Environmental Must-Reads – April 8, 2015


Fracking Study on Water Contamination Under Ethics Review

Drinking-water wells in Pennsylvania close to natural gas sites do not face a greater risk of methane contamination than those farther away, according to a new study published in Environmental Science & Technology (ES&T). But the study is now being called into question because of its methodology and some undisclosed ties to energy giant Chesapeake Energy.

The findings contradict recent studies that identified a correlation between proximity to natural gas wells and higher methane levels in well water. The new study analyzed more than 11,000 water samples collected by Chesapeake and provided to researchers.

Fracking: Oil company drops lawsuit attempting to overturn San Benito County ban

One month after mounting a legal challenge to San Benito County’s ban on the controversial oil exploration practice of fracking, a Southern California oil company has withdrawn its lawsuit.

The decision now means that none of the local bans on fracking in California is under legal challenge, environmentalists said Monday, even as several more counties — including Santa Clara, Monterey and Butte — may see similar bans on next year’s ballots.

Actor Edward Norton pushes for fracking ban in Maryland radio ad

Hollywood actor Edward Norton is lending his voice to a radio advertisement in his home state of Maryland paid for by a consumer rights group calling for a moratorium on the drilling process known as fracking.

In the ad, released on Tuesday, Norton advocates a state ban on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a controversial technique that involves pumping water, sand and chemicals into a well to extract oil or gas. The radio spot backs fracking moratorium legislation passed by the Maryland Senate on Monday.

Fracking moratorium passes Senate

The natural gas extraction method known as “fracking” would be banned in Maryland until October 2017 under legislation approved Monday night by the Maryland Senate.

By a 45-2 vote, senators sent the measure to the House, which has passed a version of the bill that environmental advocates believe is stronger. The House bill calls for a three-year moratorium and further study of the health and economic development impact of the practice. The Senate bill does not require a study.

EPA analysis details water usage in fracking in Pennsylvania

Drillers in Pennsylvania used about 11 billion gallons of water to tap shale formations in the Appalachian Basin between 2011 and 2013, according to an analysis by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA examined more than 39,000 disclosures submitted across the country between January 2011 and February 2013 to the website FracFocus, an industry-backed registry of the components used to frack shale formations, including the Marcellus and Utica shales that span Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.

New Federal Fracking Rules Rely on FracFocus Even as EPA Research Highlights Site’s Flaws

It’s a classic case of the government’s left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. Days after the Bureau of Land Management issued new federal rules for fracking on federal land, relying heavily on an industry-run site called FracFocus, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a study mainly noteworthy for the shortcomings of the site that it revealed.

More than 70 percent of the chemical disclosure statements that drillers posted on FracFocus between January 2011 and February 2013 were missing key information because drillers labeled that data “confidential business information,” the EPA reported.

Pro-fracking group spends another $10K to help Martinez

A pro-fracking group spent another $10,000 to support ex-mayor Ray Martinez’s bid for the district 2 city council seat.

Larimer Energy Action Project has now spent $30,000 in the city election, all to benefit Martinez. He faces school board member Nancy Tellez, who has seen her own independent support, including about $1,500 in the final week spent on phone calls and banners to support her, mayoral candidate Ward Luthi and district 4 candidate Kristin Stephens.

Fracking change in Kansas may reduce earthquakes

Give credit to Frank Smith and the Kansas Corporation Commission for trying to reduce earthquakes in the south-central part of the state.

Smith was tired of the rumbling that had intensified in the last few years near his farmhouse outside Bluff City. The turbulence coincided with an increase in hydraulic fracturing, in which companies draw oil and gas out of the ground after injecting saltwater and chemicals to break up rock far below the surface. Later, the wastewater is injected into deep underground disposal wells.

Dominion to withdraw lawsuits against landowners over pipeline surveys — and start over

Dominion Transmission Inc. is withdrawing lawsuits against 116 landowners who had refused access to their properties to survey the route of a proposed pipeline from West Virginia to the southeastern coast of Virginia and North Carolina.

And then the company, as part of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, will start the process over.

Pipeline company apologizes after smoking subcontractor starts brush fire in Franklin County

A Mountain Valley Pipeline spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company regrets that a subcontractor working Saturday in Franklin County started a small brush fire on private property in Penhook.

Natalie Cox said Mountain Valley Pipeline’s subcontractor, Holland Engineering, has accepted responsibility for the fire and has agreed to fully compensate the property owners for any related damage.

Navajo Women Walk 1,000 Miles To Protest Pipeline

Since January, over 70 Navajo people have joined a prayer walk across the American Southwest protesting a fracking oil pipeline in New Mexico. The walk aims to galvanize Native American communities to demand more from oil companies that profit from the reservations’ natural resources.

The participants started with a crowdfunding campaign that raised almost $6,000 to support their year-long journey. Over the past few months, the Nihi?ga?a?l Bee iina group has used digital media to share their spiritual traditions, connecting Navajo communities across the country.

Fewer Oil Trains Ply America’s Rails

The growth in oil-train shipments fueled by the U.S. energy boom has stalled in recent months, dampened by safety problems and low crude prices.

The number of train cars carrying crude and other petroleum products peaked last fall, according to data from the Association of American Railroads, and began edging down. In March, oil-train traffic was down 7% on a year-over-year basis.

Native American tribe sues BNSF over Washington oil train traffic

A Native American community in Washington state filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday against BNSF Railway to prevent trains carrying crude oil from using tracks on reservation land, saying the transport violates a long-standing agreement.

The Swinomish Indian Tribal Community says BNSF has been using tracks that cross reservation land in Skagit County, near the Canadian border, to transport crude oil since at least 2012 without seeking approving of the shipments from tribe officials.

NTSB Releases Recommendations For Oil Train Safety

The National Transportation Safety Board is out with some new recommendations to help prevent explosive oil train wrecks.

They include retrofitting train cars with protective systems better able to withstand fire, and relief valves that can prevent pressure from building inside the tank cars.

Activists fear dangers of oil trains remain unaddressed by new rule

After almost two years of deliberation, Barack Obama’s administration is expected to enact regulations next month that will attempt to protect trackside communities from exploding oil trains.

However, the new rule won’t take the one step that could decrease the risk almost immediately — requiring North Dakota oil producers to either reduce their product’s explosiveness or ship it in pressurized cars.

Search Continues for Petróleos Mexicanos Workers Still Missing

Mexican state oil company Petróleos Mexicanos said a search was continuing Sunday for three workers who have been missing since an explosion and fire last week damaged an offshore platform, killing four workers and injuring 16 others.

The search for the three missing workers will continue until they are found, said Gustavo Hernández, head of Pemex’s exploration and production unit, at a news conference.

Jefferson Parish water safe after Mississippi River oil spill, ship collision, official says

Jefferson Parish water is safe after 420 gallons of oil spilled into the Mississippi River when several vessels collided Monday afternoon (April 6), an official said. The incident occurred near Convent, 60 miles upriver from Jefferson’s water intake, said Kazem Alikhani, public works director.

With the river moving at 3 ½ miles per hour, the residual from the spill would have reached the east bank water intake early this morning, he said.

BP could give Texas $1Billion for 2010 oil spill cleanup

In Texas, $54 million is currently available for improving wildlife habitat and improving water quality due to the RESTORE Act, money paid in penalties by those responsible for the Deepwater Horizon oil spill; however, Texas could receive up to $1 billion.

KHOU toured Galveston Bay on Tuesday to see what types of projects the money could fund.

Texas environmental groups hope oil spill money goes to coastal restoration

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, environmental groups are hoping some of the money BP is paying in fines and penalties will be put toward restoring areas of Galveston Bay. The 2010 explosion killed 11 people and caused millions of gallons of oil to spew into the Gulf.

“We could do some really large scale projects, have real ecosystem benefits for Galveston Bay,” said Bob Stokes, president of the Galveston Bay Foundation.

Chris Christie’s deal with ExxonMobil: first look

The first unfettered public look at Gov. Chris Christie’s pending pollution settlement with ExxonMobil has done nothing to quiet critics who say New Jersey is being ripped off by the oil giant.

The Christie administration Monday opened a 60-day comment period on the agreement, publishing documents on the controversial deal requiring ExxonMobil to pay New Jersey $225 million to resolve liability for damage caused by contamination from refinery operations in Bayonne and Linden.

Experts, New Jersey officials say it could take years to put price tag on Exxon cleanup costs

The price tag for cleaning up two petroleum refineries in northern New Jersey will likely cost Exxon Mobil much more than the $225 million settlement brokered by Gov. Chris Christie’s administration, officials say. But it could be years until it’s clear how much the company will pay.

The Department of Environmental Protection posted details of the proposed settlement with the Texas-based oil company on Monday but did not outline what it plans to do or how much the clean-up will cost.

Another storage tank on fire at Chinese chemical plant

Another oil storage tank caught fire at a plant in east China’s Fujian Province, more than 40 hours after blasts occurred there, authorities said Wednesday.

The fourth tank, which stored nearly 1,500 tonnes of hydrocarbon liquid, caught fire and exploded on Wednesday morning, said the fire department of Zhangzhou City.

From sewage leaks to 4,000 litres of beer: Mapping Toronto’s environmental spills

The liquid that smelled flammable and came pouring into the Yonge Subway tunnel last month, shutting down service, raises a question: How toxic is Toronto’s underground?

The TTC believes the liquid that CEO Andy Byford described as “flammable” smelling, was ground water mixed with contaminants from the ground. At this point, the TTC knows the contaminant is not gas or diesel, but it did contain hydrocarbons, said TTC spokesman Brad Ross.

Frustrated Tar Sands Industry Looks for Arctic Export Route

The Alberta tar sands industry — and the governments that depend on tar sands tax revenues — are facing an increasingly pressing problem: How to get the growing flow of oil sands bitumen to market. And with proposed pipelines to the south, east, and west facing stiff opposition, tar sands interests are now investigating another controversial option — heading north and shipping their product via the Arctic.

Pipeline that spilled into Yellowstone to be removed

The company responsible for a 30,000-gallon oil spill into the Yellowstone River will try to remove its breached pipeline Wednesday as regulators investigate the cause of the accident that contaminated downstream water supplies.

Bridger Pipeline spokesman Bill Salvin said the broken pipeline will be sent to a laboratory for a metallurgical analysis as required under a federal order.

TransCanada applies Keystone’s lessons to Energy East pipeline

After six years battling bitter opposition to its Keystone XL pipeline project in the United States, TransCanada Corp has learned where and when to pick its fights, to consult early and often – and to retreat when prudent.

Canada’s No. 2 pipeline company scrapped plans last week to build a crude oil export terminal in Quebec because it would endanger beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River.

Strike Three for Tar Sands Pipelines?

TransCanada announced on Thursday a two-year delay in the completion of its proposed Energy East pipeline, which would transport tar sands oil across Canada from Alberta to New Brunswick. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada recommended that beluga whales in the St. Lawrence River be declared endangered, forcing TransCanada to scrap a planned oil export terminal in Cacouna, Quebec, where the whales migrate and raise calves.

Greenpeace activists board Arctic-bound oil rig

Six Greenpeace activists protesting Arctic offshore drilling on Monday boarded a drill rig as it was transported across the Pacific Ocean toward Seattle, where it will be staged for drilling on Shell leases in Alaska waters.

The 400ft (122 meter) Polar Pioneer, owned by Transocean Ltd, was on board a heavy-lift vessel about 750 miles (1,206 km) northwest of Hawaii when the activists approached in inflatable boats and used climbing gear to get on board, Greenpeace spokesman Travis Nichols said.

Shell files lawsuit against Arctic drilling protesters

Shell filed a lawsuit in federal court Tuesday seeking to kick six Greenpeace activists off one of its chosen Arctic drilling rigs and block the advocacy group from boarding more of its vessels.

The complaint, lodged in a federal district court in Alaska, comes one day after the activists grappled their way onto Shell’s contracted Polar Pioneer drillship while it traveled across the Pacific Ocean toward the United States.

ARCTIC: As latest battle commences, opponents say drilling is ‘just not compatible’ with U.S. climate commitments

A small team of Greenpeace activists sailing in the Pacific Ocean yesterday left their home ship, the Esperanza, and scrambled onto a heavy-lift vessel that’s hauling Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s Polar Pioneer drill rig from Singapore to Seattle.

After stalking the Blue Marlin haul ship from the South China Sea, the protesters approached the ship in inflatable boats, climbed up the side of the vessel and set up camp on the underside of the Polar Pioneer’s main deck.

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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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