Big Oil and Big Coal have had a big February, fouling air and waterways, crashing their own hardware, and spilling their dirty goods from North Carolina to North Dakota. Even though the shortest month of the year isn’t even over yet, here are fossil fuel’s greatest hits (so far) from February 2014.
1. Huge coal ash spill in North Carolina
Greenpeace joined other media in reporting Duke Energy’s February 2nd toxic coal ash spill on North Carolina’s Dan River. It was the third largest in American History, rendering local water undrinkable for days and damaging wildlife. News of that spill was followed by reports that another pipe at the facility was in danger of failing. The spill’s effects were made worse by the slowness and inaccuracy of the governor and his crony regulators. A federal investigation into the cozy relationship between NC regulators and Duke Energy is now underway.
2. Duke is plain bad
Duke Energy has been so awful this month that it has earned two spots on this list. First there was the spill in North Carolina. Then there was talk that it would brazenly try to recover the costs of remediation from the North Carolina ratepayers whose water it had just wrecked. Then more revelations came to light that Duke shored up its hall-of-fame tax-dodging credentials, while also posting huge profits in 2013. Who are these people?
3. Three disasters in 24 hours
- Patriot Coal’s Kanawha River site, which was responsible for two other spills in the last couple years, dumped 100,000 of coal slurry into the Kanawha river. Coal slurry, also known as coal sludge, is a byproduct of mining and preparation. It contains toxic levels of arsenic, selenium, and manganese.
- There was an explosion at a natural gas pipeline near Tioga, North Dakota, setting off an enormous blaze and a series of explosions documented in the youtube user’s video below. The pipeline is operated by Hiland Partners LP. A few days later another pipeline explosion leveled houses in Kentucky.
- A huge explosion at a Chevron owned fracking rig in southwestern Pennsylvania—which ties West Virginia for most screwed state this month— shook local homes and took five days to get under control. One worker went missing and is presumed to have died.
4. Pizza for your trouble
Understandably, local residents were unsettled after that Chevron explosion. What was Chevron’s response? A gift certificate for some pizza and a soda. It might have been a sweet gesture, if maybe Chevron had borrowed your car for the night… But for building an enormous fracking well in your backyard and having it explode in a gigantic, toxic fireball that burned for days? Tone deaf. Here’s an image of the gift certificate and Chevron’s crappy letter.
5. Oil on the Tracks
With no pipeline to transport the oil from the Bakken boom, the oil industry has taken to using the country’s aging rail infrastructure. The Bakken crude is particularly flammable, the rail cars are particularly flimsy, and shipments are particularly huge, leaving room for particularly bad rail disasters, and lots of them. The horrific, fiery crash in Quebec last summer showed just how bad things can get. More oil was spilled in rail accidents in 2013 that the preceding 47 years combined.
On Thursday the 11th, one of those big oil trains jumped the rails outside of Pittsburgh, the second crash in Pennsylvania in a few weeks. Thankfully nobody was hurt, and not an enormous amount of oil was spilled. But the frequency of these accidents— there were two other spills this month, in Minnesota and Mississippi— isn’t comforting anybody who lives anywhere near freight lines.
6. Shady Deals
An independent review of the US Department of Interior alleges that US officials wrongly helped coal companies acquire land leases, accepting below-market bids that deprived American taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars. Backroom deals between the Bureau of Land Management and Big Coal helped industry secure deals at bargain prices, denying taxpayers royalties due them through coal sales.
The Interior Department’s independent Inspector General wrote in a letter to Senator Ron Wydon that this form of negotiation is “currently prohibited by law and regulation.”
7. Shadiness continued
As in the case with Duke and the North Carolina’s regulators, sometimes it’s hard to tell government and fossil fuel companies apart. This month a document was leaked (pdf) from Ohio Governor John Kasich’s office that suggests the governor and his administration were involved in a conspiracy to open Ohio public lands to fracking and a subsequent coverup.
The document seems to consider environmental advocates enemies, regular Ohioans as dupes who need to be won over, and the industries government is supposed to regulate as allies.
Since it was released, Kasich has reversed his position, now claiming to be against fracking on public lands.
8. The West Virgina MCHM saga goes on
By now everybody has heard about the big spill of a coal-washing chemical into West Virginia’s Elk River. That happened last month, as did the spate of illnesses suffered by local people after the spill. So did the frustrating announcement that the responsible company, Freedom Industries, would avoid paying settlements by claiming bankruptcy. This month, amidst continued illnesses, chemical smells, school closures, and protests by residents over being charged by the water utility for water they can’t use, West Virginians are rightly unconvinced their water is safe. Governor Earl Ray Tomblin has asked for an investigation by the CDC.
9. West Virginia hit again
West Virginia was hit by a THIRD spill just days ago. This time it was blackwater, yet another potential polluter from coal production, which spilled out of an impoundment run by Gary Partners LLC into yet another West Virgnina waterway. Blackwater is water tainted by coal slurry. It entered a creek after snowmelt overflowed sediment ponds.
10. Boom means BOOM
It has been a busy month in North Dakota, where an oil and gas boom is well underway. But this boom has come with lax oversight and persistent social and environmental problems. This month, a blowout at a Whiting Petroleum Corp. site spewed oil and fracking wastewater for days. With every spill of fracking-related fluids, questions about the guarded components of fracking chemicals return.