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.

Five Years After The BP Oil Spill, Gulf Coast Residents Say “BP Hasn’t Made Things Right”

Julie Dermansky

If you ask Dean Blanchard, the largest shrimp buyer and wholesaler in the region surrounding Grand Isle, Louisiana, things “went from paradise to hell” in the five years following the BP oil disaster.

But BP's advertisements insist the company is making things right. A BP report on the State of the Gulf five years after the spill claims there is no lasting damage to the ecosystem. 

Five Years After the BP Oil Disaster: A Barrier Island for Nesting Birds Devoid of Life

by Julie Dermansky

Cat Island, off the Gulf Coast in Louisiana’s Plaquemines Parish, was home to a vibrant bird rookery inhabited by brown pelicans, seagulls, spoonbills, and egrets before BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil disaster. Five years after the largest oil spill in American history, the barrier island has just about disappeared.

Despite ongoing efforts by former Plaquemines Parish coastal zone manager PJ Hahn to restore the island, only the needed building permits and an engineering plan have been completed.

“Cat Island was ground zero of the oil spill,” Hahn told DeSmogBlog.

Dead bird on Cat Island five years after the BP oil spill. 
March 31, 2015. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Texas-sized Dose of Hypocrisy Served Up To Local Governments Statewide in an Effort to Overturn Denton's Fracking Ban

On March 24, the Texas House of Representatives’ Energy Resources Committee passed a bill that would rescind the fracking ban in Denton and other efforts by local Texas municipalities to protect themselves from the oil and gas industry. Once language in the bill is finalized, which could happen today, the legislation will make its way to the full Texas Senate for a vote. 

“The oil and gas industry are getting what they always wanted – to get these pesky cities out of the way. They’re utilizing the lack of diligence and gullibility of state government – who are bought and paid for by industry, by using the Denton fracking ban to get what they want,” Denton Councilman Kevin Roden told DeSmogBlog. 

“It is a political cliché to take advantage of a good crisis. And the fracking ban gave them a good crisis.” Roden said.

Instead of fighting the ban in the courts, industry made a preemptive move to eliminate local ordinances altogether by pushing representatives to pass laws against ordinances in their way. 

Will New Mexico Double Down On Dirty Energy?

The future of energy development in New Mexico’s Four Corners region is at a crossroads. The San Juan Generating Plant is slated to shut down half of its coal-burning capacity in 2017 and a new energy replacement plan must be decided upon.

The Four Corners, where New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, and Utah intersect, was dubbed a national energy sacrifice zone in a report by the National Academy of Sciences during the Nixon Administration. The area has been mined for coal and uranium and drilled for oil and gas for decades.

The Four Corners Generating Station, a coal-fired power plant near the San Juan Generating Plant. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

Ghost Town Left in the Wake of the Bayou Corne Sinkhole in Louisiana

Bayou Corne, 77 miles west of New Orleans, can be added to the growing list of communities destroyed by industrial accidents.

“I wanted to stay in Bayou Corne for the rest of my life. I wanted to die here,” Mike Schaff, who recently moved out, told DeSmogBlog. “Texas Brine took that away from me. It’s like a ghost town now.”

The area was known as a picturesque sportsman's paradise for its waterways teeming with fish and alligators, but is now famous for a giant sinkhole that opened up on August 3, 2012 after a salt dome cavern owned by Occidental Chemical Corp. and operated by Texas Brine Co. LLC, collapsed.

Swamp maple blossoms near the sinkhole in Bayou Corne. ©2015 Julie Dermansky

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.