Environmental Must-Reads – October 27, 2014


Drilling Deeper: New Report Casts Doubt on Fracking Production Numbers

Post Carbon Institute has published a report calling into question the production statistics touted by promoters of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”). By calculating the production numbers on a well-by-well basis for shale gas and tight oil fields throughout the U.S., Post Carbon concludes that the future of fracking is not nearly as bright as industry cheerleaders suggest.

The report, “Drilling Deeper: A Reality Check on U.S. Government Forecasts for a Lasting Tight Oil & Shale Gas Boom,” authored by Post Carbon fellow J. David Hughes, updates an earlier report he authored for Post Carbon in 2012.

Uncertainty still looms over fracking in Illinois

More than 15 months after Gov. Pat Quinn signed fracking legislation into law, uncertainty still hovers over the future of the controversial industry in Illinois.

Fracking supporters claim rule making for the legislation has been held up by a cumbersome commenting process set up by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources while fracking opponents view the delay as necessary to ensure a “dangerous” practice is made as safe as possible.

For 4th time, Youngstown voters asked to ban fracking

Youngstown voters have rejected the anti-fracking Community Bill of Rights charter amendment three times, but supporters says they won’t give up even if it’s defeated again in the Nov. 4 election.

“This is a long-term struggle,” said Susie Beiersdorfer, a member of the bill of rights committee. “Our local and state governments are broken. They’re putting corporations before the health, safety and property rights of citizens.”

Public Trust in Pennsylvania Regulators Erodes Further Over Flawed Fracking Study

Pennsylvania regulators used flawed methodology to conclude that air pollution from natural gas development doesn’t cause health problems. The revelation has further eroded trust in an embattled state agency.

The news was first reported Monday by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The paper cited court documents that show how air quality studies conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection in 2010 and 2011 failed to analyze the health risks of 25 chemicals. The studies also didn’t report some instances where high pollutant levels were detected.

Cuomo delays NY fracking study release until after election

Gov. Cuomo is promising to release the longest-awaited study of his administration — an analysis of the health impacts of fracking — but only after the election.

It’s one of several critical announcements on hold until after voters cast their ballots.

Cuomo disclosed during Wednesday night’s debate in Buffalo that the state Health Department, which has been studying the fracking issue for more than two years, will be releasing its findings by year’s end.

‘Bomb trains’: A crude awakening for Richmond, Calif.

The streets are quiet in Lipo Chanthanasak’s neighborhood on the outer edge of this city’s downtown core. Each of the small houses is painted a variation of beige and separated from the road by a neatly kept lawn, as if to highlight the scene’s utter normalcy. But half a mile west are the BNSF Railway tracks and the Kinder Morgan rail facility, which quietly began receiving trains of Bakken crude last year.

Chanthanasak, who moved to Richmond from Laos 24 years ago, lives within the potential blast zone should an oil train derail, according to an online map created by the environmental-advocacy group ForestEthics. The 70-year-old retiree says he only learned that crude was being transported through his community because of his involvement with the nonprofit Asian Pacific Environmental Network, or APEN. Many of his neighbors, he says, are unaware.

Legislative panel signs off on new rules for fracking

A legislative panel on Friday signed off on new rules for oil and gas companies to follow for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Nevada.

The Legislative Commission approved the regulations submitted by the state Division of Minerals. The Commission on Mineral Resources in August approved the regulations, which have drawn protests from opponents who are concerned the process could lead to groundwater contamination and excessive use of groundwater in drought-stricken Nevada.

Landfill drops request for tenfold radiation increase

A Wayne County hazardous waste landfill, under scrutiny for taking other state’s low-activity radioactive wastes from oil and gas fracking, has withdrawn a request to state regulators to increase its allowed radiation limits tenfold.

Wayne Disposal Inc., operated by USEcology in Van Buren Township, made the decision as Gov. Rick Snyder has convened a special panel looking at the state’s regulations on disposing of technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive materials, or TENORM.

In the path of pipelines

Homeowners and communities are unprepared for an invasion of their cherished private yards and public spaces.

The Mid-Atlantic region is facing an expansion of natural gas transport infrastructure that threatens communities’ health, safety and homes. With increased hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and plans to export liquefied natural gas (LNG), the gas industry needs supporting infrastructure. Beyond drilling wells, energy companies are building compressor stations and laying thousands of miles of pipelines.

Colorado task force tours Weld County drilling, fracking sites

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. employee Felicia Yuen poured a gooey plasma from one styrofoam cup to another in the control room of a unique kind of fracking site Friday as members of the governor’s oil and gas task force looked on.

Pat Quinn, the former mayor of Broomfield, pointed to the substance in the cups. The goo is called a “crosslinker” in fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, lingo. It makes up only a fraction of a percent of the overall liquid that oil and gas companies pump into the ground to fracture oil-producing shale.

Marcellus expert says more scrutiny needed of fracking near Marshall chemical plant

One of the nation’s best-known experts on the Marcellus Shale concluded that more investigation is needed before a Houston firm is allowed to move forward with natural gas wells near the site of a “near-catastrophic” fracking incident at a Marshall County chemical plant.

Penn State geologist Terry Engelder, who did groundbreaking work about the gas reserves available in the Marcellus formation, testified in a Pennsylvania case in which Axiall Corp. was trying to delay and force a more detailed review of its plans for hydraulic fracturing wells at Axiall’s manufacturing plant in Natrium.

Pulaski delays wellpad decision

The Pulaski supervisors delayed approval of a new wellpad after a resident questioned whether legal requirements had been met.

The hearing Wednesday was on a request submitted by Hilcorp Energy Co. of Texas to drill seven horizontal gas wells on farmland owned by Lorrie D. Speir-Chrastina on Old Pulaski Road.

It’s Tough To Turn Frack Water into Profits

Oil and gas fracking produces huge volumes of dirty, difficult to handle wastewater. Now businesses are developing technologies to clean it up. But Reid Frazier of the Allegheny Front reports profits can be elusive.

BP Demands Release of McGladrey’s Audit of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Claims

British Petroleum has filed a legal motion against the administrator of the claims settlement program set up to deal with victims of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico from its Deepwater Horizon oil-drilling rig to force him to release the results of an audit by McGladrey LLP that is costing BP more than $14 million.

The motion was filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, according to a source close to BP.

To save Louisiana’s coast, protect our Restore Act funds

Louisianans received good news this month, in the form of an announcement from the U.S. Department of Treasury that BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines will begin flowing to the Gulf Coast states impacted by the environmental catastrophe.

The money will be distributed pursuant to the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourist Opportunities, and Revived Economies of the Gulf Coast States Act, better known as the Restore Act, which sets aside 80 percent of the civil and administrative fines paid in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Yes, BP Did Damage the Gulf

In an opinion article published Tuesday, the oil giant BP would have us believe that the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster wasn’t all that bad for the Gulf of Mexico. Yes, company spokesman Geoff Morrell admits the event was a tragedy, and that, sadly, both people and wildlife perished. But he hastens to point out that the disaster’s impact was not as dire as predicted, and that recovery is already happening or perhaps complete.

Key testimony in BP oil spill ruling wasn’t excluded, DOJ says

The Justice Department says there’s ample evidence for a federal judge’s decision that BP acted recklessly in the lead up to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and that BP’s request for a new trial should be denied.

In a response to BP’s efforts to unravel the judge’s 153-page “gross negligence” ruling, the federal prosecutors argued in court documents Thursday that BP had waived its objections to key evidence that BP now claims was excluded at trial.

Oil spill cleanup makes progress, restoration still weeks away

Efforts to clean up the Sunoco oil spill in Tete Bayou, just south of Mooringsport, will enter its third week Monday.

More than 300 hundred people are still working to clean up the mess right now. As of 4 PM Sunday, 3,100 barrels worth oil have been cleaned up. It’s estimated 4,000 spilled. However, Sunoco spokesmen say the cleanup’s emergency response phase is still active. It will not be lifted until all free oil is removed. Sunoco suspects pockets of oil are still floating in the bayou or are washed up on its banks. As of last night, 460 dead animals have been collected. Those are mostly fish, crawfish and amphibians. Sunoco says it’s working with state and federal officials to ensure the best cleanup response.

‘Hundreds of spills’ show huge gaps in oil spill response: Internal B.C. government email

An alarming email from high-ranking Ministry of Environment staff proves the province is unprepared to deal with a major environmental disaster, says the NDP’s environment critic.

Email correspondence between Graham Knox, the director of B.C.’s Environmental Emergency Program, and Jim Hofweber, executive director of the Environmental Emergencies and Land Remediation Branch, on March 31, 2014 expose gaping holes in the province’s ability to monitor and respond to events such as oil spills and mine tailings breaches, and in its power to hold polluters responsible.

Red flags raised over spill damage risks at Old Harry reservoir

New warnings are being raised over proposed drilling at the Old Harry reservoir beneath the Gulf of St. Lawrence, with research that suggests an oil spill at the site could affect coastlines in Atlantic Canada.

A Radio Canada-CBC investigation in partnership with the Institut des Sciences de la Mer de Rimouski warns an oil spill could be much worse than previously thought.

Blocked on the Keystone XL, the Oil-Sands Industry Looks East

The oil-sands industry in Alberta has a problem: It’s capable of producing more oil than it can get to market. It has tried building new pipelines south into the United States—the famous Keystone XL project—and west to British Columbia. But both projects are stalled and face stiff opposition. Now a battle is heating up over the latest proposal: a 2,858-mile-long pipeline to Canada’s east coast.

The last, best chance to kill the Keystone pipeline

After six years of administrative delays and internecine fighting, environmentalists’ last best chance to kill the Keystone XL could come during a 60 day window after next month’s election and before the new Congress gets sworn in.

The Obama administration controls the approval process for now, but if Republicans win control of the Senate, as expected, they plan to fast track legislation to greenlight the controversial pipeline. That gives opponents one more chance to try to convince the president to reject the pipeline before the landscapes shifts against them, which could happen if Republicans control both chambers of Congress come January.

FERC’s final environmental review favors Constitution Pipeline

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), on Friday, published its final environmental review of the proposed 124-mile natural gas Pipeline of Constitution Pipeline Company, LLC.

The project, targeted to be complete by late 2015 or 2016, involves the construction and operation of 124 miles of 30-inch-diameter natural gas pipelines from northeast Pennsylvania.

New pipelines, wells proposed in Utah’s Big Flat; recreationists worried

An interesting thing happened after Fidelity Exploration and Production Co. started drilling near the entrance to Dead Horse Point State Park.

Cane Creek Well 12-1 let loose.

Without the aid of pumps or fracking, the oil just flooded out — more than 600,000 barrels in its first year, making it the nation’s most productive on-shore well in 2012.

Kinder Morgan Pipeline Expansion Given The Green Light

Canada’s National Energy Board has granted a big win for Kinder Morgan Energy Partners’ (NYSE:KMI) plans to conduct survey work in a Vancouver suburb’s park, despite opposition from local authorities.

The order means the City of Burnaby can’t stop Kinder Morgan, the biggest pipeline company in North America, from carrying out technical work for the planned $4.81 billion (Cdn$5.4bn) expansion of its Trans Mountain oil pipeline, even though it’s municipal land.

Arctic Heavy Fuel Oil Debate Continues

Arctic states and Arctic Council observer states must step up at their meeting next week to address the shortfall in Arctic shipping rules, says environmental organization WWF. The states should show their determination to act as a group in strengthening the Polar Code, rules being negotiated for polar shipping.

“The Code still needs a lot of work,” says WWF shipping expert Simon Walmsley. “While the negotiations made progress on some issues, they have so far failed to address other pressing matters such as a ban on the use and carriage of heavy fuel oil in the Arctic.”

Fukushima elects new governor in first election since 2011 disasters

Former Fukushima Vice Gov. Masao Uchibori was elected governor in a landslide Sunday in the prefecture’s first gubernatorial campaign since the 2011 natural and nuclear disasters.

Reconstruction from the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami as well as nuclear policy were the main issues in the election involving around 1.6 million voters, but there was a lack of in-depth discussion as both ruling and opposition parties threw their support behind the 50-year-old Uchibori.

Fukushima Watch: Decommissioning R&D Could Bear Fruit Elsewhere

From a supply and demand perspective, outside of the crippled Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant there isn’t currently much need for technology that can perform the highly delicate, possibly dangerous task of removing spent or damaged fuel from reactors that aren’t filled with water.

Likewise, no one has stepped forward to commercialize such technology either as reactors–under normal circumstances–are filled with water that shields radiation and keeps the fuel at low temperatures when they undergo maintenance.

Fukushima Refugees Wary of Returning Home

Ichiko Akimoto returned to her home in this mountain village recently after 3½ years of hopping among her children’s homes and temporary residences around Tokyo.

The triple meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in 2011 had rendered a handful of municipalities like hers unsafe to live, but the government had just lifted an evacuation order for some residents.

In Japan, Fukushima residents are frustrated but resigned

An air of permanence has settled over the supposedly temporary Seabreeze shopping arcade.

The Karasuya restaurant, serving big bowls of steaming noodle soup at the entrance to the arcade, is well established as a lunch spot for construction workers and a snack-and-homework joint for children from the neighboring school.

Striped poles twirl outside the barber shop, where retro chairs and basins await the next customer.

US, Europeans row over post-Fukushima nuclear safety step

The United States is lobbying against an amendment to an international nuclear safety pact proposed by Switzerland, which Berne argues could help prevent Fukushima-style disasters but which may also increase industry costs, diplomats said.

Atomic energy powers Russia and Canada have also signaled opposition to the measure, which would put pressure on countries to upgrade existing nuclear plants and reach the safety requirements of new-generation 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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