Environmental Must-Reads – November 3, 2014


Offshore fracking: Questions about its extent, oversight

Fracking, the drilling technique that’s driven a boom in land-based shale gas production, has sparked environmental concerns and public outcry, from Pennsylvania to St. Tammany Parish, La.

But fracking is also expanding offshore, in the Gulf of Mexico, with hardly anyone noticing.

Record Number of Anti-Fracking Measures on Nov. 4 Ballots

Eight towns and counties across the country are taking their health and environmental concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to the ballot boxes next week.

That’s apparently a record number for a single election day, according to experts who spoke to InsideClimate News.

Colorado considers fracking’s future

After five towns in Colorado voted to ban fracking in 2012, it seemed the tide had turned against the process. But two years on, it’s a very different story.

Colorado is one of the crucial “swing states” that will determine if control of the US Senate passes to Republicans during next week’s mid-term elections.

But the most contentious issue of all – what to do with the state’s vast oil and gas resources – has been deemed too radioactive for a vote during this election.

A County Resents Oil Drilling, Despite the Money It Brings In

Dennis Seidenberger has farmed cotton for 49 years in this close-knit community 40 miles southeast of Midland. Farming is a way of life that he passed on to his son, and one that he hopes will stay in the family for generations.

But his outlook has changed over the past three years as a surge in oil drilling has transformed Glasscock County, where he lives.

“They’ve totally ruined our way of life here,” Mr. Seidenberger said. “I don’t know if I’ll ever get over it.”

Duke researchers say fracking taxes pay for driling-related local public services

Shale gas drilling generates sufficient taxes and fees to cover the costs of local government services, such as road repair, waste water services and emergency services, according to a study by Duke University researchers.

Richard Newell and Daniel Raimi of Duke’s Energy Initiative concluded that regions with active drilling generally experience financial benefits from fracking activity.

Cancer causing air toxins detected at frack sites

A peer reviewed study published Thursday in the journal Environmental Health reveals dangerous levels of air toxins near fracking operations. The carcinogen formaldehyde was the most common chemical found to exceed federal safety levels, according to Denny Larson, one of the report’s authors. Larson works with the nonprofit Global Community Monitor.

“The number of [chemicals] that we found near these sites are alarming,” said Larson in a call with reporters. “They are, as the title of our report clearly says, a warning sign.”

Report warns of illegal drilling on federal land

Across the oil and gas rich plains of North Dakota and Oklahoma, more and more wells are popping up. And more and more of them use a technology called “horizontal drilling,” which allows drillers to bore sideways as well as vertically – multiplying the amount of oil or gas extracted many times over. By marrying this technique with hydraulic fracturing (shooting water, sand and chemicals into underground rock to release their energy stores), U.S. production has soared to unprecedented levels. But while that’s good news for the economy, it’s leaving regulators several steps behind.

Installation of radiation detectors at 6 West Virginia landfills nearly complete

The installation of devices that detect radiation in natural gas drilling waste is nearly complete at six West Virginia landfills, a state Department of Environmental Protection official said.

Legislation passed earlier this year requires radiation monitoring of drill cuttings by January and set aside the maximum amount of weight that these landfills could accept.

Environmental Groups Back Some Candidates Who Resist Goals

Environmental groups are spending a record amount of money for a midterm election, with the goal of keeping the Senate out of Republican hands. But in the process, they are backing Democrats who oppose some of the environmentalists’ top goals, including stopping the Keystone XL pipeline and curbing fracking for oil and natural gas.

Environmental groups want Farmington’s BLM Field Office to pause issuing permits for oil and gas wells

Officials with the Bureau of Land Management say they will organize an internal committee to respond to a letter from environmentalists that calls for the bureau to stop issuing oil and gas drilling permits until an environmental analysis is complete.

The San Juan Citizens Alliance, the Chaco Alliance, WildEarth Guardians and the Western Environmental Law Center sent a 34-page letter to the bureau on Monday outlining issues with BLM’s Farmington Field Office and its approval of Mancos Shale drilling permits.

3 California counties voting on fracking bans

Voters in three coastal California counties vote Tuesday on whether to ban fracking and other intensive oil production, even as slumping prices globally are leading companies to start to scale back on production.

Chevron, ExxonMobil and other oil companies have donated about $7 million to try to defeat the fracking bans in Santa Barbara, San Benito and Monterey counties. In Santa Barbara and San Benito counties, the ballot measures would ban not only fracking — a method of injecting water and chemicals into rock at high pressure to force out oil — but one of the most commonly used drilling methods in the state, steam injection.

Why Oil And Gas Giants Are Trying To Buy Three Local Elections In California

Santa Barbara rose to prominence in the environmental movement after a massive 1969 offshore oil spill drew national attention to the issue and changed the industry forever. Since then, the city and broader region has been a leader in environmental awareness, even as it sits on massive fossil fuel deposits. With residents set to vote on an anti-fracking ballot measure Tuesday, the next evolution in that ongoing dynamic could be one of the biggest turning points yet.

BP Steps Up Legal Assault on Gulf Spill Settlement Administrator

BP has produced more evidence of alleged conflicts of interest swirling around the court-appointed Louisiana lawyer who’s handing out billions of settlement dollars related to the company’s 2010 oil spill. The lawyer, Patrick Juneau of Lafayette, La., counters that BP is feigning outrage to arrest a claims-payment process that’s proving more expensive than anticipated. The oil company, Juneau contends, has known for years about his home state loyalties, which he characterizes as innocuous.

Oil spill cleanup continues in Caddo Parish

Officials say that 3,450 barrels of oil have been recovered from an Oct. 13 oil spill along Tete Bayou in Caddo Parish.

About 4,000 barrels of oil spilled from a rupture in the Mid-Valley pipeline owned by Sunoco Logistics Partners. It carries crude oil from Longview, Texas to Samaria, Michigan.

Deaths of Galveston Bay clams may signal trouble

From the boat slips of this Chambers County hamlet, Galveston Bay looks just as beautiful as ever, with the sun rising from the flat-line horizon to cast a greenish-blue tint on the calm waters.

But the view masks a troubling reality: The bay isn’t as alive as it once was.

Deepwater Horizon: Life Drowning in Oil

On April 20, 2010, the Deepwater Horizon oil rig bursted into flames in the Gulf of Mexico, claiming eleven lives and causing the biggest petroleum spill in this country’s history. In the following three months, while the sea-floor oil gusher oozed out 2.4 million gallons a day, the accidental tragedy captured this nation’s attention. And for a brief moment before the capping on July 15, it seemed change and progress were not just platitudes propagated by pandering politicians, but genuinely possible.

Seabird losses from Deepwater Horizon oil spill estimated at hundreds of thousands

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill is often cited as the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history—yet its impacts on the marine life of the Gulf of Mexico have gone largely undetermined. Now, new findings published this month in Marine Ecology Progress Series estimate that the number of seabirds lost as a result of the spill may number well into the hundreds of thousands. Birds are especially vulnerable to oil, which can coat their feathers and cause death by dehydration, starvation, or drowning. Seabird mortalities can easily be underestimated following a spill as bodies are lost at sea or go undiscovered. So researchers turned to two different estimation methods—one whereby total mortalities were estimated from the actual number of dead birds recovered, and another in which information on the geographic extent of the oil slick and seabird densities were used to estimate potential mortalities. The scientists found that although the two approaches were based on different data sets, they returned roughly similar estimates of 600,000 and 800,000 oil-related seabird deaths, respectively.

Exxon Fighting to Keep Public From Seeing 900,000 Pages of Documents in Oil Spill Lawsuit

Oil giant ExxonMobil is seeking “unprecedented secrecy” by labeling nearly 900,000 pages of documents as confidential in a class action lawsuit over an oil pipeline rupture in Arkansas, an attorney said in a new court filing.

The attorney, Tom Thrash, said Exxon’s blanket assertion of confidentiality prevents affected property owners and the public from learning whether Exxon had properly maintained and repaired the 1940s-era Pegasus oil pipeline at the heart of the case, and it has forced him to file his arguments under seal.

Plaintiffs accuse Exxon of stifling oil spill case

Plaintiffs in an oil spill lawsuit against Exxon Mobil want documents in the case to be public.

The plaintiffs’ attorneys say the oil company has declared every single page of 872,000 pages about the maintenance and repair of the Pegasus pipeline confidential. They filed a motion on Monday in U.S. District Court, asking a federal judge to order Exxon Mobil to “show cause why any document produced to date is entitled to confidentiality.”

Pipeline breaks have cost Sunoco millions

Oil is flowing once again through a 1,000-mile pipeline that almost four weeks ago spilled thousands of barrels of crude onto acres of private land and into a bayou, stopping just short of a major body of water.

The U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), the federal regulatory agency that oversees and investigates pipeline incidents across the nation, permitted Sunoco Logistics’ Mid-Valley Pipeline to resume 80 percent of maximum operating pressure until the investigation into the cause of the oil spill is complete, Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said.

In the path of the pipeline Part 1: In Nebraska, the Keystone fight is personal

The only sign of the six-year fight over the 400 acres of land that belong to Shannon and Kevin Graves is a wooden stick on the edge of a cornfield across from their modest home, located down a dirt road about an hour west of Lincoln.

The stick marks where a section of the Keystone XL pipeline may one day be laid

Plains Bedfellows Part 2: In South Dakota, a new alliance of ranchers and Native Americans fights the Keystone pipeline

Pipelines break. They don’t break often, but when they do, the result can be catastrophic.

That’s what worries John Harter, a rancher who grew up in this rural, poor and conservative area of southern South Dakota. Harter, 51, still lives here, and owns land that the Keystone XL pipeline would cross if it’s ever approved.

Harter points to the 2010 spill of 860,000 gallons of tar sand oil from a pipeline crossing the Kalamazoo River in Michigan when people ask what he’s fighting against. Enbridge, the company which owned the pipeline, just finished cleaning up that spill this summer. A similar amount of that same kind of oil could be flowing at high pressure past Harter’s ranch each day if TransCanada’s Keystone XL is built.

Waiting for Keystone Part 3: In southeastern Montana, the pipeline can’t get here fast enough

As many people here see it, the keys to unlocking Montana’s full economic potential are just 40 miles beyond the state’s eastern border, out of the reach of even Montana’s most powerful politicians.

There, in a dirt field in Gascoyne, North Dakota, sit hundreds of segments of 36-inch-wide pipe, each painted pale green to prevent rust and stamped with the letters “KXL.’’

Enbridge denied request to not explore alternate pipeline routes

The Sandpiper pipeline will remain in limbo until the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission can review all outstanding petitions, the body decided Thursday.

The commission denied a motion by the North Dakota Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Canada-based Enbridge, to reconsider a late August order to review one of several alternate pipeline routes. NDPC argued the particular system alternative in question – designated SA-03 – is unreasonable because it is longer, less efficient and has more of an environmental impact than the company’s original proposed route.

Feds up Arctic oil estimates to satisfy court

The Obama administration is quadrupling its estimate of how much crude could be harvested from Arctic drilling leases it sold oil companies six years ago.

The move — part of a draft environmental impact statement issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Friday — is designed to shield that disputed 2008 auction and the Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases sold during it from further legal scrutiny.

Agency now says 2008 Arctic leases hold 4.3 billion barrels of oil

The Obama administration is quadrupling its estimate of how much crude could be harvested from Arctic drilling leases it sold oil companies six years ago.

The revision – part of a draft environmental impact statement issued by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on Friday – is designed to address a legal challenge to Chukchi Sea oil and gas leases sold during that disputed 2008 auction.

Seeing a New Future for French Nuclear Site, After the Toxic Dust Has Settled

On a walk through her garden on a recent afternoon, Lisa Leclerc ran a Geiger counter over her mushrooms.

“See, normal,” she said, looking at a reading showing ordinary background levels of radiation.

The reading may have been normal, but the situation perhaps was not. The garden was tidy, the hanging baskets well-tended. But the neat spot where Ms. Leclerc had set up her patio furniture was not a typical garden. It was a corner of a former nuclear weapons testing site.

The Trouble With That Noxious Haze At The Illinois Nuclear-Fuel Plant

The main threat from uranium hexafluoride, the gas that leaked at a Honeywell plant in Metropolis IL on Sunday night, does not derive from its radioactivity, but from its chemical toxicity, according to studies of people who have been exposed accidentally and animals who have been exposed intentionally.

“The carcinogenic hazard from radiation exposure is negligible compared with the chemical toxicity from acute inhalation exposure to UF6,” as uranium hexafluoride is commonly known, according to a 2004 report on the “Acute Exposure Guideline Levels for Selected Airborne Chemicals” prepared by the National Research Council of the National Academies of Science.

In U.S. Cleanup Efforts, Accident at Nuclear Site Points to Cost of Lapses

Earlier this year, a violent chemical reaction at a New Mexico facility that stores waste from the making of plutonium bombs broke open a storage drum and sprayed the waste into the air, leading to the closure of the repository.

Fortunately, the incident on Feb. 4 at the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, near Carlsbad, N.M., happened at night when operations were limited; no workers were injured beyond a very small radiation exposure, and only a very small amount of radioactive waste leaked into the environment.

After Fukushima, Japan gets green boom — and glut

Like other Japanese who were banking on this country’s sweeping move toward clean energy, Junichi Oba is angry.

Oba, a consultant, had hoped to supplement his future retirement income in a guilt-free way and invested $200,000 in a 50-kilowatt solar-panel facility, set up earlier this year in a former rice paddy near his home in southwestern Japan.

But Kyushu Electric Power Co., the utility to which he must sell his electricity, has recently placed on hold all new applications for getting on its grid. Four other utilities have made the same announcement, and two more announced partial restrictions.

Learning the tragic lesson of Fukushima: No nuclear restart at Sendai

In March 2011, Japan suffered the worst nuclear catastrophe in a generation, with triple reactor core meltdowns and exploded containment buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant.

The catastrophe was a stern warning about the perils of depending on nuclear power.

Legislation to promote renewable energy has meant the number of solar power installations has rocketed. With reactors going offline and being unable to restart due in large part to public opposition, Japanese citizens have enjoyed over a year in which no nuclear power plant has operated.

Haruki Murakami says Japan ignoring WWII, Fukushima role

Japanese writer Haruki Murakami has chided his country for shirking responsibility for its World War II aggression and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in an interview published Monday.

Speaking to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, the 65-year-old author said: “No one has taken real responsibility for the 1945 war end or the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear accident. I feel so.” “After the war, it was eventually concluded that no one was wrong,” said Murakami of the pervasive attitude in Japan.

Japan’s Natural Perils and Promises, in the Wake of Fukushima

Writing in 1958 of the country he so loved, with its “mighty volcanic convulsions”, Sir George depicts the physical drama of peaks soaring two miles above and plunging five miles below sea level, and wisely cautions that “so immense a range of elevation within short lateral distances develops such stresses that this part of the earth’s crust is a highly unstable area….”

The Japan Landslide Society simply calls this archipelago the “Scar-Laden Islands.”

In August this year we witnessed at close range just how scar-laden: massive rains and landslides brought down entire mountaintops in many suburbs of Hiroshima, killing scores. The tragedy could well happen in other parts of the country.

METI chief Miyazawa pays first visit to Fukushima No. 1 plant

New trade and industry minister Yoichi Miyazawa paid a visit to the disaster-hit Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant over the weekend, his first since replacing Yuko Obuchi, who resigned in October over a funding scandal.

Miyazawa visited the wrecked plant on Saturday before going to Kagoshima Prefecture to push for the restart of idled reactors there, apparently to fend off criticism that he places greater importance on promoting restarts than dealing with the societal fallout from the triple meltdown in Fukushima.

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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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