Environmental Must-Reads – September 10, 2014


People near ‘fracking’ wells report health woes

People living near natural-gas wells were more than twice as likely to report upper-respiratory and skin problems than those farther away, says a major study Wednesday on the potential health effects of fracking.

Nearly two of every five, or 39%, of those living less than a kilometer (or two-thirds of a mile) from a well reported upper respiratory symptoms, compared to 18% living more than 2 kilometers away, according to a Yale University-led random survey of 492 people in 180 households with ground-fed water wells in southwestern Pennsylvania.

Colorado fracking fuels fight between state and local government over control

In Colorado, the debate over pumping pressurized water underground to extract oil and natural gas has turned local and state governments into rivals. When one city banned fracking altogether, the state launched two lawsuits. Special correspondent Dan Boyce of Rocky Mountain PBS reports on how the friction between activists and industry has turned into a fight over local and state control.

Hickenlooper names task force to defuse drilling land-use conflicts

Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday named the 19 members of a task force charged with defusing the sometimes bitter land-use clashes between oil and gas drilling and communities.

The task force is a blend of representatives of the oil industry, local government, environmentalists and other economic interests.

Hickenlooper Optimistic About Fracking Panel

Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday that he’s optimistic a panel he assembled will help resolve conflicts between Colorado’s booming energy industry and homeowners on how land should be used.

“This is one of the most important issues I’ve ever worked on,” the Democratic governor said.

Denton extends fracking moratorium

It’s been about two months since the Denton City Council agreed to let voters decide whether to ban fracking.

At that time, a moratorium on new drilling permits was in place — a moratorium that was scheduled to expire on Tuesday.

When fracking and free speech collide

What started as a short YouTube video and a couple of local news interviews about a Texas landowner being able to light his water on fire has ballooned into a free speech fight that’s being closely watched by anti-fracking activists across the country.

Steve Lipsky has complained for years that fracking company Range Resources polluted his drinking water and streams that run through his property. The company sued him in 2011 for defaming their reputation for environmental stewardship.

Critics: Ohio not doing enough to protect habitat from drilling

Conservation experts say fracking and other shale gas activities can add to the dangers faced by Ohio’s rare species.

Yet as the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) allows more and more natural gas activities in the state, its natural heritage program remains dramatically scaled back. That limits ODNR’s ability to identify and protect important habitats in sparsely surveyed areas.

Anti-fracking bill of rights will be on Gates Mills November ballot after village officials change stance

Voters will decide in November whether to ban future gas and oil wells in the village.

A group called Citizens for the Preservation of Gates Mills began collecting signatures on a petition in August to have the anti-fracking bill of rights placed on the ballot. It’s a measure other cities have tried, though it’s unclear whether it will protect them from unwanted gas and oil wells.

Anti-fracking billboards coming down

An Ohio man who uses a biblical reference and a statement against “poisoned waters” in billboards opposing the disposal of gas-drilling wastewater says the messages will come down Tuesday.

Michael Boals, of Coshocton east of Columbus, told The Associated Press the billboards’ owners were ending his three-month verbal agreement after two months unless he agreed to change the text.

Standard water testing sought in shale industry

State environmental regulators will participate in a gas industry-funded study aimed at developing standards for testing groundwater near drilling sites for the presence of methane.

The study will examine how a dozen laboratories — including the Department of Environmental Protection’s lab — analyze water samples and whether their methods might skew results when comparing water samples before and after drilling.

Boom in Energy Spurs Industry in the Rust Belt

Waist-high weeds and a crumbling old Chevy mark the entrance to a rust-colored factory complex on the edge of town here, seemingly another monument to the passing of the golden age of American industry.

But deep inside the 14-acre site, the thwack-thwack-thwack sound of metal on metal tells a different story.

Original oil claims boss sides with BP in Supreme Court fight

The man who was in charge of BP’s original oil spill fund has urged the U.S. Supreme Court to require claimants to prove their losses were tied to the 2010 disaster.

Over the past year, BP has been fighting legal battles over prior federal court rulings that Gulf Coast residents and business don’t have to link financial damages directly to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill to get paid out of its uncapped, multibillion-dollar settlement fund.

U.K. government backs BP’s oil spill settlement appeal to Supreme Court, Bloomberg reports

The U.K. government has filed its support for BP’s appeal of the company’s multibillion-dollar oil spill settlement, Bloomberg reports.

The report says the U.K. told the U.S. Supreme Court in a filing that the prospect of settlement payments going to people who were not injured by the spill as BP argues raises “grave international comity concerns.”

Greens sue feds for Keystone docs

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the Obama administration on Tuesday to release documents surrounding the controversial Keystone XL pipeline

The green group filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and State Department for documents containing information on impact the $5.4 billion project would have on migratory birds and endangered species.

U.S. promises new look at oil train dangers, acknowledges test flaws

U.S. studies of oil train dangers may have underestimated the perils of volatile vapor on the tracks and officials will in future use precision instruments for more thorough tests, a Transportation Department official said on Tuesday.

Officials have warned since January that flammable gas might be wrongly moving with crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken region but government studies have largely agreed with industry-funded reports that such fuel is fit to move in standard tank cars.

Chicago City Council approves resolution targeting crude oil train shipments

A joint Chicago City Council committee approved a resolution today calling on the federal government to impose more stringent restrictions on the shipments of crude oil by train than were proposed in July by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The action would put Chicago in the forefront of communities across the nation demanding tighter controls on the shipment of flammable liquids, especially crude oil trains, which are the equivalent of rolling pipelines.

Oil Trains Passing Through Kentucky on Regular Basis

Freight trains loaded with volatile crude oil crisscross seven Kentucky counties on a weekly basis, carrying loads that emergency management officials in the state know little about.

As many as five CSX Corp. trains carry oil from the upper Great Plains’ Bakken shale fields into Boyd and Greenup counties in northeastern Kentucky. A similar number rolls through Henderson, Webster, Hopkins, Christian and Todd counties in the western part of the state. In all, CSX sends the trains along more than 200 miles of track in Kentucky.

Lawmaker: Regulators’ Oil-Train Safety Push Could Be Climate-Change Policy in Disguise

A House Republican suggested the Transportation Department is hiding a stealth global-warming policy behind the guise of a rail-safety crackdown.

Federal regulators are writing new safety standards for trains that carry crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale formation, part of a broader regulatory initiative that follows a string of derailments and explosions on trains shipping the fuel. The regulators have increased their focus on the flammability of the fuel, as well as other risks of moving it by rail.

Gulf Coast drives surge in U.S. exports of petroleum products

The Gulf Coast is driving a surge in U.S. exports of petroleum products as refineries run at near-record levels, according to recent reports.

In June, the United States on average exported 3.7 million barrels per day of gasoline, distillate, jet fuel, petroleum coke and hydrocarbon gas liquids, according to the most recent data available. That’s an increase of 17 percent, or 543,000 barrels per day, from the same time last year, the Energy Information Administration  said in a newly released analysis.

Booker T. school rebuilding site: Environmental hazards debated

Recovery School District officials presented a lightly revised plan for rebuilding Booker T. Washington High School Tuesday (Sept. 9) to a room full of alumni eager for the process to move forward despite environmental activists’ continuing concerns.

Booker T., a historically black school focusing on the trades, was built along Earhart Boulevard on the former Silver City Dump, which closed in the early 1930s. So was the B. W. Cooper housing development. Environmental testing has since revealed heavy metals and a group of chemicals called polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons at higher-than-allowed levels 15 feet into the ground.

 Fukushima No. 2 scrambled to avoid same fate as sister site Fukushima No. 1

Fukushima No. 1 wasn’t the only nuclear complex facing a critical situation after the magnitude-9.0 earthquake of March 11, 2011, unleashed a monster tsunami on the coast of Tohoku.

Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 2 plant, located about 12 km south of the No. 1 plant, also saw seawater pumps and electrical equipment flooded by the tsunami, which led three of its four reactors to lose key cooling functions.

Power Plants Heading Out to Sea in Post-Fukushima Japan

One of the biggest hurdles to building new power plants in Japan is finding a place that’s safe from earthquakes and tsunamis. That place may turn out to be 30 miles at sea.

Sevan Marine ASA, a Norwegian builder of offshore oil-drilling vessels, is proposing a $1.5 billion natural gas-fired power plant that will float on a cylindrical platform bigger than a football field moored off the Japanese coast.

Post-Fukushima Japan Turns To Offshore Wind And Solar

The March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that devastated Japan left a lasting impression on the country’s energy infrastructure and long-term energy vision. The ensuing nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant put citizens on edge and the nuclear industry — on which leaders had been relying to achieve ambitious clean energy goals — in the cross hairs. After the disaster, the country halted its nuclear program and all 48 nuclear reactors have been dormant since. As the government attempts to sway public opinion back in favor of nuclear power, reconstitute the nuclear regulatory and oversight program, and get at least some plants online by the end of 2015, an energy swell has been building off Japan’s coast.

Hydrogen explosion left Fukushima No. 1 workers sure they would die

Ground Self-Defense Force member Yuichi Sato was on a fire truck heading for the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant the day after it had been decimated by the March 11, 2011, tsunami — without being notified what his mission was.

That morning, the truck was in the town of Okuma, Fukushima Prefecture, where the 22-year-old was born.

He was several kilometers from his destination, but the familiar sights were gone — the walls of houses had collapsed, road surfaces were buckled and the town looked deserted.

Fukushima fallout continues: now cleanup workers claim unpaid wages

The legal net has started to tighten around the operator of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, as victims of the accident, and those responsible for clearing it up, take their grievances to the courts.

Last week, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco) said it would not contend a court ruling ordering it to pay almost $500,000 in compensation to the family of a woman who killed herself two months after being forced to flee her home near the plant.

Japan Takes Another Step Toward Restarting Nuclear Power Plants

Japan’s atomic regulator today approved a safety report for two reactors owned by Kyushu Electric Power Co., another step toward restarting plants shut after the Fukushima nuclear disaster more than three years ago.

The report was approved by the regulator’s commissioners at a meeting in Tokyo today. The reactors must still clear two more steps in the stricter safety approval process set up by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the meltdown of three reactors at the Fukushima plant north of Tokyo in 2011.

Former nuclear reactor barge to be dismantled in Galveston

Galveston will receive a radioactive package this December when the Sturgis, a former Liberty ship turned into a nuclear reactor barge, is towed 1,700 nautical miles from Virginia to Malin Shipyard at Pier 41.

It’s being brought to Galveston for decommissioning and waste segregation, which means residual radioactive metals will be removed, packaged and shipped in appropriate containers to federal nuclear waste facilities in Andrews County, Texas, and in Clyde, Utah, said Hans Honerlah, a project director for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and a physicist specializing in radiation safety.

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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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