Julie Dermansky

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Julie Dermansky is a multimedia reporter and artist based in New Orleans. She is an affiliate scholar at Rutgers University’s Center for the Study of Genocide and Human Rights. Visit her website at www.jsdart.com.

United Steelworkers Oil Refinery Strike Spreads

Workers at Shell and Motiva refineries in Norco, Louisiana, about 30 miles west of New Orleans, have joined the growing national United Steelworkers Union (USW) strike. In total, 15 facilities are now striking, making this the largest refinery strike since 1980.

On the second night of the strike in Norco, a giant flare at the Shell refinery illuminated the workers on the picket line, serving as a reminder of the dangers that come with working at refineries.

“There are a lot of hazards out here,” Bryan Shelton, a media liaison for the union, said. “If you have that much hydrocarbon in one area, you have a chance for a lot of things to go wrong, so if you have someone working too many hours that is a dangerous thing.”

Obama's Veto of Keystone XL Bittersweet for Texans Forced to Allow the Pipeline on Their Land

As expected, President Obama today vetoed the Republican bill attempting to allow TransCanada to finish constructing the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. While the veto received praise from environmentalists, along with encouragement to reject the pipeline entirely, the veto provides little consolation to those in Texas who already have the southern route of the pipeline moving Canadian tar sands under their land. 

“Don't get me wrong. I’m thrilled that President Obama owned up to his promise to veto the Keystone XL pipeline bill today. But in the same breath I'm spittin' mad,” Julia Trigg Crawford, Texas landowner who fought TransCanada from taking her land by eminent domain but lost, told DeSmogBlog.

“Nearly three years ago, with the exact same data in front of him he decided to 'cut through the red tape and fast track' the southern leg of this project. Where was his 'climate test' then?” “Before the ink is dry on this veto, President Obama owes all of us in Texas and Oklahoma an explanation. Better yet, an apology.”


Julia Trigg Crawford next to the easement on her land in Sumner, Texas that TransCanada condemned to build the southern route of the Keystone XL pipeline. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

In the constant clamor from high profile environmental groups for President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, there is little mention that the president fast-tracked the southern portion of the pipeline. Nor do most people know that TransCanada is already transporting tar sands from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Voices in Arlington, Texas Unify to Protect Environment and Community From Fracking

Liveable Arlington, a new Texas grassroots environmental group, joins the growing number of anti-fracking groups forming around the world. The group was established at the end of January, as the battle to impose stricter ozone standards intensifies and the call for fracking bans and tighter ordinances on industry increase nationwide.

Arlington, Texas, a Dallas suburb, sits atop the natural gas rich Barnett Shale. ”Once Arlington was known as a bedroom community. Now we are in the forefront of a potentially dangerous industrial experiment,” Ranjana Bhandari, one of the co-founders of Liveable Arlington, told DeSmogBlog. “We have lived with fracking all around us for many years now and have experienced its negative effects on air quality, public health, and now the earthquakes,” she says. 


Ranjana Bhandari, co-founder of Livable Arlington, in her backyard. ©2013 Julie Dermansky

Bhandari and her family are among the few residents who turned down Chesapeake Energy when the company’s signing agents came seeking their mineral rights. The company offered her an $18,000 per acre bonus that she declined, only to find that the Texas Railroad Commission could strip those rights from her, which they did. 

Fracking Industry Showdown Preceding Stricter Fugitive Emissions Ordinances In Mansfield, Texas

Sharon Wilson, Earthworks’ Gulf Regional Organizer, described FLIR camera footage she shot of a fracking industry site on January 29 in Mansfield, Texas, as ‘the mother lode of all emissions.”

The issue of fugitive emissions — like those documented by Wilson at Summit Midstream Partners Compressor Station on the 29th — is one of the reasons that the Mansfield City Council is struggling with how to handle a request from another oil and gas company, Edge Resources, to renew an expired permit.

Approving the permit renewal would allow Edge Resources to pursue a large fracking industry development in a growing residential neighborhood not far from the Mansfield Performing Fine Arts Center, where fracking industry sites have already caused problems. A growing group of residents do not believe regulators can protect them from the gas industry.

Watch FLIR video shot by Sharon Wilson on behalf of the Citizen Empowerment Project at the Summit Midstream Partners Compressor Station:

Texas Town at Center of Latest Earthquake Swarm Questions Fracking Impact

January has been a shaky month for Irving, Texas. Twelve earthquakes rattled the city during a 48-hour period at the end of the first week of the new year.

“It was very scary. I was at my job on the 4th floor in a cubicle surrounded by glass,” Tonya Rochelle Tatum, a loan specialist who works in Irving, told DeSmogBlog. “One quake seemed like it lasted five minutes. No one knew what to do.”

The earthquake swarm shows no sign of stopping. On January 21, five more quakes struck.

The quakes are relatively small, all of them registering under 4 on the Richter Scale. None has caused significant damage to property or resulted in bodily harm — but that hasn’t stopped people from worrying about their personal safety and property.  

A Dallas suburb, Irving sits atop the Barnett Shale, a geologic formation rich in natural gas. Seismic activity is not something the region is known for, and the fact that the earthquakes are now in the news has many fearing their home values will drop.

Residents want to know what is causing the quakes, the likelihood they may increase in size and if anything can be done to stop them. A public meeting held January 21 by city officials to address the earthquakes and other issues overflowed the 250-person capacity of the Irving Arts Center.

“Everywhere they’re fracking they have earthquakes,” someone in the audience yelled out, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Fracking Boom Expands Near Chaco Canyon, Threatens Navajo Ancestral Lands and People

Beneath a giant methane gas cloud recently identified by NASA, the oil and gas fracking industry is rapidly expanding in northwestern New Mexico. Flares that light up the night sky at drilling sites along the stretch of Route 550 that passes through the San Juan Basin, which sits on top of the oil rich Mancos Shale, are tell-tale indicators of the fracking boom. 

Much of the land being fracked belongs to the federal government. The rest is a mixture of state, private and Navajo Nation land.

The region is known to the Diné (Navajo) as Dinétah, the land of their ancestors.  It is home of the Bisti Badlands and Chaco Culture National Historical Park, a World Heritage Site.


Flares burning at fracking industry site on federal land near Counselor, New Mexico ©2015 Julie Dermansky

2014 Year in Review: Photos of All Things Fracking Related

The oil and gas fracking industry continues to change America's physical and political landscape. Falling oil and gas prices have threatened to stall the industry's production growth, but for now, new drill sites continue to spring up. It was a very eventful year for both the industry and its critics. Here is my look back at some of the most notable stories and photographs.

In 2014, The Post Carbon Institute and the University of Texas released reports finding the Energy Information Administration's projections of the fracking boom’s production potential greatly inflated. 

Numerous peer-reviewed studies have been published that hold the fracking industry responsible for water and air contamination. And health studies have connected industry emissions to negative health effects impacting those living near fracking sites.

Despite the fracking industry's continued growth, the anti-fracking movement claimed numerous victories in 2014. The most high profile victories: Denton, Texas voters passed a referendum banning fracking in their city, and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued a statewide fracking ban after his health commissioner's report concluded that the health risks are too great.

Meanwhile, America's export policy on liquefied natural gas (LNG) is loosening and the federal government will streamline permits for frack sites on public lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a unit of the U.S. Department of Interior.

DeSmog Fracking Coverage in 2014

Here are some selected stories covered by DeSmogBlog on the fracking industry in 2014:

Theo Colborn’s Legacy Will Be Kept Alive By TEDX

Dr. Theo Colborn, founder of the Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), died on December 14, 2014. For nearly 30 years, she studied the effects that chemicals used in the fossil fuel industry have on the endocrine system, producing groundbreaking work on the subject.

The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX), founded in 2003, compiles and disseminates scientific evidence on human health and environmental problems caused by low-dose and/or ambient exposure to chemicals that interfere with development and function, called endocrine disruptors.

Colborn's work from the last decade connects exposure to emissions from oil and gas development to damage done to the health of humans and animals.

What most people don't know when we poke a hole in the ground, when the methane and natural gas comes up, it comes up with what I call ‘hitchhikers’ — very dangerous toxic chemicals. And to date they have been ignored by those who are responsible for protecting our health,” Colborn said during a September interview part of which was used in a video produced by Earthworks, an environmental advocacy organization.


Theo Colborn during an interview with Earthworks in September 2014. © Julie Dermansky for Earthworks

Christmas Parade in the Shadow of an Oil Refinery

The city of Norco, Louisiana, 25 miles from New Orleans, held its annual Christmas parade on December 7th. It is situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River, along the stretch between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is known to some as “The Petrochemical Corridor” and to others as “Cancer Alley.”

The parade departed from River Road after Santa Claus arrived via helicopter, landing on the levee. A crowd lined Main Street to watch the parade and collect plastic beads and toys thrown from the floats and marchers passing by.

The parade’s backdrop, Shell’s chemical plant and Motiva’s refinery, was a reminder of our relationship to fossil fuels.

Those who live in communities like Norco may benefit from a new rule the Environmental Protection Agency will release in April 2015 in accordance with a consent decree approved by a federal judge earlier this year.

Implementation of the proposed rule “will result in project reductions of 1.760 tons per year of hazardous air pollutants, which will reduce cancer risk and chronic health effects,” according to the EPA.

Here are photos of the parade and a holiday video shot in Norco last year. 

Breaking: Fracking Permit Issued in Louisiana's St. Tammany Parish

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a drilling permit for Helis Oil and Gas today, bringing the company one step closer to realizing its ambition to frack in St. Tammany Parish.

Public outcry against fracking in St. Tammany Parish, an area known for its pristine water and picturesque wetlands 40 miles east of New Orleans, was not enough to sway the state agency. But the public's input has led to unprecedented conditions being attached to the permit.


Concerned citizens in St. Tammany Parish fill the bleachers in the Lakeshore High School gym in Mandeville, LA. ©2014 Julie Dermansky

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