Environmental Must-Reads – April 10, 2014

Couple’s suit against state’s fracking lease gets OK to proceed

A Franklin County judge has ruled that a Guernsey County couple can move forward with a lawsuit that seeks to stop fracking beneath and around Seneca Lake.

The couple filed the suit in October, eight months after the Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District approved a $40.3 million lease with a Colorado-based drilling company for underground mineral rights to 6,400 acres, including the lake.

First fracking trial begins in Dallas

The first fracking trial in the U.S. is taking place in downtown Dallas.

It involves a lawsuit filed by a North Texas family living on the Barnett Shale, and this first of its kind case is being watched closely around the country.

Robert Parr took the stand Wednesday, making history in a downtown Dallas courtroom. He described the home he built 15 miles west of Denton –- the home that he once called sacred ground. Now, he says it’s an unholy mess.

Frustration Mounts Over Fracking Royalties

Hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, has made Pennsylvania one of the most productive natural gas producers on the planet.

But how much gas is coming out of the shale and how much money is being made? The state doesn’t keep track of it.

Some residents who have leased their land for drilling are filing lawsuits, arguing they’re not being paid fairly.

Eight Members of Congress Call for EPA to Reopen Contaminated Water Studies Near Fracking Fields

Eight members of Congress, led by Democratic Representative Matt Cartwright (PA), have written to the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) asking it to “investigate and address” water contamination in Dimock, PA, Parker County, TX, and Pavillion, WY.

The EPA’s initial investigations indicated drinking water contamination was caused by oil and gas extraction. The EPA compelled industry to provide clean water to those affected, but later abandoned its investigations without issuing final reports, letting industry off the hook.

NY Health Commissioner Nirav Shah, a target of fracking critics, quits for Calif. job

New York Health Commissioner Dr. Nirav Shah will step down in June to take an executive position with Kaiser Foundation Health Plan in California, the health department said Wednesday.

During Shah’s tenure as state health commissioner, he became a lightning rod for critics of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas because of the Cuomo administration’s plan for an extended review of the technology. The health department also established a state health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Public pushes back on gas drilling near Deer Lakes Park

Most of the Allegheny County residents who turned out for a council meeting Tuesday night voiced their opposition to the county’s plan to drill for natural gas under Deer Lakes Park.

The message for the 15 members of council: Vote no to fracking.

Steyer Pushes Oil Tax to Pay Dividends to Californians

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer is lobbying for a new law in California that would force energy companies to share as much as $2 billion of the state’s oil wealth with residents.

The proceeds would come from an “extraction tax” — fees producers would pay on their crude oil output. Similar taxes already exist in most major drilling states such as Texas and North Dakota, with California a longtime holdout.

Court blocks use of eminent domain on pipeline to pass through Lancaster County

York County landowners affected by the same proposed Marcellus Shale pipeline that would run through Clay and West Cocalico townships in Lancaster County have won a court battle blocking Sunoco Logistics from condemning their land.

In a March 25 ruling in York County Common Pleas Court, Judge Stephen Linebaugh reaffirmed his previous ruling that Sunoco was a pipeline carrier, and not a public utility, and therefore had no eminent domain powers.

Corpus Christi port chief touts benefits of gas exports

Selling more U.S. natural gas to foreign buyers would mean economic gains that flow well beyond the oil field, a Corpus Christi port official told lawmakers Wednesday.

Judy Hawley, chair of the Corpus Christi port commission, said the evidence is in her backyard, where Cheniere Energy hopes to build a $12 billion facility to liquefy natural gas and ship it around the globe.

If This Oil Spill Isn’t Cleaned Up, Endangered Sea Turtles Will Get a Crude Awakening

A bale of critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtles is swimming through the Gulf of Mexico to nesting sites in Texas, unaware of the danger it may find when it reaches its destination.

The turtles are expected to land—and hopefully lay eggs—on Matagorda Island, off the coast of Texas, in the next two to three weeks. Thing is, Matagorda is a disaster site.

Oil Cleanup Moves Carefully On Matagorda & Padre Island

Padre Island National Seashore has reopened its beaches after cleanup of the oil spill that made its way from Galveston to the southern coastline.

But farther up the coast, government agencies and volunteers are still struggling to clean up the oil that settled in at Matagorda Island, while protecting its wildlife.

Explaining the Cosco Busan Spill’s Toxic Effects: Scientists Report A Link Between Oil and Fish Heart Health

When the Cosco Busan spilled oil into the Bay in 2007, the toxic toll on wildlife came as no surprise. More than six thousand birds died after the spill, with grebes, cormorants, and murres among the hardest hit. Within two years the herring population collapsed, too. The cause of death for the oil-coated birds seemed obvious. But the way the fish died wasn’t as clear.

Scientists suspected the fish had heart problems. After other oil spills, scientists had seen fish with barely beating hearts. But until about a month ago, no one knew why.

Salt Dome rules to be studied

A House committee Wednesday morning asked the state to study the impact of new rules involving salt dome caverns.

State Rep. Karen St. Germain said she sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 54 to review how well the recently adopted rules are working.

Judge grants preliminary OK in sinkhole settlement

A federal judge in New Orleans granted preliminary approval Tuesday to a $48.1 million settlement between Texas Brine Co. and the plaintiffs in class-action litigation over the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole that forced the ongoing evacuation of 350 people.

Filed midday Wednesday in U.S. District Court, the preliminary order from Judge Jay C. Zainey lays out the details of the settlement and appoints Denham Springs lawyer A. Shelby Easterly III as a special master.

Pipeline violation penalties break record in 2013

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration proposed $9.78 million in civil penalties against pipeline operators for alleged violations of federal law in 2013, the agency announced this week.

PHMSA said in a statement that 2013 saw the highest yearly amount of proposed penalties in the agency’s history. The agency has proposed more than $33 million in penalties in pipeline enforcement cases since 2009, while seeing the number of serious pipeline incidents resulting in fatalities or major injuries decline each year during that time period, according to PHMSA.

Trains transporting crude oil should have at least 2-man crews, federal regulators say

Responding to a series of fiery train derailments, federal regulators said Wednesday they will propose that trains transporting crude oil have at least two-man crews as part of new requirements aimed at preventing parked train cars from coming loose and causing an accident like one in July that killed 47 people.

The Federal Railroad Administration had asked a freight rail industry advisory committee to make recommendations on whether two-man crews should be required, but the industry officials were unable to reach a consensus. Federal officials said they decided to move ahead with the two-crew member requirement anyway.

Big Oil, railroads keeping first responders in dark on volatile cargoes

A huge increase in railroad shipments of crude oil — “moving pipelines,” as one federal official calls them — has safety agencies and first responders worried that oil companies and railroads are not forthcoming with needed information as volatile cargoes move through population centers.

Virtually no oil moved across Washington by rail three years ago, but 17 million barrels crossed the Evergreen State last year, much of it bound for the Tesoro refinery in Anacortes and the BP refinery at Cherry Point.  The traffic will soar to an estimated 55 million barrels this year.

Trudeau calls for greenhouse gas limits on oil sands

Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau wants to save the oil sands by imposing greenhouse gas-emission limits on the fast-growing sector that is the engine of Alberta’s economy.

The Liberal Leader has just returned from a visit to Fort McMurray, where he campaigned for the local Liberal candidate Kyle Harrietha in a coming by-election and toured Suncor Energy Inc.’s massive mining operation.

Shell remains committed to Alaskan arctic

The arctic waters off the Alaskan coast may be one of the more promising reserve basins in the nation, but exploration will have to wait, Shell said Wednesday.

Ann Pickard, executive vice president for Shell’s arctic programs, said arctic nations have decided to open their waters to exploration and her company aims to develop those reserves responsibly.

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