Environmental Must-Reads – November 26, 2013


Bridge Out: Bombshell Study Finds Methane Emissions From Natural Gas Production Far Higher Than EPA Estimates

A major new study blows up the whole notion of natural gas as a short-term bridge fuel to a carbon-free economy.

Natural gas is mostly methane (CH4), a potent heat-trapping gas. If, as now seems likely, natural gas production systems leak 2.7% (or more), then gas-fired power loses its near-term advantage over coal and becomes more of a gangplank than a bridge. Worse, without a carbon price, some gas displaces renewable energy, further undercutting any benefit it might have had.

U.S. Methane Emissions Vastly Underestimated: Study

The federal government has vastly underestimated climate change-fueling methane being emitted in the United States, primarily from the oil and gas and cattle industries, according to a new Harvard University study.

The oil and gas industry, largely in the south-central U.S., may be emitting nearly five times the methane that scientists previously estimated, while methane emissions of livestock operations are twice previous estimates and overall nationwide methane emissions are up to 1.7 times what had been thought until now.

Poll: Most Americans don’t know what the frack fracking is

Fracking: Is it the key to U.S. energy independence; an environmental plague contaminating groundwater, polluting the air and even causing earthquakes; or just a funny word?

Most Americans don’t have an opinion, according to a study by researchers from Oregon State, George Mason and Yale. And the majority of those questioned — 58 percent — said they know “nothing at all” about fracking.

Banks Reluctant to Lend in Shale Plays as Evidence Mounts on Harm to Property Values Near Fracking

Over the past several years, the fossil-fuel industry has been highly adept at publicizing the economic upshots of fracking: royalty checks, decreased prices for oil and gas, profits for investors.

But the industry is far less eager to discuss the hidden costs of the current drilling boom — the longterm price of air and water pollution, the consequences of undermining a nascent renewable energy industry, the harms from accidents when moving and storing all the hazardous waste fracking produces.

Fracking lights up the North Dakota sky

This satellite photograph of the US at night, taken in 2012, shows its eastern cities ablaze with light, with dotted lines revealing where the freeways connect towns and other cities. To the west are the rural, less inhabited great plains. Among the darkness of the plains a large burst of light can be seen, speckled almost like an exploding firework and dwarfing even the metropolises of Chicago and New York.

Fracking Bonanza Eludes Wastewater Recycling Investors

After two years searching for a blockbuster investment in oilfield water management, fund manager Judson Hill is still holding on to his money.

Hill’s NGP Energy Capital Management saw potential in what looked like a hot growth area in energy: treating and recycling the 21 billion barrels of wastewater flowing annually from U.S. oil and natural gas wells — particularly from shale.

NC agency to begin fracking evaluations

The N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources announced earlier this month that it would begin evaluating sites to gauge the potential for hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — which opponents say might endanger the health of those in its backyard.

Although widespread tests will not begin until the department receives funding or a mandate from the N.C. General Assembly, it will begin testing in the Dan River, Deep River and Cumberland-Marlboro basins, said Jamie Kritzer, department spokesman.

Fracking And What You Can Do About It, From Erin Brockovich (VIDEO)

Consumer advocate Erin Brockovich joined me on Mondays with Marlo to discuss fracking and environmental pollution.

The process of fracking involves drilling into the ground at a high pressure and injecting fracking fluid, in order to fracture shale rocks and release natural gas. It’s affecting many states, from Texas to California to upstate New York, and it’s creating havoc. According to Erin, if you’re concerned about local fracking, you can easily check online for information about how to prevent this spread.

State Officials Concerned Over Toxic Waste From Fracking

Connecticut is betting big that natural gas will give us a cheaper and cleaner energy future than fuels like oil and coal. The problem with that wager could turn on how we’re going to handle fracking and the hundreds of millions of gallons of toxic waste it produces.

Environmentalists say it’s an issue we can’t dodge for long, and they’re once again gearing up to force state government to take a stand.

Three decades later, Iberia Parish residents fear disaster

Nov. 20 marked the 33rd anniversary of the collapse of the salt mine beneath Lake Peigneur in Iberia Parish. The environmental catastrophe resulted from a miscalculation by Texaco while drilling for oil, causing the mine’s ceiling to be pierced by a 14-inch drill bit. The lake drained into the mine, taking with it trees, land and barges, and endangering many lives.

Today, residents near the lake are worried that another disaster could befall them, this time because of efforts to store petroleum products within the caverns beneath the lake. In spite of these concerns, oil companies have fought to expand storage in these obviously vulnerable caverns.

Figures show 12 other salt caverns with thin walls

At least 12 salt-dome caverns in Louisiana are as close to the edge of their supporting underground formations as the one that collapsed last year and caused a huge sinkhole in Assumption Parish.

Data given to The Advocate by the state shows those 12 caverns, along with 15 others, would violate proposed rules mandating a buffer zone to ensure caverns are structurally sound.

BP, judge trade barbs over Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement

Late last week, BP PLC (NYSE: BP) and Judge Carl Barbier, who is presiding over the London-based company’s Deepwater Horizon legal matters, traded some strong words.

The exchange stems from BP’s latest attempt to reduce the amount it’s paying to claimants in its civil settlement related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP: Insurance policy should cover us for Gulf oil spill

In ongoing legal battles over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP PLC is trying a new strategy: getting its oil rig owner’s insurer to pay for it.

Holidays on the Oil Spill Front Lines

This will be J.J. Creppel’s last Thanksgiving at his home in Plaquemines Parish, a sliver of marshy land that juts out from the southeast corner of Louisiana and hugs the Mississippi River as it empties into the Gulf of Mexico. But J.J. says after 60 years, he’s finally leaving the Cajun fishing community he loves so dearly. For many like him, life has changed since the BP oil disaster errupted more than three years ago. “The oil spill finished off the shrimp,” he says in a whisper.

‘Petcoke’ piling up in Midwest, raising residents’ ire

The images are startling. Billowing black clouds darken the daytime sky as wind-driven grit pelts homes and cars and forces bewildered residents to take cover.

The onslaught, captured in photos and video footage from Detroit and Chicago this year, was caused by the same thing: Brisk winds sweeping across huge black piles of petroleum coke, or “petcoke,” a powdery byproduct of oil refining that’s been accumulating along Midwest shipping channels and sparking a new wave of health and environmental concerns.

Petcoke class action lawsuit names BP, four other defendants

A Chicago law firm has filed a class action lawsuit against BP, Hammond-based Beemsterboer Slag Corp. and three other companies over the petroleum coke that has been stored along the Calumet River.

The Pavich law firm announced late Monday it is pursuing the litigation on behalf of five residents on Chicago’s Southeast Side, where people have expressed concerns about large exposed piles of petcoke, a dusty byproduct of oil refining at the BP Whiting Refinery. The suit alleges that BP, Beemsterboer, KCBX Corp., Koch Carbon Co. and KM Railways LLC should have done more to prevent the powdery industrial byproduct from blowing into homes and properties.

VIDEO – Shattered by Oil: Exxon Arkansas Spill and the People Left Behind, Part 2

On March 29, 2013, ExxonMobil’s 850-mile Pegasus oil pipeline split open and spilled 210,000 gallons of Canadian dilbit across an Arkansas suburb.

The oil spill was a wake-up call about aging pipelines and specifically about the Pegasus, a 65-year-old line that most people near the spill site didn’t know existed. The pipe crisscrosses 13 Arkansas counties and 18 drinking water sources on its way to Texas—including the Maumelle watershed, a water source for 400,000 people in Central Arkansas. The rupture happened just eight pipeline miles from Maumelle.

Families Abandon the Town of Mayflower, Arkansas after Exxon Oil Spill

On March the 29th 2013, an ExxonMobil pipeline carrying heavy crude oil from Canada’s oil sands ruptured in a quiet neighbourhood of Mayflower, Arkansas, spilling between 5,000 and 7,000 barrels of oil.

Whilst the clean-up began almost immediately, the neighbourhood of Northwood has now become a prime example of why so many US property owners fight to prevent oil companies laying pipelines across their land.

It is now eight months since the spill and nearly half of the residents of Northwood have put up their houses for sale as they look to escape the area and begin their lives anew. April Lane, a community health worker who was helping the spill victims, said that “the area is blanketed with ‘For Sale’ signs,” with 29 of the development’s 62 homes on the market, of already sold to ExxonMobil under their buy-out program.

Industry Should Cover Social Cost of Oilsands, Experts Say

It was less than six months ago that a handful of energy companies resorted to selling off portions of their stake in the oil patch after failing to garner the kind of investor support they needed to fund major projects.

The costs of development in the oilsands is increasing due to material and labour shortages in Alberta and limited real estate. According to reports by the Petroleum Human Resources Council of Canada, the industry is effectively innovating itself out of the labour market, expanding beyond what the available pool of skilled labour can support.

How safe are Louisiana’s underground pipelines?

Louisiana’s integrated system of underground oil and gas pipelines crisscrosses every major highway, railroad and navigable waterway in the state, according to the Department of Natural Resources.  Some industry watchdogs say recent explosions and fires raise concerns about efforts to protect the system.

Keystone Pipeline Saga Still Has Several More Chapters

Settle back into your seat and get comfortable, because the next rounds in the Keystone XL pipeline fight are going to require digging into documents spanning thousands of pages, or at least waiting until someone else does it for you.

The next two steps in the protracted regulatory review process will be the State Department’s release of two documents: the final environmental impact statement and a related inspector general’s report. The IG for State has been investigating whether any conflict of interest exists between the company that did the administration’s environmental review and TransCanada, the company seeking to build the cross-border pipeline from Alberta to Texas.

Lolo Forest wants to remove unused sections of Yellowstone Pipeline

Lolo National Forest officials want to remove three sections of the Yellowstone Pipeline between Missoula and Thompson Falls that haven’t been used since 1995.

“When we realized it was still inactive, we approached the company and said you either need to put it back in service or put up plans to remove it,” Missoula District Ranger Paul Matter said Monday. “If they’re not going to use it, we want the uses above it to go back to a more natural condition.”

U.N. nuclear agency begins review of Japan’s Fukushima plant

U.N. nuclear experts arrived in Japan on Monday to assess the decommissioning of the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant and the operator’s progress in removing fuel rods from a destroyed reactor building and minimizing leaks of contaminated water.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.’s watchdog for nuclear power, is conducting its second review of plans for decommissioning that may take four decades after the world’s worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

INSIGHT: ‘Troika of irresponsibility’ behind Fukushima water crisis

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s shortcomings, the Finance Ministry’s stubbornness and the industry ministry’s need for a scapegoat combined to create the radioactive water crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

And while the three key players refuse to be held accountable for Japan’s worst nuclear disaster, this “troika of irresponsibility” is still bickering over the cleanup process as contaminated water continues to leak into the plant ground and the ocean.

At Fukushima hearing, all speakers criticize state secrets bill

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party invited Namie Mayor Tamotsu Baba to speak about the state secrets protection bill, expecting support by a leader near the Fukushima nuclear disaster site to quell criticism against the legislation.

Crippled Fukushima: dangerous operation to remove fuel rods from reactor begins

Workers at Japan’s crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant have started removing fuel rods from the storage pool near the roof of the plant’s fourth reactor that suffered a series of hydrogen explosions in the wake of the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

The unprecedented and extremely risky operation is supposed to last almost a year during which TEPCO, the plant’s operator, plans to remove more than 1,500 spent fuel rods assemblies from a damaged cooling pool situated 18 meters above ground with packing radiation thousands of times higher than normal. Each assembly is 4.5 m long and weighs about 300 kg.

Fukushima nuclear disaster causes cancer and birth defects in US newborns – epidemiologist

After the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan, little attention was paid to how the radiation leaks can affect the health of children who live in the US. Joseph Mangano, epidemiologist and Executive Director of the Radiation and Public Health Project research group, speaks with the Voice of Russia about the study that showed that kids born after 2010 have some 26% percent higher risks to have cancer and birth defects. But the US keep silent on the problem.

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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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