Environmental Must-Reads – April 22, 2015


Small north Texas quakes likely linked to oil, gas operations – study

A series of earthquakes that rattled a small community northwest of Fort Worth, Texas, more than a year ago were linked to oil and gas operations, according to a scientific study released Tuesday.

The study published in the science journal Nature Communications concluded that the 27 earthquakes that occurred in Azle, Texas, were the result of high-pressure injection of drilling wastewater injected into the ground and other industry activity.

Oklahoma Recognizes Role of Drilling in Earthquakes

Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma’s government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.

The state’s energy and environment cabinet introduced a website detailing the evidence behind that conclusion Tuesday, including links to expert studies of Oklahoma’s quakes. The site includes an interactive map that plots not only earthquake locations, but also the sites of more than 3,000 active wastewater-injection wells.

Cities bristle as state asserts authority over fracking

In a city that overwhelmingly voted to ban fracking, a legislative move in Austin to thwart the ordinance isn’t going over well.

House Bill 40 would prohibit municipalities from outlawing oil and gas drilling within city limits.

The House passed the measure on Friday, and it’s largely expected to pass in the Senate and go to the governor’s desk.

EPA Chief Defends Forthcoming Fracking Study, Says It Will ‘Add To’ Dialogue

The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a much-anticipated draft study this spring that will examine whether hydraulic fracturing can contaminate ground water supplies. While the topic of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas has generated a lot of attention, it’s not clear whether the agency’s study will clear up any of the major lingering questions about the safety of the process.

Study Finds Low Cost in Reducing Methane Emissions

Reducing methane leaks from oil and gas operations around the world could provide a relatively inexpensive way to fight climate change, according to a new report commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund.

The amount of methane that escaped worldwide in 2012 was roughly 3.6 billion cubic feet and would have been worth $30 billion on the market, said Kate Larsen, a director of the Rhodium Group, which produced the study. A country that produced that amount of gas would rank seventh in the world, coming in just after Russia, she said.

Butte County supervisors vote 4-1 to ban fracking waste disposal in county

After a relatively brief public hearing Tuesday, the Butte County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance that would ban the storage or disposal of fracking waste within the county.

The vote regarding the waste generated by injecting fluids into the ground to stimulate oil and natural gas production was 4-1.

Texas House Votes to Ban City Fracking Bans

Texas moved a step closer to preempting cities and counties from banning fracking. On April 17, by a vote of 122-18, the Texas House passed House Bill 40 recognizing the Texas Railroad Commission’s long-held authority to regulate oil and gas exploration and production, including hydraulic fracking, in the state.

The bill was a reaction to the Denton, Texas’ fracking ban. Denton’s ban, approved by city voters in November, was first ever attempt by a Texas city to assert local power to ban oil and gas production. If HB 40 ultimately becomes law, the bill would ban any ordinance that prohibits an oil and gas operation. A companion bill awaits action in the Texas Senate.

Stillwater City Council vote on fracking delayed again

City council was considering amendments to existing ordinances that regulate oil and gas drilling in the city of Stillwater, things like setbacks from homes and noise pollution.

The city council has been delaying a vote on the issue for about two months now. Tonight, they have delayed yet again, saying they want to wait on the status of several bills at the Capitol that would limit local control.

‘Pipelines blow up and people die’

On June 10, 1999, a few days after his high school graduation, Liam Wood unexpectedly got an afternoon off work and decided to go fly-fishing on a creek near his hometown of Bellingham, Washington. About 100 miles away, operators missed the signs of a pressure spike in the 16-inch gasoline pipeline that crossed the stream in Whatcom Falls Park.

The pipe ruptured at a point where, several years before, a backhoe had accidentally struck and weakened the 50-year-old iron. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of gasoline began to spew into the creek near where Liam stood, staining the water pink.

Barack Obama proposes $3.5 billion gas pipeline overhaul

The Obama administration on Tuesday proposed spending as much as $3.5 billion to replace aging natural gas pipelines nationwide — a move that comes just as POLITICO published a lengthy investigation of the public safety threat posed by pipelines and the numerous problems plaguing the federal agency that regulates them.

The announcement, included in a 348-page government report examining how to upgrade a vast array of the country’s energy infrastructure, is aimed at addressing the dangers to both public safety and the climate from pipelines that leak or rupture.

Five Years After BP Oil Spill, Experts Debate Damage To Ecosystem

At the Gulf State Park Pier in Orange Beach, Ala., Wetzel Wood casts his fishing line into the rough surf of the Gulf of Mexico. He pulls his bait, a cigar minnow, through the water just beyond where the waves break for the shore.

“On a good day you’d catch king mackerel, Spanish mackerel,” he says. Wood first learned to fish at the pier with his grandfather in 1969. “I’ve seen a lot of different things out here. It’s been wonderful.”

Environmentalists Warn That Gulf Oil Spill Recovery Could Be a Mirage

Some environmentalists weren’t happy with my article marking the fifth anniversary of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. I emphasized a glass-half-full view of the present situation: Yes, BP and other corporate actors deserve condemnation for the environmental and economic devastation. But the subsequent recovery has been remarkable—and remarkably lucky.

Struggles from BP oil spill continue for Grand Isle, Plaquemines, TV station reports

The BP oil spill may have occurred five years ago, but for Grand Isle and Plaquemines Parish, the recovery continues, WGNO reports. Commercial fisher James Billiot told the television station that he worries about the future of the seafood industry.

Mayor David Camardelle said the town works to keep the beach clean, but everyday crews find reminders of the nation’s worst environmental oil disaster—tar balls. He said he is concerned about how the spill will impact the next generation.

BP oil spill: PBS reviews recovery, talks to Jefferson Parish President John Young

PBS Newshour focused on the 5th anniversary of the BP oil spill in its Monday night (Apr. 20) broadcast, reviewing how the accident occurred, the effects on Louisiana fishermen and businesses, and on the environment.

“No matter how you measure the numbers, it was the biggest oil spill in American history, a gusher triggered by a catastrophic blowout of a well deep in the sea, and the deadly explosion aboard a drilling rig,” said Newshour co-anchor Judy Woodruff in introducing the segment.

Exxon Mobil firms to pay nearly $5M for Arkansas oil spill

The Justice Department says two subsidiaries of Exxon Mobil have agreed to pay almost $5 million in government penalties for a 2013 oil spill in a central Arkansas community.

As part of a consent decree set to be filed in a Little Rock federal court Wednesday, the companies would pay about $3.2 million in federal civil penalties in addition to addressing pipeline safety issues and oil-response capacity. They would pay $1 million in state civil penalties, $600,000 for a project to improve water quality at Lake Conway and $280,000 for the state’s legal costs.

Most wells near Duke Energy ash ponds contaminated

Most of the private wells tested near Duke Energy’s North Carolina coal ash ponds show contaminants above state groundwater standards, state regulators said Tuesday.

Of 117 test results mailed to power plant neighbors in recent days, 87 exceeded groundwater standards, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said.

Dozens of residents near Duke coal ash dumps told not to drink well water; tests show toxicity

North Carolina officials are advising dozens of residents near Duke Energy coal ash dumps not to drink or cook with water from their wells after tests showed contamination with toxic heavy metals.

The state Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Tuesday that tests of 87 private wells near eight Duke plants showed results that failed to meet state groundwater standards.

KAFB fuel spill plume appears to spare several wells

That Kirtland Air Force Base fuel spill plume may not be heading toward Albuquerque drinking water wells after all.

Leaders of the fuel spill cleanup team say the latest data from monitoring wells along Louisiana Boulevard indicate the plume is moving north rather than northeast toward the nearest drinking water wells.

U.S. court hears Chevron’s fraud claims in $9.5 billion Ecuador dispute

Chevron Corp urged a U.S. appeals court on Monday to uphold a ruling finding that an American lawyer used corrupt means to secure a $9.5 billion pollution judgment in Ecuador.A lawyer for Chevron told the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York that Steven Donziger, a U.S. lawyer who represented a group of Ecuadorians that sued the oil giant, pursued a case “shot through with fraud.”

“What happened here was a fraud on the Ecuadorian courts,” Theodore Olson, Chevron’s lawyer, said.

Why one town in oil-rich Texas is ditching fossil fuels

Georgetown, Texas, has many of the hallmarks of a Lone Star State community: down-home barbecue, square dancing, and a love of classic trucks. A monument honoring Confederate soldiers adorns the entrance to the courthouse.

But this suburban city is about to make a rather un-Texan leap. Georgetown is going green. By 2017, the city will become the first city in Texas – and potentially the second in the nation – to rely entirely on electricity generated by renewable energy sources.

Canada Pipelines Still Need Better Spill Response, Clark Says

A fuel spill this month off the beaches of Vancouver proves more needs to be done before British Columbia will allow construction of new heavy oil pipelines, the west coast province’s premier said.

An estimated 2,700 liters of bunker fuel leaked from the Marathassa, a grain ship in Vancouver’s English Bay, sparking political wrangling, with the mayor and province accusing the federal government of a slow response and cleanup.

Dane County requires pipeline to have $25 million insurance

A Dane County zoning committee is requiring an energy company to come up with $25 million of additional insurance before moving forward on a pipeline expansion project.

The conditional use permit (CUP) approved Tuesday, April 14 by the Dane County Zoning and Land Regulations Committee would allow Enbridge Corp. to double the volume of tar sand oil being transported through the county on Line 61 that runs from Superior to northern Illinois.

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.

Goliat arrives at new frontier in Arctic offshore oil, but why so little controversy?

April 17 was an historic day for humanity on the earth’s final and last frontiers.

As the International Space Station berthed SpaceX’s Dragon this morning while floating above earth, hours earlier on the planet’s northern edge, the Dockwise Vanguard arrived in Hammerfest, Norway. The celestial venture marks a milestone for public-private endeavors in space, while the Arctic venture marks a milestone for international collaboration within the sovereign space of Norway’s continental shelf.

Shell’s First Arctic Drilling Rig Has Arrived in Washington Waters. What, Exactly, Is This Thing?

The sun hadn’t yet come up when three Greenpeace military-style inflatable boats motored into the whitecapped swells of the Strait of Juan de Fuca on the morning of April 17. One carried a media-ready flag, “The People vs. Shell.” Behind them, cars full of kayak-ready protesters—some who had traveled several hours from Seattle on urgent notice the prior day—pulled up near the Port Angeles beach.

They had been waiting for this moment. Just before dawn, they watched the lights of the Polar Pioneer, Shell’s first Arctic drilling rig due in Seattle, float in on the dark water.

Russian oil company irked by arctic rules

Private company interests are favored over those of state entities when considering access to frontier arctic territory, Russian oil company Rosneft said.

State-owned Rosneft said it was frustrated that private companies were getting more government support for developing arctic reserves than those controlled by the government itself.

John Kerry’s Mission To Save 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.

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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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