Environmental Must-Reads – November 14, 2013


Meet the Newest Anti-Fracking Activist: Pope Francis

Pope Francis has already become a favorite of progressives with his fairly open-minded statements on homosexuality and birth control. But that adoration may go into overdrive, now that the Pope has adopted a new role as an environmental crusader, too. On Monday, the Pope was photographed with environmental activists holding T-shirts with anti-fracking slogans.

Coast Guard Moves to Approve Barging of Hazardous Fracking Waste on Major Rivers

The Coast Guard is moving forward with a proposal that would allow barges to transport large amounts of hazardous and radioactive wastewater from fracking operations on America’s major rivers.

After studying the issue at the request of the fracking industry, the Coast Guard recently released proposed regulations for fracking wastewater barging. A public comment period on the proposal runs through November 29, 2013.

Environmental groups unite to curtail B.C. frackers’ water access

A coalition of environmental groups has filed court action against British Columbia’s Oil and Gas Commission and energy company Encana Corp. over the use of water from lakes and rivers in hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.

The petition filed in B.C. Supreme Court on Wednesday claims the Crown agency responsible for regulating the oil and gas industry has been granting repeated short-term water permits for use in fracking – a violation of the provincial water act.

The Little Engines That Could: How Grassroots Stopped Oil & Gas Encroachment in Colorado

Last week’s elections proved to be a crucial turning point for Colorado in the fight for climate change abatement.  In elections across the state, voters turned out to turn down fracking and promote municipalization, creating what will hopefully prove to be a model for other communities.  Perhaps most impressive is the David-and-Goliath scope of these political battles, where a small but passionate group of individuals was able to stop a barrage of negative campaigning from oil & gas companies in order to secure a positive win.

Fracking the American Dream: Drilling Decreases Property Value

Drilling conflicts are almost always described in the context of their impacts on air, water and health. But increasingly, as the drilling boom sweeps the country, another part of the drilling story is starting to bubble up in drilling hotspots like Colorado, Pennsylvania, New York, Wyoming and Texas.

Increasingly, oil and gas development is butting up against, and often trampling, the bedrock American principles of property rights and the value of one’s home. The map below shows all the shale gas in play in North America.

Proposed rules for Illinois fracking near completion

The start of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Illinois is at least a year away, the director of the state agency in charge of permits said Wednesday.

Marc Miller of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources said proposed regulations are nearly complete. But he said it would take months — including public hearings and website comments — before the first permits are issued.

Count To Resume On Broomfield Fracking Vote

Election officials in Broomfield are clearing up questions on uncounted ballots on a fracking measure before wrapping up the extremely close count.

Wednesday is the deadline for resolving issues surrounding residency, signatures and other matters. The final count will begin Thursday.

Operators ‘failing’ in fracking transparency

US unconventional oil and gas explorers are failing to provide investors and the public with enough information to properly gauge the risks of hydraulic fracturing activities, a study has concluded.

A group of environmentally focused investors and advocates scored 24 prominent onshore explorers in the US on 32 indicators related to the management of toxic chemicals, water and waste, air emissions, community impacts, and governance.

Pennsylvania Federal Court Dismisses Claims Relating to Fracking Fluid “Secret Brew”

Last month, a Pennsylvania federal district court dismissed a complaint challenging a state act, which aimed to protect the trade secrets and confidential “recipes” that make up the fluid used during hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) operations.  Specifically, the decision concerned Pennsylvania’s enactment of Act 13, which amended the Oil and Gas Act with what Plaintiff referred to as the “Medical Gag Act.”  Acts like this one are attempts by the legislature to balance the competing interests of the public, many of whom argue that the identity of fracking chemicals is important to understanding the potential health impacts of fracking, against the danger of disclosure of proprietary and competitively sensitive information.   Pennsylvania’s Act requires health professionals to sign a confidentiality order when obtaining the specific identity and amount of fracking chemicals claimed to be a trade secret in circumstances where the health professional determines that a medical emergency exists and the information is necessary for emergency treatment.

Alaska mulls hydraulic fracturing rules

Alaska state laws could be revised so companies can protect their trade secrets for hydraulic fracturing fluid, Cathy Foerster, a state drilling regulator said.

Foerster, chairwoman of the Alaska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, said the state could revise its rules on hydraulic fracturing, known also as fracking, in early 2014.

Court Finds Nobody Criminally Responsible for 2002 Oil Spill

A Spanish court on Wednesday absolved the defendants of criminal responsibility in the sinking of a tanker 11 years ago that led to one of Europe’s worst oil spills and devastated Spain’s northwestern coastline.

Spanish court acquits oil spill defendants

A Spanish court has acquitted all three people charged in the sinking of the Prestige oil tanker off Spain’s northwestern coast 11 years ago, which triggered a major environmental catastrophe.

Judge Juan Luis Pia said on Wednesday that the court found no criminal responsibility in the sinking and absolved the three defendants, the ship’s Greek captain, his first officer and the former director-general of Spain’s Merchant Marine, of crimes against the environment.

Crew, official acquitted of causing 2002 Spanish oil spill disaster

A JUDGE yesterday acquitted crew members and a top maritime official of causing a massive oil spill from a tanker off Spain in 2002, one of Europe’s worst environmental disasters.

However, the Spanish court sentenced the 78-year-old Greek captain of the Prestige oil tanker to nine months in prison for resisting attempts to tow the wreck away from shore before it spilled its load, killing tens of thousands of seabirds.

Officials plan to discuss sinkhole relief well installation with homeowners

Concerned homeowners will get a chance Tuesday to learn more information about the new relief wells being installed near the giant sinkhole in southeast Louisiana.

Those wells will be placed throughout the Bayou Corne community in Assumption Parish. The meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. at the command trailer at Sportsman’s Landing.

Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. given leeway on crippled Pegasus restart

Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. was granted a 90-day extension to submit plans to regulators to restart the Pegasus oil pipeline in Arkansas, a safety director said.

ExxonMobil Violated Safety Regs Before Arkansas Pipeline Spill, Feds Find

ExxonMobil Corp. violated federal safety regulations while operating the Pegasus pipeline that dumped about 5,000 barrels of oil in a Mayflower, Ark., neighborhood in March and should pay more than $2.6 million in penalties, a federal regulator determined.

Oil Train Derailment, Explosion In Alabama Points To Need For Tighter Regulation

We’re all used to seeing oil spills at sea, or oil spewing from a ruptured pipeline. But lately we’ve been presented with a new image of oil spills with increasing frequency: train derailment.

Last Friday, a train carrying crude oil from the Bakken shale in North Dakota was traveling through a rural part of Alabama when 20 of its cars derailed and exploded. Firefighters left 11 of the cars to burn themselves out overnight. Flames were reportedly shooting 300 feet into the air.

Have Keystone XL Opponents Found Their Best Weapon?

The slow-moving but rarely dull fight over the the Keystone XL, the proposed fourth and final leg of an extensive set of pipes carrying low-grade tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to the Gulf Coast of the U.S., has recently gained another subplot worthy of note, or even a movie for Gus Van Sant. Moreover, it presents an actions-speak-stronger-than-words “tell” of the Obama Administration’s intentions toward the Keystone XL, which continues to await the president’s approval.

International Energy Agency Links Keystone XL Decision to Significant Tar Sands Expansion

The International Energy Agency (IEA) joined Wall Street in affirming the strong connection between proposed tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL and expanded tar sands production. IEA’s conclusion undercuts industry’s claims that the massive tar sands pipeline will have no material impact on its expansion plans. In its World Energy Outlook (WEO), the IEA forecast that tar sands production would double to reach 4.3 million bpd by 2035 if large pipeline projects through the United State and British Columbia were approved.

Canadian oil giant faces fresh protest in bid for new pipeline

Oil giant TransCanada has struggled to get its Keystone XL pipeline built in the US and is facing fresh protest in Canada where activists fear a new pipeline could ultimately worsen climate change.

TransCanada Has Already Had To Fix 125 Dents And Sags In Southern Keystone Pipeline

Synthetic crude oil hasn’t yet entered the southern segment of the Keystone XL pipeline, but a report released Tuesday by non-profit consumer rights group Public Citizen says the pipes are already bending, sagging and peeling to the point of a possible spill or leakage of toxic tar sands.

Oil Production keeps trains busy through Fargo – Moorhead

More oil than ever before is coming from the western part of North Dakota.

And after a train carrying oil from the Bakken derailed, and exploded, last week in Alabama.

Fargo firemen want to make sure they’re prepared if anything should happen here.

Alberta oil faces political hurdles in East

Governments in Ontario and Quebec have thrown political hurdles in front of Alberta’s efforts to expand markets for its crude, launching public hearings into controversial pipeline proposals the industry regards as necessary to enable its fast-growing oil production.

China, Norway may team up in search for Arctic oil

Norway is deciding whether to team up with China to explore for oil in Iceland, Icelandic authorities said, setting up a rare cooperation for the two since a diplomatic row over the award of the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize to Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.

Arctic 30: Greenpeace turns on Shell

As the detention of Greenpeace’s ‘Arctic 30’ by Russian security services approaches its second month, a shift of campaign tactics is taking place. Now Shell, Gazprom’s partner in developing oil and gas on the Arctic Shelf, is in the firing line.

Thyroid cancers up in Fukushima

Screening of Fukushima residents who were 18 or younger at the time of the 2011 nuclear disaster had found 26 confirmed and 32 suspected cases of thyroid cancer as of Sept. 30, according to the Fukushima Prefectural Government.

Clean-up doubts: Many Fukushima evacuees may never return home

Many of the people who were forced to evacuate after the 2011 triple meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant may never return, Japanese lawmakers admitted, overturning initial optimistic government pledges.

The Fukushima Crisis Comes To The States

The catastrophe at the Fukushima nuclear power plant — aka Yesterday’s Tragedy — appears to be ongoing, and Alaska now has become part of the story.

Some radiation has arrived in northern Alaska and along the west coast. That’s raised concern over contamination of fish and wildlife. More may be heading toward coastal communities like Haines and Skagway. Douglas Dasher, a researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, says radiation levels in Alaskan waters could reach Cold War levels. “The levels they are projecting in some of the models are in the ballpark of what they saw in the North Pacific in the 1960s,” he said.

Japan Ex-Leaders Join Calls Against Nuclear Power

Japan’s flagging anti-nuclear movement is getting a boost from two former prime ministers who are calling for atomic power to be phased out following the Fukushima disaster.

Former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said Tuesday that the current prime minister, Shinzo Abe, should take advantage of his high public support and sway in parliament to “do the right thing.”

Are wireless meters a threat? Stillwater resident concerns prompt Nov. 14 review of water meter options

Staring at the yellow sheet of paper in his hand, Jim Cashman could hardly believe what he saw.

“The water service to this property will be shut off for failure to provide access to the water meter,” the paper read.

The notice came after the Stillwater resident and his wife objected to the mandatory installation of a wireless water meter in their home. If they didn’t comply, they had been warned, the water to their home would be turned off.

Wearing Your Smartphone – Not Too Smart?

Wearable phones and computers are on loads of shopping lists as the holiday season approaches in California, but scientists are warning that research indicates they present likely health risks – especially from cell-phone radiation.

Dr. Hugh Taylor, chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale University School of Medicine, exposed pregnant mice to close-up cell-phone signals and observed the offspring behaving like children with attention deficit disorder.

Impact to Cedar Rapids school district’s existing towers unknown in wake of Johnson decision

Johnson School of the Arts will not become home to a Verizon Wireless cell phone tower any time soon. The Cedar Rapids Community School District’s School Board removed the company’s proposed contract with the school from consideration during a Nov. 11 regular meeting. But what that decision, in part the result of public pushback, means for the district’s three existing cell phone towers is still uncertain.

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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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