Environmental Must-Reads – February 11, 2015


California’s Wastewater Injection Problem Is Way Worse Than Previously Reported

Documents released this week as part of the EPA’s investigation into the state of California’s underground injection control program show that in addition to hundreds of wastewater injection wells there are thousands more wells illegally injecting fluids from “enhanced oil recovery” into aquifers protected by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

At a time when California is experiencing extreme and prolonged drought, you might expect state regulators to do everything they can to protect sources of water that could be used for drinking and irrigation. But that simply isn’t the case.

NATURAL GAS: Pipelines should have little trouble complying with carbon policy — analysis

A new report that finds only “modest” natural gas interstate pipeline additions would be needed to comply with a national carbon policy could address a key concern some regulators and industry executives have raised with U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan.

The Energy Department commissioned Deloitte MarketPoint to analyze demands on the power sector and the nation’s gas pipeline complex under a “simple, illustrative” national carbon policy — not EPA’s proposal. The report found that a shift from coal to gas would require an infrastructure expansion that would be “modest, relative to historical capacity additions.”

Kentucky fracking bill gains support of energy industry, environmental watchdog

Kentucky would require water testing before and after energy companies use hydraulic fracturing to extract oil or gas from wells thousands of feet below ground.

The companies also would have to disclose the types of chemicals used when some wells are “fracked,” a technique that involves pumping fluid underground in an effort to release oil and gas trapped in rock formations.

Lee County leaders approve resolution opposing fracking

As expected, county commissioners in Lee County—the presumably gas-rich, suburban county south of the Triangle—have taken a public stance opposing natural gas drilling, better known as fracking.

Lee County, which includes the county seat of Sanford, is expected to be one of the focal points of natural gas drilling in North Carolina in the coming years. But local leaders’ resolution last week, approved by a new majority of Democrats, say the state’s laws and the draft regulations proposed by the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission “do not adequately protect our environment, our county, or our state.”

Attorney sues energy companies seeking class-action status for earthquake victims in nine counties

A Prague earthquake victim has filed a lawsuit against two energy companies seeking class-action status for people in nine Oklahoma counties whose homes have allegedly been damaged by frequent earthquakes.

Jennifer Lin Cooper filed the suit in Lincoln County District Court Tuesday against New Dominion LLC, a Tulsa-based energy company, and Spess Oil Company, based in Cleveland, Oklahoma. The suit also lists up to 25 John Doe defendants, apparently in anticipation of additional corporate defendants.

Contamination Levels Dropping After North Dakota Saltwater Spill

High contamination levels persist along a North Dakota creek more than a month after a massive wastewater spill was found in the state’s oil patch, but levels have dropped considerably in larger rivers downstream, according to documents released by the state Tuesday.

Results of a preliminary investigation into the pipeline leak, which spilled 3 million gallons of saltwater brine, were obtained by The Associated Press. They show that heavily contaminated surface water was found in recent days on residential property more than a mile away from the spill site north of Williston.

ENDANGERED SPECIES: FWS urges protection of 16.5M acres for sage grouse

The Fish and Wildlife Service advised its fellow land management agencies to impose the most stringent protections on roughly 16.5 million acres of high-value sage grouse habitat in order to save the bird from the threat of extinction.

The recommendation came from FWS Director Dan Ashe in an Oct. 27 internal memo to the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service that was obtained by Greenwire. It will likely inform BLM as it finalizes land-use plans covering 67 million acres in the bird’s 11-state Western range in hopes of preventing its demise.

Pennsylvania governor to unveil natural gas severance tax proposal

Gov. Tom Wolf will kick off a statewide “Schools that Teach Tour” and outline a forthcoming proposal to the Legislature to increase taxes on Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry to help boost aid to public schools.

Wolf, a Democrat, will appear Wednesday at Caln Elementary School in Thorndale, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia.

VT Gas pulls the plug on pipeline expansion to NY

Vermont Gas President and CEO Don Rendall is still waiting for a dull moment.

Nearly two weeks before he officially took over as CEO from his predecessor Don Gilbert on Jan. 1, Rendall announced a second cost increase for Phase 1 of Vermont Gas’ natural gas pipeline expansion from Colchester to Middlebury. The price went from $121.6 million to $154 million. The original cost estimate was $86 million.

Breaking: Ticonderoga International Paper gas pipeline project dead

Donna Wadsworth, a spokesperson for the Ticonderoga mill, said canceling the deal with Vermont Gas was a necessary “business decision” for International Paper.

“We haven’t seen the details behind the cost escalation. We do know from VT Gas that construction costs have gone up. Legal costs have gone up. Right-of-way costs have gone up. Overhead costs have gone up. So just across the board I think they saw an escalation of costs for the project.”

Natural Gas Pipeline Battle in Michigan Moves South

To a dogged Michigan township supervisor, the recent decision by a Texas company to scrap plans to run a natural gas pipeline across the property of hundreds of landowners shows that people can fight—and win.

Atlas Township Supervisor Shirley Kautman-Jones said she believes the voices of outraged residents were heard loud and clear by Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners when it decided to abandon plans for its ET Rover pipeline in six central Michigan counties.

“Never underestimate the power of determined people,” she said.

Landowners and property rights advocates express concern over proposed gas pipeline’s safety

New pipelines are good for energy companies, but they often disturb private property. The Nexus pipeline would run 250 miles from gas wells in southeast Ohio to Michigan and Canada. Julie Grant reports it’s drawing opposition from landowners concerned about their safety and property rights.

Paul Gierosky isn’t what you might expect in an anti-pipeline activist. He’s a businessman. He and his wife Elizabeth have been renovating their dream home in fast-growing Medina County, in northeast Ohio, for the past two years. Sitting among the trees, it’s got the feel of an upscale cabin, with wood-beamed ceilings and large windows.

Sandpiper oil pipeline divides Minnesota

The old adage that oil and water do not mix is proving true in none other than Minnesota’s north woods.

It’s as if lines have been drawn in the snow by those for and against the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline, which would run from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields through the northern third of Minnesota to Superior, Wisconsin.

Oil vs. Tourism: Closer look at the Dead Horse Lateral Pipeline

It was an image many were shocked to see, more than 22 miles of an above ground natural gas pipeline known as the Dead Horse Lateral Pipeline stretching its way along the red rock outside Canyonlands National Park.

Fidelity Exploration and Production Company built the $70 million pipeline project to capture the natural gas which is a by-product of their oil production. Tim Rasmussen, spokesperson for Fidelity Exploration and Production Company said, “We needed to build that pipeline to reduce flaring out there and we hope we can break even on that.”

Western Mass anti-pipeline group MassPLAN mobilizes against Canadian LNG export facility

The Western Massachusetts-based anti-pipeline group MassPLAN petitioned this week to intervene in a U.S. Dept. of Energy proceeding that would authorize the export of liquefied natural gas (LNG) through a planned Canadian shipping port.

An “overall scheme of massive pipeline expansion and export of natural gas” is not in the public interest, said MassPLAN director Katherine Eiseman in a statement. MassPLAN stands for Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network.

Williams Announces the Start of Extended Discovery Pipeline

Williams Companies, Inc. together with DCP Midstream Partners, L.P. has announced through its general partner Williams Partners L.P, that the new extended Discovery natural gas gathering pipeline system has now become operational.

The 20-inch Keathley Canyon Connector is a 209-mile long deepwater gas gathering pipeline system which, along with the South Timbalier Block 283 junction platform, serves producers in the central ultra-deepwater Gulf of Mexico (GoM).

Sunoco to host public forums on Mariner East 2 pipeline

Philadelphia-based Sunoco Logistics is hosting a pair of open houses in central Pennsylvania this week to discuss its proposed Mariner East 2 pipeline project. The 350-mile, $2.5 billion pipeline would move natural gas liquids, like ethane and propane, across the southern part of the state. Pending state and federal approvals, it would come online in 2016.

Mariner East 2 would run parallel to its predecessor, Mariner East 1, however that project involves reversing the flow of an existing pipeline. This one would be new construction. Both have projects have been met with opposition from communities along the route.

Natural gas pipeline bills die in committee

The trio of pipeline bills introduced by Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Augusta County, died in committee Monday.

The bills — which sought to open up project records and restrict or repeal a controversial 2004 surveying law — attracted little support in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, though individual lawmakers expressed sympathy for the property owners.

Oil train foes rally

Opponents of continued rail shipments of crude oil into the Port of Albany rallied Monday in a snowstorm outside the downtown Albany headquarters of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, renewing calls that the state take a closer look at potential environmental and safety risks.

“We are asking for full transparency and scrutiny by DEC for the health and safety of all Capital District residents,” said Albany County Legislator Doug Bullock, a resident of Albany who represents the 7th Legislative District.

Williams restarts Geismar plant closed by 2013 explosion

The Tulsa, Okla.-based firm said the company has completed an expansion and the plant has begun manufacturing ethylene, a key component in making chemicals.

The expanded plant will be able to make 1.95 billion pounds of ethylene a year. Williams was close to completing the expansion, which added 600 million pounds of production capacity, when the explosion occurred.

Stop the Burn rally to feature retired Army general

A citizen-led effort relentlessly pushing for a safer alternative to destroy more than 15 million pounds of M6 stored at Camp Minden will receive a boost to their message when tough-talking retired Army Lt. Gen. Russel Honore comes to town.

Honore will be the guest at a Stop the Burn rally set for 7 p.m. Feb. 23 at the Minden Civic Center. The event is designed to give citizens an update on any developments in the effort to move away from an open tray burn of the propellant, along with getting a pep talk from Honore, who has taken up other environmental issues across the state. Other speakers also will be lined up.

State considers penalty for Yellowstone oil spill

The state Department of Environmental Quality is working on a water quality violation letter to the owner of a pipeline that spilled 30,000 gallons at the Yellowstone River, and it’s expected to go out this week, DEQ spokeswoman Jeni Flatow said Tuesday.

The Jan. 17 release of oil into the Yellowstone River from a ruptured pipeline is considered a violation of the Montana Water Quality Act, said John Arrigo, administrator of DEQ’s Enforcement Division.

Demolition begins on steam heat plant that caused oil spill

Workers have begun tearing down a closed steam heat plant on North Washington Avenue in Scranton that leaked fuel oil into the Lackawanna River in July.

Late last week, demolition started on the northeast wall of the facility owned by Dunmore businessmen Louis and Dominick DeNaples. They plan to tear down the entire complex, including the tank where the leak originated.

Halliburton to cut 5,000 to 6,500 jobs

Oil field services company Halliburton Co. said Tuesday it’s planning to ax 5,000 to 6,500 jobs to cope with the crude-price collapse, the latest in a string of oil-field layoff announcements.

The cuts amount to 6.5 percent to 8 percent of its global workforce of 80,000 employees. Halliburton’s move brings the number of layoffs announced by the world’s four biggest oil field services in recent weeks to more than 30,000 workers around the world. That’s about 9.4 percent of their combined workforce.

GOP-led Congress set to pass bill approving Keystone XL oil pipeline despite likely Obama veto

The Republican-controlled Congress is set to send a bill approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline to President Barack Obama, who has vowed to veto it.

The House is expected to pass the bill easily Wednesday afternoon, capping weeks of debate over one of Republicans’ top priorities — a bill authorizing the construction of the much-delayed pipeline. Yet support in both the Senate and House has not been enough to override a veto.

Keystone debate is a sign of progress

Late last month, the U.S. Senate voted to approve the siting of the Keystone pipeline by a vote of 62-36. This vote will ultimately have little impact on the project’s future as President Barack Obama has promised to veto the legislation. Nevertheless, the process by which the Senate considered this highly partisan issue was truly remarkable.

Over three weeks, the Senate debated and voted on 41 amendments — nearly three times as many amendments as were considered during all of 2014. Moreover, the process was cordial, occasionally intense and at times even suspenseful. While covering a wide variety of topics, the amendments were all substantive and reasonably related to the topic of the proposed legislation.

Crete, Sauk Village open houses held for Enbridge pipeline project

Open houses on the pre-construction phase of a pipeline that will run through Will and Grundy counties will be held next week.

Enbridge plans to construct the Line 78 pipeline from the Flanagan Terminal near Pontiac to its terminal near Griffith, Indiana. The 79-mile, 36-inch diameter crude oil pipeline will cross Livingston, Grundy, Kankakee, Will and Cook counties in Illinois, as well as Lake County in Indiana.

Arctic conditions make cleaning waste a challenge

Members of the 611th Civil Engineer Squadron, along with five other state and federal agencies, practiced techniques to deal with oil or hazardous waste spills under cold weather conditions during an exercise here Feb. 3-5.

The 611th CES acts as first responder to incidents on Joint Base Elemendorf-Richardson and King Salmon Divert Airfield, Alaska, as well as secondary responder to 21 remote operating locations in Alaska and around the Pacific. It is also the only civil engineer squadron in the state of Alaska that responds to oil spills, a characteristic that is also very unique Air Force-wide.

ARCTIC: Obama walks a tightrope between energy, environment in Alaska

In late January, the White House released a folksy online video packed with photos of Alaska wildlife and featuring an appeal from President Obama for Congress to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as wilderness.

Two days later, the White House barred energy development on nearly 10 million acres in Alaska’s Beaufort and Chukchi seas, while also proposing new lease sales in other parts of the region.

The year of living dangerously

What if Al-Qaeda or ISIS poisoned America’s drinking water, contaminated our rivers, and used the railroads to deliver bombs that randomly exploded with deadly force in towns across the nation?

The outcry would be immediate; the perpetrators, dead in drone attacks.

But when the perps are fossil fuel executives, the government response is to give a pass to lawbreaking energy companies. Legislators even facilitate their rogue status through deregulation, corporate welfare and huge tax breaks.

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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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