Environmental Must-Reads – December 9, 2014


Global Shale Ambitions Wane as OPEC Price War Deepens

Efforts to replicate the U.S. shale revolution are under threat as a price war by OPEC pushes crude to levels last seen during the global financial crisis.

From the U.K. to Australia, countries without government-backed energy producers appear the most vulnerable to delays in extracting shale oil and gas. Even nations such as China and Argentina, where state-run producers have a government mandate to drill, could see a slowing in investment.

For some, gas pipeline through Va. carries concerns

Located along a winding road in the peaceful Blue Ridge foothills of Nelson County, the Acorn Inn Bed and Breakfast boasts 15 guest rooms close to local vineyards, craft breweries and the ski runs at Wintergreen. English, Dutch, German and Spanish are spoken.

It’s also an epicenter of an energy battle growing with the same kind of intensity surrounding the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. That project, stretching from Canada to the Gulf Coast, was shot down by the U.S. Senate last month.

Pipeline company changes route to minimize impact

Builders of a controversial natural gas pipeline that would stretch across northeast Massachusetts — including part of the Merrimack Valley — are proposing a new route through southern New Hampshire that they say will minimize the project’s impact.

Kinder Morgan officials said on Friday they will revise plans for the pipeline early next week with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The new plans will minimize the impact on state-protected parks, wetlands and conservation lands by using existing gas lines and other utility rights-of-way, they said.

W.Va. OKs fracking under Ohio River; critics leery

West Virginia has opened the Ohio River to fracking.

The state government announced that companies can ask to drill beneath the Ohio River for natural gas and oil.

Those companies would pay the state a per-acre fee as well as royalties on the oil and gas. It is a move that could bring millions of dollars into West Virginia, which has tapped into its rainy-day fund to prop up its budget.

Deadline nears on fracking decision

Gov. Andrew Cuomo surprised supporters and critics alike in October, when he casually mentioned during a debate that the state’s long-awaited report on the health impacts of hydraulic fracturing is “due at the end of the year.”

With just weeks remaining in 2014, the state Department of Health reiterated Friday that it anticipates finishing up the report — which has been in the works since 2012 and will determine the fate of large-scale fracking in New York — by month’s end.

Tunkhannock could become frack sand case study

State environmental regulators could use Tunkhannock as a case study to measure how facilities that handle hydraulic fracturing sand affect air quality.

The Department of Environmental Protection has never before sampled the air for silica sand near a transfer facility like the one D&I Silica LLC proposes near the intersection of Route 6 and Route 92 in Tunkhannock Township, spokeswoman Colleen Connolly said.

Fracking Regulators Deny Legal Request for Air Pollution Rules

State drilling regulators on Friday rejected a legal petition from environmentalists who sought new rules to minimize the air pollution released by natural gas wells, which may soon dot North Carolina’s map.

Members of the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission concluded that they don’t have legal authority to develop air pollution rules. The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League filed a legal petition in August requesting that the commission develop these rules.

Marcellus Life: A small town in Elk County struggles with rules for shale gas drilling

About a dozen St. Marys officials, outfitted with baggy blue jumpsuits, earplugs and white plastic hard hats, recently visited a Seneca Resources well pad on a wooded hilltop to see what fracking is all about.

This part of Pennsylvania, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh in Elk County, has been relatively untouched by shale drilling. But people see it coming in two test wells Seneca has there now, with more wells in the future.

The usual characters are at play: Drillers promising money, jobs and a seat at the table; residents with concerns about the changes coming to their quiet town of about 13,000; and local officials with some power over where drilling occurs.

Leaking wells a burning issue

Serge Fortier has been trying for years to raise awareness about leaking wells along the St. Lawrence River. Nothing has been quite as effective as setting them on fire.

“The reaction came very rapidly,” says Fortier, an environmental activist whose fiery demonstration near Ste-Francoise has prompted the Quebec government to acknowledge it has a problem – one that regulatory officials are often not keen to discuss.

Sloppy Fracking Practices Result In Large Methane Leaks, Study Finds

Faulty gear and attempts to clear liquid from wells can release enough gas into the atmosphere to power hundreds of homes, new research reveals. Critics say the study may underestimate the problem.

Fracking chemicals’ untold threat to reproductive health

There’s a lot we don’t know about the potential health impacts of fracking operations on the people who live in their vicinity. But researchers say we should start paying attention.

In a new paper published in the journal Reviews on Environmental Health, researchers led by the University of Missouri’s Susan Negel conducted a review of some 150 papers published over the past 40 years examining the effects that chemicals commonly injected into the ground during the fracking process, and elements that are consequently released from the rocks, have on human health. Of the more than 750 chemicals known to be used in fracking, they found, at least 130 are potential endocrine disruptors, meaning they interfere with people’s hormones: the researchers list reduced semen quality, infertility, miscarriage, impaired fetal growth and low birth weight among the potential threats. Fetuses and small children, they emphasized, could be particularly at-risk.

The Supreme Court ends BP’s campaign to kill its gulf oil spill deal

For almost a year, we’ve been chronicling BP’s efforts to undercut a damage settlement deal its own lawyers helped craft for victims of its record-setting 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

So it’s proper to note that on Monday the Supreme Court put an end to this ridiculous campaign by turning down the company’s appeal of a lower court ruling against it. The denial of BP’s petition came in one sentence, without dissent.

The Supreme Court Refuses To Let BP Pay Less For Its Oil Spill

On Monday, the Supreme Court rejected BP’s attempt at appealing its own settlement with businesses and individuals that lost money due to the massive 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The court’s refusal to hear the appeal means BP will have to make payments to those that it argues cannot tie their losses to the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon platform and drilling rig, which killed 11 people and spilled an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil into the Gulf. The Supreme Court justices did not comment on the case in their refusal to hear it.

According to Tom Young, a Florida attorney who filed an amicus brief with the Supreme Court opposing BP’s appeal, business owners and individuals that experienced a loss of profit or earnings tied to the incident now have six months to file for compensation.

BP’s settlement saga by the numbers

Supreme Court justices rejected BP challenge to its multi-billion settlement for the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010. Here’s a look at some of the numbers related to the disaster.

Documents Tell the Story: Texas Oil Industry Inspectors Fired for Enforcing the Rules

Two former oil and gas inspectors for the Texas Railroad Commission, Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek, were fired within months of each other in 2013.

They say they were fired because they demanded that the oil and gas industry strictly abide by state regulations designed to protect the public and the environment. The inspectors’ responsibilities included keeping old and new wells safe and making sure the industry’s often-toxic waste didn’t become a hazard.

FIRED:Texas Oil and Gas Regulators Say They Tried to Enforce Rules, Lost Jobs

During their careers as oil and gas inspectors for the Texas Railroad Commission, Fred Wright and Morris Kocurek earned merit raises, promotions and praise from their supervisors.

They went about their jobs—keeping tabs on the conduct of the state’s most important industry—with gusto.

But they may have done their jobs too well for the industry’s taste—and for their own agency’s.

Virtual Experiment Shows Unsuspecting Tourists Just How Devastating an Oil Spill Can Be

What would your favorite beach look like if a tanker carrying millions of gallons of crude oil had an accident? Despite the images of petroleum-choked seals and flaming water that many of us saw after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill that devastated Prince William Sound, Alaska—or the horrific environmental aftermath of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster—it’s probably a little tough for most people to picture fuel-covered sands and wild birds suffocating to death from poisonous fumes. But thanks to a project that harnesses Oculus Rift virtual reality technology, residents of Vancouver, British Columbia, don’t have to imagine the kind of havoc that an oil spill can wreak on a pristine coastline.

Enbridge settles class action suit over oil spill

Enbridge Inc. has agreed to settle a class action lawsuit brought against it in response to a 2010 spill that dumped more than 800,000 gallons of crude oil into the Kalamazoo River.

The agreement will cover everyone who owns land or lives within 1,000 feet of the river between Talmadge Creek and the mouth of Morrow Lake. That’s the area affected by the pipeline break that spilled some 840,000 gallons of crude oil into Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River on July 26, 2010. Recent estimates place cleanup costs at $1.21 billion.

Noble Drilling pleads guilty to Arctic charges

Noble Drilling pleaded guilty Monday to eight felony charges tied to pollution, propulsion and record-keeping problems with the two drilling rigs that bored Arctic oil wells for Shell in 2012.

The company, which has major U.S. operations in Texas, will pay $12.2 million to settle alleged violations of marine and environmental laws in connection with those vessels, the Noble-owned drillship Discoverer and the Kulluk, a non-propelled drilling unit owned by Shell. As a Shell contractor, Noble crewed the Kulluk and operated the Discoverer in Arctic waters north of Alaska two years ago.

VIDEO – Boom: North America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem

On July 6, 2013, a train carrying volatile crude oil from North Dakota exploded in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people and incinerating the downtown. Since then, three oil trains have exploded on the U.S. side of the border, where the surge in domestic oil production now sends millions of trainloads of crude through cities and small towns.

The Weather Channel and InsideClimate News teamed up to investigate the problem of exploding railcars in “Boom: America’s Explosive Oil-by-Rail Problem.” The documentary accompanies an investigation by reporters Marcus Stern and Sebastian Jones, who explain why federal regulations to protect the public have been stalled by the railroads and the oil industry.

Oil train derailment potential raises concerns, according to media reports

The derailment of close to a dozen rail cars filled with corn along California’s Feather River, the drinking water supply for millions of residents, is raising concerns about the risk of similar derailments involving oil or other toxic chemicals, the Sacramento Bee reported.

At the same time, InsideClimate News reported that a widely-publicized crackdown by federal regulators on unattended oil train engines contains a loophole that allows rail companies to continue to leave engines unattended. The reported crackdown began after the disastrous August 2013 derailment in Lac-Megantic, Canada, of a freight train left unattended overnight.

Oil train risks: Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber moving slowly to address them; plan still lacks details

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber is moving – slowly – to address the yawning readiness gaps for the mile-long trains hauling millions of gallons of volatile crude oil across the state.

More than two years after oil began moving in unprecedented volumes on Oregon’s railroads, Kitzhaber still has not offered a formal plan to address spill risks through Bend, along Upper Klamath Lake and the Deschutes River, one of the state’s most treasured recreational areas.

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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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