Environmental Must-Reads – December 20, 2013


Pennsylvania High Court Strikes Down Part of Fracking Law

Pennsylvania’s high court struck down part of a law aimed at easing natural gas development in the Marcellus Shale formation, saying provisions of the measure violate the state’s constitution.

The state Supreme Court ruled 4-2 today that Act 13, signed by Governor Tom Corbett last year, unconstitutionally restricted the power of municipalities to govern gas drilling in their jurisdictions.

Pennsylvania Supreme Court Says It’s Unconstitutional For Gas Companies To Frack Wherever They Want

Some major parts of Pennsylvania’s two-year-old Marcellus Shale drilling law are unconstitutional, the state’s Supreme Court decided Thursday.

As the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, the court voted 4 – 2 that a provision that allowing natural gas companies to drill anywhere, regardless of local zoning laws, was unconstitutional. Seven municipalities had challenged the shale drilling law, known as Act 13, that required “drilling, waste pits and pipelines be allowed in every zoning district, including residential districts, as long as certain buffers are observed.”

House Democrats want hearings on fracking quakes

Ranking Democrats serving on House energy committees have called for hearings to discuss possible seismic activity associated with hydraulic fracturing.

Reps. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, issued a letter to their Republican counterparts requesting a hearing on the risks of man-made earthquakes.

Bankrupt fracking firm suing New York governor to end moratorium

Norse Energy is a failure when it comes to its core business — drilling for gas and oil. Despite America’s huge drilling boom, the company is bankrupt. Unable to turn a profit as a driller, the company has taken to suing governments and officials that limit fracking, blaming them for its undoing.

Months After Banning Fracking, France Now Has A Carbon Tax

The French Parliament on Thursday adopted a budget for 2014 which includes a tax on carbon emissions from gas, heating oil and coal, according to a report in Platts.

The money derived from the tax — which largely targets transport fuels and domestic heating — will be used to reduce emissions through increased installation of renewable energy throughout the country, according to the report. The move is projected to raise €4 billion, or $5.5 billion, per year by 2016, which can then spent on tax breaks for the wind and solar power industries.

Happy Fracking Holidays From the UK Government

The government released their map of areas they are thinking about opening up for onshore oil and gas drilling. This means that huge areas of the UK are threatened by fracking.

The new map is below. The yellow shows areas already licensed. The blue represents the areas the government wants to open up for oil and gas exploration and production, which could include fracking.

Chesapeake fined $3.2 million for West Virginia water violations

U.S. federal regulators on Thursday said oil and gas company Chesapeake Energy Corp will pay a civil penalty of $3.2 million to settle Clean Water Act violations in West Virginia where it drills in the Marcellus Shale.

Chesapeake will also pay an estimated $6.5 million to restore streams and wetlands. The U.S. oil and gas company allegedly dumped rocks, sand and dirt into wetlands while building drill sites and roads, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice.

Kansas earthquake, oil production might be related

The Kansas Geological Society is investigating whether a recent earthquake in southern Kansas might have been caused by oil production in the area.

But KGS interim director Rex Buchanan says it might be hard to ever determine if the 3.8 earthquake Monday near Caldwell was man-made or caused by natural forces.

Fracking: ‘If you can’t get in the front door, just go around to the back’

esterday, late afternoon, the government quietly announced it is changing planning rules to allow companies to frack under people’s homes without telling them.

The companies want to drill horizontally under private property (sometimes up to two miles from an initial well site) because England is so densely populated. They need to go down and then across if they are to extract shale gas at scale, firing toxic chemicals and water at high pressure into rock. Yesterday, planning minister Nick Boles said it was simply too burdensome for fracking firms to have to notify every landowner of their plans.

First criminal case against Marcellus driller gets underway

A preliminary hearing in Williamsport yesterday marked the beginning of the Pennsylvania’s first criminal case involving a Marcellus Shale driller.

In July, the federal Environmental Protection Agency fined XTO Energy, a subsidiary of ExxonMobil, for a 2010 spill which involved discharging between 6,300 and 57,373 gallons of waste water into the Susquehanna river system in Penn Township, Lycoming County.

Hazy Guidance Over Fracking Water Lines Confounds Commissioners and Cowboys

Hydraulic fracturing and modern oil and gas drilling use a lot of water, a commodity that’s in short supply in northwestern Oklahoma’s booming oilfield.

To get their water, energy companies lay temporary pipelines atop private property, but a county commissioner and a class-action lawsuit are raising questions about the common practice.

Surprise: Louisiana Sinkhole Slid Sideways Before Collapsing

The Earth’s surface slid sideways by as much as 10 inches (26 centimeters) before collapsing into a still-growing toxic sinkhole in Bayou Corne, La., a new study reports.

“This was unusual for us,” said Cathleen Jones, a radar scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. “Usually at a sinkhole, we expect to see vertical movement at the surface, some sort of subsidence,” Jones said. “This horizontal motion is actually a new indicator people should be aware of.”

This Man Was Convicted for the BP Oil Spill—but Is It Justice?

They were, perhaps, the costliest texts ever deleted.

A federal jury on Wednesday convicted former BP engineer Kurt Mix on an obstruction charge, siding with prosecutors who said Mix deleted more than 300 text messages related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

While executives and others have so far evaded conviction for the devastating spill that changed the Gulf of Mexico, Mix is the first person to be successfully prosecuted for the catastrophe. He faces up to 20 years in prison and will be sentenced in March, the U.S. Justice Department said in a written statement.

BP Spill Affects Dolphin Health Three Years Later

A team led by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has linked the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to lung damage and adrenal hormone abnormalities in bottlenose dolphins inhabiting Louisiana’s Barataria Bay.

Study researchers based their findings on health assessments conducted more than one year after the spill. Both dolphins in the bay, as well as a comparison group near Sarasota, Florida were examined for the study. While the Louisiana bay was one of the most heavily-oiled areas after the spill, the Florida locale did not receive any observable oil.

BP disputes report linking La. dolphin illnesses to oil spill

BP has taken issue with a report released Wednesday linking the poor health of dolphins in Barataria Bay to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, saying the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration hasn’t proven a connection.

NOAA researchers maintain in the study released Wednesday they’ve looked for other causes of the dolphins’ poor health, but it all points to oil exposure.

Chemical company considering La. for $3 billion plant

Axiall Corp., which has manufacturing complexes in Plaquemine and Lake Charles, is considering building a $3 billion ethane cracker and ethylene derivatives plant somewhere in Louisiana, a facility that would create up to 250 new jobs.

The company, which was formed earlier this year when Georgia Gulf merged with PPG’s commodity chemicals business, plans on awarding a front-end engineering and design contract for the Louisiana plant in early 2014.

Would oil spill equal Mobile evacuation? Judge, Plains Southcap challenge MAWSS expert’s analysis

The consequences of an oil spill near the city’s sole source of drinking water was the substance of testimony on Thursday during the fourth day of a condemnation trial between the Mobile Area Water and Sewer System and Plains Southcap oil pipeline company.

After attorneys for the company rested around lunchtime, their MAWSS counterparts called Dr. Andrew Whelton, an independent consultant who teaches at the University of South Alabama and produced a report on such a worst-case scenario. His report, produced in October, stated a “crude oil spill in the Big Creek Lake watershed could have catastrophic consequences” for MAWSS.

Canadian Review Panel Approves Plans for an Oil Pipeline

An environmental and economic review panel approved plans for a pipeline and port project that, if built, will move oil from Alberta’s oil sands to tankers on Canada’s Pacific Coast.

After approval stalled in Washington for the Keystone XL pipeline, which would link the oil sands to the United States Gulf Coast, the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, which would cost about 7.9 billion Canadian dollars, or about $7.4 billion, became Canada’s backup plan for increasing oil sands production.

Enbridge Faces New Costs, Old Opposition on Pipeline

Enbridge Inc. (ENB) cleared a major regulatory hurdle for its C$6.5 billion ($6.1 billion) Northern Gateway pipeline. The company now faces higher costs and continued opposition from aboriginal and environmental groups.

Canada’s National Energy Board approved the project, subject to 209 conditions, and said the country would be “better off” with the pipeline than without it, according to a report released yesterday in Calgary. Enbridge, Canada’s biggest pipeline company, next must seek approval from the federal government, which has 180 days to review the project.

TransCanada weighs rail bridge amid Keystone pipeline delay

TransCanada might develop a rail bridge from Canada to Nebraska if work on the northern leg of its proposed Keystone XL pipeline continues to be delayed, the company’s CEO said this week.

The northern leg of the pipeline, which would carry crude from oil sands in Alberta to Gulf Coast refineries, requires approval from President Obama since it crosses an international border.

Northern Gateway: A long way yet to cross the Pacific

Let’s start at the beginning. Canada is producing more oil and gas than ever before, far more than can be used here at home. The long-running development of the Western Canadian oil patch is predicated on much of that resource being exported. In the case of oil, growing quantities of it are moving by railway, but those virtual pipelines of tanker cars are generally not as safe or as efficient as actual pipelines. That’s why a series of pipe proposals are on the table, heading south, east and west. For Canada’s oil to get to markets at home and overseas, many of these pipelines must be built. The question is not “if.” It is where and how and under what environmental rules.

Maine city gives tar-sands oil the finger

Remember how voters in South Portland, Maine, narrowly rejected a ballot measure last month that would have prevented the city’s port from piping in tar-sands oil? Here’s the thing about that election result: It’s looking like it might not matter. The city council is now taking up the anti-tar-sands campaign anyway.

With a 6-1 vote Monday night, the council put in place a six-month moratorium on shipping tar-sands oil through its port.

Meet the Texas Farmer Taking On the Keystone Pipeline

While the State Department mulls whether or not to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, TransCanada is already gearing up to start pumping tar sands from Alberta, Canada, to the gulf coast of Texas in January of next year.

The Canadian fossil fuels giant recently announced that it will inject an initial 3 million barrels of oil into the newly completed southern leg of the pipeline over the coming weeks. Activists are calling on regulators to halt the process, citing inspections that revealed numerous flaws in the infrastructure. While that could stall the project, a few pending court battles with Texas landowners are presenting a broader challenge to TransCanada’s plans.

Keystone XL protesters’ glittered banner leads to ‘terrorism hoax’ arrest

Two protesters involved in a demonstration at Devon Energy headquarters in Oklahoma City were arrested last week for allegedly staging a “terrorism hoax,” marking the first time anti-terrorism laws have been applied to anti-fracking protests. A group of about a dozen were protesting Devon Energy’s involvement in hydraulic fracking and its ties to TransCanada, the company building the Keystone XL pipeline.

Lasers Used to Protect Polar Bears from Arctic Oil Drilling

Oil and gas exploration in the Arctic is posing an ever greater threat to polar bears, but oil companies may now be able to use lasers to avoid intruding on the bears habitats, and protect the endangered species.

During the winter female polar bears dig large dens in which they give birth and raise their cubs throughout the winter months, yet these months are also prime time for oil explorers, who can sometimes unwittingly disturb the dens.

 Fukushima’s last two reactors to be decommissioned

Tokyo Electric Power Company, operator of Japan’s stricken Fukushima nuclear power plant, will decommission the facility’s two remaining reactors, Units 5 and 6.

Reactors 1 to 4 were declared defunct in April, 2012, 13 months after the devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

Japan to Fund Fukushima Decontamination With Tepco Sale

Japan’s government will assume decontamination costs from the Fukushima nuclear meltdowns via the sale of its shares in Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501), the operator of the wrecked plant, while the utility will be responsible for compensation claims arising from the disaster.

The plan by the government’s Nuclear Emergency Response Headquarters puts a cap on the utility’s costs related to the disaster, which gives clarity to potential investors, Nomura Holdings Inc. said earlier this week. The company also plans to set up a separate unit to decommission the wrecked plant so it can get back to its business of generating electricity.

Japanese government to bear more Fukushima cleanup costs for Tepco

Japan will chip in more taxpayer money and other financial support to help Fukushima plant operator Tokyo Electric Power Co clean up the world’s worst nuclear disaster in a quarter century, officials said on Friday, the latest government lifeline for the embattled utility.

Children living near Fukushima plant more prone to obesity

Japanese ministry of education has recently concluded that the children living in the proximity of the Fukushima nuclear plant are prone to obesity more than those living in the rest of the country. The reasons for the phenomenon the ministry officials see in the children’ changed daily routine as they are forced to reduce their out-door time due to the air pollution; authorities also claim relocation of families to other parts of the prefecture to have a huge impact on the children’s lifestyles as well.

The forgotten horses of Fukushima

In March 2011, a third-generation rancher in Fukushima was forced to evacuate his land due to the nuclear crisis sparked by the massive earthquake and subsequent tsunami. He left behind 40 horses.

Several weeks later, he returned to find most had starved to death. The others were suffering from trauma and disease.

What, If Anything, Will the US Learn From Fukushima?

It’s been nearly three years since the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, but its effects are still being felt in Japan and elsewhere in the world. Three hundred thousand Japanese refugees still live in makeshift camps, and on the other side of the Pacific, a forthcoming study quantifies the effects of “low” doses of traveling radioactive contamination on children’s health in California.

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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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