Environmental Must-Reads – January 6, 2014

4 states confirm water pollution from drilling

In at least four states that have nurtured the nation’s energy boom, hundreds of complaints have been made about well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling, and pollution was confirmed in a number of them, according to a review that casts doubt on industry suggestions that such problems rarely happen.

U.S. EPA unlikely to step up fracking enforcement efforts for now -analysts

Federal regulators are unlikely to step up enforcement of potential water contamination cases linked to natural gas drilling – despite new concerns about water safety – given a lack of political will and limited resources to pursue such cases, analysts said.

A report quietly made public on Christmas Eve by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog brought back into the spotlight concerns about the effects on water quality from the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Study Shows Fracking Is Bad for Babies

The energy industry has long insisted that hydraulic fracking — the practice of fracturing rock to extract gas and oil deep beneath the earth’s surface — is safe for people who live nearby. New research suggests this is not true for some of the most vulnerable humans: newborn infants.

Fears mount over fracking waste destination

The Ohio River could soon be a thoroughfare for fracking waste, worrying residents in the Cincinnati region.

At the request of oil and gas firms, the U.S. Coast Guard, which regulates shipments on federally supervised waterways, including the Ohio River, has proposed allowing companies to ship wastewater created when extracting natural gas. A barge can carry up to 75 truckloads of waste, Coast Guard officials say.

Fracking adds to hazardous cargo in U.S.

North Dakota is now the nation’s second-largest oil producer behind Texas, and thanks to its Bakken fields, the fastest-growing oil-producing state in the United States.

However, as the fiery collision last Monday near Fargo proves, there is a dark side to the shale-oil-production boom.

Judge Rules Exxon Must Face Criminal Charges Over 50,000 Gallon Fracking Waste Spill

Exxon Mobil Corp. subsidiary XTO Energy will have to face criminal charges for allegedly dumping tens of thousands of gallons of hydraulic fracturing waste at a Marcellus Shale drilling site in 2010, according to a Pennsylvania judge’s ruling on Thursday.

Following a preliminary hearing, Magisterial District Judge James G. Carn decided that all eight charges against Exxon — including violations of both the state Clean Streams Law and the Solid Waste Management Act — will be “held for court,” meaning there is enough evidence to take the fossil fuel giant to trial over felony offenses.

Mayor blames North Texas earthquakes on fracking

Many residents who attended a town hall meeting Thursday to discuss a series of minor earthquakes in North Texas left frustrated, saying officials did not address their questions and concerns.

Authorities are trying to determine what’s been causing the earthquakes in an area about 20 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Officials recorded more than a dozen small quakes in November and several more in December.

North Dakota’s oil is more flammable than other crudes, feds warn

The oil that’s being fracked out of North Dakota and Montana may pose a “significant fire risk,” federal regulators warned yesterday.

This news comes after three trains carrying crude oil from Bakken shale formation derailed and exploded last year. The most deadly derailment occurred last summer in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, killing 47 people. Then, in November, there was a fiery crash of rail cars into an Alabama wetlands area. And finally, this week brought an accident in eastern North Dakota, which lead to the evacuation of the nearby town of Casselton.

After Recent Explosions, North Dakota Oil Shares Take A Hit

After a string of uncommon crude oil train explosions, investors are taking note that North Dakota’s oil may be more dangerous than most. Shares of several North Dakota’s major oil drillers dropped sharply Thursday as the U.S. government warned that crude oil from the state’s Bakken shale may be extra flammable.

Louisiana AG: Judge ignoring state’s BP claims

Louisiana Attorney General James “Buddy” Caldwell has accused a federal judge of ignoring the state’s claims over BP’s 2010 Gulf oil spill and asked an appeals court to intervene.

In a court filing this week, Caldwell’s office asked the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to transfer its spill-related claims from U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to a different judge in the Eastern District of Louisiana.

BP’s changing stance on claims payments puzzles experts

Over the last 18 months, tens of thousands of Gulf Coast businesses and residents have collected nearly half the $7.8 billion BP estimated it would end up paying when a sweeping settlement of private claims resulting from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill was put together in early 2012.

Appeals Court to Fast-Track BP’s Bid to Halt Gulf Oil Spill Payments

BP Plc’s bid to block economic-loss payments tied to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill unless the claims can be directly linked to the disaster won fast-track consideration by an appeals court.

The London-based company said last week that U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans has ignored the appellate court’s earlier decision requiring him to review causation in determining which claims should be paid. The company asked an appeals panel for immediate review while lawyers for spill victims sought a delay.

BP wins first Greenland drilling concession despite chequered record

BP has won permission to drill in the clear waters off Greenland, just three and a half years after abandoning similar plans to apply for a licence in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon blowout.

Greenpeace said it beggared belief that a company with BP’s chequered track record would be allowed to work in one of the world’s most fragile environments.

Tar-sands mining in Canada is unleashing mercury pollution

Drilling for tar-sands oil in Alberta has long been recognized as a driver of climate change, helping to nudge the mercury up in thermometers around the world. Now, it appears that it’s also dousing the Canadian province with straight-up mercury pollution.

Canadian government researchers have discovered that oil-sands operations have puffed out mercury over 4.7 million acres of northeast Alberta, boosting levels to as much as 16 times higher than background levels. Mercury is a potent poison that’s frequently emitted by mining and fossil-fuel burning. It can harm the brains, hearts, kidneys, lungs, and immune systems of children and adults alike.

National, Oklahoma pipeline projects ongoing

As oil and natural gas production have boomed throughout the country, pipeline operators are struggling to catch up.

Much of the new activity is in areas like North Dakota and Ohio, where large-scale production pipeline infrastructure previously did not exist. In some parts of south Texas and western Oklahoma, new production has overwhelmed the available pipeline networks.

John Kerry Throws More Cold Water On Keystone XL Pipeline

The tubes have been buzzing over a new New York Times report on Secretary of State John Kerry’s aggressive pursuit of a new global climate agreement, which has some clear implications for approval of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. In a nutshell, things ain’t looking so good, and that has us wondering if the US coal industry is also going to face some serious problems down the road.

Concern Over Safety Grows as More Oil Rides the Rails

Safety officials have worried for years about hazardous materials carried on trains, but concern has intensified recently as a drilling surge in remote oil fields has generated heavy traffic on North America’s aging rail-freight networks.

That concern was heightened on Monday when a train of oil-tank cars near Casselton, N.D., plowed into a train carrying grain that had derailed on an adjacent track. The fire burned for more than a day.

Exclusive: Permit Shows Bakken Shale Oil in Casselton Train Explosion Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals

On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly.

This alert came three days after the massive Casselton, ND explosion of a freight rail train owned by Warren Buffett’s Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) and was the first time the U.S. Department of Transportation agency ever made such a statement about Bakken crude. In July 2013, another freight train carrying Bakken crude exploded in Lac-Mégantic, vaporizing and killing 47 people.

North Dakota derailment rekindles debate over pipelines vs. rail

Monday’s train derailment and explosion near Casselton, North Dakota underscores a growing concern over rail safety, at least when it comes to transporting Bakken crude oil.

Thursday, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued a safety alert, warning the public, emergency responders, and shippers about the high volatility of Bakken Crude.

Huge scope of Lac-Mégantic cleanup comes into focus

As the crack of explosions broke the early-morning quiet and clouds of black smoke billowed above Lac-Mégantic on July 6, millions of litres of crude oil gushed along the ground.

Some of the oil fuelled the raging fire that erupted after a72-car train derailed, blazing through Lac-Mégantic and eventually making its way to the surface of the lake that gives the town its name. Some of the oil evaporated in the fires that burned for two days, creating a plume of smoke that spread east toward the U.S. border. And some of the oil — hundreds of thousands of litres of it — flooded the manholes around the crash site, overwhelming the town’s sewer system.

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