Monday, July 18, 2016

Jury hits U. of C. hospital with $53 million malpractice verdict

Original Story:

A Cook County jury has awarded $53 million to a 12-year-old Hickory Hills boy and his mother in a 2013 lawsuit filed against the University of Chicago Medical Center, where he was born with a serious brain injury. A Chicago medical malpractice lawyer said this will help to pay for the boy's future healthcare.

The jury's award to Lisa and Isaiah Ewing includes $28.8 million for future caretaking expenses, according to a copy of the jury verdict form provided by their lawyers, Geoffrey Fieger of suburban Detroit and Jack Beam of Chicago. Isaiah has severe cerebral palsy, is in a wheelchair, and needs his mother to feed and clothe him.

It was the biggest birth injury verdict ever in Cook County, said John Kirkton, editor of Jury Verdict Reporter in Chicago.

Their lawsuit outlined about 20 alleged missteps by doctors and nurses after Ewing arrived about 40 weeks pregnant at the hospital and was experiencing less movement by her baby. The mistakes, the lawsuit alleged, included the failures to carefully monitor mother and baby, perform a timely cesarean section, follow a chain of command, obtain accurate cord blood gases, and be aware of abnormal fetal heart rate patterns that indicated distress to the baby, including hypoxia, or a drop in the supply of oxygen.  "The University of Chicago has been, for the last 12 years, completely unapologetic, and even though the evidence was overwhelming that they caused Isaiah's brain damage, they refused to accept responsibility," Fieger said at the news conference Thursday. Ewing hadn't had any problems during her pregnancy, he added.

Before the case went to the jury, the hospital filed for a mistrial.

Fieger's "closing argument shattered the line between zealous advocacy and improper prejudicial comments, rendering it impossible for defendant to receive a fair trial," the hospital's lawyer said in a court filing. "He also prejudicially argued that the defendant's case was built on a falsehood and proceeded to equate defendant's conduct and testimony of its witnesses with the propaganda techniques notoriously and unmistakably associated with Nazi Germany."

Hospital spokeswoman Lorna Wong said the hospital had "great sympathy" for the family but "strongly" disagrees with the jury's verdict.

"Judge Kirby declined to enter judgment on the verdict, as there are pending motions for mistrial based on assertions of Mr. Fieger's improper conduct," she said, noting that it wouldn't be the first overturned verdict involving Fieger.

She said Isaiah and his mother were treated for infection, which can cause cerebral palsy. "Isaiah was born with normal oxygen blood levels," and the "injury occurred before the care Mr. Fieger criticized."

After the news conference, Fieger said he expected the judge to confirm the verdict. "The jury has spoken," he said. A Chicago Brain Injury Lawyer said this is usually how this procedure occurs.

The jury decided the case in four hours, Fieger said. A list of the damages also includes $7.2 million for future medical expenses. The document was signed by 12 jurors.

Fieger disputed that Isaiah had an infection.

"All of the medical records at the University of Chicago neonatal clinic showed that Isaiah had been suffocated at birth, that he had suffered hypoxia, lack of oxygen, yet the University of Chicago and its lawyers came to court and tried to tell the jury that their own records were false, that their own records were mistaken and that Isaiah really had a phantom infection that infected his brain that they could never have known about," Fieger said during the news conference.

Ewing said at the news conference that she has to bathe Isaiah and help him go to the bathroom. She lives in a two-story town home, so she must carry him up and down the stairs.

She said the verdict will help ensure that Isaiah is taken care of after she dies.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Exploding Fire Consumes Oil Field in San Juan Basin; Cause Unknown

Original Story:

A fire that consumed chemical storage tanks at an oil field in New Mexico is slowly burning out, and a WPX Energy spokesperson has apologized to dozens of Navajo Nation citizens who had to evacuate their homes.

“We’re deeply sorry for the lives interrupted,” said WPX Energy spokesperson Kelly Swan, after 55 homes had to be evacuated. “The Navajo Nation is an important stakeholder.”

The fire broke out in a series of explosions on Monday, July 11 at 10:15 pm at WPX Energy’s West Lybrook six-well-pad unit, a five-acre oil production site on Highway 550 near Nageezi, New Mexico, in San Juan County.

As of 7:30 a.m. on July 14 the fire, which WPX officials had hoped would burn itself out in a matter of hours, was ongoing, according to San Juan County spokesperson Michele Truby-Tillen.

“Fire department personnel are on the scene this morning working on a plan,” Truby-Tillen said, adding that while some evacuees had been allowed home, others will have to wait. “Evacuees will be allowed to return to their homes when fire chief Craig Daugherty feels that its safe for them to go back.”

All of the 36 storage tanks, 30 holding oil and six a mix of water and hydrocarbon, caught fire and burned, according to Swan. Chemical foam was the only alternative to letting the fire burn itself out, but the decision was made not to use it “because of the great risk to responders, and because foam could carry oil products outside of the perimeter,” Swan said.

Personnel from five local agencies are monitoring the fire, though Rosalita Whitehair, director of emergency management for the Navajo Nation, said that her office is currently not one of them. WPX said it has “mobilized environmental contractors to conduct air screenings with FLIR infrared cameras and photo ionization detectors.”

Full environmental impacts on air and water quality will be assessed once the fire has burned out and the site has cooled off, officials said.

“WPX Energy will have to remediate the area once the fire has stopped, in accordance with federal and state regulations,” said Beth Wojahn, New Mexico Oil Conservation Department’s media spokeswoman. NMOCD, which approved WPX’s application to develop the site last September, will monitor remediation.

The company does not know how much oil burned off.

“That will be part of the investigation,” Swan said. “Our priority is public safety.”

The environmental group Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (Diné CARE) said the incident was proof that fracking has no place on Navajo land.

“The event demonstrates the increasing dangers of modern fossil fuel development, highlights the environment damage of the industry, and serves as a sobering reminder of the urgent need to build safe, clean renewable energy in place of fossil fuels,” the group said in a statement.

The New Mexico Environment Department said it is keeping abreast of developments.

“Protecting the quality of that air that we breathe and notifying New Mexicans of dangerous conditions is a top priority for the New Mexico Environment Department,” said New Mexico Environment Department spokesperson Allison Scott Majure.

But many on the Navajo Nation do not feel that that is the case.

“For years, our community has dealt with the impacts of this industry—the noise, the light, the air pollution, and knowing that each well drilled locks in years of climate changing pollution,” said Samuel Sage, Counselor Chapter Community Services Coordinator, in the Diné CARE statement. "But today, we reached the end of our rope as we watched the biggest disaster yet pollute the skies and blacken the earth.”

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Biomimicry Institute announces winners of second food systems Challenge

Original Story:

The Biomimicry Global Design Challenge has announced the winners of its 2016 competition, the second challenge centered on food systems and how biomimicry can help improve them. The 10 winning teams will receive cash prizes and some will get the chance to bring their project to market and compete for an additional cash prize from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation. A Denver environmental lawyer thinks this is a great project.

The winning teams were chosen from a list of 86 submissions from 18 countries, with the projects assessed by 50 judges, including biologists, business leaders, venture capitalists and agricultural specialists.

Over the two years of the Challenge, the focus of the initiative has been on key food and agriculture issues, such as waste, packaging, agricultural pest management, food distribution, energy use, and others.

Student Category winners

The first prize went to a team of high school girls from Ontario, Canada. They won the top spot with a water capture device called Stillæ, which was inspired by organisms that can survive in water­-scarce regions.

It was on the Socotra archipelago in the Indian Ocean that the all-girl team found its muses: the Socotra desert rose whose bulbous trunk provided the model for the holding tank of the Stillæ, and lichen, another local organism that inspired the team with its ability to absorb moisture in the air directly through its cell walls. A beetle variety provided the concept of catching water between blades.

The device captures water from the air with solar-powered spinning blades. Then, a cooling system is used to condense air particles on the surface of the blades. Water is then collected at the base of the design, which can be utilized for personal and agricultural use.

The second prize went to a team at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan for The Home Food Garbage Decomposer, an aerobic decomposer for home use. A South Jersey Environmental Lawyer thought this was the best project.

The team wants to reduce food waste in their city and mitigate the environmental side-effects it causes. Inspiration came from various sources, including cockroaches' respiratory system, termites' nest air circulation systems, and the structure of cocoons and honeycombs.

The compost honeycomb-like unit works in a cyclic system, where the mature manure is transferred to upper planting units and a new cycle starts from the emptied unit. Each compost unit bears its own date, so the Decomposer would work like a sort of home calendar farm.

The third prize was given to EcoFruitainer, devised by a team from the Universidad Panamericana, Mexico City, Mexico. It is a transportable container to keep food fresh and avoid waste.

Tree bark inspired the spiral cooling towers to keep the interior cool and the air flowing. The roof of the container is inspired by the green birdwing butterfly's light-reflecting ability. The food is put inside waterproof sacks that farmers would have been previously supplied with, made with absorbent fabric. Inside, a spiderweb-like material absorbs impact to protect the integrity of food produce.

EcoFruitainer is made with recycled materials and runs without electricity, so its impact is kept at a minimum. 

Open Category winners

The seven winners in this category will receive a $2,000 cash prize and an invitation to enter the 2016/­17 Biomimicry Accelerator, which culminates in the $100,000 Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize. A San Antonio environmental lawyer was impressed by all of the entries.

Here's a rundown on the winning projects:

Happy Soil, from Woodland in California, is a system to replenish soil and was inspired by nature's capacity to recycle everything. It is meant as a low-cost addition to a farming operation and consists of a soil replenishment innovation to create a healthy soil microbiome and increase water retention.

Happy Soil is a natural time-release, dissolvable application embedded with dried mycorrhizae (fungi) and bacteria that are very efficient at getting rid of weeds (almost 100 percent) while encouraging the desired crop to grow. Seeds for the incoming year are incorporated into the blanketing process to give them a microbial jumpstart for the coming crop cycle. This makes for stronger seedlings and plants.

b-all, from Bogota in Colombia is an edible food packaging system to maintain the integrity of produce during its journey from farmer to consumer. The idea is to create an organic protective peel coating, a foam-like layer covered with an impermeable varnish and packed as a complete meal in an external package. It was inspired by the fruit from the the Pittosporum Undulatum tree and the Elytra beetle variety with its hard shell, double layer and foam structure.

ANSA, from UC San Diego, California, is a hydroponic growing system inspired by cyanobacteria and its synthesizing inner membrane. It allows growers to extract nutrients from compost through several filters where the nutrients are then used to feed their multi-layer, polyculture hydroponic unit.

The unit is a tower divided into several compartments and powered with solar and LED lights. A pump moves water from the bottom of the tower and directs it to each crop compartment above. To avoid non-organic fertilizers, it uses permeable membranes and specific microbes as well as beans, alfalfa or peas to provide nitrogen to crops in the central unit. Organized waste is filtered and metabolized into complex, plant-ready inorganic matter before being introduced into the central unit. A Pittsburgh environmental lawyer hope this type of project can help to feed those in need around the world.

Slant is an app inspired by ants, specifically the way they influence each other's behavior, in a bid to reduce food waste. The user can tell the app what food item they want and the app can show where the best local option is, which the user can then review. This food source is marked like a pheromone (a chemical factor ants exude to trigger a social response), a temporary geo-reference signal. The app uses signals from other users to map out the best food choices near the user.

Concept(non)Restaurant is a restaurant where customers cannot eat more than they need. The concept was inspired by bees, bacteria and monkeys to foster an ethos of solidarity and participation. Food in this conceptual restaurant is always seasonal and local. A screen shows how resources decrease as customers choose their meals. If the choice is sustainable, resources will go down at a rate that allows others to eat and keep the restaurant working. Otherwise, fewer people will eat and the restaurant will have a shorter lifespan.

Next Loop is rainwater collection system. It is designed into modules that would initially be retrofitted on multi-story buildings to collect rainwater to be distributed to a hydroponic cultivation system. Individual modules integrate water storage and collection while mycorrhisal networks of fungi maintain plant hydration by transporting fluid between the root systems of neighboring plants.  This means that they may not need to use chemical holding tanks.

GetFresh was inspired by how animals choose preys to devise a solution to bring health food to "food deserts" in Baltimore in the US. The idea is to access excess fresh produce from local farmers that meets needs and desires of local people in the city. GetFresh would would provide a consistent supply of fresh food in stations placed in corner shops in order to create a health food habit through easy and adequate availability.

The upcoming accelerator program will be the second one the Biomimicry Institute has run as part of the annual competition. Currently, the first accelerator teams are finalizing their prototypes and business plans in preparation for the Ray C. Anderson Foundation Ray of Hope Prize award event, to be held at the Bioneers conference in San Rafael, California, on October 22, 2016.

"This is our first cohort of finalists to produce working prototypes, which makes them trailblazers," says Beth Rattner, executive director of the Biomimicry Institute. "Doing biomimicry is hard, submitting practical and inspired design concepts is far harder, and making them actually work and solve the problem is extraordinary. We are immensely proud of these teams and I believe we will being seeing at least a few of them make it all the way to market."

Looking ahead

The Ray C. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1.5 million over four years to support the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge. Having started in 2016, the two organizations will award the $100,000 prize to the most viable prototype that best encapsulates the principles of biomimicry. A Royal Oak environmental lawyer hope that many other will join in to make these types of visions a reality.

A new round of the Biomimicry Global Design Challenge will open in October with a focus on climate change. Once again, teams will be able to compete for the $100,000 Ray of Hope Prize

Friday, July 1, 2016

Hanford workers report illnesses linked to chemical vapors

Original Story:

Dave Klug walked out of a Hanford tank farm control room on a cold, calm night in January 2010 into air that took his breath away.

“Immediately, I had tightness in my chest. I lost feeling in my face. My heart rate was going crazy,” he said.

Klug, a longtime Hanford tank farm worker, was one of several workers who talked about their experiences with chemical vapors at a forum Wednesday night in Pasco. Was this coming from a chemical storage tank nearby?

Klug was off work for 11 months after that night and now has 30 percent permanent, partial disability for reactive airway disease and occupational asthma, he said.

Those who talked at the forum kept coming back to two types of illnesses they believe are caused by chemical vapors — breathing problems, as Klug described, and neurological issues, including a brain disease called toxic encephalopathy. This could involve a Baton Rouge toxic torts lawyer for assistance.

Toxic encephalopathy is what Barbara Sall said led to the dementia and death of her husband, a Hanford carpenter who died at the age of 57.  This could have been solved by a good chemical holding tanks with proper seals.

The forum — organized by Hanford Challenge, union Local 598 and state Attorney General Bob Ferguson — drew about 200 people. The two agencies and the state of Washington have filed a federal lawsuit seeking better protection from chemical vapors for Hanford workers.

The Department of Energy, the target of the lawsuit along with its tank farm contractor, has said that all air samples analyzed from the breathing zones of workers since 2005 have not found chemicals in concentrations above the occupational limits set to protect workers.

In recent months, about 53 workers have received medical checks for possible exposure to chemical vapors at Hanford, but all have been cleared to return to work when no symptoms were detected, according to DOE. Blood tests also have come back clear.

But such statements have been met with skepticism.

One worker at the meeting said it seemed that the tank farm contractor, Washington River Protection Solutions, did not care about sick workers when it recently pointed out that it had the second-best safety record in the nationwide DOE cleanup complex. Will these workers need a New Orleans toxic torts lawyer for help?

“They are going to eat those words” when they lose the lawsuit, said James Hart, national president of the Metal Trades Department of the AFL-CIO.

Mike Lawrence, the DOE Hanford manager from 1984-90, said he has been following the issue closely.

A significant number of workers have experienced health effects or symptoms, Lawrence said. There could be a correlation between the illnesses and toxic fumes from chemicals in chemical storage tanks.

But DOE says it cannot measure chemicals in vapors at levels that current occupational standards say would cause a problem.

“Obviously people are hurting, people are sick and something needs to be done,” Lawrence said.

He proposed that an independent, experienced and qualified third party, chosen jointly by DOE and the state of Washington, collect data.

Although a team of experts led by the Savannah River National Laboratory prepared the latest report on Hanford tank vapors, the report has no credibility to some because the lab is part of the DOE system, Lawrence said.  This story has caught the attention of a Jackson toxic exposure lawyer.

He suggested the University of Washington School of Public Health as a possible independent agency for the work.

Unless DOE can prove that workers are not being exposed to chemical vapors, protective gear should be worn, he said.

Supplied air respirators are required if Hanford officials suspect conditions that could cause the release of chemical vapors. The Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council has demanded that supplied air respirators be mandatory for any worker in the tank farms, and in some cases workers near the farms.

Klug said the tank farm contractor just needs to fix the problem. Work to raise discharge stacks from the tanks so they are farther from worker’s noses is not enough, he said.

It has to be DOE’s responsibility to keep workers safe, said Steven Gilbert, director of the nonprofit Institute of Neurotoxicology and Neurological Disorders in Seattle and a Hanford Challenge board member.

“It’s a witches brew of chemical in the tanks,” he said.

Exactly which chemicals workers are exposed to is not known, Gilbert said. But he can say that inhaled chemicals can cause problems. The chemicals can go from the lungs to the brain quickly.  They wonder if there was proper use of a chemical holding tank.

People have different sensitivities to chemical vapors, said Rick Jansons, a former Hanford worker who is running for the state Legislature. Incumbent Brad Klippert also was at the meeting.

Jansons has been exposed three times and has developed no symptoms, but it is obvious that other people are getting sick, he said.

Diana Gegg, a former heavy equipment operator at Hanford, said she was 600 yards away from a reported vapor cloud in 2007 when she was exposed. Within a week she developed flu-like symptoms, plus vision problems diagnosed as muscle dysfunction.

She eventually had to stop driving and has been diagnosed with toxic encephalopathy and neurotoxicity, she said. Hanford officials have denied she was injured.

“My life ended that day as I knew it,” she said.

Hart, the national union official, said he has looked at the cause of death for Hanford workers represented by Local 598 back to 1988 and sees a pattern of deaths caused by cancer and respiratory illness for workers not yet 65 years old. This is the type of research that a Jacksonville toxic torts lawyer would have to do.

Younger workers at the tank farms are afraid to speak up about their concerns, Klug said.

Any worker under the union umbrella of the Hanford Atomic Metal Trades Council who raises tank vapor concerns will have the full protection of the AFL-CIO’s national Metal Trades Council, Hart said.

“We are all fighting for the people in this room,” he told the crowd.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Stopping tank corrosion in the transportation sector

Original Story:

Thousands of chemicals, petroleum products, and corrosive elements like salt water brine are transported by tanker truck, railcar and distributors, as well as processed in chemical storage tanks at facilities and refineries, every day.
In these venues, carbon steel corrosion can require early tank replacement and maintenance, as well as pose a safety risk in terms of potential leaks, spills, and even fire and explosion, so effective corrosion protection is a must.

“We clean just about any tank hauling product or waste on the road or rail,” said Joe Svehlak, Facility Manager at DFW Tank Cleaning, a Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas-based full service tank cleaning facility that specialises in chemical cleaning. “Protecting against corrosion is vital in such tanks, as it is in our facility flush tanks.”
According to Svehlak, effective corrosion resistance is essential in the chemical holding tanks because they hold the wastewater from the first flushes of tanks that the company cleans, which can include residual chemicals, until it is treated. This amounts to thousands of different residual chemicals held in the flush tanks annually – from petroleum products and salt-water brine to fluoride, caustic soda, and a variety of acids.

Against such tank corrosion challenges, traditional polymer paints and rubber type coatings have long been used as physical barriers to keep corrosion promoters such as water and oxygen away from steel substrates. This works until the paint is scratched, chipped, or breached and corrosion promoters enter the gap between the substrate and coating.
However, truck or rail tankers hauling waste, including sand and sediment, can be particularly prone to scratches, chips, or breaches. Then the coating can act like a greenhouse – trapping water, oxygen and other corrosion promoters – which allows the corrosion to spread. While stainless steel can be used for tanks to resist corrosion, it can be up to six times more costly than carbon steel, as well as challenging to weld, fabricate, and maintain.

Now a new generation of anti-corrosion coating, called Chemically Bonded Phosphate Ceramics, is poised to stop such corrosion, improve safety, and extend tank life in the transportation industry and beyond while minimising maintenance and downtime.

Rugged anti-corrosion protection

“Our corrosion protection for our 10 000 gal. flush tanks has to be particularly rugged because we mix the wastewater so it does not stratify, and sand, rocks, and even metal shavings can be present from the waste trailers we service,” said Svehlak. “The corrosion protection also has to withstand the high-temperature, high pressure water we often work with.”

To control corrosion, the chemical storage tank cleaning facility chose to have Ennis, Texas-based DC Metal Construction, a privately owned company specialising in steel construction and industrial plant building projects, coat the inside of two flush tanks. The flush tanks were coated with a spray applied inorganic coating called EonCoat® from the Raleigh, NC-based company of the same name. EonCoat represents a new category of tough, Chemically Bonded Phosphate Ceramics (CBPCs) that can stop corrosion.

In contrast to traditional polymer coatings that sit on top of the substrate, the corrosion resistant coating bonds through a chemical reaction with the substrate, and slight surface oxidation actually improves the reaction. An alloy layer is formed. This makes it impossible for corrosion promoters like oxygen and humidity to get behind the coating the way they can with ordinary paints. The corrosion barrier is covered by a ceramic shell that resists corrosion, fire, water, abrasion, chemicals, and temperatures up to 400°F.

Although traditional polymer coatings mechanically bond to substrates that have been extensively prepared, if gouged, moisture and oxygen will migrate under the coating’s film from all sides of the gouge.

By contrast, the same damage to the ceramic-coated substrate will not spread corrosion because the carbon steel’s surface is turned into an alloy of stable oxides. Once the steel’s surface is stable (the way noble metals like gold and silver are stable) it will no longer react with the environment and corrode.

Visible in scanning electron microscope photography, EonCoat does not leave a gap between the steel and the coating because the bond is chemical rather than mechanical. Since there is no gap, even if moisture was to get through to the steel due to a gouge, there is nowhere for the moisture to travel. The only spot that can corrode is the scribe line itself, which eliminates the possibility of the corrosion migrating.

“Unlike traditional methods, the corrosion resistant coatings for mild steel have a double layer of protection,” said Bobby Hobbs, a DC Metal Construction job foreman. “The tough, outside ceramic coating will not chip like paint and takes sandblasting to remove. The chemically bonded layer stops corrosion and will not allow corrosion promoters to spread.”

“EonCoat has stood up really well to everything from chemicals and salty brine to abrasion, high-pressure water and heat,” added Svehlak. “I believe it will double the life of our tanks while significantly lowering maintenance costs and downtime.”

According to Svehlak, the coating’s rugged anti-corrosion properties could also benefit a wide range of transportation-related businesses.
“Tanker truck and rail operations can benefit from the anti-corrosion coating’s reliability,” said Svehlak. “Its abrasion resistance would be a big plus to wastewater haulers or super sucker truck operators with vacuum tanks that may encounter metal chips, glass shards, etc. when cleaning out sumps. It would also resist tank corrosion when transporting petroleum products or even used restaurant waste such as oil, fat, or grease.”

For transportation companies looking to reduce costs, there are additional advantages to CBPC coatings beyond corrosion resistance. This includes quick return to service that minimises equipment downtime, as well as no VOCs or HAPs, and a flame spread rating of zero which improves safety.

For corrosion protection projects using typical polymer paints such as polyurethanes or epoxies, the cure time may be days or weeks before the next coat of traditional ‘three part systems’ can be applied, depending on the product. The cure time is necessary to allow each coat to achieve its full properties, even though it may feel dry to the touch.

In contrast, a corrosion resistant coating for carbon steel utilising the ceramic coating in a single coat requires almost no curing time. Return to service can be achieved in as little as one hour. This kind of speed in getting a tank, tanker truck, or railcar operating again can save significantly in reduced downtime.

“After appropriate tank preparation, we found that if we spray EonCoat in the morning the tank can be returned to service the same day because it applies in one coat and dries quickly,” said Hobbs.

EonCoat consists of two, non-hazardous components that do not interact until applied by a plural spray system like those commonly used to apply polyurethane foam or polyurea coatings. Since the coating is inorganic, there are no VOCs, no HAPs and no odour. This means that the coating can be applied safely, even in confined spaces.

“Since the corrosion resistant coating has no VOCs, HAPs or odour we were able to spray during work hours, so work next to the tanks could continue while we coated them,” concludes Hobbs. “For any tank, facility, or transportation-related operation with corrosion issues, it is well worth considering.”

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hot Mess: How Radioactive Fracking Waste Wound Up Near Homes And Schools

Original Story:

The energy that lights up, turns on, cools and heats our lives leaves a trail of waste. Natural gas is no exception. The waste from the gas drilling known as “fracking” is often radioactive. The gas industry produces thousands of tons of this “hot” waste and companies and state regulators throughout the Ohio River valley and Marcellus Shale gas region struggle to find safe ways to get rid of it. One option to consider is chemical holding tanks.

Last August a convoy of trucks carrying a concentrated form of this waste traveled from northern West Virginia to Irvine, Kentucky. The small town in Estill County lies near the Kentucky River, where Appalachian hills give way to rolling farm country.

The trucks were headed for a municipal waste facility called Blue Ridge Landfill. Just across Highway 89 from the landfill is the home where Denny and Vivian Smith live on property where their ancestors have lived since the 1800s. This may need a Tulsa Environmental Lawyer to sort things out.

“This is our home place,” Vivian Smith said from her sun porch. “This is roots for us.”

From their sun porch, facing east, the Smiths can see the entrance to Blue Ridge Landfill. From their front door, facing west, they can see Estill County High School and Estill County Middle School, with a combined enrollment of about 1,200 students.

The trucks that arrived in Irvine last summer left more than 400 tons of low-level radioactive waste in a facility that was not engineered or permitted to accept that sort of material. That has left the community, the parents of schoolchildren, and especially the Smiths with a lot of questions and concerns. -- “We are getting older and we feel like we’re kind of vulnerable to illnesses with what’s going on at the landfill,” Vivian Smith said. A South Jersey Environmental Lawyer is watching the case closely.

The question now reverberating through Irvine and the state agencies investigating the incident: How did this happen?

The answer, in part, lies in the weak federal oversight and patchwork of state regulations regarding this type of waste.

A report from the Center for Public Integrity calls the radioactive waste stream from horizontal oil and gas operations “orphan waste” because no single government agency is fully managing it. Each state is left to figure out its own plan. Ohio, for example, hasn’t formalized waste rules, while New York, which banned fracking, still allows waste disposal “with little oversight,” according to the Center.

Antero Resources petroleum engineer Tom Waltz points to eight, green, 16,000-gallon above-ground storage tanks at the edge of a drilling pad in Doddridge County, West Virginia.

“They hold produced water that the producing wells make,” he explained.

Produced water is one form of drilling waste. It’s salty water laced with chemicals, metals, and naturally occurring radioactive elements that come up thousands of feet along with the gas and oil. Antero is the country’s eighth-largest gas drilling company and operates hundreds of sites like this, producing hundreds of thousands of barrels of waste.

The easiest way to get rid of wastewater is to inject it back into the ground, but that can lead to pollution and even earthquakes. One of Antero’s lead civil engineers, Conrad Baston, says processing the wastewater – separating it into salt, sludge, and water – is becoming more attractive.

No Easy Solutions

Antero is spending $275 million to construct a wastewater facility in West Virginia which is scheduled to begin operation in September, 2017. At its peak, the facility could see up to 600 trucks a day, processing 60,000 barrels of wastewater.

A filtering system would recover about two-thirds of the water, which could be reused in drilling. But that filtration system leaves behind thousands of tons of salt and hundreds of tons of sludge from the sediment, which concentrates the radioactive materials. Baston said that sludge — as much as 180 tons a day — will be disposed of elsewhere.

“Given some of the flux in the regulatory environment with regard to those sludges,” he said, “we’ve elected to take those sludges to a landfill that’s currently licensed to accept it.”

Baston couldn’t say which facilities or where, but he said Antero is exploring options across the country. West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection said no approved facilities exist in the state. That would mean the waste will have to cross state lines. An Antero spokesperson said waste from their facility will go only to approved and vetted landfills.

The Center for Public Integrity report shows that regulators acknowledge that this waste is effectively being “shopped around” by companies hoping for affordable disposal. Antero officials maintain that industry has no other choice. A Denver Environmental Litigation Lawyer says this step is critical.

Records filed with the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health show that a company Antero had contracted with to process its wastewater, Fairmont Brine, was the source of the waste that wound up in Blue Ridge Landfill in Irvine, Kentucky. Antero officials said their company is not responsible for how that waste was disposed of. Officials at Fairmont Brine did not respond to requests to comment for this story.

Waiting for Answers

Since reporters at the Louisville Courier-Journal first reported on the improper dumping of fracking waste in Kentucky, community leaders in Irvine have been asking for answers. The landfill is under investigation by multiple state agencies for accepting the waste.

“Knowing that there was nothing going on to protect us,” Vivian Smith said, “I think it’s like the henhouse was not guarded and the fox got in.”

The Smiths have had their share of illnesses and they wonder what effect the radioactive waste might have on them or on the children who attend school nearby. This low-level radioactive waste is not as hazardous as the wastes from nuclear power. But according the the Environmental Protection Agency, the radioactive materials in drilling waste do present risks. Radioactive dust is potentially harmful and it would be bad if the radioactive leachate, or liquid that oozes out from the landfill, were to contaminate groundwater over time. Radioactive waste can last centuries — far longer than the engineered lifespan of the liners in many landfills. A San Antonio Environmental Lawyer may need to be contacted.

Officials with Blue Ridge Landfill’s parent company, Advanced Disposal, declined to comment while under investigation. The Smiths hope that investigation will shed light on any risks they might be living with because of the hot mess left next door.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Persian Gulf War Veterans Still Suffering Serious Health Problems

Original Story:

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Persian Gulf War.

It was fought in late 1990 through early 1991 by a U.S.-led coalition of 34 countries against Iraq in response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Was there a problem with a chemical storage tank leaking?

It also was the first U.S. war to be waged after the advent of the 24-hour cable television news cycle.

The conflict was accompanied by memorably intense and round-the-clock coverage on CNN.

But there’ve been few recognitions of the war’s 25-year milestone on the cable news networks, let alone in broadcast or print media.

For David Winnett, a Gulf War combat veteran who climbed the ranks from private to captain during his 20-year career in the U.S. Marines, it’s just the latest in a succession of insults to the men and women who served in this largely forgotten war.  This may need the services of a Los Angeles Toxic Torts Lawyer.

“It’s no surprise that many people could easily forget ‘our war.’ It was far too fast by any historical measure,” Winnett told Healthline. “Perhaps things would be different had we continued our advance all the way to Baghdad, but the fact is, we didn’t. So regardless of whether or not we think our war has been unfairly set aside in the history books, it is what it is.”

Toxic Aftermath

While ground combat in the Persian Gulf War only lasted days, Winnett said, the toxic legacy of the war has been just as devastating for the postwar health of Gulf War veterans as the defoliant Agent Orange has been for those who served in Vietnam.

Winnett is just one of hundreds of thousands of Gulf War vets who suffer from Gulf War Illness (GWI), also known as Gulf War Syndrome, the panoply of chronic and often debilitating symptoms reported by veterans of that conflict.

The acute symptoms, which for many veterans never go away, include extreme fatigue, neurological issues, insomnia, migraines, joint pain, persistent coughing, gastrointestinal issues such as diarrhea and constipation, skin problems, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that as many as 250,000 of the 700,000 U.S. troops who served in the Persian Gulf War have been affected by GWI, which studies have shown is the result of a litany of toxic exposures that troops like Winnett endured while serving.

Troops were exposed to toxic smoke from the fires of thousands of military burn pits in the war zone. The fires involved tires and other things that contain harmful chemicals.

There was also sarin and other toxic chemicals dropped on U.S. troops.

Two peer reviewed scientific research studies released in 2012 concluded that weather patterns carried massive toxic chemical cloud that fell on U.S. troops. The cloud was created by the U.S. bombing of Iraqi chemical weapon storage facilities

The first study concluded that nerve and blister agents, which were supplied to Iraq by the U.S. before the Gulf War when Hussein was an uncomfortable ally, were bombed by U.S. forces. The toxic substances were swept into the atmosphere and subsequently dropped on U.S. troops.

The second study confirmed the number of GWI reports was in fact higher at the places where the sarin fell.

“Our peer reviewed scientific findings bring us full circle by confirming what most soldiers believed when they heard the nerve gas alarms. The alarms were caused by sarin fallout from our bombing of Iraqi weapons sites,” James Tuite, who led the first study, said in a statement.

The VA’s Position

Despite the scientific evidence and a mandate from Congress that Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recognize several of the symptoms as connected to service in the Gulf War, the VA maintains that there are no definitive scientific studies that link symptoms and diseases associated with GWI to toxic exposures during the war.

According to a 2015 report, about 80 percent of Gulf War veterans who file disability claims citing presumptive chronic multisymptom illnesses connected to toxic exposures are denied by the VA.

A written statement from the VA’s Post-Deployment Health Services team to Healthline stated that in the past few years the VA has “ramped up educational efforts to VA providers on Gulf War Illness.” However, the statement read, “there are times when referral to a psychiatrist is indicated due to a co-morbid condition such as severe depression or another severe mental health condition.”

In another email to Healthline, VA officials said a claim could be denied for a number of reasons, including the belief an ailment was caused by something other than military service or the ailment could be “less than 10 percent disabling.”

Most often, say multiple sources for this story, veterans who say they have these symptoms are sent to the psychiatric departments of VA centers, where they are typically given psychotropic drugs that don’t help them, and in many cases make things worse.

The VA acknowledges the following in a statement on its website: “Rockets filled with sarin and cyclosporine mixes were found at a munitions storage depot in Khamisiyah, Iraq, that had been demolished by U.S. service members following the 1991 Gulf War cease-fire. An undetermined amount of these chemicals was released into the atmosphere. The Department of Defense concluded about 100,000 Gulf War Veterans could have been exposed to low levels of these nerve agents.”

The VA also adds that “research doesn’t show long-term neurological problems from exposure to low levels of sarin. A low level of sarin is an amount that doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms during the exposure.”

Regarding the burn pits, a VA statement on its burn pits registry page reads, “At this time, research does not show evidence of long-term health problems from exposure to burn pits.”

Did the Gulf War Cause Cancer, Too?

Benjamin Krause is a Gulf War veteran who went to law school after he retired from the military, and dedicates his practice to helping his fellow veterans.

He told Healthline that burn pit exposures are associated with an increasing number of diseases, including cancer.

“There’s growing evidence showing a link between burn pits and certain cancers like pancreatic cancer, for example,” Krause said. “VA is working to create a registry to help with service connection and health benefits for these veterans, but history has shown us that such initiatives take much longer to perfect while sick veterans die.”

Compounding the problem, Krause said, are non-VA healthcare providers who are simply unaware of the health risks of military service.

“They don’t ask the right questions and risk deadly misdiagnosis of symptoms because of a lack of awareness of the harms of burn pits, among other things,” Krause noted. “Veterans are getting sick and dying now. We need our VA to pick up the pace before more veterans get sick and die from burn pit exposure related illnesses.”

Congress Steps In

Anthony Hardie, a staff sergeant in the Army who served in combat deployments in the Gulf War and Somalia, has worked for years to get laws passed that set the framework for Gulf War veterans’ healthcare, research, and disability benefits.

The director of Veterans for Common Sense and chair of the programmatic panel of directors for the Gulf War Illness Research Program, Hardie’s work with fellow veteran advocates on both sides of the aisle led to the passage of the Persian Gulf War Veterans Act of 1998 and the Veterans Programs Enhancement Act of 1998.

Hardie told Healthline that these laws gave Gulf War veterans hope for new treatments and recognition by the VA that their persistent symptoms were related to their service.

“But when veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness walk through the door at VA centers and clinics in 2016,” he said, “there are still no evidence-based treatments for them. And most of them are just shuffled off to psychiatric care.”

Winnett added that while Congress deemed three symptoms to be “presumptive” to service in the Gulf War, the VA continues to largely ignore that.

“The most widely reported symptoms of Gulf War Illness are profound fatigue, excruciating bodywide muscle pain, and chronic GI problems,” said Winnett. “The VA, despite its own regulations that are supposed to give the benefit of the doubt to veterans with symptoms considered ‘presumptive’ to service in the Persian Gulf War, instead continue as an organization to view Gulf War Illness as a psychosomatic illness.”

Winnett explained that if a veteran can’t get their symptoms rated as service-connected, “their chance of receiving medical care relative to their symptoms is slim to none. This is a national tragedy of the highest order.”

Reasons for Optimism

Despite the frustrations, every veteran advocate interviewed for this story said there is reason for optimism.

For one thing, Congress recently decided to continue funding GWI treatment research at $20 million for the next year.

“[This] is just what we asked for,” said Hardie. “It shows that Congress continues to take Gulf War veterans’ health issues far more seriously than the Department of Defense or the VA.”
In addition to the two House hearings earlier this year, the Senate has also taken up the GWI issue.

Last month, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat from Wisconsin, announced that reforms and investments she fought for to improve veterans’ care were passed by the Senate as a part of the fiscal year 2017 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs funding bill.

Among Baldwin’s priorities stated in the bill is “better treatment for veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness.”

Baldwin’s provisions, which have received virtually no media coverage, would “improve the approval rates of veterans’ disability claims; enhance ongoing studies and research into the causes of and treatments for Gulf War Illness; and strengthen the membership and work of the Research Advisory Committee, which oversees the government’s research agenda.”

A spokesperson for the VA told Healthline, “The Department of Veterans Affairs is currently working on responding directly to Senator Baldwin, and will include relevant post-deployment health information.”

Promising New Science

The science surrounding GWI also continues to progress.

Two major, four-year, $5 million treatment development research projects at Nova Southeastern University and Boston University are about halfway completed and are expected to break new ground for possible GWI treatment recommendations.

And while there are no evidence-based treatments yet for GWI, some natural supplements have been shown in studies to effectively lessen some of the symptoms.

Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, concluded a few years ago that 19 of the most common GWI symptoms improved after taking supplements.

“We found in our research that there was significant benefit to the veterans’ physical function,” Beatrice Golomb, professor of medicine at the school and principal investigator on the study, told the Bergmann & Moore veterans law firm. “And that is a huge issue with these veterans, whose physical functions often decline. Some of them used to run 20 miles. Now they can’t jog a couple of blocks.”

About 80 percent of veterans with GWI who took coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) saw improved physical function, and the improvement correlated to higher levels of CoQ10 found in the blood, according to research published in Neural Computation.

“This is not a cure, but we think maybe if we give the veterans more of a mitochondrial cocktail they will see an even greater benefit,” Golomb said.

Forgotten After 9/11

Winnett said he felt a “moral obligation” to help his fellow vets after making a 2008 trip to Washington for a VA hearing on Gulf War veterans’ health.

“I was taken aback by the physical condition of the veterans I saw there,” Winnett recalled. “I was older than most Gulf War veterans because I had 16 years of service under my belt when the war began. In Washington, I saw veterans in their 40s who couldn’t walk without assistance. Some were in wheelchairs.”

Winnett said that after 9/11, many people in America, including legislators, just forgot about the fact that many thousands of 1991 veterans were sick.

“We moved on as a country following 9/11 to more pressing matters,” he said. “I would guess that Korean War veterans experienced a similar phenomenon as the Vietnam War ramped up in the mid 1960s. There comes a time when you’re no longer the flavor of the day.”

Thomas Bandzul, an attorney and veterans advocate who’s testified numerous times before Congress on Gulf War health issues, said the American public to this day simply does not have a good understanding of the effects the Gulf War had on the troops.

“The VA has downplayed the significance of Gulf War Illness and has successfully delayed the research that help veterans with their physical ailments,” Bandzul said. “VA still refuses to treat or allow these veterans a disability claim. The unspecific term of ‘general illness’ is still applied to most Gulf War veterans, and their claims are usually denied. This callous and capricious manner in dealing with veterans is a shame.”

Veterans Have Each Other’s Backs

But what stands out most among the Gulf War veterans who agreed to talk to Healthline for this piece is their relentless support of each other.

Last year, Larry Cockrell, a combat veteran who served with the 7th Marines in Task Force Ripper during the first Gulf War, was rated 100 percent disabled by the VA and retired from a successful career as an investigator for several Fortune 500 companies.

Cockrell has several serious health issues as a result of his service, but he’s dedicated his life to assisting his fellow combat veterans as well as their families on their ranch in Lake Mathews in Southern California.

“We assist combat veterans with file claims or file disagreements with VA,” he told Healthline. “Honestly, the Gulf War was forgotten when the parades ended. We fought the largest tank battles, birched the largest minefields, and injected our troops with experimental vaccines, all while fighting on the most contaminated battlefield in the history of warfare.”

Cockrell said “everyone dropped the ball” when Gulf War veterans came home and could not get the healthcare they needed. But he said he has gotten new strength and has never felt a stronger sense of purpose than he does now by helping his fellow veterans on his ranch.

“We love having the spouses and partners here enjoying the ambience and horses and giving their kids rides,” he said. “Ironically, I’ve only had a few veterans jump on a horse and ride. But as Winston Churchill once said, ‘the outside of a horse is good for the inside of a man.’ Just being around them assists veterans. It’s a given that our health issues are not going to get better as we get older. It’s time to give these combat veterans a 100 percent disability rating and a chance to manage their disabilities.”

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

50k Pounds Of Potatoes Across I-77 Shuts Down Traffic

Original story:

A portion of Interstate 77 was shut down for hours Friday after a tractor-trailer crashed, spilling thousands of potatoes across the highway. It is likely that a Charlotte truck accident lawyer will be contacted.

A Channel 9 photographer was traveling behind the truck and witnessed the crash around 2 a.m. in the southbound lanes of I-77 near West Boulevard.

The impact was so violent that the engine flew out of the big rig.

Two other drivers who were following the truck jumped out and rescued the truck driver, who was rushed to Carolinas Medical Center. Officials said he'd be OK.

“Maybe he fell sleep, and sadly hit the guard rail,” said rescuer Garrett Bonacci. “Thank the Lord he's all right.”

"We stopped immediately and saw a guy try to crawl out of the cab,” said Grant Wales. “Saw a lot fire going on, so I ran to him. His leg was pinned, tried pulling him out.”

The two rescuers and state troopers told Channel 9 that the driver said he fell asleep behind the wheel. A Charlotte trucking lawyer says that this unfortunately happens more than we would like to think.

No other vehicles were involved in crash, which damaged about 20 feet of guard rail and concrete barrier.

Officials said the interstate would be closed through the morning rush hour while crews worked to clean-up the 50,000 pounds of potatoes that scattered for hundreds of yards across the road.

Some potatoes were soaked in diesel fuel and clean-up crews had to separate the clean potatoes from the one's contaminated with fuel and oil.

Thousands of clean potatoes were hauled into trucks to be taken to a landfill.

Lee Shank, who is the president of Carolina Environmental, the company called to help clean up, said it could take days before they decide what to do with the potatoes mixed with fuel and oil.

"You basically had diesel fuel and oil petroleum products that are mixed with some of the potatoes," he explained. "Some of the potatoes we had to either clean or will be disclosed as off-spec food product food waste. It sounds simple but we actually go through them (the potatoes) and see where the diesel fuel stopped, and all the potatoes passed that are clean."

Drivers were advised to take the following detour: From I-77 south, take Exit 11 (I-277), follow I-277 and take exit 1-B to get back on I-77 south.

Clean-up crews initially hoped to have one lane open by 5 a.m. and all lanes open by 8 a.m. but DOT officials said all the lanes would not reopen until at least noon.

The far left lane was reopened just before 8 a.m. and a second lane was reopened around 11:30 a.m.

All lanes were reopened around 4 p.m.

Highway Patrol has not identified that driver but said he is expected to recover.

Sgt. Jeff Nash said they will decide later if he will be charged. If a Charlotte truck crash lawyer is involved then charges were made.

“I'm sure you've got failure to maintain lane control. Why he ran off the roadway, we're still investigating that,” Nash said.

Iowa City Resident Killed In Tractor Vs. Semi Accident

Original Story:

A collision Thursday between a semi-truck and a tractor killed an Iowa City resident and injured a Tipton resident.

The fatal collision took place at 12:15 p.m Thursday just northwest of Morse in rural Johnson County, near the intersection of Morse Road Northeast and Vincent Avenue Northeast, according to crash report from the Iowa State Patrol. An Iowa truck accident lawyer is looking into the case.

The John Deere tractor was traveling eastbound while the semi was traveling westbound on Morse Road when the tractor started turning left, according to the crash report. The semi hit the tractor and the tractor driver was ejected from the vehicle.

The driver of the tractor was not wearing a seat belt, the report said.

The report did not release the names of those involved in the accident, but the driver who was killed was reported to be 55 years old and from Iowa City. The driver of the truck, who was injured and taken to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, was 69 and from Tipton. A Des Moines truck accident lawyer may be called onto the case.

There was no additional information on the truck driver's injuries.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dozens of Women Vanish on Canada’s Highway of Tears, and Most Cases Are Unsolved

Original Story:

SMITHERS, British Columbia — Less than a year after her 15-year-old cousin vanished, Delphine Nikal, 16, was last seen hitchhiking from this isolated northern Canadian town on a spring morning in 1990.

Ramona Wilson, 16, a member of her high school baseball team, left home one Saturday night in June 1994 to attend a dance a few towns away. She never arrived. Her remains were found 10 months later near the local airport.

Tamara Chipman, 22, disappeared in 2005, leaving behind a toddler. “She’s still missing,” Gladys Radek, her aunt, said. “It’ll be 11 years in September.”

Dozens of Canadian women and girls, most of them indigenous, have disappeared or been murdered near Highway 16, a remote ribbon of asphalt that bisects British Columbia and snakes past thick forests, logging towns and impoverished Indian reserves on its way to the Pacific Ocean. So many women and girls have vanished or turned up dead along one stretch of the road that residents call it the Highway of Tears.

A special unit formed by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police officially linked 18 such cases from 1969 to 2006 to this part of the highway and two connecting arteries. More women have vanished since then, and community activists and relatives of the missing say they believe the total is closer to 50. Almost all the cases remain unsolved.

The Highway of Tears and the disappearances of the indigenous women have become a political scandal in British Columbia. But those cases are just a small fraction of the number who have been murdered or disappeared nationwide. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have officially counted about 1,200 cases over the past three decades, but research by the Native Women’s Association of Canada suggests the total number could be as high as 4,000.

Monday, March 14, 2016


Original Story:

Southern California Gas Co. will have to continue paying for temporary accommodations for Porter Ranch residents who do not believe it is safe to move home in the wake of the largest methane leak in U.S. history, an appeals court ruled Wednesday. A Tulsa oil and gas lawyer represents clients in energy matters of oil and gas.

The California 2nd District Court of Appeal rejected the gas company's argument that residents should immediately vacate their hotels and other temporary homes now that the gas leak has been fixed.

Customers will now have until March 18 to move home.

The Aliso Canyon gas leak was first reported Oct. 23. Residents in Porter Ranch and surrounding communities complained of headaches, nausea and nosebleeds, symptoms that health officials believe were caused by odorants added to the methane to help detect a leak. A Tulsa energy lawyer is following this story closely.

Those health concerns and the temporary closure of two public schools prompted thousands of households to voluntarily relocate out of the area.

Crews sealed the leak Feb. 18. Residents had eight days to move home before the gas company would stop paying for their accommodations. But some residents complained that they did not believe it was safe to move home, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors sought a temporary restraining order to give customers more time before moving back.

Last week, an attorney for the gas company said relocation efforts cost the utility $2 million a day.

“While we are disappointed with the court's decision because it conflicts with independent scientific analysis and creates further uncertainty for the community, SoCal Gas will continue to comply with the decision to provide continued relocation for those who choose to stay relocated,” according to a statement from the utility. A Los Angeles environmental attorney is reviewing the details of this case.

Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, the interim director of the L.A. County Department of Public Health, has said it is safe for residents to return to the area if they do not smell fumes or feel ill.

Some who have returned home after the leak was sealed said they continued to suffer from maladies.

Health department officials do not expect there to be long-term health effects related to the leak, Gunzenhauser said.

The court case doesn't affect displaced residents who leased homes and apartments until as late as April 30.

Thursday, January 28, 2016


Original Story:

The California Public Utilities Commission is studying the effects of permanently shutting down the Aliso Canyon natural gas field near Porter Ranch, an indication the agency is uncertain about the future integrity of the storage system that supplies 11 million customers in Southern California.

The commission wants to know whether Southern California Gas Co. can find alternative storage sites and delivery systems to make up for a possible shortfall of gas should the 3,600-acre field be taken off-line in the future. A California environmental lawyer is following this story closely.

Edward Randolph, energy division director at the PUC, said the regulatory agency is studying the issue for several reasons, “including that, with several investigations underway, policymakers in California want to know all possible short- and long-term options.”

“Until there are definitive answers on the future of Aliso Canyon, we want to do everything we can to assure reliability knowing that Aliso Canyon is not going to be able to provide the levels of service it historically has,” Randolph said.

A week ago, Timothy Sullivan, executive director of the PUC, ordered the utility to work with government agencies to develop alternatives to reliance on Aliso Canyon.

Gas company spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan declined to comment on the issue, except to say, “We’re not going to try to speak for the CPUC.” A Virginia environmental lawyer has experience with multiple industry types and implications of detrimental environmental practices.

Sustaining energy reliability without the 3,600-acre facility would be daunting. Existing pipelines lack the capacity to make up such a shortfall, according to the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, and other storage facilities in the region are too small or too far away to provide gas quickly enough when needed.

Disruption of gas service requires technicians to visit homes and businesses to relight pilot lights on furnaces and water heaters — a process that could take weeks if the interruption is widespread. Curtailing gas for electric power generation could trigger blackouts during peak demand periods in summer.

Commission safety officials say their top priorities are stopping the leak that has displaced thousands of residents since it began spewing mostly methane Oct. 23 and ensuring that it never happens again.

“We hear loud and clear that many members of the local community want Aliso Canyon permanently taken out of service,” Elizaveta Malashenko, director of safety and enforcement at the PUC, said in a report to her agency Jan. 21. A Baton Rouge environmental attorney is reviewing the details of this case.

“First, we are working on analysis of how reliability issues can be addressed now and if Aliso Canyon is not operational during the upcoming summer,” Malashenko said. “Second, we are working on the analysis of how reliability issues can be addressed if Aliso Canyon is not operational next winter and beyond.”

Rep. Brad Sherman, a resident of Porter Ranch, said he does not believe the gas company has enough storage elsewhere to guarantee delivery to power generation plants during peak demands in the summer.

“If it is feasible, it ought to be shut down — but I’m not holding my breath,” Sherman said. “That’s because they’ve created a facility that is literally too big to fail.”

The gas company operates four underground storage fields in Southern California with a combined “working gas” capacity of about 136 billion cubic feet. Aliso Canyon is by far the largest, with a working gas capacity of 86.2 billion cubic feet. A Texas oil & gas lawyer represents landowners in negotiating the terms of seismic permits, option agreements, oil and gas leases, and easements.

The leak rate of the ruptured well has dropped by two-thirds to 18,400 kilograms per hour since its peak Nov. 28. The decline was achieved by increasing withdrawals of gas from the storage reservoir, which reduced the pressure that is pushing the gas up the well and leaking out, the gas company said. As a result, the reservoir has gone from being 90% full before the leak to at most 37% full Jan. 10.

The PUC has been working with state agencies including the California Energy Commission and California Independent System Operator to determine how far the amount of gas stored at Aliso Canyon can be reduced while keeping homes heated and gas-fired power plants running.

PUC executive Sullivan recently ordered the gas company to reduce the level of working gas at the facility to 15 billion cubic feet, which he described as “the greatest extent possible, while ensuring energy reliability requirements so that customers are not left without heat and hot water and electricity outages do not occur.” A Tulsa energy lawyer represents clients in energy law matters.

The utility believes plugging the ruptured 1950s-era well known as SS-25 could take until late February. On Wednesday, the company said it will temporarily plug 18 vintage wells to inspect for signs of weakness, corrosion and mechanical damage. The Aliso Canyon facility has 115 wells in all.

Among those who believe Aliso Canyon has outlived its usefulness is Robert G. Bea, a retired professor of civil and petroleum engineering and co-founder of the Center for Catastrophic Risk Management at UC Berkeley.

“My big question is this: Why must we wait for a system to fail before we are galvanized into action?” Bea said. “The tragic result is always the same: Tick. Tick. Tick.”