Environmental Must-Reads – February 10, 2014


Oil, Gas Drilling Seems To Make The Earth Slip And Go Boom

There’s been a surge in earthquakes in the U.S. over the last few years. In Texas, there are 10 times the number of earthquakes now than just a few years ago.

Scientists say it’s likely linked to the boom in oil and gas activity, meaning that people who never felt the ground shake are starting to.

Researchers study string of Texas earthquakes

Researchers collecting seismic data hope it allows them to determine what role wastewater injection wells have played in a string of small earthquakes northwest of Fort Worth.

The area in northeast Parker County, about 15 miles northwest of Fort Worth, has experienced more than 30 small earthquakes since November. Last month more than 30 area residents traveled to Austin to ask the Texas Railroad Commission to consider shutting down injection wells there, but the commission said it didn’t have enough information.

When drought occurs, fracking and farming collide

The move to tap petroleum-rich shale reserves in some of the country’s driest regions, including Colorado, may be setting up a battle between oil and water.

The water is needed for hydraulic fracturing, a process that pumps millions of gallons of sand and water into a well to crack the hard shale and release oil and gas.

Report: Ohio oil industry paying to educate teachers about fracking

An Ohio association funded by oil and gas drillers has been paying for teacher-training seminars in which industry-funded representatives demonstrate how students can learn about oil and gas extraction in fun ways, the Columbus Dispatch newspaper reported.

Environmentalists said Saturday that the program, being conducted by the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), is an interference in the state’s public education system by an industry that has come under increasing scrutiny over practices including hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Hydraulic Fracking In Regions Experiencing Low Water Supply Poses Risks For Investors, According To Ceres

Energy providers chasing the shale boom are getting thirsty for water as some of the most popular areas to drill and hydraulically fracture are increasingly the driest, according to a recent report by Ceres, a nonprofit that advises businesses and investors on sustainability challenges and is raising a red flag about hydraulic fracturing. But other experts say concerns about hydraulic fracturing’s use of groundwater are vastly overblown.

Tyler County also dealing with contamination

In early January, as I walked through a hay field in the bottom land along Big Run in Tyler County, I tried to avoid stepping in big blobs of black goo next to a Marcellus Shale gas well pad. It was cold, and the new snow at the edges made the black sludge from a recently exploded tank easily visible.

It was a stark contrast of smelly, slimy black and clean snowy white. Liquid contents of the tank had already percolated into the soil. A conductivity test in the standing puddles gave off-the chart readings. Probably a lot is still there in the soil. A mixed brew of strong hydrocarbon vapors was in the air, and they filled the valley for the next two days. At least until the rain.

Residents not alarmed by possible drilling near Moraine State Park

If Moraine State Park is opened up to Marcellus shale drilling, one of the biggest impacts could come from a significant increase in traffic from crews hauling equipment and fracking water, a Slippery Rock University professor said.

A drill site could be located about a mile from any state park or forest property, said Brian Miller, assistant professor of geology and geophysics at Slippery Rock. The gas would be reached through horizontal drilling, which has been safe.

Satellite Data Suggests Utility’s Delayed Response Amplified Damage From Pipeline Explosion In San Bruno

At 6:11 PM on September 9, 2010, a major natural gas pipeline ruptured about 12 miles south of San Francisco in a residential area of the city of San Bruno, CA .

The rupture triggered a massive explosion followed by an equally massive fire.

The blast carved a crater about 72 feet long by 26 feet wide. A 28 foot section of the ruptured pipeline that weighed over 3,000 pounds was propelled into the sky and landed about 100 feet south of the crater. Large chunks of asphalt rained down on the surrounding neighborhood.

North Dakota oil shipments detour Amtrak trains

The ice fishing in northeast North Dakota is the best it’s been in two decades, but some anglers can’t make it because trains handling freight and crude from the state’s oil patch are displacing Amtrak passenger service.

Steve Dahl, owner of the Perch Patrol guide service, said he spent the past week calling hundreds of customers who had made reservations to fish at Devils Lake and stay in its namesake city.

North Carolina: Coal Ash Leak Is Diverted but Not Contained

Duke Energy said Friday that it was diverting the flow of coal ash away from the Dan River, but the company could not yet declare the huge spill fully contained nearly a week after it was discovered. Meghan Musgrave, a company spokeswoman, said that engineers at the Dan River Steam Station had designed a containment system that is capturing nearly all of the toxic runoff and pumping it back into a storage basin. Duke says up to 82,000 tons of coal ash mixed with 27 million gallons of contaminated water have escaped since a drainage pipe collapsed Sunday under a 27-acre waste pond. Officials 20 miles downstream in Danville, Va., said they were successfully filtering arsenic, lead and other toxins from drinking water.

The Complete Guide To Everything That’s Happened Since The Massive Chemical Spill In West Virginia

It’s been one month since a leak was discovered at a chemical storage facility operated by Freedom Industries on January 9, spilling an estimated 10,000 gallons of crude MCHM — a chemical mixture used in the coal production process — into the Elk River and the water supply for 300,000 West Virginians.

Despite assurances from federal and state officials that the water is safe, residents and experts remain concerned as the black licorice smell characteristic of crude MCHM is still being detected in homes and schools.

One Month After Toxic Spill, West Virginians Face ‘Crisis of Confidence’

Weeks after health authorities had told West Virginians that their water was safe to drink again following a toxic spill, schools in Charleston sent students home abruptly last week when students and staff members detected the telltale licorice odor of the leaked chemical.

Officials have repeatedly backtracked since lifting a tap-water ban about a week after the Jan. 9 spill, first advising pregnant women not to drink the water and then resuming the distribution of bottled water.

The BP oil spill and a federal judge’s family tree: James Varney

The deeper one ventures into the legal thicket surrounding the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the more gnarled the underbrush becomes. In at least one instance, a prominent Louisiana legal family is involved at myriad levels.

The family tree in question begins with U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval. Duval presided over the criminal trial and conviction of former BP engineer Kurt Mix last year, but last month, citing information they were given after the trial, Mix’s lawyers filed papers asking Duval to recuse himself.

Louisiana to sell $500 mln in bonds; assures on oil spill costs

New municipal bond issuance is set to fall to around $3.3 billion next week, with the state of Louisiana issuing an assurance on costs related to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico before a planned sale of nearly $500 million of state-backed debt.

Louisiana’s sale of general obligation bonds, slated for Tuesday, includes nearly $350 million in tax-exempt bonds and $150 million in taxable bonds. It is expected to be the biggest deal of the week.

Oil spill cleanup continues; no spreading identified

Oil cleanup continued Friday in the Winona area, four days after a leaking Canadian Pacific tanker car spilled 12,000 gallons of crude oil along railroad tracks from Red Wing to Winona.

Efforts are mainly focused around Winona, where officials say the spill was the most concentrated. Monitoring continues, especially around the area of Weaver Bottoms, which has a rail siding near U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service land.

Coast Guard, Maine DEP respond to oil spill in Damariscotta River

A barge cut loose from the dock by ice crashed into rocks in the Damariscotta River on Friday morning, causing an undetermined amount of oil to spill into the river.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection, U.S. Coast Guard and other emergency agencies responded just after 9 a.m. and found the barge leaking oil at the Mook Sea Farm aquaculture facility, which cultivates oysters.

Delaware River oil spills a call for more inspections and regulations, environmental groups say

Three recent oil spills into the Delaware River highlight the need for more industrial regulations and inspections, according to local environmental groups.

Between Jan. 14 and Jan. 27, three separate spills from three different locations leaked more than 1,100 gallons of oil into the water of the Delaware. The first came when a flange failure triggered an accidental release of 150 gallons of heating fuel from Gloucester City’s Blue Knight Energy Partners.

Oil Train Accidents Spawn Fears Of Similar Fate For Pacific Northwest (VIDEO)

As more and more oil is extracted from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and shipped by rail to Oregon and Washington, concerns are growing that a major derailment could impact a populated area in the Pacific Northwest. The oil coming from the Bakken region is more flammable than traditional crude and shipments are sometimes mislabeled.

TransCanada asks Texas Supreme Court to skip Keystone review

TransCanada Corp. asked the Texas Supreme Court to reject a farmer’s request to review condemnation rulings allowing the Keystone XL pipeline to cross her land against her will.

Julia Trigg Crawford has asked the state high court to review two lower-court decisions giving TransCanada the right to use eminent-domain statutes to install its 2,151-mile Canadian tar-sands pipeline across property her family has farmed for generations in northeastern Texas.

Youth Plan Mass Civil Disobedience to Protest Keystone XL

Here we go again. With President Obama on the cusp of a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, on March 2, hundreds of students and young people are expected to risk arrest in an act of civil disobedience at the White House to pressure President Obama to reject the project.

The sit-in is expected to be the largest act of civil disobedience by young people in the recent history of the environmental movement and it will be led by just the demographic that helped propel Obama to the presidency. The protest, known as “XL Dissent,” is meant to send a clear signal to President Obama that the base that helped elect him sees Keystone XL as a decision that will define his entire legacy.

Keystone XL: Is It the Right Fight for Environmentalists?

Last Monday night, when environmentalist activists staged 280 candlelight vigils in 49 states to protest the proposed Keystone XL pipeline—in Washington, D.C., demonstrators inflated a giant black tube in front of the White House—many no doubt wondered if their long campaign to halt the project had reached a turning point.

Environmental firm writing U.S. Keystone report studied pipelines for landowners

The consultants writing the State Department’s environmental report on the Keystone XL pipeline have reviewed other projects undertaken in recent years by companies including Keystone’s owner, TransCanada, according to a department official’s letter obtained by environmental groups opposed to the Keystone project.

But while environmental groups say that new details in the letter show a conflict of interest and assert that the consultants were working for the big pipeline companies, a State Department official said the consulting firm was working for landowners in these instances.

Shareholders sue oil driller Continental CEO over pipeline investment

A group of minority shareholders in oil driller Continental Resources is suing chief executive Harold Hamm, alleging that Continental’s nearly $100 million investment in a pipeline being built by another firm he controls will benefit him at their expense.

Continental is providing partial funding for Hiland Partners, a Hamm-owned pipeline and gas plant operator, to build the $300 million Double H crude oil pipeline. The 450-mile (724-km) line from North Dakota to Wyoming is expected to start up later this year and to eventually ship up to 100,000 barrels of oil per day.

Group wants Lac-Mégantic contamination records made public

Quebec is refusing to make public all the information it has about the contamination of the Chaudière riverbed caused by the Lac-Mégantic train derailment seven months ago.

An environmental group is trying to force its hand, asking Quebec’s access-to-information commission to compel the government to make the data public because it is particularly concerned about the section of the river closest to the derailment site.

Why Would Royal Dutch Shell Abandon the Arctic? (Video)

Geologists estimate that the Arctic holds more than 20 percent of the planet’s oil and gas resources. Alaska’s waters alone may contain 24 billion barrels of oil. That’s about three-and-a-half years of U.S. oil consumption.

But even with climate change melting its sea ice, the Arctic ocean remains a pretty inhospitable place for the oil industry. Royal Dutch Shell’s recent decision to cancel drilling plans for 2014 is just the latest in a long line of setbacks, underscoring the reality that easy oil is a thing of the past.

In Unalaska, assessing the impact from Shell’s decision to forgo drillling

Royal Dutch Shell’s new chief executive said last week that the company is shelving its Alaska exploration program, at least for this year, a move that will impact the economy of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor.

An appeals court ruling that faulted federal regulators’ environmental analysis of Chukchi Sea oil development has created “substantial obstacles” to Shell’s plan to drill exploration wells this year in that remote region off northwestern Alaska, the company said in a statement.

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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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