Environmental Must-Reads – August 12, 2015


Broward County: local zoning trumps oil drilling rights

Broward County commissioners who oppose plans to drill for oil in western marshes believe they have found a way to thwart efforts by a Miami family to tap into Everglades crude: local zoning restrictions.

In a meeting Tuesday, county staff told commissioners the land is zoned for conservation, which prohibits drilling.

“As long as the decision made is not arbitrary and capricious, it should withstand a legal challenge,” said Deputy County Attorney Maite Azcoitia.

Judge Throws Out Permit For Fracking Exploration In Wetlands

A Louisiana district court judge on Monday threw out — at least temporarily — a permit for fracking exploration in wetlands about an hour outside New Orleans.

The judge ruled that a division of the Department of Conservation failed to adequately consider the environmental impacts of the permit, including the implications of a nearby fault line. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will have to reevaluate the permit application for Helis Oil and Gas.

“They didn’t go through the environmental impact analysis that we said they had to do,” said Lisa Jordan, deputy director of the Tulane Environmental Law Clinic and the attorney representing Abita Springs on the case.

10 Years Later: Fracking and the Halliburton Loophole

This past Saturday, marked a notable 10th anniversary. But it was certainly nothing to celebrate. Ten years ago, President George W. Bush signed the Energy Policy Act of 2005. The giant energy bill included massive giveaways for the fossil fuel, nuclear and ethanol industries and provided only token incentives for renewables and improved energy efficiency. But the most infamous piece of the law was what is now commonly known as the “Halliburton Loophole,” an egregious regulatory exemption that ushered in the disastrous era of widespread oil and gas fracking that currently grips our nation.

Tioga County Legislature shows its support for propane fracking

The Tioga County Legislature passed a resolution on Tuesday expressing its total support for the Snyder Farm Group, and bringing propane fracking to Tioga County.

The brief meeting started at noon on Tuesday and ended with the legislators passing the resolution to support propane fracking in Tioga County.

Environment secretary pledges fracking policy transparency

Maryland Department of the Environment Secretary Ben Grumbles says his agency will gather more information and listen to citizens as it develops rules for fracking in the state.

Grumbles fielded questions at a public meeting Tuesday in Garrett County in far western Maryland, where most of the state’s shale gas resources lie.

Speaker from Sierra Club makes case against fracking

A Sierra Club spokesman says that fracking poisons everything from the air and water to the political process.

“You can’t frack in a vacuum,” Craig Brainard, an education and outreach volunteer with Sierra Club Michigan, told the Berrien County Democratic Women Tuesday at the St. Joseph library.

The Sierra Club and other organizations are seeking to get an initiative on the ballot next year that if approved would ban the controversial process of high-pressure hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and natural gas in Michigan.

Government fracking plans leads to criticism

There has been anger among anti-fracking campaigners in Lancashire at recent government plans to put pressure on local councils to process fracking applications more quickly.

Energy Secretary Amber Rudd has said the process cannot be allowed to drag on for months or years if the industry is to take off in the UK.

Gas pipeline foes push state to delay approval

Opponents of the proposed Constitution natural gas pipeline pressured the state Tuesday to deny critical permits for the project, claiming the Department of Environmental Conservation withheld key project documents from public review this spring.

Dozens of opponents from the four counties along the pipeline’s 124-mile path, from the Southern Tier to Schoharie County, marched outside DEC headquarters on Broadway, while lawyers representing an anti-pipeline coalition demanded DEC reopen a public comment period on water quality permits, a step that would delay any potential state decision.

Protesters urge DEC to deny Constitution Pipeline permit

Opponents of the Constitution Pipeline and other natural gas infrastructure projects planned for the area marched on the state Department of Environmental Conservation offices in Albany on Tuesday to urge the agency to deny the project’s final water permits.

More than 100 people joined the protest, carrying signs reading “No Pipeline, Period” and chanting “DEC, do the right thing!” in what organizers called an emergency press event to pressure the DEC and Gov. Andrew Cuomo to bring a halt to the Constitution Pipeline project.

Sunoco’s fight to build natural gas pipeline heads to Pennsylvania courts

Sunoco Logistics’ effort to build a second natural gas liquids pipeline across Pennsylvania is shifting to the courtroom as it gathers land for its $2.5 billion project.

The move sets up a legal battle over the status of pipeline companies as utilities that can take land through eminent domain.

“The issue of public utility status and eminent domain remains unsettled,” said attorney Robert J. Burnett, chair of Pittsburgh firm Houston Harbaugh’s oil and gas practice, who predicted the state Supreme Court eventually would pass judgment.

PennEast pipeline project moving forward with route changes

A new pipeline to bring natural gas from the Marcellus Shale to customers in Pennsylvania and New Jersey is moving forward.

On Tuesday, the first-year anniversary of the date PennEast Pipeline Co. officially announced the project, representatives from the company met with The Citizens’ Voice for an editorial board.

Since then, the company has been in the pre-filing phase with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which includes doing studies, seeking public input and fine-tuning the pipeline route. The company expects to file a formal application in September with the commission, which approves, regulates and inspects pipelines.

Mammoth Cave Park sees pipeline threat

Pushing a toxic mixture of natural gas liquids through an aging pipeline near Mammoth Cave National Park threatens the world-famous cave’s unique and fragile ecological systems, the National Park Service is warning.

“The National Park Service is concerned about the potential for a catastrophic failure of the … pipeline” within areas designed to protect endangered cave shrimp and other rare park resources, park superintendent Sarah Craighead wrote recently in a letter to federal energy regulators.

BP-Funded Center Vacuums Up Petabytes of Data on Gulf Oil Spill

Oil wasn’t the only thing that gushed after a well operated by BP Plc exploded in the Gulf of Mexico. There was also a fountain of research.

In the five years since the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster, a scientific renaissance has blossomed in the Gulf, with thousands of researchers studying everything from crude-tolerant jellyfish to the thermodynamics of oil dispersion to alligator stem cells.

Now, from a gleaming building overlooking the turquoise Corpus Christi Bay, a team of scientists and marine biologists is using part of a $500 million grant from BP to create a single database to house the troves of information stemming from the lawsuits, damage assessments and research endeavors to make sense of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

E.P.A. Treating Toxic Water From Abandoned Colorado Mine After Accident

Nearly a week after the Environmental Protection Agency accidentally breached a store of chemical-laced water from an abandoned mine in southwest Colorado, toxic water continues to spill at a rate of 500 to 700 gallons a minute, E.P.A. officials said Tuesday.

The agency is treating the toxic water as it pours out, said David Ostrander, a regional emergency response director for the E.P.A.

Colorado, New Mexico and the Navajo Nation have declared states of emergency. And the Colorado governor, John W. Hickenlooper, visited the contaminated river on Tuesday, speaking to residents in Durango who have been barred from using the Animas River because of the spill.

Restrictions to remain for rivers hardest hit by Colorado mine waste spill

New Mexico officials joined Colorado on Tuesday in declaring an emergency due to toxic wastewater spewing from an abandoned gold mine, a spill that prompted authorities to close two rivers to drinking water and irrigation intakes for at least another week.

The San Juan River and its northern tributary, the Animas River, have been fouled by the release of more than 3 million gallons (11.3 million liters) of acid mine drainage inadvertently triggered by a team of Environmental Protection Agency workers last Wednesday.

Enbridge shuts lines after spill

Enbridge shut its Line 55 Spearhead pipeline and adjacent Line 59 Flanagan South pipeline, following a crude oil release along Line 55 in Shelby County, Missouri, near Shelbina on Tuesday.

About 16 to 20 gallons of crude spilled, based on initial estimates, into a nearby waterway that had minimal flow and the environmental impact is being determined, the company said, adding that no injuries have been reported due to the incident.

A Massive Oil Pipeline Under the Great Lakes Is Way Past Its Expiration Date

The Straits of Mackinac connect Lake Huron and Lake Michigan, and divide Michigan’s lower peninsula from its upper peninsula. But the gorgeous blue expanse of this part of the Great Lakes region is threatened by a danger lurking just beneath its surface: two degrading oil pipelines.

Motherboard correspondent Spencer Chumbley went to Michigan to investigate the situation, and the research is alarming. If just one of the pipelines ruptured, it would result in a spill of 1.5 million gallons of oil—and that’s if Enbridge, the company that owns them, is able to fix the pipeline immediately. UMich research scientist Dave Schwab says, “I can’t imagine another place in the Great Lakes where it’d be more devastating to have an oil spill.”

State tinkers with oil spill regulations

A year-long review will end with revised state rules enabling emergency services agencies to plan for and respond to spills of hazardous materials, including oil.

The rules will clarify how railroads will inform agencies of shipments and spills, consistent with federal laws and regulations that pre-empt state action. They also provide for limited disclosure by the Oregon Department of Transportation of some information to the public.

Massachusetts fines Eversource $10,000 over 2014 oil spill

The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection has fined the power utility now known as Eversource $10,000 for failing to notify the state properly after oil was spilled from a transformer in Springfield Oct. 4, 2014.

The MassDEP announced the fine in a news release Tuesday. Eversource was at the time doing business under its old name, Western Massachusetts Electric Co.

Revealed: Canadian government spent millions on secret tar sands advocacy

Canada’s Conservative government spent several million dollars on a tar sands advocacy fund as its push to export the oil faltered, documents reveal.

In its 2013 budget, the government invested $30 million over two years on public relations advertising and domestic and international “outreach activities” to promote Alberta’s tar sands.

The outreach activities, which cost $4.5 million and were never publicly disclosed, included efforts to “advance energy literacy amongst BC First Nations communities.”

Plunging Prices, Climate Concerns Hit Canadian Oil Sands Producers Hard

Canadian oil sands producers, facing a double whammy of low oil prices and higher taxes in Alberta, are slashing spending, suspending production, cutting jobs and halting shareholder dividends. They are fighting the same market forces that are putting pressure on the entire oil industry, but face even more hurdles than the oil majors.

Oil sands projects are among the industry’s most expensive endeavors, so they need sustained, higher oil prices. When prices are low—or even very volatile—companies risk spending billions of dollars to get oil that’s not profitable to sell. And oil prices have plunged by more than half since mid-2014. Friday’s close was $43.87 a barrel. Western Canada Select, the price marker for harder-to-produce bitumen from the tar sands, closed at $26.17, or $17.70 a barrel below the U.S. oil price.

Keystone XL pipeline review drags on 5 times longer than average

For six and a half years, the White House has had a quick comeback to questions about its yet-to-be-announced decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline: Talk to the State Department.

Under a George W. Bush-era executive order, oil pipelines crossing U.S. borders require a presidential permit, setting off a government-wide review that the State Department coordinates. President Barack Obama, in no rush to anger either environmentalists or energy advocates, has deflected criticism about the long-delayed decision by arguing that his administration is merely carrying out his Republican predecessor’s directive in the ordinary way.

Jury trial avoided in Grand Forks Sandpiper Pipeline case

A Grand Forks County landowner is one step closer to appealing his case to the North Dakota Supreme Court after a hearing over a crude oil pipeline that’s slated to run through his property.

James Botsford appeared Tuesday in Grand Forks County District Court with his wife Krista. The Wisconsin couple was sued last year by North Dakota Pipeline Co. in effort to obtain an easement over his land west of Emerado for the planned Sandpiper Pipeline, a $2.6 billion project that will carry Bakken crude oil from western North Dakota to Wisconsin.

Judge Orders Farmer to Allow Land Survey for Possible Pipeline

A Boone County judge says a local farmer must allow a crew onto his land to survey for a potential pipeline project.

A Texas company took Laverne Johnson to court earlier this month when he refused to allow surveyors onto his property. However, a judge ruled last week that he can’t keep them off.

BNSF manager is new inspector for ND rail safety program

A longtime manager of a railroad responsible for some fiery oil train crashes in North Dakota has been hired as an inspector for the state’s new rail safety program.

Karl Carson, a 23-year employee of BNSF Railway and a manager for the railroad since 2004, starts the $90,000-a-year state job next week conducting track and worker safety inspections.

Carson is the first of two inspectors to be hired under a state-run rail safety pilot program reluctantly approved this year by the Republican-led Legislature. While North Dakota’s Public Service Commission has touted its hiring of Carson to help supplement inspections by the Federal Railroad Administration, some have questioned the panel’s rationale for hiring an industry insider.

U.S. Coast Guard sees added burden in Shell’s Arctic quest

The U.S. Coast Guard has been forced to divert resources – including a vessel that fights cocaine trafficking – to the Arctic this summer to ensure that Royal Dutch Shell’s exploratory oil drilling meets its environmental and safety commitments, its top officer said.

The added Coast Guard presence in the Chukchi Sea off Northern Alaska includes the Waesche, a 418 foot-long (127 m) national security ship, which otherwise would be operating in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, fighting drug traffickers.

Protests Greet Japan’s Relaunch of Nuke Power

Protesters rallied outside Japan’s Sendai nuclear plant a day ahead of its planned opening and four years after the Fukushima disaster galvanised opposition to nuclear power in the country.

In a statement, Kyushu Electric Power Co. said it will begin bringing online the No. 1 reactor at its Sendai facility on Aug. 11, start power generation as early as Aug. 14 and return it to normal operations next month.

“We will continue to seriously and carefully cooperate with the country’s inspections, making safety our top priority, cautiously advancing the restart process,” the company said in the statement.

Sendai No. 1 reactor must not become a model case for future restarts

The No. 1 reactor at the Sendai nuclear power plant in Kagoshima Prefecture, operated by Kyushu Electric Power Co., was brought back online Aug. 11. It is the first facility to be reactivated in Japan after nearly two years of suspended operation of all reactors.

The Sendai reactor is also the first to clear new safety standards set by the Nuclear Regulation Authority after the 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant. Now that the Sendai reactor is back in operation, the government intends to reactivate all nuclear reactors that meet the NRA’s safety requirements.

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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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