Environmental Must-Reads – April 4, 2014


Air monitoring in fracking areas fails to detect spikes in toxic emissions, new study says

People in natural gas drilling areas who complain about nauseating odors, nosebleeds and other symptoms they fear could be caused by shale development usually get the same response from state regulators: monitoring data show the air quality is fine.

A new study helps explain this discrepancy. The most commonly used air monitoring techniques often underestimate public health threats because they don’t catch toxic emissions that spike at various points during gas production, researchers reported Tuesday in the peer-reviewed journal Reviews on Environmental Health. The study was conducted by the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, a nonprofit based near Pittsburgh.

Fracking, Seismic Activity Grow Hand in Hand in Mexico

Scientists warn that large-scale fracking for shale gas planned by Mexico’s oil company Pemex will cause a surge in seismic activity in northern Mexico, an area already prone to quakes.

Experts link a 2013 swarm of earthquakes in the northern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León to hydraulic fracturing or fracking in the Burgos and Eagle Ford shale deposits – the latter of which is shared with the U.S. state of Texas.

Exxon Mobil agrees to share more data on fracking risks

Exxon Mobil Corp, the world’s largest publicly traded oil company, has agreed to disclose more information about the environmental risks of hydraulic fracturing, the process known as fracking.

In an agreement with New York City’s pension funds, which control Exxon shares worth roughly $1.02 billion, the company would report on risks surrounding disposal of fracking waste water, air pollution, methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells, and other issues.

Mars Area school board asked to join fracking fight

A group of residents wants members of the Mars Area school board to join their fight against a gas well proposed for less than a mile from the schools.

Several residents told board members Tuesday that their duty to the students did not end last month with the unanimous rejection of a lease that would have allowed Rex Energy to drill under district property.

50-year-old Law May Force Pennsylvania Landowners To Allow Fracking Under Their Properties

A Pennsylvania state law more than 50 years old could let an oil and gas company drill under privately owned land, even against the landowners’ wishes.

Energy company Hilcorp is trying to use a 1961 law that lets companies bundle properties of people who don’t sign drilling leases with those of their neighbors who do in what’s called “forced pooling,” the New York Times reported. If enough landowners sign the leases, even those opposed would have to allow drilling under their land. In this case, the drilling is the controversial hydraulic fracturing method used to extract natural gas from shale rock deep underground.

House Democrats Call On EPA To Investigate Fracking’s Link To Water Contamination In Three States

House Democrats are calling on the EPA to reopen an investigation into whether fracking operations contaminated water in Wyoming, Pennsylvania and Texas.

Eight members of Congress sent a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy Tuesday, asking her to reopen investigations into water contamination in the three states. The EPA investigations in Pavillion, WY, Dimock, PA and Parker County, TX were all called off between mid-2012 and mid-2013, before the agency determined for sure what had caused each region’s contamination.

Mind the Fracking Data Gap, Study Says

Scientists have long expressed concern about how a lack of data and access to drilling sites prevents a complete scientific assessment of how hydraulic fracturing and oil and gas production affect the climate, environment and public health.

A new University of Texas-Austin analysis of natural gas drilling and fracking in urban areas near Dallas and Fort Worth, Texas, not only criticizes state and federal regulatory agencies for dismissing public concern about the health and environmental impacts of shale oil and gas development, but illuminates the large gap in understanding about what shale oil and gas production mean for public health and the environment in Texas and beyond.

Pennsylvania officials have no idea how to assess health threats of fracking

Could it be that frackers are die-hard Ravens fans? That might explain their cavalier attitude about the health of citizens in Steeler Country.

Kidding! Money is the motive, yinz – and if Pennsylvanians are exposed to dangerous levels of toxic chemicals in the making of it, who cares?

Fracking firm to drill on former explosives site

A leading fracking firm is to start drilling on the former site of a huge explosive factory, in a decision described as “beyond comprehension” by the local MP.

Dart Energy, which is expected to begin drilling this weekend, says the site is “absolutely” safe. But opponents say there is a risk of unexploded bombs and that safety tests have not yet been completed. The revelations add to concerns about the regulation of “unconventional” gas exploration in the UK, which has seen deformed wells go unreported, planning rules breached and trespassing.

California Utility Criminally Indicted In Pipeline Blast, But Not Any Individuals

Federal prosecutors indicted PG&E Corp. for failing to properly monitor its pipeline system and for neglecting to keep decent records, all of which is related to the 2010 pipeline blast that killed eight people in its Northern California territory.

A key question is whether the federal prosecution of PG&E — as opposed to the managers who failed to perform their duties — is fair or effective. At least one former federal prosecutor who specializes in environmental crimes and who is now a law school professor says that charging a “faceless” corporation and not holding individuals accountable is hardly a “criminal deterrent.”

Sunoco Pipeline plan draws political resistance

An elaborate plan by Sunoco Logistics Partners L.P. to transport Marcellus Shale natural gas liquids by pipeline across Pennsylvania to Marcus Hook is running into resistance.

The company’s subsidiary, Sunoco Pipeline L.P., last month filed an application with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to sidestep local zoning restrictions to build pump and valve control stations in 31 municipalities crossed by the pipeline.

Gallup: US public supports opening federal land for oil exploration

Public opinion supports opening federal land for oil exploration, but generally prefers energy policy focused on conservation, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

In the survey, conducted in March, 58 percent of respondents favored opening up land owned by the federal government for oil exploration, while 41 percent opposed the policy.

Anadarko ends long legal battle with multibillion-dollar settlement

Anadarko Petroleum said Thursday it has agreed to pay creditors and government officials $5.15 billion to settle years of legal battles over allegations that a subsidiary had improperly transferred environmental liabilities to a spin-off company in 2005.

Chevron Brazil faces criminal oil-spill charges, reinstated on appeal

Brazilian judges ordered a criminal prosecution of Chevron Corp. and 11 employees over an oil spill in Nov. 2011, in a process reinstated more than a year after being thrown out following a settlement with the government.

An appeals panel made the 2-to-1 decision in October, but kept it quiet as judges reviewed Chevron’s challenges to their ruling, Brazil’s public prosecutor’s office, which oppposed the dismissal, said on Wednesday.

Galveston Bay Oil Spill Leaves Hundreds of Birds Oiled

Coast Guard crews and wildlife advocates have recovered or spotted hundreds of shorebirds covered in oil in the aftermath of a collision late last month between two ships in Galveston Bay that resulted in a spill of up to 168,000 gallons of fuel oil. Many are dead, those still alive have little hope for survival, and officials say they expect to find more.

“When a bird has oil coating its eyes and bill, it’s not capable of getting rid of it. Watching this is like watching them die in slow motion,” said David Newstead, a research scientist at the Corpus Christi-based nonprofit Coastal Bend Bays & Estuaries Program.

Cleanup Continues From Oil Spill

Authorities say more than 119,000 pounds of oil-soaked sand and debris have been removed from island shorelines tainted by the spill nearly two weeks ago when two vessels collided in the Houston Ship Channel.

Officials representing the U.S. Coast Guard and other agencies say about 465 workers are removing oil from the Texas shoreline.

Oil Spills from Storage Tank In Eastern Kentucky

Thousands of gallons of crude oil spilled into a creek in Pike County on Thursday.

The creek is a tributary of the Big Sandy River.

Residents Say Spill Could Have Been Prevented

The 2013 Exxon Mobil pipeline failure that released more than 200,000 gallons of tar sands oil into residential communities and waterways could have been prevented by adequate inspections, families claim in court.

Kenneth and Crystal Hobby et al. sued ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. and affiliates, and three of its maintenance and operations technicians, in Faulkner County Court.

Plan for Arkansas pipeline moves forward, Magellan says

Magellan Midstream Partners LP is moving forward with plans for an Arkansas pipeline running to Little Rock from a terminal in Fort Smith, the company announced Thursday.

Tulsa-based Magellan said it had received sufficient customer commitments to proceed on a 75,000-barrel-per-day pipeline for gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel. The partnership said it is working on the scope and engineering estimates related to the project.

Millennials see Keystone as more than just a pipeline

The Keystone pipeline proposal has hit a Nebraska stop sign, but it has deeper problems than right-of-way issues across the United States. After all, the controversial proposal for transporting Canada’s tar sands was never just about the pipeline. Just ask the thousand students who rallied in front of the White House recently and were willing to be arrested to make their point.

TransCanada Sets Deadline for Keystone Pipeline Easement Offers

Landowners along the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline received letters Wednesday warning them that current easement offers will be pulled after May 14—and future offers will be significantly less lucrative.

TransCanada Corp., the Calgary-based company seeking to build the pipeline, has made offers as high as $250,000, including up-front crop damage payments and land-use compensation.

Oil Company Threatens Landowners: Give Us Property Rights Now, Or You’ll Get Less Money

TransCanada has doubled down on Nebraska landowners refusing to sign over their land to Keystone XL, warning them that if they don’t accept the current offers by May 14, future offers will be far less lucrative.

The deadline comes months after TransCanada upped its cash offers to Nebraska residents by as much as 700 percent to try to persuade them to allow their land to be used for the pipeline’s route. In January, the energy company offered one family $61,977.84 to allow the pipeline to run through their farmland, a huge increase from the $8,900 the company offered them in 2012. The company has offered landowners as much as $250,000 to turn over their land, with some easements including crop damage and land-use compensation.

From Keystone to Northern Gateway, pipeline execs admit ‘stumbles’ in addressing environmental concerns

As greater preoccupation with the environment translated into more opposition to fossil fuel projects, Canadian energy industry leaders say they could have done a better job of addressing the concerns.

Whether with the proposed Keystone XL or the Northern Gateway pipelines, or with approaches to communication, executives said they’ve learned from their setbacks, changed their practices and are getting better results.

Shell ‘should face possible penalties over Kulluk oil rig grounding’

A US Coast Guard report has concluded that authorities should consider hitting Shell with penalties over the grounding of an oil drilling rig in the Gulf of Alaska in 2012.

The 152-page report, released late on Thursday night, blamed poor risk assessment and management as reasons why the Kulluk broke away from its tow vessel in late December 2012 and ran aground four days later on Sitkalidak Island, near Kodiak.

Coast Guard blasts Shell for ignoring risks over Arctic rig in 2012

A Coast Guard investigation into the 2012 grounding of the Kulluk, an offshore drilling rig operated by Royal Dutch Shell in the harsh Arctic, blasted the oil company for legal violations, poor management and taking undue risks, according to the final report released Thursday.

The Kulluk ran aground 15 months ago on New Year’s Eve after breaking free of its tow lines during severe weather and was beached for several days on a remote, rocky shore in southern Alaska.

Rosneft starts geophysical surveys in Eastern Arctic

Aerial gravity-magnetic surveys began at the Yuzhno-Chukotsky License Area in the Eastern Arctic to establish the field’s subsurface structure, Rosneft says in its press release. Rosneft and ExxonMobil have agreed to a framework for jointly exploring six license areas in the Chukchi and the Laptev Seas, namely the Ust-Lensky, Ust-Oleneksky, Anisinsko-Novosibirsky, Yuzhno-Chukotsky, and Severo-Vrangelevsky 1 and 2 areas. Three airplanes carrying magnetometric and gravimetric equipment will by the end of 2014 survey all the six license areas with a total area of 440,000 square meters.

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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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