Widespread contamination of North Dakota’s soil and water caused by fracking spills, Duke study finds

Source: http://www.inforum.com, April 28, 2016
By: Forum News Service

Wastewater spills from North Dakota oil production have caused widespread water and soil contamination, researchers from Duke University say in a new study.

Researchers who took soil and water samples near the sites of some of North Dakota’s largest oil-related spills found high levels of ammonium, selenium, lead and other toxic contaminants from produced water, a byproduct of oil production.

“The magnitude of spills that we see in North Dakota I haven’t seen elsewhere,” said Avner Vengosh, a Duke University professor who has been studying the effects of hydraulic fracturing since 2010 in several oil-producing states.

Researchers found that streams polluted by produced water, also known as saltwater or brine, contained levels of contaminants that often exceeded federal guidelines for safe drinking water or aquatic health.

The study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, also found that soil at spill sites was contaminated with radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element.

A North Dakota Department of Health official who reviewed the study Wednesday said the agency has long been concerned about the impacts of brine spills, which is why it has staff working in the field following up on spills.

“There is some good information in there. We’re going to be taking a look at it. We can always learn more,” said David Glatt, chief of the Environmental Health Section. “There was a lot of stuff that wasn’t a surprise to us and we’ve been addressing for quite some time.”

However, Glatt pointed out that the study focused on samples from a small number of spills while he said a vast majority of spills are cleaned up.

The research team, which included students Nancy Lauer and Jennifer Harkness, spent about a week in North Dakota in July 2015 collecting water and soil samples. A majority of the contamination researchers analyzed came from pipeline leaks or other infrastructure failures.

They took samples near the Blacktail Creek spill north of Williston, which was a nearly 3 million gallon spill discovered in January 2015, and at Bear Den Bay of Lake Sakakawea, the site of a July 2014 pipeline leak that involved 1 million gallons of brine.

In addition, the team collected samples from waters affected by smaller spills and samples from two spills reported in 2011 in Bottineau County.

“Unlike spilled oil, which starts to break down in soil, these spilled brines consist of inorganic chemicals, metals and salts that are resistant to biodegradation,” said Lauer, a Ph.D. student who was lead author of the study. “They don’t go away; they stay. This has created a legacy of radioactivity at spill sites.”

Vengosh said he was surprised that researchers detected high levels of contaminants at the Bottineau County sites four years after the spills occurred.

The study calls for long-term monitoring of waters downstream from spill sites to assess impacts to drinking water.

But the Duke researchers did not contact North Dakota regulators to find out what monitoring is already being done.

Glatt said the health department does extensive water and sediment sampling at spill sites, including and taking samples to ensure there is no contamination to the state’s drinking water supply.

“We’ve shared that with anybody who will ask,” Glatt said.

Vengosh said he thinks the results of any sampling that regulators do should be in the public domain.

Researchers plan to return to North Dakota to do more testing on the contamination from oil development, which they see as more widespread than other areas of the country, Vengosh said.

“North Dakota is definitely standing out relative to the other places in the U.S.,” Vengosh said.

Funding for the study came from the National Science Foundation and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Lisa DeVille of Mandaree said the study’s findings were not a surprise to her, particularly the tests from the Bear Den Bay spill, which is on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

“You can see that the pollution, the contaminants. It’s visible,” said DeVille, a member of the Dakota Resource Council, which assisted with site selection and field sampling.

Glatt said health officials agree that brine spills are far more detrimental to the environment than oil spills. That’s why the agency is working with stakeholders to develop guidelines for soil cleanup, he said.

In addition, the North Dakota Industrial Commission is considering tighter regulations on gathering pipelines to prevent spills from occurring.

In a response to the Duke study, a spokeswoman for the Department of Mineral Resources said those proposed rules will provide remedies to many of the issues raised in the study.

However, some of those new regulations are being opposed by oil industry representatives who say the rules go too far and suggest North Dakota postpone those policy discussions to the 2017 legislative session.

Continue reading

Managing Unexpected Costs and Coverage Pitfalls of Environmental Exposures

Source: http://nreionline.com, April 29, 2016
By: Brian Dove

From condominiums to office buildings to mixed-use properties, the dramatic increase in claims triggered by environmental incidents is affecting real estate properties of all types. Unexpected clean-up costs, regulatory fines and penalties, third party lawsuits, rental income loss, devalued properties and reputational damage are the direct causes of financial loss.

Clean-up costs of pollution events in particular have increased drastically in recent decades. For example, the cost to remediate 126,000 polluted groundwater sites monitored by the U.S. federal government—due to contaminants from underground storage tanks, military installations and industrial facilities—could range from $110 billion to $127 billion.

In addition, as environmental legislation and case law continue to change rapidly, real estate companies are finding it even more difficult to stay abreast of the environmental risk landscape. As a consequence, today’s real estate companies have urgent need for comprehensive environmental risk management that fully addresses their complex and evolving exposures.

Following are some common environmental liability exposures faced by real estate companies, especially mid-sized companies that generally do not have the expertise or resources to manage these risks effectively. Included are several strategies that can help companies avoid the financial hazards of escalating environmental liabilities. Continue reading

Pollution Exclusion Applies to Lead Poisoning Claim Under CGL Policy

Source: http://www.lexology.com, April 28, 2016
By: Hunton & Williams LLP

In April 2015, we issued a Client Alert analyzing the Court of Appeals of Georgia’s opinion in Smith v. Ga. Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co., 331 Ga. App. 780, 771 S.E. 2d 452 (2015), which held that lead-based paint is not a pollutant in the context of a commercial general liability (CGL) policy’s pollution exclusion. The Supreme Court of Georgia has now reversed that decision and held that the pollution exclusion does indeed exclude coverage for a personal injury claim related to ingestion of lead-based paint.  Georgia Farm Bureau Mut. Ins. Co. v. Smith, No. S15G1177 (Ga. March 21, 2016). The Supreme Court of Georgia’s decision provides virtually no analysis to support the court’s conclusion that household lead constitutes a “pollutant.” The decision, therefore, does little to illustrate how policyholders should interpret other injurious substances that do not fit the contours of a traditional environmental “pollutant.”


Smith sued her landlord, alleging that her daughter suffered severe injuries from ingesting lead-based paint chips or dust at the landlord’s rental property. Based on the relevant pollution exclusion, Georgia Farm Bureau (“GFB”), the landlord’s insurer, filed a declaratory judgment action seeking a ruling that its policy did not require GFB to defend or indemnify the landlord for Smith’s lawsuit. Continue reading

Toxic Contamination Found on Portions of Tracks at Penn Station

Source: Dow Jones News Service, April 28, 2016
Posted on: http://www.advisen.com

For all its ills, New York Penn Station can count one more: toxic contamination on at least two of its tracks.

Amtrak has launched a cleanup at the widely ridiculed and crowded station after tests found chemicals known as PCBs, or polychlorinated biphenyls, on portions of tracks 1 and 10 at the busy Manhattan transit hub.

Now regarded as potentially cancer-causing pollutants, PCBs were commonly used decades ago in lubricants or other commercial applications. Experts say they can harm the skin, liver or immune and nervous systems.

Riders shouldn’t worry, according to Amtrak. The national passenger railroad owns Penn Station but shares it with NJ Transit, the Long Island Rail Road and the New York City subway.

While PCBs can become airborne, tests showed the air at Penn Station is safe, an Amtrak spokesman said.

“Elevated levels” of PCBs were discovered earlier this month in sediment on sections of two of the station’s 21 tracks, the spokesman said. A bulletin for workers noted PCBs were found on concrete track structures. Continue reading

Company to pay $50.8M to clean up Ocoee River contamination

Source: http://knoxblogs.com, April 25, 2016

News release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
ATLANTA — The Department of Justice and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced that OXY USA Inc., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum Company, has agreed to clean up contaminated water and sediments in the Ocoee River and one of its watersheds at the Copper Basin Mining District Superfund Site in Polk County, Tennessee.

The settlement requires the company to spend an estimated $40 million to maintain and operate a water treatment system, prevent access by the public to contaminated water, and monitor contamination in the Ocoee River.

In addition, OXY USA Inc. will reimburse EPA approximately $10.8 million toward costs incurred in its past cleanup actions at the site. The company will also reimburse EPA and the State of Tennessee for costs incurred by those agencies in overseeing the work required by the settlement.

“This settlement is the product of excellent cooperation between private parties, and the state and federal government to find a long term solution to cleaning up the contamination at the Copper Basin site,” said Assistant Attorney General John Cruden of the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This agreement will yield lasting benefits for water quality in this Ocoee River watershed.” Continue reading

Decades of contamination complicate proposals for Westwood site

Source: http://www.buffalonews.com, April 25, 2016
By: Harold McNeil

Developer wants town to sign off on plans

The developer of the former Westwood Country Club golf course has said it intends to spend $238 million to turn the land into single-family homes, townhouses and business properties.

Before it can proceed with those plans, however, Mensch Capital Partners must clean contaminants from the 170-acre parcel. Decades of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides sprayed on the golf course left arsenic, mercury, lead and zinc.

A managing partner said Mensch prepared a cleanup plan that the state Department of Environmental Conservation approved, but acknowledged nothing is going to happen until Amherst signs off on all the site plan approvals and rezonings required for the project to go forward.

“Brownfield remediation is not economically viable without such an agreement,” said Andrew J. Shaevel.

Amherst Supervisor Barry A. Weinstein, however, is skeptical that Mensch intends to clean up the site.

“What they’re saying, in effect, is they’re not going to do anything until they get a town approval,” Weinstein said. “The bottom line is they have no intention of cleaning up their contaminated site.”

He noted that it took the developer two years to get its environmental impact plan approved, and that was in December. Continue reading

Concern grows over tainted drinking water

Source: Dow Jones News Service, April 25, 2016
Posted on: http://www.advisen.com

Officials in Vermont, New Hampshire and New York are expanding their efforts to find out how much of a potentially toxic chemical ended up in drinking water, from private wells to public water systems.

Factories for decades used the chemical, perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, as a plastic coating and to make consumer products such as Teflon nonstick pans, waterproof jackets and pizza boxes.

Former large manufacturers or users of PFOA, including 3M Co. and DuPont Co., agreed in 2006 to phase out PFOA production and use by December 2015.

Public concern over PFOA has spread through upstate New York and New England since August 2014, when a resident of Hoosick Falls, N.Y., near the Vermont border, tested his drinking water and found high levels of the acid. The man was concerned because his father, a former employee of the town’s plastics plant that used PFOA, died of cancer.

Earlier this month, roughly 200 people crowded into a high school auditorium in Litchfield, N.H., to hear from New Hampshire environmental officials. Attendees voiced concerns about PFOA’s possible effects on children, pets and garden produce.

Shawn Dalton, a retired 64-year-old, told the group that the drinking water from his home well tested positive for PFOA in March. “To me, the biggest problem is that nobody knows anything, and in a way we’re going to be the guinea pigs,” he said. Continue reading


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