Environmental Must-Reads – September 24, 2014


Fracking Wastewater Could Encourage Formation Of Toxic Compounds During Drinking Water Disinfection

Some natural gas extraction operations have sent the highly saline water left over from hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to wastewater treatment plants for disposal. These plants then discharge their treated water into rivers that may feed drinking water plants downstream.

A new study finds a possible problem with this process: Even when made 10,000 times more dilute, fracking wastewater can increase levels of troubling compounds formed under conditions similar to those during drinking water disinfection (Environ. Sci. Technol. 2014, DOI: 10.102/es50281841). Halides in the wastewater lead to toxic disinfection by-products, some at levels that exceed allowed discharge limits for drinking water treatment plants, the researchers say.

Indigenous groups call for drilling limits to fight climate change

Patricia Gualinga stood on Pier 25 next to the Hudson River, her face painted in fine geometric designs, her long black hair hanging past her waist, looking out at the shadows cast by the skyscrapers of lower Manhattan over the water. An indigenous Kichwa woman from the Sarayaku community deep in the Ecuadorean Amazon, Gualinga traveled more than 3,000 miles to push the world’s leaders to take an active stance on climate change.

Fracking in North Dakota: Women in the drilling boomtowns

North Dakota’s oil industry currently employs more than 40,000 people. Williston, formerly a sleepy town in the northwestern part of the state, has rocketed on the scene as the sixth largest city in the 48th most populous state primarily because of the controversial oil and gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing technology or “fracking.” The recent ability to tap into the Bakken formation—a thin but wide shale layer that sits two miles along the Williston Basin—opened an opportunity for the town to take a seat at the head of the oil-drilling table. It’s now poised to be the biggest boomtown in the country, with a population estimated to soar from 10,000 to just fewer than 50,000 by 2025.

City to appeal judge’s fracking decision

Fort Collins City Council voted Tuesday to appeal last month’s overturning of the city’s five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

On Aug. 7, 8th Judicial District Judge Gregory M. Lammons overturned the citizen-initiated and voter-supported moratorium, with the court declaring it violated an act passed in 1951 that declares oil and gas activity a state priority in Colorado.

Frustrated Denton Councilman sees fracking ban as the only option

Denton City Councilman Kevin Roden hears plenty of criticism of the Denton frack ban, but very few solutions.

That includes from the Denton Chamber of Commerce, the Texas Railroad Commission and the oil and gas industry itself, Roden wrote in a blog on his website.

Cuomo says he won’t rush state health officials for fracking study

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said he’s not in contact with the state Department of Health about its study on the community impacts of hydraulic fracturing and doesn’t plan to be.

“When it’s ready, it’s ready,” Cuomo said Tuesday afternoon in a meeting with reporters and editors at The Buffalo News. “I’m not going to rush them.”

Natural gas pipeline concerns some in Nashville

When it comes to a proposed natural gas pipeline through eastern North Carolina, Ronald Bunn sees its path as more than a line through a map.

“It is a lot of trouble for this to come through my property,” he said.

A top Pittsburgh emergency response official talks about the risks of crude oil trains

Emergency response officials are currently assessing the risks that trains carrying millions of gallons of highly combustible crude oil pose to residents in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Raymond DeMichiei (Dee-Mi-Shay), deputy director of Pittsburgh’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, is overseeing that appraisal.

“We don’t want people to have a false sense of security,” he said. “Yes, there is a risk. [But] we’re managing the risk.”

As deaths mount, pipeline safety comes into focus

In the four years since a natural gas explosion rocked San Bruno — killing eight people and injuring 51 others — gas pipelines have faced increased public scrutiny. But despite new regulations designed to identify and replace potentially dangerous pipelines, thousands of miles of high-risk pipeline remain in operation in Southern California.

Third-party damage greatest threat to pipeline safety

Eight people awoke on Feb. 4, 1986, got dressed, ate breakfast, kissed their loved ones and went to work in downtown Crystal Springs at the 3-year-old pre-fab metal building that, later that afternoon, would erupt into a raging inferno and kill them all.

Their deaths, investigators later determined, resulted from the preventable yet frightfully common occurrence of third-party damage to a natural gas pipeline. This happens when someone unrelated to the utility accidentally hits one of its lines, usually while digging.

Aging gas pipes pose explosion danger

Natural gas pipeline incidents have been relatively sparse in Iowa over the past decade despite dozens of deaths, hundreds injured and $2 billion in property damage nationwide.

Iowa has seen 25 reportable gas pipeline incidents causing more than $6.3 million in property damage since 2004. There were seven injuries and no fatalities in that span.

Danger rises with increasing pipeline leaks, slow fixes

The number of hazardous leaks, those requiring immediate repair, in natural gas pipelines in Michigan have soared in recent years — quadrupling for one of the state’s biggest gas providers — as old, outdated, and potentially crumbling pipelines remain in the ground.

While the state’s two largest utilities, DTE and Consumers Energy, have adopted programs to speed up pipeline replacement, residents still face a long wait — estimates of up to 25 years or more — to remedy potentially deadly conditions right outside their front door.

Government Report: More Oil Train Accidents, Spills Likely Without Swift Regulation

A new U.S. Government Accountability Office report issued this week concludes current proposals to upgrade safety requirements for oil transport by rail and pipeline are likely to fall short of preventing more accidents and spills unless the pace of regulation is stepped up. The recent North American oil boom, driven by new technologies such as hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”), has been responsible for an exponential increase in oil transportation and infrastructure throughout the United States. But a spate of fiery derailments and devastating oil spills has escalated public concern about the mounting dangers associated with rapidly increased oil production and intensified calls for stricter rules to govern oil transport.

Government Accountability Office Report of Oil-By-Rail Safety Fails to Address Most Important Safety Issue

This week’s release of the government report titled Department of Transportation Is Taking Actions To Address Rail Safety, But Additional Actions Are Needed To Address Pipeline Safety — a year long review of the risks associated with the large increases in transporting domestically produced oil and gas in the United States — identifies several well known risks with moving oil by rail but concludes that the new proposed regulations address these issues.

Dayton Asks For Added ND Oil Train Safety

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton wants added safety measures for oil trains leaving North Dakota.

Dayton made the request Tuesday in a letter to North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple.

Dayton says Minnesota is “one of the primary routes” for Bakken oil being transported from North Dakota. But Dayton says Minnesotans receive little benefit from the oil trains while experiencing increased risks of a derailment.

Judge Hears Oil Spill Cleanup Workers’ Claims

The federal judge for Gulf of Mexico oil spill cases was set to hear arguments Wednesday about whether BP PLC should get back hundreds of millions of dollars from businesses that got settlement payments between August 2012 and October 2013.

The oil company says that’s only fair because Judge Carl Barbier found that the formula used then was incorrect and ordered a change.

4 things to know about the BP oil spill court hearings on Wednesday

A federal judge in New Orleans is set to hold hearings on a range of legal disputes related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, including whether or not BP has the right to recover what it says were overpayments under its settlement program.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier will take the matter up during a Wednesday (Sept. 24) status conference, allowing attorneys for BP and the claimants each 20 minutes to present their sides, according to an agenda available online.

BP Asks for Some Deepwater Horizon Payout Money Back

A federal judge is set to hear oral arguments on Wednesday on whether BP PLC should be reimbursed for payments it made to oil-spill claimants based on an accounting method later overturned by an appeals court.

In a motion for restitution, BP attorney Kevin Downey, a partner at Washington’s Williams & Connolly, seeks the return of “hundreds of millions of dollars” in overpayments to claimants to its estimated $9.2 billion settlement for economic damages tied to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

BP says judge’s fact findings should limit its spill liability

Earlier this month, a federal judge ruled BP was grossly negligent in the lead-up to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, exposing it to billions in pollution fines.

Weeks later, BP is arguing in court that certain findings in the ruling actually work in its favor – at least, in a separate appellate case that could erase its liability of those fines under the Clean Water Act. It blamed Transocean and its blowout preventer for the spill.

Slidell man charged with wire fraud in BP oil spill claim

A Slidell man at the center of an investigation into claims of fraud in the BP oil spill settlement program was charged Tuesday (Sept. 23) with two counts of felony wire fraud.

The Justice Department claims Casey Thonn in 2012 “devised a scheme to defraud” the Deepwater Horizon Economic Claims Center by submitting fraudulent tax return forms with his shrimping claim, according to a bill of information filed in New Orleans federal court.

Settlement corruption investigation conference

The federal judge hearing 2010 oil spill cases says he’ll decide soon whether he needs more than written evidence and arguments to rule on an investigation of alleged corruption within the settlement program.

District Judge Carl Barbier (BARB-yay) said during a Tuesday status conference the big question is whether two attorneys paid claims office attorney Lionel Sutton to expedite a law firm’s $8 million claim, or whether he just did his job.

Wyoming Faces Worst Year for Oil Spills Since 2009

An oil boom in Wyoming has a filthy side effect: A string of accidents from a remote gulley in the Powder River Basin to a refinery in downtown Cheyenne already has made this year the state’s worst for oil spills since at least 2009, state records show.

Almost 220,000 gallons of oil already has spilled in Wyoming this year, more than double the 90,000 gallons all last year. About 165,000 gallons spilled in 2010, the previous worst year since the Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality began tracking spills in a database that year.

Alaska’s Lessons for the Keystone XL Pipeline

Earlier this year the Obama administration again delayed a decision about the Keystone XL pipeline. The 1,200 mile, $5.2 billion pipeline could increase North American energy security and create more than 15,000 jobs. But behind the White House’s unwillingness to move forward are environmental groups that vehemently oppose the project. Groups like the Sierra Club warn that Keystone “poses a health risk to our communities” and is a “climate disaster in the making.”

Enbridge aims to burnish image with feel-good ads

Enbridge is aiming to change the national debate about energy — and buff up its own image at the same time — with a multi-million-dollar advertising campaign highlighting how oil and gas fuel our lives.

The ads, running in the United States and Canada, illustrate how energy helps make everyday moments happen — from baking cupcakes and eating breakfast as a family to welcoming a newborn home and taking a road trip. A sample tagline: “When the energy you invest in life meets the energy we fuel it with, beautiful things happen.”

Russian Minister: Rosneft, Exxon to Finish Arctic Oil Well Drilling on Schedule

Russian oil company Rosneft and American corporation ExxonMobil will finish drilling on an offshore oil well in the Artic on October 10 according to schedule Russia’s Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Sergey Donskoy said Tuesday.

“The operations are on schedule,” Donskoy said.

Befouled Again: New Toxic Mine Spill Reported in Mexico’s Sonora River

After a flyover of the region showed an abnormal orange stain in the water, authorities in northern Mexico have issued a new alert of a toxic spill in the Sonora River basin from a copper mine operated by Grupo Mexico, the state director of civil protection said Sunday.

According to news reports, the Sonora state civil protection agency said it was ending its relationship with mining giant Grupo Mexico because it was continuing to discharge toxic substances into the river, even after a devastating spill in August of around 10 million gallons of acids and heavy metals contaminated two rivers and a dam downstream.

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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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