Environmental Must-Reads – May 27, 2014


Fracking should not be allowed on residentially zoned land, St. Tammany Parish tells the state

Issuing a permit for an oil well on residentially zoned property near Mandeville would “not be a reasonable and appropriate exercise” of authority by the state Department of Natural Resources, St. Tammany Parish officials told the state agency in a letter on Friday. The letter, signed by Parish President Pat Brister and 13 of 14 members of the Parish Council, was sent to James Welsh, commissioner of DNR’s Office of Conservation, which regulates oil and gas drilling in Louisiana, and to state Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Peggy M. Hatch.

Northwestern Minnesota gas pipeline explosion: ‘It was just hell on earth’

Fred and Julie Nicholls woke up early Monday morning in far northwestern Minnesota to a loud booming sound and the feeling of their house shaking.

“We’d just woken up when all of a sudden it just hit,” said Fred Nicholls, 73. “I’d never heard nothing like it in my life. It was just hell on earth, I tell you, when you see those flames.”

His home is about a mile away from where an underground natural gas pipeline ruptured, causing an explosion and large fire at 6:25 a.m. about three miles northwest of Warren in rural Marshall County.

Update: Pipeline Explosion in Northwest Minnesota

No injuries or property damage following a natural gas pipeline explosion in northwestern Minnesota this morning.

It happened in a farm field in the underground, Viking Gas Company pipeline, 3 miles north of Warren at 6:25 a.m.. Tyler Miller lives less than a mile away.

Homeowners consider moving if fracking begins in NC

The push for fracking in North Carolina is moving forward.

Last week the state Senate signed off on legislation that would officially end North Carolina’s moratorium on fracking next summer.

The Senate voted 35-12 Thursday for the measure that seeks to move the regulatory process for hydraulic fracturing toward its conclusion. The legislation says permits could be issued starting as early as July 1, 2015.

The Mother of All Anti-Fracking Tools

In Mora County, New Mexico, a patchwork of prairie, foothills, and high peaks on the east flank of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, unemployment stands at 16 percent, county workers operate out of leaky temporary buildings, and the population density is so low—just two people per square mile—that the tiny community and its largest town, 300-person Wagon Mound, are still classified as frontier by state health officials.

In short, Mora isn’t the kind of place that comes to mind for a national showdown on fracking. But in April 2013, county commissioners took center stage in the fight by passing the Community Water Rights and Local Self-Governance Ordinance, which declared it illegal for companies to extract hydrocarbons anywhere in the county, making Mora the first in the U.S. to ban oil and gas drilling outright, on public and private land.

Praise for disclosing fracking chemicals

Baker Hughes threw down the gauntlet in oil extraction with its announcement in late April that it will publicly disclose all the chemicals used in its hydraulic fracturing fluid.

That announcement was met with resounding kudos from the federal government on down, and we would like to add our voices to the chorus of congratulations. The catalyst for changing people’s minds about fracking is going to be more information, not less.

Quinn confident in fracking rule-making process

Gov. Pat Quinn’s administration has affirmed its support for the state Department of Natural Resources’ efforts to craft rules governing hydraulic fracturing, saying the process ensures that the public, advocates and experts all have the chance to weigh in.

Saturday’s statement from the governor’s office came a day after Democratic state Rep. John Bradley proposed legislation to jump-start fracking through a measure that would skip that rule-making process.

Houston companies join fracking fray in Colorado

As Texas nears the close of its heated primary season, a pair of Houston-area oil and gas companies are focusing on politics in Colorado, where they’re fighting ballot initiatives they say could threaten that state’s energy industry.

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and Noble Energy Inc. are pumping campaign money into a state where pumping oil and gas is central to their portfolios, and where energy industry critics are pushing for new restrictions.

Proposed ballot measure for local fracking control clears hurdle

The first of almost a dozen ballot proposals to allow greater local control of oil and gas development cleared an important hurdle Friday, winning clearance from the Colorado Supreme Court.

Known as Initiative 75, for now, the proposed constitutional amendment would give local governments more control over businesses and corporations that impact the health and safety of a community. That would include oil and gas drilling and hydrolic fracturing operations, which are regulated at the state level with some input from local governments.

Gov. Christie’s Pipeline

Three years ago, Gov. Chris Christie proposed a natural gas pipeline that would run right through the environmentally sensitive Pinelands of southern New Jersey. It was a faulty plan, and the guardians of that area — the Pinelands Commission — wisely rejected the pipeline in January. Now Mr. Christie and his allies are trying to pack the commission with people who will see things his way.

New Safety Requirements Set for Keystone Pipeline

Safety regulators have quietly placed two extra conditions on construction of TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL oil pipeline after learning of potentially dangerous construction defects involving the southern leg of the Canada-to-Texas project.

The defects — high rates of bad welds, dented pipe and damaged pipeline coating — have been fixed. But the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration wants to make sure similar problems don’t occur during construction of the pipeline’s controversial northern segment, which is on hold pending a decision by the Obama administration.

Enbridge oil pipeline expansion plan in state worries environmentalists

A proposal to sharply increase capacity of a crude oil pipeline running from Superior to the Illinois state line is drawing fire from environmentalists and others who worry about future spills.

Enbridge Energy Co. is planning to triple capacity to 1.2 million barrels of oil a day. That would send more oil from Canada and North Dakota through the Wisconsin pipeline than the capacity of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline from western Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Why Do These Tank Cars Carrying Oil Keep Blowing Up?

Early on the morning of July 6, 2013, a runaway freight train derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, setting off a series of massive explosions and inundating the town in flaming oil. The inferno destroyed the downtown area; 47 people died.

The 72-car train had been carrying nearly 2 million gallons of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken fields. While the recent surge in domestic oil production has raised concerns about fracking, less attention has been paid to the billions of gallons of petroleum crisscrossing the country in “virtual pipelines” running through neighbor­hoods and alongside waterways. Most of this oil is being shipped in what’s been called “the Ford Pinto of rail cars”—a tank car whose safety flaws have been known for more than two decades.

Should CEOs Get Jail Time For Oil-By-Rail Accidents Like Lac Megantic?

On May 12th, a heavily armed SWAT unit stormed the home of Thomas Harding and threw Harding, his son and a visitor to the ground. Harding was then handcuffed, arrested and taken for interrogation.

Harding was the engineer for the oil train that caused the explosion in Lac-Megantic, Quebec. He had cooperated with authorities and was expecting to be charged. The excessive force used to arrest Harding was criticized for being a “politically motivated stunt” in The National Post.

Sharp rise in West Coast oil trains, fears abound

Residents along the scenic Columbia River are hoping to persuade regulators to reject plans for what would be the Pacific Northwest’s largest crude oil train terminal — the proposed destination for at least four trains a day, each more than a mile long.

The increasing numbers of trains, each carrying tens of thousands of barrels of potentially volatile crude from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota, have raised concerns around the country after nine accidents in the past year, including one last month in Virginia.

BNSF: Future of crude by rail depends on safety

The future of crude oil shipments by train depends on proving to the public that it can be done safely, the head of BNSF Railway Co. said Wednesday.

“Without focus on the elements of safety, the social license to haul crude by rail will disappear, to say nothing of the regulatory agencies’ response,” BNSF Executive Chairman Matt Rose told several hundred people at the Williston Basin Petroleum Conference in Bismarck.

In North American rail towns, some try to stop oil trains

Albany, New York Sheriff Craig Apple assured a room of concerned citizens that county emergency crews were prepared to handle an oil-train accident involving three or four tank cars.

Firefighters have been training to combat railcar fires with foam, and evacuation plans are detailed in a 500-page emergency response plan, Apple told residents in a May 12 address.

Greenpeace activists board 2 drilling rigs to protest oil search in Arctic waters

Greenpeace says activists have boarded two offshore drilling rigs in a protest against oil and gas exploration in Arctic waters.

Juha Aromaa, a spokesman for the environmental group, says 15 activists boarded a rig operated by Norwegian energy company Statoil about 109 miles (175 kilometers) off the Bear Island nature reserve early Tuesday without encountering any resistance from the onboard crew.

Russia, India to jointly drill for Arctic oil through Rosneft, ONGC

India’s Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) will drill for oil in the Russian Arctic region in association with Rosneft, the biggest oil company in Russia.

The companies will co-operate in subsurface surveys, exploration and appraisal activities and hydrocarbons production in Russia’s offshore Arctic, ONGC said in a statement.

Environmentalists tap actor to warn about offshore seismic

A conservation group is hoping a little star power will draw more attention to its concerns about seismic oil and gas research proposed in Atlantic waters.

When Oceana holds a congressional briefing on the subject Thursday, the event’s moderator will be Reid Scott, an actor best known for his portrayal of communication director Dan Eagan on HBO’s “Veep.” Other less high-profile speakers include East Coast lawmakers and a seismic researcher from Duke University.

Federal Study to Assess Dangers of Dilbit When It Spills

The federal government said Tuesday it will study a critical question in the battle over oil pipelines carrying Canadian diluted bitumen: Are spills involving dilbit more dangerous to people and the environment than leaks of lighter traditional oil?

In recent years, dilbit spills in Michigan, Arkansas and elsewhere have provided convincing evidence on the subject, but researchers are still working on definitive scientific studies that would translate those examples into broader conclusions about the risks of dilbit.

Giant underground ice wall approved to protect Fukushima plant water

Japan intends to move forward with an ambitious plan to freeze the ground around its damaged Fukushima nuclear plant, creating a so-called underground ice wall to prevent water that’s been contaminated with radioactive materials from escaping and entering the broader water supply. Japan adopted the plan in September of last year, and the AFP reports that its nuclear regulator has now approved it, with construction scheduled to start next month.

Fukushima underground ‘ice wall’ aims to slow radioactive build-up

Japan’s nuclear regulator has signed off on plans to construct an underground ice wall around the decommissioned Fukushima nuclear power plant, which is designed to stop the build-up of radioactive water.

The 1.5km frozen wall will be built by pumping a refrigerant liquid through underground pipes, phys.org reports, in an attempt to stop groundwater from the nearby landscape mixing with polluted water that was used to cool the plant’s reactors.

Japanese government refuses to publicly disclose Fukushima interviews

Despite an earlier understanding that they will be disclosed, the interviews with around 772 people involved in the Fukushima 2011 nuclear disaster will apparently still not be made public as far as the current administration is concerned. The nuclear meltdown, considered the worst in recent years, is still the subject of controversy three years later, and recent revelations by a leading newspaper has put it back in the spotlight.

Fukushima puzzle: Who ordered halt to pumping of seawater at stricken plant?

The identity of the individual in the prime minister’s office who exacerbated the nuclear disaster seems destined to forever remain a mystery.

All that is known is that a call was made from the office in Tokyo to Masao Yoshida, the late manager of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, calling for reconsideration of his plan to pump seawater into the No. 3 reactor.

Solar harvest: Japan’s farmers unlikely winners from Fukushima meltdown

Japan’s campaign to boost renewable power supplies since the Fukushima nuclear disaster is producing some unlikely winners: vegetable farmers.

Makoto Takazawa and his father Yukio earned 1.7 million yen last fiscal year selling electricity from solar panels that hang in a giant canopy above their farm east of Tokyo. The cash was almost nine times more than they made from the crops growing in the soil below.

Radioactive kitty litter may have ruined our best hope to store nuclear waste

Some of the most dangerous nuclear waste in the US is currently scattered between 77 locations all over the country, awaiting permanent storage. Until February, many experts suggested that the best place to put it was a facility about 40 miles east of Carlsbad, New Mexico, called the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP). For 15 years, WIPP has operated as the first and only permanent, deep geologic nuclear waste storage facility in the country, holding “low level” radioactive materials — mostly clothing and tools exposed to radiation from nuclear weapons production — in steel barrels more than 2,150 feet below the Earth’s surface.

But earlier this year two emergencies brought that suggestion — and WIPP’s future — into question. And now it seems kitty litter may be to blame.

Studies still looking for link between cell phones and brain tumors

The heaviest users of cell phones may be at higher than average risk of being diagnosed with a brain tumor, according to a recent French study.

But for most people, it’s still not clear if there’s added risk, the authors say. Plus, the devices and the way people use them keeps evolving so that more research is needed going forward, they add.

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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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