Environmental Must-Reads – December 4, 2014


Special report: Louisiana’s fracking tax program criticized; rebates could reach $1 billion per year

Six months ago, oil — and money — began to gush out of a well called Blades 33 H-1, drilled by a Houston energy company in a Tangipahoa Parish pasture about seven miles from the Mississippi border.

The well bores two miles into the Earth’s crust, and then runs horizontally for another mile. It cost about $15 million to drill — money that Goodrich Petroleum Corp. can expect to recoup within two years, depending on the rate of production and the price of oil.

Under Louisiana law, Goodrich must pay the state a “severance tax,” 12.5 percent of the value of all of the oil it extracts. But under an incentive program passed with little debate two decades ago, the state will refund all of that tax to Goodrich — at least until the company has paid off the well.

As a result, Louisiana taxpayers will cut Goodrich a check for nearly $2 million, even though the firm, in calls with investors before a recent drop in the price of oil, has boasted expectations of profit margins ranging from 29 to 53 percent

Abita Springs files suit to block fracking well

The town of Abita Springs has filed a suit in state court in St. Tammany Parish in an effort to prevent Helis Oil & Gas Co. from drilling a hydraulic fracturing oil well near the town.

The suit, filed Monday, names Louisiana Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh and Helis as defendants. Its main contention is that the proposed well would violate parish zoning ordinances.

Plaquemines Parish oil and gas environmental damages suit moves from federal to state court

In a setback for the energy industry, a federal judge has ordered an environmental damages lawsuit filed by Plaquemines Parish against 19 oil and gas companies returned to the 25th Judicial District Court in Plaquemines for trial. That sets the stage for 20 other suits filed by Plaquemines and seven filed by Jefferson Parish also to be returned to state courts.

U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey ruled Monday that Total Petrochemicals & Refining USA Inc. and 18 other defendants had not proved that their attempt to remove the case from state court to federal court in New Orleans complied with a variety of federal court rules governing when state lawsuits must be tried in federal courts.

A death in the Bakken: Worker’s family rejects drug conclusion

One thing is clear: Brandon Belk should have been wearing an oxygen mask.

After that, there’s a long list of questions. It starts with a big one. Why did he die?

There’s the mix of solvents and petroleum gunk he was breathing while cleaning a frack tank two days before his death in July 2013. When federal worker safety inspectors showed up, they found the working conditions dangerous.

Scientists turn to crowdfunding sites for research money

Federal spending on scientific research hasn’t kept up with inflation in recent years, and it’s made it harder for researchers to fund their work. Some of them are turning to another source: crowdfunding. But this funding source raises new questions for scientists.

Susan Nagel, a researcher at the University of Missouri, studies the health impacts of chemicals used in fracking. Last year, she found remnants of these chemicals in Colorado streams near where fracking spills had occurred.

Oil price plunge may reshape congressional debates around gas tax, crude exports

If oil prices continue their plunge, it could refocus the congressional debate over expanding U.S. energy commodity exports, potentially opening the door for a gasoline tax increase and shaping arguments around biofuels mandates and vehicle efficiency rules, current and former lawmakers, aides and analysts said yesterday.

Earthquakes a new reality

The earthquakes that had been a fun curiosity turned serious for many at precisely 3:40 p.m. Nov. 12, when a magnitude-4.8 quake centered near Conway Springs gave the Wichita area a major shaking.

And that was only one of more than 150 earthquakes in Oklahoma and southern Kansas over the past month, including a magnitude-3.0 quake near Conway Springs early Tuesday morning.

State investigates Encana after complaints of dug-up trash in Erie

State environmental officials are investigating recent actions by Encana Oil & Gas after Erie residents complained of seeing crews unearth and then rebury old trash last week while laying pipe near one of the company’s well sites.

Freddy Arck, a spokesman for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, confirmed Tuesday that his office is investigating Encana following complaints from several Erie residents about dug-up trash on a site south of the intersection of Weld County roads 5 and 6.

Delegate Says DEP Hasn’t Moved on Requests About Injection Well

Delegate John Pino requested two things of the state Department of Environmental Protection during a November interim meeting. The first was information about the permit status of an injection well in Fayette County, his district. The second was for the department to conduct tests of a creek near the site for possible contamination.

Three weeks later, Pino said he still hasn’t heard from the agency.

Boulder Ups the ‘Anti’ in the Fracking Game

Boulder County, one of the first places in Colorado to take a stand against hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, back in early 2012, recently extended its temporary ban on the controversial process until July 2018.

A handful of towns in the state, including the Boulder County cities of Longmont and Lafayette, have temporarily or permanently banned fracking in recent years. They were promptly sued by either the energy industry, state regulators, or both. But so far, the Boulder County government has avoided a lawsuit.

N.C. Mining and Energy Commission reports on fracking rulemaking process

The group charged with drafting the rules for implementing fracking in North Carolina has finished reviewing the 217,285 comments it received from the public this summer.

In a presentation to the General Assembly’s Joint Legislative Commission on Energy Policy, Mining and Energy Commission chairman Dr. Vikram Rao reported the commissioners’ findings and outlined the actions they will take before sending the final draft of the rules to the state’s Rules Review Commission later this month. Rao said the number of comments received was “unprecedented” for North Carolina, and that the comments, after review by commissioners and DENR staff, were sorted into two “buckets:” ones the MEC had jurisdiction over, and ones they did not.

New U.S. oil and gas well November permits tumble nearly 40 percent

Plunging oil prices sparked a drop of almost 40 percent in new well permits issued across the United States in November, in a sudden pause in the growth of the U.S. shale oil and gas boom that started around 2007.

Data provided exclusively to Reuters on Tuesday by industry data firm Drilling Info Inc showed 4,520 new well permits were approved last month, down from 7,227 in October.

Feds Sued Over Santa Barbara Fracking Permits

An environmental group sued the federal government on Wednesday for approving the use of hydraulic fracturing ? fracking ? on oil platforms off the Southern California coast.

The federal lawsuit by the Environmental Defense Center alleges the U.S. Department of the Interior and two of its subsidiary agencies approved 51 permits to drill from oil and gas platforms in the Santa Barbara Channel without properly conducting environmental studies or permitting public comment.

The Fracking Boom Could Burn Out Decades Before It’s Supposed To

Thanks to the U.S. fracking boom, the world is coasting on a wave of cheap natural gas. As far as official forecasts suggest, that wave should last for decades to come. But a new analysis that takes a higher-resolution look at shale gas suggests that wave could crash far sooner than producers expect. And with the rest of the world anticipating cheap American gas, a crash could sends shocks rippling across borders.

The Fracking Boom Could End Way Sooner Than Obama Thinks

President Obama is fond of touting America’s vast trove of natural gas—and the energy (read: economic growth) it can provide—as a reason to support fracking. “Our 100-year supply of natural gas is a big factor in drawing jobs back to our shores,” he told a gathering at Northwestern University in October.

You can hear that same optimism about US natural gas production from Democrats, Republicans, and of course, the industry itself. The conviction that America can fuel its economy by churning out massive amounts of natural gas for decades has become a core assumption of national energy policy. But what if it’s wrong?

Studies Raise Red Flags About Hazardous Compounds in Fracking Fluid

The fracking boom continues to sweep across the country. Industry efforts are set to expand the unconventional method of oil and gas extraction to new frontiers such as Illinois and North Carolina.

In Nevada, the industry has won initial approval to start drilling across a 580-acre swatch of public and private land, and this month federal officials announced they will allow some fracking in George Washington National Forest – the largest national forest in the eastern United States.

Two Lawmakers Want To Ban Fracking In Florida

Two Florida state senators introduced legislation this week to ban fracking in their state, citing concerns about environmental impact and potential damage to water supplies.

State Senators Darren Soto (D) and Dwight Bullard (D) filed a bill on Tuesday that, if adopted, would prohibit hydraulic fracturing in Florida. In a press release announcing the legislation, the senators said that Florida’s natural beauty, major tourism industry, and underground aquifers would be at risk if fracking becomes common in Florida.

Ex-BP Executive Fighting Gulf Oil Spill Charges

A former BP executive accused of obstructing a congressional investigation into the 2010 Gulf oil spill remains on track for a trial next year, despite defense efforts to have the charges dismissed.

U.S. District Judge Kurt Engelhardt on Wednesday declined to throw out one count against David Rainey and took under advisement defense motions to throw out another, a Justice Department spokesman said after the morning hearing.

BP oil spill claims adjuster pleads guilty to $257,400 wire fraud

A former BP oil spill claims adjuster pleaded guilty Wednesday to filing false claims for people who were not affected by the 2010 disaster. Charlie English III, 33, of LaPlace, admitted filing six bogus claims totalling $257,400, in exchange for keeping $30,000.

An adjuster for the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, English admitted to wire fraud before U.S. District Judge Ginger Berrigan, who scheduled sentencing March 11. English faces as long as five years in prison and a fine of as much as $250,000, although maximum penalties in federal court are rare for first offenders.

Israel nature reserve oil spill ‘one of country’s worst environmental disasters’

Millions of litres of oil gushing out of a breached pipeline flooded a desert nature reserve in Israel overnight, causing one of the country’s worst environmental disasters, officials and media said.

Three people were hospitalised after inhaling fumes released by an accidental rupture in the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline near the Evrona reserve, on the Jordanian border, police said.

Israel Radio reported Wednesday night’s breach happened during maintenance work.

Thousands of Barrels of Shell Oil Spill Into Niger Delta

Niger Delta fishermen are no strangers to seeing oil spill into their waters from leaky pipelines, but even they were shocked by the scale of the slick stretching for miles from a Shell facility across the swamps and into the ocean.

Some 3,800 barrels spilled recently, according to an investigation by Shell and government officials. It ranks as one of the worst in Nigeria for years, local environmental activists said.

Christie heads to Canada, beating drum for Keystone XL pipeline

Gov. Chris Christie kicks off a two-day trade mission to Canada today with a focus on energy issues, and people familiar with his plans say his remarks will include another call for approving the $8 billion Keystone XL pipeline.

The trip has political benefits for Christie, a potential presidential candidate. He will get to burnish his foreign policy credentials while supporting a project that has been championed by Charles and David Koch, the conservative oil magnates and Republican donors.

Enbridge paves the way for another pipeline project

Representatives from Canadian oil company Enbridge Energy met with residents in Clearbrook, Minn., on Wednesday, the first in a series open houses ahead of another massive pipeline project.

Enbridge’s Line 3 was originally built nearly 50 years ago, in 1968. It forms part of Enbridge’s Lakehead System, which transports crude oil from Canada and North Dakota across Minnesota to refineries in Superior, Wis., and beyond.

Editor’s Briefing | An oil tiger

What a difference $15 makes.

At the end of October, when the price of oil was $85 a barrel, we posited that much Arctic oil exploration would proceed apace, given the long-term outlook of many projects and the huge investments already invested in such activities.

Russia and Norway, where production is already in progress, might be hit harder, but the price, at that time, was still tolerable. Since then, the price of oil has continued the precipitous decline that began in June, stabilising, at least temporarily, around $70 a barrel in recent days.

Oil Trains Hide in Plain Sight

Early last year, a new kind of pipeline full of volatile oil appeared in this college town, halfway between Philadelphia and Baltimore.

If it had been a traditional pipeline, there would have been government hearings and environmental reviews. There would be markers or signs along the line’s route and instructions for nearby residents on how to react in an emergency. A detailed plan for responding to a spill would be on file with the federal government.

Boxer, nuclear regulator go head-to-head

Sen. Barbara Boxer is about to give up leadership of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane has already announced that she’s leaving that post. But none of that decreased the intensity of their battle Wednesday.

Boxer, D-Calif., will be in the minority in the 2015-16 version of the Senate and will cede her chairmanship of the committee to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. In doing so, she will lose much of her leverage to press issues she has with the nuclear regulator — including documents that the commission has refused to turn over in response to her demands and those of Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass.

Boxer: Nuclear regulators haven’t learned from Fukushima

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) accused the body responsible for nuclear energy safety of ignoring recommendations that sprung from 2011’s Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear meltdown.

In the 10th hearing she has held on the disaster caused by an earthquake and tsunami, Boxer, chairwoman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, said regulators have not acted on any of the recommendations made after the disaster.

Global eco-radiation research institute opens in Fukushima

With its team of international researchers, Fukushima University’s Institute of Environmental Radioactivity moved into full-scale operation on Dec. 3.

An official ceremony was held to mark the opening of its new two-story-high facility built with a government subsidy of roughly 1.8 billion yen ($15 million).

Fukushima voters voice anxiety amid leaders’ reconstruction pledges

The leaders of the country’s major political parties have called for renewed efforts to speed up reconstruction in disaster-hit Fukushima Prefecture, as election campaigning got underway in earnest.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, head of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, and main opposition Democratic Party of Japan leader Banri Kaieda both chose Fukushima — devastated by the triple-meltdown disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 power plant — as the location for their first stump speeches on Tuesday.

Accident at Ukraine nuclear plant forces reactor shutdown

An accident at a Ukrainian nuclear power station that forced the shutdown of a 1,000 megawatt energy unit presents no threat of nuclear leak, the country’s energy minister has said.

The accident at the Zaporizhia nuclear plant, in the east of the country, came to light on Wednesday when Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, upbraided the country’s newly appointed energy minister over power supply problems

Genetics may explain why many near Fukushima nuclear disaster unaffected by radiation exposure

We hear the word radiation and our impulse is to stay away. After all, nuclear weapons, reactor cores, are all extremely dangerous, as everyone knows. Many people don’t realize that ultraviolet light from the Sun, even the safer UV that gets through the atmosphere is also radiation, the bad kind to boot, meaning ionizing radiation. That means that it has enough energy to strip off electrons from atoms that it encounters.

Brown Bears Go Nuclear at Chernobyl

No, the bear wasn’t glowing.

But the photo is the first confirmation of the presence of the species in the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone in more than a century.

A camera trap set up in the radiation-riddled area snapped the photo for the TREE (Transfer, Exposure, Effects) project, created to monitor the effects of radiation exposure on the area’s wildlife.

Missouri Nuclear Plant Shuts Down; No Public Risk

An Ameren Corp. nuclear plant in central Missouri shut down Wednesday due to an electrical equipment failure, but the company and federal regulators say there is no risk to the public.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said an “unexpected main turbine trip” caused the shutdown at 12:22 a.m. at Ameren’s Callaway nuclear power plant near Fulton.

Add comment

Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

Follow Us

© Stuart H Smith, LLC
Share This