Environmental Must-Reads – April 9, 2014


Bill banning fracking in Calif. passes first committee

A bill that would temporarily ban fracking in California was approved at its first state legislative committee hearing on Tuesday.

Pennsylvania law pits “neighbor against neighbor” in fracking feud

Neighbors in western Pennsylvania are taking sides over oil and gas “fracking.” Some landowners can’t wait to make a deal with energy companies, while others don’t want anything to do with drilling.

But, as CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller reported, a state law could force everyone to let the fracking begin.

What a Ban on Fracking in Denton Could Mean For the Rest of Texas

Come elections in November, the city of Denton could be split between two very different futures.

The Denton Drilling Awareness Group (DAG) recently got enough signatures on a petition to place an ordinance banning fracking within city limits on local ballots. Though other communities in Texas have passed restrictions on fracking, a moratorium on drilling activity within Denton could spur the rise of similar legislation across the state.

Early speculators let drilling leases lapse as NC fracking prospects remain uncertain

Four years after North Carolina’s initial fracking boomlet, less than half of Lee County’s drilling leases remain under contract as those legal agreements expire and are not being renewed.

Initial energy speculators are losing interest in North Carolina and moving on to surer prospects in other states where fracking is already underway.

Japan Starts Commercial Fracking for (a Little) Shale Oil

It’s hardly North Dakota, but  Japan’s Akita Prefecture is making its own small mark in the oil business.

Japan Petroleum Exploration Co. or Japex, said this week that it has started commercial production of shale oil in the northern prefecture, the first such case in Japan.

Proposed oil and gas drilling near Mandeville raises concerns

A New Orleans company is proposing to drill a 13,000-foot well in search of oil and gas on a tract of land near Mandeville, creating concern among some St. Tammany Parish officials and citizens who fear the operation could harm the aquifer that supplies the region with water. Helis Oil & Gas LLC wants to drill the well just north of Interstate 12 and about a mile east of Louisiana 1088 and use the hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” method to extract oil and gas from the ancient sedimentary rock formation known as the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale.

A Landscape of Fire Rises Over North Dakota’s Gas Fields

Towering flames atop oil wells break the inky darkness in the badlands on North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Indian Reservation. The flares of natural gas set grass fires on the prairie where Theodora Bird Bear’s ancestors hunted buffalo and create a driving hazard on rural roads.

“At nighttime, clouds of gravel dust from semis are lit up with flaring lights,” said Bird Bear, 62, who can see flames shooting from a well behind land where she grows red beans, corn and squash. “It’s a hellish scene.”

U.S. natural gas exports poised for takeoff despite debate

The export gas rush is on. From the Pacific Northwest to the Mid-Atlantic to the Gulf states, companies are moving forward with plans to export U.S. natural gas despite controversy over the impact on prices and pollution.

Russia’s incursion into Crimea has intensified pressure on the Obama administration to expedite approvals for export facilities. Some members of Congress say U.S. exports can weaken Russia’s hold on the Ukraine, which depends heavily on Russia for natural gas. Others doubt they’d give the U.S. geopolitical leverage — at least not anytime soon.

Martic residents worry about gas line proposal

Several of the dozen residents in attendance at the Martic Township supervisors meeting on Monday voiced concern about a proposed natural gas pipeline route through the township.

The pipeline is part of a $2 billion project proposed by a Texas company named Williams Partners to deliver natural gas from Marcellus Shale operations in Susquehanna County to an existing Transco gas pipeline in Lancaster County.

Marcellus operators looking for space underground

Federal regulators have issued four permits for oil and gas wastewater disposal wells in Pennsylvania in the past six months, and those are unlikely to be the last.

Industry groups and researchers are renewing their efforts to find sites in the state where the salt- and metals-laden waste fluids produced from ever more shale gas wells can be entombed deep underground.

Locals resist a Bakkenization of the Beartooths

When Dave Lehnherr first heard that there was a possibility of oil and gas drilling starting up near his home in the foothills of south-central Montana’s postcard-perfect Beartooth Mountains, he asked environmental groups for help in stopping it. That was in 2012. The radiologist and outdoors enthusiast got some nibbles of interest, but no solid commitments. Then last October, an executive for a West Virginia-based oil and gas company did Lehnherr a favor.

Consultant withdraws report citing serious health effects from proposed Hermosa Beach drilling project

The harshest official analysis of health impacts associated with a proposed oil and gas drilling project in Hermosa Beach — a scientific report that raised alarming concerns — was rescinded Monday for significant revisions, worrying project opponents who viewed it as evidence that drilling would be too dangerous for residents of the small beach city.

Towns, officials fight pipeline closure

A multibillion-dollar hedge fund’s plan to abandon a leaky, money-losing gas pipeline that serves thousands of consumers in Louisiana could force some people to pay up to 15 times as much for natural gas, according to opponents of the proposal.

“It would have a drastic effect on our customers. You could say catastrophic,” said Michael Bradford, superintendent of East Feliciana Parish Gas Utility District No. 2.

Residents settle for $48 million in sinkhole lawsuit

Texas Brine Co. and the class-action plaintiffs who sued over the sinkhole that forced hundreds from their Bayou Corne homes have agreed to a $48.1 million settlement that includes buying out their properties and settling other claims related to the underground collapse of the company’s salt dome cavern.

Filed midday Tuesday in U.S. District Court in New Orleans, the proposed settlement is awaiting preliminary approval from Judge Jay C. Zainey and comes about a week before the litigation was set to go to trial Monday.

Parish assessor wins salt dome ruling

A major financial windfall is on its way to a number of taxing districts in the Port Barre area following the state Supreme Court’s decision not to hear an appeal by Spectra Energy, doing business as Port Barre Gas Storage.

Although that decision is important to the parish, it could have a major impact on salt dome natural gas storage facilities throughout the state.

Gulf Oil Spill “Not Over”: Dolphins, Turtles Dying in Record Numbers

Four years after the biggest oil spill in U.S. history, several species of wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico are still struggling to recover, according to a new report released today.

In particular, bottlenose dolphins and sea turtles are dying in record numbers, and the evidence is stronger than ever that their demise is connected to the spill, according to Doug Inkley, senior scientist for the National Wildlife Federation, which issued the report.

Health of Gulf species suggests problems, raises questions almost four years after BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, report says

The health of bottlenose dolphins, predators at the top of the food chain in the Gulf of Mexico, could indicate problems in the ecosystem as a whole nearly four years after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, according to a report released Tuesday by the National Wildlife Federation.

The report, however, acknowledged that many questions still remain both about possible immediate and long-term effects on some Gulf species.

Is drilling in the Gulf safer? Forbes contributing writer doesn’t think so

Loren Steffy, a contributing writer for Forbes magazine, says the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has decided on a troubling approach for improving safety in the Gulf of Mexico in the aftermath of the catastrophic BP Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill: beg the industry to cooperate.

Feds confront industry skepticism on new safety hotline

Federal regulators are pleading with the oil industry to ‘fess up when they dodge big accidents on offshore production platforms, rigs and drillships.

The pitch — set to be delivered in meetings with industry leaders later this month — comes nearly eight months after the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement first pledged to create a system for tracking near-miss incidents that could be a harbinger of bigger safety problems in offshore oil and gas development.

Magellan shifts focus to crude oil pipelines

Magellan Midstream Partners LP , a U.S. midstream company with one of the longest refined product pipeline systems in the country, is shifting its focus to crude oil with the majority of its capital spending earmarked for crude projects.

In a presentation to investors on Tuesday, Magellan said of the $950 million it plans to spend between 2014 and 2016, 80 percent will go to crude oil projects primarily in and around Texas and its shale oil plays.

Keystone XL bad news, environmental groups tell Obama

A consortium of environmental groups said recent climate change alarm bells should convince Washington the Keystone XL oil pipeline is bad business.

A recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned the burning of fossil fuels was contributing to changing climate patterns. A team of advocates, including IPCC panel members, sent a letter to the White House urging President Obama to reject pipeline company TransCanada’s application for the cross-border section of the pipeline.

Interior Dept. Preps for Arctic Oil Spills

They’re preparing for the worst.

Interior Department officials recently put out a call for “new and innovative mechanical technologies” to help clean up oil spills in the Arctic.

Feds to propose Arctic drilling rule ‘shortly’

The federal agency in charge of safety and environmental regulations for offshore oil and gas exploration will propose long-awaited Arctic-specific drilling regulations “shortly,” its director said.

The rule from the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) would address issues like spill containment readiness as they apply specifically to drilling off Alaska’s northern coast.

Groundwater at Fukushima plant pumped in plan to release it to sea

Tokyo Electric Power Co. on Wednesday started pumping groundwater into tanks before it passes through the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant and gets highly contaminated.

Pumped from wells, the water will first be stored in tanks, where its level of contamination will be checked. Once its safety is confirmed by analysis, which is expected to take about a month, Tepco will release the water into the Pacific Ocean.

Post-Fukushima reform throws up a few surprises

The magnitude-9 earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11, 2011, devastated the northeast, killing more than 15,000 people and causing level 7 meltdowns at three reactors at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. Observers believed the sheer size of the catastrophe and its subsequent effects provided the country with an opportunity to reform and turn the page on two decades of political, social and economic crisis. In his 2013 book “3.11: Disaster and Change in Japan,” Richard Samuels, director of the MIT Japan Program, chronicles the 18 months that followed the disaster and explains why this opportunity for change wasn’t followed by substantial progress. Here, Samuels expands on some of the issues he examined in his book

Many Fukushima evacuees reluctant to return home in former no-entry zone

One week after the central government lifted the evacuation order for an eastern strip of Tamura’s Miyakoji district, few houses in the area were lit up at night as many residents are still uncertain if it is safe for them to return home.

Located near the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant, the area was home to 117 households with 357 residents before the evacuation order was imposed in March 2011, following the accident triggered by the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

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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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