Environmental Must-Reads – April 1, 2015


New York court: Drilling leases expired despite state ban

The New York moratorium on hydraulic fracturing doesn’t allow energy companies to extend leases with landowners beyond the expiration dates in their contracts, the state’s highest court ruled Tuesday.

The Court of Appeals answered that question for a federal appeals court reviewing the case. It follows a federal judge’s 2012 ruling for the landowners, also concluding the leases expired.

Doctors and academics call for ban on ‘inherently risky’ fracking

Fracking should be banned because of the impact it could have on public health, according to a prominent group of health professionals.

In a letter published by the British Medical Journal on Monday, 20 high-profile doctors, pharmacists and public health academics said the “inherently risky” industry should be prohibited in the UK.

Gas Utilities Reduce Leaks of Methane, Study Finds

Utilities are making progress in reducing leaks from their natural gas distribution networks, a new study has found, but the industry and regulators can do more.

Methane, a major component of natural gas, is a powerful greenhouse gas, having some 85 times the effect of carbon dioxide on climate change over a 20-year period. The Obama administration has promoted the use of natural gas as a power source, since it produces far less carbon dioxide than burning coal, but has also pressed for industry to measure and reduce leaks.

Fracking Companies Keep 10% of Chemicals Secret, EPA Says

Oil and gas companies refuse to disclose 10 percent of the hundreds of chemicals they use during hydraulic fracturing, according to a new analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency. The revelation comes in a major installment of the EPA’s study of the potential risks of fracking on drinking water.

The agency’s assessment of more than 39,000 reports from the website FracFocus about the composition of fracking fluid also showed that “at least one chemical was identified as confidential business information in 70 percent of the disclosures analyzed,” wrote Tom Burke, EPA’s science adviser, in an agency blog.

Fracking moratorium passes in Maryland House

The Maryland House of Delegates passed legislation March 24 that would enact a three-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing statewide, with a 93-45 vote in favor. The same day, the Senate passed a bill that would ensure state taxpayers are not responsible for cleanup after fracking accidents.

The moratorium bill, the Protect Our Health and Communities Act (HB 449), sponsored by Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo (D-Montgomery), would prohibit the Maryland Department of the Environment from issuing permits for fracking until 2018 while a panel of experts would study the environmental and public health risks of fracking. The three-year moratorium was amended from the original proposed eight years.

Some say restricting Florida fracking proposals fall short

There’s a new push in Florida to ban a controversial oil technique called fracking, but time is running out for lawmakers to act before the end of this legislative session.

Tuesday in Tallahassee, lawmakers debated two regulatory bills in the Senate Preservation and Conservation Committee.

Texas lawmakers want to ban fracking bans

Denton, Texas, has seen a lot of action in recent years for a small city with less than 150,000 people, and it’s in the spotlight again, this time facing off with the state government in Austin.

Fracking matured in Denton, kicking off Texas’ shale oil boom and inundating the North Texas city with a swarm of drillers to tap the oil-rich Barnett Shale. An early anti-fracking movement emerged, and by November 2014 citizens voted overwhelmingly to prohibit drilling within city limits out of health, environmental and noise concerns.

Germany sets very high bar for fracking

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cabinet signed off on a draft law on Wednesday that imposes an effective ban on the controversial technique of fracking for shale gas.

Fracking, or hydraulic fracturing, involves blasting chemicals and water into rock formations to release trapped gas. Opposition is strong in densely populated Germany due to concerns about the risk of contaminating drinking water.

ND to Join Wyoming Lawsuit Against Federal Fracking Rules

North Dakota, whose oil riches have been unlocked by the use of hydraulic fracturing, said Tuesday it will join Wyoming in a lawsuit challenging a new federal rule requiring more information about the process when it’s used on U.S. government lands.

The Obama administration announced in March that it will require companies that drill on federal lands to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management rule, under consideration for about four years, takes effect in June.

Update: Senate panel OKs fracking bills

Bills that would create a regulatory framework for fracking in Florida and allow chemicals used in the process to be kept secret from the public easily cleared their first committee stops Tuesday.

Members of the Senate Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee voted 6-2 along party lines in favor of Senate Bill 1468, which would require the state to adopt rules regulating high-pressure well stimulation, a form of fracking, and Senate Bill 1582, which would create an exemption in public-records laws for chemicals used in fracking. Both bills are sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who was out of town at the time of the hearing.

North Dakota launches oil rules hoping to curb U.S. rail disasters

North Dakota will from Wednesday require the more-than 1.2 million barrels of crude extracted each day from the state’s Bakken shale formation be run through machines that remove volatile gases linked to recent crude-by-rail disasters.

The controversial step is designed to abrogate the damage North Dakota crude oil – 70 percent of which is transported via rail – can cause during derailments.

Company releases maps of final pipeline proposal

The company that wants to build a natural gas pipeline through Lancaster and Lebanon counties has made its final proposal to the federal government.

For the first time the pipeline was proposed, we’re seeing the final path the Williams Company will pursue.

Texas company wants to build 161-mile pipeline through Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania

Texas-based Columbia Pipeline Group is seeking federal approval to build a new 161-mile pipeline for natural gas plus three compression stations in southeast Ohio and northern West Virginia.

The company has filed initial paperwork for the Leach XPress Pipeline with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Forest Service seeks comments on pipeline routes

The U.S. Forest Service is seeking comments between now and April 14 on whether to allow surveys on three proposed alternative routes crossing the George Washington National Forest for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline in Highland and Augusta counties.

The alternate routes for the national forest were revealed by Dominion Resources in February, according to Dominion Spokesman Jim Norvelle. The three proposed areas encompass a combined total of 4.4 miles of the George Washington National Forest.

San Bruno Officials Want Bigger Fine Upheld Against PG&E Over Pipeline Blast

San Bruno city officials are calling on the California Public Utilities Commission to uphold a proposed $1.6 billion fine against Pacific Gas & Electric for the 2010 pipeline blast that killed eight people.

“A historic penalty of this magnitude sends the right message that gross negligence, corruption and profits over safety will no longer be tolerated,” San Bruno Mayor Jim Ruane said at a press conference Tuesday outside the commission’s headquarters in San Francisco.

Tracking Danger: Oil Train Disaster Could Devastate Rural Towns

The number is staggering. More than 326,000 Minnesotans — most of them in the Twin Cities area — live within what is considered an evacuation zone in the event of a major oil train disaster. So, is the state doing enough to make sure local communities are protected?

WCCO’s Laura Oakes has the next in our five-part series, Tracking Danger: Minnesota’s Crude Reality.

Engineer in fiery Casselton oil train crash sues BNSF Railway

The engineer of an oil tanker train that exploded after derailing near Casselton in 2013 is suing the railroad, claiming its negligence caused the fiery wreck that has left him with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Bryan Thompson of Fargo was operating the oil tanker train when an oncoming grain train derailed in his path just west of Casselton on Dec. 30, 2013, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in Cass County District Court.

What’s worse than exploding oil trains? Read on

When a train filled with Bakken crude derailed and exploded near Casselton, N.D., 15 months ago, all firefighters could do was watch.

“We were maybe a little more than a quarter-mile away,” recalled Tim McLean, Casselton fire chief. “And when each fireball went up, we could feel the heat. It just kind of lofted that way and hit you right in the face.”

Deepwater oil spill: BP steps up PR effort to insist all is well in the Gulf

In the run-up to the five-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon spill this April, BP is ramping up its effort to convince consumers that life is returning to normal on the Gulf coast.

Over the last month, the company has released PR materials that highlight the Gulf’s resilience, as well as a report compiling scientific studies that suggest the area is making a rapid recovery.

Environmental groups say ongoing effects of BP oil spill not always visible to the eye, but damage is continuing

On a boat ride Tuesday from Myrtle Grove through Barataria Bay to see what remains of the Deepwater Horizon oil almost five years after the April 20, 2010, disaster, it all looks so normal.

There are no absorbent booms lining the beach, barely weathered oil is not pooling in the marsh of south Louisiana, and there are no brown pelicans struggling through the reddish-brown goop that had washed up on the shores in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Cat Island nearly gone; BP oil mat and tar balls still visible on East Grand Terre Island

Only two tiny strips of sand and shell, dotted with a few skeletal remains of mangrove trees, are all that was left of Cat Island, a tiny isle in Barataria Bay that held thriving colonies of brown pelicans, wading birds and gulls prior to the BP Deepwater Horizion oil spill, on Tuesday (Mar. 31).

Heavily oiled during the 2010 spill — several photo shoots of oiled and dead pelicans in April and May of that year featured wildlife found on the island — the combined hit of oiled plant life and ongoing subsidence and erosion have all but eliminated the sandy spit as a haven for wildlife.

Judge grants Alabama jury trial in case against BP for lost tourism revenue

A federal judge granted the state of Alabama jury trial in its case seeking damages from BP for revenues lost during the fallout from the oil spill nearly five years ago. Alabama was the first state to seek compensatory damages from the British energy company, aside from the punitive damages the company has yet to pay for violating the Clean Water Act.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled against BP’s motion to strike the state’s demand for a jury trial in a written order Monday. The trial is expected to start in April or May 2016.

Freedom Industries, state sign spill site cleanup agreement

Freedom Industries and West Virginia regulators have signed an agreement for cleaning up the site of a 2014 chemical spill in the Elk River that prompted a tap water ban for 300,000 people for days.

The agreement announced Tuesday by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection will be done through the agency’s Voluntary Remediation Program.

Even without Keystone, tar-sands oil will likely come down the pipeline

A decision on whether to allow the Keystone XL pipeline to be built in the U.S. could come at any time, but there are myriad other projects on the table designed to do exactly what Keystone XL was designed to do: Transport Canadian tar-sands oil to refineries.

Those pipelines, both in the U.S. and Canada, are being designed to move the oily bitumen produced from the tar sands to refineries in Texas and eastern Canada, and to ports on the Pacific Coast where the oil could be shipped to Asia.

South Dakota agency gives Rosebud Sioux time in TransCanada pipeline dispute

The state Public Utilities Commission on Tuesday granted two short extensions of deadlines to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe in the permit certification process for the Keystone XL pipeline project.

The commission agreed with the Rosebud Sioux lawyer that TransCanada, the project sponsor, should have been more responsive during the past two months to his information requests. The tribal government consequently received an additional eight days to pre-file its witnesses’ direct testimony. Those statements now are due April 10.

Barack Obama gives Shell go-ahead to drill for oil in Alaskan Arctic

Royal Dutch Shell has received the go-ahead from the US government to restart a controversial oil exploration campaign in the Alaskan Arctic despite fears over the risk to the environment.

The Department of the Interior approved the Anglo-Dutch oil major’s request to return to the Chukchi Sea within the Arctic circle. It comes just three years after Shell’s last attempt to find oil in the region floundered when its Kulluk drilling rig ran aground.

3 Factors Could Slow Arctic Drilling Despite Shell Go-Ahead

Oil drilling in U.S. Arctic waters may return this summer now that Shell has cleared a key government hurdle. Still, an energy bonanza in the frigid north won’t happen anytime soon.

On Tuesday, shortly after the Obama administration pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, its Department of the Interior gave Shell the preliminary go-ahead. Inteior approved its environmental review of Shell’s controversial lease for multiyear drilling in the Chukchi Sea, off the coast of Alaska. The energy-rich Arctic is drawing renewed interest because global warming is melting sea ice and making it potentially easier to develop oil and gas.

U.S. Commits to Carbon Cuts and Arctic Oil Drilling on the Same Day

Let’s just say the Obama administration appears unclear on the concept of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In the morning on Tuesday, the White House committed the United States to reducing greenhouse gas emissions 26 percent to 28 percent from 2005 levels by 2025.

Marshall Islands defends its position registering Arctic oil rigs

Environmental activists will be keeping a close eye on the Cabinet meeting in Marshall Islands tomorrow, watching for any sign that the government plans to act on calls to de-register two oil rigs operating under the Marshalls’ flag in the Arctic.

Greenpeace Australia Pacific says that a country at the forefront of the campaign on climate change should not be supporting oil exploration in this way.

Add comment

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This