Environmental Must-Reads – December 12, 2014


Health worries pervade North Texas fracking zone

Propped up on a hospital bed, Taylor Ishee listened as his mother shared a conviction that choked her up. His rare cancer had a cause, she believes, and it wasn’t genetics.

Others in Texas have drawn the same conclusions about their confounding illnesses. Jana DeGrand, who suffered a heart attack and needed both her gallbladder and her appendix removed. Rebecca Williams, fighting off unexplained rashes, sharp headaches and repeated bouts of pneumonia. Maile Bush, who needed surgery for a sinus infection four rounds of antibiotics couldn’t heal. Annette Wilkes, whose own severe sinus infections were followed by two autoimmune diseases.

They all lived for years atop the gas-rich Barnett Shale in North Texas, birthplace of modern hydraulic fracturing. And they all believe exposure to natural gas development triggered their health problems.

Shale gas construction boom to add 130 million tons in greenhouse gas emissions, report says

America has a surplus of cheap natural gas thanks to the nation’s shale drilling boom, an environment that has prompted companies to spend billions of dollars to upgrade or expand dozens of facilities. While the build-up may be a good thing for the Louisiana economy, it could have a detrimental effect on efforts to curb air pollution, according to a report released Wednesday (Dec. 10) by the Environmental Integrity Project.

According to the report, a total of 46 new or expanded petrochemical facilities nationwide have received final or draft permits to build this year. Collectively, the report estimates those facilities will produce up to 55 million additional tons of greenhouse gases each year.

New Studies Close in on Methane Leaks and Bolster Calls for Strong E.P.A. Rules

A new peer-reviewed analysis of sources of leaks in natural gas drilling and well operations strongly bolsters growing calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to settle on regulations cutting wasteful, harmful emissions of methane from both new and existing oil and natural gas wells.

Methane is the main constituent of natural gas but also a powerful heat-trapping gas that is often accompanied by other pollutants that can worsen local air pollution.

Smoke, odors and drifting foam in Fort Worth suburb stir frustration over fracking

The 15 natural-gas wells near a high school, a daycare, a performing arts center and a neighborhood might be hard to see, but they’re difficult to ignore.

Smoke, foul odors and strange substances have come from them, according to residents’ complaints to regulators. Foam from one of the sites floated into the neighborhood a year ago, falling on trees and lawns. Another time, the well operator vented gases and chemicals directly into the air without attempting to contain them or burn them off, drawing a violation notice from the state. An accidental gas leak in September was fixed only after a neighbor heard the hissing sound as she stood at her back door.

Review finds environmental impact and toxicity of biocides used in fracking still largely unknown

A Colorado State University-led research team has completed the most comprehensive review to date of the environmental fate and toxicity of the biocides most commonly used in hydraulic fracturing fluids.

Researchers analyzed more than 200 research papers, studies, and other literature to critically evaluate the current knowledge on how these chemicals may enter the environment, whether they are likely to degrade or persist, and if they or their degradation products may pose a risk to human health and the environment. The team also pinpointed various areas in which more research is urgently needed and identified the pros and cons of potential biocide alternatives.

California crafts groundwater monitoring rules for fracking sites

California remains bitterly divided over the oil extraction process known as fracking. While the energy industry contends it will bring new jobs to the state, environmentalists seek to ban the practice until it is proven safe. Their loud opposition has even become a political thorn for Gov. Jerry Brown, who has otherwise made environmental causes such as climate change a focus of his administration.

Dem bill would ban fracking on federal land

A House Democrat introduced a bill aimed at prohibiting hydraulic fracturing for oil or natural gas on federal land.

The bill, which advocates call the strongest federal anti-fracking bill to date, is aimed at a controversial oil and gas recovery technique that environmentalists say can harm groundwater, drinking water, flora, fauna and air quality. Drillers, leasing public land, pump sand, water and chemicals into the ground at high pressure to recover more oil and gas from shale.

Colorado GOP push for payment during fracking bans

Colorado House Republicans will propose legislation requiring counties that ban fracking to pay mineral owners for losing their ability to develop their property.

The House GOP said Thursday that Rep. Perry Buck of Windsor will be introducing the bill in the session that begins next month.

Fracking report card on WPX, others say public not adequately informed

Most major oil and gas producers, including those in Oklahoma, are doing a poor job of informing the public about the safety of their hydraulic fracturing activities, according to a new report released by environment-focused investment groups Thursday.

Tulsa-based WPX Energy Inc. ranked 25th on a scoreboard of 30 companies. Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy Corp. fared better in the new report, while Continental Resources tied for last place.

Fracking scorecard reveals oil and gas companies fail universally in disclosing risks to investors and communities

On Thursday, a coalition of leading investment advisory firms and advocacy organizations issued a report scoring 30 major oil and gas companies operating across the United States on their disclosure transparency around the risks associated with hydraulic fracturing operations.

“Disclosing the Facts 2014: Transparency and Risk in Hydraulic Fracturing Operations” was released by the group known as the Sustainable Investing Coalition. The organization held a phone-based news conference where they graded a collection of oil and gas producing companies based on their disclosure relationship with investors. The grading coalition is made up of As You Sow, Boston Common Asset Management, Green Century Capital Management and the Investor Environmental Health Network.

Levee authority, energy firms argue in court over law passed to kill wetlands lawsuit

Attorneys representing the east bank levee authority and dozens of oil and gas companies verbally duked it out in New Orleans federal court Wednesday (Dec. 10), in a hearing over the legality of a state law designed to block the authority’s environmental damages lawsuit against the companies.

U.S. District Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown did not immediately rule on the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East’s request for her to ignore Act 544. Legislative sponsors and the energy companies contend the law has the power to block the suit – a notion the levee authority disputes.

Feds raise max amount oil and gas companies required to pay for offshore spills

The federal government on Thursday (Dec. 11) increased the maximum amount oil and gas companies are required to pay in the case of a major oil spill. The move comes more than four years after the fatal 2010 Deepwater Horizon rig explosion and ensuing oil disaster, which prompted calls to raise the liability cap for oil spills.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversees offshore oil and gas leasing, said it has raised the liability limit for oil spill damages from $75 million to $134 million under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. The new cap takes effect in January.

Large Oil Slick Threatens Sandy Hook Bay, Seals

A large oil slick is threatening New Jersey’s Sandy Hook Bay and authorities fear the sheen could endanger the population of seals that migrate there each winter, the U.S. Coast Guard and parks officials told NBC 4 New York Thursday.

Oil from the 2-mile-long, 400-foot-wide slick started washing up on parts of the shoreline Thursday afternoon, though the source of the spill is unclear.

BP spill took human toll

“The Great Invisible, “a quietly dispiriting look at the human toll of the BP oil spill disaster, is a solid piece of journalism that keeps rabble-rousing to a minimum. Call it the anti-Michael Moore approach.

This is not to say, however, that this often moving documentary lacks anger. Quite the opposite. It’s just that director Margaret Brown wants to tell her story from as many sides as possible, whether it’s the shrimpers who lost their way of living, the oil-rig workers and their families who suffered from the explosion or the oil executives trying to meet consumer expectations of cheap gas.

National Wildlife Federation recommends 5 Alabama projects for oil spill restoration funding

In a report released this week the National Wildlife Federation recommended oyster reef creation, land acquisition and watershed restoration among Alabama-based projects that should be given priority as federal and state officials begin dividing up fine money collected from BP and other companies involved in the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

NWF’s Gulf Restoration Program director David Muth said the report highlights projects that live up to the aim of the RESTORE Act, which is to support overall ecosystem restoration and improve the health of the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas Projects Key in Gulf Coast Oil Spill Restoration

As Texas and the Gulf Coast move toward what likely will be the largest ecosystem restoration project in U.S. history, a new report details what it calls the most important priorities in recovering from the massive oil-spill disaster of 2010.

The recommendations come from the National Wildlife Federation. David Muth, director of the federation’s Gulf Restoration Program, said the focus is on projects that would benefit all five Gulf Coast states.

BP: Restructuring to cost $1 billion in next year

Oil giant BP has warned that plans to streamline its business will cost it $1 billion over the next year.

The changes are part of the company’s move to downsize and simplify its operations following $43 billion worth of divestments since the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Broken wheel on CP train caused 100,000-litre oil spill, safety board says

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has determined the derailment of a CP freight train in northwestern Ontario — which led to an oil spill — was due to a rail fracture caused by a broken wheel.

In an investigation report released Thursday, the board says the train was travelling from Edmonton to Toronto on April 3, 2103, when an “undesired emergency brake application” happened near White River, Ont.

CP knew of faulty tank-car wheel before derailment, investigator says

A defective rail car wheel that caused a 2013 derailment and oil spill was flagged by Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. as needing replacement, but permitted to run days before the accident in Northern Ontario, the federal rail investigator says.

Two tank cars spilled 102,000 litres of crude oil after tumbling down an embankment near White River in a 22-car derailment in April, 2013, after a broken wheel caused the rail to fracture, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said in a report released on Thursday.

Oil Spill in Bangladesh Threatens Aquatic Animals

Authorities in Bangladesh were urgently assessing environmental damage in one of the world’s largest mangrove forests on Friday after an oil tanker sank, threatening wildlife in the UNESCO World Heritage site, officials and local media said.

The oil tanker carrying more than 350,000 liters (92,500 gallons) of bunker oil sank Tuesday on a major river flowing through the Sundarbans after being hit by a cargo vessel.

Oil spill spreads further, dolphins remain unseen

“Oil is floating (on the water) as far as it can be seen,” said forest conservator Karttik Chandra Sarkar.

The oil tanker sank at Chandpai in the Shela River on Tuesday, causing a major oil spill. It was carrying 350,000 litres of furnace oil.

Forest officials said oil from the vessel had spread across 34,000 hectares of forest area.
The experts fear the spill could have catastrophic effects on the Sundarbans heritage.

Oil pipelines are so last year, says Wall Street Journal

What a difference a year makes. At the end of 2013, Keystone XL looked like a done deal. KXL South (a.k.a. the Gulf Coast Pipeline) was already built and weeks away from being turned on.

Now, a year later, that renowned pinko/green publication known as the Wall Street Journal writes that the fight against Keystone XL has been so successful that it’s become the training model for at least 10 other anti-pipeline fights. Seriously. There’s a slideshow and everything.

Kerry feels heat on Keystone oil pipeline at U.N. climate talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday urged countries at U.N. climate talks in Lima to move away from using fossil fuels while demonstrators gathered outside the meeting urged him to reject the Keystone oil pipeline.

“Coal and oil may be cheap ways to power an economy today… but I urge nations around the world: Look further down the road,” he said.

Supreme Court Decision on Pipeline Possible

A decision from the Nebraska Supreme Court on the Keystone XL Pipeline project could come as soon as Friday or as late as next summer. The case, Thompson v. Heineman challenges the pipeline siting law, which gives TransCanada a route through Nebraska for its pipeline.

The lower court ruled the law unconstitutional and the Supreme Court could either overturn or uphold that decision. Both opposers and TransCanada officials are preparing for the next steps.

Is the Keystone Pipeline Irrelevant?

For years, environmentalists have wailed about the Keystone XL pipeline—so much so that its potential destruction of fragile ecosystems and the global climate felt almost inevitable. But there are signs that the Keystone XL pipeline itself is as good as dead, no matter what Congress or President Obama decides. That’s because rapidly shifting economics, as well as some sneaky moves by a rival pipeline company, have probably made the pipeline superfluous.

Canada says Pacific pipeline route now up to energy firms

Canada’s pro-pipeline government has done all it can for two embattled projects and will leave it to the energy companies to advance pipelines to the Pacific in the face of resistance from Aboriginal and green groups, a senior minister said in comments released on Thursday.

Industry Minister James Moore said it was now up to Enbridge Inc and Kinder Morgan Inc to ensure the success of the projects from the Alberta oil sands to the Pacific province of British Columbia.

Ecuador case against Chevron before Canadian court

Lawyers for a group of Ecuadoran villagers are asking Canada’s high court on Thursday to grant their clients access to Canadian courts to enforce a US$9.5-billion Ecuadorian judgment against Chevron Corp for rainforest damage.

Lawyers have fought for years in several countries over who’s responsible for pollution in the rain forest. They are arguing that the case should be heard in Canada because Chevron has a Canadian subsidiary.

Add comment

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

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This