AmeriScan: July 23, 2014

Condors fly over Pinnacles National Park, California, March 2014 (Photo by Yuxuan Wang)


California Judge Halts Oil Wells Near Pinnacles National Park … THUMS Long Beach Fined for Greenhouse Gas Emissions … Maine City Blocks Tar Sands Pipeline Plan … Pennsylvania Governor Ordered to Release Smog Communications … Groundwater Pumping Shrinks Albuquerque Aquifer … San Francisco Giants Fans Can Charge Up at the Ball Park


California Judge Halts Oil Wells Near Pinnacles National Park

MONTEREY, California, July 23, 2014 (ENS) – Concerned about water use and contamination and about endangered California condors, a Monterey County Superior Court judge today ruled that San Benito County illegally approved a pilot oil development project near Pinnacles National Park.

The development could result in hundreds of oil wells being drilled in agricultural and wildlife habitat in the Salinas Valley watershed, about 80 miles south of San Francisco.

The Indian Wells oil-development project is on a remote 688-acre site in the Bitterwater area of southeastern San Benito County, atop the Bitterwater groundwater basin nine miles south of Pinnacles National Park.

Condors fly over Pinnacles National Park, California, March 2014 (Photo by Yuxuan Wang)

As the judge’s ruling notes, “There are numerous opportunities for toxic spills to occur that the County has apparently not contemplated.”

Indian Wells is a project of the publicly-traded Citadel Exploration Inc., an oil and gas company based in Newport Beach, California.

The ruling comes in a lawsuit brought by the Center for Biological Diversity challenging the project, which would use cyclic steam injection. During this process, steam at high temperature and pressure is injected into the well, which is then shut in. The steam heats the surrounding rock, thinning the oil so it can flow more easily.

The process can cause well failure, shifting and buckling of the ground, and unexpected eruptions of fluid and steam from the ground, says the Center, which points to the death in 2011 of an oilfield engineer in a Kern County accident related to cyclic steam production.

The court agreed with the environmental group that San Benito County unlawfully failed to consider development of the oil field beyond the initial 15 pilot wells as the California Environmental Quality Act requires.

The court also found the county failed to properly analyze the water usage, water pollution risks, greenhouse gas emissions, and threats to the endangered California condor. Pinnacles National Park is a release site for the condors’ recovery program, and the giant birds use the Bitterwater area for foraging.

“This legal victory helps protect California’s water, wildlife and climate from dangerous new oil development,” said Kassie Siegel, director of the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute. “It makes no sense to fast-track dirty and risky new oil projects when it’s painfully obvious we have to shift to clean energy sources to respond to the climate crisis.”

The project site drains to the Salinas River, a source of drinking and irrigation water for some of the world’s most productive farmland.

“This project could turn this beautiful area into a massive new oil field,” said Deborah Sivas, director of the Stanford Environmental Law Clinic, who represents the Center in the lawsuit. “In the middle of a devastating drought, these wells would waste huge amounts of water needed by local farmers, ranchers and wildlife. Following the California Environmental Quality Act’s common-sense review measures will protect this important area and its water supply.”

The court also found that the county failed to properly consider methane emissions and emissions from refining and burning the oil produced.

The ruling sets aside the county’s June 2013 project approval and directs the county to complete a full environmental impact report before the project can be reconsidered.

In November, San Benito County voters will consider a ballot initiative that would prohibit high-intensity petroleum operations, including cyclic steam injection and fracking.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


THUMS Long Beach Fined for Greenhouse Gas Emissions

SACRAMENTO, California, July 23, 2014 (ENS) – The California Air Resources Board has imposed a fine of more than a quarter-million dollars against an offshore oil and gas production operation, for emissions of the potent greenhouse gas sulfur hexafluoride (SF6).

With a global warming potential of nearly 24,000 times that of the most common greenhouse gas, carbon dioxide, SF6 persists in the atmosphere for thousands of years.

The fine of $254,100 was levied against THUMS Long Beach Company, which is part of Occidental Petroleum’s Long Beach business unit.

THUMS Long Beach operates the offshore portion of the Wilmington Field; one of the 10 largest oilfields in the United States.

“It is imperative that industries conduct operations so that emissions remain within allowable limits,” said Jim Ryden, chief of the Air Resources Board’s Enforcement Division. “These excess emissions will remain in the atmosphere for 3,200 years.”

SF6 is used in some electric power systems as an insulator and arc quencher for gas insulated switchgear, GIS.

The Air Resources Board’s SF6-GIS regulation establishes emission rate limits for sulfur hexafluoride and requires owners of SF6-GIS equipment to report their emissions each year. THUMS violated the regulation by submitting an inaccurate report and by exceeding the 2011 SF6 emission rate limit.

The company has since eliminated its SF6-GIS equipment, and has no further compliance obligations under the regulation. Ryden says the company was cooperative during the investigation and settlement process.

Excess greenhouse gas emissions disrupt regional climates, casuing increased flooding, droughts and forest fires, altered crop and fish yields, and human health problems. To mitigate these disruptions, the California Legislature passed AB32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, which requires overall reduction of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020.

THUMS includes four man-made islands in Long Beach Harbor and onshore facilities named for the original group of operators: Texaco, Humble, Unocal, Mobil and Shell.

Each about 10 acres in area, the THUMS Islands are called the Astronaut Islands in honor of four of the first American astronauts to lose their lives – Gus Grissom, Edward White, and Roger Chaffee, who all died during a 1967 pre-launch test for the Apollo 1 mission, and astronaut Theodore Freeman who died in 1964 while piloting a jet for NASA.

Under an agreement between THUMS, the city of Long Beach and the state of California, the islands were designed to blend in with the coastal environment. Drilling rigs and other above-ground equipment are camouflaged and sound-proofed, and wellheads and pipelines are located below the islands’ surface to enhance the appearance of the harbor and skyline.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


Maine City Blocks Tar Sands Pipeline Plan

SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine, July 23, 2014 (ENS) – The South Portland, Maine City Council Monday approved the Clear Skies Ordinance in a 6-1 vote, prohibiting the bulk loading of crude oil, including tar sands, onto tankers on the waterfront, as well as the construction of new related infrastructure in the coastal city of 25,000

The passage of this ordinance is intended to block a proposed reversal of the crude oil flowing through ExxonMobil’s Portland-Montreal Pipe Line, a series of underground crude oil pipelines connecting South Portland, Maine with Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Today crude oil flows inland through these pipelines to Montreal after being unloaded from tankers in South Portland harbor, the second busiest oil port on the U.S. East Coast.

In February 2008, the Portland Pipe Line Corporation/Montreal Pipe Line Limited announced they were considering a proposal to reverse that flow to bring diluted bitumen from the Alberta oil sands to South Portland for tanker shipment to international markets overseas.

The reversal would require an estimated $100 million in modifications to the pipelines and South Portland marine terminal facilities, including two smokestacks that critics warn would emit volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants, such as benzene, a known human carcinogen.

After the Clear Skies Ordinance vote, residents and supporters gave South Portland Mayor Jerry Jalbert and the South Portland City Council a standing ovation.

Environmental groups are calling the vote “a major victory for air quality in South Portland, for land and water in New England, and for our climate,” as anti-tar sands activist Elizabeth Shope put it in her blog on the Natural Resources Defense Council website.

This is the same tar sands oil that would run through the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Alberta to the Texas Gulf Coast. Oil sands producers in Alberta are running out of ways to get their product to refineries. Their attempts to open new pipelines to carry the heavy bitumen diluted with chemicals to make it flow have been opposed by those concerned about air pollution and climate change from extracting, transporting and burning this fuel, among other environmental issues.

Just before the South Portland City Council’s final vote Monday nigth, Vice President of the Portland Montreal Pipe Line Corporation Tom Harding rose to say the energy industry in South Portland and his 70-year-old company are being throttled by the ordinance.

“I think it’s a sad day when science and facts are cast aside in the name of politics and popularity to begin the methodical process of shutting down the petroleum business in South Portland,” NPR New Hampshire quoted Harding as saying.

A legal battle is shaping up as the company’s position is that the ordinance would be preempted by federal and state law. But Sean Mahoney, an attorney, advocate and executive vice president of the Conservation Law Foundation told NPR, “This ordinance is not preempted – by state or federal law. It is fully within the authority of this great city and every other municipality in Maine to protect the health of its citizens and the quality of life in its city.”

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


Pennsylvania Governor Ordered to Release Smog Communications

HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania, July 22, 2014 (ENS) – Two environmental groups have won a small victory in their campaign to pin the blame on Pennsylvania’s Republican Governor Tom Corbett for what they claim is an inadequate new air pollution control rule.

The state’s Office of Open Records has ordered Governor Corbett’s Office to release documentation of communications with outside entities, such as corporations, that may have informed the drafting of the proposed air pollution rule.

power plant
Pennsylvania’s Keystone power plant is among the largest coal-fired units in the United States. (Photo by Doug Jackson)

The environmental groups say the governor allowed corporate polluters to weaken the rule, which does not limit emissions from coal-burning power plants, the single largest source of air pollution in the state.

The Sierra Club and the public interest law firm Earthjustice filed a Right-to-Know request seeking correspondence between Corbett’s office and industry groups, the Department of Environmental Protection, DEP, and other state agencies regarding proposed air-quality regulations.

Upon the first request in mid-April, The Governor’s Office tried to limit the scope of the request to 13 staffers, not including the governor himself, but the Office of Open Records found the administration’s refusal was unsubstantiated. The Corbett Administration now has 30 days to turn over the requested documents or appeal the decision in Commonwealth Court.

The proposed rulemaking would amend state law to adopt “reasonably available control technology (RACT) requirements and RACT emission limitations” for major stationary sources of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), chemicals that form ground-level ozone, or smog, in the presence of sunlight.

Nine source categories will be affected by this proposed rulemaking: coal and gas combustion units, boilers, process heaters, turbines, engines, municipal solid waste landfills, municipal waste combustors and cement kilns.

In total, this proposed rulemaking would affect the owners and operators of some 810 individual sources at 192 major facilities throughout Pennsylvania. The Environmental Quality Board anticipates that the total NOx emission reductions will be 158,421 tons per year.

Earthjustice attorney Charles McPhedran said, “Pennsylvania’s plan for smog will produce few air quality benefits. What’s more, the state wants to hide from the public how this weak plan was put together. The people have a right to know what their government is doing, especially on a critical public health issue like clean air. The governor must release these records.”

Tom Schuster of the Sierra Club said, “Our families deserve to know what was behind the shamefully weak smog plan Governor Corbett’s administration drafted. The plan fails to set meaningful limits on smog-causing pollution from coal plants, which means more asthma attacks and hospital visits for Pennsylvania families.”

Patrick Henderson, the governor’s deputy chief of staff and energy executive, told reporters the DEP’s Bureau of Air Quality, which developed the rule, is not aware of any special considerations.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


Groundwater Pumping Shrinks Albuquerque Aquifer

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico, July 23, 2014 (ENS) – Groundwater pumping has changed water levels below some parts of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, according to two new reports published by the U.S. Geological Survey.

For many decades, the water supply requirements of the central New Mexico city were met almost exclusively by groundwater withdrawal from the Santa Fe Group aquifer system.

Now declines in some areas exceed 120 feet below predevelopment water level conditions.

USGS hydrologist Rachel Powell, lead author of the report, said, “Groundwater used to flow roughly parallel to the Rio Grande valley, but now it moves away from the Rio Grande and towards clusters of water supply wells in the east, north, and west parts of the metropolitan area.”

In the new reports, USGS scientists investigated the variability and extent of groundwater level changes and the more recent effects of reduced groundwater use after the introduction of surface water supplies.

In December 2008, the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority began diverting surface water from the Rio Grande with the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project to reduce reliance on groundwater reserves.

Measured water levels from wells across the metropolitan area, as well as simulated water levels from a groundwater model, were used to delineate changes in groundwater levels both spatially as well as over time.

While groundwater level declines are substantial in many areas, graphs of water level change show that in some places groundwater levels are increasing since the introduction of surface water supplies from the San Juan-Chama Drinking Water Project.

“Albuquerque’s sole reliance on groundwater for supply was likely an unsustainable option, even with water conservation measures,” said USGS hydrologist Steve Rice, lead author of one of the reports. “The addition of surface water supplies should continue to mitigate the effects of decades of extensive groundwater withdrawal.”

But the surface water supplies are only reducing groundwater reliance for the City of Albuquerque. Other parts of the metropolitan area where groundwater remains the sole source of supply continue to see groundwater level declines.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.


San Francisco Giants Fans Can Charge Up at the Ball Park

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 23, 2014 (ENS) – At the height of the 2014 baseball season, the largest electric vehicle charging network in the United States has partnered with the San Francisco Giants baseball team to give EV-driving fans the chance to plug in while they enjoy the game.

ChargePoint has four charging locations for Giants Fans at the stadium and has invited the EV community to catch a game with them at one of four “E-V-i-p” nights.

EV drivers
Giants fans and EV drivers in front of a ChargePoint CT4000 at AT&T stadium: Ravi Mikkelson, left, co-founder & CEO of jobFig, a company that handles job candidates and employee groups, and Vibhu Norby, founder of EveryMe, a private social network. (Photo courtesy ChargePoint)

The first of the EVip events took place on July 1, when the Giants faced the St. Louis Cardinals.

A sponsor of the Giants baseball team, ChargePoint hosted EV drivers attending the game at the ReCharge Lounge. Drivers and fans took in pre-game festivities, complimentary food, drinks and giveaways.

“We are really excited to be part of the San Francisco Giants and cheer on our hometown team,” said Pasquale Romano, president and CEO of ChargePoint, the world’s largest EV charging network, whose headquarters are in Campbell, California.

“With the recent opening of their edible garden, notable recycling practices, and being the first MLB team to install EV charging locations, the Giants’ family has set the standard for sustainable practices in the major leagues, and throughout all industries,” Romano said.

“Along with these stations, we want to give our customers the opportunity to have a unique experience here at the park to celebrate EVs and Giants baseball,” he said.

Other EVip nights ChargePoint has planned at the park are Saturday, July 26, when the Giants take on arch-rivals the LA Dodgers; Friday, August 29, when the Giants play the Milwaukee Brewers and Saturday, September 13 against the LA Dodgers again.

“The Giants are committed to implementing sustainable business practices and our partnership with ChargePoint allows us to realize this goal,” said Jason Pearl, the team’s managing vice president of sponsorship and new business development.

“Many of our fans and players are dedicated to living an environmentally-friendly life and the charging stations make it more convenient for them to do so while at AT&T Park,” said Pearl.

The charging stations at the ball park are ChargePoint’s new level 2 CT4000 series, which offer two charging hoses that allow one station to serve two charging spots, low installation costs, and a color LCD screen where charging station owners can display videos. The CT4000 has self-retracting power cords, great for keeping the charging site tidy.

Ticketholders attending the Giants’ games can scan their ChargePoint card or register for a free ChargePoint account right at the charger, or online at

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2014. All rights reserved.

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