Environmental Must-Reads – April 21, 2015


Fracking opponents can’t block St. Tammany drilling operation, judge rules

Fracking opponents suffered a major defeat Monday morning (April 20) when a state judge ruled St. Tammany Parish cannot use its zoning regulations to block a proposed oil drilling and fracking project northeast of Mandeville. Judge William Morvant of the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge said parish regulations cannot trump state law and that the Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation is the sole regulator of oil and gas drilling in Louisiana.

The much-anticipated ruling, coming after a year of controversy over the project, does not mean Helis Oil & Gas Co. of New Orleans is free to start drilling, however.

Judge deals Tammany fracking opponents 2nd blow, rebuffing efforts to stop Helis Oil from acting on its state permit

For the second time in less than a week, a state district judge has dealt a serious blow to opponents of a plan to drill a fracking well in St. Tammany Parish.

The latest rebuff came from Judge William Morvant, of the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge, who ruled Monday that state law prohibits parish authorities from stopping Helis Oil & Gas Co. from acting on its state-issued drilling permit.

Both sides of St. Tammany fracking debate react to ruling

Year-long efforts to stop a planned fracking project off of Hwy. 1088 in Mandeville, and any to follow, were deflated Monday when a state judge ruled the state’s right to issue drilling permits overpowers a local government’s right to stop them with its own rules.

“Just kind of mixed emotions really, because you go through all this and spend all this money, and the guy says, well, you need to go to the next court,” said St. Tammany Council Chairman Richard Tanner. “Kind of disheartening a little bit.”

Lightning Strike Launches Fracking Storage Tank in the Air, Sets off Chain Reaction Fire

A lightning strike set off an explosive chain-reaction fire at an oil and gas wastewater injection site in Greeley, Colorado, on Friday.

The Associated Press reports that the fire started after lightning struck a water storage tank, launching it into the air. Hydrocarbons contained in the tank caught fire and spread to other flammable materials at the site.

Air pollution increases at Pennsylvania’s natural gas sites

Sulfur dioxide emissions jumped 57 percent from 2012 to 2013 at the state’s natural gas production sites, according to data released today by the Department of Environmental Protection. Sulfur dioxide contributes to acid rain, and causes respiratory problems including asthma.  Other air pollutants that contribute to public health impacts also increased. These jumps in emissions coincide with the number of well sites reporting.

Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley said in a press release that the results were not a surprise.

Pennsylvania DEP says emissions increased from expanding natural gas industry

Emissions from the expanding natural gas drilling industry increased in four of six air pollution categories in 2013 but releases of an important greenhouse gas declined, according to new data published by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Monday.

Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley said the increases were not unexpected because the industry is growing and regulators have expanded the number and types of facilities that have to report their emissions since the state first began collecting the data in 2011.

DEP to issue significant fine against Sunoco over Mariner East spills

The state Department of Environmental Protection is preparing to impose a large fine against Sunoco Pipeline over releases of a nontoxic drilling mud at its Mariner East project, including two that reached Mingo Creek in Washington County in September.

The fine will involve citations against the company for failure to control erosion and take precautionary measures to prevent the discharges and spilling of industrial waste and pollution onto roads and into waterways and wetlands in Washington, Allegheny and Westmoreland counties, said John Poister, the DEP’s spokesman in Pittsburgh.

Texas vote on oil and gas rules may presage more industry influence

The Texas oil industry flexed its muscle Friday in a legislative vote that could limit city regulation of drilling operations.

It could be a sign of things to come as state lawmakers consider a raft of bills on environmental issues. Texas’ Republican leaders won wider majorities in both the House and Senate this year and have promised to push for a conservative agenda (EnergyWire, Jan. 9).

Grass-to-gas plant could be UK’s answer to fracking, says Ecotricity

A plant that turns grass into gas could be Britain’s answer to fracking, according to its operators.

The anaerobic digestion system will be one of the first such plants to feed gas directly into the British grid and the first to be fed solely on grass.

Beer drinkers join the fight against fracking with claims it poses a ‘substantial threat to the quality of real ale’

Real ale enthusiasts are accustomed to taking a firm stand on the price of a pint or the plight of pubs, but a move to oppose the gas extraction technique known as fracking would take them into uncharted waters.

Members of the Campaign for Real Ale (Camra) will this week vote on a proposal to oppose the controversial drilling process, in which water, sand and chemicals are injected into rock at high pressure.

North Dakota to improve pipeline safety

New pipeline rules in North Dakota will give the oil-rich state stronger safeguards against leaks and improve remediation, Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

Dalrymple signed a state bill into law that strengthens the state’s regulatory oversight on pipelines for crude oil and so-called produced water.

Transportation officials issue oil train safety measures

An emergency order requiring trains hauling crude oil and other flammable liquids to slow down as they pass through urban areas and a series of other steps to improve the safety have been announced by the Department of Transportation.

The Obama administration has been under intense pressure from members of Congress as well as state and local officials to ensure the safety of oil trains that traverse the country after leaving the Bakken region of North Dakota. To get to refineries on the East and West coasts and the Gulf of Mexico, oil shipments travel through more than 400 counties, including major metropolitan areas such as Philadelphia, Seattle, Chicago, Newark and dozens of other cities.

BP oil spill 5-year anniversary march in New Orleans

Gulf South Rising commemorated the five-year anniversary of the BP oil spill with a march from Lafayette Square to the French Quarter, eventually gathering near the River on Monday (April 20).

Colette Pichon-Battle of Gulf Coast Center for Law & Policy said events were planned in five states. “Front line communities are standing up to say it’s time to tell the truth, it’s time to pay up,” she said of BP.

Offshore drilling regulation lacking despite training efforts

It’s been called the Big Crew Change.

If BP’s Macondo well blowout and catastrophic oil spill five years ago didn’t scare the oil and gas industry straight, the impending loss of 50 percent of its offshore workforce to retirement by 2018 certainly did.

“We plan on hiring several hundred new people a year for the next five to 10 years,” said Chris Smith, head of Shell Oil’s ever-expanding deepwater training facility in this Tangipahoa Parish town, about an hour north of New Orleans.

$134M Proposed for 10 BP-Funded Oil Spill Recovery Projects

State and federal officials overseeing $1 billion provided by BP PLC to spur recovery from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill said Monday that they’re proposing another 10 projects totaling $134 million.

About $700 million to repair environmental damage and enhance recreational access has been allocated previously, although some of that work has yet to begin.

BP oil spill plus 5: Why it’ll happen again

An unhappy anniversary, this: Eleven people were killed in an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon five years ago in the Gulf of Mexico. That blowout immolated the huge offshore drilling rig, which sank two days later on the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, leading to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

In some ways it was a prototype disaster of the future, one involving complex technology that failed in unexpected ways. This will happen again — count on it. Maybe it’ll be another oil spill, but more likely it’ll be something else. We’re unprepared for catastrophes that break the patterns of previous disasters, that pose exotic challenges and involve technological systems that are not easily repaired.

Plaquemines fishermen say BP spill wrecked oyster industry

A sudden explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico five years ago led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history.

While BP promised to make it right, the economy along the Louisiana coast is still feeling the effects of the massive spill.

Why Did ‘Shocking’ Amounts of BP Oil Fall to the Seafloor?

In April 2010, as the biggest oil spill in U.S. history stained beaches and plastered birds with thick goo, something totally unexpected was happening under the surface of the Gulf of Mexico (map).

Out of the public eye, a mass of ocean plants, creatures, and other detritus bigger than the state of Connecticut was speeding oil to the seafloor in “shockingly large” amounts—likely millions of gallons, according to David Hollander, a chemical oceanographer at the University of South Florida in St. Petersburg.

BP Oil Spill Anniversary: Four Innovative Projects To Restore Louisiana’s Sinking Coastlines

Coastal Louisiana is sinking, a problem that dates back nearly a century. Canal systems and oil-and-gas drilling have permanently altered the landscape, causing wetlands to vanish at a dramatic clip. But in recent years, the rate of land loss has accelerated, spurred by catastrophes including Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill, which happened five years ago Monday.

Now Louisianians are racing to halt the destruction and rebuild what they’ve lost. Without wetlands, coastal residents lose natural defenses against hurricane-fueled storm surges and sea level rise. Wildlife and shellfish lose habitats, in turn threatening the livelihood and culinary culture of millions of people.

5 Years After BP Oil Spill, Effects Linger And Recovery Is Slow

Five years ago, BP’s out-of-control oil well deep in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. Eleven workers were killed on the Deepwater Horizon rig. But it was more than a deadly accident — the blast unleashed the nation’s worst offshore environmental catastrophe.

In the spring and summer of 2010, oil gushed from the Macondo well for nearly three months. More than 3 million barrels of Louisiana light crude fouled beaches and wetlands from Texas to Florida, affecting wildlife and livelihoods.

Today, the spill’s impacts linger.

Why Obama’s Former Offshore Drilling Cop is Still Worried

Michael Bromwich took over the Interior Department’s troubled offshore drilling branch in June 2010, roughly two months after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico and oil from BP’s ruined well still was gushing into the sea.

At the time, Bromwich feared another catastrophe could unfold elsewhere in the Gulf.

“Clearly this horrible event had occured and I didn’t know any reason why what had happened once wouldn’t happen again, and so I was worried that there really could be another one at any time,” Bromwich, now a private consultant, said in an interview.

Ecuadoreans’ Lawsuit Against Chevron Might Need a U.S. Retrial, Judge Suggests

A long-running legal fight between Chevron Corp.and residents in Ecuador may need yet another round in court, a federal appeals judge suggested on Monday.

The possibility came up at an appeals hearing that pitted Chevron against New York lawyer Steven Donziger, the attorney who won a record $9.5 billion environmental-damage award against the oil company in a legal battle that has dragged on for more than 20 years.

Lebanon demands Israel pay for 2006 oil slick

Israel must compensate Lebanon for the environmental destruction caused after it bombed a power plant during its 2006 invasion and sent more than 10,000 tons of oil into the sea, Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said Monday.

Speaking at a joint news conference alongside Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk and the U.N. resident coordinator for Lebanon Ross Mountain, Bassil urged the world body to invoke Chapter VII of its charter to oblige Israel to pay the $856.4 million that it owes Lebanon, according to a U.N. General Assembly decision passed in December.

Energy Information Administration data confirms rail is no replacement for Keystone XL

Industry’s favorite talking point in favor of the embattled Keystone XL tar sands pipeline was roundly discredited late last month with the first-time release of crude-by-rail data by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

The agency’s data confirms that very little Canadian crude of any kind is getting to the Gulf Coast via rail, critically undermining industry’s argument that tar sands will get to the Gulf Coast with or without Keystone XL. According to EIA, direct oil rail shipments from Canada to the Gulf Coast averaged a mere 36,000 bpd in 2014 (3.6% of North America’s crude-by-rail traffic).

State Dept accused of accelerating Canadian company’s pipeline approval

The U.S. State Department has accelerated the approval of a cross-border pipeline, apparently allowing an Alberta-based Canadian energy company to sidestep the normal regulatory process applied to other cross-border projects including Keystone XL, according to emails made public Monday as part a case filed against the department by the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.

“The president and the State Department made it clear on Keystone that this is an important review process they need to stick to,” Sierra Club staff attorney Doug Hayes told Al Jazeera. “And Obama has said it’s important to look at the climate impacts from these expansions — meanwhile we have the State Department basically working with Enbridge to sidestep that.”

Enbridge seeking Minnesota approval for Sandpiper pipeline project

Enbridge will begin the route permitting process for its US$2.6 billion Sandpiper project once it receives state approval from Minnesota’s Puiblic Utilities Commission. Approval on the “certificate of need” is expected in June.

Forty-two miles of the 610-mile pipeline, which runs from Tioga, North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin, are in Minnesota.

UK government threatens to revoke oligarchs’ North sea oil licences

North sea oil licences acquired by a group of controversial Russian oligarchs are to be revoked by the British government unless the fields are immediately sold.

The LetterOne Group, which was founded by former TNK-BP directors Mikhail Fridman and German Khan, purchased the 12 fields from RWE’s oil and gas unit DEA last month. But the Department of Energy & Climate Change raised concerns that the new ownership could endanger the UK’s own oil and gas supplies should tougher sanctions be imposed against the Kremlin in future.

What the BP Oil Disaster Tells Us About Arctic Drilling: Keep Out!

Five years ago today, an explosion on board the oil rig Deepwater Horizon killed 11 men and unleashed one of the largest and costliest offshore oil disaster this nation has ever experienced. By the end of 2014, BP, the company primarily responsible for the disaster, estimated the overall economic losses from the spill at over $43 billion.

The disaster that began five years ago today must serve as a reminder that offshore oil and gas exploration and development never comes without risk. In the Arctic Ocean, where Royal Dutch Shell is preparing to return to drill sites it last explored in 2012, that risk is unacceptably high. Simply put, the United States should not permit oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean.

In A Few Days, John Kerry Will Be In Charge Of Saving The Arctic

John Kerry is heading north.

On Friday, the U.S. Secretary of State will travel to the Canadian Arctic city of Iqualuit, Nunavut, where he will take temporary reins of the Arctic Council, a forum that could ultimately determine the fate of the Arctic. At the biennial Arctic Council ministerial meeting in Iqualuit, Canadian Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq — the current Arctic Council Chair — will turn the chairmanship of the eight-nation body over to Kerry.

Major Changes Loom in Arctic as U.S. Leads Council

Just 30 years ago, the Arctic was viewed as a frozen expanse of limited opportunity. But climate change is rapidly reshaping the region — it’s warming twice as fast as the rest of the planet — creating new opportunities and risks that are coming into global focus.

“Without climate change, we wouldn’t really be talking about the Arctic in the first place,” Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, said.

Outage hits pumps at Fukushima plant; toxic water leaks into ocean

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Tuesday reported that a power outage has shut down all eight water transfer pumps at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power station and that radioactive water is again leaking into the Pacific Ocean.

The pumps are being used to pump tainted water from a drainage channel to another channel leading to a fence-enclosed artificial bay facing the station. The beleaguered utility said it was checking into what happened and how much water had leaked.

Costs for Germany’s nuclear exit could rise to $75 billion

The bill for shutting down Germany’s nuclear power plants and building a safe disposal site for nuclear waste could rise to 70 billion euros ($75 billion), the head of a government commission told daily Frankfurter Rundschau in an interview

E.ON, RWE, EnBW and Vattenfall [VATN.UL] are due to switch off their nuclear plants by a 2022 deadline set by Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government after the Fukushima disaster in Japan in 2011.

Nuclear waste drums appear stable after signs of reactions

Dozens of drums of radioactive waste at one of the nation’s premier weapons laboratories are stable after some showed signs of chemical reactions over the past year, according to federal officials.

The drums are being closely monitored after a chemical reaction inside a container with similar contents caused a breach in February 2014, resulting in a radiation release and the indefinite closure of the country’s only underground nuclear waste dump.

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