Environmental Must-Reads – May 27, 2015


OSHA fines Halliburton $7K in fracking site blast that killed 1 worker, injured 2 in Weld County

Federal regulators have fined Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. $7,000 for safety violations in a deadly 2014 explosion at a hydraulic fracturing site in Weld County.

One worker was killed and two others were injured on Nov, 13, 2014 when authorities said the three men were trying to heat a frozen high-pressure water line and it ruptured.

Oregon rancher refuses to allow natural gas pipeline on his property

Bill Gow is a retired iron worker who began buying land in Douglas County near Coos Bay for Gow Ranch in the late 1980s.

Today, he raises beef as well as timber on a 2,000-acre ranch that supports both he and his family.

But Gow feels under siege.

Oil company looks to drill in residential area, fracking not ruled out

A Corpus Christi based oil company mailed hundreds of notices to Edinburg homeowners regarding a deep oil and gas well it wants to drill in the middle of the city.

The Royal Production Company has multiple oil wells across the city of Edinburg, including some near the intersection of Canton and Jackson roads.

The company wants to drill another one, nearly 15,000 feet deep, but some who live nearby are a little concerned.

Technology for a Saudi fracking boom moves closer to reality

The key to an energy boom is simple: Build a technology to get at the oil and gas that geologists already know is trapped in various subterranean, or subsea, formations.

The fracking boom in the U.S. is the obvious example. Extracting seabed methane hydrate is another huge bet—energy-starved Japan has made that.

Denton, TX, Braces For Fracking’s Return, Protests

The city of Denton, TX, has thrown in the towel in its fight to keep hydraulic fracturing (fracking) out of the city limits after Texas lawmakers enacted legislation to block local bans on fracking in the Lone Star state.

“…[T]he hydraulic fracturing ban has, in our opinion, been rendered unenforceable by the state of Texas in HB 40 such that we no longer have the authority to enforce the ban,” the city said in an announcement last week. “The city of Denton, however, will continue to regulate other surface activities related to drilling operations per our existing oil and gas well drilling ordinance (an ordinance separate from the hydraulic fracturing ban ordinance), including the regulation of setbacks, fire safety, noise, traffic, hours of operation, etc., as allowed by HB 40.”

Drilling ordinances ban fracking

A ban on hydraulic fracturing is included in new city ordinances addressing pipelines and oil and gas drilling. Hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — is the pumping or injecting of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals under pressure into an oil or gas formation.

The ordinances state that new oil or gas wells can’t be located closer than 1,000 feet from a residential dwelling, a place of worship, a school, a hospital, a child care center or a public park, or 330 feet from an adjoining property line. Monthly groundwater monitoring is required.

Riverkeeper sues feds over new oil train rules

Riverkeeper is suing the federal government, claiming new rules for oil trains leave the public and environment vulnerable to accidents or spills.

Critics say the U.S. Department of Transportation regulations for moving crude oil by rail are too weak, offer too much time for private industry to implement mandated tougher tank car safety standards like thicker shells and better brakes, and contain too many loopholes.

“Danger has materialized quickly:” Sen. Baldwin in Milwaukee Wednesday to highlight oil train dangers here

On Wednesday, May 27th, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin will talk with local first responders and concerned citizens to highlight the dangers facing Milwaukee and surrounding communities as volatile oil train traffic increases. She’ll call for immediate action to increase rail safety in Wisconsin.

Senator Baldwin’s Crude-By-Rail Safety Act would set new standards for crude volatility, take unsafe tank cars off the tracks, and increase fines for violations. In addition, the legislation would authorize funding for first responder training, equipment and emergency preparedness and require comprehensive oil spill response plans for trains carrying oil, petroleum and other hazardous products.

Ex-Senator Joins Firm That Lobbies For The Industries Destroying Her State

Just a few months after losing her seat in the U.S. Senate, Louisiana Democrat Mary Landrieu announced she’s joining the powerhouse lobbying firm Van Ness Feldman as a “senior policy adviser,” focusing specifically on energy policy issues. That title will allow Landrieu to get around the law that bars former members of Congress from lobbying their old colleagues for two years.

Landrieu, the former chair of the Senate’s powerful Energy and Natural Resources Committee, will now be advising for a firm that represents powerful oil, gas, coal and other energy corporations, including some of the same ones that her state is currently trying to hold accountable for destroying the wetlands that used to protect the coastline from storms.

California oil spill takes toll on marine mammals, birds

More than two dozen marine mammals and nearly 40 birds, most of them pelicans, have been collected dead and alive from along California’s oil-fouled coastline near Santa Barbara in the week since a petroleum pipeline ruptured there, wildlife officials said on Tuesday.

Of 38 oil-coated birds documented so far, 13 turned up dead and 25 were picked up alive, though two of the rescued birds have since died, said Dr. Michael Ziccardi, a veterinarian from the University of California, Davis, who heads the Oiled Wildlife Care Network.

California oil spill: Officials hope to get first look at ruptured pipe

Workers on Tuesday began digging up the soil around a pipe that ruptured and spilled up to 101,000 gallons of crude oil along the Santa Barbara County coast.

Plains All American Pipeline hopes to dig down to the pipe and take a look at the ruptured area by the end of Tuesday, company spokeswoman Meredith Matthews said. The step is crucial toward determining the cause of the break.

California oil spill claims second sea lion despite SeaWorld rescue effort

A second sea lion rescued from along California’s oil-fouled coastline near Santa Barbara has died at SeaWorld San Diego, where veterinarians are still caring for 15 surviving marine mammals brought in for treatment, a spokesman said on Tuesday.

The petroleum-stained pinnipeds are among the earliest apparent wildlife casualties documented from a pipeline rupture that dumped as much as 2,400 barrels (101,000 gallons or 382,327 liters) of crude oil onto the shoreline and into the ocean west of Santa Barbara one week ago.

Mexico’s Pemex Plagued By Deadly Offshore Explosions and Major Pipeline Spills

It’s been a disastrous year for Pemex, the state-owned Mexican oil company at the center of the nation’s landmark energy reforms.

In just over a month, Petroleos Mexicanos (Pemex) starred in three tragic incidents, two fatal.

First was a deadly explosion aboard a Pemex offshore oil processing platform, which killed at least four, injured 16, and—despite the company’s comments to the contrary—looks to have spilled a miles-long plume of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. A mere 15 days later, a spill from a Pemex pipeline in the state of Tabasco fouled three rivers and temporarily left half a million people without access to drinking water. Fast forward three weeks, and another accident on an offshore rig killed two workers.

Residents blame Durban oil refineries for health problems

It was standing room only in the darkened hall when Cyril Ramaphosa, a former miners’ union leader-turned-mining magnate and South African deputy president, walked to the podium at Durban’s deluxe International Convention Centre. He was to address a “National Sanitation Indaba”, a conference dealing with the outrage that more than one in 10 of South African households still lack adequate sanitation in the 21st century.

“It is a tale of daily humiliation for many of our people,” Ramaphosa told delegates. “The lack of adequate sanitation encourages the transmission of many infectious diseases, including cholera, typhoid, hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis and ascariasis. Diarrhea – a disease directly related to poor sanitation – it is said, kills one child every 20 seconds. This is more than 4,000 children every day worldwide. This amounts to more deaths than Aids, malaria and measles combined. This is a tale of diseases that are easily spread and young lives that are needlessly lost.”

Big Oil Investors Give Cold Shoulder to Climate Changes

Investor resolutions urging corporate leaders to be more environmentally friendly in how they run their businesses are being rolled out at a record pace this year for the energy industry.

Just don’t expect them to pass.

Proposals meant to nudge Exxon Mobil Corp. and Chevron Corp. into nominating directors with environmental expertise, setting greenhouse gas targets, and compiling reports on minimizing fracking risks are among seven such resolutions being voted on Wednesday when the two biggest U.S. oil companies hold their shareholder meetings.

NW Push For Clean Fuels Could Mean More Crude, New Refinery

The push for cleaner fuels in Oregon and Washington has led to proposals that would bring the region more crude oil and a new refinery along the Columbia River.

Riverside Energy, a subsidiary of Houston-based company Waterside Energy Inc., intends to build a refinery to process mostly crude oil and some biofuels that can meet a growing demand for low-carbon fuels in the Portland metro area, according to interviews and documents.

Hundreds more oil sands staff evacuated on Alberta fire threat

Statoil ASA, MEG Energy Corp and Cenovus Energy Inc evacuated hundreds of workers from three oil sands projects in northeastern Alberta on Tuesday as wildfires raged through the key crude-producing region.

The latest evacuations are in addition to project shutdowns by Cenovus and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd over the weekend, as companies rushed to remove staff from potential danger.

Kinder Morgan underestimating environmental, health risks of pipeline expansion – report

A small First Nation’s environmental assessment of Kinder Morgan Canada’s $5.4-billion oilsands pipeline expansion could “delay or derail” the megaproject, according to a legal analysis of the report.

The scathing 90-page assessment, released Tuesday by the 570-member Tsleil-Waututh First Nation of North Vancouver, includes separate scientific research that says Kinder Morgan has underestimated the environmental and public health risks of major and minor oil spills in Burrard Inlet.

Victory for Groups Fighting Proposed Tar Sands Facility as Full Environmental Review Now Required

In what came as a welcome surprise to activists in Albany, New York, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) reversed an earlier decision and now will require a full environmental review for a proposed tar sands oil heating facility at the Port of Albany.

“It is good for New York State that the DEC came to a proper decision in one of the most important environmental matters facing the state,” said Riverkeeper president Paul Gallay. “We look forward to participating with the state on a full public safety and environmental review that is robust and protective of our communities and our waterways.”

Keystone pipeline wins two legal battles

The developers of the Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday won two legal battles before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

As a result, a tribal environmental group has lost its bid to present testimony on climate change at a pipeline-permit hearing this summer, and TransCanada, the pipeline developer, will not face severe penalties requested by pipeline opponents.

Oil spill contingency fee for Trans Mountain pipeline draws flak

Kinder Morgan Inc. is taking flak over a plan to jack up fees on its Trans Mountain pipeline to cover costs associated with oil spill safeguards as the company seeks approval for a threefold expansion of the conduit.

U.S.-based Kinder Morgan is proposing an increase of roughly 8 per cent to fees paid by oil company shippers in order to bolster the industry’s ability to respond to a large marine oil spill, according to documents filed with regulators.

Exclusive: Water Defense Video Shows Tar Balls, Oil Slicks Near Kern County Irrigation Site

Earlier this month, the Los Angeles Times published Water Defense’s results of testing it has conducted on recycled oil field wastewater used to irrigate crops in California. Over a two-year time period Water Defense’s Chief Scientist, Scott Smith, collected samples from treated water sold to the Cawelo Water District. The results? The water contained powerful industrial solvents toxic to humans—higher than he’d seen previously at oil spill sites. Industry officials and the water district told the Times they think the water is safe for crops, citing that they are complying with testing requirements.

In a video released today, Scott takes us to the meeting point of the freshwater and the recycled water for irrigation. Scott told us the tar balls and oil slicked water he saw were just like what he witnessed from the Gulf oil spill. We talked to him about how this practice has been monitored, and what this news means for advocates for our food and water.

Shell’s Arctic-bound Oil Drilling Rig Hits Snags

Shell Oil’s Arctic-bound drilling rig Polar Pioneer has failed to pass a United States Coast Guard inspection, according to The Stranger, a newspaper in Seattle, where the vessel is docked.

The Coast Guard is downplaying the story. According to Lt. Dana Warr, a Coast Guard spokesperson in Seattle, “It’s not uncommon with these commercial vessels that there are issues to follow up” on this type of inspection, which covers 160 items involving a vessel’s construction, design, maintenance, and crew standards. “Parts of [the inspection] were great,” he said.

Shell drilling may spur Arctic resource race

In a few short months Shell will (re)enter the Chukchi Sea, between Alaska and Russia. The oil and gas major still awaits approval from a number of state and federal agencies, but in early May the company received the consent of the Obama administration to explore the remote Arctic sea 70 miles off the coast of Alaska.

If it sounds familiar, that’s because it is. Shell was in the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas for much of 2012 – a stint that ended with more headaches than drilling. Following some high-profile failures with its Noble Discoverer and Kulluk rigs, Shell put its Arctic operations on pause in early 2013. Amid slumping profits, the group called off its 2014 plans to resume. Today, the economic indicators are not much better – Shell lost $1.1 billion in the Americas in the first quarter of 2015 – but the company is committed to moving forward.

Greenpeace Torches Iconic Art to Protest Shell’s Arctic Oil Drilling Plan

The camera pans up with a slight jerk, and lingers for a moment on the oddly familiar woman in the pink dress, splayed on the grass, holding herself up on her arms. Did she trip? What is it that she’s trying to see?

We follow her gaze to the two weathered farm houses and back, have a second or two to recall that this woman Andrew Wyeth painted back in 1948 was his neighbor, Anna Christina Olson. Next we’re transported to William Bradford’s depiction of Melville Bay, before skipping to the pastiche of Highway 138 in David Hockney’s Pearblossom Highway. By the time we jump back seconds later, Christina’s World has caught fire. Flames race up the surface, and the paint chars. The same happens in short order to the Bradford and the Hockney, and, as a horror movie whine reaches an alarming pitch, the backdrops of these iconic paintings are replaced with apocalyptic montages of actual oil spills and disasters from the British artist collective Kennard Phillips.

Tepco says all radioactive water in Fukushima No. 1 tanks filtered

The operator of the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant said Wednesday it had finished filtering 620,000 tons of extremely toxic water stored in tanks on the premises of the complex to lower its radiation level.

Tokyo Electric Power Co. says the risk of radiation leakages from the water tanks is now much lower. However, around 400 tons of radioactive water is still being generated everyday as groundwater is seeping into the plant and mixing with tainted water more than four years after the nuclear crisis began.

After Fukushima: Japan clears the way for resumption of nuclear power generation

Japan has cleared the way for a resumption of nuclear power generation, four years after the Fukushima Daiichi atomic disaster fuelled public opposition to the industry and forced the shutdown of all the country’s reactors.

Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) commissioners, in a televised meeting on 27 May, said that Kyushu Electric Power’s two-reactor Sendai nuclear plant, in southwestern Japan, had cleared final safety assessments.

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.”

Potter creates ceramic cure to help stop radioactive water leaks at Fukushima

A manufacturer of traditional ceramics has created special blocks that can absorb water, a development that could enable radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant to be stored safely.

Forgotten Heroes: Service members denied care after cleaning America’s atomic waste

It was known as the Pacific Proving Grounds, atolls bombed for nuclear testing starting in the 1940s. Decades later, soldiers and civilians in support roles were sent to the Marshall Islands to clean up the nuclear waste.

They want to be recognized as “Atomic Veterans” for the health and other benefits the government has paid other service members exposed to nuclear testing years earlier. There are thousands of cleanup veterans them, many already dead from radiation-related diseases.

Robot designed to take the heat in a disaster

When a violent earthquake and tsunami struck Japan in March 2011, emergency responders needed to vent hydrogen gas from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant before it reached dangerous levels.

But radiation exposure kept workers from finishing the job, and the gas fueled explosions in two reactor buildings.

Could a robot have done a better job?

New deal reached on Hanford cleanup

An agreement has been reached to clean up a radioactive basin on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the nation’s most polluted nuclear weapons production site, two federal agencies said Tuesday.

The deal regarding the K West Basin was reached between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy, which owns Hanford.

Indian Point Unit 3 returns to service after fire

Entergy’s Indian Point Unit 3 nuclear reactor resumed electricity generation Monday, more than two weeks after a transformer fire.

The 16-day shutdown was caused by a transformer failure that spilled up to 3,000 gallons of transformer oil into the Hudson River.

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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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