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Sat, 2014-12-13 13:10Guest
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California Communities Fighting Back Against Prospect Of 25-Fold Crude-By-Rail Increase

This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.

Ed Ruszel’s workday is a soundtrack of whirling, banging, screeching — the percussion of wood being cut, sanded, and finished. He’s the facility manager for the family business, Ruszel Woodworks. But one sound each day roars above the cacophony of the woodshop: the blast of the train horn as cars cough down the Union Pacific rail line that runs just a few feet from the front of his shop in an industrial park in Benicia, California.

Most days the train cargo is beer, cars, steel, propane, or petroleum coke. But soon two trains of 50 cars each may pass by every day carrying crude oil to a refinery owned by neighboring Valero Energy. Valero is hoping to build a new rail terminal at the refinery that would bring 70,000 barrels a day by train — or nearly 3 million gallons.

And it’s a sign of the times.

Crude by rail has increased 4,000 percent across the country since 2008 and California is feeling the effects. By 2016 the amount of crude by rail entering the state is expected to increase by a factor of 25. That’s assuming industry gets its way in creating more crude by rail stations at refineries and oil terminals. And that’s no longer looking like a sure thing.

Tue, 2014-12-09 06:28Mike Gaworecki
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Call For Crude-By-Rail Moratorium In California After Train Derailment

A train derailment last week has prompted a California state legislator to call for a moratorium on crude-by-rail shipments through the state’s “most treacherous” passes.

Twelve cars derailed on a Union Pacific rail line along the Feather River northeast of Oroville, CA in the early morning hours of November 5th. The state Office of Emergency Services responded by saying “we dodged a bullet” due to the fact that the train was carrying corn, some of which spilled into the river, and not oil.

State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), a vocal critic of the state’s emergency preparedness for responding to crude-by-rail accidents, does not think California should wait around for a bullet it can’t dodge before taking action. Hill sent a letter to Governor Jerry Brown calling for a moratorium on shipments of volatile crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and other hazardous materials via the Feather River Canyon and several other high risk routes throughout California.

“This incident serves as a warning alarm to the State of California,” Hill wrote in the letter. “Had Tuesday’s derailment resulted in a spill of oil, the spill could have caused serious contamination in the Feather River, flowing into Lake Oroville and contaminating California’s second largest reservoir that supplies water to the California Water Project and millions of people.”

Sun, 2014-11-23 11:57Mike Gaworecki
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Monster Wells: Hundreds Of Fracking Wells Using 10-25 Million Gallons of Water Each

While the oil and gas industry likes to claim that fracking is not an especially water intensive process, a new report has found that there are more than 250 wells across the country that each require anywhere from 10 to 25 million gallons of water.

The American Petroleum Institute suggests that the typical fracked well uses “the equivalent of the volume of three to six Olympic sized swimming pools,” which works out to 2-4 million gallons of water.

But using data reported by the industry itself and available on the FracFocus.org website, Environmental Working Group has determined that there are at least 261 wells in eight states that used an average of 12.7 million gallons of water, adding up to a total of 3.3 billion gallons, between 2010 and 2013. Fourteen wells used over 20 million gallons each in that time period (see chart below).

According to EWG, some two-thirds of these water-hogging wells are in drought-stricken areas. Many parts of Texas, for instance, are suffering through a severe and prolonged drought, yet the Lone Star State has by far the most of what EWG calls “monster wells” with 149. And 137 of those were found to be in abnormally dry to exceptional drought areas.

Texas also has the dubious distinction of having the most wells using fresh water in the fracking process. In 2011 alone, more than 21 billion gallons of fresh water were used for fracking Texas wells. Increased pumping by companies seeking to extract the oil and gas in the Eagle Ford shale formation, meanwhile, has been cited as a major cause of the state’s rapidly declining groundwater levels.

Wed, 2014-11-19 10:00Mike Gaworecki
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Regulators Are Failing To Protect Californians From Oil And Gas Development

Two new reports show that California regulators are failing to enforce basic measures to protect the public—particularly in the most vulnerable communities—from the impacts of oil and gas development.

The FracTracker Alliance has a new report showing that there are 352,724 children in California who attend a school within one mile of an oil and gas well, including at least 217 wells using fracking, acidizing, and gravel packing as a stimulation technique.

State law and corresponding regulations do not place any limit on where the oil and gas industry is allowed to drill, nor do they require that notice be given to parents, teachers, or school officials when fracking or other high intensity oil extraction methods will be used in close proximity to schools, despite the growing number of scientific studies that have identified public health threats from oil and gas development, especially fracking.

State law and regulations are similarly lax in regards to the other end of the oil and gas development cycle, according to Clean Water Action, which has just released a report detailing the threat to California's air and water from the open, unlined pits used to store much of the oil industry's toxic wastewater.

California produced 8 billion gallons of oil and 130 billion gallons of wastewater in 2013—15 barrels of wastewater for every barrel of oil, the CWA report says. There has been no comprehensive analysis of the locations of these pits in relation to high quality groundwater sources, and many of the pits are being operated without any permit whatsoever.

Tue, 2014-11-18 16:12Mike Gaworecki
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Shell Knew Of Pipeline Problems Years Before 2008 Oil Spill In Nigeria

Oil giant Shell was warned by its own staff that the Trans Niger Pipeline had a “risk and likelihood of rupture” years before two spills in 2008 spewed as much as 500,000 barrels of oil in the town of Bodo in Southern Nigeria.

The BBC reported these revelations after viewing internal company documents submitted to a court in London, where some 15,000 Nigerians are suing Shell over a separate spill from the same pipeline.

The documents uncovered in the London court may lead to a much bigger penalty against the company for the 2008 spills. A court in the Hague found Shell only partly responsible for those spills after four farmers sued the company in 2012. Shell's lawyers argued that the company had taken the necessary precautions, including installing leak detection systems, prior to the rupturing of the pipeline, and blamed acts of sabotage and attempted thefts for the spills.

But internal emails, letters, and reports show not only that no leak detection system was ever installed, according to the BBC, but also that Shell employees were warning management of the pipeline's decrepit state and the risk it posed to the surrounding communities. One study conducted by Shell's Nigeria business and a consulting arm as far back as 2000 had concluded that the pipeline's life expectancy was “more or less non-existent or short, while some sections contain major risk and hazard.”

Mon, 2014-11-10 18:35Guest
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Shell Accused of “Hijacking” Clean-up Process in Niger Delta

This is a guest post by Andy Rowell, cross-posted with the permission of Oil Change International.

Today is the nineteenth anniversary of the muder of the writer Ken Saro-Wiwa by the Nigerian junta for his campaign against the oil giant Shell.

Saro-Wiwa was the leader of a campaign by the Ogoni against Shell’s chronic pollution and gas flaring in the Niger Delta.

Whilst the oil giant quite clearly operated to double standards and made huge profits, the locals were on the front line of Shell’s pollution, but they received no compensation in return.

In those nineteen years, life has moved on in the Delta, but little has changed.

Sun, 2014-11-09 06:00Mike Gaworecki
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Meet The Folks On The Front Lines Of Fracking In California

The oil and gas industry has worked very hard to push the narrative that fracking is completely safe, and that any opposition is led by a small group of full-time activists.

But a new series of in-depth investigative reporting and photography called Faces Of Fracking is profiling the Californians living with, suffering from, and standing up to the fracking industry, and, in the process, showing just how out of touch with reality the industry's preferred narrative is.

Created by the Citizen Engagement Laboratory's Climate Lab in partnership with Grist, the series has a simple goal: “Faces of Fracking was created to share stories from the people on the front lines, to show how they are already impacted or may soon be, and how they are fighting back.”

DeSmog has already posted two stories from the Faces Of Fracking series—“A Farmer Seeks To Protect San Benito County, California From High-Intensity Petroleum Operations” and “Arvin, California Is A Town At The Tipping Point, Thanks To The Local Oil Company”—and will be posting future installments as they become available. But there's an awful lot already there that is well worth digging into, and it's all been released under a Creative Commons license, meaning you can copy and paste and share to your heart's content (as long as you give proper credit).

Thu, 2014-11-06 13:33Steve Horn
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Bush Family and Its Inner Circle Play Central Role in Lawsuits Against Denton, Texas Fracking Ban

George P. Bush, Texas Land Commissioner-Elect

On November 4, Denton, Texas, became the first city in the state to ban the process of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) when 59 percent of voters cast ballots in favor of the initiative. It did so in the heart of the Barnett Shale basin, where George Mitchell — the “father of fracking” — drilled the first sample wells for his company Mitchell Energy.

As promised by the oil and gas industry and by Texas Railroad Commission commissioner David Porter, the vote was met with immediate legal backlash. Both the Texas General Land Office and the Texas Oil and Gas Association (TXOGAfiled lawsuits in Texas courts within roughly 12 hours of the vote taking place, the latest actions in the aggressive months-long campaign by the industry and the Texas state government to fend off the ban.

The Land Office and TXOGA lawsuits, besides making similar legal arguments about state law preempting local law under the Texas Constitution, share something else in common: ties to former President George W. Bush and the Bush family at large.

In the Land Office legal case, though current land commissioner Jerry Patterson signed off on the lawsuit, he will soon depart from office. And George Prescott Bush — son of former Florida Governor and prospective 2016 Republican Party presidential nominee Jeb Bush and nephew of former President George W. Bush — will take his place.

George P. Bush won his land commissioner race in a landslide, gaining 61 percent of the vote. Given the cumbersome and lengthy nature of litigation in the U.S., it appears the Land Office case will have only just begun by the time Bush assumes the office.

The TXOGA legal complaint was filed by a powerful team of attorneys working at the firm Baker Botts, the international law firm named after the familial descendants of James A. Baker III, a partner at the firm.

Baker III served as chief-of-staff under both President Ronald Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, Secretary of State under George H.W. Bush and as a close advisor to President George W. Bush on the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He gave George P. Bush a $10,000 donation for his campaign for his race for land commissioner.

James A. Baker III Campaign Contribution George P. Bush

Photo Credit: Texas Land Commission

The Energy Policy Act of 2005which exempts the oil and gas industry from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Water Act and the National Environmental Policy Act for fracking, is seen by critics as the legacy of ashes left behind by the George W. Bush Administration.

Yet almost a decade later, the two lawsuits filed against Denton show the Bush oil and gas legacy clearly lives on and stretches from the state where the fracking industry was born all the way to Iraq and back again. 

Wed, 2014-11-05 13:50Mike Gaworecki
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Voters Ban Fracking In Texas, California, And Ohio

Yesterday's elections sent several more climate deniers to a dirty energy money-rich Congress, where they're already sharpening their knives and preparing to cut the centerpiece of President Obama's climate agenda, the EPA's Clean Power Plan, to shreds.

Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, summed it up succinctly: “With a tremendous amount of spending, the Koch Brothers have literally purchased the best Congress they could buy. It is now up to President Obama to pursue aggressive executive action on our pressing environmental issues, including climate change and clean water protections.”

But it was not all bad news for the climate yesterday, because many communities are not content to wait on the President to take action: Citizen-led initiatives to ban fracking won big in California, Ohio, and Texas.

The biggest of these victories was undoubtedly won in Denton, TX. A small city northwest of Dallas, Denton already has 275 fracked wells. Locals' concerns about fracking's impact on health and the environment led to a landslide 59% to 41% win for the measure, which bans fracking within city limits.

Sat, 2014-11-01 13:03Guest
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Arvin, California Is A Town At The Tipping Point, Thanks To The Local Oil Company

This is a guest post by Tara Lohan that originally appeared on Faces Of Fracking, a project of the CEL Climate Lab in partnership with Grist that was launched to capture the stories of concerned residents who live on the front lines of fracking.

My car tails a blue Honda, decked with shiny rims and a glittery paint job that in the midday sun sparkles like a disco ball. It’s piloted by 27-year-old Gustavo Aguirre Jr. — he’s my tour guide for the day. He takes me on the ‘scenic’ route so I can see the aging pumpjacks of the Mountain View Oil Field, which sprung to life in 1930s. Most of the pumps are resting and rusting in dirt fields, as they have for decades. A few still labor up and down.

The oilfield underlies the town of Arvin near the southernmost part of Kern County in California’s Central Valley. Arvin is 15 miles southeast of Bakersfield and 100 miles north of Los Angeles. It’s hugged in a suffocating embrace by mountains on three sides, which trap the valley’s pollution. The day I visit I only see mountains on one side, they’re blurry, like an oil painting smudged before it dried. The other mountains have been entirely swallowed by the haze.

Part of Gustavo’s job is trying to figure out what exactly residents here are breathing. While he lives in Bakersfield, Gustavo works as an organizer with Global Community Monitor and in partnership with local organizations like Committee for a Better Arvin. They’ve set up air monitors in different places in town, trying to track the amount of particulates, ozone, and other pollutants. And they work to hold polluters accountable.

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