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

Tue, 2014-02-18 15:31Mike G
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Chevron Tries A New PR Trick: Free Pizza to Neighbors of Exploded Gas Well

Chevron is known for responding aggresively to anyone who tries to hold the company accountable. The creativity the company applies to evading responsibility for its messes is arguably unparalleled.

Even still, Chevron's latest PR move, after one of its natural gas pipelines exploded and burned for five days in southwestern Pennsylvania, is probably the first time free pizza was involved.

When the city of Richmond, CA sued Chevron for damages related to an explosion at one of the company's refineries in 2012, a Chevron spokesman responded by attacking the city's “failed leadership.”

When 30,000 Indigenous and rural Ecuadoreans won a $9bn judgement against Chevron in compensation for the decades-worth of oil pollution the company left in their Amazonian home, Chevron pulled every dirty legal trick in the book, including filing racketeering charges against the plaintiffs, to delay justice.

So what did the residents of Bobtown, PA get if they were concerned about the massive column of flame and toxic fallout from Chevron's natural gas pipeline explosion? Aside from a pretty standard apology letter, they got a coupon for a free pizza (“special combo only,” per the coupon itself, so don't even think about getting extra toppings you moochers) and two-liter soft drink.

Philly.com calls it: “The Chevron Guarantee: Our well won't explode…or your pizza is free!”

It's probably best if I just let the late-night comedians take it from here…

Tue, 2014-02-18 11:24Mike G
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Nobody Knows How Much Fracking is Happening Off California's Coast

The modern environmental movement was born when a drilling platform blew out and some 100,000 gallons of oil spilled into the Santa Barbara Channel in 1969, polluting California’s famous coastline. Yet as the race to exploit the vast amount of oil in the Monterey Shale heats up, environmentalists are warning that the state of California's lax oversight of the controversial oil production practice known as fracking, especially when it occurs on offshore oil drilling platforms, could lead to another major disaster.

Last October, the Associated Press revealed that offshore fracking is occurring much more frequently than California officials are aware. More than 200 fracking projects were discovered to have taken place over the preceding two decades in waters near Long Beach, Seal Beach, and Huntington Beach, some of the California coast’s most famous attractions.

Because fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a slew of toxic chemicals deep underground at extremely high pressure to break up the rock formations where oil is trapped, there's not just the risk of another oil spill polluting Cali's beaches but a number of threats that are not fully understood.

California passed a law last year that included some basic requirements for oil companies to disclose what chemicals are used in fracking fluids and to obtain a permit from the state for fracking operations, but the Los Angeles Times, echoing the sentiments of many environmentalists and legislators, said the law had been “so watered down as to be useless.”

The oil industry continues to insist that fracking is totally safe, even as it attempts to evade any and all new regulations. According to the Surfrider Foundation: “Despite [the] industry vowing to conduct their activities in a transparent and open fashion, the fracking industry has repeatedly failed to provide notice of offshore fracking…to the [California] Coastal Commission.”

Other than another spill, the chief concern is that the oil industry is allowed by federal regulators to dump as much as 9 billion gallons of wastewater into the ocean every year, and no one knows what the impact of fracking chemicals will be on ocean and coastal ecosystems.

“To date, little data has been collected,” says Allison Dettmer, deputy director of the California Coastal Commission.

Mon, 2014-02-17 09:16Anne Landman
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Proposed Colorado Constitutional Amendment Would Let Cities Ban Fracking

Many Coloradans who have battled city-by-city to regulate fracking near their residential areas may get some relief under a proposed constitutional amendment that would give cities and towns the right to regulate business activities within their borders.

In January 2014, the Colorado Community Rights Network (CCRN) submitted ballot language to amend Colorado's constitution, which would give municipalities the right to ban or regulate fracking and any other industrial activity — such as factory farming and hazardous waste disposal — within their borders.

The amendment would give local governments the right to enact laws “establishing, defining, altering or eliminating the rights, power and duties of for-profit business entities operating or seeking to operate in the community, to prevent such rights and powers from usurping or otherwise conflicting with the fundamental rights of people, their communities, and natural environment.”

Put concisely: the measure would make the will of cities and towns superior to the will of corporations. It would also permit cities to regulate any business that can put the health, safety and/or welfare of its inhabitants at risk.

The language of the amendment has been approved and it is now ready to go to Colorado's Secretary of State for a title assignment. It would need a minimum of 86,000 valid signatures for a spot on the ballot.

Were it to pass, it would eliminate lawsuits like those currently being brought by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association against Fort Collins, Broomfield and Lafayette, all of which have voted to ban drilling and fracking within their borders.

The proposal was originally called the “Community Rights Constitutional Amendment,” drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) at the request of the CCRN. Lafayette passed the first so-called “Community Bill of Rights” ordinance in the state in 2013, after citizens voted to amend the city's charter to make fracking illegal. 

Sun, 2014-02-16 07:00Anne Landman
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Canadian Company Called U.S. Oil Sands Will Soon Start Extracting Utah's Tar Sands

Think only Canadians need to worry about tar sands extraction? Think again.

In October, U.S. Oil Sands, Inc. joined Kentucky-based Arrakis Oil Recovery as the second company to receive a permit to produce U.S. tar sands. The Utah Water Quality Board gave U.S. Oil Sands a permit to extract 2,000 barrels of oil per day from Utah's tar sands reserves. 

Despite its name, U.S. Oil Sands is actually a Canadian outfit based in Calgary, Alberta. The company currently holds leases on just over 32,000 acres in Utah's Uintah Basin. U.S. Oil Sands' mining will take place at PR Spring on the Colorado Plateau in an area called the Bookcliffs, which straddles the Utah/Colorado border.  

U.S. Oil Sands' water-and-energy-intensive extraction process involves first digging up congealed tar sands, then crushing them to reduce their size. The company then mixes the crushed sand with large amounts of hot water (at a temperature of 122-176°F) to loosen up and liquefy the tarry, oil-containing residue and separating it from the sand.

Next, coarse solids sink, are subsequently removed and considered waste tailings. Air is then bubbled through the remaining water-oil mixture, which makes the oil float to the top in what's referred to as “bitumen froth,” in industry lingo. The froth is then deaerated, meaning all the air molecules are removed.

When it finally gets to this point in the production process, the mixture is still so thick it can't be pumped through pipelines.

Thus, it undergoes even more treatment with a hydrocarbon solvent to reduce the viscosity and density of the sludge. Wastes from the process — which contain water contaminated with chemicals and unrecoverable oils — are called “middlings” and will be disposed of in surface tailings ponds and kept long-term.

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