Julie Dermansky's blog

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. 

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.

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