Environmental Must-Reads – August 28, 2014


Go slow on fracking, St. Tammany good government advocate tells Tangipahoa Parish Council, media reports say

Few people can recall an issue that has stirred as much controversy in St. Tammany Parish as an oil company’s proposal to explore for oil near Mandeville using the fracking method. But in neighboring Tangipahoa Parish, where there is already fracking in the Tuscaloosa Marine Shale, the reaction has been much different, with significantly less public opposition.

St. Tammany Parish sues to prevent fracking; Cites concerns over aquifer

Louisiana is, by and large, a state that welcomes new oil and gas projects. This comes as no surprise – the industry provides jobs for residents and a substantial tax base for the state treasury. From 20-year-old tax exemptions to the recent passage of Senate Bill 469, which blocks lawsuits against 97 oil and gas companies, the industry is secure and welcome in the state.

But after a proposition was made by Helis Oil and Gas to conduct hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” in St. Tammany Parish, one of the state’s most conservative and wealthiest parishes, residents are putting up strong opposition.

Explosion levels three-bedroom house in Independence

A powerful explosion felt 2 miles away leveled a three-bedroom house in Independence early Tuesday afternoon.

The residents were not home, but two dogs and three cats died, police said. Officials were investigating whether natural gas caused the blast about 12:30 p.m.

Fracking rules to be unveiled Friday

Highly anticipated rules to regulate hydraulic fracturing in Illinois are to be unveiled Friday.

Once the rules go into effect, Illinois hopes to become the center of the next oil boom. Fracking, which involves injecting fluids and chemicals at high volumes to crack open shale rock and unleash oil and natural gas, could bring bring jobs to a struggling southern Illinois economy. Ilinois also is counting on tax revenue on extracted oil and gas to fatten state and county coffers.

Texas Proposes Tougher Rules On Fracking Wastewater After Earthquakes Surge

The agency that regulates oil and gas activity in Texas is considering new, tougher regulations governing the practice of injecting leftover water used to frack natural gas wells deep into the ground — a process which is believed to be responsible for an increase in human-caused earthquakes across the state.

State determines wastewater from gas drilling contaminated drinking water in Westmoreland County

The state Department of Environmental Protection has officially determined that drinking water at a third residence is contaminated by WPX Appalachia LLC’s leaky Marcellus Shale gas drilling wastewater impoundment near Stahlstown, Westmoreland County.

Whether that gets any of the three families living along rural Route 711 south of Ligonier any closer to a permanent replacement water supply is another matter.

Fracking matter to go to voters but not until June 2016

Voters will have their say on an initiative aimed at banning hydraulic fracturing in Butte County, but the measure won’t go on the ballot until June 2016.

The initiative was launched in February by an organization calling itself “Frack Free Butte County.” The goal of the measure was to outlaw the practice of hydraulic fracturing to induce or improve the release of oil and or natural gas in deep wells in Butte County.

Sanford no longer backing fracking 

Where once there was hope, now there is anger.

In Sanford, where the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission held a public hearing on a draft of the state’s fracking regulations, opponents of the controversial drilling practice are waving small red flags, their ire given a menacing edge by protesters’ thumping drums and whistles outside the Wicker Civic Center.

Hundreds of fracking opponents cite potential harm to water sources

Water matters, they said.

The water that North Carolina protects now will be worth more than any quantity of shale gas that energy companies may discover by fracking, they said.

More than 100 like-minded people — many from Stokes, Forsyth and Yadkin counties — signed up to speak during a four-hour public hearing Monday of the state Mining and Energy Commission at Rockingham County High School, one of three public hearings held in North Carolina this month on proposed rules that will govern shale-gas exploration.

Longmont City Council votes unanimously to appeal judge’s decision on fracking ban

Applause and a standing ovation greeted the 7-0 vote Tuesday night by the Longmont City Council to appeal Boulder County District Court Judge D.D. Mallard’s ruling in July that said Longmont had no right to ban fracking within its city limits.

While more than two dozen speakers at the public invited to be heard portion of the meeting urged the council to appeal the judge’s ruling, in sometimes heated rhetoric, the city council itself engaged in very little discussion in advance of its unanimous vote.

Loose fracking rules could sink the state 

The draft rules on fracking in North Carolina are rife with loopholes that favor the drillers and could endanger the public health and the environment.

At a public hearing in Raleigh last week, speakers focused on the many significant shortcomings of the Mining and Energy Commission’s draft rules. The inspection protocols, recordkeeping regulations, required distances from fracking operations to homes, chemical disclosures, water issues and waste cleanup are all weak, as if the energy companies had crafted the rules themselves.

North Dakota Universities Crumble as Oil Cash Pours In

North Dakota is struggling to finance deteriorating public universities even as it experiences the biggest energy boom in its history, raising concern that less prosperous states will face more serious funding challenges.

Students returning this week will attend classes in buildings without adequate ventilation or fire detection systems and in historic landmarks with buckling foundations. A space crunch is making it difficult for researchers to obtain grants and putting the accreditation of several programs at risk, administrators say.

Explosion at NW-Indiana BP refinery felt miles away

An explosion sparked a fire overnight at the same Indiana BP refinery that saw roughly 1,600 gallons of oil spilled into Lake Michigan last spring.

British Petroleum (BP) said the Whiting, Indiana, refinery experienced an “operational incident” on a process unit at the north end of the facility at roughly 9 p.m.

Coast Guard Issues New Rules for Oil Vessels As Spills Increase

Tighter regulation of U.S. ships carrying record exports of diesel and gasoline is coming amid the worst year for oil spills from barges since 2008.

Coast Guard rules to be issued within the next 90 days would require commercial vessels nationwide to be equipped with Automatic Identification System, or AIS, technology, which uses transponders and electronic chart displays to alert pilots to neighboring ships, according to trade group American Waterways Operators. A pending inspection regulation would bring ships more in line with trains and trucks that carry similar cargo.

Enbridge Faces Maximum Fine of $86 Million for Kalamazoo Spill

Pipeline giant Enbridge, Inc. has almost finished cleaning up its 2010 spill that sent hundreds of thousands of gallons of heavy crude oil into Michigan’s Kalamazoo River.

Now the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must decide how much it will fine Enbridge for causing one of the biggest inland oil spills in U.S. history.

Exxon Mobil to pay civil penalty for 2012 oil spill

Exxon Mobil Pipeline Co. has agreed to pay a $1.4 million civil penalty for an alleged violation of the Clean Water Act stemming from a 2012 crude oil spill from its “North Line” pipeline near Torbert in Pointe Coupee Parish.

The U.S. Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency said Tuesday the company will pay the penalty to resolve the government’s claim.

Mock oil spill staged at Bonnabel Boat launch in Metairie

There was no reason to be alarmed if you saw emergency responders at the Bonnabel Boat Launch on Lake Pontchartrain in Metairie Wednesday. Officials were staging a mock oil spill. The 2014 Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals Conference culminated with the simulated emergency response scenario at the boat launch. Participants used boom to contain the “spill” and deployed a skimmer during the demonstration.

Fake oil spill to be conducted Wednesday in Lake Pontchartrain

Don’t be alarmed if you see emergency responders Wednesday afternoon (Aug. 27) at the Bonnabel boat launch. Officials are staging a fake oil spill at 1 p.m. in Lake Pontchartrain.

The drill is part of the annual conference for the Alliance of Hazardous Materials Professionals, which is being held this week in New Orleans.

Here’s one more reason to block the Keystone XL pipeline

The policy debate over the Keystone XL pipeline (as opposed to the political one) in many ways boil down to railroads. Supporters of Keystone say there’s no point in blocking the construction of massive pipeline that will traverse the United States, since the projected 510,000 barrels of oil the pipeline would transport could just be moved around on trains. Either way, they say, the oil is coming out of the ground and it’s going to be burned.

However, there is reason to think that transporting a monstrous influx of new oil by rail would be a lot more difficult than many imagine.

U.S. State Department lawyer Benes is latest Keystone XL player to go

A U.S. State Department lawyer who played a key role in the Keystone XL pipeline review is moving on, sources said on Wednesday, the latest departure of a senior official involved with the long-delayed project.

Keith Benes helped produce the government’s two environmental impact reviews on Keystone, which concluded that the 1,200-mile (1,900-km) pipeline might encourage Canadian oil sands development, but would not meaningfully worsen global climate change.

State Dept. Overseers of Contentious Enbridge Tar Sands Pipeline Workaround Have Industry, Torture Ties

The Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation (NWF) and other green groups recently revealed that pipeline giant Enbridge got U.S. State Department permission in response to its request to construct a U.S.-Canada border-crossing tar sands pipeline without earning an obligatory Presidential Permit.

Enbridge originally applied to the Obama State Department to expand capacity of its Alberta Clipper (now Line 67) pipeline in November 2012, but decided to avoid a “Keystone XL, take two” — or a years-long permitting battle — by creating a complex alternative to move nearly the same amount of diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) across the border.

Protesters in Albany call for keeping oil trains out of NY state

The fight against trains that carry oil came to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s front yard this week.

About 70 people demonstrated on Tuesday outside the Executive Mansion in Albany, calling on Cuomo to ban trains that carry crude oil from entering New York state.

Sacramento leaders question Benicia’s crude oil rail project

Sacramento leaders will send a letter to Benicia today formally challenging the Bay Area city to do a better job of studying train derailment risks before it approves an oil company’s plans to ship crude oil on daily trains through Sacramento-area downtowns to a Benicia refinery.

Acting collectively through the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, which represents 22 cities and six counties, Sacramento representatives say they are protecting the region’s interests in the face of a proposal by Valero Refining Co. to transport an estimated 2.7 million gallons of crude oil daily on trains through Roseville, Sacramento, West Sacramento and Davis. Valero officials say the oil will be refined into gas for cars in California, as well as diesel fuel and jet fuel.

Japan’s former PM tells of Tokyo evacuation risk after Fukushima

Naoto Kan was Japan’s prime minister at the time of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011 and he is in Brisbane on Thursday to warn Queenslanders about nuclear power and nuclear exports.

Uranium from Australia’s Ranger Uranium Mine was in the Fukushima nuclear plant on the east coast of Japan when it was hit by a magnitude 9 earthquake, then a 15-metre tsunami on March 11, 2011.

More than 160,000 people had to be evacuatedl

Fukushima Watch: Plant Manager’s Testimony Stirs Debate

Japan’s government says it is planning to release lengthy testimony by the late manager of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear-power plant, but leaked copies of the testimony have already triggered a dispute over whether it supports the antinuclear cause.

Masao Yoshida, plant chief at Fukushima Daiichi during the March 2011 nuclear accident, gave the testimony to a government commission investigating the accidents. He died in 2013, meaning the document soon to be released stands as the most comprehensive account by the man in charge at the scene of the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.

Major budget cut planned for radiation forecasting tool for nuclear accidents

The Nuclear Regulation Authority is planning a major slash in the budget for a forecasting tool for the spread of radioactive substances that was at the center of a controversy during the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident.

The System for Prediction of Environmental Emergency Dose Information (SPEEDI) was designed to help government officials decide early on whether local residents should be evacuated.


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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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