Environmental Must-Reads – December 17, 2013


Fracking Chemicals Linked to Birth Defects and Infertility

Scientists have linked fracking to birth defects and even infertility, claiming it can disrupt human hormones.

A team of researchers claimed fracking, which releases untapped gases from underground rock, uses endocrine-disrupting chemicals, or EDCs. Such chemicals are often found in manufactured products, foodstuffs, air, water and soil and previous research has linked EDC exposure with infertility, cancer and birth defects.

High fracking areas have high levels of endocrine disrupting chemicals: Study

Areas known to have a high incidence of fracking with a history of drilling spills have higher levels of endocrine-disrupting chemicals that might harm the hormonal system, a new study revealed.

Cuomo: No rush on New York’s decision on hydraulic fracturing

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo suggested today a decision on whether to permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas might not come before November, when he will be asking voters to re-elect him for another four years.

The governor’s comments came moments after Dr. Nirav Shah, his health commissioner, brushed aside criticisms that the internal Cuomo administration deliberations over fracking have been done in secret.

As Fracking Proliferates, Landowners And Drillers Face Safety, Security Concerns

A few weeks ago, Bill Blackwell turned off a stretch of road in South Texas and onto a property where five oil wells are being drilled. Nobody stopped him. Blackwell wasn’t a threat. He owns the property, on which he has a second home. The drilling company, though, was supposed to maintain a guard at the entrance.

“Somebody could have driven right up to the house,” he said. “If you have just an open area, people don’t feel particularly constrained – there are no signs, nobody to keep them out.”

Billionaire to lobby for oil taxes

Billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer said Monday that he will launch a campaign next year urging California lawmakers to approve taxes on companies that extract oil in the state.

Steyer, a major Democratic donor who also bankrolled last year’s Proposition 39 campaign, said he thinks is it ridiculous that California is the only oil-producing state that does not levy such a fee on oil pumped from private land, which could generate billions of dollars a year for the state budget.

Protestors Block Fracking Site With Giant Wind Turbine Blade

At 5.30 a.m., fifty people blocked the entrance to IGas’s exploratory drilling site in Salford, a metropolitan borough of GreaterManchester in North West England, with a giant wind turbine blade. The campaigners arrived at the site and unloaded and assembled the 17-meter blade from its three component segments. They were spotted by a security guard who called the police, but the officers who arrived on the scene were too late to prevent the blockade from having the wind turbine blade set up.

‘Early Christmas’ for Frackers: Site Blocked With Massive Wind Turbine Blade

The growing protest movement against the “new wave” of gas-fired power stations and fracking test sites around the U.K. added a festive spirit to its campaign on Monday when a group of demonstrators delivered a 54-foot wind turbine blade to a drilling site near the city of Manchester, blockading workers from entering the site.

“This morning fifty pro-renewables campaigners delivered a 17 meter, 1.5 tonne wind turbine blade as a ‘Christmas gift’ for fracking company IGas,” announced No Dash for Gas, the UK-based anti-fracking group behind the action.

A controversial Berkeley professor tries to frack China with the help of a Shell oil executive

Richard Muller, an University of California Berkeley physicist known for renouncing his climate change “skepticism”, has recently released a report that positions fracking as a cure for air pollution concerns, especially in China. The report claims that shale gas, accessed by the fracking process, is a “Wonderful gift that has arrived right on time.”

Exxon Sued by Whisenhunt over Gas Royalties

An investment arm of the Little Rock commercial developer Joe Whisenhunt is hauling Exxon Mobil Corp., its subsidiary XTO Energy and other firms into court for allegedly shortchanging him on natural gas royalties.

Two CPRA lawsuits add to recent coastal litigation

The blame game over who’s responsible for Louisiana’s wetlands loss and hurricane defenses and how to pay for them accelerated this month. The state’s Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority decided to sue the U.S. Army Corps, rather than participate in cost sharing in a $3 billion Mississippi River Gulf Outlet or MRGO restoration project. CPRA also doesn’t want to pay for maintenance associated with the Corps’ upgraded Algiers Canal levees. As it is, CPRA may be strained to come up with funds for its $50 billion, 50-year Coastal Master Plan, which is banking heavily on expected fines against BP for the 2010 Gulf oil spill.

BP Oil Spill: False Negatives & False Positives, In Blistering Lawyer Editorial

Oil giant British Petroleum BP PLC (LON:BP) placed prominent ads in leading national newspapers last week, showcasing examples of fictitious damage claims from those alleging to be hurt by the massive 2010 Gulf oil spill.

That’s part of a widespread publicity campaign the UK company has launched in past weeks, attempting to back its interpretation of the oil spill settlement, which is now being contested in court.

Ex-BP Engineer Destroyed Gulf Spill Evidence, Jury Told

A former BP Plc (BP/) engineer deliberately destroyed evidence sought by the U.S. for a probe of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico well explosion and oil spill, a federal prosecutor said at the end of a trial in New Orleans.

Prosecutors charged the engineer, Kurt Mix, with two counts of obstruction of justice last year, alleging he deleted from his mobile phone text messages and voice mails related to BP’s effort to estimate the size of the spill. Mix was a senior engineer involved in leading efforts to cap the Macondo well as crude gushed into the gulf.

Supreme Court Won’t Take Gulf Oil Spill Moratorium Case

The Supreme Court won’t decide if the Obama administration violated a judge’s order that struck down its temporary moratorium on deep water drilling after BP’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

The high court on Monday refused to hear an appeal from offshore service companies that challenged the moratorium.

Obama Team Lifts Gulf Coast Oil Drilling Moratorium

The moratorium on deep water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico has been lifted because new safety standards will make a disastrous oil spill much less likely, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced today.

Drillers must meet “the higher bar we have set” in order to get new permits, Salazar said, including written certifications by oil company executives that they have met all the safety rules. Companies must also have specific plans for dealing with any spill.

Supreme Court rejects oil spill contempt case

The Interior Department will not be held in contempt over its actions in the aftermath of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill after the Supreme Court declined on Monday to review an appeals court ruling in the government’s favor.

The nine justices refused to hear an appeal filed by Hornbeck Offshore Services LLC, a drilling company subsidiary of Hornbeck Offshore Services Inc, and other businesses affected by a moratorium on deep sea drilling that the federal government imposed in May 2010. The federal appeals court ruling that overturned a federal district judge’s contempt finding remains intact.

Keystone XL pipeline loses support from US customer

Continental Resources, one of the companies that has committed to ship crude on TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline, now says the controversial pipeline is no longer needed.

Continental has signed on to ship some 35,000 barrels of its own oil from the Bakken field of North Dakota on the 1,179-mile, $5.4-billion Keystone XL line. But construction of the pipeline has been delayed for years as TransCanada has sought regulatory approvals, and Continental has since turned to railroads to get its crude to oil refineries.

Kinder Morgan applies to expand Trans Mountain pipeline

Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP filed an application with Canadian regulators on Monday to nearly treble the capacity of its Trans Mountain crude oil pipeline to 890,000 barrels per day.

The facilities application to the National Energy Board (NEB) is the next step in Kinder Morgan’s bid to expand the existing 300,000 bpd line that runs from Edmonton, Alberta to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Kinder Morgan Files Application For Another Tar Sands Pipeline Across British Columbia

While the Keystone XL and Northern Gateway pipelines have gotten much of this year’s press, a different pipeline project has been forging ahead in British Columbia.

Today, American energy company Kinder Morgan filed a proposal for an expansion of its Trans Mountain Pipeline. The company aims to build a pipeline that would carry diluted bitumen from Edmonton, Alberta to the Southwestern coast of British Columbia, near Vancouver. The exact route hasn’t been announced by Kinder Morgan yet, but the pipeline is expected to run alongside the existing Trans Mountain pipeline, which will carry more refined oil.

Shell completes Ho-Ho pipeline reversal

Royal Dutch Shell on Monday started the reversed Houston-to-Houma pipeline, giving U.S. Gulf Coast refineries a new route to access cheap crude supplies.

The start came after Shell completed the second phase of its Ho-Ho project, which reversed flow on a 360,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) pipeline from Port Neches, Texas to Houma, Louisiana and a 500,000 bpd line from Houma to the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port’s (LOOP) hub in Clovelly, Louisiana.

Hoax or real: Mysterious “tar balls” found near Enbridge spill in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River?

“It was about a year ago that I’d start seeing these strange formations at the bottom of the river. They looked just like rocks, but there was a strange, burning almond smell as you went past them,” engineer Craig Ritter said, describing the strange “tar balls” that began appearing along the bottom of the Kalamazoo River, where Enbridge spilled over 840,000 gallons of tar sands bitumen in 2010.  Some people in the area, however, have expressed skepticism, arguing that they are actually calcium carbonate (or tufa), which is a natural porous rock formation, that became noticeable after being stained with iron and manganese.

The rocks looked solid enough at first glance, but when he’d touch them, they’d disintegrate into a brown cloud underwater. On the day that Ritter filmed himself crushing a rock, he became sick to the point of having to take off a day from work.

Senate Dems Press Interior to Back Off Arctic Oil Drilling

Six Senate Democrats want the Interior Department to suspend plans to sell more oil-drilling leases in Arctic waters until there’s a “thorough reevaluation” of environmental risks.

A letter made public Monday asks Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to suspend plans to auction new leases in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska’s northern coast in 2016–which is the next scheduled sale of drilling blocs in the region–and subsequent sales, too.


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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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