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Sat, 2014-09-20 05:00Mike G
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Proximity To Fracking Wells Increases Incidence Of Health Problems: Study

A new study has found that people living in close proximity to a fracked natural gas well are twice as likely to suffer upper-respiratory or skin problems.

The study, published by Environmental Health Perspectives, found that 39% of people living less than a kilometer from a well in Washington County, Pennsylvania, which is part of the Marcellus Shale, reported upper respiratory problems, compared to 18% of people living 2km or further from a well.

Some 13% of people living a kilometer or less from a natural gas well reported rashes and other skin problems, while 3% living 2km or further reported similar problems.

The study was led by researchers at Yale University and surveyed 492 people in 180 households with ground-fed water wells. The authors concluded:

While these results should be viewed as hypothesis generating, and the population studied was limited to households with a ground fed water supply, proximity of natural gas wells may be associated with the prevalence of health symptoms including dermal and respiratory conditions in residents living near natural gas extraction activities. Further study of these associations, including the role of specific air and water exposures, is warranted.


Further study is certainly warranted, especially in light of several other recent news items pointing to the dangers of fracking.

Fri, 2014-09-12 12:25Mike G
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California Refinery Gets Green Light for Five Times As Much Bakken Crude By Rail

The Kern County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday approved Alon USA Energy's plan to expand the rail terminal at its Bakersfield, CA refinery to receive five times as much crude oil by train.

Alon USA, which is based in Texas, hopes to take advantage of North America's booming oil production. The company plans to get oil from the fracked shale fields of Texas and North Dakota, which likely means a big increase in the amount of highly volatile Bakken crude imported into California. Reuters reports that the rail terminal will also be outfitted with the equipment to offload tar sands oil from Canada.

The Associated Press reported the news in stark terms: “Mile-long trains filled with millions of gallons of flammable crude oil may be rolling through Kern County next year.”

The company's plan is to increase the capacity of the refinery's rail terminal from 40 to 208 tank cars per day, which would make it the largest crude-by-rail facility in California (though Valero has similar plans for its Benicia, CA refinery, it would only increase its capacity to 100 cars a day). Alon USA's Bakersfield refinery, which has not been in full operation since 2012, will also be retrofit to process lighter Bakken crude.

Environmentalists are decrying the 5-0 vote to let Alon USA go ahead with the plan, saying the Board of Supervisors rushed its decision-making process and, in doing so, drastically understated the potentially devastating impacts that bringing more Bakken crude-by-rail to Kern County could have on public health and safety.

Fri, 2014-09-05 12:00Mike G
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Federal Judge: BP's "Willful Misconduct," "Gross Negligence" Led To Deepwater Horizon Disaster

A federal judge in New Orleans minced no words in handing down a ruling this week that found BP's “willful misconduct” and “gross negligence” caused the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The ruling is the result of a jury-less trial to determine who was at fault for the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill. The trial was held by District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans.

A blowout at BP's ultra-deepwater Macondo well in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20, 2010 caused an explosion that took the lives of 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon rig, which then sank to the bottom of the Gulf, some 5,000 feet below, leaving the well to spew oil for 87 days until it was capped.

Barbier rejected BP's assertion that Transocean, which leased the Deepwater Horizon rig to BP, and Halliburton, which was contracted by BP to do cement work on the well, deserved equal shares of blame. “BP's conduct was reckless,” Barbier wrote in his 153-page ruling. “Transocean's conduct was negligent. Halliburton's conduct was negligent.”

The judge assigned 67 percent of the fault to BP, 30 percent to Transocean, and 3 percent to Halliburton. According to Bloomberg, this makes BP liable for as much as $18 billion in fines. Having been found merely negligent, Transocean and Halliburton aren't facing such hefty punitive damages.

Sun, 2014-08-31 11:00Mike G
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Is California’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan Really About Conservation?

To understand what California Governor Jerry Brown’s Bay Delta Conservation Plan is all about, you have to understand a bit of history.

Back in 1982, once and future governor Jerry Brown pushed through a plan to build a canal that would divert water from the Sacramento River before it gets to the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta in order to feed the voracious appetite for water among farmers in California’s Central Valley and municipalities in Southern California.

The canal plan was defeated by a state-wide referendum in a stinging rebuke of Brown’s plan. Californians’ objections were based largely on concerns about the impact it would have on the fragile estuary ecosystem of the delta.

Now, 30 years later, the same Governor Jerry Brown is pushing for the same plan, but he wants to build two tunnels instead of a canal, and is estimated to cost between $25 billion and $54 billion. Many Californians are once again questioning the wisdom of Brown’s plan, especially environmentalists, who worry that if you take away the Sacramento River — which supplies some 80% of fresh water to the delta — you will do irreparable harm to the estuary.

There’s a larger concern, too: Many Californians feel that, at a time of record drought, when we’re all being asked to think about how much water we’re consuming and make a concerted effort to use less, those billions in taxpayer money would be better spent upgrading outdated infrastructure to ensure we’re using water more efficiently and lowering our overall water usage.

Sat, 2014-08-30 10:47Mike G
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Feds To Resume Oil And Gas Leases Despite Fracking Report That Raised "Grave Concerns"

Jim Kenna, the California Director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, told reporters on a conference call last Thursday that a new scientific report commissioned by the agency to study the environmental impacts of fracking has cleared the way for the leasing of public land to oil and gas companies in the Golden State.

Environmentalists, on the other hand, say that the report is anything but a solid basis on which to forge ahead with opening up more land to fracking.


“This report raises grave concerns about fracking pollution’s threat to California’s air and water,” says Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “But it also highlights the fact that government officials have never collected the data needed to determine the extent of the damage in our state. Using this report as a basis for continued fracking in California is illogical and illegal.”

The report itself does not try and hide its own shortcomings. One section reads: “Investigators could not determine the groundwater quality near many hydraulic fracturing operations and found that existing data was insufficient to evaluate the extent to which contamination may have occurred.”

Another part of the report says: “No information could be found about the toxicity of about a third of the chemicals and few of the chemicals have been evaluated to see if animals or plants would be harmed by chronic exposure.”

The Center for Biological Diversity, along with the Sierra Club, sued the federal government last year, arguing that the Obama Administration had broken the law when it decided to lease some 2,500 acres of public lands in Monterey County to oil and gas companies without properly studying the environmental risks of fracking.

A federal judge agreed with the green groups and ordered a halt to the leases.

Fri, 2014-08-29 05:00Mike G
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Stealth Carbon Bombs Stopped In Their Tracks

North America is now the biggest producer of oil in the world thanks largely to Canada’s tar sands and North Dakota’s Bakken shale, and West Coast refineries are looking to cash in.

But not all crude is created equal, and oil companies hoping to import tar sands oil and Bakken crude — known as “cost-advantaged crude” in industry parlance — are deliberately disguising the true nature of upgrades they’re making to their facilities in California when seeking the necessary permits from regulatory agencies or speaking about the projects to the public.

“We’re seeing this all over the state,” says Yana Garcia, a staff attorney with Communities for a Better Environment.

CBE, which is one of several green groups calling out refineries that appear to be acting in bad faith, was notified by the South Coast Air Quality Management District last Friday that the permitting process for a Tesoro refinery in Wilmington, CA had been put on hold after the group filed numerous comments in opposition to the “negative declaration” the SCAQMD had made.

A “negative declaration” is essentially a rubber stamp ruling from the regulatory body, meaning it agreed with Tesoro that no significant impacts to the environment and human health were likely and the oil company could go ahead with its plans to build a new shipyard pipeline which, the company said, was only intended to speed up offloading of crude from ships to shore-based storage tanks.

In a press release, CBE explains:

There was no mention of the corrosive and explosive crude oils Tesoro plans to import, or its plans to combine its Wilmington refining operation with its newly acquired BP refinery in Carson; omitting major increases in greenhouse gases that result from tar sands crude oil refining, and other key impacts. Based on Tesoro’s omissions, the environmental document for the project incorrectly concluded that there was not even the potential for significant impacts.


At its best, it’s just business being business, they want to get these crudes out to the refineries and start profiting from them,” Yana Garcia says. “At its worst, that gaming of the system is essentially about lying to the public and letting these pretty nasty projects go through in predominantly low-income communities of color.”

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