Sunoco Ordered to Temporarily Suspend Drilling on Pipeline Project
By Sharon Kelly
The Pennsylvania's Environmental Hearing Board ordered Sunoco Pipeline LP Tuesday to temporarily halt some types of work on a $2.5 billion pipeline project designed to carry 275,000 barrels a day of butane, propane and other liquid fossil fuels from Ohio and West Virginia, across Pennsylvania, to the Atlantic coast.
On July 19, three environmental groups presented Judge Bernard Labuskes, Jr. with documentation showing that the project had caused dozens of drilling fluid spills and other accidents between April and mid-June.
"Across the state, Sunoco has unleashed drilling fluid into exceptional value wetlands, high-quality trout streams, reservoirs, and groundwater endangering both drinking water supplies and our natural environment," Clean Air Council said in a statement. The nonprofit, along with the Mountain Watershed Association, Inc. and the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, submitted the evidence to the judge one week ago.
The judge ordered all horizontal directional drilling—expected to be used in 168 locations where the pipeline crosses waterways or other obstacles—halted until Aug. 7, except in places where Sunoco can show that stopping mid-bore would cause safety problems, equipment damage or "more environmental harm than good." The order immediately affects 55 sites where drilling is currently underway.
State environmental regulators are also investigating potential violations during the pipeline's construction, including one case where regulators found that 14 homeowners "experienced adverse impacts to their private water supplies, which are drawn from groundwater."
"The number of spills that have happened already is highly alarming; we know of at least 80 spills so far and construction is expected to continue into 2018," said Clean Air Council attorney Kathryn Urbanowicz, adding that water supplies in five different places have been damaged.
"While the stay of drilling is temporary, today's order is very important because the problems with Sunoco's drilling have been accumulating rapidly, and each day that drilling continues the public and our natural resources are at risk," she said.
Tree clearing and other activities along the pipeline's path will still be allowed, under the Pennsylvania board's order.
The order comes one day after a public utility commission judge issued an emergency order halting pipeline construction in West Goshen Township, Pennsylvania, over claims that the company unlawfully misled local officals about where it would build an above-ground valve station.
Company officials have said that they plan to press forward with construction.
"We believe that the full hearing before the Environmental Hearing Board will demonstrate that we have expended every effort to meet the strict conditions of our environmental permits," Sunoco spokesperson Jeff Shields told NBC News. "We are continually evaluating our drilling plans, and had already voluntarily suspended work on a number of our drills while working to ensure that the concerns outlined by the DEP and Gov. Wolf were addressed."
Over the last 10 years, the project's parent company, Sunoco Logistics, has spilled hazardous material more often than any other company, based on records from the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration. That's according to resolutions opposing the project passed by eight town-level governments along Mariner East 2's route. (As of April, Sunoco Logistics has merged with Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline).
The controversial Mariner East 2 project has also come under fire for using eminent domain condemnation to seize private lands to build the pipeline, for posing an explosion risk to 40 public and private schools close to its route, and for running through densely populated Philadelphia suburbs. More than 105,000 people live within a quarter mile of the pipeline's path and could be at risk in the event of an explosion, according to an analysis by FracTracker.
The pipeline has faced opposition both in the courtroom and on the ground. Camp White Pine, a direct action protest camp which activists say has created the most elaborate tree-sit ever built on the East Coast, was recently profiled by PBS NewsHour.
"We started really doing some research on this company and on the product it was carrying," Ellen Gerhart, a retired special education teacher whose home sits roughly 200 feet from the pipeline's path and who allowed activists to build the camp on her land, told NewsHour. "The more research you do, the worse the picture gets."
Last month, in a separate legal action, a Huntington County judge ordered Ellen, her 30 year-old daughter Elise, and their supporters to vacate part of their own land. Thus far, the protest camp remains in place. (See video above).
The project also faces zoning challenges filed this month by residents of Middletown Township.
Environmentalists emphasized that while they welcomed the drilling delay, they saw it as no reason for those opposed to the pipeline to become complacent or slow their efforts.
"The relief is not permanent," Alex Bomstein, a Clean Air Council attorney said in a statement, "and the public must continue to call on elected officials and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection to defend the public interest by putting a long-term halt to the drilling, which Sunoco has been unable to do safely."
Reposted with permission from our media associate DeSmogBlog.
The U.S. District Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Tuesday saying that the Federal Environmental Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) failed to adequately review the environmental impacts of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of the fracked gas Sabal Trail pipeline, which runs more than 500 miles through Alabama, Georgia and Florida.
As ocean waters warm and acidify, corals across the globe are disappearing. Desperate to prevent the demise of these vital ecosystems, researchers have developed ways to "garden" corals, buying the oceans some much-needed time. University of Miami Rosenstiel School marine biologist Diego Lirman sat down with Josh Chamot of Nexus Media to describe the process and explain what's at stake. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What is killing coral?
I wish we had an easy, straightforward answer for what's killing corals. We know there are many, many different factors influencing coral abundance, diversity, distribution and health these days, but I think the specific answer varies based on where you are.
Temperatures play a major role at global scales, and then you have all of these other, more local factors like disease, physical impacts of storms, or ship groundings.
Researcher Stephanie Schopmeyer prepares to out-plant Staghorn coral onto a Miami reef. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
We had the dredging of the Port of Miami channel a couple of years ago and that caused a lot of localized mortality due to sediment burial and sediment stress. You also have land-based sources of pollution that can damage by location and nutrient influence that causes algal overgrowth of corals.
Local factors are superimposed on regional factors directly related to global climate change. Changes in temperature, more temperature extremes, acidification of the water, changes in storm frequency and sea level rise— all are at different scales — but they all combine to cause coral mortality.
Factors vary both spatially and temporally, but the outcomes are all the same. Regardless of where you are, we've lost a tremendous amount of coral.
Nursery-raised Staghorn coral out-planted onto a reef by a citizen scientist.
In the face of all those threats, can restoration work?
Historically, restoration was developed and used for acute disturbances. A ship runs aground, and so then there's a recovery, and funds are allocated to recovering the reef structure at a given location, and then corals are planted on top of that. But as global conditions decline for coral reefs, there's now a need to scale up. So, we're not just dealing with the localized impact—we're looking at species declining throughout their range.
We need other tools at larger scales, and that's where coral reef gardening has come into play, because it works at larger scales compared to just dumping cement and rebuilding reef structures, costly endeavors that recover just a very small footprint. We're growing and planting these organisms.
Do you worry about planted coral dominating the reefs?
Initially, these techniques were developed for fast-growing corals. The genus that we're focusing on, Acropora, is threatened, so these are very important reef-building species.
When abundant, they monopolize shallow environments. They form thickets, extensive areas of high-density colonies. That's the way they used to grow, until about three to four decades ago when they got wiped out by disease and other factors. The branching corals that we're working with grow between 10 and 15 cm per branch per year, so that's very fast growth.
Through recent advances in coral aquaculture, we're now also able to grow massive species, the ones that grow very slowly. Mote Marine Lab has developed microfragmentation techniques where they can cut coral colonies very, very small and make them grow very, very fast. Although we focused on branching corals initially, now most of the programs, especially here in Florida, are expanding onto other threatened species.
Citizen scientists plant coral. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
Can these efforts solve the problem, or are they a placeholder until climate stabilizes?
You hit the nail on the head. One of the early criticisms of reef restoration was the scale issue and spending a lot of resources working on a very small footprint.
We've dealt with that now, over the past 10 years we've expanded to the point where we're growing thousands and thousands of corals—we're planting thousands and thousands of corals—so that issue of scale is no longer a valid criticism.
The other major criticism is that, even though we're planting a lot of corals, we're planting them onto environments where the same stressors that caused their initial mortality are in place. Now there is ocean acidification and increased temperatures, so things have gotten, in some cases, progressively worse.
Staghorn corals create a sustainable source of corals for use in restoration. Rescue-A-Reef, UM Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science
That is a valid concern if we were just planting corals, but we're not just doing that. We're still concentrating on all of the other aspects of reef restoration, setting up marine protected areas to protect fish stocks and coral impacts, working to curb land-based sources of pollution, and setting up sedimentation and nutrient controls. And then, on a much larger scale, we're all trying to curb carbon emissions, trying to limit the greenhouse impacts and acidification impacts. All these tools just help us buy time.
We're also doing a lot of genomics work to see how corals can increase their resilience. A colleague of mine here at the Rosenstiel School at University of Miami, Andrew Baker, is stress-hardening corals. He works on coral symbiosis, and he found that by applying a little bit of non-lethal stress, he can make corals shuffle their Zooxanthellae, which are the endosymbiotic microalgae that provide energy to the corals. In that process, they're able to uptake Zooxanthellae that are more thermally tolerant. So, through the forced shuffling of symbionts, you may be able to buy these corals one or two degrees of tolerance, so that they become more tolerant to bleaching in future years. That is cutting-edge science.
We're trying to actually find out what makes corals survive, and trying to beef up their defenses and their resilience over time. And that's because we have access to all these coral genotypes through the active propagation from coral gardening.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.
By Karen Perry Stillerman
This job has responsibility for scientific integrity at the USDA, as well as oversight of the department's various research arms and multi-billion dollar annual investments in agricultural research and education that are essential to farmers and eaters alike.
The Center for Biological Diversity and the Sierra Club lodged formal comments with the federal government Monday opposing a massive gas fracking project that spans 220 square miles of public land in Wyoming south of Yellowstone National Park.
The Normally Pressured Lance gas field would destroy wildlife habitat and worsen ozone pollution, a major cause of childhood asthma, in areas already suffering from extreme air pollution.
Sierra received complete surveys from a record-breaking 227 schools—in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and for the first time ever, Canada.
By Andy Rowell
The decades-long struggle for social and environmental justice in the Niger Delta continues, largely unseen by the wider world.
On Aug. 11, hundreds of people from the Niger Delta stormed the Belema flow station gas plant owned by Shell in the Rivers State region of the Delta. The plant transports crude oil to the Bonny Light export terminal, from where it is shipped overseas.
The National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine said in a statement the Interior Department has directed it to cease its study on the potential health risks for people living near surface coal mines in Central Appalachia.
The Interior Department, which committed more than $1 million to the study last year, has begun an agency-wide review of grants over $100,000 because of the "Department's changing budget situation."