Environmental Must-Reads – May 6, 2013


Southern Illinois braces for oil rush as ‘fracking’ regulations considered by lawmakers

This is the Illinois that many people never see — the sparsely populated southern tip where flat farmland gives way to rolling hills, rocky outcrops, thick forests and cypress swamps.

Blacktopped county roads wend through no-stoplight towns. Locals speak in soft drawls and talk of generations who’ve lived on the same land or in the same villages. The remote and rugged Shawnee National Forest attracts hikers, campers and horseback riders, and offers a stark contrast to the rest of a state that largely has been plowed, paved or suburbanized.

But many here are beginning to brace for change as the Illinois Legislature considers regulations that could set off a rush among energy companies to drill deep in the southern Illinois bedrock for oil and natural gas.

A dilemma in metro Detroit: Welcome fracking, or fear it?

Fracking — the controversial method of injecting water and chemicals under intense pressure miles underground to extract natural gas — is raising fear in metro Detroit, pitting neighbor against neighbor and business against environmentalist.

The irony? Fracking hasn’t occurred in metro Detroit but the fear of multimillion-dollar drilling rigs rolling into town to break up deep deposits of shale rock laced with lucrative petroleum is enough to rile communities — prompting some opponents to gather petitions to put a proposal on a statewide ballot in November 2014 to ban most fracking in Michigan.

Gas-storage plans in NY’s Finger Lakes draw outcry

The Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, frequented by tourists for its vistas, recreation and vineyards, is dotted with caverns left behind a century ago when the area was a major salt-producing region. Now, an energy company is eyeing those caves as ideal spaces for storing natural gas, upsetting opponents who are trying to prevent a resurgence of industry to what they call an environmental gem.

Storing Natural Gas in a Spent Mine in the Finger Lakes

Fracking for natural gas, carbon sequestration for coal burning power plants, these are the new schemes that industrialists can choose to attain carbon credits. But what happens when industrialists get creative?

In 2010, we reported on the outcropping of carbon sequestration in West Texas oil fields—a special pipeline was being built to carry carbon muck into depleted oil fields to raise the level of oil and enable further extraction. This is one of those crackpot schemes that is born to fail. Not only is carbon sequestration a volatile environmental gamble, but playing around in old oil wells for carbon credits boggles the mind.

Study: Oil, gas industry needs to step up water management

The oil and gas industry needs to step up efforts to expand its use of recycled water and non-freshwater resources and implement better water management planning if shale energy production is to expand according to projections.

Research conducted by San Francisco-based CERES indicates that nearly 47 percent of wells were developed in water basins with high or extremely high water stress. Most of the hydraulic fracturing activity in the United States is occurring in Texas and Colorado, which are experiencing prolonged drought conditions.

Natural Gas a Mineral? Not in Pennsylvania… (And Other Fracking Law News)

Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court held that Marcellus shale gas is not a “mineral,” and that subsequently private deeds in the state that make reference to mineral rights do not encompass natural gas rights.

‘Things Could Get Ugly’: Fracking Set to Escalate US Water Wars

A new study released Thursday shows that a “significant portion” of fracking, a water intensive process, is happening in already water-stressed regions of the United States—most prominently Texas and Colorado, “which are both in the midst of prolonged drought conditions.”

Fracking Divide: Simulating Gas Development in Colorado’s Wild Wild West

Recently, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced they would temporarily suspend 25 oil and gas leases in the Thompson Divide, a wild swath of backcountry covering 221,500 acres of public land in western Colorado. Because the lease holders did not diligently develop these leases and are running out of time on their ten-year lease terms, they asked BLM for an extension. While this decision paused the clock on drilling for natural gas in this rugged portion of the White River National Forest, our friends at the Wilderness Workshop and Thompson Divide Coalition, as well as thousands of people from around the country, were pressing for BLM to allow the leases to expire this year.

Video: Could Natural Gas Pipeline Really Blow Up The West Village?

Almost two years ago, natural gas company Spectra filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a “massive” pipeline from New Jersey under the Hudson and into lower Manhattan. Even before it was approved, concerned activists argued that Spectra had too much of a checkered past to be trusted. Now, the pipeline is expected to be completed by November, and activists are spreading the word about the dangers of it with the video below, which attacks Spectra’s “dismal safety record” and brings up the idea that the West Village could be blown up. So, is this something we should be worried about, or are the anti-Spectra people scaremongering?

Remember the BP Oil Spill? Malformed Fish Do

You’ve heard of the canary in the coalmine. Well, a species called the Gulf killifish might be the fish in the oil well.

Three years ago, the blowout at BP’s Macondo well spewed more than 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. Despite attempts to recover it, much of that oil made it into sediments. And new tests show that such oiled sediments are bad for Gulf fish. The research is in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Bill would protect money for artificial reefs

State Sen. Bret Allain characterizes Senate Bill 128 as a way to ensure that platforms in the Gulf of Mexico become fishing holes for commercial and recreational fishermen as well as eye candy for divers.

His proposed constitutional amendment would direct grants and donations toward maintaining the conversion of obsolete oil and gas platforms into artificial reefs that attract grouper, snapper and other fish.

Save Our Lake director concerned about low crab numbers in Pontchartrain

For many Southeast Louisiana residents, it just isn’t summer until they dump a pot of steaming blue crabs on a table covered with yesterday’s Times-Picayune and commence a family feast. But for those who typically get their crabs from Lake Pontchartrain, the calendar may jump straight from spring to fall.

The Lake Pontchartrain crab fishery saw a down year in 2012, and it’s setting up to be even worse this year, according to John Lopez, coastal sustainability program director of the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.

The Case of the Disappearing Oil: How Much Oil Was Released in 2010 Pipeline Spill?

A key piece of data related to the biggest tar sands oil spill in U.S. history has disappeared from the Environmental Protection Agency’s website, adding to confusion about the size of the spill and possibly reducing the fine that the company responsible for the accident would be required to pay.

Chuck Carlson: It’s easy, but a mistake, to forget about oil spill

We forget. That’s what happens in a world where everything comes at us a mile a minute. We forget. That’s what happens when we believe there are more important things to worry about. We forget. That’s what happens when we know there’s nothing we can do.And we forget because, sometimes, it’s just a lot easier that way.

So it is with what remains the worst inland oil spill disaster this country has ever seen. It’s been 34 months now since an oil pipeline ruptured in Marshall’s Talmadge Creek and sent more than 1 million gallons of syrupy, gritty, toxic tar sands oil into the Kalamazoo River and surrounding ecosystem.

Mississippi River reopens after oil spill closure -U.S. Coast Guard

The U.S. Coast Guard reopened a stretch of the Mississippi River near Hartford, Illinois early on Friday as the waterway was deemed safe for navigation following a vessel accident and oil spill near the confluence with the Missouri River.

Moderate increase in tremors stops work at surface of Assumption Parish sinkhole

A moderate increase in tremors at the 15.1-acre sinkhole near Bayou Corne has prevented work there since Wednesday, Assumption Parish officials said.

Sinkholes: The hole truth

We can’t claim to have the “whole truth and nothing but” . . . but there is a growing body of research into those headline-making sinkholes that can turn an abode into an abyss in the twinkling of an eye. Our Cover Story is reported now by Mark Strassmann

Reluctant to leave home

BAYOU CORNE — Rhett and Donna Pipsair have spent the last 23 years making their home on Sauce Piquante Lane just the way they want it.

The Pipsairs started out in a mobile home and eventually built a two-story house with a manicured lawn, a pond in the backyard and, behind it, a gently curving pier ending at a dock in an endless cypress forest.

While many of the neighbors in Bayou Corne have moved away in the nine months since the Assumption Parish sinkhole formed across La. 70 South from their house, the Pipsairs have remained, in spite of a parish evacuation order issued Aug. 3.

What People Close to Obama Think About the Keystone XL Pipeline

To environmentalists throughout the country, denying the Keystone XL oil pipeline would be the most important sign that President Obama is committed to combating global warming.

To people close to Obama, the pipeline is not nearly that important, and they think the debate surrounding it is overblown, if not misplaced. In interviews with National Journal Daily, people who have advised Obama over the years, including former White House aides, downplayed the effect the pipeline would have on climate change or much of anything really, besides politics.

Awaiting Zuckerberg’s Response to Pro-Keystone XL Ads

Mark Zuckerberg has not yet issued any response to public criticism that his political action group, FWD.us, is funding advertisements supporting construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, and oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Gulf of Mexico. FWD.us, co-founded by Zuckerberg with additional donations from a host of his fellow Silicon Valley superstars, has right-wing and left-wing subsidiaries working on parallel tracks to pass bipartisan immigration legislation.

With oil exploration on hold, Coast Guard scaling back its Arctic presence

The U.S. Coast Guard is reducing its presence in the Arctic this summer, a result of budget cuts and a lack traffic in the region as Royal Dutch Shell takes a hiatus from the drilling that brought much attention to the region last year.

Japan’s Fukushima Faces Long Road to Repair

The cleanup after the catastrophic nuclear accident two years ago at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan is not going well. Radioactive cooling water is leaking into the ground from at least three vast storage tanks, and the vulnerability of the plant to further accidents was revealed when a rat chewed through an electric cable, cutting off vital cooling.

Japan says it has learned from Fukushima, vows ‘high safety’ levels for Turkish reactor

Japan’s prime minister says his country has learned lessons from the Fukushima disaster and will offer the “highest level of safety” in building Turkey’s second nuclear plant.

Turkey chose a Japanese-French consortium for the construction of a nuclear reactor on Turkey’s Black Sea coast. An agreement was signed during Shinzo Abe’s visit to Ankara on Friday.

Echoes of Fukushima: Will Duke Energy Avoid Oconee Nuclear Meltdown?

Duke Energy and government regulators have been hiding a not-so-little secret from the people of the Carolinas. Duke’s Oconee nuclear power plant—three aged nuclear reactors 30 miles from Greenville, SC—is at risk of a meltdown should an upstream dam fail. If that were to happen, a meltdown of all three reactors on the scale of the Fukushima meltdowns and subsequent containment failure are virtual certainties according to U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) documents obtained by Greenpeace.

Radioactive materials lost in more than 30 incidents over past decade

Radioactive materials have gone missing from businesses, hospitals and even schools more than 30 times over the last decade, a freedom of information request to the UK’s health and safety authorities has revealed.

This nuclear plant tried to fix a leak with plastic, tape, and broomsticks

Once, nuclear power plants represented the height of America’s technological prowess. But now that they’re getting old, they’re no longer gleaming fortresses of high-tech success. And when they break, sometimes they’re fixed the old-fashioned way — with a little ingenuity and masking tape.

Palisades nuke power plant shuts after water leak

Operators of the Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in southwestern Michigan removed it from service Sunday morning because of a water leak from a tank, which last year caused seepage into the control room.

Operators said they took the plant offline for repairs to the safety injection/refueling water tank.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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