Environmental Must-Reads – August 14, 2014


Fracking Companies Fight Texas Families’ Air Pollution Suits, Fearing Precedent

Two major oil companies have asked a Texas judge to dismiss a civil lawsuit that could draw new attention to the toxic air emissions from oil and gas production.

The lawsuit was filed last year by Mike and Myra Cerny, who say they can’t enjoy the use of their home because of the benzene, toluene and other toxic chemicals released from nearby facilities owned by Marathon and Plains Exploration & Production (PXP). The Cernys are using the same argument that helped another Texas family, Bob and and Lisa Parr, win a groundbreaking, $2.9 million judgment against Aruba Petroleum last April: That the emissions created a nuisance that made their lives unbearable.

Report faults EPA for failing to regulate fracking with diesel

A new report out today reveals natural gas drillers could be using diesel to frack wells without the mandated federal permits. Unlike other chemicals used in gas drilling, Congress requires extensive oversight if diesel is present.

The so-called Halliburton Loophole in the Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempts chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing from federal oversight. But diesel is an exception. That’s because it moves quickly through water, and even small amounts of the neurotoxins within the liquid fuel cause liver and kidney damage.

Pennsylvania drillers avoid using diesel, kerosene in wells, national report says

A national environmental report aimed at exposing gas companies for illegally using diesel fuel in their fracking fluids appears to clear Pennsylvania drillers of breaking the law intended to protect water supplies from toxic chemicals.

Industry disclosure reports for 25 Pennsylvania wells cited on Wednesday in the Environmental Integrity Project’s report showed none reported using diesel fuel, which requires a special permit, since 2010.

There’s Still a Lot We Don’t Know About Fracking Chemicals

As the U.S. fracking boom continues to expand, tapping vast deposits of previously unreachable oil and natural gas, scientists, regulators and even the industry itself still do not know much about fracking’s impact on human health or the environment. Study after study has highlighted the lack of toxicity information available on fracking fluid—the mix of chemicals, water and sand injected deep into the ground to fracture oil- and gas-trapping rock.

Now a new study, presented Wednesday at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society, says that out of 190 commonly used compounds, hardly any toxicity information is available for a whopping one-third of them. In addition, another eight fracking fluid compounds, the researchers found, are proved to be toxic to mammals.

Pennsylvania company proposes new gas pipeline cutting through Mercer and Hunterdon counties

Residents from Mercer and Hunterdon counties could see a 30-inch wide natural gas pipeline run a few dozen miles through local towns if a proposal from a Pennsylvania company is approved by federal regulators.

PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC announced its plans for the pipeline today and received almost immediate opposition from the New Jersey branch of the Sierra Club.

Halliburton goes on airwaves in Colorado

Halliburton Co. is hitting the airwaves in Colorado on Wednesday with a new television ad meant to burnish the image of the Houston-based oilfield service firm and the hydraulic fracturing operations it conducts across the United States.

The 30-second spot, which features a young, hard-hat-wearing employee named Gabby walking among shiny red trucks, is set to air in both Spanish and English across the state, which has become a battleground for fights over oil and gas regulation.

PennEast Pipeline proposal draws optimism from Northampton County officials, jeers from environmentalists

Northampton County politicians offered optimism while environmentalists denounced plans announced Tuesday for a 100-mile natural gas pipeline linking New Jersey to Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale region.

PennEast Pipeline Co. LLC, a consortium of energy businesses including Reading-based UGI Corp., announced plans for the pipeline extending from Luzerne County to Mercer County. While the pipeline’s exact route has not been determined, PennEast’s website suggests it would run through central Northampton County and the Riegelsville area before crossing the Delaware River into Hunterdon County.

Environmental Group: Fracking threatens water

There are new concerns illegal fracking practices could endanger drinking water.

The watchdog group called The Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) says the oil and gas industry is using diesel, contrary to the law, in hydraulic fracturing or fracking operations at the risk of polluting water.

Cove Point zoning exemption overturned

A Calvert County circuit judge has overturned the Southern Maryland county’s decision to exempt the proposed Cove Point liquefied natural gas export facility from local zoning regulations. It’s not clear, however, whether the decision affects plans for the $3.4 billion project.

Judge James P. Salmon declared that Calvert County acted illegally in freeing Cove Point, now the site of a liquefied natural gas import terminal, from having to comply with the county’s zoning ordinance. In doing so, the judge said, county officials violated Maryland’s constitution by treating Dominion, the Virginia-based energy company that owns the site, differently from other property owners.

 Vermont Gas offers mediation, moves toward eminent domain

Vermont Gas Systems said Tuesday it will exercise its eminent domain rights as soon as this week to secure a path for a natural gas pipeline extension through Addison County.

The natural gas utility said there are about 20 landowners who appear unwilling to sign easement agreements along the company’s 41-mile extension from Colchester to Middlebury, which is underway.

Trains carrying highly explosive Bakken oil coming into N.J. by the dozens every week

Up to 30 trains, each carrying more than a million gallons of highly explosive crude oil in aging tanker cars, are transported into North Jersey neighborhoods from New York every week, according to documents obtained by The Record.

Although oil trains have become a common sight from Northvale to Ridgefield along the CSX River Line, the exact number of shipments had not previously been available to the public.

Drinking water safe after ship collision and oil spill, Gretna officials say

Gretna authorities say the drinking water is safe, despite a ship collision late Tuesday night on the Mississippi River that caused oil to be spilled in the water.

Gretna police inspected the city’s water intake system Tuesday night and said the water supply hadn’t been contaminated, according to Deputy Chief Anthony Christiana. Our news partners at FOX 8 also said Gretna’s water intake was closed immediately after the spill.

State calls for tests at second salt cavern after tremors

Days after work on the Bayou Corne sinkhole halted briefly due to increasing tremors, state regulators ordered Texas Brine Co. to stop production at a second salt dome cavern near the underground cavity that failed two years ago and spawned the sinkhole that has driven hundreds of people from their property.

Louisiana Conservation Commissioner James Welsh ordered Texas Brine on Monday to perform a round of tests to ensure the integrity of the massive underground cavity, known as Oxy Geismar No. 2, and develop a plan if problems are found.

Judge approves $48M settlement in Bayou Corne sinkhole case

A federal judge has granted final approval of a $48.1 million class-action settlement for Bayou Corne residents affected by a sinkhole that opened two years ago and has been swallowing land ever since.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey said Wednesday there were no objections to the settlement, which will compensate 269 people who lived in the area.

Treasury takes step toward oil spill trust fund

The U.S. Treasury has set out 97 pages of rules for investing and allocating money that BP PLC and other defendants will pay in Clean Water Act fines for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill of 2010.

The rules released Wednesday formally set up a trust fund for money that state and local governments will get under the RESTORE Act and procedures for getting that money.

Treasury moves to distribute BP oil spill fines

The Treasury Department issued a rule Wednesday to distribute to Gulf Coast states the fines paid by BP and Transocean after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster.

Under the plan unveiled Wednesday and due to be published in the Federal Register Friday, 80 percent of the billions of dollars in fines will go into a trust fund. Thirty-five percent of the trust fund will be split between Texas, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida for economic and ecological restoration.

Class action granted in Exxon oil-spill lawsuit

Class-action status has been granted in a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil stemming from a 2013 pipeline accident in Mayflower.

U.S. District Judge Brian Miller in Little Rock ruled in favor of Arnez and Charletha Harper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1sVzRkI ). The pair can represent people who currently own property that is subject to an easement for and physically crossed by Exxon’s Pegasus pipeline, which runs from Texas to Illinois. They want the easement canceled or the pipeline removed or replaced.

County supervisor concerned about pipeline

Wisconsin folks are used to being told they live in “flyover territory.” Now it appears Wisconsin is tunnel under territory as well.

Charlene Staples, a Walworth County Board supervisor, is particularly concerned about what a Canadian company called Enbridge Energies wants to do beneath western Walworth County.

She’s advanced a resolution to the county board asking that the state DNR provide the public with more information and allow for more public comment on Enbridge’s plan to increase the flow of petrochemicals in its underground pipelines from 400,000 barrels a day to 1.2 million barrels.

Alberta asked U.S. PR firm to help ‘blunt’ criticism about Keystone pipeline

The Alberta government hired a former Hillary Clinton aide to reframe a public relations war about the Keystone XL pipeline project and “blunt” criticism from environmentalists, documents show.

Records released by the U.S. Department of Justice under a federal public disclosure law show that Alberta paid about $54,000 to FeverPress, a New York public relations firm that was co-founded by Hilary Lefebvre, a former journalist who served as director of Clinton’s broadcast media strategy for her presidential campaign.

Fuse to the Carbon Bomb: Keystone XL Much Worse for Climate Than Obama Admin Estimated

Last week, supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline got all worked up about a study that purported to find that the delay in approving the project has actually increased greenhouse gas emissions.

The narrowly-focused study was based on faulty assumptions (that the tar sands would always find a way to market) and cherry-picked data (disregarding entirely any increases emissions that greater access to tar sands crude would create) in order to portray the pipeline project as positive for the climate. The five year or more delay in approving Keystone XL will ultimately increase carbon dioxide emissions by up to 7.4 million tons, argued the American Action Forum, a self-described “center-right policy institute.”

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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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