Environmental Must-Reads – May 22, 2015


Well Explosion Douses Texas Neighborhood Already Weary of Fracking

Jeanne Shepherd was on her way to a church gathering when an oil and gas well in Karnes County, Texas blew its top on Tuesday afternoon. A mixture of liquid petroleum products gushed high into the air. Some of it splashed onto Shepherd’s truck, coating her windshield in an opaque, milky film.

Shepherd said the well looked like the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park. “It spewed and it spewed … It was all over everywhere, and I knew I wasn’t going home that night,” she said.

Judge Says No to Fracking

A judge in North Carolina has blocked the start of fracking in that state over a challenge to the membership of the commission charged with issuing the permits.

“Finally some good news in our long battle to keep fracking out of NC!” exulted North Carolina environmental nonprofit Haw River Assembly, one of the parties to the lawsuit, on its Facebook page.

North Carolina activists win on fracking, might still lose on renewable energy

It was one step forward and one step backward for environmentally concerned North Carolina residents on Wednesday.

A successful local lawsuit ended in a de facto moratorium on fracking in the state, while a bill that would halt progress requirements on renewable energies continued to cycle its way through the legislature.

Regulators order tests of two sites for ‘fracking’ potential

Environmental regulators this week issued the state’s first contracts to test sites in North Carolina for oil and gas resources ahead of any potential drilling.

The two contracts with Sanford-based Patterson Exploration Services will cost the state $236,500 for core sampling in several locations in Stokes, Scotland, Hoke and Cumberland counties.

Vantage to get back to fracking

A Colorado energy company told city officials it plans to frack gas wells on Denton’s west side in a notice that came only one day after the governor signed House Bill 40 into law.

A Vantage Energy employee notified the city’s gas well inspector early Tuesday morning that they were preparing for “frac work” starting May 27, according to documents obtained in an open records request.

Yes, in Your Backyard: Texas tells local governments not to mess with oil and gas.

In an audacious rebuke to the energy industry that more or less rules the state of Texas, the city of Denton banned fracking in November. This week, the empire struck back. Governor Greg Abbott signed a law that prohibits local governments from outlawing fracking in their cities and towns: a statewide ban on fracking bans.

This is a craven act of ideological hypocrisy. The American political right claims to love local government and local control—it’s one of the reasons they want to drown the federal government in a bathtub. If you don’t believe me, here are a wide variety of conservative sources making this very point

Oklahoma Senate passes bill preventing local fracking bans

Oklahoma cities and counties would be unable to ban hydraulic fracturing — a process also known as fracking — or other oil and gas operations within their boundaries under a bill heading to the governor’s desk.

The Oklahoma Senate voted 33-13 on Thursday for the measure, which also prohibits local bans on wastewater disposal.

Amherst town meeting opposes construction of Tennessee Gas Pipeline

The 257th Annual Town Meeting came to an end Wednesday night with near unanimous support for a petition article opposing construction of the proposed Tennessee Gas Pipeline.

The article also opposed “any such new or expanded pipelines carrying fracked gas in the Commonwealth” and opposed “any tariffs that may be imposed on Massachusetts ratepayers to fund the pipeline or other such new or expanded fracked gas pipelines among other articles and stood in solidarity with communities opposing the TGP Pipeline and other such pipelines.

Landowners in Iowa protest new Bakken oil pipeline

Landowners along the proposed path of a crude oil pipeline through Iowa made clear their displeasure for the project Wednesday at the state Capitol.

The landowners said they do not believe state government should be able to claim land for the project, which is the $3.8 billion, 1,134-mile brainchild of a Texas-based energy company.

Second try for Pinelands pipeline

South Jersey Gas will try again to win approval for a controversial pipeline through the Pinelands.

The Folsom-based utility filed papers Thursday with the state Pinelands Commission, renewing its case for a 22-mile natural gas pipeline from Maurice River Township in Cumberland County to Upper Township, Cape May County.

DCI investigating alleged sex bribe by Bakken pipeline agent

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said Thursday it is conducting a criminal inquiry into allegations that a land agent working on behalf of a Texas pipeline company offered illicit sex to a southeast Iowa landowner who opposes the project crossing his property.

“I can confirm that we are investigating these allegations. We were asked to assist with the investigation by the Lee County Attorney,” said Alex Murphy, a DCI spokesman in Des Moines.

Montco Emergency Crews Practice Drills In Case Train Derailment Causes Oil Spill

More than one-million gallons of crude oil pass through Pennsylvania each week, much of it on trains that run along the Schuylkill River between Chester and Montgomery counties. Training this week has emergency crews doing a “what-if” for potential disasters along those rail lines.

Emergency responders trained on the Schuylkill River, deploying the booms that would be used to collect oil from a spill if a train were to derail north of Royersford

Oil train safety bill passes key Oregon committee

A bill that would increase Oregon’s preparedness for a catastrophic oil train accident passed a key legislative committee Wednesday.

Communities across the state have been alarmed by increasing oil train traffic coming from both the Bakken formation in North Dakota and the Canadian Tar Sands.

Skagit County judge dismisses Shell lawsuit over oil train facility EIS

A Skagit County Superior Court judge dismissed a Shell lawsuit this morning, which means the company’s proposed oil train unloading facility will need an environmental impact statement before being built.

The decision was a victory for Washington Environmental Council, RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, and other environmental groups who joined together, represented by Jan Hasselman of Earthjustice, in appealing Skagit County’s original decision not to require an EIS.

Biologists Eyeing Extent of Damage After California Oil Spill

Two days after a ruptured oil pipeline spewed crude into the waters off of California — tainting 9 miles of ocean teeming with coastal creatures — environmentalists are scrambling to assess how mucked up the ecosystem is.

This much is clear: It could be weeks before the beach near Santa Barbara is cleaned up, and even years before the damage to the water and wildlife is realized, scientists say.

Report: Pipeline in Calif. spill operated below capacity

The pipeline involved in this week’s rupture along the Santa Barbara coast that spilled thousands of gallons of oil was operating well below maximum capacity, CNN is reporting.

The pipeline was carrying 1,300 barrels an hour, well below its maximum capacity of 2,000 barrels an hour, Rick McMichael of Plains All American Pipeline told the network.

Santa Barbara rupture prompts calls for more restrictions

Tuesday’s oil spill on the Southern California coast has sparked calls for more restrictions on drilling and an inquiry into the cause of the accident.

A 24-inch pipeline, owned by Plains All American Pipeline Co., ruptured Tuesday afternoon and released 105,000 barrels of crude oil, with about 21,000 gallons of that making its way to the ocean. The pipeline, which runs from a storage facility in Las Flores to Gaviota, about 180 miles up the coast, was last inspected two weeks ago, the company said. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) yesterday declared a state of emergency for the area in order to speed cleanup.

California oil spill ignites array of protests against industry

This week’s oil spill in California has become a springboard for environmental groups to attack the oil industry, with calls ranging from a ban on fracking in the Golden State to a halt to drilling in the far-flung Arctic.

Two days after a pipeline rupture began spilling 105,000 gallons of crude oil onto a beach and into the Pacific Ocean west of Santa Barbara, several environmental groups held a rally on the steps of the town’s Spanish-style County Courthouse on Thursday to call for an end to fracking in California.

How does Santa Barbara match up with other U.S. oil spills?

The Santa Barbara oil spill has environmentalists and California officials scrambling as an estimated 105,000 gallons of oil may have spilled into the Pacific Ocean and onto the Golden State’s coast.

To the layman, the number might not mean much, but to put it in perspective, 105,000 gallons — if that’s the final number when all is said and done — would be enough to fill up a sixth of an Olympic swimming pool. The world’s largest tanker trucks carry in the neighborhood of about 12,000 gallons, so the oil spill would fill almost nine of them.

Florida senator says state’s beaches ‘under siege’ from Bill Cassidy’s drilling bill

Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is angry about new legislation sponsored by Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-La., and others that would allow oil drilling as close as 50 miles from Florida’s coast.

Nelson said for decades Florida’s political leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, fought to protect Florida’s coastline and multi-billion dollar tourism driven economy from oil development near its coast.

Senate Dems call for pipeline, hazmat regulator

Ten Senate Democrats implored President Obama Thursday to nominate a new head for the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA), which has not had a leader in seven months.

The letter came two days after an oil pipeline on California’s coast leaked an estimated 105,000 gallons of oil into the the Pacific Ocean, which washed onto the beaches of Santa Barbara County.

Oil Giants Band Together to Add Voice to Climate Debate

Europe’s largest oil companies are banding together to forge a joint strategy on climate-change policy, alarmed they’ll be ignored as the world works toward a historic deal limiting greenhouse gases.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, Total SA, BP Plc, Statoil ASA and Eni SpA are among oil companies that plan to start a new industry body, or think tank, to develop common positions on the issues, according to people with knowledge of the matter. So far the largest U.S. companies — Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. — have decided not to participate, the people said, asking not be named before a public announcement expected as early as next month.

Let’s Just Replace Sinking Islands With Floating Cities Perched On Oil Rigs

By the end of the century, as sea levels rise, most of the Maldives may be underwater. As the low-lying island country built on crumbling coral reefs tries to figure out what to do—and considers a possible move of 400,000 people to Australia—a design student has another suggestion: Rebuild a new version of the island that floats.

“I was interested in looking at the future of the Maldives because their situation is very unique,” says Mayank Thammalla, the New Zealand-based designer. “They are a nation that can lose their entire identity, a 2,000-year-old culture and their geographical position on the planet, due to projected sea-level rise within the next 100 years.”

DEC rescinds OK for Port of Albany oil project

State regulators said Thursday they’ll require further environmental review before deciding whether to allow a fuel transport company to install facilities at the Port of Albany that critics say would make the port a hub for heavy Canadian tar sands crude oil.

The Department of Environmental Conservation informed Global Partners of Waltham, Massachusetts, that it was rescinding its 2013 notice that found no significant adverse air quality impacts associated with the company’s proposed project.

This Aging Oil Pipeline Is In Great Lakes’ ‘Worst Possible Place’ For A Spill

Environmental activists say Michigan’s tourism slogan — “Pure Michigan” — may no longer be accurate unless the state takes stronger action to prevent a 62-year-old oil pipeline from rupturing in a sensitive waterway.

The pipeline, called Line 5, is owned by the Canadian energy company Enbridge, carrying nearly 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas liquids every day. It passes between the state’s upper and lower peninsulas, along the bottom of the Straits of Mackinac, which connects Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. East of the pipeline is the iconic Mackinac Bridge, depicted on many of the state’s license plates, and Mackinac Island, an historic, no-cars resort area.

Michigan lawmakers seek lessons from Enbridge oil spill

Lawmakers asked state environmental officials Thursday morning what lessons they had learned about preventing another oil spill like the 2010 incident in the Kalamazoo River that led to a recent $75 million settlement with Canada’s Enbridge Energy.

In late July 2010, one of the company’s underground pipelines near Marshall ruptured, spilling 840,000 gallons of heavy crude oil that eventually contaminated more than 30 miles of the river. It amounted to the largest inland oil disaster in U.S. history.

Opponents seek halt to Shell’s Chukchi drilling plans over walrus risks

Several environmental groups have asked a judge to stop Shell’s Chukchi Sea drilling plans this summer, saying federal authorities didn’t properly evaluate the threats drilling may pose to walrus in the region.

The National Resources Defense Council said in a Wednesday that the legal brief, filed late Monday from Alaska in U.S. District Court, is its latest move in a case dating back to last year. The move comes after last week’s arrival in Seattle of Shell rigs Polar Pioneer and Noble Discoverer, ahead of plans to drill exploratory wells in the Chukchi this summer.

Sluggish Response to Santa Barbara Oil Spill Rings Alarm Bells for the Arctic

An oil pipeline near Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County ruptured Tuesday morning, spewing about 105,000 gallons of oil onto the coast and into the Pacific Ocean. The spill was discovered by locals. By the time the Coast Guard arrived, the leak had already covered 4 miles of the coast, and after the broken pipe was reported, it took the Texas-based company that owns the pipeline, Plains All American Pipeline, several hours to shut off the leak.

400 turn out for NRC’s upbeat Indian Point report

About 400 people attended a Wednesday night meeting to hear federal officials give an upbeat assessment of the Indian Point nuclear power plant’s safety record in 2014.

“Overall we determined that Indian Point was operated safely, consistent with its license conditions,” said Arthur Burritt, branch chief of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s Division of Reactor Projects.

Energy czar: State actively working to shutter Indian Point

The state is working on “multiple fronts” to close and replace the Indian Point nuclear plant, state energy czar Richard Kauffman said, in a notably direct acknowledgement that the Cuomo administration is actively trying to shutter the Westchester County facility.

“The governor has repeatedly said that he wants to close Indian Point,” Kauffman said in response to a question from State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, during an energy committee hearing this week. “Even before he was governor, he was saying that. Entergy, who is the owner and operator of Indian Point, is seeking a 20-year license from the [federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission] and the state opposes this relicensing. We are in litigation on multiple fronts opposing the relicensing and this involves state entities, including the Department of State, D.E.C. and the attorney general’s office.”

Lessons Learned At Fukushima Could Apply To Former ‘Silkwood’ Site In Oklahoma

Nearly four decades after it shut down, Kerr-McGee’s former nuclear facility in Crescent (yes, that nuclear facility) could finally have its contaminated site in north-central Oklahoma cleaned using environmental practices pioneered across the Pacific.

Jeff Lux with the Cimarron Environmental Response Trust is working to clean up contaminated water on the 840-acre site where Kerr-McGee enriched uranium until 1976. The $86 million project is expected to take 10 years.

NRA to raise nuclear worker radiation exposure limit for emergencies

The Nuclear Regulation Authority decided Wednesday to raise the maximum radiation exposure limit for nuclear workers in emergencies to 250 millisieverts from the current 100, starting from next April.

Following the 2011 disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear complex, the maximum limit of cumulative exposure was raised to 250 millisieverts as an emergency measure for workers at the plant, but was lowered back to the previous limit of 100 in December 2011.

LDP team calls for lifting evacuation orders for less radiation-polluted areas by March 2017

A team of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Thursday called for the government’s lifting of evacuation orders in less radiation-polluted restricted areas in the nuclear disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture by March 2017.

The proposal is among a set of measures that the LDP’s Headquarters for Accelerating Reconstruction after the Great East Japan Earthquake broadly agreed on at a plenary meeting. The LDP will submit the measures to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe later this month after holding talks with coalition partner Komeito.

METI changes tactics after search for nuclear waste host proves futile

The government will select potential areas to host nuclear dump sites instead of waiting for communities to volunteer, according to the revised policy on permanent disposal of high-level radioactive waste that was adopted by the Cabinet on Friday.

The revision, the first in seven years, was prompted after towns, villages and cities throughout Japan snubbed requests to host nuclear waste dumps. The government has been soliciting offers since 2002.

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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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