Julie Dermansky's blog

Wed, 2014-01-22 14:43Julie Dermansky
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TransCanada's Keystone XL South Pipeline Set To Begin Operations Today

Today, January 22, the southern portion of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline is set to become operational, although environmentalists and Texas homeowners are continuing to fight against it.

TransCanada is surely celebrating now that it has a pipeline system in place connecting the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals — via the combination of the original Keystone pipeline running from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and the pipeline it connects to, Keystone XL's southern half (now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project) which President Obama fast-tracked via executive order nearly two years ago.

But nobody except the pipeline's owners knows exactly what will be transported through the Gulf Coast pipeline. TransCanada declined to reveal this important information, citing the confidentiality of their commercial contracts. Jeannie Shiffer, a spokesperson for the U.S. Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's (PHMSA), part of the Department of Transportation, confirmed that, “PHMSA doesn't require pipeline operators to report crude oil types.” 

This leaves landowners and first responders in a precarious situation in the inevitable case of a spill. As tar sands pipeline spills in Kalamazoo, Michigan and Mayflower, Arkansas have made clear, tar sands dilbit is more toxic than conventional oil and requires a different spill response effort.

Thu, 2014-01-09 04:00Julie Dermansky
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Steve Lipsky Responds To Report Clearing EPA of Wrongdoing in Fracking Water Contamination Study

Steven Lipsky's phone was busy on the morning of Christmas Eve. The Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General had just released its report concluding the EPA was justified in intervening to protect drinking water from hydraulic fracturing in Weatherford, Texas, despite assertions to the contrary from the oil and gas industry and Congressional Republicans.

In 2010, Mr. Lipsky alerted the agency to his contaminated well water and the fact that he could light his water on fire. An EPA investigation determined that Range Resources' hydraulic fracturing activities caused the contamination.

Six Republican senators had quickly initiated an investigation of the report, questioning the agency's motivation and the validity of its findings. 

According to the Associated Press, Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) has dismissed the Inspector General's report confirming that the EPA was justified in issuing an Emergency Order to Range Resources, the drilling company. But others, including Sharon Wilson, Gulf Regional Organizer for environmental group Earthworks, filmmaker Josh Fox and former EPA Regional Administrator Al Armendariz see the report as vindication of the EPA and Steven Lipsky.

So does Mr. Lipsky feel vindicated? No, he does not, and he says he won't until the entire story is told and the truth is completely revealed. Additionally, Lipsky wants to see an end to the $3 million defamation lawsuit filed by Range Resources against him

When I spoke to Lipsky on Christmas day, he told me the findings in the Inspector General report are just the tip of the iceberg.  His neighbors are still in a perilous situation and no specific actions are being taken to provide a remedy for explosive contaminates in their water.  

Steven Lipsky speaks out about the dangers facing his neighbors:

Here is an abridged version of my interview with Steven Lipsky:

Mon, 2013-12-30 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Eagle Ford Shale: Breathe at Your Own Risk

Fracking is in full swing in the Eagle Ford Shale region of southern Texas, home to the most productive oil field in the United States.

For Cynthia Dupnik, whose Karnes County home is in the center of the region, life is no longer serene. At night, she says the landscape is frighteningly apocalyptic, marked by the roaring flares spreading pollutants across the sky from oil and gas operations.


Marathon tank battery facility in Hobson, Texas

The first time Dupnik heard about fracking was when Marathon Oil Corporation started drilling near her home. After complaining that she was getting sick, Marathon sent a team to take air samples on her property, but never returned with the test results.

Dupnik is also concerned about a nearby Marathon Challenger tank battery, a facility used in shale production, which almost constantly has a flare emitting toxic fumes into the air only six-tenths of a mile from Dupnik's home. Some nights the flare from the tank battery site is so bright she can see it from her front porch.

On the evening of December 13, Dupnik says the noise coming from the tank battery site was louder than usual and the air smelled like rotten eggs. She experienced a metallic taste in her mouth and had a hard time breathing so she called the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). No one picked up, so she called the sheriff's office, which sent a deputy over. The deputy told Dupnik the noise and smell were not out of the ordinary, but called the Texas Railroad Commission which assured Dupnik they would let the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality know.

Dupnik had already lodged a complaint about the tanker battery site with the commission in July 2013, and was assured test results were forthcoming. Despite repeated followup, Dupnik says she’s been unable to get any information about the test results.

Tue, 2013-12-24 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Happy Holidays From Cancer Alley: Christmas Lights Overshadowed By Shell's Flaring

The streets of Norco, Louisiana are filled with Christmas lights like lots of U.S. towns this season. But on December 19th, the sky above Norco was illuminated by massive flaring at Shell Chemical's refinery in town. A friend of mine posted on Facebook that he could see the flares from the Twin Span Bridge, over 50 miles from Norco, so I went to check it out.

Watch what I documented when I visited Norco on December 19th:

When asked about what caused the flares, Shell's U.S. media spokesperson, Kimberly Windon, replied by email, 

“On Thursday, December 19, 2013, the Norco Manufacturing Complex (Chemical) experienced an operational upset on one of its units, which has resulted in flaring and smoke.  There were no injuries associated with this situation. All appropriate agencies were notified and we continue to keep the local community informed.  For reasons of commercial confidentiality, we do not provide details about the operational status of individual units or information on supply.” 

Flares are nothing new to the residents of Norco, especially in the Diamond community, where toxic air pollution has long threatened an African American neighborhood sandwiched between a chemical plant and an oil refinery.

Tue, 2013-12-17 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Broken Trust: Victims of Pipeline Spills Tell Their Stories

Evaluating pipeline safety is the business of engineers and scientists, but evaluating the human cost of transporting hazardous materials near people’s homes is best left to those who’ve experienced the fallout.

Homeowners shared their experiences with industry insiders at the New Orleans Pipeline Safety Trust conference in New Orleans late last month.

On March 29, Exxon's Pegasus pipeline burst in Mayflower, Arkansas, releasing up to 7,000 barrels of diluted bitumen. That's where Ann Jarrell and her family lived, just outside the evacuation zone set by government officials — a zone she believes was too small because it didn’t reflect the fact the pipeline was carrying diluted bitumen, which is more toxic then crude oil.

Bitumen is diluted with a mixture of undisclosed toxic emulsifiers to help it flow through pipelines — a factor homeowners, government officials and first responders appear to often be left in the dark about.

On the day of the spill, Jarrell's daughter Jennifer, who lived in her house with her infant son, suggested they leave because of the smell. She learned in school that in the case of a spill, if you can hear it, see it, smell it or touch it, you need to leave the area immediately. Jarrell called the local police and asked about evacuating. She was told if there wasn’t oil on her land, she didn't need to leave her home. So Jarrell and her family stayed. But, she told the room full of industry insiders, “I should have listened to my daughter.”  


Ann Jarrell, Homeowner from Mayflower, Arkansas ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Wed, 2013-12-11 05:00Julie Dermansky
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Texas Fracking Bonanza: How Arlington Fell to the Frackers

Fort Worth was the first major city in America to allow extensive fracking within the city limits — but it wasn’t the last. Arlington, Texas, fell to the frackers next — only this time, the frackers were required to make their installations less of an eyesore.

Berms were built up around fracking sites and compressor centers to hide them from view, and active drill sites have temporary walls built up around them to keep the noise down. But walls don't stop chemical seepage.


Fracking site in Arlington, Texas, a suburb of Dallas. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Kim Feil, an educator, blogger and environmental activist, is no stranger to chemical exposure. She moved from New Sarpy, Louisiana, part of an area known as Cancer Alley due to its many refineries and high incidence of cancer, to Arlington, before the fracking began.

Feil monitors new industrial developments and does what she can to stop them by attending city-zoning meetings. Her blog keeps neighbors informed about what is coming next and which fracking installations are having problems. Other concerned citizens share heartbreaking stories with her about sicknesses they believe are connected to fracking.

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