Environmental Must-Reads – May 4, 2015


Central Valley’s growing concern: Crops raised with oil field water

Here in California’s thirsty farm belt, where pumpjacks nod amid neat rows of crops, it’s a proposition that seems to make sense: using treated oil field wastewater to irrigate crops.

Oil giant Chevron recycles 21 million gallons of that water each day and sells it to farmers who use it on about 45,000 acres of crops, about 10% of Kern County’s farmland.

Fracking, wastewater-injection wells raise Ohio’s quake risk, feds say

It wasn’t that long ago that Denison University professor Erik Klemetti added a caveat when he taught his students about earthquakes.

“When I used to show (seismicity) maps in my intro class, I’d say, ‘Ohio is about as earthquake-free as you get,’??” Klemetti said. “Now, it has a bull’s-eye on it, at least to some degree.”

Mapping the Dangers of Fracking

It feels like spring only just arrived, but as of tomorrow we’re less than a month away from the official start of summer: Memorial Day. National parks and forests across the country will welcome millions of hikers, campers, photographers “picnic-ers,” and others this summer: people looking to leave home for a while and enjoy America’s natural beauty.

But oil and gas corporations want to visit U.S. public lands for a very different reason: to profit off their oil and gas reserves via fracking.

ReThink Energy: ‘We Will Ensure Florida Keeps Fracking Out of Our State’

In 2013, ReThink Energy Florida was one of the few organizations fighting pro-fracking bills in the Florida Legislature in reaction to public attention on drilling near the Everglades. The bills failed to garner enough votes to make it into law. Each year since, state legislators have attempted to pass similar meaningless, pro-industry regulations. Each year, they have failed. But 2015 will mark the year that the tide turned in the battle to keep fracking out of Florida.

Fracking Could Be More Dangerous Than We Realize

The first indication sounded like a jet plane taking off, only it kept reoccurring day and night. Then there were the blinking lights. Her taps started whistling like there was a train coming. She developed “terribly caustic burns” after bathing. Ten years later, Jessica Ernst still does not know what chemicals Encana used when they fractured into her community’s water supply. Her lawsuit against Encana and the Alberta government agencies that failed to protect her has become famous. How uncommon is her story? A number of reports from British Columbia suggest fracking could be more dangerous than we realize.

West Virginia Host Farms Leads Fracking Tours

Fracking is a hotly debated subject in West Virginia. One volunteer organization is out to educate citizens about it.

The West Virginia Host Farms organization led Maryland residents on a six-hour tour Sunday to help them learn about the gas and fracking industry throughout the state.

The Tricky Case for Causation in Fracking Litigation

As Chief Judge Richard Posner famously recognized, “[t]he courtroom is not the place for scientific guesswork, even of the inspired sort. Law lags science; it does not lead it.” Rosen v. Ciba-Geigy Corp., 78 F.3d 316, 319 (7th Cir. 1996). This oft-cited maxim is particularly applicable in litigation involving hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” and in determining whether these operations pose health risks to people living in communities near well sites.

Scientists and researchers are paying close attention to this issue — indeed, no fewer than 16 studies have been published in the peer-reviewed literature, many in the past year alone. Given the high emotion and evident special interests on all sides of this issue, it is especially important that courts follow Posner’s maxim and hold true to long-established principles of causation when analyzing hydraulic-fracturing cases.

Michigan Hit With Its Second-Largest Earthquake Ever Recorded

Michigan was hit with a 4.2 magnitude earthquake on Saturday, the second-strongest in the state’s recorded history, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) reported.

There have been no reports of damage or injuries, though the earthquake was big enough that it was reportedly felt in parts of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. A 4.2 quake is not terribly large — people indoors are expected to feel to movement, and hanging objects might swing back on forth.

New Oil Train Rules Are Hit From All Sides

Ending months of uncertainty and delays, federal regulators on Friday unveiled new rules for transporting crude oil by trains, saying the measures would improve rail safety and reduce the risks of a catastrophic event.

But the rules quickly came under criticism from many sides. Lawmakers and safety advocates said the regulations did not go far enough in protecting the public, while industry representatives said some provisions would be costly and yield few safety benefits.

New Oil-By-Rail Regulations Are Big Win for Oil and Rail Industries, Won’t Stop “Bomb Trains”

The long-awaited oil-by-rail regulations released today are basically a guidebook for the oil and rail industries to continue doing business as usual when it comes to moving explosive Bakken crude oil by rail.

DeSmog recently reported on how the Obama administration has worked behind the scenes to help achieve the oil industry’s top goal when it came to these new regulations — allowing the oil producers to continue to put the highly volatile Bakken crude oil into rail tank cars without removing the natural gas liquids that make it such an explosive mixture.

Delaware oil train traffic may jump 70 percent

Behind his Bear Crossing house and past the backyard where his 2-year-old daughter plays, Evan Grabowski has a clear picture of America’s flourishing domestic oil business. Most days, an idling Norfolk Southern Corp. locomotives sits, with a mile-long chain of tank cars full of highly valuable – but also volatile – crude-oil in tow.

“Everyone talks about the noise and the lights at the railroad crossing going off all the time,” said Grabowski, a member of the local residents’ association that often discusses the issue. “With all the explosions in other places on the news and all those cars sitting there, people are concerned.”

Buffett says new oil train rules will affect BNSF railroad

The federal government’s new standards for shipping crude oil by rail will have a significant impact on Berkshire Hathaway’s BNSF railroad and its Union Tank Car business.

Berkshire CEO Warren Buffett says he hasn’t studied the rules closely yet because they were announced last week — just before his annual shareholder meeting.

Veil of secrecy returns to oil trains in Pacific Northwest under new plan

The United States and Canadian governments on Friday announced long-awaited rules meant to improve the safety of trains and tank cars now moving millions of barrels of oil throughout the country and Pacific Northwest.

Here’s what they mean for Oregon and Washington.

BP oil spill: Claims administrator Patrick Juneau seeks subpoena power to uncover fraud

The claims administrator for the multibillion-dollar BP oil spill settlement is asking the federal judge overseeing the case to grant him subpoena power to investigate fraudulent claims.

Patrick Juneau filed a request Friday (May 1) with U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier. It seeks a transfer of the ability to issue subpoenas that was granted in 2013 to Louis Freeh, the former FBI director who was appointed special master over the claims process.

Drive to Drill: Energy Lobbyists Behind Governors’ Crusade for Atlantic Oil

When the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in flames off the Louisiana coast five years ago this month, the disaster killed 11 workers, injured 17 others and unleashed an undersea geyser that spewed more than 160 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

The BP disaster would go on to pollute 1,100 miles of coastline and has been blamed for long-term damage to marine life and the health of cleanup workers and coastal residents, as well as costing the tourism and fishing industries an estimated $30 billion through 2020.

Shell agrees to start clean up of 2008 Niger Delta oil spill

Shell has agreed with Nigerian fishing community of Bodo in the Niger Delta to start the clean up of two devastating oil spills in 2008, activists and locals said Saturday.

“Shell officials met with representatives of Bodo community in Port Harcourt yesterday (Friday). The meeting was attended by officials of the Dutch embassy, UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme), Amnesty International and some local activists,” Steven Obodekwe of the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development lobby group told AFP.

How Shell’s oil spill destroys our livelihood – Nigerian farmers

Some farmers affected by the April 15 oil leak from Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC’s Kolo Creek oil fields in Otuasega, Bayelsa, have complained over alleged neglect by the company.

They told the News Agency of Nigeria in Otuasega on Sunday that the team on a Joint Investigation Visit, JIV, to the oil spill sites did not visit their farms affected by the oil spill.

According to the farmers, they made efforts to draw the attention of the team to their farms but to no avail.

Pipeline politics: Virginia’s Keystone?

Call it the Keystone next door.

A core group of Virginia Republicans and other landowners is leading the charge against a proposed natural gas pipeline near their backyards and using tactics similar to the environmental crusade against the Keystone XL oil pipeline — the very project Republicans in Congress have elevated into a matter of national economic survival.

Exclusive: TransCanada Keystone 1 Pipeline Suffered Major Corrosion Only Two Years In Operation, 95% Worn In One Spot

Documents obtained by DeSmogBlog reveal an alarming rate of corrosion to parts of TransCanada’s Keystone 1 pipeline. A mandatory inspection test revealed a section of the pipeline’s wall had corroded 95%, leaving it paper-thin in one area (one-third the thickness of a dime) and dangerously thin in three other places, leading TransCanada to immediately shut it down. The cause of the corrosion is being kept from the public by federal regulators and TransCanada.

“It is highly unusual for a pipeline not yet two years old to experience such deep corrosion issues,” Evan Vokes, a former TransCanada pipeline engineer-turned-whistleblower, told DeSmogBlog. “Something very severe happened that the public needs to know about.”

New Documents Reveal Serious Corrosion Concerns for Tar Sands Pipelines

More evidence has emerged that tar sands pipelines may not be as safe as industry claims. Back in 2010, TransCanada, the company behind the controversial proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, opened a smaller tar sands pipeline to move tar sands crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Illinois and Oklahoma. That pipeline, now known as “Keystone 1,” moves about 500,000 barrels of tar sands into the U.S. every day when operating. But its short operating history has been plagued by problems. In its first year, the pipeline spilled 12 times. Then, in October 2012, two years after opening, the pipeline was suddenly shut down for immediate repairs due to undisclosed safety issues.

TransCanada says it expects B.C. to decide soon on 2 pipeline projects

TransCanada Corp. says it expects B.C.’s oil and gas commission to decide soon on two pipeline projects that the company wants to build across the province.

One of the projects is a 900-kilometre pipeline to move natural gas from the Montney gas-producing region near Fort St. John, in northeastern B.C., to a connection near a proposed liquefied natural gas terminal near Prince Rupert, B.C.

Lower Brule Sioux Reject Keystone XL, Evict TransCanada

The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe is celebrating the 147th anniversary of the signing of the 1868 Fort Laramie Treaty by … enforcing it.

Invoking their rights under article one of the treaty, the tribe voted to reject the Keystone XL pipeline and evict TransCanada from its lands “in direct response to the unethical business practices that TransCanada has demonstrated over the last six years,” the tribe said in a statement.

Petroleum leak in pipeline that will feed Palmetto project

South Carolina authorities have been monitoring the cleanup of thousands of barrels of gasoline that leaked last December from a pipeline in Belton, S.C., that would feed the proposed Palmetto Pipeline along coastal Georgia.

Since the leak in the Plantation Pipeline was reported Dec. 8, some 176,901 gallons of gasoline have been recovered in the cleanup, said Jim Beasley, spokesperson for South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control. Additionally, 2,832 tons of soil have been removed and treated, he said. It is estimated as much as 300,000 gallons of gas have leaked in total.

Steyer expects Clinton to oppose Keystone XL, focus on climate

Last year, climate activist and mega-donor Tom Steyer said former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton would benefit from a Democratic primary challenger if she were to run for president.

“Being forced to refine what you say and think is a good thing,” Steyer told MSNBC in September.

Environmentalists Want Shell Arctic Exploration Regulatory Filings Reviewed, Claims Firm Misled Investors

Environmentalist groups have lodged a petition before the U.S. seeking an investigation of the regulatory filings Royal Dutch Shell PLC had filed relative to their planned oil exploration in the Arctic waters. The groups believed the company made statements that confused and misled investors about the possible risks a potential oil spill from Arctic offshore drilling could occur.

The petitions were filed by the Abrams Environmental Law Clinic at the University of Chicago, and international environmental group Oceana. Earlier this week, Shell announced it will push through oil exploration plans in the Arctic Ocean near Alaska this summer. It added the project will involve 25 vessels during a two-year program to explore two to three wells in the Chukchi Sea off the coast of Alaska.

Kayakers prep for oil-drilling protests in West Seattle

Judging from the water-safety preparations and drills off Seacrest Park in West Seattle, kayakers are ready for their upcoming mission to protest Shell oil rigs drilling in the Arctic.

On Sunday, approximately 19 advanced kayakers learned self-rescue techniques and how to assist when a kayak capsizes in anticipation of the upcoming flotilla protest May 16 in Elliott Bay.

Fukushima Report Delayed as Tepco Gets New Chance to Explain

The International Atomic Energy Agency delayed a report about meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant to give Japanese officials another chance to explain radiation leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

The IAEA’s report about mid- to long-term plans to decommission the stricken reactors will be published in “mid-May,” agency spokesman Serge Gas said in an e-mailed reply to questions. The report had initially been scheduled for release by the end of March on the plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.

Small radioactive leak detected at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant

A small quantity of radioactive water has leaked from a storage tank at Japan’s tsunami-crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Tokyo daily Asahi Shimbun reported Saturday.

A worker at the facility, located in northeastern Japan, found a wet patch measuring 20 sq. centimeters (3 sq. inches) under a storage tank for radiation-contaminated water on Friday morning, Tokyo Electric Power Co. the plant’s operator, said.

Environmentalists oppose renewed standby permit for uranium mine

Rio Grande Resources’ underground mine in Western New Mexico contains one of the largest stashes of uranium ore in the U.S., but it’s idle and hasn’t produced anything in years.

It’s one of many “zombie mines” around the West that environmentalists say need to be closed and cleaned up rather than left on standby as companies wait for uranium prices and demand to rebound so operations can resume.

U.S. to evaluate uranium mine cleanups on Navajo land -Justice Dept

The U.S. government will put $13.2 million into an environmental trust to pay for evaluations of 16 abandoned uranium mines on land belonging to the Navajo Nation in Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, the Justice Department said on Friday.

The Justice Department said the agreement was part of its increased focus on environmental and health concerns in Indian country, “as well as the commitment of the Obama Administration to fairly resolve the historic grievances of American Indian tribes and build a healthier future for their people.”

Lake Huron nuclear waste burial report expected this week

A Canadian environmental assessment of a proposal to bury nuclear waste deep underground near the shores of Lake Huron is expected this week amid fierce opposition to the idea from home and abroad.

Ontario Power Generation argues that storing the radioactive material in a huge underground bunker set in rock — the deep geological repository or DGR — is the safest way to deal with waste that is potentially dangerous for centuries.

State recommends Hanford budget strategy as cleanup falls 25 years behind

Environmental cleanup work at Hanford is 25 years behind schedule and more delays need to be avoided, according to the Washington Department of Ecology.

As Department of Energy Hanford officials prepare to finalize their requested budget for fiscal 2017, the state is recommending strategies for acquiring Hanford’s portion of the DOE environmental cleanup budget.

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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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