just 10,000 of millions

An estimated 10,000 gallons of oil spilled onto the streets of Los Angeles last week, and children, seniors and anyone with a chronic disease were asked to stay indoors because of the foul-smelling air. The public health director for Los Angeles County, Jonathan Fielding, said there could be “mild, temporary health impacts.” Most of the oil was quickly cleaned up, but that doesn’t mean that we should forget just what happened here and how it fits in with a history of oil spills in the US.

Thanks to Americans United for Change, we have just such a list and it’s kind of dispiriting to see. So far in 2014, March was a terrible month: 20,000 gallons spewed in Ohio, 1,600 went into Lake Michigan, 50,000 were derailed in Virginia and 168,000 gushed out in Texas. Also, in February, 12,000 gallons spilled in Minnesota. And, of course, 2013 was just awful, too. Climate Progress has put together a list of 45 fossil fuel disasters that happened last year (see more details below).

Jane Kleeb vs. the Keystone Pipeline

Terry Van Housen had a question. What he wanted to know from the 30 or so other Nebraska farmers and ranchers gathered in February at the York Community Center was this: What do you do with 10,000 dead cows?

That was the number of cattle Van Housen figured could be at risk if the Obama administration permitted the proposed 1,700-mile XL leg of the Keystone pipeline to cut across their state. Bulldozers would dig a trench not far from Van Housen’s feedlot, completing the final phase of the Keystone project and streamlining the current flow of oil from the bitumen mines of Northern Alberta toward refineries on the Gulf Coast of Texas. If the pipe were to leak, Van Housen said, his cattle could die.

Railroad CEO Wants To Send Oil Trains Through Town Where Derailment Killed 47 Last Year

Oil trains could soon be traveling through Lac Mégantic, the tiny Quebec town that was the scene of one of the deadliest train accidents in Canadian history last July.

The new owner of the railroad company responsible for the Lac Mégantic oil train disaster, a derailment which killed 47 people and destroyed much of the town’s center, said this week that within the next ten days he wants to have an agreement with Lac Mégantic officials to restart oil train shipments through the town.

Oil Giants Set Their Sights on Arctic Waters

Big oil is eager for another crack at drilling in the oil- and gas-rich Arctic offshore. But that renewed interest comes amid intense scrutiny in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

Encouraged by higher crude prices, better technology and steep costs that pose barriers to entry for all but the deepest pockets, heavyweights such as BP, Chevron Corp, ConocoPhillips Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC have spent billions of dollars to snap up offshore Arctic leases. The Arctic holds about one-third of the world’s untapped natural gas and 13% of as yet undiscovered crude, or roughly 90 billion barrels of oil, and more than three-quarters of those deposits are offshore, according to U.S. Geological Survey estimates.

Japan freezes soil to protect groundwater from Fukushima disaster

Japan’s Industry Ministry showed the news media a site testing underground walls of frozen soil, the fully fledged version to begin construction next month to prevent groundwater from mixing with contaminated water at Tokyo Electric Power’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The government plans to build 30-metre deep underground walls by freezing soil around the outer 1.5-kilometre perimeter of reactors No. 1 to No. 4 at the plant to keep groundwater from flowing into the reactor buildings and becoming highly contaminated.

Record high radiation in seawater off Fukushima plant

Radiation has spiked to all-time highs at five monitoring points in waters adjacent to the crippled Fukushima No. 1 power station, plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Friday.

The measurements follow similar highs detected in groundwater at the plant. Officials of Tepco, as the utility is known, said the cause of the seawater spike is unknown.

Japan publisher to review comic after row over Fukushima nosebleed claim

The Japanese publisher of a comic that came under fire for linking radiation exposure at Fukushima to nosebleeds acknowledged on Monday it had caused alarm and promised a review after the prime minister stepped into a growing row.

The popular “Oishinbo” (“Gourmets”) drew criticism in late April when it showed its main character, a newspaper reporter, having a nosebleed after visiting the tsunami-crippled nuclear plant.

Fukushima cancer risk not as serious as thought, UN says

Japan’s nuclear disaster at Fukushima in 2011 has had less of an impact on wildlife and human health than expected, according to a recently finalized UN report.

The Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation cast a broad net, looking at potential health effects in people living in the area, which was hit by an earthquake and tsunami three years ago.

Caroline Kennedy, son, tour Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant

U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg, toured the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was damaged by an earthquake that struck Japan in 2011.

The two donned white protective hazmat suits and hard hats Wednesday as they visited the crippled facility.

Government sweetening the pot for storage of Fukushima radioactive waste

The central government is compiling a generous compensation plan to overcome the reluctance of two towns to host intermediate storage facilities for radioactive waste from the Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Measures being considered for the municipalities of Okuma and Futaba include buying or renting properties at inflated real estate values and covering the costs to relocate the grave sites of relatives.

Abe: Fukushima same as elsewhere

The results of radiation exposure surveys on residents in Fukushima Prefecture are no different from those of similar surveys in other prefectures, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Saturday.

“I would like to disseminate this accurate information in a manner that helps people understand easily,” Abe said during his seventh trip to the prefecture since taking office in December 2012.

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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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