Environmental Must-Reads – January 28, 2015

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Court Will Decide If Fracking Companies Can Be Held Responsible For Earthquakes

Oklahoma’s highest court is about to make a decision that could really shake up the way fracking companies do business in the state.

In the coming months, Oklahoma’s Supreme Court will decide whether two oil companies should be held financially responsible for injuries suffered by a woman during a 2011 earthquake thought to have been caused by drilling activity. If the woman’s lawsuit is successful, it could set a legal precedent for future earthquake claims against oil and gas companies in Oklahoma.

EPA: Over 4M gallons of water, brine, oil pumped from site of North Dakota saltwater spill

More than 4 million gallons of a mixture of fresh water, brine and oil have been pumped from the area affected by the largest saltwater spill of North Dakota’s current energy boom, according to a report issued Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report provides an overall assessment on the nearly 3 million-gallon spill of saltwater generated by oil drilling that leaked from a ruptured pipeline that operator Summit Midstream Partners LLC detected on Jan. 6. It remains unclear exactly when the spill occurred and what caused it.

Warm weather hampers pipeline leak cleanup in Blacktail Creek

Temperatures that reached into the 50s near Williston Tuesday hampered cleanup efforts at the site of a massive pipeline leak, making the contamination spread more quickly into the state’s waterways, officials said.

Melting snow and increased flows made it difficult for cleanup crews to collect some of the contamination in Blacktail Creek, said Dave Glatt, chief of the North Dakota Department of Health’s Environmental Health Section.

Boom goes the pipeline, again

On Monday morning another gas pipeline exploded, marking the fourth extreme accident involving a U.S. pipeline just this month.

The gas pipeline in Brooke County, West Virginia, is owned by Enterprise Products LP.  Several eye witnesses stated all they could see was a massive fireball rocketing hundreds of feet in the air.  One witness told emergency dispatchers that the explosion melted siding off of one home and damaged at least one power line.  Enterprise Products is conducting an investigation to find the cause of the explosion.

Agency Cites Weaknesses in Gas Pipeline Regulation

Three powerful accidents in recent years show systemic weaknesses in the way natural gas providers maintain the largest pipelines in their networks, the National Transportation Safety Board said on Tuesday as it issued more than two dozen safety recommendations. The agency said that since 2003, when tighter rules were issued, the number of pipeline accidents that involve injuries or damage to property had leveled off. Since then, the regulators said, state-regulated pipelines have had a 27 percent higher incident rate than federally regulated pipelines. Three accidents since 2010, in California, Florida and West Virginia, illustrate the problems, namely that gas companies failed to conduct inspections or tests that might have revealed weaknesses. Nearly 300,000 miles of gas transmission pipelines crisscross the United States.

Systemic flaws found in safety oversight of major gas pipelines

Three powerful accidents in recent years highlight weaknesses in the oversight of how natural gas providers maintain the largest pipelines in their networks, accident investigators said Tuesday as they issued more than two dozen safety recommendations.

A major effort a decade ago by the federal government to check a rise in violent pipeline failures in “high-consequence” areas where people are more likely to be hurt or buildings destroyed has resulted in a slight leveling off of such incidents, but no decline, the National Transportation Safety Board said.

Wyoming, Halliburton agree to greater fracking disclosure

A legal settlement reached by environmental groups, Wyoming regulators and the oil services giant Halliburton will make it harder for companies to withhold information from the public about the chemicals used in fracking.

Environmentalists hailed the deal as a “groundbreaking reform,” saying it will provide more information to the public about potentially harmful chemicals being used on frack jobs near homes, schools and businesses. State officials and industry representatives had argued the information should remain confidential. Companies would be put at competitive disadvantage relative to their competitors if the chemicals were disclosed publicly, they argued.

Pennsylvania Fracking Companies Regularly Commit Serious Environmental Violations

Oil and gas companies in Pennsylvania seriously violate environmental rules and regulations, many of them more than once per day, on average.

That, according to a report published Tuesday by Environment America, which compiled violation data for Pennsylvania fracking companies between January 1, 2011, and August 31, 2014. It found that the top 20 most frequently-violating companies broke the rules 1.5 times per day on average.

Why Fracking Is a Breast Cancer Issue

Most people consider fracking a climate change issue. They are able to make the connection between a potent greenhouse gas like methane and its impact on warming the planet. But methane emission leaks at well sites are only one of the many concerns of the fracking boom. The toxic process also uses more than 700 chemicals, many linked to breast cancer. Fracking threatens the necessities of life, and just as this process drives climate change, it also increases our risk for breast cancer.

Protests Against Fracking in the Sahara Desert Are Spreading in Algeria

Anti-fracking protests have escalated in the small Algerian town of In Salah since the start of January, and have now spread to neighboring towns in the region. The demonstrations have continued despite the government’s announcement that plans to tap shale gas reserves have been temporarily shelved amid growing public concern over the environmental impact.

Residents of In Salah, a town of 36,000 that is located 750 miles south of the capital Algiers, have been protesting relentlessly since January 1 against the government’s proposed plans to extract shale gas through the use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, following initial drilling tests in the region.

Report Shows How Fracking Industry’s Failure to Follow Regulations Impacts Human Health

A new report out today from Environment America Research & Policy Center shows that all types of fracking companies, from small to large, are prone to violating rules intended to protect human health and the environment.

The report, Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S., analyses Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry over a four-year period and found that the top offenders of regulations—averaging more than one environmental violation every day—represented a wide range of companies from Fortune 500 companies like Cabot Oil, to mom-and-pop operators, to firms like Chevron.

Erie rejects fracking freeze

The Erie Board of Trustees Tuesday night voted not to impose a moratorium on new oil and gas drilling permits on a 4-3 vote.

The moratorium proposal was prompted by problems at an Encana Corp. drill site and the failure after five months of negotiations to reach a new operating agreement with Encana.

Erie has agreements, so-called memorandums of understanding with Encana and the Anadarko Petroleum Corp. — the two big drillers in the town.

Lower Oil Prices Put a Welcome Pause on Fracking

A huge chunk of Colorado’s political conversation in 2014 revolved around fracking and its effects on everything from our environment to our wallets. But lately it’s starting to seem like the raging fracking debates might have been a lot of wasted energy.

Thanks largely to plummeting oil and gas prices—the average gallon of gas in the United States went from more than $3.25 in 2013 to around $2 now (a mere $1.90 in Colorado)—the economic incentive to frack as much natural gas as possible has dwindled considerably in just the past few months. Last week, WPX Energy, the state’s largest producer of natural gas, announced that it will “pause” some of its fracking production in the Piceance Basin in Western Colorado. Some of its partners, which provide a variety of related production services, also announced imminent layoffs as a result of the slowdown.

Ashley-based anthracite mine group raises concerns about proposed pipeline crossing Susquehanna River

A proposed pipeline underneath the Susquehanna River to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to market has an environmental group familiar with the area’s coal mines concerned about the route.

The regional non-profit Eastern PA Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation (EPCAMR) raised concerns with the federal agency with approval powers for the PennEast Pipeline Project.

No ‘compelling evidence’ BP oil spill sickened cleanup workers, Gulf Coast residents, witness testifies

There is “no compelling evidence” the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill damaged the health of cleanup workers and Gulf Coast residents, and there is no reason to believe longer-term studies will expose chronic illnesses linked to the disaster, a public health expert testified Monday (Jan. 26).

Robert Cox, a physician, toxicology expert and professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, was among the first witnesses BP called to testify Monday as the company began its portion of arguments during the civil trial over the 2010 oil disaster. The Justice Department rested its case on Friday after testimony from several expert witnesses.

BP credits oil-eating bugs and its own efforts for spill cleanup

Bacteria that have evolved over millions of years and eat naturally occurring crude in the Gulf of Mexico played a key role in mitigating environmental damage after millions of barrels of oil spilled from a BP well in 2010, an expert witness testified Tuesday.

Lawyers for BP displayed diagrams showing the microscopic organisms in action – eroding oil and its toxic components in a process called biodegradation – as the British oil company continued to press its case for lower environmental fines in the disaster off Louisiana.

BP executive: ‘Nothing we can do or say’ can change oil spill tragedy

A BP executive testified Tuesday that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was a tragedy, but he is proud of the company and the efforts of its employees in gathering resources and experts to contain the disaster.

“I’m proud of the company for mustering the resources and bringing everything we had to this fight,” said Richard Morrison, chairman and president of BP Exploration & Production, known as BP XP. “It was a tragedy. Nothing we can do or say is going to change that. What we can do is change the future. We can prevent this from happening again.”

Executive: No Guarantee BP Would Help Pay Subsidiary’s Fines

An executive for the BP subsidiary that faces billions of dollars in possible fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill testified Tuesday that it is uncertain whether other BP entities would step in to help pay a steep penalty.

The day’s first witness was Richard Morrison, regional president and chairman of the board for BP Exploration and Production, often referred to in court as BPX&P. He acknowledged three times since the spill when BP entities have aided his corporation with loans or equity purchases but added that he had no way of knowing whether parent corporation BP PLC or other entities would provide more help.

How a Hard-Charging General Became an Environmental Crusader

Lt. General Russel L. Honoré first noticed something was deeply wrong in his home state of Louisiana in September 2005, a few weeks after Hurricane Katrina slammed the Gulf Coast. Honoré, commander of the military’s disaster response operation, was choppering back to his floating headquarters aboard the USS Bataan when he saw a ribbon of rainbow on the water beneath him. “What in the heck is that?” he recalls asking the pilot. “He said, ‘Those are old oil wells, General—you see the derricks knocked down.'” Honoré was staring down at one of the storm’s little-noticed consequences—millions of gallons of oil spilled into the state’s fragile coastal wetlands. “And my heart almost stopped.”

Obama’s Plan: Allow Drilling in Atlantic, but Limit It in Arctic

The Obama administration moved Tuesday to open up a vast stretch of East Coast waters to oil and gas drilling, a decision that could have a profound impact on the economic and environmental future of states from Virginia to Georgia. The move also adds a new dimension to the legacy of President Obama.

In an announcement that outraged environmentalists and brought grudging cheers from the oil and gas industry, the Interior Department unveiled the latest part of its five-year plan for the government to sell leases for oil and gas development in federal waters from 2017 to 2022.

Obama Proposes Oil And Gas Drilling Along East Coast

On Tuesday, the Obama administration released a proposal to sell offshore oil and gas leases in new areas of federally owned waters, including regions along the Atlantic Coast from Virginia to Georgia. The announcement is part of the Department of Interior’s latest five-year plan, which includes federal leases from 2017 to 2022.

Congressional bans on offshore drilling in the Atlantic ended in 2008 and Obama first pushed for Atlantic Coast leasing in 2010. Several weeks after announcing lease plans for south and mid-Atlantic drilling the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig blew up in the Gulf of Mexico, and also blew up these plans.

Obama floats offering first-ever drilling lease in Atlantic

The Obama administration floated a plan Tuesday that for the first time would open up a broad swath of the Atlantic Coast to drilling, even as it moved to restrict drilling indefinitely in environmentally-sensitive areas off Alaska.

The proposal envisions auctioning areas located more than 50 miles off Virginia, North and South Carolina, and Georgia to oil companies no earlier than 2021, long after President Barack Obama leaves office. For decades, oil companies have been barred from drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, where a moratorium was in place up until 2008.

Yellowstone fish to be tested at Billings lab for exposure to oil

Shovelnose sturgeon and emerald shiners that were netted by Fish, Wildlife and Parks personnel in the Yellowstone River downstream from a Jan. 17 oil spill will be tested at a Billings lab for exposure to petroleum chemicals.

The fishes’ muscle tissue will be tested to see if human consumption is safe, and their organs and gills will be sampled for accumulation of oil compounds, according to Bob Gibson, FWP information officer in Billings.

No deal on Enbridge pipeline insurance

With a key meeting scheduled for Tuesday, no deal is pending between Dane County and Enbridge Energy Inc. to provide insurance to cover any spill from an underground pipeline already carrying a half-million barrels of tar sands crude daily through Wisconsin.

Moreover, Enbridge maintains it has never agreed to provide additional insurance to local communities and says requiring it would violate federal law. The firm says it already carries a general $700 million insurance policy.

Enbridge defends northern route for pipeline

Pipeline operator Enbridge Energy on Tuesday defended its proposal to build a northern Minnesota crude oil pipeline in the face of persistent suggestions by state agencies that another route, farther south, might be better.

Company executives testified during the first day of a trial-like evidentiary hearing before a regulatory judge in St. Paul. Critics of the $2.6 billion project have questioned whether the line needs to built Up North, an idea that Paul Eberth, Enbridge’s project director, disputed on the witness stand.

Senate Democrats block swift passage of Keystone XL pipeline bill (+video)

Democrats in the U.S. Senate blocked the Keystone XL pipeline bill from moving forward on Monday, but supporters of the project vowed to push ahead and eventually get a vote on the measure.

The Senate failed to get the 60 votes needed to limit debate, voting 53 to 39 on the measure.

The Keystone bill allows Congress to approve TransCanada Corp’s project to link Canada’s oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

Settlements reached in so-called ‘hot fuel’ litigation

Twenty-eight oil companies and retailers have agreed to settle litigation claiming customers were knowingly overcharged when gas station fuel temperatures rose, plaintiffs announced Friday.

Federal officials earlier consolidated about 50 lawsuits filed since 2006 from consumers across the country in the U.S. District Court in Kansas City, Kansas. The plaintiffs’ attorneys said in a news release that a judge has given preliminary approval to the settlement agreements in the so-called “hot fuel” cases.

Enbridge pipeline contractor wants $40K in restitution from protesters

Two protesters of a pipeline being constructed in Oxford were recently sentenced for a summer demonstration, and now the company, Precision Pipeline, wants nearly $40,000 in restitution.

Duncan Tarr and Dylan Ochala-Gorka, who belong to anti-big oil group the Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands, or MICATS, protested in August against Wisconsin-based Precision Pipeline’s work on the expansion of Enbridge Line 6B by using bike-locks to tie their necks to a work truck.

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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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