Environmental Must-Reads – December 4, 2013


Indigenous Canadian fracking protesters refuse to back down

Anti-fracking demonstrators set tires ablaze to block a New Brunswick highway Monday in a fiery response to a judge’s decision to extend an injunction limiting their protests against a Texas-based shale gas exploration company.

In a courtroom in Fredericton, the capital of New Brunswick, Judge Paulette Garnett ruled to continue through Dec. 17 the injunction obtained by SWN Resources Canada against a coalition of protesters led by Mi’kmaq indigenous people from the Elsipogtog First Nation.

Oil, gas industry sues 2 Colorado towns over fracking votes

Colorado’s largest oil and gas industry group has filed a lawsuit against two Front Range towns that voted last month to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The suit from the Colorado Oil & Gas Association against Fort Collins and Lafayette joins an earlier lawsuit against the town of Longmont. The latest suits were filed Tuesday in Larimer and Boulder counties.

Environmental group warns of fracking waste on NY roads

Despite a moratorium on fracking in New York State, more than a dozen municipalities have received state approval to spread a fracking byproduct on their roads.

The fluid, called production brine, can now be spread on roads in Wyoming, Erie, Cattaraugus, and Seneca counties, according to state documents obtained by Riverkeeper, a group that advocates for cleanup of the Hudson River.

U.S. Chamber Of Commerce Leader Warns EPA Fracking Study Could Jeopardize ‘Millions Of Jobs’

America’s largest business lobby group warned the Obama administration on Tuesday against snuffing out the country’s energy boom with regulations on new oil and natural gas drilling technologies.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study due next year could be used to justify clamping down on drilling techniques that have sparked a surge in U.S. oil and natural gas output.

Tracking Fracking Pollution

As a result of the fracking revolution, North America has overtaken Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas. This, despite endless protests from environmentalists. But does drilling for natural gas really cause pollution levels to skyrocket?

Greens weigh in on EPA fracking guidance

Environmental organizations are telling the Obama administration how it should write guidance for some hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, operations.

Ahead of Thanksgiving last week, representatives from five environmental and government watchdog groups met with White House and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials to discuss the new guidance for fracking efforts that involve diesel.

Tighter regulations coming for hydraulic fracking in Michigan

New rules governing hydraulic fracking, a process used to extract natural gas from deep wells, will tighten regulations over an industry that’s been operating in the state for nearly 100 years.

With the fairly recent advent of high-volume hydraulic fracturing (or fracking) — a controversial method for extracting natural gas from the ground through high-pressure injection of large amounts of water mixed with chemicals and sand — the Department of Environmental Quality decided it was time to update the rules regulating the industry.

Who’s Really Cashing In On the Fracking Boom

Fracking has sent the price of natural gas plummeting, just not for the people who need it most.

The straight-out-of-the-ground price of natural gas is way down since the start of the boom in hydraulic fracturing. Back in 2008, users buying gas directly from drillers were paying an average of $7.97 per thousand cubic feet, according to the Energy Information Administration. By 2012, that cost—known as the “wellhead” price—had dropped to $2.66 in nominal dollars (not adjusted for inflation) resulting in a two-thirds discount in just five years.

Ex-BP Engineer Destroyed Evidence on Spill, Jury Told

A former BP Plc (BP/) senior engineer who helped lead efforts to cap the Macondo well as oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 destroyed evidence sought by the U.S. in a probe of the spill, a federal prosecutor told jurors.

Kurt Mix, charged last year with two counts of obstruction of justice, is the first defendant in a criminal case over the spill to face a jury. He is accused of deleting from his mobile phone text messages and voice mails related to the disaster, including one in which he said the spill was bigger than the company said it was.

BP wins reprieve over Gulf of Mexico oil spill payouts

Oil giant BP’s attempts to limit claims over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill have been given a boost after a US appeals court ruled in its favour.

The court voted for an injunction to suspend any further payments to firms that had not suffered losses as a result of the disaster.

US Lobby Groups Join UK Government Against BP Environmental Ban

Prominent US lobby groups, the American Petroleum Institute and the US Chamber of Commerce have thrown their weight behind the UK government’s appeal against environmental sanctions banning BP from acquiring federal contracts, following the 2010 US Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In briefs submitted to a US court, the groups stated they support a lawsuit BP filed in August challenging the US Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ban.

Oil spill coats river, sea in Nigeria’s impoverished Niger Delta

A large oil spill near Nigeria’s Brass facility, run by ENI, an Italian energy company, has spread through the sea and swamps of the oil producing Niger Delta region, local residents and the company said Monday.

ENI said it was not yet possible to determine the cause of the spill.

How scientists are using drones to fight the next big oil spill

More than three-and-half years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster spewed millions of gallons of petroleum into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists are launching drones and ocean-going sensor arrays off the Florida coast in an effort to map the path of future oil spills before they devastate beaches and coastal ecosystems.

Canada panel urges better response plan for oil spills

Canada must be better prepared to respond to major oil spills if more crude starts to flow in pipelines to the country’s Pacific Coast, a government panel said on Tuesday, as fears of a major marine disaster grow.

The report by the federal transport department makes 45 recommendations, including ensuring companies are prepared for a worst-case scenario and new guarantees that taxpayers will not be liable for costs related to spills in Canadian waters.

Forget Keystone XL: Dangerous Tar Sands May Soon Be Traversing The Country By Barge

When tar sands crude spills into water, it doesn’t float on top in an oily sheen for all to see. It sinks to the bottom, mixes with sediment, and creates a toxic, viscous muck that is almost impossible to remove completely.

That is exactly what happened three years ago in the Kalamazoo River in Southwest Michigan, and that is exactly what critics of plans to ship tar sands crude by barge across the Great Lakes say will happen again if industry is given the green light.

Canada’s tanker spill response system needs upgrading: expert panel

Canada’s oil spill response lacks federal leadership and isn’t prepared for disasters in high-risk areas like southern B.C., according to a federal panel.

The panel’s report, released Tuesday, was based on existing tanker volume, not the increased numbers of tankers involved if the Northern Gateway pipeline is built or the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Burnaby is twinned.

TransCanada to Start Keystone South Deliveries to Texas Jan. 3

TransCanada Corp. (TRP) expects to begin delivering oil Jan. 3 to Texas on the southern portion of its Keystone pipeline, allowing more crude to leave a key delivery hub in Oklahoma.

TransCanada’s Gulf Coast pipeline can carry 700,000 barrels of crude a day to Port Arthur, Texas, from Cushing, Oklahoma. The Calgary-based company disclosed its plan to start service on Jan. 3 in a filing yesterday with the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That adds to the capacity of the Seaway pipeline owned by Enterprise Products Partners LP (EPD) and Enbridge Inc. (ENB), which now carries 400,000 barrels a day to Houston from Cushing. The operators have said they expect Seaway’s capacity to reach 850,000 in the first half of 2014.

Oil Rises Most Since September on Keystone Pipeline Plan

West Texas Intermediate crude gained the most since September after TransCanada Corp. (TRP) said it will begin operating the southern leg of its Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf Coast in January.

Prices jumped to a one-month high, narrowing WTI’s discount to Brent. TransCanada plans to start deliveries Jan. 3 to Port Arthur, Texas, via the segment of the Keystone expansion project from Cushing, Oklahoma, according to a government filing yesterday. Cushing is the delivery point for WTI futures. Crude also rose as U.S. total inventories probably slid for the first time since September last week.

Enbridge defends pipeline work near Toronto

Representatives of Enbridge Inc. in Canada said its work near Toronto was for preventative maintenance on its Line 9B though protesters questioned the motive.

Enbridge reversed the flow of the pipeline westward in 1998 to accommodate oil imports from the Middle East and West Africa. The company now wants to return the pipeline to its original state to accommodate the expansion of oil production in Western Canada.

“Just the Reality:” Pipeline Safety Official Admits He’d Avoid Buying A Home Near Pipelines Like Keystone XL

A federal pipeline safety official admitted on camera recently that he made a point of ensuring his home wasn’t in the path of any pipelines before buying it, and that he wouldn’t advise anyone to build in the path of a pipeline.

The official, Bill Lowery, is responsible for community assistance and technical services for the southwest region of the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Enbridge Could Be Forced to Boost Pipeline Safety in Mich. After Water Violations

Michigan environmental officials are drafting a settlement with Canadian pipeline operator Enbridge, Inc. over a series of violations of the state’s water laws that occurred earlier this year.

The settlement would keep Enbridge out of court while requiring the company to beef up its environmental practices when testing the new pipeline it is building to replace Line 6B, which ruptured in 2010.

Lachute farmer describes ‘David and Goliath’ relationship with Enbridge

They’re calling it a game of Russian Roulette.

Environmental groups are warning the Enbridge pipeline reversal project through Montreal would be a risky endeavour, despite the company’s assurances that bringing Alberta oil east will pose few risks.

How Lac-Mégantic has left towns more resentful of rail’s power

The first steam locomotive to arrive in Lac La Biche back in 1915 was greeted with cheers. Today the 100-car oil trains that run through the heart of the Northern Alberta town are met with a mixture of anger and worry.

The tracks bisect the town. The hospital lies on one side, the fire station on the other. Over the past five years, as the oil boom escalated and more and more bitumen from Fort McMurray was shipped by rail, the oil trains grew long enough to block all the town’s railway crossings for extended periods of time.

Rail Safety: Canada Train Operators Breaking More Rules In Recent Years

Wayne Easterbrook and his wife were among dozens injured on Feb. 26, 2012, when a Via Rail train they were on flew off the tracks in Burlington, Ont., killing three.

“People make errors. It’s part of being human,” the Kingston, Ont., resident acknowledged, “but if there’s anything out there that can be purchased to assist people in doing their job, especially when it comes to safety, then the government, or in this case the company, Via … should spend the money.”

House Dems seek pause in Arctic oil exploration

House Democrats on Tuesday pressed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to halt new oil leasing and exploration in the Arctic.

Reps. Rush Holt (N.J.), Lois Capps (Calif.) and David Price (N.C.) spearheaded a letter signed by 59 lawmakers that calls for Jewell to stop new exploration and revamp Interior’s plans for drilling and permitting.

Oil industry blasts administration’s Arctic drilling plan

The Obama administration’s plan to adopt a focused approach to auctioning Arctic waters for oil and gas drilling isn’t winning many fans.

In comments filed with the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management before a Tuesday evening deadline, environmentalists insisted that it is too risky to allow any oil drilling in the “pristine” Chukchi Sea — even if especially sensitive areas are taken off the table.

Fukushima two years on: a dirty job with no end in sight

The tsunami that wrecked the Fukushima Daiichi power plant has led to the toughest nuclear cleanup ever. Radioactive water is still poisoning the sea – and it could take 40 years to fix the mess. Is Japan up to the challenge?

IAEA praises Japan’s Fukushima clean-up operation

A team from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has praised Japan for making progress in stabilising the Fukushima nuclear plant.

However the team, which has spent 10 days inspecting the plant, also said the process of decommissioning Fukushima is “extremely complicated”.

Japan Proposes More Steps to Store Fukushima Water

A government panel proposed additional measures to lessen the radioactive water crisis at Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant, saying Tuesday that current plans are not enough to prevent the risk of a disaster.

Officials on the Industry Ministry’s contaminated water panel also said that the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant could run out of storage space for contaminated water within two years if current plans are not fully workable.

1,000 days after Fukushima: residents of crisis zone frustrated by slow clean-up

The communities around Japan’s crippled Fukushima nuclear plant are still waiting for their lives to return to some kind of normality – 1,000 days after the world’s worst atomic disaster since Chernobyl.

By the end of October, only 28.5 percent of houses, 33.2 percent of roads and 12.3 percent of forests had been cleaned, according to the Fukushima Department of Environment.

Fukushima’s Contaminated Water Poses Difficulties In Cleanup

A government panel proposed additional measures to lessen the contaminated water crisis at Japan’s crippled nuclear power plant, saying Tuesday that current plans are not enough to prevent the risk of a disaster.

Officials on the Industry Ministry’s contaminated water panel also said that the Fukushima Dai-ichi plant could run out of storage for contaminated water within two years if current plans are not fully workable.

The Fukushima Earthquake Actually Changed Earth’s Gravity

The 2011 Tohoku earthquake, which caused the tsunami behind the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear meltdown, disrupted more than man-made structures. The European Space Agency’s GOCE satellite measured a significant change in Earth’s gravity after the earthquake before falling out of the sky on November 11th.


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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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