Environmental Must-Reads – August 27, 2014


Man-Made Earthquakes Are Proliferating, but We Won’t Admit Fault

If you jabbed at the center of a map of Oklahoma, your finger might land on Jones City, population 2,500. “Just a little piece of Americana,” as Lewis Moore, the state representative for the area, calls it—Main Street has a firehouse, a pharmacy and a Sonic Drive-In, and beyond downtown are vast, flat fields of pasture. Jones City also happens to be at the epicenter of an unprecedented spate of earthquakes. From 1978 until 2008, Oklahoma averaged only two earthquakes over magnitude 3.0 per year; midway through 2014, the state has already registered 230 quakes of that strength, easily surpassing California as the most earthquake-prone state in the country.

Prague resident files lawsuit against two Okla. energy companies following earthquake injury

The first lawsuit of it’s kind here in the state brings a woman to file a lawsuit against two Oklahoma energy companies.

She alleges their wastewater injections caused a series of earthquakes that injured her in November of 2011.

Sandra Ladra’s attorney says the industry needs to stand up and pay for the problems they’re causing.

Lawmakers hope to fund monitors for quakes in North Texas fracking areas

Lawmakers said Monday that they’re looking for money to add seismic monitors in areas with oil and gas production, following concerns about a series of earthquakes that rattled North Texas last winter.

For now, at least, it’s just a pipe dream. The Railroad Commission, which regulates oil and gas production, doesn’t have any plans in the works for more monitors or for permit surcharges to oil and gas operators.

That irks some Fort Worth-area residents and environmentalists who say regulators aren’t moving quick enough to address the issue. They contend that the state’s most lucrative industry should be picking up the tab.

Texas proposes tougher rules on wells after quakes

As scientists investigate whether injection wells where the booming oil and gas industry disposes of wastewater cause earthquakes, the Texas agency that oversees oil and gas is proposing a regulatory overhaul.

The Texas Railroad Commission is proposing new rules that would require would-be operators to submit geological information in their permit applications and give the state the authority to take away permits when wells can be linked to earthquakes — a notable gesture by an agency run in large part by industry executives.

Amid Concerns, Gov. Snyder Wants Review Of Michigan Radioactive Waste Standards

Gov. Rick Snyder ordered a review Monday of state standards for disposing certain types of radioactive waste in landfills, responding to public anger over the disclosure that material generated in Pennsylvania but rejected for storage there would be shipped to Michigan.

The Department of Environmental Quality will convene a panel of experts to study Michigan rules for dealing with such waste that have been in place since 1996. The standards have drawn recent attention as a Wayne County landfill prepared to receive a shipment of Pennsylvania radioactive material produced through the controversial process of oil and gas production known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Fracking takes toll in Pennsylvania, but New Jersey gets bargain

The recent boom in natural gas drilling across Pennsylvania has turned some property owners into millionaires. It also has forced some rural communities there to endure swaths of denuded forest, fumes from diesel engines, the rattle of equipment, midnight skies lit up by the lights for well pads, spills of dangerous wastewater, and the leak of explosive methane into their drinking water wells.

One state away, New Jersey residents have enjoyed significant benefits from the gas being mined from the Marcellus Shale Formation through fracking. With  an abundance of gas on the market, New Jerseyans have seen significant drops in the price of gas to heat their homes and cook their food – price cuts that are likely to continue this winter. And many coal-fired power plants in the Midwest have switched to natural gas, which has improved the air quality downwind in New Jersey.

Fracking Link to Birth Defects Probed in Early Research

The first research into the effects of oil and gas development on babies born near wells has found potential health risks. Government officials, industry advocates and the researchers themselves say more studies are needed before drawing conclusions.

While the findings are still preliminary, any documented hazards threaten to cast a shadow over hydraulic fracturing, or fracking — the process of blasting chemicals, sand and water deep underground to extract fuel from rock that’s helped push the U.S. closer to energy self-sufficiency than at any time since 1985.

Michigan landfill operator suspends receipt of low-level radioactive waste

A Van Buren Township hazardous-waste landfill operator, slated to receive up to 36 tons of low-level radioactive waste from a Pennsylvania fracking company, announced Monday that it will suspend receipt of such materials from all oil and gas operations pending a review by the state.

EQ, a USEcology company, made its determination as Gov. Rick Snyder announced plans to form a panel of experts to look at Michigan’s standards for disposing of low-level radioactive waste. EQ has accepted the waste — known as technologically enhanced, naturally occurring radioactive materials, or TENORM — from Michigan and other states at its Wayne Disposal landfill, located between Willow Run Airport and I-94 near Belleville.

Residents Urge Stronger Health Protections from Fracking

In a public hearing in Sanford on Friday, North Carolina residents pled for greater health protections from natural gas drilling, arguing in often-emotional terms that drilling’s health risks outweigh the industry’s potential economic benefits.

The hearing, the second of four planned for August and September, offered a public forum for residents whose health will be most affected by drilling. Sanford lies within North Carolina’s Triassic Basin shale deposit, where the energy industry could receive permits to begin drilling as early as next spring.

Eye on Energy: Gas Processing

Oil wells in North Dakota are burning off natural gas produced in the fracking process at a high rate.

It’s an issue environmentalists are concerned about and state regulators are dealing with – trying to reduce flaring.

In this week’s Eye on Energy, Jim Olson reports on a new gas plant near Tioga designed to help in that effort.

State regulators take a closer listen to gas compressor stations

Most of the noise created by natural gas development is temporary. After drilling and fracking, the workers and equipment are gone. A gas well in production is pretty quiet; it’s basically just a bunch of pipes in the ground.

But compressor stations can stay noisy for years– even decades. The facilities are necessary to process and transport gas through pipelines. When it comes to noise regulations, they’re governed by a patchwork of local, state, and federal rules.

Oil spill victims shut out of BP’s internal claims program wait for their day in court

David Arnsby remembers his phone ringing constantly in the days and weeks during the BP oil spill in 2010 as dozens of tourists canceled reservations at his hotel in Sarasota, Fla.

Arnsby and his wife had five years earlier invested $11 million in their third hotel, a Country Inn & Suites, just a 10-minute drive from the sandy beaches that inspired the couple to move to Florida from Britain nearly three decades ago.

Business efforts to speed up oil spill claims payments stall in appeals court

Two businesses trying to get settlement money sooner from the BP oil spill litigation hit a dead end at a federal appeals court this week.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed the effort by Rocon Inc. and Benny Whitehead Inc., both plaintiffs in the massive 2012 BP oil spill settlement. The companies had argued that federal rules governing out-of-court settlement negotiations require that they be paid immediately.

BP oil spill claims investigator Louis Freeh hurt in Vermont car crash, reports say

Louis Freeh, the former FBI director appointed to investigate fraud in the BP oil spill claims process, was seriously injured Monday (Aug. 26) in a one-car accident in Vermont, the Vermont Standard and the New York Times report.

The Vermont Standard report says Freeh, who has a summer home in Vermont, was injured after he drove his GMC Yukon off Route 12 in Barnard hitting a mailbox and tree before coming to a stop.

Exxon Mobil Unit To Pay $1.4 Million For Louisiana Oil Spill

An Exxon Mobil Corp unit has agreed to pay $1.4 million to resolve U.S. government claims over a 2012 crude oil spill in Louisiana, the U.S. Justice Department said on Tuesday. ExxonMobil Pipeline Company discharged 2,800 barrels of crude oil after a pipeline ruptured, in violation of the Clean Water Act, the agency said.

General Honore, Enviro Groups Call for Strengthening EPA’s Proposed Refinery Pollution Standards

Millions of people living near refineries will be directly affected by a long awaited updates to regulations the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed for oil refineries. Their new proposed rule includes a reduction of flaring, monitoring benzene emissions, and upgrading emission controls during the crude oil refining process.

“We need 21st century monitoring devices for fenceline communities,” former General Russel Honoré, founder of the Green Army, a coalition of environmental groups and concerned citizens fighting against pollution, told DeSmogBlog. “The new rules the EPA has put forth still don’t require that. Industry’s objective is to reduce liability, because they want to avoid liability. They don’t want good monitoring,” he says.

Study: No long term health issues from Kzoo oil spill

It’s been four years since nearly 800,000 gallons of crude oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River causing one of the largest environmental disasters in the area.

The Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) concluded that residents are not expected to experience long-term harm to their health from breathing chemicals released into the air from the spilled oil.

EPA says oil spill migrated to Chicago-area canal

The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is seeking enforcement action against a Cicero company after an oil spill reached a nearby canal.

The EPA said Tuesday it’s asked Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office to obtain an order requiring Olympic Oil Ltd., to stop the spill and clean up contaminated soil and water. The facility blends and packages petroleum lubricating oil and antifreeze products.

Feds: Backhoe nicked pipe before Wyoming oil spill

A 25,000-gallon oil spill in the Powder River Basin occurred after a backhoe nicked a 6-inch underground pipeline and, over time, corrosion turned the minor damage into an oil-spewing hole, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said Tuesday.

It remained unclear how long ago the backhoe damaged the crude oil pipeline owned by Casper-based Belle Fourche Pipeline, and what sort of construction work the backhoe was doing at the time, BLM officials said.

Gubernatorial Candidate From Keystone XL Battleground State Connects Pipeline To Climate Change

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chuck Hassebrook’s opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline goes beyond concern for his state: primarily, he’s worried about climate change.

“I believe, from all my experience, that building the infrastructure to help facilitate that development [of tar sands] will help speed that development, and ultimately I think that contributes to climate change,” he told ThinkProgress. “For me, it’s a climate change issue.”

Sparring continues on Keystone as delay seen through midterms

A legal dispute over the Keystone XL Pipeline in Nebraska gives President Barack Obama leeway to hold off on deciding the fate of the energy project until after the midterm elections. But sparring between environmentalists and energy advocates rages on nationwide.

On Sept. 5, the Nebraska Supreme Court will hear oral arguments over whether a 2012 law giving Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman authority to approve the state’s leg of the $5.4 billion Canada-to-Texas oil sands pipeline violates the state constitution. If the Nebraska Supreme Court upholds a lower court ruling favoring landowners, TransCanada Corp. would have to convince the state’s Public Service Commission to okay the project’s proposed route, which could take six to nine months.

BNSF executive: Oil train safety can improve

As questions continue to swirl about the safety of transporting crude oil by rail, BNSF Railway’s top executive acknowledged Tuesday that the process could be safer, and said his company welcomes the regulatory push toward more modern tank cars.

In an interview with The Columbian, BNSF Executive Chairman Matthew Rose noted railroads like his are required by federal law to haul crude oil and other hazardous materials as part of their “common carrier” obligations. In the case of crude, phasing out older tank cars could improve safety, Rose said. Many have already been replaced, but plenty remain on U.S. tracks.

Midwestern Wheat Left Rotting as Oil Trains Roll By

U.S. grain shipments are being held up as trains carrying huge quantities of Bakken oil chug through the region, the New York Times reported Tuesday, illustrating how the booming business of moving oil by rail has negative consequences beyond safety risks.

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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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