Environmental Must-Reads – December 17, 2014


Families flee out-of-control natural-gas leak at eastern Ohio fracking well

About 25 families in eastern Ohio have been unable to live in their houses for the past three days because of a natural-gas leak at a fracking well that crews cannot stop.

Bethany McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the state agency that regulates oil and gas, said crews lost control of the Monroe County well on Saturday.

Families were evacuated from about 25 houses within a 1.5-mile radius of the well, located near the Ohio River about 160 miles east of Columbus.

Environmentalists find serious flaws in Ohio’s oversight of fracking waste

An environmental advocacy group conducted a pretty thorough audit of Ohio’s Class II injection wells — the places where fracking wastewater usually ends up here — and found a bunch of problems, according to the audit, which was released today.

Ohio Citizen Action and Ohio Citizen Action Education Fund say that the two governmental agencies that oversee the wells share blame for inadequate oversight, inconsistent inspections, non-enforcement and “even disdain and disrespect of citizens attempting to get answers about oil and gas injection wells in their communities.”

More Fracking Fumes: Studies Repeatedly Find Unsafe Levels of Air Pollution Near Fracking Sites

Science is about identifying patterns.  A single study finding unsafe levels of a contaminant raises concern, but when the results of multiple studies start to converge the science is telling us we have a problem.

Over the past year, at least 10 studies have reported unsafe levels of air pollution associated with fracking sites and oil and gas development.  And while there is a long list of short and long-term health impacts that could stem from this pollution, some initial investigations have already documented respiratory symptoms, neurological problems, and a worrisome pattern of birth defects.

Governor Cuomo: Fracking Decision ‘By the End of the Year’

It looks like New York State could have a decision on whether its fracking moratorium will be lifted or remain in place sooner than previously thought.

The review by the state Department of Health on the health impacts of fracking is due to be completed and delivered Dec. 31. Governor Andrew Cuomo had said he would base his decision on that report, and it was widely believed that he would make his announcement early next year. Anti-fracking activists were preparing to rally at his Jan. 7 State of the State address in Albany. But yesterday in an interview on local radio show The Capitol Pressroom, Cuomo said that his decision will come by the end of the year.

No fracking for 3 to 5 years, CNY officials ask Gov. Cuomo

A group of local elected officials today called upon Gov. Andrew Cuomo to extend the state’s moratorium on fracking while more studies are conducted.

The co-coordinator of Elected Officials to Protect New York, Julie Huntsman, a town of Otsego council member, said more than 400 studies have shown fracking has detrimental health effects. The group wants to see a moratorium on fracking for three to five years while more studies are conducted.

The Science on Fracking Is In: Not One Well!: Mark Ruffalo

While filming a new movie in London, I learned that the sole shale gas well in the nation — just a few hours north of me — has triggered two earthquakes, suffered a “structural integrity failure,” and risked poisoning water supplies.

That’s right: the only fracking well in the United Kingdom failed and caused two earthquakes!

This news is a stark reminder of what’s at stake in my home state of New York, where newly re-elected Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that he will soon make an announcement about fracking.

Report: Fracking conflicts should spur ethics laws

The circumstances surrounding several Southern Tier town boards and their position on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas make the case for stronger statewide ethics laws, according to a government watchdog organization.

The New York Public Interest Research Group on Tuesday released a report examining 59 resolutions passed by town boards opposing local bans on fracking, the controversial technique used to pull natural gas out of underground shale formations.

Industry, enviros dissect mess of litigation as year closes

Ask lawyers their biggest fear, and most will say uncertainty. The past year of sprawling oil and gas litigation delivered just that: an unsettled scorecard that ensures only a slew of new lawsuits to come.

On litigious issues ranging from contract disputes to regulatory compliance to environmental concerns, attorneys from both industry and the environmental community are having a tough time saying who came out ahead. Though certain 2014 decisions delivered emphatic legal victories for each side, the collective result is a mixed bag for stakeholders to sort through — all with high-stakes implications for policy, property and investments.

Colorado regulators wrestle with how strictly to enforce oil and gas rules

Colorado regulators of the oil and gas industry on Monday began deciding how strictly to enforce higher fines against companies that violate rules — facing industry demands for flexibility while residents urge mandatory penalties.

Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission staffers have proposed continued discretion that lets regulators waive penalties for minor violations. But a coalition of conservation groups and attorneys representing residents argued that the point is deterrence.

Norman residents to rally at city hall

Nearly 200,000 miles of hazardous liquids run through pipelines beneath cities, streams, rivers and lakes, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Those numbers include about 7,300 feet of an existing 24-inch pipeline that transports crude oil beneath Lake Thunderbird — Norman’s primary source of drinking water.

The Central Oklahoma Clean Water Coalition is inviting area residents to attend a public rally for clean water at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 18, at the Norman City Complex, 201 W. Gray St.

Fracking dealt another setback by Quebec report

Quebec’s environmental bureau has dealt a setback to companies that want to use hydraulic fracturing techniques to develop the province’s promising shale gas deposits, saying it appears the economic benefits would not outweigh the environmental costs.

The advisory office of environmental hearings (or BAPE, as it is known in French) reviewed plans to develop the Utica shale formation, which proponents say could yield an important source of fuel for the Quebec economy and export markets. Its conclusions, delivered Monday, amount to a flashing yellow light for industry and the government of Liberal Premier Philippe Couillard.

For first time since BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, portion of water around Grand Isle reopened

Commercial fishermen are once again harvesting Gulf seafood off the coasts of Elmer’s and Grand Terre islands, an area that’s been closed due to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries reopened state waters surrounding the islands, some of the areas most significantly oiled, near Grand Isle Dec. 10.

BP & The Real State of the Gulf – Pollution Report for Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The following is a summary of the 12/16/14 daily beach oiling report issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). I will endeavor to publish this summary each day the FDEP issues such a report. While the media and public believe that the effects of BP’s Deepwater Horizon Blowout and Oil Spill have been largely eradicated, this data suggests otherwise.

It is important to note that these reports of daily oil discoveries and further environmental damage come at a time when BP is attempting to renege on its oft-stated “Commitment to the Gulf.”

Louisiana again tops annual Judicial Hellholes report; BP oil spill case Attorney General contingency fee cases noted

For five years running Louisiana’s legal system has been ranked among the worst in the country, according to a legal reform non-profit group.

The “Judicial Hellholes” report released today by the American Tort Reform Association (ATRA) measuring the legal environment nationwide placed Louisiana at No. 7 out of eight troubled legal jurisdictions largely based on the handling of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill case by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

Arkansas homes still for sale after oil spill

More than 15 homes are still for sale in a Mayflower subdivision where an oil spill occurred last year, according to an Exxon Mobil spokesman.

The oil giant’s Pegasus pipeline ruptured in March 2013, spilling thousands of gallons of oil in the Northwoods subdivision. The company has blamed the rupture on manufacturing defects.

The World’s Largest Oil Spills

Nuclear meltdowns. Anthropogenic climate change. Chemical spills. Solid waste. Of all the damaging blows humans have dealt on the environment perhaps no other incident resonates more than the oil spill.

The imagery can be gut-wrenching and the environmental impact irreversible. Take the Exxon Valdez oil spill, for instance. When the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spilled its keep on more than 1,300 miles of Alaskan coast in 1989 the 11 million gallons of oil killed an estimated 250,000 birds, 2,800 otters, 300 seals, 250 bald eagles, more than 20 killer whales and countless other creatures, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council reports.

After Oil Spill in Bangladesh’s Unique Mangrove Forest, Fears About Rare Animals

Oil from a wrecked tanker is creating a disaster in the waters of Bangladesh’s Sundarbans, the largest contiguous tidal mangrove forest in the world and a haven for a spectacular array of species, including the rare Irrawaddy and Gangetic dolphins and the highly endangered Bengal tiger.

Children ‘clean’ oil spill with kitchen utensils in the Sundarbans

On December 9th, a tanker slammed into another vessel along the Shela River in the world’s largest mangrove forest: the Sundarbans in Bangladesh. The tanker sank, spilling an estimated 75,000 gallons (350,000 liters) of fuel oil into waterways that are a part of a reserve for threatened Ganges river dolphins (Platanista gangetica) and Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris). Activists and experts say the devastating spill is a sign of what’s to come as Bangladesh builds two coal power plants at the edge of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, prompting greater infrastructure, deforestation, and boat traffic inside the forest.

Obama Indefinitely Bans Drilling in Alaskan Bay

President Obama on Tuesday again used his executive authority to enact an environmental priority as he indefinitely barred oil and gas exploration of Alaska’s picturesque Bristol Bay to protect some of the nation’s most productive commercial fisheries.

Mr. Obama first put the ecologically sensitive area of the Bering Sea — home to an important population of whales, seals and sea lions — off limits to oil rigs in 2010, but that restriction was set to expire in 2017, several months after he leaves office. With the new executive memorandum that he signed in the Oval Office on Tuesday, Mr. Obama made the ban permanent unless a future president acts to reverse it and allow leasing of the waters of the bay.

Shell’s Arctic Challenger to burn oil spills, as solution to the pollution

A vessel that is part of Shell Oil’s $5-billion drilling plans to tap the colossal oil and gas reserves in the Arctic sailed into the Port of Vancouver earlier this month, the Vancouver Observer has learned.  The arrival comes amid questions about the ship’s oil-spill-clean up tactics, as well as scientific predictions that 2014 may have been the hottest global temperature year on record.

The Arctic Challenger went into Seaspan’s dry dock in Vancouver two weeks ago for systems work.  The vessel represents the multinational energy corporation’s hopes for demonstrating its technical know-how for cleaning up underwater Arctic oil spills.

On Nebraska’s Farmland, Keystone XL Pipeline Debate Is Personal

Drive down gravel Road 22 in Nebraska’s York County, past weathered farmhouses and corn cut to stubble in rich, black loam soil, and you’ll find a small barn by the side of the road.

Built of native ponderosa pine, the barn is topped with solar panels. A windmill spins furiously out front.

Known as the Energy Barn, it’s a symbol of renewable energy, standing smack on the proposed route of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline — a project of the energy giant TransCanada.

Keystone XL pipeline: TransCanada sends final offers to 100-plus Nebraska landowners

As the Republican leader in the U.S. Senate pledged quick approval of the Keystone XL pipeline early next year, final offers were landing Tuesday in dozens of Nebraska mailboxes.

TransCanada Corp. said it mailed new offers of right-of-way payments this week to more than 100 Nebraska landowners who have refused to sign an easement contract.

Mitch McConnell: Keystone XL Pipeline Will Be My First Bill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who will take charge of the chamber next month when the new GOP-led Congress takes office, offered a taste of his priorities Tuesday, telling reporters the first action taken on his watch will be passing a bill to build the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

A bill offered by Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) that would mandate the construction of the pipeline from the tar sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast almost passed in the waning days of this Congress. It would be nearly certain to succeed in a Republican-led Senate, much as it has repeatedly passed in the GOP-led House.

New Republican Congress’ First Order of Business: Keystone Pipeline

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that the first priority for the new Republican-controlled Senate next year would be to pass a bill authorizing the Keystone XL pipeline, setting up an early confrontation with an Obama Administration hesitant to ignite opposition from its green supporters.

“We’ll be starting next year with a job-creating bill that enjoys significant bipartisan support,” said McConnell.

Washington debates aside, experts say Keystone XL pipeline many not even be necessary

While Democrats, environmentalists and those against the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline brace for the reality of a Republican-controlled House and Senate, the conservative lobbyists and lawmakers pushing for the project have their own harsh truths to confront — the Keystone XL pipeline may longer be necessary or even profitable.

“I’m for cheap, abundant, reliable energy. Period,” Robert Bryce, a senior fellow at the conservative think-tank the Manhattan Institute told the Los Angeles Times.

‘Pinhole’ leak in U.P. gas pipeline raises fears

A pinhole leak in a controversial petroleum pipeline running through the Upper Peninsula released an undetermined amount of natural gas liquid that dispersed into the atmosphere north of Manistique, near the Indian River, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette announced Tuesday.

A spokesman for Canadian oil transport giant Enbridge, which operates the Line 5 pipeline, however, said it was not a leak, but a “pinhole-sized defect, observed in the weld of the pipe,” during a planned investigation of the pipeline Dec. 8.

Enbridge official confirms repairs to Upper Peninsula pipeline but denies state report of a leak

Enbridge crews performed repairs on a section of a much-discussed pipeline after a visual inspection found a pinhole-sized defect near Manistique in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

Enbridge spokesman Jason Manshum said Tuesday the defect was discovered on Dec. 8 on a section of Pipeline No. 5. That particular pipeline is the one that travels beneath the Straits of Mackinac and has been the subject of much discussion in recent months.

Forget Oil. Here Are The More Insidious Things That Polluted America’s Air And Water This Year

This year, three billion gallons of waste were injected into California’s underground aquifers. Eighty millions pounds of toxic grey goop were spilled in a North Carolina waterway. Clouds of thick, black, oily dust coated children’s playground equipment in Chicago’s southeast side.

Like every year, 2014 saw a wide range of environmental pollution from fossil fuel development. But there was no BP-scale well blowout, no Lac-Mégantic-sized crude oil train explosion. Instead, many of this year’s major fossil fuel disasters came from a more insidious source — not the fuels themselves, but the waste products they create. These are essentially the leftovers from fossil fuel development: wastewater from oil and gas drilling, coal ash from coal burning, and petroleum coke from tar sands refining.

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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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