Environmental Must-Reads – December 2, 2014


OPEC’s War on Fracking Is Good News for the Rest of Us

The biggest news over Thanksgiving weekend was a sharp drop in the price of crude oil, which followed a decision by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, at a meeting, in Vienna, not to try and stabilize prices by reducing its production quotas, at least for now, and let the market find its own level. While not entirely unexpected, OPEC’s choice had a dramatic impact.

Since Thursday, the price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate, a light crude that acts as a market benchmark, has fallen by more than ten dollars—taking it back to levels last seen in the global recession of 2008–2009. At one point on Monday, in London trading, it fell below sixty-four dollars, although it subsequently rebounded a bit. These falls are just the latest in a series over the past few months. Since June, when the price topped a hundred dollars a barrel, it has fallen by about forty per cent, giving lie to predictions that we would never see cheap oil again.

Lawsuit Challenges Radioactive Fracking Waste Facilities in Ohio

Cheryl Mshar lives less than a mile from a fracking waste processing facility in Youngstown, Ohio. She worries that the air she breathes is polluted with chemicals and even radioactive contaminants. State regulators did not hold a public meeting before allowing the waste facility to begin operating earlier this year, so Mshar and her neighbors never had a say in the deal, until now.

Two environmental groups filed a lawsuit on November 19 on behalf of Mshar and other residents challenging the temporary approval of 23 fracking waste facilities in Ohio, where critics say lax regulations have helped the state become a popular destination for the contaminated leftovers of the fracking process.

City that banned fracking pushes back in court

The city of Denton pushed back Monday against lawsuits by oil interests and the Texas General Land Office intended to stop a voter-approved fracking ban from going into effect.

The city filed a motion asking that the Land Office’s lawsuit be moved from Austin district court to Denton. The Land Office has alleged the ban violates its rights as the statewide manager of mineral interests.

‘Thirsty’ Global Fracking Industry Puts Water, Environment, Communities at Risk

Multinational oil and gas companies are moving into increasingly vulnerable countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia where the ecosystems, communities, and authorities are even less able to cope with the impacts of fracking and shale gas extraction, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth Europe.

The report, Fracking Frenzy: How the Fracking Industry is Threatening the Planet (pdf), shows how the pursuit of fracking in countries such as Mexico, China, Argentina, and South Africa is likely to exacerbate the climate, environment, social, and human rights problems those countries already face. While much has been written about fracking in the United States and the European Union, this study “seeks to provide a global overview of shale gas development in the rest of the world,” its authors note, focusing specifically on 11 countries that are leaders in shale development on their respective continents.

Hillary Clinton says fracking carries risks in conservation speech

Hillary Clinton has offered mild criticism of the fracking boom that has spread across the US under Barack Obama’s presidency, drawing another small distinction with his administration.

Clinton, who has yet to declare she is seeking the presidency, kept the bulk of her speech to a League of Conservation Voters dinner in New York resolutely vanilla. But she did express concerns about the environmental costs associated with natural gas and went so far as to suggest there may be places where it was too dangerous to drill at all.

The Only Fracked Site in the United Kingdom Suffered Structural Failure

The UK’s only hydraulically fractured shale gas well suffered a previously unreported structural failure, emails obtained by VICE News reveal.

The damage to the Preese Hall site in Lancashire, discovered earlier this year, was contained within the well and there is no evidence that it caused methane or fluids to leak into the atmosphere or surrounding rock formation. However, its public disclosure has prompted calls for the UK to rethink its fledgling fracking industry.

Gas flare to light up part of Washington County

A massive, noisy natural gas flare will be visible next week in western Washington County, illuminating the first well that Range Resources Inc. drilled into the Utica Shale formation in five years.

The flaring, an increasingly rare event in the Marcellus Shale gas play, is scheduled to begin Dec. 7 and will burn brightly for as long as a week at Range Resources’ well pad on property that the Claysville Sportsmen’s Club owns in Donegal Township, just east of Dutch Fork Lake.

Pequannock on record opposing Pilgrim Pipeline

The Township Council unanimously passed a resolution opposing the Pilgrim Pipeline, joining the growing number of municipalities aiming to stop the proposed Albany-to-Linden oil pipeline.

“This town is opposed,” said Mayor Melissa Florance-Lynch. “This is the first step.”

The resolution was applauded by about two dozen residents of the Cedar Crest retirement community, who would be most-impacted by construction of the pipeline. As currently planned, the pipeline would cut across the northwest corner of the township along the east side of Cedar Crest.

Bloomingdale joins pipeline opposers

Bloomingdale is the latest municipality to adopt a resolution to formally oppose Pilgrim Pipeline’s plans to construct a pipeline from Albany, N.Y. to Linden.

At its Nov. 25 meeting, the Borough Council unanimously supported the resolution after listening to Wayne resident Jerome Wagner, an environmental engineer, who is associated with the Coalition to Stop Pilgrim Pipeline and climate activism initiatives.

Pennsylvania Energy Holdout Considers Giving In

Frank Finan didn’t trust the attorney. The guy was recommended by the landman after all, the salesman sent to Frank’s door each week or so to ask whether he’d finally sign a lease to allow the firm to extract oil and gas from beneath his land.

But Frank was sitting there anyway – and he was starting to like what the attorney was telling him.

He stood to make as much as $600,000 in fees and royalties. And, the lawyer said, Frank could use that money to establish an LLC or a trust fund: something he could then use to buy a new van, maybe build a new home office.

Maryland’s fracking rules up in the air

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) plans to lift a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” next month, regulating rather than prohibiting a controversial drilling process that energy companies have used to retrieve massive quantities of natural gas from shale rock formations. But Western Maryland landowners looking for drilling royalties and local laborers looking for jobs should check their excitement. The rules that the outgoing governor plans to impose on Maryland fracking would be so tough that they would make it impossible for drilling to begin in the next two years and would diminish the likelihood that operations will happen in earnest after that.

Fracking Frenzy Threatens Developing Nations

Fracking is both a temptation and a curse for developing nations, says a new report released today by Friends of the Earth Europe as governments meet in Lima to make meaningful commitments to speed up the transition away from dirty energy sources. Fracking Frenzy: How is the fracking industry threatening the planet? details the impacts of developing shale reserves in new regions of the world unprotected by political power to ward off bad policies that favor fossil fuel extraction companies over communities.

BP, audit spell out documentation issues at spill claims office

BP is leveling new criticisms at the office that runs its multibillion-dollar oil spill settlement program, pointing to some claimants’ missing or deficient documentation outlined in an audit released last week.

An independent accounting firm found 8.2 percent of the damage claims stemming from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill were missing required documents or didn’t meet documentation standards set out in the settlement, which BP reached with thousands of Gulf residents and businesses in 2012.

Study finds oil from Gulf spill still on Ala coast

A new study says oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster is still trapped in Alabama’s beaches four years later.

The report was released recently by Auburn University researchers who’ve been studying the BP oil spill since shortly after it occurred.

Nova wins $8.5 million grant to study Gulf of Mexico

A fund established by the British oil company BP after the catastrophic 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico has awarded Nova Southeastern University $8.5 million for research projects.

A team led by the university’s highly regarded Oceanographic Center will study the biology of the northern Gulf of Mexico, where most of the oil rigs are located. Focusing on the water column from the surface to a depth of more than a mile, the studies will attempt to catalog what species live there and how they interact, from fish to bacteria.

Coast Guard, EPA Agree to Analyze How Oil Spill Cleanups May Affect Endangered Species of Hudson River

In response to a lawsuit filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, the U.S. Coast Guard and Environmental Protection Agency have agreed to analyze how oil-spill response actions in the Hudson River and New York Bay may affect endangered wildlife like Atlantic sturgeon and green sea turtles.

“The dramatic rise of crude oil transport along the Hudson River makes a devastating oil spill almost inevitable,” said Mollie Matteson, a senior scientist at the Center. “If a spill happens, we shouldn’t add insult to injury by hurting fish, turtles and other endangered wildlife during the cleanup.”

Milkweed touted as oil-spill super-sucker — with butterfly benefits

A Quebec company is taking a unique approach to cleaning up oil spills by producing the world’s only industrial crop of milkweed, which will be used as new kind of absorbent.

François Simard, creator of Protec-Style, has a contract with Parks Canada to supply national parks with oil-spill kits. The kits come with various sizes of absorbent tubes filled with milkweed fibre.

Simard says milkweed has a unique ability to repel water, which makes it perfect for oil spills on land or water.

TransCanada halts pipeline terminal over endangered whales

The arctic white whale, with its distinctive spherical forehead and smiling mouth, is present in and around Cacouna, Quebec where the terminal is planned.

The belugas in the area were labeled “threatened” in the last formal study done ten years ago.

The population was estimated to number less than 1,000 whales, compared to more than 10,000 in 2004, the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada said in a report.

Enbridge says 600,000-bpd Flanagan South oil line now in service

Enbridge Inc, Canada’s largest pipeline operator, said on Monday its 600,000 barrel-per-day Flanagan South pipeline is now in service.

The line, which runs from Illinois to the oil storage hub of Cushing, Oklahoma, began shipping oil on Monday as scheduled, said Graham White, a spokesman for the company.

Exxon, Rosneft Scrap Arctic Deals as Russia Sanctions Bite

Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM:US) and OAO Rosneft (ROSN) terminated contracts for five service vessels operated by Norway’s Siem Offshore Inc. (SIOFF) and Rem Offshore ASA (REM) as sanctions upend plans to explore the Russian Arctic.

Siem received termination notices from an Exxon and Rosneft joint venture on contracts for work next year in the Kara Sea for two of its anchor-handling tug supply vessels and a platform supply ship, the Kristiansand, Norway-based company said in a statement today. Rem had contracts for two platform-supply vessels terminated, it said in a separate statement. Both companies will receive termination fees, they said.

State report recommends better preparedness for oil-train accidents

A draft report calls for the Legislature to provide more people and money to deal with Washington’s increasing oil train traffic

A revised 497-page Washington Department of Ecology draft report went to Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday. A final report is due in March. Monday’s report echoes an earlier Oct. 1 report, but adds much greater detail.

Map shows 100 schools along crude oil train tracks

On July 6, 2013, a train hauling more than 70 cars filled with volatile crude oil derailed in Quebec, Canada, after its engine caught fire and power to its air brakes was cut. Several DOT-111 oil tankers filled with oil mined from South Dakota’s Bakken Shale ignited, spilling oil and sending a fireball into the sky of the town of Lac-Mégantic and destroying 30 buildings, according to reports.

Forty-seven people died. Several thousand more were evacuated while oil seeped into the soil and local waterways. The Quebec derailment and several other disasters have brought increased scrutiny on the transportation of crude oil by rail as the amount of oil mined domestically continues to multiply.

New maps from state environmental groups show there are more than 100 public and private K-12 schools within a mile of train lines used to transport crude oil through the region. Albany-based Healthy School Networks released the maps last month in partnership with a coalition of environmental and education activists.

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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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