Environmental Must-Reads – August 14, 2015

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Life around New Mexico’s gas wells: how fracking is turning the air foul

“My daughter has asthma. She is not the only one around here, something is wrong here, our air quality shouldn’t be this way.”

Shirley “Sug” McNall is leaning up against a fence staring at a natural gas well about 40 meters from a playground behind the primary school where her daughter used to teach in Aztec, New Mexico. She believes that the gas industry and the explosion of fracking in her state is responsible for serious impacts on local air quality which are affecting people’s health.

Alliance Restarts Natural-Gas Pipeline

A 2,300-mile natural-gas pipeline connecting Western Canada to Midwest U.S. markets has restarted, its operator said Thursday, nearly a week after a release of hydrogen sulfide gas into the system resulted in a shutdown of the line.

Alliance Pipeline LP shut down its namesake pipeline on Friday, forcing about a dozen Canadian natural-gas shippers to suspend injections of natural gas. The pipeline carries about 20% of Canada’s net exports of natural gas to the U.S., according to Alliance.

Rally in Franklin decries pipeline, compressor plan

Jane Couch, who lives about a mile from a proposed compressor station that would be constructed on Franklin Mountain, said she is worried about the toxic pollutants that would be emitted from the natural gas pumping facility.

“I have a lung disease and I am downwind from here,” she said Thursday.

Tuxedo Park passes resolution opposing Pilgrim Pipeline

A worried Tuxedo Park Village Board has passed a resolution opposing the Pilgrim Pipeline that is looking to pass through its borders. The board has also begun the process of changing its zoning code to prohibit a petroleum pipeline.

The resolution mimics 18 New York municipalities, including Newburgh, Kingston and New Paltz, that are opposed to the pipeline. As proposed, it would run along and near the New York State Thruway from Albany to refineries in New Jersey.

Several municipalities in New Jersey have also passed resolutions to oppose the pipeline.

Confusion over land access continues as pipeline surveyors charged with trespassing

Glenn Frith believed he’d done everything necessary to keep pipeline survey crews off his property in Franklin County. So when he spotted surveyors on his land, he felt blindsided and angry.

“I told the first guy, ‘What part of “no trespassing” don’t you understand?’?” Frith recalled.

The July 30 confrontation Frith said he had with members of a surveying contractor working for Mountain Valley Pipeline led to two surveyors being charged with misdemeanor trespass — even though a Virginia law would seem to shield them from such charges.

Frith said confusion about that law could lead to tragic consequences, especially in Franklin County.

Natural gas pipeline project set for Utica shale

A partnership soon to be run by Marathon Petroleum Corp. is teaming with Houston’s Energy & Minerals Group to build a natural gas pipeline gathering system in the Utica Shale.

Denver-based MarkWest Energy Partners, being bought by Ohio-based Marathon’s MPLX master-limited partnership for $14.7 billion, is leading the project, which will run mostly through Ohio, under a long-term contract with the newly formed Ascent Resources. Ascent is a new standalone company that was part of Aubrey McClendon’s American Energy Partners.

Santa Barbara Spill Put Under Microscope

Supported by a grant from the Simons Foundation, University of California Santa Barbara researchers will study the effects of the Refugio oil spill over the coming year.

On May 19, 2015, near Refugio State Beach, thousands of gallons of oil leaked from a pipeline fed by offshore platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel. Within hours, the University of California Santa Barbara’s David Valentine and volunteers from his lab were on site collecting samples. They came back twice the next day and have returned many times over the past three months.

Breakdown at BP Refinery Strains Midwest Gas Prices

A breakdown at a BP refinery outside Chicago is sending jolts across the energy markets of the Midwest and Canada, pushing up gasoline prices even as oil prices over all reached a six-year low.

Since a mechanical breakdown at BP’s refinery in Whiting, Ind., on Saturday, the wholesale price of gasoline has climbed 50 to 80 cents a gallon in a region that stretches from Great Lakes states like Michigan to as far south as parts of Kansas and Oklahoma.

After 17 Years, Texas Poised to Resolve Oil Spill

In the time it has taken the state and federal governments to penalize a Koch Industries affiliate for a South Texas oil spill, 17 different quarterbacks started games for the Dallas Cowboys, including the team’s current head coach.

Now, however, Koch Pipeline Company is finally poised to pay up for spilling nearly 24,700 gallons of crude into Karnes County’s Marcelinas Creek — almost 17 years after the fact, according to filings in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

EPA test results show mine spill unleashed highly toxic stew

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced Thursday that surface-water testing revealed very high levels of lead, arsenic, cadmium and other heavy metals as a sickly-yellow plume of mine waste flowed through Colorado.

These metals far exceeded government exposure limits for aquatic life and humans in the hours after the August 5 spill, which sent 3 million gallons of wastewater through three Western states and the Navajo nation.

Compared to Colorado spill, local mine drainage extensive

In western Colorado, a discharge of millions of gallons of yellow-orange drainage from an abandoned mine is cause for an emergency.

Here in the former coal fields of Northeast Pennsylvania, it’s just another day.

As with other Pennsylvania regions with past coal mining, drainage from abandoned mines is one of the most significant water quality issues affecting the watersheds of Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and their suburbs.

National challenge of leaking mines dwarfs Colorado spill

It will take many years and many millions of dollars simply to manage and not even remove the toxic wastewater from an abandoned mine that unleashed a 100-mile-long torrent of heavy metals into Western rivers and has likely reached Lake Powell, experts said.

Plugging Colorado’s Gold King Mine could simply lead to an eventual explosion of poisonous water elsewhere, so the safest solution, they said Thursday, would be to install a treatment plant that would indefinitely clean the water from Gold King and three other nearby mines. It would cost millions of dollars, and do nothing to contain the thousands of other toxic streams that are a permanent legacy of mining across the nation.

Exxon proposes plan to restart California refinery in September

Exxon Mobil Corp hopes to restart its crippled Los Angeles-area refinery at reduced rates in September, partially restoring a key gasoline supply source in a region that has wrestled with repeated price spikes during the plant’s six-month shutdown.

Southern California pollution regulators revealed Exxon’s proposed restart plan on Thursday, shortly before the state’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, or Cal/OSHA, said it issued 19 citations with $566,600 in penalties to the oil giant for safety violations stemming from a Feb. 18 explosion that forced the closure.

ExxonMobil fined following probe into refinery explosion

The California agency that investigates workplace accidents has cited and fined ExxonMobil more than $560,000 for workplace safety and health violations following a probe into February’s explosion at a Los Angeles-area refinery.

The California Division of Occupational Safety and Health said Thursday that 18 of the 19 citations are classified as serious because the violations could potentially cause serious injury or death. Six of those serious violations were also classified as willful because Cal-OSHA found that Exxon did not take action to eliminate known hazardous conditions at the refinery and intentionally failed to comply with state safety standards.

Why Keystone Can Stay Alive Even If Obama Rejects It

TransCanada, the Canadian energy firm behind the bid to transport crude oil from Alberta to Texas, is hoping for presidential approval to lay 1,179 miles of pipeline to complete the extension to its Keystone project. But after a first rejection was handed down from President Obama in 2012, it looks like history might repeat itself for the company in 2015.

But that doesn’t mean the project is dead.

Although any future action from TransCanada is dependent on the language and terms of a “no” from the White House, two main options at this point are still available for them: reapplication and arbitration. Anti-pipeline groups would have a way to strike back as well.

Judges Nixing Keystone XL South Cases Had Tar Sands-Related Oil Investments

On August 4, the U.S. Appeals Court for the 10th Circuit shot down the Sierra Club’s petition for rehearing motion for the southern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline. The decision effectively writes the final chapter of a years-long legal battle in federal courts.

But one of the three judges who made the ruling, Bobby Ray Baldock — a Ronald Reagan nominee — has tens of thousands of dollars invested in royalties for oil companies with a major stake in tar sands production in Alberta.  And his fellow Reagan nominee in the Western District of Oklahoma predecessor case, David Russell, also has skin in the oil investments game.

‘All hands on deck’ Enbridge oil spill drill planned for Mackinac straits

The “mother of all exercises” to gauge Enbridge Inc.’s ability to respond to an oil spill under the Mackinac straits will happen next month.

“This will be a huge, huge drill,” said Steve Keck, a U.S. Coast Guard contingency preparedness specialist based in Sault Ste. Marie.

The effort will happen Sept. 22-25 and involve hundreds of responders, more than a dozen boats, multiple helicopters, drones, underwater vehicles, wave gliders and other equipment designed to gauge real-time wind, wave and current data in the heavily trafficked waterway.

TransCanada: Study shows pipeline safer than rail

Pipeline company TransCanada pointed to a study that suggests the increase in the rail transport of crude oil is a risky option for the industry.

TransCanada spokesperson Mark Cooper in an emailed statement said a report from The Fraser Institute shows transport of crude oil and natural gas in Canada by pipelines is 4.5 times safer than rail. For its long-delayed Keystone XL pipeline through the United States, the company said pipelines are also substantially less carbon intensive than other modes of transit.

Spearhead oil pipeline restart date still unknown: Enbridge

The restart date Enbridge Inc’s 193,300 barrel per day Spearhead crude pipeline remained unknown, the company said on Thursday afternoon, a day after the adjacent Flanagan South pipeline was put into service.

Canadian cash crude prices strengthened on news that the 600,000 bpd Flanagan South pipeline, also known as Line 59, was brought back into service on Wednesday evening. On Thursday, Enbridge confirmed in an email that it had reopened Flanagan South, and said the return to service for Spearhead, or Line 55, was still unknown.

Judge: Company can survey Iowa man’s land for pipeline work

An Iowa man who refused to let a company survey his land for research into a proposed oil pipeline is obligated to let them do so, according to a district court judge.

Judge John Haney said in a ruling filed this month that Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, has the right to temporarily enter Laverne Johnson’s property in Boone County to examine the land, which is in the path of the proposed pipeline. Haney said that the move does not interfere with fundamental property rights, and the company provided a required 10-day notice and held an informational meeting.

Greenpeace protesters face fines for dangling from Oregon bridge

Five Greenpeace protesters who dangled from a Portland, Oregon, bridge for two days in a bid to block a Royal Dutch Shell ship headed to the Arctic to drill for oil are each facing $5,000 fines from the U.S. Coast Guard, authorities said on Thursday.

Three of the protesters dangled from the 200-foot-high St. John’s bridge in Portland last month while two were on the bridge offering support, U.S. Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class George Degener said. Each was cited for interfering with the safe operation of a vessel.

Arctic Oil Drilling Is a Climate Disaster, Says New Report

A new report released today by Oil Change International and Greenpeace USA details a clear case against drilling for oil in the Arctic ocean based on climate science imperatives. The report, “Untouchable: The Climate Case Against Arctic Drilling,” shows U.S. Arctic offshore oil should be deemed an “untouchable” fossil fuel reserve by any reasonable measure.

“There is no reasonable scenario in which Arctic oil drilling and a safe climate future co-exist. Drilling in the Arctic is a climate disaster, plain and simple,” said report author Hannah McKinnon, senior campaigner with Oil Change International.

Green groups warn Shell boss over ‘reckless’ pursuit of Arctic oil

Green groups have stepped up pressure on Shell over its plans to drill for oil in the Arctic, with WWF leaders writing directly to the oil giant’s chief executive to express their “profound alarm” at the project.

In a letter sent on Wednesday and seen by BusinessGreen, David Nussbaum and Johan van de Gronden, chief executives of the UK and Netherlands branches of WWF, warned Shell chief executive Ben Van Beurden Arctic drilling would derail efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

China and India go Arctic

American companies such as ExxonMobil have been severely affected by the sanctions on Moscow. In September last year, ExxonMobil and Rosneft announced that they had struck oil at Universitetiskya-1 in the Kara Sea in the Russian Arctic, a region that is fast becoming a geo-strategic hub for Russia.

Under pressure from Washington, however, ExxonMobil has wound down drilling on the project and the company has said that it is facing a $1 billion loss on its investments in Russia due to the sanctions.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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