Environmental Must-Reads – August 6, 2015


Oklahoma Acts to Limit Earthquake Risk at Oil and Gas Wells

Oklahoma regulators have told energy companies to sharply reduce underground wastewater disposal across an earthquake-prone stretch of the state, a move that ratchets up a so-far unsuccessful effort to reduce quakes related to oil and gas production.

The wastewater is pumped out of the ground when oil or gas is extracted, and then put back underground at what is known as a disposal or injection well. The instruction, issued late Monday, seeks a 38 percent cut in the amount of this wastewater being pumped underground by the operators of 23 injection wells, largely northeast of Oklahoma City.

EPA rule earns ridicule in oil and gas country, but some support percolates

If there’s one thing traditional oil and gas states don’t like, it’s being told how energy policy should work.

Consider the ferocity of comments from three of the country’s most prominent energy-producing states that followed this week’s release of U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which aims to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) said the federal government seems “hell-bent on threatening” principles of a free market. Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) called EPA’s plan “one of the most expansive and expensive regulatory burdens ever imposed on U.S. families and businesses.” Louisiana Attorney General James Caldwell (R) said EPA’s move “will lead to fewer jobs and higher utility bills.”

An oil boomtown that became a symbol of the fracking revolution is dropping fast

The population of a U.S. oil boomtown that became a symbol of the fracking revolution is dropping fast because of the collapse in crude oil prices, according to an unusual metric: the amount of sewage produced.

Williston, North Dakota, has seen its population drop about 6 percent since last summer, according to wastewater data relied upon heavily by city planning officials.

Feds Urged to Ban Fracking in Eastern Colorado

Grassroots activists, artists and conservation groups submitted formal comments on August 3 calling on the Bureau of Land Management to prohibit new leasing of publicly owned fossil fuels and new hydraulic fracturing in its upcoming resource management plan for more than 6 million acres in eastern Colorado. Under the plan, the agency projects a potential 2,400 percent increase in the number of active federal oil and gas wells — from 543 to 13,041 — between 2011 and 2030 within the planning area.

“Expanding fossil fuel development in the face of the climate crisis is backward, dangerous federal policy,” said Taylor McKinnon of the Center for Biological Diversity. “The welfare of future generations depends on our generation acting now to keep fossil fuels safely in the ground. Our publicly owned fossil fuels, like those in BLM’s plan, should be the first taken off the table.”

Monterey County group launches initiative drive to ban fracking

A move is afoot to do what the Monterey County Board of Supervisors declined to do earlier this year – stop fracking before it reaches Monterey County.

Paula Getzelman, a founding member of the fledgling Protect Monterey County, said the organization is in a fund-raising mode now and will begin the signature-gathering process after the first of the year to place a citizens’ initiative for a fracking moratorium on the November 2016 ballot.

New Rules for Fracking in Denton

The Denton City Council has tapped into its zoning powers to shore up new rules for oil and natural gas drilling.

The 5-1 vote Tuesday night is in response to Texas House Bill 40, which nullified the city’s ban on hydraulic fracking.

According to the Denton Record Chronicle, the setback between wells and protected areas was reduced from 1,200 feet to 1,000 feet.

Liquefied Natural Gas Makes Qatar an Energy Giant

The temperature hovered around 100 degrees on the jetty here, where a set of pipes were connected to a giant red-hulled ship. But the moisture in the air froze on the pipes and flaked off, creating snowlike flurries on the early summer evening.

The incongruous sight is common on the Qatari ship, the Al Rekayyat, which carries a frigid fuel known as liquefied natural gas.

Natural gas, when chilled to minus 260 degrees, turns into a liquid with a fraction of its former volume. The process has reshaped the natural gas business, allowing the fuel to be pumped onto ships and dispatched around the world.

Stony Point pipeline station receives expansion permit

Federal officials have granted permission for an expansion of a Stony Point compressor station that will serve the Algonquin natural gas pipeline.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave Algonquin Gas Transmission, LLC, the green light July 28 after confirming the company had the necessary federal permits.

Nexus Pipeline company to sue Green and New Franklin residents to allow surveyor access to private property

A Texas pipeline company intends to file lawsuits Thursday against Summit County residents who have refused to allow the company’s surveyors onto their property.

Nexus Gas Transmission LLC notified residents of Green and New Franklin of the impending legal action in notices delivered to their homes Wednesday.

Chesapeake Energy to scale back Utica Shale operations until new pipeline is ready

Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. will continue to curtail production in Ohio’s Utica Shale.

In July, the company voluntarily cut production by 100 million cubic feet of natural gas per day, company officials said on Wednesday in an earnings call with analysts and the media.

Chesapeake is expecting that curtailment to trim production by 275 million cubic feet per day from August through October, they said.

U.S EPA requires California companies to improve oil spill prevention plans

Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the resolution of a series of settlements under the Clean Water Act with Safety-Kleen Systems, Inc., in Newark, Calif., and Cargill Corporation, in Fullerton, Calif., for violations of federal oil pollution prevention regulations. Safety-Kleen will pay a $90,000 penalty and Cargill will pay a $45,000 penalty to resolve the violations at their facilities.

“All companies who store oil must comply with federal standards. Facilities are required to prevent spills and be prepared to respond to a worst case oil discharge emergency,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “Preventing spills and protecting our waterways from oil spills is essential.”

Cause of Bayonne oil spill appears to be tugboat’s ‘driver error,’ NJDEP says

The oil spill at the city’s International-Matex Tank Terminal on Saturday appears to have been caused by a tugboat operator’s “driver error,” according to the state Department of Environmental Protection.

On Saturday at around 10 p.m., a tugboat — which the NJDEP said today is owned by the Vane Brothers company — collided with a pier at the IMTT, according to the U.S. Coast Guard. The terminal is located about 10 miles south of Manhattan, near where the Kill van Kull meets Upper New York Harbor.

Billionaire wants oil refiners to disclose California profit

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer called on California legislators Wednesday to require oil companies to disclose how much they make in profits from refining oil in the state.

Steyer was joined by the nonprofit Consumer Watchdog in condemning what they called historic profits for oil refiners at the expense of consumers.

Critics slam Shell provision that allows 21 days to cap oil well blowout

An environmentalist and a fishing industry observer have harsh words for what they call weak provisions in Shell Canada’s requirement for dealing with a blowout while drilling off the coast of Nova Scotia.

Shell Canada received its approval in June from the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, which was signed off on by the federal environment minister.

Closer inspection of the document shows Shell predicts it would take 12 to 21 days to cap a blowout. Modelling showed that during winter months, a spill would likely travel east, while in summer months it would be multi-directional.

Nigeria Backs Quick Cleanup of Half Century of Oil Spills

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said he’s accelerating plans for one of the world’s largest oil cleanups following 50 years of spillage at operations in the Ogoniland region of the Niger Delta.

Buhari on Wednesday approved the composition of a governing council and board of trustees to oversee the restoration plan. A group of “stakeholders” will release as much as $10 million within 30 days of formally creating a trust fund to manage financial contributions, according to an e-mailed statement from the office of the presidency.

Harmful dispersant should not be used for oil spill “cleanup”

WWF-Canada recently sent a letter to Minister Leona Aglukkaq in response to Environment Canada’s request for submissions on whether to add new products, such as the dispersant Corexit 9500A, to an approved list for use in oil spill clean-up operations.

Dispersants are products which are meant to break up slicks of oil into small droplets, making them easier to disperse throughout large volumes of water and speeding up the rate at which they biodegrade. Though some chemicals have been known to be effective in this manner, others have shown vast discrepancies in their success between lab tests and real-world applications.

After 9 Days, Keystone XL Pipeline Hearings Finish In Pierre

After nine days, the state Public Utilities Commission has finished hearing from opposing sides in the debate over whether to allow the Keystone XL oil pipeline to run through South Dakota.

The commission is considering whether to approve for the second time in just over five years construction of the South Dakota portion of the long-delayed pipeline.

The state authorized TransCanada Corp.’s project in 2010, but permits must be revisited if construction doesn’t start within four years.

Vague Answers, Questionable Credentials Define Keystone XL Hearings in SD

Vague answers, a lack of tribal consultation, and a top engineer’s questionable credentials emerged on Tuesday as TransCanada Corp. argued its right to run the Keystone XL pipeline through South Dakota.

“I think it’s been proven TransCanada does not have the safety record they are trying to say they have,” said Joye Braun, a Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe member whose mistrust only grew as the hearings before the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) dragged into a second week. “Also the tax revenue will not be what they are saying. Most importantly though, is that there are serious questions regarding safety to our drinking water for the state and tribal communities.”

Next Up, Keystone XL

On Monday morning, President Obama stood before a roomful of White House officials and environmental advocates to announce the release of the Clean Power Plan, his long awaited regulations on emissions from coal fired power plants.

The President spoke of the “moral necessity” of climate action and the obligation he felt to protect the planet for his daughters and future generations. Earlier on in the speech, Obama also reflected on what sets climate apart from other issues.

Informational meetings set for Enbridge pipeline project across northern Minnesota

The state’s utility commission will be holding informational meetings about a proposed oil pipeline across northern Minnesota throughout August.

The Public Utilities Commission has scheduled 14 meetings in 11 communities along the proposed route of Enbridge’s Line 3 replacement project, which would follow existing right-of-ways to Clearbrook before cutting east to Superior, Wis., matching the route of the company’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline.

Why Michigan won’t shut down Mackinac straits oil pipeline

Shepler’s Mackinac Island Ferry service boats run on oil and they’ve done so for more than 70 years. But they won’t run at all if tourism dries up because the island is engulfed in an oil spill.

That risk has led Chris Shepler, owner of the popular ferry business, to publicly call for a shutdown, or decommissioning, of the Enbridge Inc. twin Line 5 oil pipelines that traverse the straits’ bottom just east of the Mackinac Bridge.

“We’ve got to err on the side of caution,” said Shepler. “Nothing lasts forever.”

Energy Transfer explores crude pipeline in Texas, New Mexico

Energy Transfer Partners said Wednesday it’s asking producers to sign on to a new crude oil pipeline in western Texas and eastern New Mexico.

The proposed Delaware Basin Crude Gathering Pipeline would have a capacity of 120,000 barrels per day of crude oil and consist of three gathering systems totaling about 130 miles of pipeline.

The network will gather crude from about 100 miles west of Midland, Texas in Reeves County, Texas and Lea County, New Mexico. The system will then link to points in Loving County, Texas and others inside Lea County, New Mexico, where the crude oil will have access to another Sunoco Logistics Partners oil transportation network.

Consent Order on cleanup underway at CSX derailment site

State officials are working on a consent order with CSX railroad administrators concerning future monitoring of the environment where a train derailed and caught fire near Maryville.

Meanwhile, residents with wells within one-half mile of the July 1 derailment site along Old Mountain Tabor Road are still advised to avoid drinking the water.

The consent order is being cobbled together through the Division of Remediation’s Voluntary Assistance Program under the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, according to TDEC Deputy Communications Director Eric Ward.

An Arctic drilling venture gives Shell headaches on top of economic woes

The Coast Guard yesterday established a “safety zone” and a “voluntary free speech area” around the Fennica, an icebreaking ship under contract with Royal Dutch Shell PLC, protecting the ship and those protesting the firm’s drilling activities in the Arctic.

The practice has become routine for the Coast Guard: The agency has designated at least three so-called “First Amendment areas” since April around three different vessels related to Shell’s drilling operations in the Chukchi Sea.

The rule, which will expire Aug. 22, carves out a buffer zone of at least 100 yards around the Fennica and a First Amendment zone for activists — specifically, members of a “kayak flotilla” — to demonstrate.

Judge: California utility held improper nuclear plant talks

A judge Wednesday ruled that Southern California Edison executives engaged in improper talks with California utility regulators related to the now-closed San Onofre nuclear power plant and the company could face millions of dollars in potential penalties.

The findings by California Public Utilities Commission Administrative Law Judge Melanie Darling come as the latest development tied to a long-running dispute over a nearly $5 billion settlement that divided costs from the defunct nuclear plant.

What Will Happen to San Onofre Nuclear Waste?

Southern California Edison, the company already in hot water over allegations of secret deals that left taxpayers mostly on the hook for the $3 billion shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) will oversee burying the nuclear waste along the San Diego County coastline for decades to come.

Hearings about the shutdown costs of the nuclear power plant located along Interstate 5 between San Diego and Orange counties drew crowds of angry customers but not much fuss has been made over a plan to bury 3,600,000 pounds of nuclear waste underground along the coast.

Japan Heads Toward Nuclear Unknown With Post-Fukushima Restarts

Japan is about to do something that’s never been done before: Restart a fleet of mothballed nuclear reactors.

The first reactor to meet new safety standards could come online as early as next week. Japan is reviving its nuclear industry four years after all its plants were shut for safety checks following the earthquake and tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Dai-Ichi station north of Tokyo, causing radiation leaks that forced the evacuation of 160,000 people.

NRA approves long-term operating plan for Sendai nuclear plant

The Nuclear Regulation Authority on Wednesday approved Kyushu Electric Power Co.’s management plans, which are required to operate its reactor at the Sendai plant for more than 30 years.

The approval came days before the unit’s planned restart under stricter safety requirements imposed following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

The nuclear watchdog endorsed the steps even though Kyushu Electric has not completed all of the procedures, including evaluation of the quake-resistance of some aging instruments. That sparked criticism that the regulator rushed the approval before the reactor’s resumption, which is expected as early as next Monday.

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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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