Environmental Must-Reads – November 13, 2014


Study: Many common chemicals found in fracking fluid

Fracking fluid used to help boost oil well production contains many of the same chemicals found in toothpaste, laundry detergent and laxatives, a new study says.

Scientists from the University of Colorado-Boulder obtained and tested fracking fluid samples from five states. Drilling companies zealously guard the specific recipes for their fluid, which helps fracture underground rock deposits to release trapped oil and gas that otherwise wouldn’t come out. The technique, although long used in the industry, has gained new popularity over the past decade and allows drillers to extract oil and gas from areas that would otherwise be dry.

Fracking sand in oilfields stirs up a serious health risk for workers

Health concerns about oil field fracking have been focused on the mixed brew of chemicals injected into wells. But it is another innocuous-sounding substance — sand — that poses a more serious danger to workers.

Government overseers of workplace safety first highlighted the problem three years ago and issued a hazard alert a year later warning that high levels of fine quartz sand around fracking operations could lead to silicosis and other lung illnesses.

40% of Wisconsin ‘Frac Sand’ Producers Violated Environmental Rules, Study Says

Over 40 percent of frac sand producers in Wisconsin have broken state environmental rules in recent years, according to a new report.

This isn’t the case of a “few bad apples” disregarding the law, said Bobby King, an organizer who contributed to the report by the Land Stewardship Project, an advocacy group.

“It’s an industry that’s willing to routinely violate rules that are designed to protect communities, protect air quality, protect water quality,” he said.

Fracking sand in oilfields stirs up a serious health risk for workers

Health concerns about oil field fracking have been focused on the mixed brew of chemicals injected into wells. But it is another innocuous-sounding substance — sand — that poses a more serious danger to workers.

Government overseers of workplace safety first highlighted the problem three years ago and issued a hazard alert a year later warning that high levels of fine quartz sand around fracking operations could lead to silicosis and other lung illnesses.

Halliburton ‘War Room’ Tracks Sand Shipments for Fracking Industry

Fracking an oil well takes millions of dollars, thousands of pounds of horsepower and dozens of people, but the whole operation can be brought to a halt by a humble grain of sand.

Without sand—a crucial ingredient in the hydraulic fracturing process—the U.S. drilling boom would stop. That is why Halliburton Co. set up a new “war room” to track sand shipments by trains and trucks.

Residents’ lawsuit targets Illinois fracking rules

A group of southern Illinois landowners has sued the Department of Natural Resources in a bid to stop the state’s new rules for high-volume oil and gas drilling from taking effect, saying the agency violated several rulemaking procedures as it worked to implement a state law to regulate the practice.

The lawsuit filed Monday in Madison County Circuit Court seeks a preliminary injunction, and also names Illinois DNR Director Marc Miller, Gov. Pat Quinn and Secretary of State Jesse White. A hearing is scheduled for next Tuesday, several days after the deadline for the rules to be submitted to White’s office for publication.

Group sues to block fracking rules from being published

A group of residents from southern Illinois is suing the governor and the director of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in an attempt to block the publication of rules governing horizontal hydraulic fracturing.

The lawsuit, filed Monday in Madison County, says the state agency didn’t give the public ample notice during the rule-making process, failed to use scientific studies in crafting its first draft of the rules and “left members of the public scrambling” to review and comment on the rules before they were published.

Disagreement on legal authority complicates local fracking bans

Last week in eastern Ohio, where natural gas production in the Utica Shale has been booming, voters in three towns rejected ballot proposals to ban hydraulic fracturing. While Athens overwhelmingly passed a fracking ban, Gates Mills, Kent and Youngstown voted down their measures.

The ballot issues highlight the disparity in responses among local officials who are befuddled by the complicated legal baggage of prohibiting a practice that some say is solely regulated at a state level. Bans could legally embroil areas where drilling companies operate, especially with the Ohio Supreme Court soon to rule on the ability of local authorities to regulate fracking.

Business groups brace for deluge of regs

Business groups are bracing for an onslaught of regulations, with the Obama administration bent on completing a host of the president’s unfinished policy goals and the midterm elections now in the rearview mirror.

Agencies across federal government are expected to drop a host of major rules over the next few months, with regulations running the gamut from calorie label requirements on restaurant menus to new rules for hydraulic fracturing and air pollution.

Court won’t let Alberta quash landowner’s fracking lawsuit

The Alberta government cannot claim immunity against a lawsuit by a landowner who claims an energy company’s operations contaminated her drinking water supply.

The new ruling allows Rosebud-area resident and oilpatch consultant Jessica Ernst to move forward with her multimillion-dollar actions against Encana’s hydraulic fracturing and Alberta Environment’s oversight, and could clear the way for similar claims by other landowners, her lawyer said.

Kerosene in fracking fluid: Toxic but legal

n the last three years, 230,171 gallons of kerosene, a petroleum distillate with chemical components that are toxic to humans and wildlife, were used in fracking fluid in 129 wells throughout Fayette County, and it was all within the letter of the law.

“They are environmental terrorists,” according to Ken Dufalla, president of the Greene County chapter of the Izaak Walton League of America (IWLA), a grassroots natural resource conservation society.

Poll: U.S. Support Slipping for Fracking, Keystone

American enthusiasm for fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline is waning, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

Keystone XL, which would bring crude from Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries, still enjoys majority favor, with 59 percent of respondents telling Pew they support its construction. But that’s a drop from Pew’s survey in March of 2013—when 66 percent of Americans said they wanted to see the pipeline built.

Louisiana recommends five projects for Restore Act oil spill fine money

Louisiana has settled on the five projects it will ask a board made up of federal and Gulf Coast states’ officials to fund from fines levied against BP and its partners for their role in the Deep Water Horizon spill.

The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority voted unanimously on the projects they will submit to the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council for funding Wednesday morning (Nov. 12). The Restoration Council is expected to spend $150 million on multiple plans submitted for the Gulf Coast states, according to Kyle Graham, executive director of the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority.

Second part of Caminada Headland is funded

Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority awarded $145.7 million for the construction of the second part of Caminada Headland Beach and Dune Restoration project in Lafourche Parish.

The Gulf Environment Benefit Fund funded the portion of this project. National Fish and Wildlife Foundation established this fund following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to “manage funds resulting from the settlement of federal criminal charges against BP and Transocean,” according to the statement.

Lafourche hires company to help with BP money

Lafourche’s Parish Council approved an engineering contract Tuesday to maximize the benefit of money from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Under the $293,645 contract, New Orleans-based Royal Engineers & Consultants will develop a strategy for future coastal restoration programs to expedite the process once the money is released to the parish.

Shell ignored internal warnings over Nigeria oil spills, documents suggest

Internal Shell Nigeria documents show that the company was advised by its own staff in 2002 to immediately replace a 30-year-old pipeline passing through impoverished delta communities because it continually leaked and was a major risk.

But it was not until the key 24-inch trans-Niger pipeline burst twice within a few days in November 2008, spilling thousands of barrels of oil over nearly 1,000 hectares of mangroves and wrecking the livelihoods of up to 15,000 villagers, that the company admitted publicly that it was at fault.

Court documents expose Shell’s false claims on Nigeria oil spills

Court documents revealed by Amnesty International today expose the fact that Shell has repeatedly made false claims about the size and impact of two major oil spills at Bodo in Nigeria in an attempt to minimize its compensation payments. The documents also show that Shell has known for years that its pipelines in the Niger Delta were old and faulty.

The potential repercussions are that hundreds of thousands of people may have been denied or underpaid compensation based on similar underestimates of other spills.

Keystone pipeline approval bills advance in Congress

Legislation to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline began racing through the U.S. Congress on Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans appeared to be coming together in a challenge of President Barack Obama’s oversight of the project.

In a series of rapid developments that unfolded just hours after Congress returned from a seven-week recess, there were indications the measure could pass and be sent to Obama sometime next week.

Rival Louisiana Lawmakers Push Keystone Pipeline Bills

The politics of the Louisiana Senate race spilled into the halls of Congress on Wednesday, as Sen. Mary Landrieu (D., La.) and challenger Rep. Bill Cassidy (R., La.) jockeyed to secure votes in both chambers of Congress on legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline.

The GOP-controlled House plans to take up Mr. Cassidy’s bill Thursday, and the Democratic Senate is expected to follow suit as early as Tuesday.

Louisiana lawmakers secure House and Senate votes to approve Keystone XL pipeline

Suddenly on Capitol Hill, it’s all about Louisiana.

The two lawmakers locked in the Pelican State’s competitive Senate runoff election seized control of the congressional agenda Wednesday by extracting assurances from House and Senate leaders that votes will be held to authorize construction of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Bill to approve Keystone pipeline clears hurdle in U.S. Senate

Legislation to approve the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline began racing through the U.S. Congress on Wednesday as Democrats and Republicans appeared to be coming together in a challenge of President Barack Obama’s oversight of the project.

In a series of rapid developments that unfolded just hours after Congress returned from a seven-week recess, there were indications the measure could pass and be sent to Obama sometime next week.

Activist groups sue over border pipeline

Tribal and environmental groups have sued the U.S. State Department for approving a temporary plan by a Canadian pipeline company to increase the flow of heavy crude oil from Alberta into Minnesota before a federal environmental study is finished.

The lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Minnesota, alleges that the State Department violated the National Environmental Policy Act and other laws in approving the temporary increase in oil flow and in not releasing information about it. The suit seeks an injunction to halt the project.

Enbridge Pipeline Plan Challenged by Environmentalists

An Enbridge Inc. (ENB) plan to increase the flow of oil from Alberta’s tar sands to Wisconsin should be blocked pending the results of an environmental impact study, conservation and American Indian groups said in a lawsuit against the U.S. government.

The Calgary-based company’s plan calls for augmenting its Alberta Clipper pipeline by shifting crude to an adjacent pipeline north of the American border, then back again after both conduits cross the frontier, avoiding the need for U.S. government permission that would be required of new lines.

Departure of Enbridge executive deals blow to B.C. pipeline support

A key executive in charge of Enbridge Inc.’s Northern Gateway pipeline is retiring, dealing a blow to the company’s efforts to build support for the project in British Columbia.

Janet Holder, who served as executive vice-president, western access, is leaving Enbridge effective Dec. 31, the Calgary-based company said in a statement Wednesday. Ms. Holder was put in charge of the $7.9-billion oil pipeline in 2011, and she was featured in a series of television commercials touting her B.C. roots and the project’s benefits. Enbridge said the project would continue under the leadership of project president John Carruthers.

Lawsuit dismissed for would-be Enbridge whistleblower

A judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by whistleblower John Bolenbaugh, who claimed that Enbridge was involved in a cover-up, not a clean-up of the Kalamazoo River. Bolenbaugh, who posted a series of videos on YouTube allegedly exposing his allegations, worked for a sub-contractor and claimed that that firm was just burying oil and not cleaning it up.   He has since received a settlement from that firm after he was fired for violating his contract and talking to the media.

Court rejects Shell bid to prevent challenge to Arctic oil drilling

US Court of Appeal judges have rejected a bid by oil giant Shell that attempted to prevent environmental groups from challenging its drilling plans in the Arctic.

The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit dismissed the case on the grounds that it clearly violated the US Constitution.

Shell’s suit against NRDC and other groups asked the court to pre-emptively validate the federal Bureau of Environmental Safety and Enforcement’s approval of the company’s Arctic oil spill plans against any future legal challenge.

Norway Embraces Chinese Cash in Race for Arctic Oil Riches

Norway, western Europe’s largest crude oil producer, says it welcomes China as a partner in efforts to develop Arctic energy resources.

The Nordic country is doing business with China’s Cnooc Ltd. (883) as it tries to find oil off Iceland’s shores. The Chinese company is also looking into exploring Norway’s eastern Barents Sea, an area where licenses will be awarded in 2016.

Radiation From Fukushima Reaches US West Coast: What Danger Does Cesium-134 Pose?

A plume of radioactive material has been on a steady march across the Pacific Ocean since Japan’s Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. And it just arrived on the United States’ doorstep. Traces of radiation from the leak have been detected about 100 miles off the coast of Eureka in northern California, researchers from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, WHOI, in Massachusetts reported Monday.

Water samples collected in August contained “minute” quantities of cesium-134, a contaminant linked to Fukushima and the same stuff found in the waters near Vancouver, British Columbia, in February. Cesium-134 does not occur naturally in the environment. The only source of the isotope in the Pacific Ocean today is from Fukushima, researchers said.

Japan’s Fukushima cleanup 3 years on: little key work done

More than three years into the massive cleanup of Japan’s tsunami-damaged nuclear power plant, only a tiny fraction of the workers are focused on key tasks such as preparing for the dismantling of the broken reactors and removing radioactive fuel rods.

Instead, nearly all the workers at the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant are devoted to an enormously distracting problem: a still-growing amount of contaminated water used to keep the damaged reactors from overheating. The amount has been swelled further by groundwater entering the reactor buildings.

Study: Fukushima health risks underestimated

“Hot spots” of nuclear radiation still contaminate parts of Fukushima Prefecture, according to findings from the latest Greenpeace radiation monitoring mission near the Daiichi nuclear power plant that melted down after an earthquake and tsunami in March 2011.

Experts from the environmental organisation also claim that authorities have consistently underestimated the amount of contamination and the health risks involved.

Fear and Eating in Fukushima

We are no strangers to earthquakes here in the Bay Area. But there’s been nothing in recent memory to match the 9.0 quake that shook Japan on March 11, 2011.

The quake set off a deadly tsunami and was so powerful that it shifted the earth’s axis by several inches.

But the news that came out of Japan the next day, gripped the world with fear. A nuclear explosion at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant. Reactors melted down releasing giant plumes of radiation into the atmosphere. Here, on the other edge of the Pacific Ocean, many were concerned — Would it reach us?

Loss of power at Fukushima No. 1 plant was preventable: former watchdog exec

A former senior official with the now-defunct nuclear regulatory agency admitted to a government panel that the catastrophic power loss at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant in March 2011 should have been prevented.

Records released Wednesday show that Tetsuya Yamamoto, then safety screening head of the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency (NISA), said in an interview with the investigation panel that although advance measures to prevent a power loss could have been taken, the agency failed to prepare for such an event.

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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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