Environmental Must-Reads – May 19, 2015


Abbott Signs “Denton Fracking Bill”

Saying Texas needs to avoid a “patchwork of local regulations” that threaten oil and gas production, Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed legislation that would pre-empt local efforts to regulate a wide variety of drilling-related activities.

“This bill is so incredibly important,” the Republican said at a state Capitol ceremony. Flanked by the measure’s sponsors, he said House Bill 40 does a “profound job of protecting private property rights.”

‘Oil To Die For’ explores deaths in the North Dakota oil fields

Dustin Bergsing was 21 years old when he was overcome by noxious fumes while working the overnight shift at a North Dakota oil well site. He was found dead just after midnight on Jan. 7, 2012.

For oil field workers, this is an all too familiar story. And for Todd Melby, the reporter and producer of “Black Gold Boom: How Oil Changed North Dakota, it was one he couldn’t ignore.

Down with TPP – From fracking to tainted fish, how the Trans-Pacific Partnership could affect the West.

Here’s something for conspiracy theorists: In order to gain access to a certain document, members of Congress must descend to the basement of the Capitol, hand over their cell phones and other electronic devices, and enter a secured, soundproof room. Then they can’t speak to the public about what they glean from their visit.

What’s so hush-hush? A draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an enormous international trade agreement that 12 nations, including the United States, Japan, and Australia, have been hashing out in secret for the last half-decade. It’s a big deal: The dozen national economies make up nearly 40 percent of global GDP.

After months of prep, Consol Energy begins fracking first wells at airport

A dense cluster of pipes, pumps, silos and engines hummed harmoniously across a rugged field on a wet morning earlier this month.

“This is about as much excitement as you see on a fracking site,” said Steve Snyder, completions manager for Consol Energy Inc.

Oil groups ask court to temporarily block U.S. fracking rules

Two oil and gas groups have asked a federal court to block the implementation new U.S. rules for hydraulic fracturing on public lands until their lawsuit challenging the regulations is resolved.

The Independent Petroleum Association Of America and the Western Energy Alliance filed a motion on Friday for a preliminary injunction to prevent the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management from enforcing the regulations, arguing the standards will cause their members irreparable harm.

Ted Glick: It’s Time to Stop FERC’s Rubber Stamping of Fracking Infrastructure Projects

“If someone is upset with fracking, they should probably talk to the states.” —Norman Bay, Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), May 14, 2015

Why protest? Why demonstrate? Why nonviolent direct action? Part of the reason is to put pressure on those in power to smoke them out, to get them to say things publicly they might otherwise not say, to expose the truth about how and why things are working the way they are.

At Super Bowl of Energy, Industry Fixates On Expanded Fracking and Lifting Oil Export Ban

“We have done more as an industry to advance the cause of raising living standards across the world than any other industry I can think of…”

If the first industry you think of when you read that statement is “the oil industry” then you were probably in attendance at CERAweek in Houston in late April, an annual gathering known as the Super Bowl of Energy.

Utah joins lawsuit over federal fracking rule

Gov. Gary Herbert said Utah will join three other states in a legal challenge to a new federal rule that governs hydraulic fracturing, arguing the fledgling regulation duplicates what states are already doing and will be costly and inefficient.

The rule was announced recently the Bureau of Land Management and comes despite a strenuous campaign by energy-rich states that argued the agency should leave fracking oversight to the states.

How to Prevent an Oil Train Disaster

SIX days before last week’s deadly Amtrak derailment, a train carrying crude oil went off the tracks in rural North Dakota and burst into flames. Thankfully, no one was killed. But it should not take a deadly disaster — like the one that took 47 lives in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in July 2013 — for us to grasp the risk from oil trains, which pass through many densely populated parts of the United States.

The Obama administration recently issued new safety rules for oil trains, to take effect in October. But it didn’t do the one thing many independent petroleum engineers say could immediately reduce the risk of a deadly disaster: require energy producers to remove more of the volatile gases that the oil contains when it comes out of the ground, before they load the crude into rail tankers.

Tesoro to upgrade its fleet of oil rail cars

Tesoro Corp. said Monday it’s upgrading its crude oil rail car fleet by adding 210 enhanced tank cars that exceed new standards issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this month.

The announcement comes as Tesoro, a petroleum refiner, and Savage Cos., a transportation company, propose building what would be the nation’s largest rail-to-marine oil transfer terminal at the Port of Vancouver. The companies are working in partnership as Vancouver Energy.

Railroads Required to Plan for a Worst-Case Oil Train Spill in Washington State

Under a new state law signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday, May 14, large railroads will be required to plan with the state for “worst-case spills” from crude oil unit trains, but exactly what that worst-case scenario looks like is not yet clear.

The law requires railroads to plan for the “largest foreseeable spill in adverse weather conditions,” but doesn’t define “largest foreseeable spill.”

Let’s not build a gas pipeline near a nuclear reactor

Our federal government says that it’s safe to build a giant high-pressure natural gas pipeline 105 feet from the Indian Point nuclear power plant complex along the Hudson River near New York City. But its reasons for making that judgment are secret.

How this decision was reached illustrates a basic public policy problem vexing our nation: We often ask the wrong questions. How we frame public policy questions often shapes the answers. And if we get the answers wrong because we didn’t ask the right questions in the first place, death and disease, needless accidents and a less prosperous future will result.

New study charts death rates diluted bitumen spill in Burrard Inlet could cause in bird, seal, wildlife populations

A large spill of diluted bitumen near Vancouver could have a devastating impact on wildlife, killing over 100,000 birds and seriously harming other mammals, according to a new study.

The study predicts harbour seals and porpoises would perish in such a spill and the endangered southern resident killer whale population would be jeopardized, elevating their risk of extinction.

Cleanup crews make progress on Hudson River oil spill

Cleanup crews working on an oil spill following a transformer failure and fire at a New York nuclear reactor have accounted for 8,300 gallons of leaked fluid.

Entergy Corp. said Friday that about 16,000 gallons of machinery fuel remain unaccounted for following the fire last week at Indian Point Unit 3. The reactor shut down automatically and is safe and stable. It’s not clear yet how many remaining gallons leaked into the Hudson River, or seeped into the ground at a containment moat on site.

Scientists: Chemicals Used To Clean Oil Spills Poorly Understood

Marine scientists argue that chemicals used in dispersing oil spills should be subjected to further study in the latest edition of the journal Nature Reviews Microbiology.

In the aftermath of oil spills, current response efforts widely use chemical dispersants in an attempt to break up oil into smaller droplets, which can then be degraded by bacteria.

Protecting Our Shared Arctic

Niila Inga, a Sami leader in that part of Sweden that is above the Arctic Circle, has this to say about the impact of climate change on the future of his reindeer herding society: “If this climate change keeps going at this rate, I’m pretty sure that the reindeer won’t survive it. It goes too fast right now. And without the reindeer, the whole Sami culture will disappear, and the world will be an indigenous people poorer.”

Niila’s message is one we should heed. Scientists predict disastrous developments for humanity if global warming continues on its current trajectory. The scientific data are clear. 2014 was the hottest year on record. Fourteen of the fifteen warmest years on record have occurred since the year 2000. We are potentially looking at an ice-free summer in the Arctic as early as 2040, just 25 years from now.

Protesters gather in Seattle to block access to Shell oil rig

About 200 protesters gathered at the Port of Seattle on Monday to block access to a Royal Dutch Shell drilling rig headed for the Arctic this summer to resume exploration for oil and gas reserves.

Holding signs reading “Shell No” and “Seattle Loves the Arctic,” protesters gathered early to prevent workers from reaching the rig, one of two that Shell will store in Seattle before sending to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska.

Seattle ‘kayaktavists’ plan civil disobedience against Shell Oil

They’ve come by the hundreds to Seattle’s Elliott Bay – colorful kayaks and canoes, paddle boards and sailboats – to protest Royal Dutch Shell’s plan to drill in the Arctic Ocean. Looming large nearby is Shell’s Polar Pioneer drilling rig, the first of two oil-drilling rigs the oil giant plans to use this summer as it explores for oil off Alaska’s northern coast.

So far, the “kayaktavists” and other protesters – acting under the “sHellNo” coalition of “activists, artists, and noisemakers” – have kept their legal distance (100 yards or so) as the US Coast Guard and law enforcement agencies keep an eye on them.

Shell accused of strategy risking catastrophic climate change

Royal Dutch Shell has been accused of pursuing a strategy that would lead to potentially catastrophic climate change after an internal document acknowledged a global temperature rise of 4C, twice the level considered safe for the planet.

A paper used for guiding future business planning at the Anglo-Dutch multinational assumes that carbon dioxide emissions will fail to limit temperature increases to 2C, the internationally agreed threshold to prevent widespread flooding, famine and desertification.

‘Don’t mention the Arctic’: Shell embarrassed by video competition row

Shell has been caught in an embarrassing spat over its plan for a $50,000 (£31,727) video competition aimed at 18-34-year-olds to promote its view that the world still needs fossil fuels despite climate change.

The film project is being developed in partnership with US-based online ad agency Zooppa, and, according to a leaked email, was to be pitched at platforms such as Vice, the online news service.

An email between Zooppa staff discussing the Shell brief makes it clear “you should NOT mention on your storyboard Arctic Oil”.

No alternative to Arctic oil, says Russia environment minister

Low oil prices and sky-high development costs notwithstanding, Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources says works on the Arctic shelf must be intensified.

“There is no alternative to the fields on the shelf,” Minister Sergey Donskoy said. “Even the so-called shale revolution in the USA has not stopped the companies’ urge, with support from the state, to extract Arctic oil.”

Tom Steyer eyes new oil tax and gas-price transparency

Wealthy Bay Area environmentalist Tom Steyer, who for weeks has been lambasting oil companies about gasoline prices, said Friday he was exploring another potential cudgel against the industry: ballot measures to tax oil extraction and require more public disclosure on pricing and supply.

Laying the groundwork for a possible ballot battle next year, Steyer said he was attending this weekend’s state Democratic convention in Anaheim to “talk to a bunch of people and see where they put this in their priorities.”

Coal, oil, gas subsidies higher than public health spending

Around 1.6 million premature deaths would be prevented annually if the world’s governments stopped subsidising fossil fuels, a study by four researchers from the International Monetary Fund found.

The most relative gains could be made in eastern Europe and Turkey, where 60 percent of the people who die as a result of air pollution are estimated could be saved.

Canada to Regulate Oil and Gas Emissions With New 30% Target

Canada pledged to cut greenhouse-gas emissions by about a third by 2030 in a move quickly dismissed by environmentalists and energy analysts as lacking detail and unrealistic without major policy changes.

Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq announced the new target Friday in Winnipeg, ahead of a UN climate summit in December. In effect, Canada pledged to reduce its emissions to an estimated 515 metric megatons by 2030, partly by introducing new regulations on its oil and gas sector. The country isn’t on pace to meet its previous goal, and predicts emissions will grow — not shrink — over the next five years.

Georgia landowners fight eminent domain over pipeline

We’ve heard a lot about the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline over the last year or so. There are already more than two million miles of pipeline in the U.S., carrying natural gas, petroleum products and chemicals, right under our feet.

Now, a fight is raging over a new pipeline proposed for the Georgia coast. The company that wants to build the pipeline needs private land to do it, and it is asking the state for the right to use eminent domain.

That’s not sitting well with many landowners in the region, like Eddie Reddick, who owns a tree farm near the South Carolina border.

My Voice: Pipeline poses threat to S.D. water

The vast West River rural water system, the Mni Wiconi, is aptly named. It is Lakota for “water is life.” The Oceti Sakowin, commonly known as The Great Sioux Nation, has known throughout its history that “water is life.” In semi-arid South Dakota, I think we all realize that.

To many people in the state, the common link in our drinking water availability is the Missouri River. In the West River area, the Mni Wiconi is joined by the Perkins water system and the system serving the Standing Rock reservation. The East River systems delivering Missouri River water includes the WEB rural water system, one of the first large rural water systems built in the state. Joining the WEB are the Mid-Dakota, Crow Creek, Aurora-Brule, Davidson, Hanson, Fort Randall, and the B-Y system. The latest system added using Missouri River water and also serving the largest number of people, is the Lewis & Clark system, which serves several counties, including the Sioux Falls metro area. Making an educated guess, it is apparent that well over 50 percent of South Dakota’s population relies on the Missouri River for its drinking water.

Ministry plans to end TEPCO compensation to 55,000 Fukushima evacuees in 2018

The government will instruct Tokyo Electric Power Co. to terminate compensation payments to 54,800 evacuees from the Fukushima nuclear disaster in March 2018, regardless of radiation levels in their hometowns, sources said.

The new compensation plan of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is based on the assumption that decontamination work will lower radiation levels and enable the government to lift evacuation orders in those areas, the sources said May 18.

Fukushima finds 16 new cases of thyroid cancer in young people

Sixteen young people who lived near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer, prefectural authorities said May 18, although they added it is “unlikely” a direct result of the nuclear accident.

Fukushima Prefecture has been conducting thyroid tests on about 385,000 residents and others who were 18 years old or younger at the time of the onset of the March 2011 nuclear disaster caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

Survey: Large majority of Fukushima evacuees have family members with health problems

Nearly 70 percent of evacuees from areas around the damaged Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant have family members complaining of physical or mental problems, a recent survey showed.

Released by the Fukushima prefectural government, the survey covering fiscal 2014 revealed that 66.3 percent of households that fled the disaster area–after the nuclear crisis triggered by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami–have at least one member suffering health problems. The figure was 67.5 percent in the previous survey covering fiscal 2013.

Fukushima owner negotiating partial sale of uranium reserves

The Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), owner of the disaster-hit Fukushima nuclear power plant, is negotiating a partial sale of its nuclear fuel reserves, a company spokesman confirmed to Efe news agency on Tuesday.

Tepco has not used any uranium since the Fukushima nuclear accident following the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011, since when operations at all commercial nuclear reactors in Japan have been suspended.

Haunting video shows Fukushima four years on from nuclear disaster

The town of Tomioka, near the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, has been largely abandoned since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The tsunami caused a nuclear incident that was the largest since the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986.

INSIGHT: Fondness for the ‘earth’ guided Fukushima couple displaced by nuke disaster

Onions, carrots, garlic and peas were among the crops seen planted carefully on small patches of farmland that lay by the side and at the back of a detached house in this city near the southern end of Kyushu.

Takako Endo, who lives in the house, is a native of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, one of the two towns that host the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The 71-year-old had to leave her hometown after the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami triggered meltdowns at the plant four years ago.

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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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