It was Valentine’s Day when the nation’s only radioactive nuclear waste facility first released radioactive particles including Plutonium and Americium into the atmosphere of New Mexico and beyond, including into Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico. Earlier that same day, the New Mexico Environment Department opened the public comment period on an application to modify and expand that nuclear waste facility, which the department said it planned to allow.
The first thing the U.S. government and the government contractor charged with running the supposedly secure radioactive waste project immediately did, when faced with the first-time-ever release of radioactivity from the underground site, was not tell anyone anything. They told no one the truth for four days, even though the truth didn’t seem all that bad, as such things go. Unless contradictory data emerged, this would seem to be a brief release of a relatively small amount of very dangerous isotopes from nuclear weapons waste stored half a mile underground in a salt deposit. While the full scope of the release remains unknown weeks later, it seems clear that this was no Fukushima, except for the operators’ default to instant deceit.
The next day, February 15, 2014, the U.S. Department of Energy, which is responsible for the project, issued “Event News Release No. 1,” a reassuring press release about “a radiological event” (not further defined), misleadingly stating that “a continuous air monitor detected airborne radiation in the underground” (NOT a release into the air). [emphasis added]
The press release expanded on its false reassurance by saying: “Multiple perimeter monitors at the [facility’s] boundary have confirmed there is no danger to human health or the environment. No contamination has been found on any equipment, personnel, or facilities.” No one was exposed, the press release implied, and added further details to reinforce the “no danger to human health or the environment” claim that is so often the first thing the nuclear industry says about any “event,” regardless of what people may or may not know to be true. Other press releases maintained this official story for several days.
Nuclear industry lies are rational in terms of protecting interests
ReWire has reported previously on a form of oil well enhancement in California that doesn’t get much attention from the press, namely, offshore fracking. At least 12 rigs off the coast of California inject proprietary mixes of potentially dangerous chemicals into undersea rock formations at high pressure. They do this in order to break those rocks up which makes it easier to pump out the crude.
That’s the process commonly known as fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing. The fluid pumped into the wells usually gets pumped back out again as wastewater. And if you suddenly have an uneasy feeling about where those offshore rigs dispose of that wastewater, you may well be correct. About half of the state’s offshore rigs pump at least some of their wastewater right into the Santa Barbara Channel.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, oil rig operators have federal permits to dump more than nine billion gallons of fracking wastewater into California’s ocean waters each year. That’s enough wastewater to fill more than 100 stadiums the size of the Rose Bowl brim-full of toxic waste. And CBD wants the Environmental Protection Agency to do something about it.
In a legal petition filed Wednesday, CBD is urging the EPA to rewrite those federal wastewater dumping permits to keep fracking waste out of the ocean, and to develop national guidelines for offshore rig wastewater disposal that address the threat from fracking chemicals.
“It’s disgusting that oil companies dump wastewater into California’s ocean,” said Miyoko Sakashita, CBD oceans director, in a press release. “You can see the rigs from shore, but the contaminated waters are hidden from view. Our goal is to make sure toxic fracking chemicals don’t poison wildlife or end up in the food chain.”
Fracking wastewater contains more than just the chemicals used by oil and gas companies to break up the rocks, including toxic substances like methanol, benzene, naphthalene, and trimethylbenzene. It can also include nasties that it picks up from those deep rock formations, including lead and arsenic. And while safely disposing of such substances isn’t easy in the best of situations, ocean disposal poses special risks for those who play in, live near, or eat fish from the sea.
Not to mention the risks to the California coast’s beleaguered wildlife — an issue that’s prompted staff with the California Coastal Commission to urge an end to fracking wastewater dumping.
“It came as a complete surprise to learn that oil companies are fracking in waters off the coast where I let my kids swim and play,” said Sakashita. “The toxic chemicals used for offshore fracking don’t belong in the ocean, and the best way to protect our coast is to ban fracking altogether.”
26 Feb 2014