Environmental Must-Reads – May 20, 2015


In Heavily Fracked Ohio County, Unsafe Levels of Toxic Pollutants

Emissions generated by fracking operations may be exposing people to some toxic pollutants at levels higher than the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe for long-term exposure, according to scientists from Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati.

The researchers took air samples in Carroll County, the home of 480 permitted wells––the most in any of Ohio’s 88 counties. The team found chemicals released during oil and gas extraction that can raise people’s risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.

Oil wastewater dumped into shallow Central Valley wells

California officials have identified 260 oil company wastewater injection wells that are so shallow or so close to wells used for drinking or irrigation that they could threaten the state’s precious groundwater supplies, new data show.

All of the wells inject water left over from oil field operations into aquifers that were supposed to be protected by law. While most of those aquifers contain salty water that would need treatment before use, state and federal officials want them preserved as a potential supply for cities and farms in the future.

California oil regulators could lose power over aquifer mess

Under fire for letting petroleum companies pump wastewater into aquifers, California oil-field regulators could see some of their responsibilities taken away — and handed to other agencies.

State Sen. Fran Pavley on Tuesday proposed launching an audit of California’s Divison of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources to see whether some of its functions would be better handled by other government offices.

By Banning Fracking Bans, Texas Picks Gas Drillers over Local Democracy

In what environmental campaigners and the people of the small town of Denton, Texas are calling a clear example of fossil fuel interests trumping the will of local residents, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday signed HB 40 into law thereby undermining a local ordinance, approved overwhelmingly by voters during last year’s election, which banned fracking in the community.

Texas stops cities and towns from banning fracking

A law signed this week in Texas now prohibits cities and towns from banning fracking and other activities that harvest oil and natural gas.

The law was drafted after voters in Denton, a city outside Dallas, banned “hydraulic fracturing” locally in 2014.

Fracking opponents warn that potential carcinogens used in the extraction process may contaminate groundwater.

Radon and Fracking: A New Study

According to a new study published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the level of Radon in Pennsylvania houses is increasing in areas where hydraulic fracturing is used to produce natural gas from the Marcellus tight shale formation. The peer-reviewed research article, titled Predictors of Indoor Radon Concentrations in Pennsylvania, 1989-2013, examines associations of Radon concentrations with underlying geology, sources of water for homes, characteristics of buildings, seasons of the year, weather, and a community’s socioeconomic status and type, as well as so-called unconventional natural gas development measures based on numbers of drilled and producing natural gas wells.

Utah to fight new federal fracking rules in court

Utah is going to join Wyoming’s legal challenge of new federal fracking rules on public and tribal lands, Gov. Gary Herbert announced Monday on the eve of his Energy Summit. Herbert believes the regulations will illegally inhibit oil and gas development in the state.

“There is no question the practice of hydraulic fracturing should be regulated in order to ensure protection of the environment,” Herbert said at the annual business meeting of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. “However, adoption of the proposed rule would create an inconsistent, costly and inefficient regulatory system that provides no additional environmental protection or public safety than is offered by programs already enforced by the state.”

Amherst Town Meeting to take stand on Tennessee Gas Pipeline

Amherst is expected to end the 257th annual Town Meeting Wednesday with consideration of three remaining petition articles including one that opposes the Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

At the 8th session, voters will be asked to adopt the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as the authoritative statement of customary international law, and major UN human rights conventions have the status of international treaty, and that “Amherst calls upon all federal state, and municipal legislative, executive, and judicial bodies to sign, ratify, and implement such conventions as they presently exist and evolve.”

Indian Point Fire Raises Huge Concerns Over Siting of Spectra Pipeline

The recent transformer fire at the aging Indian Point nuclear power facility in Buchanan, New York in Westchester County just 30 miles north of New York City, garnered wide coverage in the global media including a visit to the site by New York’s Gov. Andrew Cuomo. Throughout the coverage, there was little mention of Spectra Energy’s proposed new 42-inch diameter, high-pressure gas pipeline which presents a serious new hazard to the troubled plant that has been on the federal list of the nation’s worst nuclear power plants and has had its share of accidents since its operations began in 1973.

Nelson Residents React to New Proposed Pipeline Route

Dominion Resources has a new favored route for the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline that still goes right through Nelson County.

The new favored route goes through the George Washington National Forest instead of the Shenandoah National Park. It also goes east of Lovingston.

BNSF won’t face possible fine on oil spill reporting until January

It likely will be January 2016 before it is decided if BNSF Railway should face fines for what state rail regulators said was improper reporting of crude oil and other hazardous materials spills.

BNSF, the largest railroad operating in Washington, met with state Utilities and Transportation Commission representatives Monday, May 18, to schedule a hearing related to more than a dozen hazardous materials spills across the state between Nov. 1, 2014, and Feb. 24, 2015.

Wolf urges railroads to adopt oil train safety measures

Governor Wolf is urging rail companies shipping crude oil through Pennsylvania to adopt voluntary safety measures to help prevent the risk of accidents.

It’s estimated that 60-70 trains carrying oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale travel through Pennsylvania each week to East Coast refineries like Philadelphia Energy Solutions. The state has seen four oil train derailments since January 2014, but none have led to the explosions or loss of life seen elsewhere.

Preparing for the Worst: Oil Train Derailments

When an oil train derails and catches fire near your home, what could you do?

From track inspections to the type of tanker cars, derailments often bring a focus on rail safety.

We spoke to emergency managers and a Bismarck businessman on how they feel about the sleek back tankers rolling through the capital city.

Fear of Oil Trains: The Future of Railroad Safety

A recent derailment in North Dakota has legislators here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes even more focused on getting our rails safe. It’s a long road ahead as lawmakers work with rail companies on a plan, but for many residents of the state, the clock is ticking.

Five to seven trains of crude oil pass through Minnesota daily, and an estimated 326,000 people live within a half mile of the tracks. One of those people is Jeanne Nelson, whose home is situated directly between the Mississippi River and the train tracks, a recipe for disaster in the case of a derailment. It’s stories like hers that have officials trying to make a plan for better safety in our state, and negotiating with the railroads that have no choice but to carry this seriously dangerous commodity.

Friends of the Columbia River Gorge sue USDOT over oil train safety rules

Seven U.S. environmental groups, including Friends of the Columbia River Gorge, filed a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Department of Transportation’s new crude-by-rail safety rules, calling them too “weak” to prevent fiery derailments.

#The coalition launched their legal challenge Friday at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit in San Francisco. The groups hired Earthjustice, an environmental law organization based in San Francisco, to challenge the federal transportation department on their behalf, calling for a revision of train safety rules USDOT released on May 1.

Federal study of dolphin deaths after BP spill due

The results of a federal study into possible links between BP’s catastrophic 2010 oil spill and a spate of dolphin deaths since the spill is set to be released Wednesday.

The study is part of a wide-ranging assessment of ecological damage caused by the spill.

Oil spills off California coast after pipeline ruptures

An oil spill in California on Tuesday created a slick in the ocean that stretched for miles near a popular beach.

Santa Barbara County Fire Department spokesman Capt. Dave Zaniboni said the spill began west of Santa Barbara after a pipeline ruptured and has now moved toward Refugio State Beach. The pipeline responsible has been shut off, he said.

Photos: A ruptured pipeline dumped 21,000 gallons of oil on the California coastline

Oil is washing ashore on beaches near Santa Barbara, California, after a nearby pipeline operated by Plains All-American Pipeline ruptured, spilling an estimated 21,000 gallons into the ocean.

Coast Guard officials said the spill stretches for about four miles. It was started when a pipeline that runs along highway 101 along the California coast ruptured at  some point on May 19. Patches of oil pooled in a nearby field before it flowed down towards the sea. Here’s an aerial view from local news station KTLA

21,000 gallons of crude oil leaked near Santa Barbara County beaches

A ruptured pipeline near Santa Barbara leaked an estimated 21,000 gallons of crude oil Tuesday, some of which flowed into the ocean and left a thick coat of black tar along the county’s pristine shores, authorities said.

The rupture, located along an 11-mile long underground pipe that’s part of a larger oil transport network bound for Kern County, was first reported about noon after a woman at Refugio State Beach in Goleta smelled the crude’s noxious fumes. Coast Guard crews stopped the leak by 3 p.m., said Coast Guard Petty Officer Andrea Anderson.

Transocean idles three more rigs amid crude slump

Offshore driller Transocean has idled three more deep water rigs, bringing its number of out-of-work units to 14, it said Monday, as the oil slump continued to hammer the drilling market.

The Swiss rig contractor with corporate offices in Houston has idled 10 rigs and stacked four others, and it has said it plans to sell 19 units for scrap. Idle rigs are between contracts; stacked machines are shut down for longer periods, and scrapped rigs are torn apart for their steel hides. Transocean owns or has a stake in 65 offshore rigs around the world.

Georgia DOT rejects Palmetto Pipeline for refined petroleum

A Georgia transportation official has denied Kinder Morgan Inc. an approval necessary to build a 360-mile pipeline carrying gasoline, diesel and ethanol from South Carolina through Georgia and into Florida.

Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Russell McMurry refused to grant Kinder Morgan Inc. a certificate necessary if the developer hopes to use eminent domain laws to build the Palmetto Pipeline on land owned by others, even if the land owner objects. The decision was reached Monday and publicly announced Tuesday.

Keystone XL Pipeline debate sparks ad campaign and protests

South Dakota’s Public Utilities Commission has yet to decide whether to re-certify construction of the long-delayed Keystone XL Pipeline through the state.

Now, the company behind the controversial project has launched a campaign to help draw in support.

Oil pipeline project underway in the Southland

Enbridge Energy Co. has begun construction of the Cook County portion of an 80-mile pipeline that’s expected to transport about 570,000 barrels per day, mostly a heavy form of crude oil extracted from the tar sands in Canada and North Dakota.

Scheduled to begin operating in the fall, the nearly $500 million pipeline will link Houston-based Enbridge’s terminal in downstate Flanagan, which is between Ottawa and Bloomington, to a terminal in Griffith, Ind.

Kinder Morgan emergency plan underestimates effects of oil spill: report

Kinder Morgan greatly underestimated the effects an oil spill could have on the seabirds and fish that migrate through the Fraser River estuary in its submissions to a National Energy Board panel on a proposal to expand its Trans Mountain pipeline, a newly released report says.

Its “fundamentally flawed” assessment of the ecological risk is based on only one spill in the Strait of Georgia, likely after a collision between a ferry and an oil tanker, and it failed to calculate the “considerably greater” impact of a spill closer to Burrard Inlet on migratory birds and important fish species in the Fraser River estuary, according to a report by a Seattle-based oil spill expert.

Expect loud noises from petroleum pipeline maintenance in Attleboro

Local residents living near a petroleum pipeline might encounter crews or be subjected to loud noises this week as part of maintenance procedures on the pipeline that recently changed hands.

A letter from Buckey Partners Limited Partnership received by Attleboro police said the company recently acquired an 84-mile pipeline between East Providence and Springfield, and that it will be purging the lines of petroleum products. The procedure by which the pipeline is purged requires the injection of nitrogen gas, the letter said, which may result in loud noises in certain locations.

Environmentalists nab one big win in Arctic drilling plans

Environmentalists who oppose offshore drilling were enraged over the Obama administration’s decision to green-light Shell’s broad plan for boring exploratory oil wells in the Chukchi Sea, but they scored one big victory.

That’s because the approval — and newly proposed government mandates for Arctic oil development — insist that Shell and other companies drilling in the region have a second rig nearby to bore a relief well in case of a blowout, like the one that destroyed a BP Gulf of Mexico well in 2010.

Shell vows to explore Arctic despite Seattle protests

Royal Dutch Shell will press on with a campaign to explore the Arctic for oil this summer despite protests in the port city of Seattle, chief executive officer Ben van Beurden said on Tuesday.

Hundreds of environmental activists have fanned out across the Seattle Bay in recent days to disrupt the Anglo-Dutch company’s rigs from entering the port en route to the Chukchi Sea off Alaska, saying drilling in the remote Arctic waters could lead to an ecological catastrophe.

Shell CEO Defends Arctic Drilling, Environment Record

Royal Dutch ShellPLC’s chief executive on Tuesday defended the company’s environmental record as its board was peppered with questions about plans for Arctic exploration and the risks climate change poses to its business.

In the company’s first annual shareholder meeting since it announced its planned tie-up with British energy company BG Group,the climate issue took center stage, overshadowing the $70 billion deal announced in April. It took place after Shell’s Arctic-bound vessels were met with kayak-borne protests in Seattle last week. Fossil-fuel companies are coming under scrutiny ahead of climate-change talks in Paris later this year.

Climate change dominates marathon Shell annual general meeting

Shell shareholders have voted through a resolution requiring it to test its business against international goals to limit climate change – but Britain’s biggest oil company faced a barrage of questions over its commitment to battle global warming.

At its annual general meeting in The Hague, 98.9% of votes supported the call for Shell to report on whether its activities were compatible with a pledge by governments to limit global warming to a 2C rise.

Karl Ove Knausgaard condemns Norway’s Arctic oil plans

Norway’s best-known author has lashed out at “the shortsightedness and stupidity” of plans to expand oil exploration into the Arctic, as campaigners prepare to sue the government for placing future generations at risk from climate change.

Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose bestselling memoir has been a global literary sensation, is fronting a campaign to mount a legal challenge against moves by Norway to open up the Arctic to oil companies.

Venting of steam from crippled Fukushima No. 1 reactor likely failed, Tepco says

An investigation by Tokyo Electric Power Co. has found that efforts to release pressure from a Fukushima No. 1 plant reactor as its fuel melted down likely failed.

Three days after the tsunami on March 11, 2011, engineers tried to vent radioactive steam from the plant’s No. 2 reactor to prevent the vessel from rupturing. Radiation levels rose, but the pressure did not fall, the company said Wednesday.

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.

Japan approves third power nuclear plant for restart four years after Fukushima

Japan’s nuclear regulator signed off on the basic safety of a reactor at a third nuclear plant on Wednesday, as the country inches toward rebooting its atomic industry more than four years after the 2011 Fukushima disaster.

The decision will be a boost for operator Shikoku Electric Power Co, which relied on its sole Ikata nuclear power station in southwestern Japan for about 40 percent of its electricity output before the meltdowns at Fukushima led to the shutdown of all the country.

Regulator Vouches for Safety of Third Nuclear Plant in Japan

Japan’s nuclear regulator vouched in a draft report for the safety of a reactor on the southern island of Shikoku, boosting the government’s drive to revive atomic power after the meltdown at Fukushima four years ago.

Shikoku Electric Power Co.’s No. 3 unit at the Ikata nuclear station in Ehime prefecture conforms with new safety rules, the Nuclear Regulation Authority said in the report. Commissioned in 1994, the pressurized water reactor has operating capacity of 890 megawatts.

How Well Is Oyster Creek Performing? Come And Listen To What The NRC Has To Say

The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission will discuss its annual assessment of safety performance at the Oyster Creek nuclear power plant at a public meeting on May 28 at the Holiday Inn in Manahawkin on Route 72.

The meeting is starts at 6 p.m. NRC staff will provide a brief presentation on the plant’s performance and the agency’s oversight activities at the plant in Lacey Township. It will be followed with a question-and-answer session.

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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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