Environmental Must-Reads – December 13, 2013


Dallas — yes, Dallas — bans fracking in most of the city

The growing wave of local fracking bans is sweeping into Texas, where the state’s third largest city has put a near-total kibosh on the practice.

The Dallas City Council adopted new rules on Wednesday that bar hydraulic fracturing within 1,500 feet of a home, school, church, or well. Dallas is now the largest of five Texan cities and towns that have imposed local restrictions on fracking. The city, which sits at the edge of the gas-rich Barnett Shale area, had previously imposed a safety buffer of 300 feet and banned fracking in parks and flood plains.

Dozens of groups call for offshore fracking halt

More than 150 environmental groups are asking California coastal regulators to halt offshore fracking, saying the practice violates state law.

Wetsuit-clad demonstrators holding surfboards submitted the letter to the California Coastal Commission on Thursday before its meeting in San Francisco.

Why the fracking industry admits it is ‘getting smashed’ by public opposition

“Mate,” came the admission of the week so far, “we are getting smashed”. It was delivered by Allan Campbell, the Australian (as you might have guessed) founder of Caudrilla Resources, the leading fracking firm, who has been described as the “godfather” of Britain’s nascent shale gas industry. Confessing he had “underestimated the political aspect” of the company’s operations in Britain “by 100 per cent”, he was expressing his frustration at being routed by public opposition, not least by a combination of crustie campaigners and Conservative countrypeople in Balcombe, West Sussex.

Experts Eye Oil and Gas Industry as Quakes Shake Oklahoma

Mary Catherine Sexton has been rattled enough. This fall her neighborhood in the northeastern part of this city has been shaken by dozens of minor earthquakes. “We would just have little trembles all the time,” she said.

Even before a magnitude 4.5 quake on Saturday knocked objects off her walls and a stone from above her neighbor’s bay window, Ms. Sexton was on edge.

State issues emergency fracking regulations

The California Department of Conservation on Thursday announced it has come up emergency regulations on oil and gas well stimulation that will go into effect Jan. 1.

The department is working on developing rules that will regulate hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, that will go into effect at the start of 2015. The emergency regulations are mandated by Senate Bill 4 and will be forwarded to the state Office of Administrative Law on Dec. 19 to make sure they are in place by the first of the year.

Analysis: U.S. drilling boom leaves some homeowners in a big hole

When Gary Gless bought his sleek, modernist house in Los Angeles in 2002, he thought he had hit a “gold mine.” The world’s largest inner-city park – featuring a lush, 18-hole golf course – was about to get built across the street. Gless’s balcony was set to overlook the clubhouse and first tee.

Today, instead of golf carts and fairways, Gless looks out on to drilling wells and oil pads. The park plan was ditched, and Freeport-McMoRan Oil & Gas LLC now operates 700 wells there – and 400 more are on the way. All the drilling, Gless says, has caused house foundations to crack and swimming pools to start to slide down hills.

Minnesota to issue draft silica sand mining guidelines

Minnesota plans to release a draft set of model standards Friday to help communities struggling to regulate the boom in mining for silica sand, which oil and gas drillers use for hydraulic fracturing.

They’re meant to give smaller governments a toolbox of approaches they can tailor to cope with sand mining’s effects on the environment, public health and roads and bridges. The Environmental Quality Board plans to post the draft on its website Friday to start a 30-day public comment period, and to hold a public meeting Wednesday to discuss details.

Are oil and gas facilities edging too close to schools in northeast B.C.? New study suggests they are

School children in northeast British Columbia are being put at risk because of the inadequate minimum setbacks required for wells or pipelines – even when they are pumping deadly sour gas – according to a new report from the University of Victoria.

Wells can be drilled within 100 meters of public places, including schools, and that raises important safety concerns, said Calvin Sandborn, legal director of the environmental law clinic at UVic.

Is It Trespassing When Wastewater Seeps From An Injection Well?

A rice farmer and an energy company are going head-to-head in front of the Texas Supreme Court this January over the issue of wastewater.

A company that operates injection wells will square off against a rice farm “that says wastewater from those wells has migrated into a saltwater aquifer below its land,” the Texas Tribune reported.

PA DEP opens oil and gas rules for public comment

Starting Saturday, December 14, the public is invited to comment on major revisions to Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations, the Department of Environmental Protection announced this afternoon.

The proposed rules would address surface impacts of drilling, including well pads, impoundments and pipelines, and consider impacts to public resources like parks and wildlife areas. The rules would set regulatory policy for requirements laid out in the state’s natural gas drilling law known as Act 13 or the “impact fee law.”

Cheniere’s massive export plans rise on Gulf Coast

Here at the junction of Sabine Lake and the Gulf of Mexico, about 100 miles east of Houston, a humble town of avid boaters, dotted with elevated beach houses and tiny shops promising fishing bait, stares across the water at five massive tanks.

Those tanks could store enough energy to fuel for a day both Texas and Louisiana, the two states bordering the marshland and the inlet that make up the Sabine Pass. But the tanks — each of which can hold 3.4 billion cubic feet of natural gas — aren’t even the centerpiece of Cheniere Energy’s $12 billion answer to a U.S. market flooded with natural gas.

Ex-BP engineer on trial in oil spill case unlikely to testify

A former BP drilling engineer isn’t expected to testify at his trial on charges he deleted text messages about the company’s response to its massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A lawyer for Kurt Mix told a federal judge and Justice Department prosecutor that her client isn’t one of three witnesses whom defense attorneys plan to call to testify once they begin presenting their case on Friday, according to a transcript of Wednesday’s proceedings.

As Prosecution Rests, Fmr BP Engineer Kurt Mix Asks Judge To Toss Case

The trial of former BP drilling engineer Kurt Mix is coming to a close as the defense prepares to call three witnesses Friday and have closing statements next Monday.  However, before one defense witness took the stand, Mix’s attorneys, led by Ropes and Gray LLP’s Joan McPhee, asked U.S. District Judge Sandwood Duval, Jr. to enter a judgement of acquittal because prosecutors had failed to prove Mix’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  The motion, known as a Rule 29, is commonly used by defense attorneys to have the presiding judge rule that the evidence presented by the prosecution was so weak that the case must be tossed immediately.  In most cases, almost all cases, this type of defense motion is often overruled by the judge, but if one case warrants a judge granting the motion, this one is it.

Safety Of Enbridge Pipeline In Great Lakes Challenged By Michigan And Illinois Senators

Three U.S. senators asked a federal agency Wednesday for evidence that a pipeline crossing a section of the Great Lakes is safe, following a roughly 10 percent increase in its capacity to carry oil.

Enbridge Energy Partners LP boosted the capacity of its Line 5 pipe earlier this year by 2.1 million gallons from 20.6 million. The line runs from Superior, Wis., to Sarnia, Ontario, passing through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and crossing the Straits of Mackinac, a five-mile-wide area where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet.

Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands Exposes Enbridge Chemical Cover Up

After activist and Kalamazoo resident Chris Wahmhoff’s felony pretrial, Michigan Coalition Against Tar Sands (MI-CATS) will hold a press conference to raise awareness about chemical oil dispersants found in the Kalamazoo River. Earlier this year Chris protested Enbridge Energy by skateboarding into their pipeline and stopping construction. He was charged with resisting and obstructing an officer and faces 2 years in prison.

Dems Press Obama to Delay Keystone Pipeline Study

Twenty-five House Democrats want President Obama to further delay a pivotal ruling on the Keystone XL pipeline until the State Department’s internal watchdog completes a probe of State’s environmental review of the project.

The inspector general at State is investigating allegations that a contractor that the department is using for the study, consulting firm Environmental Resources Management, has a conflict of interest. The inquiry isn’t slated for completion until early 2014 at the earliest. The Democrats, in a new letter to Obama, say State’s analysis of the project should not be finalized until the IG probe is done.

Keystone Pipeline Update: Second Portion Of TransCanada’s (TRP) Closer To Completion

Energy giant TransCanada Corp. (USA) (NYSE:TRP), the company that is building the Keystone XL pipeline, reported Monday that the second half of its pipeline is a step closer to completion after the company successfully injecting oil into a portion of the pipeline.

The $2.3 billion pipeline would bring more than 700,000 barrels of oil a day from the oil hub of Cushing, Okla., to Texas refineries. The project has been under construction since August 2012.

Congress Complains to Obama Over Alleged Keystone XL Conflicts of Interest

In a letter being sent today to President Obama, 25 members of the U.S. House of Representatives urge him not to release a pending supplemental environmental impact statement (SEIS) needed for approval of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. The legislators call for an on-going Office of the Inspector General investigation, due in February, to be completed before the release of the SEIS.

NRDC: Deny Keystone XL on climate grounds

Natural Resources Defense Council officials say support for the planned Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada should be withheld on environmental grounds.

NRDC attorney Danielle Droitsch described Keystone in a statement Thursday as a “dirty energy project that will drive tar sands development.”

Poll: Americans support more pipelines, including Keystone XL

Eight out of 10 Americans support expanding the nation’s energy infrastructure, with new pipelines and other facilities to transport oil and gas across the U.S., according to an industry-backed survey released Thursday.

The poll, conducted by Harris Interactive for the American Petroleum Institute, also shows a majority of people back the Keystone XL pipeline, which would ferry Canadian oil sands crude to the Gulf Coast. Seven out of 10 people surveyed said they supported the building of the Keystone XL pipeline, with 17 percent opposed to the $5.4 billion project.

Lac-Mégantic freight service set to resume next week

The first trains are expected to start moving through Lac-Mégantic by the middle of next week but will stay away from the community’s devastated downtown, a trustee for the company that owns the tracks says.

Robert Keach, trustee for Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, said service will initially be limited to the Quebec town’s industrial park, which can be reached using tracks that run just east of the downtown. MM&A is still in talks with the town over plans to relaunch rail service but Mr. Keach said he believes a deal will be reached in time for trains to start running next week.

Oil shipper offers safety assurances

Owners of a burgeoning crude oil terminal at the Port of Albany made their first presentation Thursday to an Albany County emergency planning group, offering assurances their operation is safe and prepared for any spill, fire or other disaster.

While Global Partners has been shipping increasing amounts of North Dakota crude through the port during the past two years, it was their initial appearance before the county Local Emergency Planning Committee, which is responsible under federal law to make sure officials are prepared for disasters.

Gazprom beaten 3-0 as Greenpeace protests Arctic drilling at three Champions League games in one day

Greenpeace has heaped more embarrassment on Champions League’s top sponsor Gazprom for a second day this week by protesting the Russian oil giant’s Arctic drilling at three football games watched by millions of fans around the world today.

Gazprom’s over-reaction to Arctic oil protest is a sign their fortune is at stake

I’ve heard it said by Greenpeace old hands that when they first arrived in the Russian Arctic back in the 1980s, Russian fishermen would shower them with gifts. They found it acutely embarrassing. When I went to the Arctic Ocean last year to take action against Gazprom’s Prirazlomnaya drilling rig, I got a decidedly less friendly reaction, but there were no arrests and certainly no talk of years in prison.

Greenpeace Arctic 30 Barred From Leaving Russia Despite International Ruling

Greenpeace activists on bail in Russia for their part in a protest against Arctic oil drilling have been barred from leaving the country until their trial, forcing them to stay in Russia over Christmas and into 2014.

Greenpeace revealed today that Russia’s Investigative Committee has written to one of the Arctic 30 – Anne Mie Jensen from Denmark – indicating that they are not free to leave the country.

Race to claim High Arctic’s oil resources may be a fool’s mission

When asked earlier this week about extending Canada’s territorial claims in the Arctic, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird was clear about the rationale.

“We are determined to ensure that all Canadians benefit from the tremendous resources that are to be found in Canada’s Far North,” he said.

Fukushima contractor sanctioned by Japan labor regulator

Japanese labor regulators have sanctioned a construction firm involved in the decommissioning of the Fukushima nuclear power plant for improperly employing workers to repair another nuclear plant, also damaged by the 2011 earthquake.

ABL Co Ltd, based in Okuma, where the Fukushima plant is located, managed at least eight workers who had been supplied illegally by several layers of subcontractors for inspection and repair work at the Tokai Daini nuclear plant, which is managed by Japan Atomic Power Co, officials said.

Law mulled to guarantee Fukushima not final waste site

The Environment Ministry is considering a law that would force the government to dispose of radioactive waste from decontamination work in Fukushima outside the prefecture within 30 years, according to government sources.

The move is intended to make it easier for Fukushima Prefecture to accept a central government request to host “interim” waste storage facilities, which in turn would accelerate the sluggish effort to scrub the area of radioactive fallout from the nuclear crisis.

Fukushima evacuees face dilemma over return to former no-entry zone

Kiyokazu Watanabe, his wife and his mother have returned to their home in an eastern strip of this city near the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, determined to end their lives as nuclear evacuees.

“Nothing is sweeter than being in my home,” Watanabe, 66, said.

His son’s family, however, has no plans to return to the same Miyakoji district area even after it becomes the first Fukushima evacuation zone to have that designation lifted in spring next year. The family’s fear of radiation is behind the decision.

Japan’s New ‘Fukushima Fascism’

Fukushima continues to spew out radiation. The quantities seem to be rising, as do the impacts.

The site has been infiltrated by organized crime. There are horrifying signs of ecological disaster in the Pacific and human health impacts in the U.S.

But within Japan, a new State Secrets Act makes such talk punishable by up to ten years in prison.

The Lotto of a Fukushima-style Nuclear Disaster

It is a scary world and getting scarier every day. I live in the small town of Kennedale, Texas. Population: 7,068. We are just south of Fort Worth (whose city motto is: “Where the West Begins”), but just north of Mansfield, a fast-growing suburb. My family lives within the danger zone of two nuclear power plants, and two more whose construction have been postponed. Were Comanche Peak (1&2) to experience some kind of disaster like that in Fukushima, Japan—whose reactor was severely damaged in a 2011 earthquake—we would be up radiologically-contaminated Shit Creek without a paddle.

Across the street from my home is a hydraulic fracturing well. What do these wells and nuclear power plants have in common? More than most North Texans may realize.

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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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