Environmental Must-Reads – October 29, 2014


Eastern Ohio pipeline hauling toxic mix catches fire

A pipeline carrying condensate, a toxic substance produced during natural gas and oil processing, caught fire in eastern Ohio early this morning.

It burned several acres of Monroe County woodland before the pipeline pressure dropped low enough for the fire to burn itself out.

Dead babies near oil drilling sites raise questions for researchers

The smartphone-sized grave marker is nearly hidden in the grass at Rock Point Cemetery. The name printed on plastic-coated paper — Beau Murphy — has been worn away. Only the span of his life remains.

“June 18, 2013 – June 18, 2013”

For some reason, one that is not known and may never be, Beau and a dozen other infants died in this oil-booming basin last year. Was this spike a fluke? Bad luck? Or were these babies victims of air pollution fed by the nearly 12,000 oil and gas wells in one of the most energy-rich areas in the country?

Scientists blame oil drilling for spike in number of baby deaths in Colorado town, but residents say its they depend on it

Air pollution from oil and gas wells in Utah is being linked to the deaths of 13 infants last year – a rate six times higher than the national average.

But the midwife who raised the alarm about the possible link has been targeted by threats and vandalism because drilling has helped the area in question prosper and kept thousands of people employed since the 1940s.

The city of Vernal has 12,000 oil and gas wells, and some scientists whose research focuses on the effect of certain drilling-related chemicals on fetal development believe it could be the reason for the spike in infant deaths.

Fracking in St. Tammany and elsewhere

In St. Tammany, fracking remains a contentious issue. That’s true even though the latest Covington proposal from Helis Oil & Gas doesn’t include fracking.

Here’s a look at fracking’s impact on the current political scene with midterm elections one week away. Surprisingly, California hasn’t been able to pass a ban and initiatives that would have been on the ballot in Colorado next week have been removed because both sides thought it would motivate the other.

Responding to Quakes, Texas Passes Disposal Well Rules

Texas regulators on Tuesday tightened rules for wells that dispose of oilfield waste, a response to the spate of earthquakes that have rattled North Texas.

The three-member Texas Railroad Commission voted unanimously to adopt the rules, which require companies to submit additional information – including historic records of earthquakes in a region– when applying to drill a disposal well. The proposal also clarifies that the commission can slow or halt injections of fracking waste into a problematic well and require companies to disclose the volume and pressure of their injections more frequently.

Sage grouse classification could affect Colorado, Utah oil and gas development

In a ruling that could affect oil and gas development in Colorado and Utah, the Fish and Wildlife Service has decided whether to give the gunnison sage-grouse protected status under the Endangered Species Act.

But only a small circle of people know the verdict now.

North Texas Town Could Become First In The State To Ban Fracking

This November residents in the north Texas city of Denton are voting whether to ban the drilling method known as fracking inside their city limits. This, in the state that leads the nation in oil and gas production and as Mose Buchele of member station KUT reports, this is not your typical story of environmentalists versus industry.

Converse County denies Chesapeake exemption

Converse County recently rejected Chesapeake Energy’s bid to earn a tax exemption for pollution controls on its flaring equipment in a move that state and local officials say could set an important precedent for Wyoming’s growing oil fields.

The tax exemption itself was relatively small: $7,500. But with more than 200 new wells expected to be completed in Converse County during 2014 alone, the ruling has important implications for what oil companies will pay in property taxes for future years, local officials say.

Texas amends waste disposal rules for fracking

The Texas Railroad Commission has amended rules for disposal well operators amid concerns that high-pressure injections can trigger earthquakes.

As of Nov. 17, disposal well operators must research U.S. Geological Survey data for a history of earthquakes within 100 square miles of a proposed well site before applying for a permit.

Gulf Coast landowners, farmers can tap $40M in conservation cash from BP oil spill

Gulf Coast landowners and farmers are eligible for $40 million in conservation grants aimed at offsetting the impacts of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced Tuesday (Oct. 28).

The Department of Agriculture is partnering with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to provide the grants to private landowners and operators, including agricultural operations.

BP Oil Spill Dumped Millions of Gallons of Oil on Gulf of Mexico Floor

Scientists are still trying to figure out what happened to all of the 172 million gallons of crude oil that spewed into the Gulf of Mexico after BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded 41 miles off the Louisiana coast more than four years ago.

A large portion of that oil floated to the surface and washed ashore along the Gulf Coast, but an estimated 2 million barrels’ worth never got that far. According to Grist, scientists suspected those 2 million barrels broke apart into microscopic droplets and stayed trapped deep beneath the surface of the ocean.

BP spill left ‘bathtub ring’ of oil across more than 1,200 square miles of Gulf seafloor, new study says

Scientists have found evidence of a “bathtub ring” of oil particles from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill covering more than 1,200 square miles of the Gulf of Mexico’s seafloor, according to a study published online Monday (Oct. 27) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

A team of scientists with the University of California-Santa Barbara, University of California-Irvine, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute tested more than 3,000 samples of sediment taken from 534 locations in the Gulf for the chemical hepane, a constituent of crude oil that was found in the oil released from BP’s Macondo well.

Disaster’s Toll on the Gulf and Its People

“The Great Invisible,” Margaret Brown’s quietly infuriating documentary film about the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, includes depressing information that many would probably be happier not knowing.

Since the catastrophe, which began with an oil rig explosion that killed 11 workers and led to a discharge of millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, the company that operated the rig, BP, has cleaned up less than one-third of the spill, according to the film. More than four years later, Congress has yet to pass any safety legislation for the petroleum industry.

Chilean Oil Spill Devastates Local Fisheries and Wildlife

It’s a grim, but familiar, picture. Waves of black sludge lap at the sandy shore, while seabirds coated in oil struggle to lift their wings. On September 24, more than 5,800 gallons of oil spilled into Quintero Bay, Chile when intake hoses broke free from an oil tanker at the Monobuoy Terminal.

The devastation is tragic. Rescuers have already captured more than 50 birds — including penguins, sea gulls, pelicans, blanquillo birds, hualas, cormorants, and coots — many of which have already died from ingesting oil. Countless numbers of marine creatures that rescuers cannot reach are still dying.

Planned TransCanada Pipeline Would Allow Gulf Access, CEO Says

A planned Trans- Canada Corp. oil pipeline designed to ship crude from Western Canada to Eastern Canadian refineries could also be used to access the Gulf Coast, creating an end-run around U.S. permitting delays for the Keystone XL pipeline, according to the company’s chief executive.

TransCanada’s proposed 1.1 million-barrel-a-day Energy East pipeline has been positioned in Canada as a nation-building project to connect Alberta’s landlocked oil sands with refineries in Quebec and coastal New Brunswick. But Chief Executive Russ Girling said it would also open up a new route to ship heavy crude by tanker to refineries on the Gulf Coast without requiring U.S. approval, unlike the more direct Keystone XL route from Alberta to Texas.

Kerry wants Keystone pipeline decision ‘sooner rather than later’

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday during a visit to Canada that he would like to make a decision soon on TransCanada Corp’s Keystone XL crude oil pipeline.

TransCanada has waited more than six years for the Obama administration to make a decision on the line, which would take as much as 830,000 barrels per day of Alberta tar sands crude to refineries on Texas’ Gulf Coast.

How One Senate Candidate Gets Away With Opposing Keystone XL In A Big Energy State

At a forum on South Dakota’s Rosebud Sioux reservation earlier in October, Democratic Senate candidate Rick Weiland listened to Native Americans voice their concerns about the impact the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline would have on their sacred water and future generations. The message resonated with Weiland, who told the crowd, “I’m not Indian, but I have an Indian heart.”

The event was part of Weiland’s tour of all 311 towns across the state in which he has been traveling with his minivan and guitar spreading his anti-big money, take back the government campaign agenda.

Offshore drilling — the Keystone pipeline of the sea

While half a million people marched in New York and across the nation for climate action this fall and the U.S. launched a new air war in the oil-rich Middle East, President Obama moved forward on one of his least noted but potentially highest impact energy decisions.

Beginning this past summer the Department of Interior has been quietly accepting applications from oil companies to start seismic testing for oil and gas deposits off the eastern seaboard between Delaware and Florida as well as in new areas of the Gulf of Mexico and Arctic Ocean. This decision will open the way for five-year lease sales scheduled to begin in 2017. Like the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, new offshore oil drilling could threaten increased pollution, continued fossil fuel dependence and climate disaster. Environmentalists are also concerned about death and impairment to whales, dolphins and other marine wildlife from the high-volume sonic cannons used in the surveys. The government itself estimates the testing could impact 138,000 marine mammals.

Oil companies want more time for Arctic drilling

Three oil companies with billions invested in Arctic drilling leases are pleading with the Obama administration for extra time to hunt for crude under waters north of Alaska, but so far, federal regulators have been skeptical.

Without the extensions, leases held by Statoil, Shell Oil Co. and ConocoPhillips will begin expiring in 2017.

Japan nuclear plant gets approval to restart, over three years after Fukushima

A town in southwest Japan became the first to approve the restart of a nuclear power station on Tuesday, a step forward in Japan’s fraught process of reviving an industry left idled by the Fukushima catastrophe in 2011.

Satsumasendai, a town of 100,000 that hosts the two-reactor Kyushu Electric Power Co (9508.T) plant, is 1,000 km (600 miles) southwest of Tokyo and has long relied on the Sendai plant for government subsidies and jobs.

Radioactive soil stored at Fukushima schools not covered by recent disposal law, has nowhere to go

Radioactive soil currently stored at schools in Fukushima Prefecture is not supposed to be transferred to radioactive waste storage facilities planned to be built near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, Jiji Press learned Tuesday.

This is because decontamination at schools was carried out before a special law on radioactive contamination took effect in January 2012 and thus the Environment Ministry deems tainted soil collected during the work not covered by the law. The central government undertakes or funds decontamination work.

Fukushima refugees will never go home: Atsushi Funahashi’s ‘Nuclear Nation’

Before the Fukushima nuclear crisis forced them from their homes, residents of Futaba had praised the Daiichi power plant as a “godsend” that brought jobs and money to the Japanese coastal town.

Now, more than three years after the disaster, they remain stuck in cramped emergency housing facing the reality they will likely never go home, with Futaba set to become a storage site for contaminated soil, a new documentary film shows.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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