Environmental Must-Reads – August 29, 2014


New study shows gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene

A new study out this month reveals unconventional oil and natural gas workers could be exposed to dangerous levels of benzene, putting them at a higher risk for blood cancers like leukemia. Benzene is a known carcinogen that is present in fracking flowback water. It’s also found in gasoline, cigarette smoke and in chemical manufacturing. As a known carcinogen, benzene exposures in the workplace are limited by federal regulations under OSHA. But some oil and gas production activities are exempt from those standards.

Fracking report clears way for California oil, gas leasing to resume

The federal government will resume oil and gas leasing in California following a report released Thursday that found little scientific evidence that fracking and similar extraction techniques are dangerous.

The Bureau of Land Management said the report — and additional environmental reviews — will allow it to begin leasing on public land next year. The announcement is welcome news for energy companies that have been shut out of the oil-rich San Joaquin Valley and Central Coast.

DEP releases details of cases of drinking well contamination from drilling

Six years into a natural gas boom, Pennsylvania has for the first time released details of 243 cases in which companies prospecting for oil or gas were found by state regulators to have contaminated private drinking water wells.

The Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday posted online links to the documents since the agency conducted a “thorough review” of paper files stored among its regional offices. The Associated Press and other news outlets have filed lawsuits and numerous open-records requests during the past several years seeking records of investigations into gas-drilling complaints.

Preliminary Studies Show Potential Health Risk For Babies Born Near Fracking Sites

Can fracking operations cause health problems or birth defects in babies who are born near wells? Preliminary scientific research says that it might and that more research needs to be done as oil and gas production booms across the country.

Obama Opened Floodgates for Offshore Fracking in Recent Gulf of Mexico Lease

In little-noticed news arising out of a recent Gulf of Mexico offshore oil and gas lease held by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the floodgates have opened for Gulf offshore hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”).

With 21.6 million acres auctioned off by the Obama Administration and 433,822 acres receiving bids, some press accounts have declared BP America — of 2010 Gulf of Mexico offshore oil spill infamy — a big winner of the auction. If true, fracking and the oil and gas services companies who perform it like Halliburton, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger came in a close second.

Sand Means Gold as U.S. Fracking Demand Booms: Chart of the Day

Shares of U.S. companies which supply sand to energy producers are surging in response to the growing use of fracking, or extracting oil and natural gas from shale formations.

Fracking may endanger groundwater in California

Fracking for oil in California happens at shallower depths than previously realized and could pose a risk to precious groundwater supplies, according to a federally commissioned report released Thursday.

The report found that half of the oil wells fracked in the state lie within 2,000 feet of the surface, close to aquifers. Hydraulic fracturing uses a high-pressure blend of water, sand and chemicals to crack rocks containing oil or natural gas. Those cracks can sometimes extend as far up as 1,969 feet – not far from the surface.

Colorado Drillers Show Sensitive Side to Woo Fracking Foes 

A fight over fracking is looming in Texas. Another stand-off is shaping up in Colorado. Yet drillers’ reactions couldn’t be more different.

In Texas, drillers are doing their noisy in-your-face fracking as usual. Meanwhile, on a small farm about an hour from the Colorado Rocky Mountains, the oil industry is giving fracking a makeover, cutting back on rumbling trucks and tamping down on pollution.

Judge tosses out Lafayette’s voter-approved fracking ban

A Boulder District Court judge on Wednesday issued a ruling tossing out the charter amendment passed by Lafayette voters in November banning fracking in that city.

Judge D. D. Mallard made the decision in a case brought by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association against the city of Lafayette.

COGA ‘disappointed’ with Longmont council’s move

The Colorado Oil & Gas Association weighed in Wednesday afternoon on the Longmont City Council’s decision Tuesday night to continue to appeal a court ruling that would negate a ban on fracking within the Longmont city limits, a ban put in place by Longmont voters in 2012.

“Longmont City Council’s decision to appeal a district court’s summary judgment dismissal of the fracking ban … is disappointing and, unfortunately, prolongs the legal fight we would prefer be behind us,” read the statement by COGA president Tisha Schuller. “When a sitting legislative body chooses to flout, instead of respect, state law it wastes taxpayer and civic resources that instead could be devoted to engaging and meaningful work on responsible energy development.

Chamber summit readies W.Va. for ‘tidal wave’ from future of gas

Spouting statistic after statistic, natural gas executives made the case for tying West Virginia’s economic future to their industry at the annual West Virginia Chamber of Commerce Business Summit, at The Greenbrier resort Wednesday.

“Sometimes, if you’re lucky, you find yourself sitting on a treasure,” said Randy Cleveland, president of XTO Energy, an Exxon Mobil subsidiary and the nation’s largest holder of natural gas reserves.

Ruling requires native tribes’ consent for energy projects

In a historic decision, the Supreme Court of Canada unanimously ruled earlier this summer that First Nations (native people) have “title” to their ancestral lands and hence significant control over the management of their natural resources and local long-term economic development.

This far-reaching ruling has been praised as a “major milestone,” “a watershed moment,” and a “game changer.” The news was greeted by native Canadians with “cheers and tears.”

Louisiana is drowning, quickly

In just 80 years, some 2,000 square miles of its coastal landscape have turned to open water, wiping places off maps, bringing the Gulf of Mexico to the back door of New Orleans and posing a lethal threat to an energy and shipping corridor vital to the nation’s economy.

And it’s going to get worse, even quicker.

Scientists now say one of the greatest environmental and economic disasters in the nation’s history is rushing toward a catastrophic conclusion over the next 50 years, so far unabated and largely unnoticed.

Future of ‘Big Oil’ suit at stake as panel meets

It will be next month before Gov. Bobby Jindal will likely get a chance to change the membership of a south Louisiana flood board that’s suing dozens of oil, gas and pipeline companies.

The panel that nominates members for the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East discussed plans to fill two expired terms Thursday. But members said a vote cannot legally take place until September.

As BP Pays For Oil Spill Impact, Some People Aren’t Seeing The Cash

BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico disrupted business all along the coastline. Through the end of July, the oil giant paid more than $13 billion to compensate people, businesses and communities affected. The company is in court battles that could drag on for years.

But there’s another group of people who lost money after the spill and never received compensation. That’s because their claims are tied to a six-month government moratorium on drilling put in place after the spill.

BP Deepwater Horizon: A gallery of oily destruction, 1,590 days later

Thanks to the dedication of Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) employees Joey Whibbs, Dom Marcanio, David Perkinson and Jacob Pace, I have been able to write about the near daily reports of beach oiling issued by FDEP. Well over four years have passed since BP’s Deepwater Horizon Disaster and the beaches of Northwest Florida are still bombarded with the spill’s oily remains on a 24/7 basis.

In fact, since June 2013, over 48,100 tar balls have been collected by those aforementioned four people, who cover less than one mile of beach per day. If the images of their collections below are any indication, imagine what really remains out of sight (and BP hopes out of mind)?

Fire out after BP Whiting refinery explosion

An explosion shook BP’s biggest U.S. refinery late Wednesday in Whiting, Indiana, but appears to have left no serious injuries after a fire was extinguished.

A spokesman for the Whiting Fire Department said Thursday a compressor at the refinery exploded in a blast that was felt at the station one-half mile away from the refinery. It caused a fire at the facility, but no injuries were reported, he said.

Explosion Shakes BP’s Largest Oil Refinery In The U.S.

A fire broke out at BP’s largest U.S. refinery on Wednesday night after a compressor exploded in one of the refinery’s units, sending shakes through local homes and injuring one worker, according to media reports.

The explosion is the latest mishap at the company’s Whiting Refinery in Whiting, Indiana, which in March was responsible for leaking up to 1,638 gallons of oil into Lake Michigan. That incident occurred less than two weeks after the U.S. lifted BP’s ban on seeking new oil leases in the Gulf of Mexico.

New ship rules come amid worst barge spills since 2008

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.

An auction where you can buy a $1 million oil lease

It happens twice a year at the New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome, but it has nothing to do with football. We’re talking about a much bigger game, one that’s only growing: Offshore oil and gas.

Twice a year “landmen” from energy companies file into the Superdome for an auction. They bid for the right to drill for oil and natural gas under the sea. And who’s selling that right? You and me, by way of the federal government.

Pemex Oil-Spill Cleanup of Mexico River Is 90% Complete

Petróleos Mexicanos said Thursday about 90% of the crude oil spilled into a river in northern Mexico had been removed but the cleanup effort will take another eight weeks.

Pemex, as the state-owned oil company is known, said that crews were working around the clock to remove the remaining crude oil from the San Juan river that lies near a company refinery in Cadereyta in northern Mexico.

Wyoming oil spill caused by backhoe and corrosion

An oil spill of 25,000 gallons in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin that occurred in May was caused by a backhoe damaging a 6-inch underground pipeline, according to a recent report by the Associated Press.

The spill, however, wasn’t a direct result of the damage caused. The crude oil pipeline owned by Casper-based Belle Fourche Pipeline was originally damaged by the machinery. But over time, corrosion turned the minor damage into the resulting spill which occurred on May 19. It remains unclear how much time passed between the initial damage and the resulting spill.

Regulators approve $160 million Enbridge Energy pipeline upgrade

Minnesota regulators on Thursday gave the go-ahead for a $160 million upgrade to a Canadian energy company’s crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota, disappointing anti-pipeline activists who oppose development of that nation’s oil-sands deposits.

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission approved the project on a 4-1 vote after six hours of testimony and discussion. The outcome was a victory for Enbridge Energy, the Calgary-based pipeline company that finished building the 1,000-mile Alberta Clipper pipeline four years ago and proposed to add pumping stations to increase its capacity from 570,000 to 800,000 barrels per day.

Shell Submits a Plan for New Exploration of Alaskan Arctic Oil

Royal Dutch Shell submitted a plan to the federal government on Thursday to try once again to explore for oil in the Alaskan Arctic, following years of legal and logistical setbacks as well as dogged opposition from environmentalists.

While the plan is just a first step in the process, it reflects the energy potential in the Arctic. Shell’s proposed programs consist of two drilling rigs working simultaneously in the Chukchi Sea, which could produce more than 400,000 barrels of oil a day.

Shell formally launches 2015 Arctic drilling bid

Shell’s campaign to resume Arctic drilling in 2015 took a major step forward Thursday, as the company gave federal regulators a broad drilling blueprint that lays out plans for boring new exploratory oil wells in the Chukchi Sea.

The exploration plan filed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management in Anchorage keeps the door open for Shell Oil Co. to resume its Arctic drilling campaign as soon as summer 2015. It is the strongest evidence yet that Shell’s new CEO, Ben van Beurden, is willing to keep pursuing a big discovery in the U.S. Arctic, after a mishap-plagued 2012 exploration campaign ended with the grounding of the company’s Kulluk drilling rig and a $200 million loss for scrapping it.

Norway’s offshore drilling puts Arctic Ocean at risk

As Norway pushes further into the Arctic with offshore oil drilling, the corresponding environmental risks have increased significantly.

The Barents Sea is one of the richest, most unique marine ecosystems in the world, with remarkable concentrations of seabirds, marine mammals, fish, and other marine life. The short-term energy potential here is truly not worth the long-term environmental risk from offshore drilling.

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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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