Environmental Must-Reads – September 27, 2013


Super foodie Alice Waters launches anti-fracking fight

Some of California’s best-known chefs and restaurateurs are whipping up a fight against fracking in the Golden State.

High hopes that California would impose a moratorium on fracking, a process in which chemicals are injected into the ground to extract oil and gas, were dashed on Friday when Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation that regulates the process but does not stop it. Opponents say fracking pollutes water and threatens farms. California is the source of 15 percent of the nation’s crops.

Tough fracking law applauded by oilman

With the exception of Gov. Jerry Brown, there may be no bigger fan of California’s new law regulating fracking than the outspoken CEO of a Texas oil company who calls the bill Brown signed on Friday “the toughest in the states.”

Chris Faulkner, CEO of Breitling Oil and Gas, is a cheerleader for the oil industry who told Opportunist magazine earlier this year that fracking is “100 percent safe” and preaches the industry gospel in paid radio spots that air each day in Dallas and Los Angeles.

True Extent of Flood Damage to Colorado’s Oil Industry Becomes Clearer

Torrential rain earlier in the month caused mass flooding across the state of Colorado, a state that in recent years has experienced a boom in oil and gas drilling and production due to the development of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling technologies.

Thousands of wells have been drilled across the state, and whilst operators shut off any equipment located in flood-prone areas, so far more than 37,000 gallons of oil have spilt as a result of damage caused by the floodwater, and the states oil and gas industry is rushing around trying to clean up the leaks as fast as possible.

The Fracking Boom’s Other Frontier

The rules are set, and now high level fracking is about to come to Illinois. It’s the controversial method of drilling for oil and natural gas deep below the ground. But, as the fracking debate subsides, another debate is surfacing in Illinois. This one over a natural resource that is becoming invaluable to frackers — sand. We traveled 100 miles west of Chicago where some believe Illinois’ most popular state park may be threatened by this booming industry.

N.D. Oil Industry Flares Off $1B Worth of Natural Gas…But Balks at Investments in Renewable Fuels

As it turns out, the oil and gas industry really does have “money to burn.” According to a recent study, government data show that nearly 30% of the natural gas extracted as a byproduct of fracking for oil in North Dakota is being burned off, or “flared.” That’s right, three out of every 10 cubic feet of natural gas extracted in North Dakota ends up being burned at the wellhead and released into the atmosphere.

EDF Reveals American Petroleum Institute’s Disinformation Campaign

In an email blast to Capitol Hill staffers this week, American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard made false claims about a much- discussed new University of Texas methane emissions study. Gerard said the study “proves” that “hydraulic fracturing is safe for the environment.” To support that inaccurate claim, the email cherry picks findings from the recently published UT study, which was coordinated by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and focuses on natural gas production, the first phase in the supply chain. Gerard used study results that measured emissions below previous estimates, ignored others that found higher than estimated methane emissions, and implied that the study gave a complete picture of system emissions when it only deals with the production phase.

Methane out, carbon dioxide in?

A University of Virginia engineering professor has proposed a novel approach for keeping waste carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

Andres Clarens, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at U.Va.’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, and graduate student Zhiyuan Tao have published a paper in which they estimate the amount of carbon dioxide that could be stored in hydraulically fractured shale deposits after the methane gas has been extracted. Their peer-reviewed finding was published in Environmental Science and Technology, a publication of the American Chemical Society.

New York makes a move on natural gas (in liquefied form)

New York moved toward lifting its four-decade-long ban on storing liquefied natural gas, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation proposing regulations for siting new facilities earlier this week.

Poll: Opposition To Fracking Rises Sharply In 2013

Opposition to the controversial oil drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing — or “fracking” — has risen sharply this year, according to new findings released Thursday by Pew Research Center.

Nearly half of Americans — 49 percent — said they are opposed to fracking, which uses a high-pressure combination of water and chemicals to extract oil and gas from underground rock formations, while 44 percent said they support the technique. In March, 48 percent said they supported fracking while 38 percent said they were opposed.

Fracking Victims Demand EPA Reopen Investigations Into Poisoned Drinking Water 

Residents personally harmed by gas drilling and fracking held a press conference in front of the White House yesterday and delivered 250,000 petition signatures from concerned citizens across the U.S. to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy at EPA headquarters. The residents—including Ray Kemble from Pennsylvania, Steve Lipsky and Shelly Perdue from Texas and John Fenton from Wyoming—were all part of the EPA fracking investigations in their respective states that the EPA abandoned despite evidence of water contamination.

Experts Predict Effects Of Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Could Last Decades

The Deepwater Horizon disaster could have a lasting impact on the Gulf of Mexico, according to a new paper suggesting that the region’s deep-sea soft-sediment ecosystem could take decades to recover from the 2010 oil spill.

The authors claim that their study, which was printed last month by the online journal PLoS ONE, provides comprehensive results on the spill’s effect on deep-water communities at the base of the Gulf’s food chain for the first time.

BP battles for billions in new Gulf trial phase

Starting on Monday in New Orleans, this second of three phases of a trial determining responsibilities for the worst marine pollution ever seen in the United States, could – in the worst outcome for the British firm – land BP with a bill five times greater than the $3.5 billion it has set aside for fines, Reuters reported.

Defense seeks to toss BP supervisors’ manslaughter charges

Lawyers for two BP rig supervisors charged with manslaughter in the Deepwater Horizon disaster say the indictment should be dismissed because prosecutors accuse the men of violating standards that didn’t exist when an explosion killed 11 workers on April 20, 2010.

How to clean a lake with an unstoppable oil spill: Drain the lake

We told you in July that tar-sands oil had been leaking into the Canadian wilderness from a drilling site for well over a month — and that nobody knew how to stanch the flow.

It would be nice to update you on how that leak was finally fixed. No such luck: The oil is still leaking.

Student Plans to Test Mayflower Oil Spill for Dispersants

An environmental geology student at UALR plans to set up a lab within the next six months to test if illegal chemical dispersants are being used to clean up the oil spill in Mayflower. Alyssa Martinez told Channel 7 News that she believes the situation needs to be looked into.

Mayflower Residents Hold 6th Meeting, Learn New Information

It’s been six months since a Pegasus pipeline ruptured, sending thousands of barrels of crude oil throughout Mayflower.

On Thursday night, residents held their sixth town hall meeting to get more answers. Community leaders provided new information regarding March’s Mayflower oil spill.

Mobile Alabama: A Tar Sands Mecca in the Making

It took a while for the Alabama public to understand that their state is being transformed into a tar sands Mecca. Proposals for rail and pipeline transport and tar sands storage facilities were first presented in 2010, and by 2012, most were rubber stamped with no public input.

But in 2013, a handful of concerned citizens in the Mobile Bay Sierra Club and the newly formed Tar Sands Mobile Coalition cried foul. And now their cries are being heard.

That Time Mickey Mouse and Goofy Shilled for Exxon at Disney World

Back in 1985, Mickey Mouse and his old pal Goofy taught kids visiting Disney’s EPCOT Center about the future of energy in America—with a little help from the good folks at Exxon.

Some kids at the World’s Fair-themed park received a complimentary comic book entitled Mickey and Goofy Explore The Universe of Energy at Epcot Center. Tied to the Universe of Energy attraction, (which at that time was sponsored by Exxon), the comic is a fascinating snapshot of Exxon’s PR strategy in the mid-’80s; one made just a little bit creepy given that it was directed at children.

Heitkamp warns Obama on Keystone XL Pipeline approval

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a freshman Democrat from North Dakota, is ready to take on President Obama over the long-delayed approval for the Keystone XL Pipeline — and she predicts her side will prevail.

“We know that we have the votes here in the Senate; we certainly have the votes in the House,” she told USA TODAY on Thursday. “In fact, I think we could build enough votes to override a veto.”

Keystone Pipeline Project Faces Nebraska Court Showdown

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline faces a court challenge in Nebraska where three property owners contend state legislation gave the governor illegal power to take away their land for the project. .

Nebraska’s Legislature transferred to Governor Dave Heineman and, through him, to Calgary-based pipeline builder TransCanada Corp. (TRP), its authority over eminent domain in violation of the state constitution’s separation of powers, the landowners said in a court filing. Today they are scheduled to ask Judge Stephanie Stacy in Lincoln, the state’s capital, to strike down that legislation.

ASUC Senate unanimously passes bill in opposition to Keystone XL pipeline

The ASUC Senate unanimously passed SB 11, a bill in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, at its meeting Wednesday night.

The bill, written and co-sponsored by CalSERVE Senator Caitlin Quinn, opposes the construction of the extension of the current Keystone pipeline that could harm the environment and the economy due to the harmful nature of extracting and refining crude oil from tar sands.

Canada PM Won’t Accept US Rejection of Keystone XL

Canada’s prime minister said Thursday he “won’t take no for an answer” if the Obama administration reject  the controversial Keystone XL pipeline to the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Keystone XL project, a flashpoint in the debate over climate change, during a visit to New York City. The long-delayed project carrying oil from Canada’s oil sands needs approval from the U.S. State Department, and Harper’s remarks are some of his strongest to date.

Climatologist Caldeira: Building Keystone XL Would Mean Obama Is Not Serious About Climate Action

Climatologist Ken Caldeira has a message for deniers who misrepresent his views on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline:

Building Keystone XL will mean that Obama is not serious about transitioning to a near-zero emission energy system, and that could have huge and easily detectable consequences for global climate.

Amy Goodman: Climate change protests heat up

Last week, far out in the Arctic Ocean, the Greenpeace vessel Arctic Sunrise approached a Russian oil-drilling platform and launched a nonviolent protest, with several protesters scaling the side of the platform. They wanted to draw attention to a dangerous precedent being set. The platform, the Prirazlomnaya, owned by Russian gas giant Gazprom, is the first to begin oil production in the dangerous, ice-filled waters of the Arctic. The Russian government responded swiftly and with force, deploying special-forces soldiers, their faces masked by balaclavas, threatening the peaceful Greenpeace activists with automatic weapons, destroying their inflatable boats by slashing them, arresting 30 and towing the Greenpeace ship to the northern Russian port of Murmansk. At last report, the protesters faced a potential charge of piracy.

Russia Holds Activists Over Arctic Oil Protest

A Russian court on Thursday ordered 14 Greenpeace activists and a photojournalist to be held in custody for two months pending further investigation over a protest against offshore Arctic oil drilling, drawing criticism from the environmental group.

Fukushima’s Worst-Case Scenarios

On a heavily guarded campus east of San Francisco stands Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the U.S. government’s premier scientific research facilities. Hours after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan on March 11, 2011, a team of Livermore scientists mobilized to begin assessing the danger from the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant. The 40-odd team members include physicists, meteorologists, computer modelers, and health specialists. Their specialty is major airborne hazards—toxic matter from chemical fires, ash from erupting volcanoes, or radioactive emissions.

Japanese utility seeks to restart 2 Fukushima reactors

Tokyo Electric Power Co. requested on Friday that safety inspections be carried out to allow it to restart two nuclear reactors, despite concerns over how it has handled the catastrophe at the Fukushima plant.

All of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are offline while regulators consider restarts under safety rules revised after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

High levels of radiation discovered in new well at Fukushima plant

Highly radioactive water accumulating in underground tunnels at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is spreading to the surrounding soil, according to new data.

Radioactive substances of 400,000 becquerels per liter were found in water samples from a well at the wrecked nuclear power plant, the plant operator, Tokyo Electric Power Co., said on Sept. 27.

Fish caught offshore from Fukushima hit markets in Japan today

Fish caught off the Fukushima Prefecture coastline in Japan are being sold starting today, reports Mainichi, “after fisheries cooperatives here resumed test fishing” and after the fish themselves were tested for radiation. Over 5 tons of fish and cetaceans were caught yesterday, and after radiation screening, made their way into fish markets and grocery stores starting today.

TEPCO seeks 2 more restarts of Japan nuke reactors

Tokyo Electric Power Co. requested on Friday that safety inspections be carried out to allow it to restart two nuclear reactors, despite concerns over how it has handled the catastrophe at the Fukushima plant.

All of Japan’s 50 nuclear reactors are offline while regulators consider restarts under safety rules revised after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami caused meltdowns at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi plant.

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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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