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Fri, 2014-03-07 13:51Julie Dermansky
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Whistleblower Evan Voke’s Evidence Against TransCanada Whitewashed By Regulators

Pipeline safety regulators in North America have done nothing but write warning letters to TransCanada in the two years since former employee Evan Vokes revealed evidence indicating the company had been breaking the rules.

A recently released report by the Canadian National Energy Board on TransCanada's integrity management programs stated: “There are areas where the company was found to be out of compliance.” The board gave TransCanada 30 days to come up with a plan to fix things internally.

In response, Vokes released a statement through the advocacy group, Public Citizen stating:

The Canadian government's audit criticizing TransCanada’s failings is a start, but leaves numerous safety concerns unaddressed. An audit based on paper and interviews only cannot catch non-compliance in the field. In my experience, TransCanada’s management failings are systemic and won’t be fixed simply by reviewing what TransCanada says its policies are on paper. These kind of reviews have not fixed the problem in the past and they aren’t sufficient now. Time and again, TransCanada’s internal and third-party audit systems have failed to catch the repeated substandard practice of engineering in the construction and maintenance of its pipelines. Unless regulators in Canada and the United States step up to the plate to ensure compliance in the field, future ruptures and risks to Americans are inevitable.”

The Canadian Senate held hearings in 2013 about the transport of hazardous materials after Vokes went to the media with what he said was proof that TransCanada was breaking the law. During the hearings the National Energy board testified they had verified much of the evidence Vokes provided.

The Senate’s report cites the National Energy Board's conclusion that TransCanada's incidents of non-compliance do not represent immediate threats to the safety of people or the environment. The report notes the board advanced its previously scheduled audit of TransCanada to include the specific concerns raised by Vokes, but recommends no further action.

“The lack of accountability with regulators is appalling,” Vokes told DeSmog Blog. He says he came forward because the oath he took to become an engineer requires him to put public safety first.

Fri, 2014-02-28 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Denton, Texas Citizens Group Fights For Fracking Ban

Maile Bush's three-bedroom home is sandwiched between two EagleRidge Energy fracking sites in Denton, Texas. Towering temporary walls block her view of the frack sites, but nothing can stop the noise, lights and fumes from infiltrating her property.

Bush’s formerly safe, quiet suburban neighborhood is now a dangerous industrial zone. Last October, when she learned about EagleRidge's plans to frack under the D.H. Horton subdivision her house is part of, ‘Meadows at Hickory Creek,' Bush started asking questions.

The answers she found — and the stress of living about 500 feet from one drill site and 800 feet from another — have caused constant strain on her family’s health.

Bush has been keeping her kids inside since the fracking started. She and her husband have been weighing relocation, but moving is costly and selling, difficult. In an interview with DeSmogBlog, Bush said,

“Who would want to buy my home now? My kids like their schools. My husband's job is here. And where would we move?”  

Any property available nearby would still be part of the Barnett Shale, where the fracking industry continues to grow.


Maile Bush inside her home with her kids, Kaden and Cassidy © 2014 Julie Dermansky

Tue, 2014-02-25 17:00Julie Dermansky
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Triple Divide: Interview with Mark Ruffalo on Fracking Documentary

“Triple Divide” is a timely cautionary documentary about the fracking industry in Pennsylvania. Clean water is the star of this film. The toxic impact of the fracking industry is the villain.

The film is a PublicHerald.org production, co-directed by journalists Joshua Pribanic and Melissa Troutman, and it features actor Mark Ruffalo as one of the narrators. 


Mark Ruffalo in Zuccotti Park with Occupy Wall Street protesters ©2011 Julie Dermansky

Using powerful camera work and informative animation, “Triple Divide” offers gripping first-hand accounts from landowners whose lives have been negatively impacted by fracking.   

Industry leaders, scientists, lawyers and politicians share the screen with Pennsylvania's rural landscape, defaced by the influx of industrial development. 

The movie raises the question, “How are state regulators and industry handling the impact of fracking?” and answers it by presenting examples of violations of state regulations.

“Triple Divide” presents example after example of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) doing little to curtail the fracking industry's rule-breaking practices despite the agency’s awareness of the violations. 

President Obama reaffirmed his support for the natural gas industry — which is propelled by fracking — in his recent State of the Union address, with the condition it be extracted safely.

But “Triple Divide” shows how lack of enforcement and inadequate regulations threaten some of Pennsylvania's most pristine waterways. 

Watch the trailer for Triple Divide:

Triple Divide - Trailer from Public Herald on Vimeo.

DeSmogBlog discussed “Triple Divide” with its directors and Mark Ruffalo. 

Sun, 2014-02-23 06:00Julie Dermansky
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Earthquakes Rattle Texas Towns in the Barnett Shale

Daniel Hogan thought he heard a sonic boom when a magnitude 3.6 earthquake hit Azle, Texas, last November. His home sustained damage — broken windows, cracked walls, damaged plumbing and foundation — but he did not have earthquake insurance to cover the repairs. He never imagined he'd need such protection in Texas.

Daniel Hogan in front of cracked window at his house in Azle ©2014 Julie Dermansky
Daniel Hogan in front of cracked window at his house in Azle ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Daniel Hogan reads a song he wrote about the earthquakes: 

Since November, Azle, Reno and Springtown, three small cities 50 miles west of Dallas, have been at the epicenter of more than 30 earthquakes. The seismic activity began after deep injection disposal wells built to house fracking's toxic wastewater went into operation. There are several injection wells in the area — three of which some suspect to be the cause of the quakes.

Tue, 2014-02-18 19:09Julie Dermansky
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Mardi Gras: Krewe du Vieux Raises Awareness of Environmental Threats to New Orleans

“Where the Vile Things Are,” the Krewe du Vieux's 2014 Mardi Gras parade electrified the streets of New Orleans on Saturday night, February 16, bursting with raucous irreverent satire. Floats addressing environmental and social issues rolled, as participants dressed in mutant fish and insect costumes danced in between them.

DeSmogBlog spoke with noted author and king of the parade John Barry before the first float rolled.

“This is a parade with the true spirit of Mardi Gras–satire,” he said. ” I don't know anything that's an easier target than the idea that the most anti-tax governor in the country wants us to pay for stuff that the law says the most profitable industry in the history of the world should pay for. How easy is that?”  

Barry is a hero to those fighting to restore the Gulf Coast, co-author of a lawsuit that insists oil and gas companies pay their fair share for the damage they have done. The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East, is pressing forward with the suit, despite Jindal's failure to reappoint Barry to the board.



John Barry, King of the Krewe du Vieux parade ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Thu, 2014-01-30 10:44Julie Dermansky
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Nordheim: A Texas Town Facing A Toxic Future

Nordheim, Texas, population 307, may soon have a 200-plus acre waste disposal plant as its neighbor despite the protests of the city’s mayor, Kathy Payne.

The small town (one bank, one school, one cafe and a couple of shops) is located in the Eagle Ford Shale region of southern Texas, where vast oil deposits have only recently become accessible through hydraulic fracturing — a process that involves injecting a mixture of water, sand and chemicals at high pressure underground to fracture the rocks and release the oil inside.


Nordheim Mayor Kathy Payne in City Hall. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

Payne learned about the waste disposal plant in the local paper. Because the facility is planned for outside city limits, industry doesn’t have to share its plans with her.

Since reading about the proposal she has done all she can to learn what it will mean for her city with the assistance of Louisiana-based environmental scientist Wilma Subra, who investigates industry hot spots to help citizens make informed decisions about developments coming their way.

The waste disposal site proposed by San Antonio-based Pyote Reclamation Service will be a quarter of a mile outside of Nordheim if it’s granted a permit by the Texas Railroad Commission, the regulatory agency for all things gas and oil in Texas. The facility would have eight pits up to 25 feet deep and span an area almost as big as the town itself. Pyote also has plans to install another facility 3.5 miles away. 

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