Environmental Must-Reads – August 6, 2014


Climate Change Law in New York Bridges Partisan Divide

Adapting for climate change is no longer just a recommendation in New York State. It is about to become the law.

New York lawmakers passed a measure in June requiring that communities design projects to handle the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels, heavy flooding and more intense storm surges. The legislation—known as the Community Risk and Resiliency Act (S06617)—affects infrastructure ranging from bridges and parks to wastewater management systems and covers projects that need government funding or permits. It is expected to be signed into law by Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo by the end of the summer.

Youngstown contractor sentenced to 28 months for dumping fracking waste

The owner of a Youngstown oil-and-gas-drilling company was sentenced Tuesday to 28 months in prison for ordering employees to dump tens of thousands of gallons of fracking waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River.

U.S. District Judge Donald Nugent also fined Benedict Lupo, 64, of suburban Poland $25,000. Nugent rejected defense attorney Roger Synenberg’s request for home detention and a harsh fine.

Outrage in Colorado over Fracking Betrayal of Top Democrats

In what is being slammed as a hijacking of the democratic process—and a cave to pressure by the oil and gas industry—top Colorado Democrats have pulled two anti-fracking initiatives from the state’s November ballot despite huge grassroots support behind the proposals.

On the day Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) was expected to hand in nearly 300,000 signatures in favor of ballot initiatives 88 and 89, which sought to provide greater local control over fracking operations, he announced that he had dropped support for the measures in favor of a deal brokered by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper. Instead of allowing citizens to vote on shale oil and gas drilling in their communities, the politicians announced during a joint press conference that they are establishing a task force—led by XTO Energy President Randy Cleveland and taking input from business groups along with the oil and gas industry—that will craft drilling regulations.

Deal Struck in Colorado Over Vote on Drilling

Seeking to head off a costly election-year fight over oil and gas drilling that could threaten vulnerable Colorado Democrats, Gov. John W. Hickenlooper said Monday that he had reached a deal to keep two antifracking measures off November’s ballots.

The fight over fracking in a swing state that prizes its natural beauty and relies on its energy resources for jobs and tax revenues has become a monthslong headache for Democratic leaders, opening fissures within the party and between pro-energy moderates and environmental groups that want to impose tough limits on the oil and gas rigs sprouting up alongside subdivisions.

Fracking Compromise May Create a Bigger Fight in 2016

Governor John Hickenlooper earned the headlines and praise he received this week after the compromise he crafted ended the fracking battle on the 2014 Colorado ballot.

Hickenlooper could have turned back many times, but he finally brought together the very motley crew of odd bedfellows that was required to craft this 11th hour compromise.

Colorado’s Anti-Fracking Retreat

How worried are Democrats about the November election? Look no further than Colorado, where this week they leaned on their green supporters to mute their anti-natural gas drilling agenda that is proving to be unpopular even in a liberal-trending state.

Democratic Congressman and environmental activist Jared Polis on Monday announced—through gritted teeth—that he is withdrawing his support for two ballot initiatives that would have effectively halted the drilling technique known as hydraulic oil- and gas fracturing in the state. Mr. Polis has poured millions of dollars of his own cash to promote the measures, which the anti-fracking left has advertised as a national showdown over natural gas.

Some Md. lawmakers oppose seismic testing

Eight Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation wrote President Obama Monday urging him to reconsider his administration’s plan to allow seismic testing for oil and gas off the mid-Atlantic coast.

In a jointly signed letter, the eight called seismic testing the first major step toward opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling, which carries the risk of oil spills. But they warned that the tests themselves would be “incredibly harmful to marine mammals and fisheries in the region,” generating “dynamite-like” blasts of compressed air underwater that could hurt whales, dolphins and fish.

Proposed St. Tammany fracking operation must rework wetlands permit application, Corps of Engineers says

The Louisiana Geological Survey has rendered invalid Helis Oil & Gas Co.’s application for an Army Corps of Engineers’ wetlands permit for its proposed oil drilling and fracking project near Mandeville, the corps said Tuesday (Aug. 5). The move means Helis must submit a revised application for which the public comment period would begin anew.

Helis will have to show the Geological Survey that the drill site will be productive for oil development, corps spokesman Rene Poche said. The agency reviewed the permit application to determine the geological suitability for the proposed drilling, he said.

State: Fracking waste tainted groundwater, soil at three Washington County sites

Leaks of fracking waste water from three impoundments in Washington County have contaminated soil and groundwater, prompting the state to issue a violation notice at one site and increase monitoring and testing at another.

John Poister, a state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman, said the problems at three of Range Resources Inc.’s nine Washington County impoundments have raised concerns and increased regulators’ scrutiny. The impoundments store flowback and waste water from multiple Marcellus Shale well drilling and fracking operations.

Big Oil Companies Pay Just A 11.7 Percent Tax Rate, Report Finds

Big oil companies pay 23.3 percentage points less in tax than the rate typically imposed on corporations, according to a new report.

The report, published by Taxpayers for Common Sense, found the U.S.’s 20 largest oil and gas companies paid 11.7 percent in taxes from 2009 to 2013. That’s significantly less than the statutory corporate tax rate of 35 percent, which is typically what corporations pay if they make more than $18.3 million in a year. And the smaller oil firms — those smaller than major firms like ExxonMobil or Chevron — paid even less tax — 3.7 percent, according to the report.

Landowners speak out against pipeline project at Regulatory Commission hearing

Garry Gross said he almost did not attend Tuesday night’s meeting with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission because the project seemed like “a done deal.”

But the Pine Grove Township man said he thought about the effect the pipeline would have on the six acres of woods that he and his wife built a house on.

Wisconsin’s role in oil boom highlighted by latest proposed pipeline

The latest example of the role Wisconsin plays in North America’s oil boom is a short but vital section of pipeline in Douglas County that would funnel North Dakota crude to Superior and points south.

Enbridge Energy Co., which has come under federal scrutiny after a series of spills, including in Wisconsin, has asked state regulators to construct a 14-mile pipeline in northwestern Wisconsin, largely through an existing right of way.

Natural gas: Massachusetts is ground zero for Northeast’s pipeline fight

Tom Clark, whose family has battled bugs, hungry deer, and early frosts for nearly a century in their peach and apple orchards in the rural western Massachusetts town of Deerfield, now faces a new foe in this area: the natural gas industry.

The Clarkdale Farm sits on terraced hillsides on the route of a proposed 180-mile pipeline to be constructed as early as 2018, running from eastern New York to a transmission hub in the Bay State’s northeastern corner. The pipeline, which will carry fracked gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Fields across the seam of northern Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire, is drawing intense fire from local landowners, environmental activists, and concerned citizens across the region.

Firm building underground propane pipeline

Work crews recently broke ground in Pasadena on an underground pipeline to transport propane. Engineering plans indicate the 12-inch pipeline will be tied into an existing pipeline near Red Bluff Road and Shaver Street and will cross from east to west through the northeast portion of the city.

The pipeline will then cross under Beltway 8 and continue on through Deer Park.

Line 9 blockade halts work on Enbridge pipeline

Protesters set up a blockade at an Enbridge pipeline site in southwestern Ontario on Tuesday, disrupting work on what is called Line 9.

The demonstration at Innerkip north of Woodstock started early in the morning and was aimed at preventing installation of a valve.

DOT: Rail insurance inadequate for oil train accidents

Most freight railroad insurance policies couldn’t begin to cover damage from a moderate oil train accident, much less a major disaster. And the Department of Transportation’s own database of oil train incidents is flawed because some railroads and shippers provide incomplete information that far understates property damage.

Those conclusions come from a DOT analysis of its own rule proposed to address the series of troubling derailments across North America as shipments of oil by rail surge.

Sacramento leaders: Risk of oil train explosions needs to be acknowledged

Sacramento area leaders say the city of Benicia is failing to acknowledge the risks of explosions and fires that could happen if the Bay Area city approves Valero’s plan to run crude oil trains through Northern California to its refinery.

The accusation, in a draft letter released Tuesday by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, comes in response to a Benicia report that said twice-daily rail shipments of 70,000 barrels of crude will pose no significant threat to cities on the rail line, such as Roseville, Sacramento and Davis.

Amtrak provides crude oil train details states had withheld

Two loaded and two empty crude oil trains operate daily over Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor in Maryland and Delaware, according a document submitted by the passenger railroad in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

Last month, Norfolk Southern, the freight railroad that operates the crude oil trains, went to court in Maryland to block the state Department of the Environment from making the same information available to McClatchy and the Associated Press.

Oil train records show what Oregon, rail companies tried to hide

When Oregon officials at last released oil train routing information after a month-long public records battle, they still decided to redact some information. But officials in neighboring Washington state had no such qualms.

The Oregonian reported that Oregon officials made at least four redactions when the information was available in Washington records, including the source of the oil and who shipped it.

State: Up To Seven Oil Trains A Week Through Oklahoma

As many as seven oil trains a week pass through Oklahoma carrying crude drilled in the Northern Plains that has been involved in multiple fiery derailments, including a 2008 explosion northeast of Oklahoma City involving oil from Montana.

Responding to public records requests, Oklahoma’s emergency response commission on Monday disclosed the number of trains expected through 20 counties. It did not name the railroads involved.

Oil group wants highest-danger label for Bakken rail shipments

A U.S. oil industry group is recommending that all crude shipped by rail from North Dakota’s Bakken fields be labeled as the most-dangerous type of oil cargo, a designation that could hasten the use of new or upgraded tank cars.

On Monday, the North Dakota Petroleum Council (NDPC) released the final results of a wide-scale study on the quality characteristics of Bakken crude, which has been involved in several fiery oil-train derailments over the past year.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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