Environmental Must-Reads – December 24, 2014


Fracking Permit Issued in Louisiana’s St. Tammany Parish

The Louisiana Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued a drilling permit for Helis Oil and Gas today, bringing the company one step closer to realizing its ambition to frack in St. Tammany Parish.

Public outcry against fracking in St. Tammany Parish, an area known for its pristine water and picturesque wetlands 40 miles east of New Orleans, was not enough to sway the state agency. But the public’s input has led to unprecedented conditions being attached to the permit.

Natural Gas: Abundance of Supply and Debate

Natural gas is the Rorschach test of energy policy. Depending on one’s point of view, it can be either an essential tool for meeting the challenge of climate change or another dirty fossil fuel that will speed the planet down the path to calamitous warming.

President Obama is in the first camp. He sang the praises of natural gas in his State of the Union address in January, saying, “If extracted safely, it’s the bridge fuel that can power our economy with less of the carbon pollution that causes climate change.” But many environmental activists have denounced shale drilling because of the potential health risks that were cited by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York last week when he announced a ban on hydraulic fracturing in the state.

NY Fracking Ban Divides Experts on Climate Impacts

A lot of shale gas is going to stay locked under New York State, maybe as much as 9 trillion cubic feet of the stuff.

That’s because New York just became the first energy-rich state to ban the method of high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, used to extract natural gas found in underground shale formations. The ban came at about the same time that the Canadian provinces of Quebec and New Brunswick officials said they’d prevent shale gas development, too.

Energy industry spent more than $721 million on 2014 elections

The energy industry spent more than $721 million on political campaigns during the 2014 election cycle, according to the Center for American Progress.

Coal, oil and gas and electric utilities companies also funneled perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars more to outside political groups over the two years leading up to November’s midterm elections, the Washington, D.C. based think tank said in a release Monday.

Uncommon legal concept may surface in New York after fracking ban

For six years while shale gas extraction in New York was in a state of indefinite hold pending environmental and health reviews, landowners and oil and gas firms talked about “takings.”

It’s a legal concept that, like eminent domain, requires the government to compensate private property owners for assets taken away because of government action.

Pennsylvania lags in studying health risks of shale fracking

New York and Pennsylvania share a border, but on shale gas policy the states are separated by a gulf.

The breach widened last week when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration announced that state will ban fracking, citing uncertainty about the health risks posed by the oil and gas extraction process.

Lawsuit against Army Corps of Engineers complicates Oregon LNG plans in Warrenton

As the state considers approving an Oregon LNG pipeline to serve a proposed liquid natural gas terminal in Clatsop County, another obstacle threatens to derail its plans: The company might not have the legal right to build on Warrenton’s East Skipanon Peninsula, where the terminal would be located.

The company quietly filed suit against the Army Corps of Engineers in August, seeking to nullify a 57-year-old land-use easement that gives the corps permanent permission to use the peninsula as a dumping site for dredge spoils.

DEP slaps Vantage Energy with massive fine for landslide and dumping

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection fined the Colorado-based Vantage Energy almost $1 million for more than a dozen violations of the state’s Clean Streams Law and the  Oil and Gas Act. The sanction stems from a landslide at the company’s Porter Street well site in Franklin Township, Greene County. But it turns out the landslide was just the start of the company’s violations. While checking on site remediation months later, DEP inspectors discovered a contractor dumped two truckloads of wastewater off the side of the damaged well site, further polluting two unnamed tributaries to Grimes Run.

Exxon subsidiary hit with fines for gas operations

An Exxon Mobil subsidiary agreed to spend $3 million to restore land in West Virginia damaged by oil and gas operations, the U.S. government announced.

Subsidiary XTO Energy Inc. agreed to spend millions of dollars on restoration and pay a civil penalty of $2.3 million for violating the Clean Water Act. The settlement resolves alleged violations related to the discharge of fill material into streams and wetlands related to its horizontal drilling operations.

These two states had the same basic information about fracking. They made very different decisions

Last week, New York Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo banned the practice in his state of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking” — blasting chemical laden water deep beneath the Earth at extreme pressures in order to crack rock and release natural gas. The move followed a report from the New York Department of Health, finding “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes” that may be associated with the technology. It found the science on this question was uncertain but worrisome, and that was enough to put on the brakes.

Ohio’s natural gas boom brings flurry of pipeline construction

A huge supply of natural gas in the shale of northern Appalachia is igniting a mega-boom in gas pipeline construction in Ohio, the likes of which haven’t been seen since the 1940s.

“You have interstate, intrastate, local utility service lines upgrades, collection lines for oil and gas utilities, and lines for gas-fired electric utilities. Altogether, there will be 38,000 miles of pipeline development in Ohio over the next decade,” said Dale Arnold, director of energy services for the Ohio Farm Bureau Foundation.

Oil spill trial by the numbers: How much will BP pay?

The Justice Department and BP on Friday (Dec. 19) gave a preview of the arguments they plan to make during the final phase of the oil spill trial. The trial, which starts Jan. 20, will determine how much in fines BP and its partners will pay for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster.

The federal government intends to fight for oil spill fines of close to $18 billion, what it argues is the highest fine under the Clean Water Act, the federal law that governs oil spills. BP and its partners argue the law calls for a much lower penalty.

BP unit says big spill fines could cut deep

BP’s U.S. oil unit says high penalties for the Deepwater Horizon disaster would drain its available funds next year and dramatically weaken its finances amid plunging crude prices.

In court papers Monday, the Houston-based oil producer argued federal prosecutors are relying on an outmoded financial value for the BP subsidiary, based on higher oil prices in August, to justify seeking up to $18 billion in pollution fines.

BP Cries Pauper over Gulf Spill Penalties, Blames Low Gas Prices

It was reported today that British Petroleum, the folks who brought you the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, is asking that the Clean Water Act penalties that it must pay should be reduced because the cost of crude oil is low.

What?  So will BP offer to pay the full penalty – or more – if oil returns to or exceeds the 2010 world price?  I don’t think so.

Oil Train Disaster Settlement Growing

A proposed settlement fund for victims of a fiery train derailment that claimed 47 lives in Canada is nearly halfway to a goal of $500 million in funding commitments ahead of its filing next month, the defunct railroad’s bankruptcy trustee said.

More than a dozen corporations that face potential liability in the 2013 Quebec oil train disaster have agreed to pay over $200 million to the fund and that sum could more than double by the time judges in the U.S. and Canada sign off, bankruptcy trustee Robert Keach told The Associated Press.

Enbridge oil spill settlement is $6.25M, not $6.75M

A settlement over a 2010 oil spill in southwestern Michigan is worth $6.25 million, not $6.75 million as lawyers reported earlier in December.

A new filing has been made in Grand Rapids federal court. Judge Gordon Quist still must approve the deal between a Canadian company and residents and land owners near the Kalamazoo River.

Oil spills into Black Sea near Russian port after pipeline leak

A leak on a major Russian oil pipeline caused a spill in the Black Sea near the port of Tuapse on Wednesday where officials said stormy weather was hampering efforts to assess and respond to the mishap.

“Some quantity of oil has spilled into the sea,” Sergei Proskurin, first deputy captain of the port of Tuapse, told Reuters.

He said the size of the spill was unclear and that emergencies services were working to deploy temporary floating barriers to contain the spill but were being delayed by the stormy conditions.

Former administration official: Keystone ‘will eventually be built’

A former top official with the Department of Transportation thinks the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline “will eventually be built.”

In an interview with Platts Energy Week, former head of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), Cynthia Quarterman, said she thinks Keystone will be built, but wouldn’t say when.

Oil trains delay emergency responders in Minnesota cities

City officials in Coon Rapids, Minn. say increased oil train traffic in their community is a big problem, and it’s only getting worse. They especially worry about fire trucks and ambulances getting stuck waiting for trains at intersections while responding to emergencies.

Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton met with city and railroad officials Monday morning to talk about the dramatically increased train traffic in Coon Rapids and in neighboring cities.

Train fuel tank punctured in Bend, spilling 2,000 gallons of diesel

Investigators are looking into the possibility somebody sabotaged a train Tuesday in downtown Bend by setting a piece of railroad track in a position to puncture a locomotive fuel tank.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe spokesman Gus Melonas says about 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel spilled as the train moved along at 30 mph, including some that went onto a road beneath an overpass, and some at two railroad crossings. Nobody was injured, and a cleanup was underway.

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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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