Environmental Must-Reads – May 26, 2015


Oil trains: Scary secrecy

When crude oil arrives at a refinery in South Philadelphia or Marcus Hook or Paulsboro, the refinery must have a public plan outlining the hazards, a detailed response to possible accidents, and worst-case scenarios for disasters that could endanger hundreds of thousands of people.

Not so the trains carrying oil to the refineries.

As they travel past the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia International Airport, along the Schuylkill Expressway, and past thousands of homes, schools and businesses, the oil trains need no public accounting of what they are carrying, or when or where, or what could happen if something goes wrong.

As Philadelphia becomes a major hub in the nation’s new oil boom, with about 150 million gallons of highly flammable crude arriving by train each week, a shroud of secrecy covers the trains, their cargoes and the safety of their infrastructure.

Small town’s residents see remainder of oil train derailment

Residents of a small North Dakota community are seeing what’s left over from the derailment of an oil train carrying about 180,000 gallons of crude.

The train derailed and caught fire May 6, with the mainline running through the 22 person town of Heimdal. Residents were evacuated from their homes for about a day.

Fracking to resume in Texas city that banned fracking after state steps in

A North Texas city whose fracking ban prompted state lawmakers to limit such local power says a driller has revealed plans to resume fracking gas wells in the city.

According to documents obtained through an open records request, the Denton Record-Chronicle reports Vantage Energy notified the city early Tuesday of its plans to begin fracking on Denton’s west side, beginning next Wednesday. The notice came the morning after Republican Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill into law Monday afternoon that limits local authority to restrict fracking.

Denton, Texas, banned fracking last year – then the frackers fought back

The framed newspaper article in Adam Briggle’s office with the headline “Fracking banned” is from last November. It already reads like ancient history.

The north Texas city of Denton became a beacon for the anti-fracking movement when residents voted to prohibit the practice inside city limits. But victory was fleeting. The oil and gas industry was alarmed by the grassroots insurgency and the state’s Republican politicians struck back with a flurry of measures aimed at asserting the primacy of state control over local regulations.

Unsafe levels of toxic pollutants in heavily fracked Ohio county

Emissions from 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, Ohio, where there are 480 permitted wells – the most in any of the state’s 88 counties. The team found chemicals released during oil and gas extraction that can raise the risk of cancer and respiratory ailments.

Oklahoma Lawmakers Pass Measure Preventing Local Fracking Bans

Oklahoma’s governor is deciding whether to sign a bill that prevents communities from banning fracking and other oil and gas activity. Lawmakers were spooked by a voter-approved fracking ban in Texas.

Four States Sue U.S. Interior Over ‘Too Strict’ Fracking Regulations

Wyoming, North Dakota, Colorado and now Utah are suing the U.S. Department of the Interior over fracking regulations issued by the federal government in March.

The federal government promised to “support safe and responsible hydraulic fracturing on public and American Indian lands,” according to a March 20 U.S. Interior Department statement announcing the regulations.

Groundwater contamination a growing problem in L.A. County wells

Decades ago, industrial pollution began fouling some groundwater wells throughout Los Angeles County. That prompted water officials to stop using the most polluted wells and rely more on water from Northern California and the Colorado River.

But as this imported water becomes scarcer and more expensive, some water agencies are again looking underground for water. And that’s likely to be a costly endeavor.

Vast reserves of shale oil estimated in Northwest Territories

The first official estimate of how much oil may lie beneath the central Northwest Territories says there could be nearly 200 billion barrels of the resource in two separate fields.

The National Energy Board and the Northwest Territories Geological Survey warn that not all of that oil will be recoverable.

But if even a few per cent of it is economically viable, it confirms previous suggestions the Canol and Bluefish shales hold up to seven billion barrels of recoverable oil and could be comparable to North Dakota’s booming Bakken field.

5 years after oil spill, BP credited for Gulf Coast tourism boom

Fallout from the oil spill that left Gulf Coast beaches smeared with gooey tar balls and scared away visitors in 2010 is being credited, oddly, with something no one imagined back then: An increase in tourism in the region.

Five years after the BP disaster, the petroleum giant that was vilified during heated town hall meetings for killing a way of life is now being praised by some along the coast for spending more than $230 million to help lure visitors back to an area that some feared would die because of the spill.

Boom deployed to protect Breton wildlife refuge after oil platform fire

Fire on an oil platform off Louisiana’s coast has forced the evacuation of 28 workers Friday, but no one was injured.

The Coast Guard said the workers were evacuated by an offshore supply vessel that reported the fire at 2:50 a.m. As of 4 p.m., the platform, located near Breton Island, continued to burn.

Santa Barbara County oil cleanup continues; pipeline may be dug up soon

A section of oil pipeline that ruptured and spilled thousands of gallons of crude along the Santa Barbara County coast could be dug up by the end of the holiday weekend, authorities said, giving them the first opportunity to determine what caused the break.

More than 650 workers and 17 boats worked Saturday to clean up the black sheen, so far collecting 9,492 gallons of oily water mixture and 1,250 cubic yards of oily soil.

Protesters warn against using chemicals in Santa Barbara County oil spill clean-up

Dozens of protesters chanted “End Oil Now!” and hoisted signs alongside an inflatable mock pipeline on a Santa Barbara beach on Sunday, demanding an end to fracking and other forms of “extreme oil extraction” days after a spill sent thousands of gallons of oil into the ocean and onto beaches.

Environmental groups such as Food and Water Watch are also pressing for authorities to publicly rule out the use of chemicals called dispersants in the cleanup of the spill near Refugio State Beach.

Company lowers worst-case scenario for Santa Barbara oil spill

Plains All American Pipeline is downgrading the amount of oil it says spilled off a California coastline in a worst-case scenario.

The company now says the estimate of the worst-case volume of oil released is up to 101,000 gallons — about 4,200 gallons less than previously believed.

Workers put in 12-hour days at Santa Barbara County oil cleanup site

Clad in white protective suits and yellow hard hats, the workers knelt below a jagged cliff-side, packing oil-saturated sand into plastic bags.

Coin-sized tar balls and oil-stained kelp washed in with the waves at the once-pristine beach at El Capitan State Park as the sun baked workers cleaning the Santa Barbara coastline after last week’s oil pipe rupture.

Pipeline Company Responsible For Santa Barbara Oil Spill Had Horrendous Safety Record, But So Does The Entire Industry

Plains All American Pipeline, the company responsible for the 9-mile long oil slick polluting the California coast near Santa Barbara, is no stranger to oil spills.

The LA Times examined data kept by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and discovered that Plains has been cited for 175 safety and maintenance violations since 2006, and incidents involving the company’s pipes have caused more than $23 million in property damage while spilling more than 688,000 gallons of “hazardous liquid.”

BP would need to bring equipment from Texas to contain South Australia oil spill

BP’s attempts to halt any oil spill from planned drilling off South Australia’s coast would depend on transporting recovery equipment from Houston, Texas, internal documents have revealed.

In information submitted to the federal government, BP says equipment to cap leaking oil wells is based in Singapore, more than 4,800km away, while a containment response system would have to be transported from Houston in the US, more than 14,000km away.

Oil company bosses’ bonuses linked to $1tn spending on extracting fossil fuels

Bosses at the world’s big five oil companies have been showered with bonus payouts linked to a $1tn (£650bn) crescendo of spending on fossil fuel exploration and extraction over nine years, according to Guardian analysis of company reports.

The unprecedented push to bring untapped reserves into production, and to exploit new and undiscovered fields, involves some of the most complex feats of engineering ever attempted. It also reflects how confident Exxon Mobil, Shell, Chevron, Total and BP are that demand will remain high for decades to come.

Oil Companies Look to Join Climate Debate

Oil companies are ratcheting up their involvement in the debate over climate change as governments, activists, churches and some big investors gear up for a global summit on the issue at the end of the year in Paris.

The stated goal of the summit is to keep manmade warming limited to two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, but governments remain far apart on how to achieve it.

Cleanup of oil spill at ND farm to take 2 more years

At Steve and Patty Jensen’s northwestern North Dakota farm, crews have been working around-the-clock after a pipeline break spilled more than 20,000 barrels of oil into their wheat field almost two years ago.

State regulators believe workers will be at the site another 2 ½ years.

Bakken oil pipeline faces decisive MN hearing

After months of delays, Minnesota got a go-ahead from an administrative law judge to go with the flow of Bakken oil from North Dakota.

The proposed 610-mile Sandpiper pipeline would connect the Bakken oil shale fields in western North Dakota to refineries in Clearbrook, Minn., and Superior, Wis. Environmental opponents have vowed to fight the project down to the wire.

Enbridge and the National Energy Board Push To Open Line 9 Ahead of Legal Challenge by Indigenous Community

If Enbridge has their way, diluted tar sands bitumen and fracked oil will start flowing eastward through their Line 9 pipeline as early as June 1st. Yet on June 16th the Chippewas of the Thames First Nation’s legal challenge to the National Energy Board’s decision on the pipeline project will be heard in front of a federal appeal court in Toronto. The Anishinaabe community is opposing Enbridge’s project at its base because, they argue, they were not consulted, as is their right and as is the duty of the Canadian government. Their legal challenge is one of many forms that opposition to Line 9 has taken, and it foregrounds the key messages of the opposition: Indigenous nations were not properly consulted, and the pipeline poses a grave threat to the environment.

Keystone XL Waiting…Waiting

The waiting game on a decision for Keystone XL is now over six years, with supporters and foes wondering what is taking so long. The TransCanada pipeline-project decision rests with the State Department, which has been conducting environmental reviews.

Backers of the project say Montana needs the construction jobs. Lena Moffitt, climate and energy senior manager at the National Wildlife Federation, says it’s understandable some folks are torn on the issue.

Energy East oil pipeline would threaten Manitoba’s drinking water: report

A new report says a pipeline that would carry millions of barrels of oil from Alberta to the East Coast would threaten the drinking water of over 60 per cent of Manitoba residents.

The report by the Manitoba Energy Justice Coalition said a rupture on the proposed Energy East pipeline would seep into any number of waterways which feed into Winnipeg’s water supply.

Tale of a pipeline: Why it’s easier to stop a petroleum pipeline in Georgia than in SC

When news broke that a Georgia agency had stopped a regional petroleum pipeline this week, Savannah Riverkeeper staff members hugged and cheered.

They had spent months organizing community opposition to the $1 billion project from South Carolina’s Upstate to Jacksonville, Fla. Pipeline opponents were elated that the Georgia Department of Transportation found no public need for the 360-mile long pipe.

Businesses, Wintergreen Property Owners Take Stand Against Pipeline

Wintergreen Resort is taking a stand against the proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

More than 550 Nelson County property and business owners rallied together at the resort Monday morning for a meeting on the potential impacts of the pipeline on area jobs, tourism, and the environment

Enbridge pipeline protests slated for Straits of Mackinac

Two pipelines that move nearly 23 million gallons of oil and natural gas through the Straits of Mackinac are the focus of protests scheduled for tomorrow in Mackinaw City. The protests are set to begin at 2:00 p.m. as the annual Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce Mackinac Policy Conference opens on Mackinac Island.

The pipeline, known as Line 5, is operated by Enbridge. The company has recently settled with the State of Michigan for fines in connection with an oil spill 5 years ago on the Kalamazoo River. In that settlement Enbridge agreed to pay $75 million in fines, cleanup and reconstruction costs.

Arctic drilling update: Protester leaves Shell ship after hanging on since Friday

A woman who has been hanging off the anchor chain of an Arctic oil-drilling support ship since Friday night has ended her protest.

The Coast Guard says student activist Chiara D’Angelo requested assistance getting down from her perch on the Arctic Challenger in the Bellingham harbor around 9:30 a.m. Monday. From Saturday morning until Sunday afternoon, a second protester, Matt Fuller, joined Ms. D’Angelo.

Shell chief insists Seattle is best offseason home for drilling rig

In a brief summer drilling season off Alaska’s Arctic shore, Shell’s Ann Pickard is on the hunt for a giant oil field, and she thinks she knows where to find it.

All of the vessels in the Arctic exploration fleet now gathering in Puget Sound will be headed to a spot in the Chukchi Sea where Shell first drilled in 1989 and 1990. At that site, called the Burger Prospect, the company found natural gas that Pickard hopes is sitting on top of the oil Shell seeks.

Shell’s Arctic extraction to take more than a decade

Oil reserves that Royal Dutch Shell hopes to find in the Arctic are unlikely to be brought into production before the 2030s due to the difficulty in securing environmental approvals, executives leading the exploration said.

Marvin Odum, Shell’s head of oil and gas production in the Americas, told the Financial Times that the company’s success or failure this year and next in making a significant discovery was critical for the future of Arctic oil development.

Fukushima Leak Could Cause Explosion At Nuclear Plant

Experts recently discovered a number of leaking containers that they believe could cause an explosion at the Fukushima nuclear plant.

According to the experts, 10 percent of recently inspected containers with contaminated water were found to be leaking at the plant, which is located in in the towns of ?kuma and Futaba in the Futaba District of Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.

Japan coalition wants to end most Fukushima evacuations by 2017

Japan’s ruling coalition will recommend lifting evacuation orders for most people forced from their homes by the Fukushima nuclear disaster within two years in a bid to speed up reconstruction, a draft proposal shows.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party and its governing partner will also press local governments in the disaster zone to shoulder more of the reconstruction spending now being borne by central government, according to the draft seen by Reuters on Tuesday.

IAEA report on Fukushima slams lack of tsunami preparedness despite awareness of threat

The International Atomic Energy Agency criticized Tokyo Electric Power Co. and Japanese regulatory authorities for their failure to prevent the 2011 Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant disaster despite knowing the risk of large tsunami hitting the facility, according to a copy of an IAEA report.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog said in the final report on the nuclear disaster triggered by a huge earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, obtained Sunday, that “the Fukushima Daiichi (No. 1) NPP (nuclear power plant) had some weaknesses which were not fully evaluated by a probabilistic safety assessment, as recommended by the IAEA safety standards.”

Hydrogen explosion threat at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant due to leaking containers

A hydrogen explosion is feared at a decommissioned nuclear power plant in Fukushima, Japan, after 10% of containers built to store contaminated water were found to be leaking.

The Fukushima facility, owned by the Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco), was hit by a tsunami in 2011, that caused meltdowns in three of the plant’s six nuclear reactors.

China warned over ‘insane’ plans for new nuclear power plants

China’s plans for a rapid expansion of nuclear power plants are “insane” because the country is not investing enough in safety controls, a leading Chinese scientist has warned.

Proposals to build plants inland, as China ends a moratorium on new generators imposed after the Fukushima disaster in March 2011, are particularly risky, the physicist He Zuoxiu said, because if there was an accident it could contaminate rivers that hundreds of millions of people rely on for water and taint groundwater supplies to vast swathes of important farmlands.

FDA ticks off first drug to treat radiation sickness after nuclear disasters

A drug long-used to counter the negative effects of chemotherapy has won US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in treating the nasty effects of exposure to radiation following a nuclear disaster. Known commercially as Neupogen, the drug has been shown to work by shielding the body’s white blood cells to heighten a patient’s chances of survival.

Neupogen, or filgrastim as it is otherwise known, is a synthetic protein that boosts the growth of infection-fighting white blood cells. Where the production of these cells is hampered in cancer patients by chemotherapy and radiation therapy, Neupogen can be used to stimulate the growth, maturation and release of white cells from the bone marrow. This better equips the sufferer to ward off infections and bleeding problems that can result from the therapy.

Extremophile bacteria could be key to solving nuclear problems

Radiation-tolerant bacteria could be even more effective at clearing up nuclear waste through natural processes than previously thought.

Last year, a team from the University of Manchester discovered an ‘extremophile’ microorganism in the Peak District, capable of breaking down organic material that is present in nuclear waste, preventing the organic compounds from leaching out key radioactive elements into the environment.

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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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