Weekend Environmental Must-Reads – December 8-9, 2012


Conflicts, Errors Revealed In Positive Fracking Study

A report that shed favorable light on fracking is at the center of a controversy at the University of Texas. The head of the school’s Energy Institute has stepped down and another professor has retired after an investigation found numerous errors and flaws in the report — and undisclosed conflicts of interest.

In Wake of Scathing Review of Fracking Report, University of Texas Revises Conflict of Interest Policies

The University of Texas (UT), Austin, is getting a hard lesson in what can go wrong if you fail to spot and disclose a potential conflict of interest. UT has been clobbered with a tough outside review, made public yesterday by Provost Steven Leslie, of blunders in a controversial study on the use of hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas, known as “fracking.”

Hickenlooper: State won’t sue Longmont over fracking ban

The state won’t sue Longmont over its fracking ban, but will support any oil or gas companies that choose to do so, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s office confirmed Friday morning.

Judges rule fracking secrecy court case must be heard

A panel of appeals court judges ruled today that a court case over gas industry secrecy must be heard by a trial court, despite objections from the gas industry.

Americans Against Fracking formed by 100 groups

A group of over 100 public health, consumer, environmental and faith-based organizations announced today the launch of Americans Against Fracking, a national coalition dedicated to banning hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and drilling associated with fracking for oil and natural gas in the United States. Including organizations such as 350.org, Berks Gas Truth, Breast Cancer Action, CREDO Action, Catskill Mountain Keeper, Center for Biological Diversity, Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Democracy for America, Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, Frack-Free Stark County, Illinois People’s Action and National Nurses United, Americans Against Fracking supports federal state and local efforts to ban fracking and to stop practices that facilitate fracking like natural gas exports, frac sand mining and pipeline construction.

Review: UT Study Declaring Fracking Groundwater-Safe Failed To Disclose Conflict of Interest, Should Be Withdrawn

An independent review of the University of Texas study that famously declared fracking could not be tied to groundwater contamination has recommended that the school retract it.

The fracking boom, as told in six railroad industry graphs

You can learn the story of the fracking boom by looking at one set of data: railroad shipments. Because, you know, it’s 1890.

Our Lisa Hymas explained how and why oil companies are increasingly relying on rail shipments; in short, no new pipelines plus a huge spike in extraction. But how big is that spike? Here is how the Association of American Railroads depicts it [PDF]

Voters Say: Yes, Fracking Does More Harm Than Good

The more you know about fracking, the more likely you are to oppose it.

That’s how things played out at the Nov. 30 debate, sponsored by the Campbell Public Affairs Institute of Syracuse University, at which Cornell University Professor Robert Howarth and I duked it out with frack supporters Tim Whitesell and Ed Hinchey.

Yet Another Blow to the Fracking Industry

Weeks after SUNY Buffalo’s upper-level administration gave the Shale Resources and Society Institute (SRSI) the boot due to its gas industry public relations effort masked as a “study,” University of Texas-Austin’s (UT-Austin) administration has somewhat followed suit for its own “frackademia” study.

Natural Gas Nation: EIA Sees U.S. Future Shaped By Fracking

Truck stops will need restyled fuel pumps. New factories, and some old ones, will whir to life. Ports will send new tankers onto the open seas, heralding the return of the United States to the top of the global energy scene.

All these changes already are in motion, according to the new U.S. government annual energy outlook, a document that paints the clearest picture yet of the transformation being wrought by the natural gas boom.

BLM studying massive Wyo. gas field expansion on mostly public land

The Obama administration has taken a major step toward authorizing what could become one of the nation’s largest natural gas fields in southern Wyoming that, if built out over the next 15 years, could produce enough natural gas to heat millions of homes a year for decades.

The oil man who figured out fracking

He cracked the code. That’s what folks in the oilpatch say about George Mitchell. In the 1970s and ’80s, the country’s conventional, big pools of natural gas were tapped out. Drillers looked in new geologic formations, but found themselves stumped.

“We knew the gas was there,” Mitchell tells Marketplace. “We didn’t know how to get it free.”

Students’ fossil-fuel divestment campaign aims at colleges’ creamy moral centers

Those kids today, amirite? What with their video games and their Facebooks and their grassroots organizing to create sociopolitical change. 350.org’s campaign to create pressure on universities to divest from fossil fuel companies is not just rolling — it’s snowballing.

Testing continues at giant Louisiana sinkhole after Hydrogen Sulfide detected

There are more developments concerning the giant Louisiana sinkhole in Assumption Parish and once again, the highly toxic gas Hydrogen Sulfide is involved.

Officials seek gas source

Dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas was detected Friday in fumes coming from crude oil drawn from an investigatory well tapped into a Texas Brine Co. LLC salt cavern in northern Assumption Parish, company and parish officials said.

BP Oil Spill Flow Rate Vastly Understated For Weeks, Emails Show

Emails that attorneys representing a defendant in the BP oil spill case plan to introduce in February show for the first time that the oil company knew the massive scale of the 2010 blowout in the Gulf of Mexico weeks earlier than previously disclosed.

Gulf of Mexico oysters consumed little, if any, oil from BP spill, study says

Gulf of Mexico oysters consumed little, if any of the crude oil from the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill that spewed nearly half a million tons of crude oil into Gulf waters, according to a recent scientific paper. A study last year by University of New Orleans oyster biologist Thomas Soniat similarly found that oysters — at known oil-exposed sites in Louisiana — showed no contamination or apparent biological signs of exposure six months after the 2010 spill.

Lawmakers seek probe of sheen near oil spill site

Two Democratic lawmakers are asking the U.S. Coast Guard to investigate a sheen that appeared last week on the Gulf of Mexico surface near the site of the BP well that blew out and caused the 2010 oil spill.

BP spill’s socioeconomic damage needs attention, too: Jeffrey Buchanan

On the heels of a historic criminal plea agreement between BP and the Justice Department over the 2010 oil spill, questions about how the money will be spent loom ever larger. When an agreement on civil fines and environmental damages is reached, how can we make best use of those potential billions? Can we find ways to restore critical ecosystems while we help families who have been struggling since the spill devastated fishing grounds, oyster reefs, a fragile economic system and a way of life?

Panel OKs new formula for BP funds

Representatives from Bay, Walton, Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties voted Friday to accept a lesser share of RESTORE Act funds so smaller counties among Florida’s eight most impacted by the BP oil spill can receive more.

BP engulfed in lawsuit over 40-day Texas flare

By now images of the April 2010 Gulf oil spill are indelible: The rig engulfed in smoke, oil gushing into the ocean, beaches stained on the coast. These images defined the largest environmental disaster in U.S. history — and sealed BP PLC’s reputation as a corporate polluter.

Oil spill – appropriate measures taken, Minister

The Ministry of Environment and Housing is “committed to ensuring that all is being done” to limit the environmental impact of oil spills in Freeport, Grand Bahama and Rock Sound, Eleuthera, a press conference was told on Thursday.

The inevitable oil spill

For the most part, the government has been rather nonchalant about the MSC Eugenia oil leak in Bahamian waters.

Yet, this “at sea” event was picked up by the Associated Press and made international news in places such as Vancouver, Las Vegas, and the online media behemoth The Huffington Post.

Oil spill investigation will continue

The Public Prosecutor of Curacao (OM) launched a criminal investigation into the cause of the oil spill since the ‘Oil spill’ of August 18 at Jan Kok. The results of the sample analysis has been in and give, according to the public, response to further questions.

Keystone Conflict: Nebraska Firm Reviewing Tar Sands Project Has Ties to Pipeline Builder

When Nebraska residents showed up for their final chance to speak out about the proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Tuesday night, they were greeted at every turn by smiling employees of HDR Engineering, Inc., uniformly decked out in khaki pants and blinding white Oxford shirts embroidered with the company’s corporate logo. HDR, an engineering and consulting firm based in Omaha, was hired by the state to conduct an environmental impact assessment of the $7 billion project, which, if approved, would transport toxic crude oil from the Alberta tar sands fields across Nebraska’s environmentally sensitive Sandhills and the largest freshwater aquifer in North America.

Crude Behavior: The Tarnished Legacy of the Tar Sands Industry

If the American dream can be reduced to a single image, it is of the homestead—a place earned through long days and late nights, hard work, planning and saving. It represents not only a dream realized, but an investment in your family and future, and a place that is rightfully all your own.

Now imagine that home, that achievement, taken away with a knock at your door, seized in the blink of an eye by a company you’ve never heard of, stolen away in distant boardrooms without your knowledge or consent, all of it enabled by the government you pay your taxes to. As Americans this seems unimaginable, and yet, for those whose homes lie in the cross-hairs of the tar sands oil industry, it’s a bleak reality.

Environmental activists rally for fracking conference

Environmental activists met Saturday at the University of Baltimore to organize a push for a legislative ban on the natural gas drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing — or fracking — casting the issue as a fight pitting the little guys versus the lobbyists.

Unlike its Neighbors, Maryland Refuses to Rush Headfirst into Fracking

Maryland doesn’t want to be another Pennsylvania, Ohio or West Virginia—at least as far as rushing into shale gas development is concerned.

Maryland inches closer to decision time on hydraulic fracturing

As states in the Mid-Atlantic lined up for the jobs and tax revenue that would come with drilling deep into the shale to release gas, Maryland held back.

Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and other state officials said no thanks, wary that poisonous chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing could contaminate groundwater in rural areas where it matters most.

Potential Fracking In Maryland Sparks Controversy

Does it harm or help? That’s the question surrounding a controversial natural gas drilling method that could come to western Maryland.

Will There Be Fracking by February?

The Cuomo administration could be headed toward approval of hydraulic fracturing in New York by the end of February, when a 90-day extension on a rule making process ends.

Fracking is transforming our energy economy–but it’s also causing earthquakes

In just the past few years a revolution in carbon extraction technology has radically transformed our energy economy. Previously untapped natural gas reserves, trapped by giant rock formations thousands of feet below the Earth’s surface, are now accessible to us thanks to something called hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking.” The natural gas boom that we are now experiencing has cut natural gas prices in half since 2008, and has hastened the demise of the coal industry, which now only provides a third of our energy supply. The political establishment has been almost universal in its praise of this development, calling natural gas a healthier alternative to oil and coal and “an ideal energy source that we potentially can use for the next hundred years,” as President Obama put it in July.

Organic message: Fracking and farming don’t mix

“Buy Fresh, Buy Local” has become the mantra of the organic farming movement in the Northeast, a growing agricultural trend that has sprouted in the Marcellus Shale region where an equally powerful industry boom is buying up the land and erecting rigs to extract natural gas.

The Marcellus Shale region of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and West Virginia counts the highest concentration of organic farms, raising concerns that fracking will jeopardize produce and cause risks to farm animals. Farming and fracking, many believe, don’t mix.

The fracking dream which is putting Britain’s future at risk

Amid the inky gloom that shrouded George Osborne when he delivered a wintry autumn statement of more cuts and further tax rises, there was a dreamy gleam in the eye of the chancellor. Like a Spanish conquistador setting out for Latin America, he thinks he can find a source of fabulous riches. This El Dorado is not made of bullion, but it sounds as good as gold when you hear him and other enthusiasts talk about this magic stuff. It is natural gas in underground shales. For believers, and there are now many of them in the Tory party, shale gas is going to provide Britain with a remarkable bonanza of cheap energy.

Proposed Rules on Fracking Gain Cautious Praise

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process of shooting water, sand and chemicals underground to retrieve oil or natural gas trapped in shale rock, has made plenty of headlines in recent years. But the drilling process involves many other steps beyond breaking up rock — and several opportunities for things to go wrong.

FPL wants to build major gas pipeline in state

TALLAHASSEE — With utilities relying heavily on natural gas to fuel power plants, Florida Power & Light is pursuing a plan to add a major new pipeline that would stretch across hundreds of miles of the state.

Officials seek gas source

Dangerous hydrogen sulfide gas was detected Friday in fumes coming from crude oil drawn from an investigatory well tapped into a Texas Brine Co. LLC salt cavern in northern Assumption Parish, company and parish officials said.

Flaring at Shell Chemical plant in Norco to continue through Sunday

A malfunctioning Shell Chemical unit located on the Motiva Enterprises campus in Norco that lost power on Thursday was restarted about 10 p.m. Saturday, according to a news release from the company. The company warned residents that the flaring and smoke that had preceded Thursday’s power outage will continue through Sunday.

New evidence suggests BP knowingly downplayed huge scale of oil leak in 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster

Documents that will be presented to court in February appear to show that BP knew about the massive scale of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil blowout weeks earlier than previously stated.

Gulf waters and oil workers must be safe: Frances Beinecke

From out of the Gulf of Mexico this fall come two tragic lessons about offshore drilling. First, we, as a nation, can’t tolerate companies that put our workers, waters and wildlife at needless risk. And, second, we’ve got a long way to go to minimize those risks.

Official: Federal draft on Keystone pipeline due in ‘near future’

A preliminary decision from the U.S. State Department on the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline project is coming soon, catching some by surprise because Nebraska’s review of the controversial project is not yet done.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a draft environmental impact statement on the rerouted crude oil pipeline is coming “in the near future.”

Journal writers claim pipeline risks in Nebraska are manageable

Potential groundwater contamination risks posed by the Keystone XL pipeline in Nebraska are minimal and manageable under a “risk-managed” route proposed by a University of Nebraska-Lincoln water scientist, claim two writers of a recent journal article.

Worker wants new government to secure safety at Fukushima plant

A man in his 50s hopes that a new government to be formed after the Dec. 16 Lower House election will protect the health of workers like himself at the stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant, many of whom fear for their jobs.

Rise of the machines: Hitachi joins robot race to dismantle Fukushima ruins

Japanese company Hitachi has unveiled a new remote-controlled robot designed for lifting duties in radioactive areas of Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant. Earlier, Toshiba also demonstrated a radiation-resistant robot for Fukushima.

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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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