Environmental Must-Reads – May 20, 2014


Threats to the Southern Hills Aquifer system grow in Louisiana

A ten-parish area from greater Baton Rouge to St. Tammany Parish gets its drinking water from the Southern Hills Aquifer system–a number of interdependent units that start to the north in Mississippi. Over half a century of efforts to protect the aquifer from industry have yielded results but more needs to be done. Fracking in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale play in Southeast Louisiana is one threat. New Orleans-based Helis Oil & Gas wants to drill down through the aquifer near Mandeville, La. this summer. A bigger menace, however, is salt’s entry into the system as water demand swells in Baton Rouge.

Meanwhile, New Orleans uses some groundwater for industry, including power generation, from the Gonzales-New Orleans aquifer. But the Crescent City relies on the Mississippi River for drinking water.

St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister says laws being drafted to help protect parish from fracking

Faced with criticism and a recall petition over her handling of the fracking issue, St. Tammany Parish President Pat Brister issued an open letter to residents on Monday, saying her administration is drafting ordinances that would give the parish some oversight over oil and gas drilling operations. While it is up to the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Natural Resources to determine whether Helis Oil & Gas Co. of New Orleans will be allowed to drill a well near Mandeville, Brister said, the parish government must do what it can “to safeguard our beautiful parish, its pristine water and our coveted lifestyle.”

Illegal Dumping of Texas Frack Waste Caught on Video

Under the cover of early-morning darkness in South Texas last March, a tanker truck ferrying fluids from an oil and gas drilling site rumbled down a country road spewing its toxic load all over the place.

The concoction of drilling fluid, which typically includes undisclosed and dangerous chemicals, oil, metals shavings and naturally occurring radioactive materials, coated eight miles of roadway, according to a Karnes County Sheriff’s Department report obtained by InsideClimate News.

Republicans in North Carolina want to make it a felony to disclose fracking chemicals

Just when we thought we were making the first steps toward transparency in fracking — in the form of EPA indicating it might require frackers, at long last, to reveal the names of the chemicals they blast into the ground in order to extract oil and gas — three GOP state senators in North Carolina stepped in to put a stop to all that.

North Carolina GOP Pushes Unprecedented Bill to Jail Anyone Who Discloses Fracking Chemicals

As hydraulic fracturing ramps up around the country, so do concerns about its health impacts. These concerns have led 20 states to require the disclosure of industrial chemicals used in the fracking process.

North Carolina isn’t on that list of states yet—and it may be hurtling in the opposite direction.

Fracking: Lee County at epicenter of NC’s gas drilling

For almost two centuries, miners dug coal out of the hills of Lee and Chatham counties.

It was dangerous work. Scores of workers died in explosions, the most horrific in 1925 when three rapid explosions tore through a tunnel and killed 53 miners.

In each case, workers unwittingly ignited coal dust or methane, the primary component of natural gas. The mine was abandoned in 1951 and sealed eight miles north of Sanford.

Nigeria: Investigation – How Decades of Gas Flaring Is Harming Nigerians (Part I)

It was a few minutes past 2 a.m. when the baby’s cries shattered the stillness of the night at Mgbede. Roused from her sleep, Philomena Chibuike reached for her usual quick-fix remedy – the bottles of cough syrup and Vitamin C at the foot of the bed.

“I gave those to him and he’s still crying. I gave him food, he’s still crying. So later in the morning, by 4 (a.m.), he slept,” said Mrs. Chibuike, 28.

Southwestern Energy Executive Mark Boling Admits Fracking Link to Climate Change

An Executive* of a major shale gas development company has conceded what scientists have been saying for years: global shale gas development has the potential to wreak serious climate change havoc.

Best known for his company’s hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) activity, Southwestern Energy Executive Vice President Mark Boling admitted his industry has a methane problem on tonight’s episode of Showtime’s “Years of Living Dangerously” in a segment titled, “Chasing Methane.”

Oilfield Deaths Spur Safety Agency to Study Fracking

The Obama administration is investigating the health risks of hydraulic fracturing after at least four deaths among oilfield workers since 2010 in North Dakota and Montana.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health said the workers were exposed to high levels of volatile hydrocarbons during the drilling process known as fracking.

Drilling Companies Still Waiting on Fracking Rules

It’s been nearly a year since Illinois lawmakers approved regulations for high volume hydraulic fracturing. But so far, companies haven’t been able to get started. They’ve faced delay after delay, not only for high volume fracking, but also conventional drilling that’s been going on for years in Illinois.

“If you look at the big picture, St. Mary’s (SM Energy) has already moved out of the basin, they sold their properties,” says Richard Straeter, District Manager for Woolsey Energy.

Fracking: Many in NC don’t control rights to gas under their land

Mike Tilley wants to plant a vineyard and offer wine-tasting tours on his 100 acres north of Sanford. But he wonders whether tourists would appreciate seeing a 120-foot drilling rig during a visit, or sitting in traffic among gas workers’ trucks.

“I kind of wish the fracking issue would just go away, but I don’t think it’s going to,” he said.

Louisiana lawsuits seek oil and gas industry money to restore coastline

Every two weeks, a swath of Louisiana the size of this city’s French Quarter vanishes into the Gulf of Mexico. Since the 1930s, the state has lost nearly 1,900 square miles, a quarter of its coastal land area.

For decades, oil and gas companies cut canals through fragile wetlands with the state’s approval to haul equipment and install pipelines. But scientists say the dredging let salt water flow in, killing vegetation that kept the land from eroding.

U.S. appeals court rejects BP bid to undo ruling in oil spill case

A U.S. appeals court will not revisit a decision to reject BP Plc’s bid to block businesses from recovering money over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, even if those businesses could not trace their economic losses to the disaster.

The 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in March voted 2-1 to authorize payments on so-called business economic loss claims, and said an injunction preventing payments should be lifted. BP asked the entire 5th Circuit to rehear the case.

U.S. Court Upholds Ruling in BP Oil spill Case

BP is faced with billions of dollars in payments for claims the company says are ‘fictitious’ after an appeals court rejected its bid to revisit the case

A U.S. appeals court has rejected BP’s bid to revisit a decision made by the court in March on payments to companies affected economically by the 2010 oil spill.

Pay Up, BP

In the four years since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, BP has gone from eating crow to crowing. In a recent op-ed, John Mingé, the chairman and president of BP America, celebrated the end of the company’s cleanup operation in the Gulf. “No company has done more to help a region recover after an industrial accident,” he claimed. Meanwhile, in court and in other media outlets, including 60 Minutes, BP is trying to get out of the terms of the mass settlement the company entered into back in 2012, when it was still humbled by the disastrous spill.

How beach microbes responded to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill

In June, 2010, two months after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Regina Lamendella collected samples along a hard-hit beach near Grand Isle, Louisiana. She was part of a team of Berkeley Lab researchers that wanted to know how the microbes along the shoreline were responding to the spill.

Some microorganisms love to consume hydrocarbons, and they’re known to thrive in the Gulf of Mexico. But were oil-hungry microbes also active on the beach?

Environmental group files lawsuit against state over landfill

The Louisiana Environmental Action Network filed a lawsuit Monday against the state Department of Environmental Quality, asking the court to toss out a permit the state recently granted for the operation of a landfill in north Baton Rouge.

DEQ granted Louisiana Land Acquisitions a permit on April 4 to operate an industrial waste landfill along Brooklawn Road.

Enbridge will begin cleaning up after pipeline construction

Work crews will start cleaning up this week after the new Enbridge Line 6B pipeline that runs through Northwest Indiana.

The energy company just replaced 210 miles of a crude oil pipeline that runs between Marysville, Mich., and Enbridge’s terminal in Griffith. The $1.6 billion project replaced an older pipe with a new 36-inch diameter one with more than twice the capacity. The Indiana section sliced through St. Joseph, LaPorte, Porter and Lake counties.

Canada’s Oil-By-Rail Liability Rules Pit Regulators Against Energy Players

Railway operators and the petroleum industry have weighed in on how they think the risks of shipping dangerous goods by rail ought to be divvied up — and it’s clear the two aren’t on the same page.

Rail carriers aren’t happy with the status quo, in which they’re legally required to move whatever customers want shipped, but are entirely on the hook if something goes wrong. The energy players, on the other hand, are generally satisfied with how the current system works, although they say changes are needed to how small rail lines are insured.

Local agencies repare as Fed orders railroads to alert county of trains carrying crude oil

The Lancaster Special has derailed at Marietta. The wreckage of 17 cars  is strewn between South Gay and South Pine streets, spilling hydrochloric and sulfuric acids, oil, turpentine, alcohol and plastic pellets.

Emergency first responders have been on the scene for 18 hours and are exhausted, and now the county emergency operations center has been taken off-line due to technical glitches.

Biden to attend fundraiser at home of anti-Keystone XL billionaire

Vice President Joe Biden is planning to headline a fundraiser for Democrats at the home of billionaire Tom Steyer.

That’s according to a Democratic official who demanded anonymity because the event hasn’t been officially announced.

Fukushima Workers Fled Plant After Accident Despite Orders

At the most dire moment of the Fukushima nuclear crisis three years ago, hundreds of panicked employees abandoned the damaged plant despite being ordered to remain on hand for last-ditch efforts to regain control of its runaway reactors, according to a previously undisclosed record of the accident that was reported Tuesday by a major Japanese newspaper.

90% of TEPCO workers defied orders, fled Fukushima plant in 2011

Almost all workers, including managers required to deal with accidents, defied orders and fled the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant at a critical juncture when the disaster was unfolding in March 2011, documents showed.

Amid fears that a reactor containment vessel had been destroyed, around 650, or 90 percent, of the approximately 720 workers at the plant left the premises despite being told to remain at the site by the plant’s manager, Masao Yoshida.

Fukushima water decontamination system down: TEPCO

The operator of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant said on Tuesday it had again suspended a trouble-plagued system used to clean radiation-tainted water.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) put its Advanced Liquid Processing System (ALPS) on standby mode after it found processed water was cloudy instead of clear.

Manga Comic Forces Japan To Discuss Radiation After Fukushima Disaster

A journalist finds his nose doesn’t stop bleeding after visiting the meltdown-stricken Fukushima nuclear plant. He also learns others suffer similar symptoms.

The scene from popular manga comic “Oishinbo,” published last month, has set off a hot public debate in Japan — a nation still traumatized by the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

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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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