Environmental Must-Reads – May 7, 2015


How America’s biggest swamp could become fracking wasteland

In the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country, Julie and Lee Hines considered themselves lucky when they purchased a riverfront property. “I have the bayou in my blood,” said Julie Hines, a lifelong resident of the area.

The Hines family values the outdoors, like most of the residents living in the 107 households in the tiny town of Belle River. Many in the region are fishermen, making their living on the water, of which there is plenty.

But the Hines’ dream-come-true faded quickly after they felt the impact of nearby industrial facilities’ fugitive emissions and increased truck use. They don’t believe the rules to protect them are inforced rigorously enough, and found there is little they can do when the rules are broken.

Residents allowed back into homes after train derails, catches fire near Heimdal, N.D.

Curt Benson was in the middle of his morning shave when an explosion sent vibrations through his house on Main Street here Wednesday. “I looked out my window and I saw a black cloud of smoke,” he said.

The retired sheriff’s deputy jumped in the car and raced down the hill toward the scene about a quarter mile away, calling 911 when he saw a derailed oil tanker train aflame. Some cars had caught fire “and some were continuing to explode,” he said, describing the hissing sound and fire that followed.

Official: ‘Significant’ Brine Spill Enters North Dakota Lake

A 63,000-gallon saltwater spill that leaked from an underground pipeline entered a lake via a tributary in northwest North Dakota, a state Department of Health official said Wednesday. He said the spill will not affect any drinking water in the area.

Water Quality Director Karl Rockeman said it’s unclear how much of the saltwater has entered Smishek Lake near the town of Powers Lake, which is about 75 miles northeast of the oil boomtown Williston. Saltwater, or brine, is an unwanted byproduct of oil production and is considered an environmental hazard by North Dakota. It is many times saltier than sea water and can easily kill vegetation.

Three Pennsylvania wells likely contaminated by fracking

Public arguments about fracking (at least among those who have heard of the natural gas production technique) have become contentious—a situation not helped by the technical and complicated topic. Lots of information and claims fly around, but there’s little in the way of an established framework to help make sense of them.

Claims that fracking has contaminated water can be difficult to resolve, and some turn out to be unrelated to fracking. Geology differs from place to place in important ways that have to be taken into consideration when analyzing water. Regulations governing fracking vary from state to state, too. And the practice has been scrutinized at a level we haven’t subjected conventional oil and gas production to, meaning we might be discovering problems that are common to other techniques.

Poor Communities Bear Greatest Burden from Fracking

Fracking wells in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region are disproportionately located in poor rural communities, which bear the brunt of associated pollution, according to a new study.

The study bolsters concerns that poor people are more likely to deal with hydraulic fracturing in their community and raises concerns that such vulnerable populations will suffer the potential health impacts of air and water pollution associated with pulling gas from the ground.

Fracking activist permanently barred from Cabot gas sites

Anti-fracking activist Vera Scroggins will be permanently barred from sites operated by Cabot Oil and Gas, according to a recent court order.

Scroggins is already facing a $1,000 fine and possible jail time for getting too close to a Cabot site in January. Since 2013, she has been subject to a temporary injunction, requiring her to stay away from the company’s gas sites. This new court order means the restrictions will be permanent. It requires her to stay off Cabot sites and adhere to 25 to 100 foot buffer zones. She intends to challenge the order.

Oil and gas industry rushes to support Vitter gubernatorial bid

Louisiana Sen. David Vitter (R) may boast the biggest war chest among those candidates vying to succeed term-limited Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) this fall, but he’s not the only contender to claim healthy support from the oil and gas industry.

A review of recently filed campaign finance reports shows Vitter dominating the money chase with $4.2 million in the bank in mid-April, after raising $1.1 million in the first months of this year.

Probe takes aim at US methane plume mystery

Pilot and scientist Steve Conley slipped behind the controls of a nimble single-engine Mooney aircraft and took to the air over the Four Corners region of the U.S. West as part of a quest to find the sources of a mysterious methane hot spot detected over the area from space.

Flying at about 2,000 feet, he banked hard left to circle the ventilation shaft of a coal mine as inlet tubes under the right wing of the aircraft sucked in air, which passed through equipment that detects and quantifies methane and provides results in real time.

Fracking lawsuit not up for discussion at St. Tammany Parish Council meeting

Fracking will not be up for discussion after all at Thursday night’s (May 7) meeting of the St. Tammany Parish Council. Chairman Richard Tanner had said the council would likely discuss in private and public sessions whether to appeal a recent state court judge’s ruling that the parish could not use its zoning regulations to block a controversial proposed drilling and fracking project.

On Wednesday, however, parish government issued a news release saying the potential appeal would not be discussed or acted upon Thursday. Judge William Morvant of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge has not yet issued his written judgment in the case, in which the parish had sued the state Department of Natural Resources, the release said.

Crews better-trained, but oil train fires overwhelm

Local fire chiefs say their crews are better-prepared for a fiery train derailment since the 2013 accident near Casselton—but also said oil train fires are too intense to fight.

The issue of the safety of hauling Bakken crude oil by rail resurfaced when a BNSF Railway train derailed Wednesday near Heimdal in Wells County, about 80 miles southeast of Minot. Between six and 10 cars derailed and caught fire, officials said.

Action Urged After Another Fiery ND Oil Train Derailment

The calls for more safety precautions and oversight again are being made after yet another fiery oil train derailment in North Dakota. The latest happened Wednesday morning near the town of Heimdal, forcing evacuations in the community and surrounding farmsteads.

Don Morrison, executive director with the Dakota Resource Council, says the problem is there’s a race to get the oil out of the ground and shipped as quickly as possible, with a transportation system that can’t handle it.

Claims administrator in oil spill case gets subpoena power

The administrator of claims arising from a settlement over economic damages caused by the 2010 BP oil spill has been granted subpoena power.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier on Wednesday granted a motion seeking subpoena power by administrator Patrick Juneau.

Deadline approaching to file gulf oil spill claims

The deadline is approaching for Alabamians to file claims for compensation for damages linked to the 2010 gulf oil spill.

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange said in a statement that June 8 is the deadline for claims to be filed.

Nigeria’s Delta oil spill clean-up will cost Shell billions of dollars over 30 years

Next year will mark the 60th anniversary of Shell’s discovery of oil in Nigeria’s Delta region. It could spend the next 30 years–and billions of dollars–cleaning up a devastating environmental mess it’s said to have left in its wake.

Shell Petroleum Development Company this week signed an agreement with Nigeria’s Bodo community to begin clean-up operations of two major oil spills from back in 2008. Dutch newspaper Volkskrant reported (in Dutch) that the estimates for the clean-up costs would be up to $500 million and take ten years.

Oil Spill Clean-Up Continues

The clean-up continues following the oil spill in Belton.

South Carolina health officials tell News 13 nearly 180,000 gallons of petroleum have been recovered. Kinder Morgan, the company who uses the pipeline, said more than 360,000 gallons were spilled in total.

“The whole reason why we bought the house is we wanted to put in a fruit orchard,” Crystal Jameson, a resident living near the spill site, said.

Enbridge employees practice oil spill response

Enbridge employees simulated a worst-case scenario Wednesday to practice how they would respond to an oil spill in the Souris River.

The simulated exercise that employees learned of at 10 a.m. Tuesday was that an excavator struck one of Enbridge’s crude oil pipelines and released 800 barrels – or 33,600 gallons – of oil into the Souris River near Towner.

Nigeria: Kolo Creek Oil Spill Incident Worries Farmers

No fewer than 50 farmers impacted by the April 15 oil leak incident from Shell’s Kolo Creek oil fields in Otuasega, Bayelsa have decried damages they suffered from the incident.

Meanwhile, Shell has reached an agreement with People of Bodo Community in Gokana Local Government Area of Rivers State, on the modalities and scope to clean up, remediate and the restoration of the environment affected by oil spills in the area.

The Keystone Pipeline Just Lost a Top Washington Advocate

The upset election victory by a center-left party in Alberta—the heart of Canada’s oil country—may also have eliminated one of the most public faces in the lobbying effort promoting the Keystone XL pipeline.

Former Alberta premiers Alison Redford and Jim Prentice were frequent visitors to Washington to promote the pipeline, and touted it as a necessary project for promoting Canada’s oil-sands development. Prentice, who served just eight months, visited D.C. in February, speaking at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, meeting with government officials, and conducting a round of press meetings on the pipeline. Redford (who resigned in March 2014) was no stranger to D.C. In a 2013 visit, she met with Democratic Sens. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who both backed the pipeline on the Hill.

Pipeline info would become secret under Mich. bill

It’s a matter of national security, says state Rep. Kurt Heise: Keeping information about oil and gas pipelines, high-powered electrical lines and other critical energy infrastructure out of potential terrorists’ hands.

But critics say a bill introduced Tuesday by the Republican lawmaker protects something else: oil and gas corporations, like Canadian pipeline giant Enbridge, from public disclosures about safety and other records.

Group opposes tar sands oil, Enbridge pipeline expansion

Ten years ago few would have predicted that in 2015 people of Northern Wisconsin would be engaged in conversations over how the extraction and delivery of unrefined petroleum would be a local topic of concern.

Ten years ago, in 2005, frac sand mining was just beginning to be explored, but in 2015 it has become a major industry sending trainloads of Wisconsin sand to oil and gas hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” sites, including the Bakken Oil fields in North Dakota.

In Seattle, ‘Kayaktivists’ Take on Arctic Oil Drilling

Royal Dutch Shell wants to park two massive Arctic oil drilling rigs in Seattle’s waterfront — but the petroleum giant will have to get around protesters in kayaks and a mayor determined to take on climate change.

The fast-approaching battle with so-called kayaktivists is unfolding in a city well known for embracing environmental causes, laying bare the high-stakes feud over oil exploration in the icy waters off Alaska.

Greenpeace seeks dismissal of Shell lawsuit seeking safety zones around Arctic drill fleet

Attorneys for Greenpeace Inc. say Royal Dutch Shell PLC has demonstrated no harm from environmental protesters who boarded a ship carrying a drill rig last month.

In a written motion, Greenpeace asked U.S. District Court Judge Sharon Gleason to reject Shell’s request for court-ordered, expanded safety zones around its Arctic drill fleet.

One of Shell’s Arctic Drilling Rigs Due in Puget Sound Failed a Coast Guard Inspection in Hawaii

Just in case you thought that Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet was immune to causing problems in local waters, check out this news from VICE: One of Shell’s Arctic drilling rigs due in Puget Sound this month failed a Coast Guard inspection of some of its pollution control equipment in April.

The vessel in question is the Noble Discoverer, whose operators pleaded guilty to eight felonies after Shell’s last drilling season in the Arctic. One of the problems aboard the ship the last time around was its oil-water separator (OWS). The OWS is supposed to prevent oil-contaminated water from being dumped overboard, but the Noble Discoverer used an impromptu, uncertified pollution system instead, dumped stuff overboard anyway, and hid it from the Coast Guard. The piece of equipment that failed in Hawaii? The OWS.

Lake Huron shores near Ontario’s Bruce plant to act as nuclear-waste site

A federal review panel has given its stamp of approval to a controversial plan to bury nuclear waste on the shores of Lake Huron.

The three-member panel released its report Wednesday, saying the project “is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects” and is the “preferred solution” for isolating low- and intermediate-level radioactive waste.

Crisis for Areva’s La Hague plant as clients shun nuclear

Areva’s nuclear fuel reprocessing plant in La Hague needs to cut costs as its international customers disappear following the Fukushima disaster, and its sole remaining big customer, fellow state-owned French utility EDF, pressures it to cut prices.

Located at the westernmost tip of Normandy, La Hague reprocesses spent nuclear fuel for reuse in nuclear reactors and is a key part in Areva’s production chain, which spans uranium mining to fuel recycling.

Chernobyl fire radiation hazard as ‘hot particles’ of plutonium go up in smoke

The Ukrainian National Guard has been put on high alert due to worsening forest fires around the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant, according to Ukraine Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

“The forest fire situation around the Chernobyl power plant has escalated”, a statement on Avakov’s Facebook page says.

Kincardine nuclear waste site gets federal seal of approval

A federal panel has given an overall seal of approval to the controversial nuclear waste disposal site proposed for a subterranean crypt below the Bruce nuclear station near Kincardine, Ont.

“The Panel concludes that the project is not likely to cause significant adverse environmental effects” given the measures contemplated to curb them, says the report by the Joint Review Panel.

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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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