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Articles Posted in Oil & Gas

It is tough to imagine life before electricity. Over time, even in the past 15 to 20 years, there have been countless changes to how we produce and distribute power. In 2000, 50% of all energy produced in the U.S. came from coal. By 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that number dropped to 39%. There have been many positive changes to the environmental and health impact of coal use, but real dangers continue to concern our San Francisco toxic exposure attorney. Our firm is dedicated to helping people in Northern California who have been sickened by coal ash or otherwise made ill because of coal.

Power Company Agrees to Fund Clean-Up of Major Coal Ash Spill

coalplant.jpgOn Tuesday, a report in the San Francisco Chronicle announced an agreement between Duke Energy and environmental/wildlife groups to fund the cleanup of a major spill of toxic coal ash. The spill originated at a power plant near Eden, North Carolina and left 70 miles of the Dan River covered in gray sludge. Duke has already begun vacuuming up large pockets of the sludge from the river bottom. The agreement provides that the company will pay for further cleanup and wildlife monitoring. While water samples showed a drop in contamination as the ash settled to the bottom, environmental groups warn that the sediment will be churned back into the water after storms and in other high water flow periods. Residents have been warned not to eat fish caught downstream from the plant and communities that use the river for drinking water have been treating the water and filtering out contaminants. North Carolina lawmakers are examining other ash dump sites in the state.

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In the wake of the September 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people, it would be understandable to expect that residents in the Bay Area who smell natural gas in the air of their neighborhood would be concerned that another such disaster could be in the offing. Out of an abundance of caution that San Francisco personal injury attorney Gregory J. Brod would agree was the prudent course to take, dozens of residents were evacuated briefly Thursday morning in San Francisco’s Western Addition neighborhood after a gas line unexpectedly broke.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the evacuation was prompted by a rupture in a gas line caused by a construction crew that was working on Divisadero Street near Pine Street. Officials from the San Francisco Fire Department then went door to door in a four-square-block area asking residents to leave their homes. At 11 a.m., one hour after the construction crew’s digging caused the line to rupture, the leak was capped.

“When we arrived on the scene, there was a loud hissing sound and a very strong smell of gas,” SFFD Battalion Chief Khai Ali said.

One could say that there was a hissing of a very different sort connected with the 2010 San Bruno gas explosion in San Francisco on Wednesday from safety advocates and critics of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, their disappointment arose from a criminal indictment that a federal grand jury handed down Tuesday that accused PG&E of 12 violations of the federal Pipeline Safety Act but did not charge any PG&E executives or managers who made crucial decisions leading up to the Sept. 9, 2010, pipeline explosion.

Included among the questionable decisions made by PG&E executives and managers that were cited in the indictment was the use of a pipeline inspection method that failed to detect the problem with the San Bruno line – a badly made seam weld – as well as the operation of a 6,000 mile natural gas transmission system despite the fact that PG&E officials knew records were missing for large sections of the system.

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“It’s frustrating that it’s just corporate charges and not the individual, because the individuals are hiding behind the corporate veil,” said Carl Weimer, who runs the Pipeline Safety Trust advocacy group in Washington state. “The more you could hold people accountable the better. It really drills down to who really the wrongdoers were. The way it’s left now, it’s just the general corporation, with no individuals accountable.”

The charges listed in the Tuesday indictment carry a maximum penalty of $6 million and the possibility that a judge will appoint a monitor for PG&E’s natural-gas operations.
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It’s a frightening opponent, a colorless and odorless gas that can kill people in their sleep – carbon monoxide. Our San Francisco carbon monoxide poisoning lawyer knows that exposure to this potent gas can be the result of shoddy construction or repair work, a faulty appliance, or other forms of negligence. When careless corner-cutting causes illness or death, including when improperly performed work leads to carbon monoxide poisoning, we believe in holding people accountable and in obtaining monetary damages for the victims.

Involuntary Manslaughter Claims Filed in Connection with Deadly Carbon Monoxide Exposure

Prosecutors in Nevada County, California are pursuing charges against a contractor whose negligence is believed to have led to the deaths of two men, a development detailed in an article in The San Francisco Chronicle. Last fall, Albert Senzatimore, age 69 of San Jose, and Gary Trovinger, age 57 of Los Gatos, both died as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. The two men were exposed to the gas in a home in the Tahoe Donner ski community.

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In a noxious introduction to a little-known chemical, 300,000 residents of nine counties in West Virginia were left without most of their drinking water Thursday after a storage tank ruptured at chemical plant, spilling 5,000 gallons of MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, into the Elk River. And San Francisco toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod would remind us that the disaster in the Mountaineer State, while local, has unsettling implications elsewhere in the nation.

According to The New York Times, the chemical spill occurred at a chemical plant owned by Freedom Industries that is located upstream from the West Virginia American Water Company, which supplies most of the household water in Charleston, the state capital, and the surrounding area. Because the contaminated water had already invaded the water company’s distribution system, the company’s entire system has to be flushed, a process whose timeline is undetermined at this point.

On Friday morning, residents learned that their tap water was unsafe for routine uses such as drinking, brewing coffee, brushing teeth or bathing, and local stores quickly ran out of their supplies of bottled water. But residents of Kanawha County, where Charleston is located, smelled a telltale sign that something was amiss the day of the spillage, when many reported a foul oder – similar to licorice – in the air. The National Guard had to supplement water supplies with shipped-in tankers of water that residents could take home in jugs.

Area schools were closed and businesses such as restaurants and hotels were effectively shut down. The state’s governor, Earl Ray Tomblin, ordered a ban on drinking, bathing and cooking with tap water in Charleston and nine surrounding counties. The federal government joined the governor in declaring a state of emergency in West Virginia.

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MCHM is used in the mining industry to wash coal, and its spillage into a river from a ruptured storage tank is a direct, obvious and nightmarish source of pollution. However, there are more insidious sources of water pollution that can emanate from extractive industries and are as much a cause for concern. And in the western United States, there is particular cause for worry, as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that 40 percent of all the watersheds in the region are impacted by mining pollution, including residual mercury and acid mine drainage. The drainage occurs when acidic water leaks from mines, either active or inactive, when freshly extracted minerals are exposed to air and water.

The spillage of a toxic chemical used by an extractive industry such as coal mining is also a reminder that the current boom in the oil and gas industry as a result of enhanced drilling techniques – particularly hydraulic fracturing and its close cousin acidizing, which employ water and chemicals to separate hydrocarbons from rocks – are a cause for concern in states such as California where the new techniques are very much in evidence.
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The controversial energy extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, will take an important step toward greater transparency and oversight, if regulations proposed in Sacramento on Friday are enacted. However, Bay Area toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod remains concerned that California residents in or proximate to the drilling areas may still be exposed to some potentially harmful consequences.

The proposed new regulations, detailed in the San Francisco Chronicle, would require oil companies to obtain a specific permit to frack a well in California. An earlier proposal did not require the permitting process. The proposed rules would also mandate that the oil companies reveal the chemicals employed in fracking as well as monitor nearby groundwater for any signs of contamination. Fracking involves the injecting of a highly pressurized mix of water, chemicals and sand deep into the ground in order to cause the cracking of rocks and thus liberate the oil or natural gas locked within the shale formation. Fracking has an equally controversial close cousin, known as acidizing, in which a type of acid is pumped into vertical wells to create pores in rocks and thus release the petroleum within.

Both fracking and acidizing have raised concerns about potential groundwater contamination from the chemicals used in the procedures as well as caused jitters in nearby communities where seismologists suspect the extractive methods have triggered small earthquakes. And at the nexus of these worries in the Golden State sits the massive Monterey Shale formation, which stretches through the southern San Joaquin Valley and the adjacent Coast Range and traps a potential 15.4 billion barrels of oil, the largest such formation in the nation.

While all forms of energy extraction involve some potential for environmental degradation or health risks, the exact nature of the risks linked to shale oil and gas recovery remains largely unknown, according to a report released by the federal General Accountability Office. In its report, the GAO explained that what is known about fracking suggests that the process poses potential damage to air and water quality including these specific risks:

  • Increased air pollution from engine exhaust due to stepped-up truck traffic to and from well sites
  • Increased emissions from diesel-powered pumps employed in fracking
  • Since fracking requires enormous amounts of water, the process stands to deplete important bodies of water, such as lakes, rivers and streams
  • Contamination to surface and underground drinking water due to accidental spills and routine releases of water mixed with chemicals used in the fracking process
  • Soil erosion and shifting of oil, gas and chemicals into underground aquifers

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Propane gas has a wide range of consumer uses including heating a home, providing hot water, or firing up a grill. Its flammability is essential to its value, but it is also makes it extremely dangerous. Propane explosions are a continuing threat and can lead to severe injury or even death. Our Sacramento fire injury attorney can help the injured or the grieving, whether it is through a product liability suit or a premises liability action. We can help after the fact, but we will always believe that prevention should come first and that it is better to avoid an accident than to reassemble the pieces after a tragedy.

Elk Grove Teen in Critical Condition After Propane Explosion

It was early Thursday morning when an explosion rocked the Elk Grove community. As reported by the Sacramento Bee, a call came in to the Cosumnes Fire Department at 7:37 A.M. reporting a trailer fire in the city located just south of Sacramento. Fire crews arrived at 8572 Alpine Blue Court where an explosion had damaged two homes in addition to the trailer. Responders also found a badly burned 16 year-old boy and transported him to UC Davis Medical Center in critical condition. Investigators believe the explosion originated from a propane tank used as a water heater for a camper-style trailer.

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We tend to take the air we breathe for granted, with the vital element of life often characterized as one of the free things in life. But there are few things in life that can be as quickly and pervasively polluted as the air we breathe, and our San Francisco toxic tort attorney Gregory J. Brod is reminded of this fact and how important it is for those who fall ill from the inhalation of polluted air to find experienced legal representation to win the compensation from polluters that the victims of pollution deserve.

The San Francisco Bay Area received an up-close-and-personal reminder of the fact that companies emitting harmful pollutants into the air very much exist in our region when it was announced Tuesday that the Valero Refining Co. agreed to pay more than $300,000 in civil penalties for air quality violations. According the Bay Area Quality Management District as reported in a story in the San Francisco Chronicle, the energy firm was cited for 33 violations in 2011 and 2012 committed at its Benicia refinery. Among the specific violations emanating from the Benicia refinery were those that involved excessive emissions and gas leaks.

In 2013, Valero earned the dubious distinction of being named one of California’s top producers of toxic substances, ranking as the 10th biggest source for chemicals and pollutants in the state, according to a January assessment by the federal Environmental Protection Agency. Within the Bay Area, Valero ranked just behind the ConocoPhillips refinery in Rodeo as the region’s biggest emitter of poisonous substances in the region – the company was linked to the release of 504,472 pounds of toxic substances into the air, water or ground.

However, in a version of the saying, “We’ve seen this act before,” the recently announced penalties against Valero are not the first time the energy company has landed in hot water with the government over pollution and paid a penalty as a result. Indeed, the federal government levied a much bigger penalty against Valero in June 2005 as a result of the emission of harmful substances. In a settlement with the Justice Department and the EPA under the Clean Air Act, Valero was required to pay $5.5 million in penalties and to defray the cost of supplemental environmental projects valued at another $5.5 million in the six states where Valero refineries are located. Once again, among the 14 refineries at the center of the settlement, Valero’s facility in Benicia but also its refinery in Martinez were involved. In the 2005 settlement, Valero was expected to reduce harmful emissions by more than 20,000 tons per year from its 14 refineries, including nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide and particulate matter. The federal government also authorized injunctive relief that called for the following goals:

  • Valero was to spend more than $700 million on injunctive relief through 2012.
  • Valero was to guarantee emissions reductions of specific substances at each refinery.
  • Valero made a commitment to reduce the number and severity of major flaring events at all of its facilities.
  • Valero made a commitment to put in place improved procedures for reducing benzene emissions and volatile organic compound leaks from its equipment.

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While the jury is still out on whether the practice used to extract natural gas and oil from shale known as “fracking” is inherently dangerous, the process has been known to cause contamination, especially of drinking water. And another technique related to fracking that oil companies are employing to separate hydrocarbons from shale formations in California known as “acidizing” could prove to be as harmful to health as it is effective in oil and gas exploration. Attorney Gregory Brod, who has achieved notable success in resolving numerous oil and gas related disputes and has litigated and tried several energy industry cases in the state, is closely monitoring this potential source of toxic torts.

Largely Mum Oil Industry Sees Monterey Shale Formation as Big Prize
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the process of acidizing, which pumps a type of acid into vertical wells to create pores in rocks and thus release petroleum locked in, may work better than hydraulic fracturing, which uses water, in California’s shale formations. The state’s oil industry is eyeing in particular the large Monterey Shale formation – thought to hold 15.4 billion barrels of oil – for utilizing the acidizing process. While petroleum companies have set their sights on the Monterey Shale formation in Central California, they have been fairly tight-lipped when it comes to discussing the details of acidizing for competitive reasons as well as the desire not to draw the attention of environmentalists and state officials.

When it comes to acidizing, there is plenty to ponder and debate. Hydrofluoric acid, the particular acid used in acidizing, is highly corrosive, capable of breaking down steel as well as rock, and it can also damage lungs and cause serious burns to the skin. When hydrofluoric acid exceeds 67 degrees it forms a vapor cloud that lingers near the ground, according to energy experts. A high-profile example of the deadly nature of the acid arose last September, when a hydrofluoric acid accident at a South Korean chemical plant killed five people.

Acidizing Process Attracts Scrutiny from Lawmakers in Sacramento
While state officials say they are not aware of any serious accidents involving the use of hydrofluoric acid as an acidizing agent to extract petroleum in California and there have been no recorded incidents of the acid seeping into groundwater, lawmakers in Sacramento are moving to include acidizing in legislation to regulate fracking. More specifically, the bill would require oil companies to secure permits for acidizing as well as fracking of wells, and it would authorize a study of the potential environmental perils of the two extractive techniques.
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As we approach the third anniversary of the September 9, 2010, gas line explosion in San Bruno that killed eight people and destroyed and damaged more than 50 homes, Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the utility whose gas lines exploded, has yet to complete an overhaul of its gas system in the San Francisco Bay Area. According to Bloomberg, the California Public Utilities Commission, which is the state agency responsible for regulating PG&E, also has yet to determine a punishment for the fiery catastrophe but expects to make a decision by the end of this year.

Utility’s Bill for Disaster Yet to be Tallied
Should the CPUC levy a $2.25 billion fine – commission staff recommended that penalty last month – PG&E’s total bill for the disaster would come to $4 billion, including funds already spent on infrastructure repairs and safety upgrades, according to company Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley. In the meantime, the utility and its shareholders are concerned that the CPUC-imposed fine could push PG&E into its second bankruptcy in 12 years.

Concern over PG&E’s financial health notwithstanding, much work remains to be done on the Bay Area’s gas line network, with many infrastructure and safety issues that were raised by the explosion still unresolved or whose fixes are a work in progress. And, according to a recent report in the San Francisco Chronicle, PG&E has not been forthcoming enough on disclosing problems concerning transmission lines in its system and has employed records with errors to document maintenance. With natural gas such a volatile element and with the high-use winter months fast approaching, a less-than-safe gas network and an error-prone utility maintaining that system is hardly a reassuring combination for residents of San Bruno and other Bay Area communities to contemplate.

Poor Record-Keeping Bedevils Gas Network Still in Need of Key Fixes
Inaccurate records were a key factor behind the September 2010 disaster in San Bruno. PG&E failed to accurately describe the failed gas line’s characteristics, which in turn led to the utility not conducting tests that would have revealed the gas line’s fatal flaws. Furthermore, PG&E’s erroneous or outdated records led the utility to run a gas line at a pressure level that was dangerously too high for another urban area on the Peninsula. Indeed, government investigators have found that PG&E has inaccurate or even nonexistent records for much of the more than 1,000 miles of gas transmission lines in its system. These fundamental lapses in record-keeping procedures have come to light in the context of revelations that PG&E workers have found significant stretches of gas pipes with faulty seams in a major connector line on the Peninsula – contrary to what records kept by the company asserted – which could result in a major explosion similar to the one that rocked San Bruno three years ago.
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gavel2.jpg From single-vehicle car crashes to major industrial accidents, we believe in learning from tragedy. This is a value we share with the victims who come to us for help after their lives have been shaken by injury or loss. Preventing future incidents is one of the goals of injury litigation, a process that helps compensate victims and also helps avoid future tragedy by uncovering the cause of past events. It is a goal that can be especially important in the cases we handle as an Oakland industrial accident law firm and one we are reflecting upon this month as we note the one-year anniversary of the 2012 Chevron refinery explosion.

Public Demands Action Following Chevron Plant Explosion

A recent article in The Oakland Tribune recalled the events of August 6, 2012 when a unit at the Chevron refinery in Richmond burst into flames, sending a dark cloud of smoke across the neighboring communities. For many, the incident recalled the accident at the Tosco refinery in 1999 that left four workers dead. While no fatalities were attributed to the Chevron fire, some 15,000 residents sought medical attention in the aftermath of the explosion and several workers incurred minor injuries.

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