Environmental Must-Reads – December 5, 2013


ALEC calls for penalties on ‘freerider’ homeowners in assault on clean energy

An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as “freeriders” – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned.

Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama’s main channel for climate action.

Documents Reveal ALEC’s Looming Attacks on Clean Energy, Fracking Laws, Greenhouse Gas Regulations

The Guardian has released another must-read piece about the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), this time laying bare its anti-environmental agenda for 2014.

The paper obtained ALEC’s 2013 Annual Meeting Policy Report, which revealed that ALEC — dubbed a “corporate bill mill” for the statehouses by the Center for Media and Democracy — plans more attacks on clean energy laws, an onslaught of regulations pertaining to hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) and waging war against Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) greenhouse gas regulations.

Voters Ban Fracking in Colorado Towns, But Industry Sues To Stop Them

Four Colorado towns voted for bans or moratoria on hydraulic fracturing in November, but the oil and gas industry wants to repeal three of them in court. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA), the industry trade group, is arguing that only the state has the authority to ban drilling, and that Coloradans can not decide to keep it out of their communities.

Oil and gas industry sues Colorado cities over fracking bans

A legal battle is brewing between the oil and gas industry and Colorado cities that have voted to ban shale gas extraction, raising questions about whether local governments, with the support of residents, can lawfully prohibit the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The Colorado Oil and Gas Association (COGA) filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the towns of Lafayette and Fort Collins, Colo., which have passed ordinances prohibiting fracking, a gas-extraction process through which sand, water and chemicals are pumped into the ground to release trapped fuel deposits.

Broomfield Passes Fracking Ban While Pro-Fracking Groups Sue

A mandatory recount of the Denver suburb of Broomfield’s anti-fracking measure confirmed that voters did in fact pass a five-year moratorium on the controversial oil and gas drilling practice, albeit narrowly — by only 20 votes.

In the state’s election last month, voters in three of Broomfield’s neighboring communities — Boulder, Lafayette and Fort Collins — succeeded in passing five-year fracking moratoriums or outright bans. Two of those communities however are now being sued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. And after the Colorado Secretary of State’s office slammed Broomfield’s election process, that city is being sued too.

Citizens Argue For, Against Dallas Fracking Ordinance

Dallas city council members found themselves on the receiving end of comment Wednesday afternoon.  It was a public hearing on a proposed gas drilling ordinance.  The issue has been discussed at city hall for three years, and all sides feel the issue of hydraulic fracturing or ‘fracking’ is about to reach its climax.

Pa. measure aims to shield drillers using polluted water for fracking

Thousands of miles of streams in Pennsylvania have been polluted by drainage from abandoned mines — the toxic legacy of coal mining.

Volunteers working to clean up those streams are protected by the state’s Environmental Good Samaritan Law. A bill making its way back into the Legislature would make natural gas drillers good Samaritans, too.

Romanian Fight Against Fracking Heats Up As Winter Sets In

In the latest example of local residents organizing in opposition to the fossil fuel industry’s “fracking boom,” which has staked its claim in many communities around the world, U.S. oil giant Chevron has found itself engaged in a showdown in rural Romania.

“On a frozen field braving police, Romanian villagers hold vigil in a makeshift camp set up to block US energy giant Chevron from exploring for shale gas,” Agence France-Presse reports.

Police remove protesters from Chevron’s fracking site in Romania

US energy company Chevron has resumed its search for shale gas at a controversial site in north-east Romania after hundreds of riot police forcefully removed protesters from the village of Pungesti.

For more than two months, the village, which is believed to be sitting on large reserves of the valuable natural resource, has been the site of largely peaceful protests. Villagers, many of whom are elderly farmers, have set up camp next to the fields targeted for drilling, spending their nights in makeshift tents and cooking on open fires.

Bill encourages drillers to use abandoned mine drainage to frack by easing liability

After shrinking away from the spotlight for almost eight months, a bill aimed at encouraging natural gas drillers to use polluted mine drainage water to frack by easing their liability is making its way back into the legislature.

Senate Bill 411 got a lot of attention earlier this year when environmentalists pushed back against the bill, claiming it would grant immunity to the industry all the way through the fracking process. The bill was tabled in March, but was amended in mid-November and has now been referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee to the surprise of environmentalists who have been closely following the issue.

New poll: Marcellus region voters prioritize forest conservation over natural gas development

A public opinion poll was recently conducted on attitudes of voters living in the Appalachian shale region toward forest health and natural gas development. Those surveyed live in Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The survey was conducted by a bipartisan research team.

50,000+ Demand DEC Withdraw Flawed LNG Regulations

On the last day for public comment on the Department of Environmental Conservation’s (DEC) proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) regulations, New Yorkers Against Fracking, New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPRIG), Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, Catskills Citizens for Safe Energy, Catskill Mountainkeeper, Food & Water Watch, Frack Action, United For Action and others delivered tens of thousands of comments and demanded that Gov. Cuomo (D-NY) and the DEC withdraw the regulations.

BP engineer deleted valuable messages, FBI agent testifies

A former BP engineer deliberately deleted text messages that would have helped the U.S. Justice Department’s investigation into the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, an FBI agent involved in the prosecution of companies responsible for the disaster testified Wednesday in federal court in New Orleans.

Levee boards association criticizes suit against oil and gas companies

The Association of Levee Boards of Louisiana formalized its opposition Wednesday to a coastal-erosion lawsuit against oil and gas companies filed by a flood protection authority representing the east bank of the New Orleans area.

The association, which represents 25 levee districts around the state, asked the Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority — East to withdraw its suit. It recommended an alternative approach focused on a “constructive dialogue” among levee boards, elected officials and the energy industry on how to deal with coastal erosion.

Despite Gulf oil spill, BP looks to tap deeper, hotter, higher-pressure offshore oil fields

BP’s strategy after the Deepwater Horizon tragedy: Go deeper.

BP is leading an industry-wide push to develop technology that can retrieve oil from formations that are so deep under the sea floor, and under such high pressure and temperature, that conventional equipment would melt or be crushed by the conditions.

British government backs BP in fight with EPA

The British government has taken the unusual step of filing a brief in a Texas federal court in support of BP in its quest to get the Environmental Protection Agency to lift a ban on the British oil firm’s ability to bid for federal contracts, including leases on new offshore drilling prospects in the Gulf of Mexico.

BP, Anadarko Ask Appeals Court to Reverse Spill Decision

Anadarko Petroleum Corp. (APC) and BP Plc (BP/) asked an appeals court to toss out a judge’s finding they were both liable under the U.S. Clean Water Act for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier found BP and Anadarko, partners in the doomed Macondo project, are automatically responsible under the law for polluting the water because they owned the well. The 2012 ruling allowed the federal government to seek fines of as much as $1,100 per barrel of oil spilled — multiplied by as much as 4.2 million — without having to prove the issue of liability at trial.

BP notches win in bid to block oil spill settlement payments

A federal appeals court has handed BP another victory in its bid to block what could be hundreds of millions of dollars in settlement payments to Gulf Coast businesses following the company’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that a judge must reconsider BP PLC’s arguments that the settlement shouldn’t compensate businesses if their losses can’t be directly traced to the nation’s worst offshore oil spill. The panel said U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier erred last month in refusing to consider the company’s “causation” arguments.

Oyster farmers still feeling affects of oil spill

Things are looking bleak for Louisiana’s oyster farmers.

The crop this year is small. Prices, as a result, are up, but there are so few of the delicious delicacies that oyster farmers and processors are worried about their industry.

Pipeline On Wheels: Trains Are Winning Big Off U.S. Oil

The oil boom in the United States is creating another boom — for the railroad industry.

So far this year, in North Dakota alone, 140 million barrels of oil have left on trains. Shipments of crude oil by rail are up almost 50 percent over last year — and this upward trend is expected to continue.

“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).

Moving Crude by Railcar Stalls on the Track

Companies that thought they had found a relatively easy way to move crude from the booming oil fields of North Dakota to the West Coast are encountering obstacles.

Half a dozen companies are trying to build rail terminals on the coast of Washington state to receive trainloads of crude from the Bakken field in North Dakota. The oil would then be transferred to ships and barges that could carry it to refineries in the Pacific Northwest or south to California.

Shipping Crude Oil by Rail: New Front in Tar Sands Wars

As debate over the Keystone XL and other pipeline projects continues, crude oil from the Alberta tar sands and western U.S. oil fields is increasingly being hauled by railroad. Critics warn that this development poses a threat not only to the environment but to public safety.

Hearings into Enbridge 9B pipeline reversal plan conclude

National Assembly hearings on a proposal by Enbridge Inc. to reverse its 9B pipeline, to bring western crude oil to Montreal’s remaining oil refinery, concluded Wednesday, with Industry Policy Minister Éliane Zakaïb saying “we must choose the lesser evil.”

“From here it isn’t easy,” Zakaïb said, after thanking participants. “What is the lesser evil between oil imported from Algeria, Kazakhstan, Angola, and Brent, and oil from Western Canada?

Shell’s Alaska oil comeback in Arctic proposed for a July start

Royal Dutch Shell is back, baby! Well, maybe. The Netherlands-based oil giant has long said it would not return to offshore drilling in Alaska until it had fully learned its lesson following 2012, a mistake-riddled year that ended when Shell’s runaway drill rig, the Kulluk, ran aground during a Gulf of Alaska storm.

Those lessons have apparently been learned. According to a report from Reuters, Shell plans to return to offshore drilling in the U.S. Arctic Ocean off Alaska’s remote Northwest coast in July, with operations continuing through October.

Oil exploration in the Arctic ‘a new menace to polar bears’

Oil exploration and increased sea traffic in the Arctic are encroaching on polar bear habitat, adding to the existing climate change risk, representatives of Arctic nations said at a Moscow conference Wednesday.

“Today we face new challenges with the ship traffic increase and the oil and gas development,” Canada’s Environment Minister Leona Aglukkaq said at the international forum on polar bear conservation organised by the World Wildlife Fund.

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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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