Environmental Must-Reads – April 24, 2015


Earthquake hazard forecasts upgraded for Oklahoma, 7 other states

The U.S. Geological Survey said today that it’s planning to significantly upgrade its forecasts of seismic hazards in places such as Oklahoma that have seen dramatic increases in earthquakes since 2009.

New geological survey research shows “that the earthquake ground-shaking hazard is very high and is comparable to ground shaking in other seismically active areas of the country,” said Mark Petersen, a seismologist who leads the group that publishes the nation’s seismic hazard models. “These new models all indicate that earthquake rates have increased significantly as a result of man-made activity.”

Federal Scientists Map The Rise Of Man-Made Earthquakes Caused By Fracking Injection Wells

The U.S. oil and gas boom is causing America to shake. In energy-rich areas across eight states, earthquake activity is sharply rising as companies inject unprecedented volumes of drilling wastewater into underground wells. Now, federal scientists are starting to study the hazard that crumbling buildings, cracking roads and falling objects could pose to residents, local governments and insurance companies.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) on Thursday released a preliminary set of models to forecast how hazardous ground shaking could be in the areas that have seen a sharp uptick in seismicity in recent years. The models aim to calculate how often earthquakes are expected to occur in the next year, and by what degree the ground is likely to shake as a result.

Quake map puts new attention on Oklahoma, fracking wastewater

Even in an area that was becoming accustomed to earthquakes, a 5.6 temblor near Prague, Okla., in 2011 stood out. The shaking was strong enough to destroy 14 homes, cause a highway to buckle and slightly injure two people.

The initial shaking from a foreshock was felt just about 200 yards from the spot where workers had been injecting wastewater deep underground for 18 years. As the water changed the pressure underground, it triggered a seismic reaction that was felt in at least 17 states.

Oklahoma’s Clear Link Between Earthquakes and Energy Boom

Over the last few years, Oklahoma has experienced a stunning increase in the number of earthquakes. Since 2008, quakes of magnitude 3.0 or greater have hit that state 600 times more frequently than the historic average. Despite peer-reviewed studies to the contrary, Oklahoma’s state government had continued to express skepticism about the link between this seismic boom and the increase in the amount of wastewater from oil and gas operations being injected underground.

That official skepticism ended this week with the announcement by the Oklahoma Geological Survey that wastewater injection wells were, indeed, the “likely” cause of “the majority” of that state’s earthquakes.

Can This Oil Baron’s Company Withstand Another Quake?

One of the most productive oil fields ever discovered in Oklahoma lies directly beneath its seat of government. A 32-square-mile underground reservoir, the Oklahoma City oil field was first tapped in 1928, a decade after the State Capitol building was finished. Some of its earliest wells were famous gushers, spouting oil hundreds of feet into the air for days before being brought under control. Over the next three decades the field produced close to a billion barrels of oil, helping Oklahoma weather the Great Depression and Dust Bowl and securing its ties to the energy industry.

Bill passes Oklahoma House to prohibit local bans on oil drilling

Local officials would be prohibited from banning oil and gas drilling in their cities and counties under a bill approved by the Oklahoma House on Wednesday.

Senate Bill 809 was approved, 64-32, and will now return to the Senate for further consideration.

Senate President Pro Tem Brian Bingman said he expects the Senate to provide final approval and send the measure to the governor. An earlier version of the bill already was approved in the Senate.

Radioactive Gas Pollution Linked to Fracking? Some Experts Say ‘No Way,’ Others Say ‘Of Course’

A new study of a radioactive, carcinogenic gas has grabbed the attention of news outlets and both pro and anti-fracking groups alike. The study published earlier this month says increases of radon gas in people’s homes in Pennsylvania coincide with the horizontal drilling boom. Some geological researchers in the region are skeptical while others aren’t at all surprised.

42 percent of radon readings in Pennsylvania surpass what the U.S. government considers safe, according to a report out of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. And those levels have been on the rise since 2004, which is when horizontal drilling for natural gas wells took off in the state. One of the report’s authors, Joan Casey, says the two could be connected.

New Balance of Power

For the better part of the last century, crude oil prices have swung like a pendulum, pushing and pulling the fortunes of nations. More often than not, global supplies of the volatile commodity were controlled by the rulers of desert domains who would otherwise have been powerless had it not been for the oil that bubbled beneath their thrones.

That pendulum is on the move again, sending the price of oil cascading to less than $45 this winter from more than $100 a barrel last June, and it may fall further in the months ahead. On the surface, this latest oil boom gone bust may feel like history repeating itself, but there is a vital difference this time: The center of the oil world has spun from the sands of Saudi Arabia to the shale oil fields of Texas and North Dakota, a giant new oil patch some wildcatters have begun to call “Cowboyistan.”

Florida Senate panel advances oil and gas fracking bill

Despite warnings that they were creating a “road map” for companies to circumvent the state’s public records law, a divided Senate committee advanced a bill Thursday that could allow oil and gas companies to shield the chemicals used in the fracking process.

The measure, SB 1582, builds on legislation pending before the House and Senate that imposes new rules and penalties on oil and gas activities known as fracking, while banning local governments from prohibiting the controversial activity.

Anti-Fracking activist ordered to pay $1k fine

Anti-Fracking activist Vera Scroggins on Thursday appealed a claim she violated a court order in Susquehanna County Court.

The order said she must stay more than 100 feet away from any Cabot Oil and Gas property.

Pipeline survey approved in part W.Va. national forest

The U.S. Forest Service has approved a permit to survey part of the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia for a proposed natural gas pipeline.

The temporary permit for the survey involves 17 miles of forest through Randolph and Pocahontas counties.

Derailments Put Safety Record of Crude Oil Trains in Question

Dozens of trains carrying volatile crude oil are rolling through the Chicago area each week while placing countless residents, buildings and schools in potential evacuation zones in case of spills or derailments.

NBC 5 Investigates obtained state records that show how often railway companies are sending trains carrying the highly flammable cargo through the state of Illinois. For example, approximately 40 crude oil trains cross Kane, DuPage and Cook counties each week before interchanging in Chicago or continuing to the eastern half of the United States.

Oil train inspections turn up defects

Recent state and federal checks of tracks and crude oil tank cars found 84 defects, including some in the Albany area, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office said Wednesday.

The inspections, part of a statewide effort, showed defects locally in the Colonie, Kenwood and Selkirk railyards and on tracks between Fonda and Rotterdam.

BP oil spill claimants want second chance to jump ship on ‘abysmal’ settlement process

Thousands of claimants in the BP oil spill settlement have asked a federal court in New Orleans for a second chance to opt out of the agreement. They say the rules governing the payouts are constantly in flux, leaving many without compensation three years after the deal was reached.

In a filing with U.S. District Court in New Orleans, Brent Coon, the Texas lawyer who represents the claimants, said the settlement has had an “abysmal” track record when it comes to paying victims of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, particularly Gulf Coast business owners.

Five Years After the BP Oil Spill, Gulf Coast Residents Say “BP Hasn’t Made Things Right”

If you ask Dean Blanchard, the largest shrimp buyer and wholesaler in the region surrounding Grand Isle, Louisiana, things “went from paradise to hell” in the five years following the BP oil disaster.

But BP’s advertisements insist the company is making things right. A BP report on the State of the Gulf five years after the spill claims there is no lasting damage to the ecosystem.

Behind the industry public relations spin, many coastal residents, including Blanchard, have seen their livelihoods destroyed and their health comprised.

“Things continue to get worse,” Blanchard said.

5 years after the Gulf oil spill: Guarding the marsh

The BP oil spill erupted five years ago this month. In a multipart series, longtime AL.com writer Ben Raines reflects on the disaster as he experienced it, and tells how critical coastal habitat can be saved and preserved.

Alabama’s shoreline is only 54 miles long, but may prove to be one of the most important pieces anywhere along the coast when it comes to the long-term future of the Gulf of Mexico.

State of Deepwater Drilling Safety 5 Years After Gulf Oil Spill

Five years after the worst U.S. offshore oil spill, the industry is working on drilling even further into the risky depths beneath the Gulf of Mexico to tap massive deposits once thought unreachable.

But critics say energy companies haven’t developed the corresponding safety measures to prevent another disaster or contain one if it happens — a sign, environmentalists say, that the lessons of BP’s spill were short-lived.

Oil spill expert denies Coast Guard’s claim about Vancouver fuel leak

A U.S. oil spill expert says he never described the Canadian Coast Guard’s response to a fuel leak on Vancouver’s English Bay as “exceptional,” despite the Coast Guard’s claim.

In fact, Steven Candito, president of the National Response Corporation, one of the largest oil-spill removal operations in the world, says the Coast Guard’s response may have been too slow.

Kazakhstan hosts oil-spill roundtable

The government in oil-rich Kazakhstan hosted a roundtable discussion on developing a regional response to spills, the OSCE said Friday.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in coordination with the Kazakh Energy Minister and the U.S. Embassy in Kazakhstan organized a discussion on how best to plan a regional response to an oil spill program.

Thermal camera ‘sees’ hidden pollution, nets major settlement with energy firm

In normal daylight, the big tanks used to store Noble Energy’s petroleum looked solid enough. But when regulators examined them through thermal cameras, they made a startling discovery: Noxious pollutants escaped from the tanks like smoke from a chimney.

“You look at them and you see absolutely nothing,” said John Cruden, head of the Justice Department’s environmental enforcement division, “but through the camera it’s billowing off the tanks.”

State commission asks for public’s input in Keystone pipeline

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission will be holding a public input session on May 4 to hear comments about the construction permit certification for the South Dakota portion of the project. Those who wish to voice their thoughts on the project are being asked to stick to a five-minute time limit.

The pipeline, which would transport crude oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast, has been the center of both local and national controversy in recent years.

Mike Duffy’s Badly Redacted Diary Suggests Illegal Enbridge Lobbying

Redacted entries in Mike Duffy’s diary suggest he was in regular undisclosed contact with pipeline giant Enbridge during the height of the federal government’s scorching attacks on environmental activists and charities in 2012.

The suspended senator’s journal shows a flurry of conversations and emails with or about top-level Enbridge executives, then PMO chief of staff Nigel Wright and the Prime Minister between January and June of 2012, just as the National Energy Board started its hearings on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline proposal.

Gov’t emails reveal concerns over First Nation consultation on Enbridge Northern Gateway

A damning email obtained by a northern B.C. First Nation shows the federal government’s own staff had serious concerns about the Crown’s consultation process with First Nations.

“First Nations were not involved in the design of the consultation process,” a Environment Canada representative wrote in 2009.

This Giant Oil Rig Could Usher in a Radically Altered Arctic

What’s orange, white, and big all over—and a potential harbinger of big changes in the Arctic if not the whole planet?

The answer is Goliat, a mammoth, beer-glass-shaped, floating oil platform that’s set to become the northernmost in the world. Last week the 65,000-ton rig arrived for commissioning near the remote Norwegian town of Hammerfest.

US To Assume Arctic Council Chair Amid Dispute Over Russian Military Moves

The United States will take over Friday as chair of the Arctic Council, the international body of representatives from eight nations with territory in the region. U.S. delegates they’ll focus on the impact of climate change on the Arctic and its peoples. And despite divisions between some members, observers say they don’t believe council’s work will be disrupted.

Russia’s sole offshore Arctic field to double oil output in 2015

Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of Russia’s top natural gas producer Gazprom, plans to more than double oil output this year at the Prirazlomnoye field, Russia’s sole Arctic offshore oil project, the company said on Friday.

Last year, oil production at the field totalled 300,000 tonnes.

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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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