Environmental Must-Reads – October 13, 2014


Washington County drilling hearing raises conflicts over contamination

Loren “Buzz” Kiskadden first noticed a water problem at his house trailer in rural Amwell Township, Washington County, while using a hose to fill a wading pool for his grandchildren in June 2011.

“A gray sludge was filing up the bottom of the pool. It was just nasty,” said Mr. Kiskadden, 55, in testimony before the state Environmental Hearing Board last week in Pittsburgh. “I shut the water off and told the kids not to get in it.”

How scientists overlooked a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane over the Southwest (+video)

Scientists have identified the largest hotspot of methane gas in the United States hovering over the Four Corners region of the Southwest, and the find could have big implications for how the country tracks its emissions in the future.

Scientists first noticed the data years ago amid satellite measurements collected by the European Space Agency’s Scanning Imaging Absorption Spectrometer for Atmospheric Chartography (SCIAMACHY) instrument. The SCIAMACHY instrument collected atmospheric data over the US from 2002 to 2012. The bright red patch over the Four Corners persisted throughout the study period, but the readings were so extreme scientists still waited several more years before investigating the region in detail.

Huge Methane Emissions ‘Hot Spot’ Found in U.S.

The largest concentration of methane emissions seen in the U.S. over the past decade has been detected by satellite over the the most active coal-bed methane production area in the country — the Four Corners area of New Mexico, Colorado, Utah and Arizona, according to a new study published Thursday.

The hotspot, which predates the current hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, boom in the region, is over the San Juan Basin, where energy companies have been drilling and producing natural gas from methane deposits found in underground coal seams for many years. The natural gas is composed of more than 95 percent methane.

Satellites reveal massive methane leaks in Four Corners region

Researchers using satellite data have pinpointed New Mexico’s San Juan Basin as a major source of leaking methane in the United States.

The region was responsible for 10 percent of all the methane emissions from the natural gas sector in the country, according to a study published yesterday in Geophysical Research Letters. If gas, coal mining and petroleum sectors are included, the San Juan Basin was responsible for 5 percent of the emissions.

More than 100,000 public comments urge changes in NC’s proposed fracking rules

The N.C. Mining and Energy Commission is plowing through a mountain of public comments on its proposed fracking standards with less than a month left to fine-tune the safety rules for shale gas drilling.

State officials estimate that more than 100,000 comments flooded in by the Sept. 30 deadline and the finally tally could approach 200,000, said Jamie Kritzer, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Marcellus Shale drillers still tout water impoundments after record fine

When the state Department of Environmental Protection upgraded design standards for Marcellus Shale water impoundments in early 2011, Range Resources had just completed construction of eight centralized frack ponds in the previous two years using now-outdated technology.

The ambitious construction timeline by Range in 2009 and 2010 to aid the burgeoning natural gas drilling industry resulted in leaks and other problems at all of the company’s centralized water impoundments in Washington County and the largest-ever fine levied by the DEP against a Marcellus Shale driller.

Fracking and quakes

Dishes rattle; walls crack. In earthquake-prone Japan people know what is happening. In Texas, these tremors are something new, and people are trying to understand their relationship to hydraulic fracturing, commonly called “fracking.” Fracking requires vast quantities of wastewater to be injected underground.

Residents, scientists, oil and gas executives and environmentalists across the state are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Thankfully, Texas – a global leader in oil and gas know-how – is looking into the facts.

In Texas, Traffic Deaths Climb Amid Fracking Boom

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has unlocked huge reserves of oil and gas in shale formations in many states. The biggest winner, in terms of new jobs, has been Texas.

But an investigation by Houston Public Media and the Houston Chronicle shows Texas highways have become the nation’s deadliest amid a fracking boom.

Shelby Twp. drilling operation hits close to home

How oil and gas drilling can impact nearby residents came joltingly into focus last July, when a 109-foot well went in Macomb County’s Shelby Township less than 500 feet from homes.

“They drilled for three weeks, 24-7,” said Gail Hammill, a resident of neighboring Rochester Hills and a member of the grassroots Don’t Drill the Hills group, opposing drilling on city property planned in Rochester Hills.

Landowners state their case on fracking

In all the discussions about hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the voices of residents who have leased land for gas drilling are about the only ones who have not been heard publicly.

Landowners in five counties—Caroline, Essex, King George, King and Queen and Westmoreland counties—have signed up 84,000 acres of their property to Shore Exploration and Production Corp. for possible drilling of natural gas.

Susan G. Komen partnership with Baker Hughes stirs online outrage

The Susan G. Komen foundation might want to rethink its partnership with oilfield services company Baker Hughes.

On Oct. 3., the foundation announced it would coat thousands of the company’s drill bits used for hydraulic fracturing with pink paint to help spread breast cancer awareness to the oil field. But outrage has been building on social media, with some commenters pointing out that at least one study has linked the chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process with an increased risk of breast cancer.

Groups call for halt to wastewater disposal in Oklahoma

A coalition of environmental groups on Friday called on Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin to enact a one-year moratorium on the underground injection of wastewater by the oil and natural gas industry.

Injection wells have been linked to the state’s increasing seismic activity, putting residents’ safety and property at risk, organizers said.

“Oklahoma has become the largest earthquake state in the country now, surpassing California,” said Earl Hatley, of the Grand Riverkeeper. “Our earthquakes, we know, are man-made.”

Industry talking another oil boom in Wyoming

Dan Coolidge has been on this ride before.

“We have ups, we have downs. It all cycles through then comes back again,” said Coolidge, a Campbell County commissioner and third-generation oil and gas producer. “What’s happening with oil now I saw coming.”

Dilemma in the Marcellus Shale: How to dispose of radioactive oil and gas waste?

A few months ago, a Marcellus Shale operator approached Leong Ying, business development manager at the radiation measurement division of Thermo Fisher Scientific, with a problem.

The driller, whom Mr. Ying declined to name, was trying to dispose of oil and gas waste at area landfills but the trucks kept tripping radiation alarms.

Big oil opens wallet to fight fracking bans

Oil producers are pumping millions of dollars to fight proposed fracking bans on the Nov. 4 ballot in California communities, including in San Benito County.

Chevron Corp., ExxonMobil, Occidental Petroleum Corp. and more are the major donors behind a political action group that is sole funder of the campaign against a proposal to halt high-intensity oil production in San Benito County. Known as Measure J, it has become a flash point in a statewide debate over the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Following the flow of oil spill fine money

Now that the $100 million in BP early restoration dollars have been allocated with the Oct. 3 announcement that $42.1 million worth of projects have been approved for the Pensacola area, the state along with the counties impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill are focusing on how to spend future pots of oil spill fine money.

There are five main pots of money dedicated to helping Gulf Coast communities recover from the disaster between which various percentages of civil and administrative fine money will be parceled out to federal agencies, states, and counties impacted by the oil spill. The scientific and academic communities also get a share of the funds.

15,000 litres of crude oil spilled at Lévis refinery

Quebec’s environment ministry says 15,000 litres of crude oil have been spilled from a tank at the Jean-Gaulin refinery in Lévis.

The ministry put out a statement Saturday afternoon saying Urgence-Environnement is on the scene of the spill at the plant, which is owned by Valero Energy.

“The measures necessary to ensure the safety of people, and protection of the environment have been implemented,” said the statement from the Ministry of Sustainable Development, Environment and the Fight against Climate Change.

Jean-Gaulin refinery oil spill contained, was just “a spot of oil”

A Lévis oil refinery was the scene of a crude oil spill Saturday, though original spillage estimates are expected to be re-evaluated and substantially lowered.

Refinery owners, Énergie Valero, originally reported about 15,000 litres of crude were spilled, but later said in a press release that number could not be confirmed “as it was a significantly inferior volume that actually spilled,” although the company did not provide an updated figure.

Colombian Farmers Sue BP Over Pipeline’s Environmental Impact: FT

Seventy-three farmers from Colombia are suing BP Plc alleging the company negligently managed the construction of the Ocensa oil pipeline in Colombia during the mid-1990s, which caused severe damage to their land, the Financial Times reported.

The group of farmers, called “campesinos,” claim pipeline construction activities by British company Equion Energia, formerly BP Exploration (Colombia) Limited, severely reduced the productivity of their farms, and are seeking about 18 million pounds ($28.93 million) in compensation, the FT reported.

The Keystone XL Pipeline: An International Town Hall

From America Abroad, a cross-border town hall featuring a host from the CBC in Canada and a host from PBS in the United States… and guests who explore the controversial issues involved in the Keystone XL Pipeline project.

The economic costs and benefits of oil or tar sands, and the environmental and property rights concerns.

Enbridge Line 9 reversal pushed back by energy watchdog

The startup of Enbridge Inc.’s newly reversed Line 9 pipeline has been delayed by at least a few months as the National Energy Board (NEB) seeks greater assurances that waterways along its route will be protected.

The federal energy watchdog said in a letter this week it’s “not persuaded” the Calgary-based pipeline giant is meeting one of the conditions it attached to its approval of the project in March.

As Trains Move Oil Bonanza, Delays Mount for Other Goods and Passengers

An energy boom that has created a sharp increase in rail freight traffic nationwide is causing major delays for Amtrak passenger trains and is holding up the transport of vital consumer and industrial goods, including chemicals, coal and hundreds of thousands of new American cars, rail officials and federal and state regulators say.

American rail lines now move more than a million barrels of oil a day, much of it from the Bakken shale oil field in North Dakota and Montana and from the oil sands of Alberta, Canada. Last year about 415,000 rail cars filled with crude oil moved through the United States, compared with 9,500 in 2008, according to the Surface Transportation Board, a bipartisan body with oversight of the nation’s railroads.

Seattle firefighters train to deal with oil train incidents

About two dozen Seattle firefighters received training Wednesday on responding to incidents involving trains carrying crude oil.

BNSF Railway plans to locate a new mobile foam trailer in Seattle, and about a dozen firefighters got a chance to see how that equipment works at the company’s Seattle rail yard.

CSX train crash offers reminder of rail dangers

The CSX freight train that crashed into a car just north of Bear Mountain last week served as yet another reminder of the danger on the rails.

Sixteen cars on the 121-car train were carrying hazardous materials but none of them left the tracks or spilled any of their contents, which included commercial chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide, sodium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid and sulfuric acid, CSX said.

N.Y. emergency responders warned to stay away from burning oil trains

The New York Office of Fire Prevention and Control is insisting that emergency responders stay away from burning oil trains if no human lives are at stake and if there are more than three containers on fire, according to a report by Capital.

Both the U.S. and Canadian governments have found that the DOT-111, the tanker car most commonly used to ship oil, is prone to punctures in the event of a derailment. These rail cars have been involved in some of the most serious oil train accidents in recent years, including a derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada which resulted in the deaths of 47 people.

Tritium up tenfold in Fukushima groundwater after Typhoon Phanfone

The radioactive water woes at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant got worse over the weekend after the tritium concentration in a groundwater sample surged more than tenfold this month.

A spokesman for Tokyo Electric Power Co. said Saturday that heavy rain caused by Typhoon Phanfone probably affected the groundwater after the storm whipped through Japan last week.

Fukushima n-power plant prepares for typhoon Vongfong

The accident-stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant is bracing itself for the arrival of powerful typhoon Vongfong that made landfall in southern Japan Monday and could reach the plant Tuesday, authorities said.

The plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) Monday said it had installed gutters on the upper part of the tanks storing contaminated water from the plant and reinforced and increased their height to prevent any overflow of the water due to the expected rainfall.

Is Fukushima capable of withstanding a super typhoon?

The massive storm named Vongfong is expected to be near South Korea and Japan some time over the weekend, just days after the Japanese archipelago was struck by another typhoon which claimed the lives of at least six people. The Japan Meteorological Agency was quoted as saying that Vongfong’s strength was “very much similar” to that of Haiyan, which ravaged the Philippines last November, leaving nearly 8,000 people dead or missing when gusts of around 300 kilometers (190 miles) per hour tore through the country.

Japan Pitches Nuclear Restart In Tightly Controlled Townhalls

As part of a plan to restart its nuclear industry, Japan on Thursday began a controversial consultation process with local residents near idled reactors that was criticized for failing to give everyone in the region a say.

More than a year after Japan’s last reactor was shut down in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster, officials began a series of townhall meetings to explain the approval process that cleared the Sendai plant in the southwest of the country for restart.

Freezing out Fukushima’s radioactive water

It’s been more than three-and-a-half years since the earthquake and tsunami that rocked northern Japan in March 2011, crippling the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, a disaster that continues to unfold to this day.

Engineers at the Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), which owns the plant, still have a mammoth task in front of them: How to deal with millions of litres of water full of radiation resulting from the catastrophe.

How a pregnant Fukushima plant official remained at her station as the disaster unfolded

For Airi Ide, leaving the Fukushima No. 1 power plant in the midst of the nuclear crisis was the hardest thing to do. She desperately wanted to continue helping her colleagues bring the reactors under control.

The problem was, her condition would not let her.

Ide, 28, was four months pregnant and an operator at the No. 5 and 6 reactors.

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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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