Environmental Must-Reads – September 23, 2014


DNR grants rare public hearing on fracking permit

Since Helis Oil announced its intentions to drill into the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, from a property off Hwy. 1088 in St. Tammany Parish, there have been informational meetings, protests and writing campaigns all in an effort to stop the fracking plan.

Monday, those efforts have garnered the most significant result yet, which is a rare public hearing on the company’s drilling permit to be held in St. Tammany Parish. The permit process will be on hold until then.

State to hold public hearing on oil drilling permit application in St. Tammany

In an unusual move, the state Office of Conservation has agreed to hold a public hearing in St. Tammany Parish to gather public comment on Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s application for a permit to drill a well near Mandeville. The hearing was requested by the town of Abita Springs and the group Concerned Citizens of St. Tammany, which is fighting the oil company’s proposal to drill a well northeast of Mandeville and use the controversial fracking method to extract oil.

Pennsylvania officials issue $4.15 million fine to fracking company

Regulators with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection have fined oil and gas company Range Resources $4.15 million for environmental violations related to its fracking operations in the Marcellus shale.

It’s the largest fine for fracking issued in the state of Pennsylvania — a state rich in the shale deposits coveted by hydraulic fracturing companies.

A day in the life of a longtime DEP inspector

John Sengle knows the importance of his job.

As an inspector for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection for the past 32 years, he has inspected his share of companies that were not following state law.

Mr. Sengle, 56, has been working for the past four years in the Clearfield County area with the DEP’s oil and gas division working on natural gas sites, including Marcellus Shale well sites.

“My experience for the most part is the companies have been pretty attentive,” he said of the natural gas companies he inspects now. “That said, I have walked up on a site and seen a spill and thought, ‘I can’t believe the company didn’t see that.’ ”

Trial and error approach leaves Marcellus Shale wounds

From state regulators’ perspective, all the spills, leaks and fires in the Marcellus Shale well field the past eight years were simply part of the learning curve.

“Sometimes you need to learn from your mistakes,” said Scott Perry, a deputy secretary with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection who oversees the oil and gas bureau.

State Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Luzerne, who proposed a moratorium on Marcellus Shale drilling in 2010, sees it differently: “We were guinea pigs in certain respects, there’s no question about it.”

John Hickenlooper could lose his job in November. Here’s why

If there is a ribbon to cut anywhere in the state of Colorado, whether on a refurbished park or a new bridge or a new school, chances are good that Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) will be there. Democrats and Republicans alike in this swing state say he acts like a mayor as much as a governor, showing up at every opportunity to congratulate a town or city on their latest project. After two terms leading Denver, he knows how to be a mayor.

Negative publicity does more damage to Marcellus Shale drilling companies than fines

The state Department of Environmental Protection fines drillers to try to get them to change behavior, but to giant Marcellus Shale drilling companies, $10,000 or even $100,000-plus fines are inconsequential.

For them, the worst part of a well-site accident is bad publicity.

Siemens Makes $7.6 Billion Bet on Fracking in U.S.

The German engineering conglomerate Siemens already makes a range of products for the American energy sector, including gas turbines and equipment for generating electricity from wind.

But in acquiring the Dresser-Rand Group, a Houston-based oil services company, in a $7.6 billion deal announced Sunday night, Siemens signaled an even bigger push into the booming American sector. The deal also demonstrated how much big corporate suitors are willing to pay for companies with a strong market niche.

Princeton votes to ban fracking throughout town

Council will vote on whether to become the first Mercer County town to ban fracking.

The process of hydraulic fracturing extracts natural gas by pumping water and chemicals into underground shale formations, fracturing the rock and releasing the natural gas.

Council to vote on appealing fracking ruling

One month after a Larimer County judge overturned Fort Collins’ five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, the City Council is considering whether to appeal that decision.

Fort Collins City Council will vote Tuesday, Sept. 23 on a resolution that would direct the interim city attorney to file an appeal of the decision, which overturned the citizen-initiated ordinance voters passed in November 2013.

Applications will soon arrive for $500 million Gulf study program

The National Academy of Sciences expects to start taking applications this fall for the $500 million assigned to the 30-year Gulf Research Program, set up as a result of criminal settlements from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in 2010.

This first set of applications was announced Monday as part of the release of a “vision document” outlining the first five years of the program.

Derailed: Railroad delays first responders on riverside oil spill

FOX31 Denver has confirmed a May 9 crude oil train car derailment near LaSalle, Colorado polluted area groundwater with toxic levels of benzene.

Environmental Protection Agency records from July show benzene measurements as high as 144 parts per billion near the crash site. Five parts per billion is considered the safe limit.

More Fiery Oil Train, Pipeline Accidents Unless Government Acts: Report

If the U.S. doesn’t quickly address the safe transportation of oil and gas, Americans could pay the price with more fiery train and pipeline accidents, according to a report released Monday by the Government Accountability Office.

“Without timely action to address safety risks posed by increased transport of oil and gas by pipeline and rail, additional accidents that could have been prevented or mitigated may endanger the public and call into question the readiness of transportation networks in the new oil and gas environment,” found the report.

Senate Republicans Go All In On Keystone XL

Six years have passed since TransCanada originally sought a permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, and Republicans in Washington have not given up fighting for the project. In spite of the fact that the pipeline will create fewer than 40 permanent jobs; would pose serious risks to potable water supplies; and would potentially raise energy prices for American consumers, some of our elected officials still believe that the pipeline would be a boon for the United States.

In the last week, the Republican-led efforts to force President Obama to approve the disaster of a plan have reached a fevered pitch. To begin with, to mark the 6th anniversary of the original permit application, every single Republican in the U.S. Senate signed a letter to President Obama demanding that he take action and approve the pipeline.

Keystone XL pipeline town hall held at CBC Calgary

Monday’s town hall event featured live audiences in both Calgary and Lincoln, Neb.

It discussed TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline — which would see Alberta crude flow south to refineries in Texas — and the energy situation in both countries.

Nebraska’s Cowboys And Indians Unite Against Keystone XL Pipeline

Thousands of people are expected to rally at the Harvest the Hope concert on a farm near Neligh, Nebraska, on Sept. 27. Headlined by Neil Young and Willie Nelson, proceeds from the sold out show will benefit the Indigenous Environmental Network, Bold Nebraska and the Cowboy & Indian Alliance — groups that have united in opposition to the proposed route of the Keystone XL pipeline.

“It’s about people expressing our needs to the government,” said Aldo Seoane, Oglala Lakota and member of the Cowboys & Indian Alliance. “We’ve all pulled together against this.”

National radio program tapes pipeline program in Lincoln, Alberta

About 75 Nebraskans, as well as people from elsewhere in the Midwest, congregated in Lincoln Monday night to participate in a Keystone XL pipeline discussion that crossed international borders.

The event was organized by “America Abroad,” a national radio program, and was taped at the Nebraska Educational Telecommunications building at 33rd and Holdrege streets. The one-hour documentary program simultaneously taped a discussion in Alberta, Canada, engaging both audiences in a discussion. About 60 people were in the Canadian studio audience.

Enbridge completes work on final stretch of replacement oil pipeline

Enbridge Energy has finished laying its new oil pipeline across Michigan as part of its $1.3 billion pipeline replacement project.

Much of the new pipeline was put in the ground near the old pipeline. That old line broke in 2010, spilling more than 800,000 gallons of heavy tar sands crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River. The company is just finishing cleanup work four years after that spill.

Enbridge crews begin restoration work

Work on the new Enbridge pipeline in St. Clair County is complete.

Crews remain in the area to complete land restoration, which will continue until winter, said Jason Manshum, an Enbridge spokesman.

Arctic oil bound for Europe, Gazprom Neft says

Russian oil company Gazprom Neft said Monday the second tanker of oil taken from an arctic field was delivered to European customers.

Gazprom Neft confirmed a tanker filled with 200,000 barrels of oil was shipped to markets in northwest Europe last week. It was the second tanker of oil delivered from the Novoportovskoye field at the Yamal Peninsula.

Fukushima radiation still poisoning insects

Eating food contaminated with radioactive particles may be more perilous than thought—at least for insects. Butterfly larvae fed even slightly tainted leaves collected near the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station were more likely to suffer physical abnormalities and low survival rates than those fed uncontaminated foliage, a new study finds. The research suggests that the environment in the Fukushima region, particularly in areas off-limits to humans because of safety concerns, will remain dangerous for wildlife for some time.

Food affected by Fukushima disaster harms animals, even at low-levels of radiation

Butterflies eating food collected from cities around the Fukushima nuclear meltdown site showed higher rates of death and disease, according to a study published in the open access journal BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Researchers fed groups of pale blue grass butterflies (Zizeeria maha) leaves from six different areas at varying distance from the disaster site, and then investigated the effects on the next generation. Feeding offspring the same contaminated leaves as their parents magnified the effects of the radiation. But offspring fed uncontaminated leaves were mostly like normal butterflies, and the authors say this shows that decontaminating the food source can save the next generation.

False Report on Fukushima: The Company Responds

As you recently reported, one of Japan’s leading newspapers this month retracted a false report from May that had deeply insulted our workers and misrepresented their actions (“Japan: Newspaper Retracts Report on Fukushima Disaster and Apologizes,” World Briefing item, Sept. 12).

Unfortunately, the false report that workers fled the Fukushima Daiichi plant at the time of the 2011 accident garnered much more international attention than has the retraction. So I want to express our appreciation to The Times for its most recent reporting on the matter.

Fukushima cleanup going painfully slow

Three and a half years after Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station spewed massive amounts of radioactive materials into the air and water, decontamination work in Fukushima Prefecture has yet to draw to an end.

The government initially hoped to complete the decontamination by the end of last March, but the process continues to lag far behind, prompting the government to push back the goal by three years to 2017.

Fukushima: 41 months on

Japan’s Fukushima disaster is out of the headlines – but the devastation continues.  Emerging information suggests the Japanese government and Tepco may not have been forthright with critical information.  Rice paddies, far outside the exclusion zone are contaminated, children have alarming rates of thyroid cancer, and more than 200 US sailors filed a billion dollar lawsuit against Tepco – charging the company knew the sailors were being exposed to higher levels of radiation that were disclosed.  Every day, 80,000 gallons of contaminated waste flows from the destroyed reactor into the Pacific Ocean…leaving the world to contend with the impact.  Nearly 3.5 years after the nuclear meltdown, The Stream asks why do questions about its devastating environmental and health consequences remain unanswered?  Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Dr. Helen Caldicott – one of the foremost experts on radiation exposure, debates a scientist who says the impacts are exaggerated.  A former nuclear industry executive, turned whistleblower, also weighs in – and we talk with the attorney representing hundreds of US sailors and their families.

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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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