Environmental Must-Reads – February 16, 2015


Abita Springs files suit again to stop fracking well

The town of Abita Springs has launched yet another legal challenge intended to block the drilling of a fracking well in St. Tammany Parish.

The latest maneuver, a lawsuit filed in federal court against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, alleges that the Corps illegally denied the town’s request for a public hearing on Helis Oil and Gas Co.’s application for a permit to drill at a site designated as wetlands. That application is under consideration by the Corps.

Exclusive: Extent of stealth fracking in Gulf of Mexico revealed

While a debate rages over the use of hydraulic fracturing to exploit fossil fuel reserves inland, the practice has quietly taken hold offshore, in the Gulf of Mexico.

Documents obtained by “Fault Lines” reveal that the world’s largest oil firms are now fracking in some of the Gulf’s deepest waters — raising questions about how it is being regulated.

A list of about 100 well sites offers one of the first snapshots of the practice, which until just a couple years ago was unknown to the public.

Tiny Quakes Linked to Fracking Raise Risks, Geophysicist Says

Small earthquakes shaking Oklahoma and southern Kansas daily and linked to energy drilling are dramatically increasing the chance of bigger and dangerous quakes, federal research indicates.

This once-stable region is now just as likely to see serious damaging and potentially harmful earthquakes as the highest-risk places east of the Rockies, such as New Madrid in Missouri, and Charleston in South Carolina, which had major quakes in the past two centuries.

After the Fracking Ban, What’s Next For New York? An Interview with Sane Energy Project

On December 17, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a ban on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) in New York State. Citing the health risks associated with fracking, Cuomo said “I’ve never had anyone say to me, ‘I believe fracking is great.’ Not a single person in those communities. What I get is, ‘I have no alternative but fracking.’” His decision has widespread public support across the state according to media reports.

What does the New York ban mean for the future of the national debate over fracking? Will other states follow Cuomo’s lead? DeSmogBlog discussed these and related questions with Clare Donohue, the co-founder of “Sane Energy Project,” one of the first anti-fracking grassroots organizations in New York.

Hidden Faults Explain Earthquakes in Fracking Zones

Oklahoma, Ohio and Arkansas have experienced an unusually large number of earthquakes in recent years.

The shaking is rising at the same time that oil and gas production have increased. But other states that are hotbeds for new drilling have stayed seismically quiet, such as Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Panel: Radioactive fracking waste-dumping is safe

Disposal of low-level radioactive fracking waste does not harm Michigan’s environment under current rules, a panel appointed by Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder determined, and a Van Buren Township landfill could even handle higher radioactivity levels without risk.

Those are among the findings in a report issued Friday by a panel appointed by Snyder. The group of regulators, academics, environmentalists and representatives of the oil and gas, medical and landfill industries was convened after public outcry following Free Press reports last summer on the Wayne Disposal landfill importing radioactive fracking waste from other states.

Humor Fuels Fracking Fight

When you think of the leading fracking fighters, you probably think of Americans Against Fracking, Oil Change International and Food & Water Watch. But the newest commentary that’s turning heads and adding humor to the mix comes from The Onion. Its recent post, “Scientists Working To Harness Energy Produced By Intense Fracking Debates,” has received significant engagement from readers with more than 6,000 interactions on Facebook and 750 engagements on Twitter, numbers that make most environmental groups drool with social media envy.

Germany moves to legalise fracking

Germany has proposed a draft law that would allow commercial shale gas fracking at depths of over 3,000 metres, overturning a de facto moratorium that has been in place since the start of the decade.

A new six-person expert panel would also be empowered to allow fracks at shallower levels

Shale gas industry groups welcomed the proposal for its potential to crack open the German shale gas market, but it has sparked outrage among environmentalists who view it as the thin edge of a fossil fuel wedge.

Wastewater pipelines often leak in North Dakota

Joanne Njos noticed something was wrong with Blacktail Creek in late September. The water had turned a rusty orange. In mid-November, when temperatures dipped below 20 degrees for nearly two weeks, the creek didn’t freeze. Weeks later, Njos dipped her finger in the water and tasted it. It tasted like “pure, pure salt,” she said, “worse than table salt.” She brushed her teeth immediately.

Njos and her husband, Larry, live on a farm encircled by pumpjacks about 20 miles north of Williston, North Dakota, the heart of the Bakken oil boom. Initially they suspected that the Army Corps of Engineers, which they’d heard was fiddling with an upstream dam, was responsible for the changes in the creek rather than the oilfield. Then, on Jan. 7, a man from Summit Midstream, a pipeline company, knocked on their door. He said workers had detected a major break in a gathering line, which carries wastewater away from oil wells.

Native Americans fight to keep pipeline off their land

Chief Carlos Whitewolf beat a small hand drum and sang a Native American prayer for Mother Earth in the cold January air in Hershey.

Many of the 50 or so other protesters outside the Hershey Lodge, where national Republican Party leaders were attending a retreat, demonstrated against issues such as the Keystone XL Pipeline and climate change.

Property owners brace for Constitution pipeline eminent domain

With the sugaring season ahead, the Holleran family should be installing sap-gathering lines on the mature maple trees growing on their property on Three Lakes Road.

They’re not going to bother this year. They don’t see a point in tapping trees that could soon fall to the chainsaws of Constitution Pipeline Co., which covets a strip of their land roughly 125 feet wide to build a natural gas pipeline to New York.

North Dakota pipeline bills advance

Proposals to strengthen oversight of oil and saltwater gathering pipelines in North Dakota stayed afloat in both chambers of the Legislature this past week.

As amended Thursday, Senate Bill 2374 states that operators of gathering pipelines installed after April 1, 2016, must file engineering design drawings and a certificate of an independent inspection, with the state Industrial Commission setting the standards.

Dominion Surveys Alternative Pipeline Route

Dominion Energy and its partners say they are surveying an alternative route for part of the controversial Atlantic Coast natural-gas pipeline. Opponents say it’s not an improvement.

The new route would send the 42-inch pipeline south of the current proposed path in Randolph and Pocahontas counties of West Virginia and in Highland County, Virginia.

PennEast natural gas pipeline economic study questioned: Is it 12,160 or 2,500 jobs?

For months during public meetings, PennEast company representatives said it was going to take about 2,000 construction workers to build its proposed $1.2 billion natural gas pipeline from Northeastern Pennsylvania to Mercer County.

But on Monday, PennEast — a consortium of major East Coast natural gas providers – released a study backed by Drexel University’s business school saying the construction of the bi-state pipeline would “support” 12,160 jobs.

Train Carrying Crude Oil Derails in Ontario

A train carrying crude oil and operated by Canadian National Railway Co. derailed near the town of Timmins in northern Ontario just before midnight on Saturday, causing a fire but no reported injuries.

The train derailed in a remote wooded area, according to a spokesman for Montreal-based CN, Canada’s largest railroad company. He said the railway company had deployed firefighting and environmental crews to the scene. The cause of the incident wasn’t yet known, he said.

Texas court blocks BP’s $750m Transocean insurance claim for 2010 oil spill

The Texas Supreme Court has rejected BP’s claim for $750m worth of coverage under Transocean’s insurance policies to help pay the damages related with the Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010.

BP has already paid more than $28bn in damages and costs associated to the oil spill, which killed 11 people and spread oil across seafood grounds and coastal beaches.

The company contracted Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig to develop Macondo well, located in the Gulf of Mexico.

Unusual String Of Bottlenose Dolphin Deaths Linked To BP Oil Spill

An “unusual mortality event” among marine mammals — primarily bottlenose dolphins — in the northern Gulf of Mexico has been linked to BP’s historic 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

In research published Wednesday in the journal PloS One, a team of marine scientists from across the country documented a large cluster of dolphin strandings and deaths in the Gulf of Mexico between 2010 and June 2013. Of those strandings and deaths, they said, most occurred in areas impacted by the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

Federal judge dismisses levee authority’s wetlands damage lawsuit against oil, gas companies

A federal judge on Friday (Feb. 13) dismissed a controversial wetlands damage lawsuit filed by the east bank levee authority against more than 80 oil, gas and pipeline companies, ruling that the authority failed to make a valid claim against the energy firms.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East contended that dredging of navigation canals and other actions by the companies caused wetland damage that reduced or would reduce the effectiveness of the recently-rebuilt levee system protecting most of metro New Orleans.

U.S. judge dismisses suit over La. coastal erosion

A lawsuit filed in 2013 by a Louisiana flood board that sought damages – potentially in the billions of dollars – from scores of oil, gas and pipeline companies over erosion of the state’s fragile coast was thrown out Friday evening by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Nanette Jolivette Brown dismissed the suit in a complex 49-page ruling.

States want 20 more years to meet Gulf dead-zone goals

A task force representing Iowa and 11 other states said Thursday it needs another 20 years to reduce the size of a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico by two-thirds.

The Hypoxic Task Force sought to reduce the Gulf dead zone’s size from 6,000 square miles to 2,000 by 2015. It’s now about the size of Connecticut.

Texas Brine wants to stop issuing checks to remaining Bayou Corne residents

Texas Brine Co. is asking the Louisiana Office of Conservation to allow it to stop $875 evacuation assistance checks the company pays weekly to a few remaining residents and property owners in Bayou Corne.

Texas Brine has been making the payments, at a total cost of nearly $12 million, since Aug. 17, 2012, two weeks after the sinkhole appeared near the Bayou Corne community in Assumption Parish and forced a mandatory evacuation order still largely in place.

Scientists close in on IDing bird-killing mystery goo

The mystery goo that coated hundreds of aquatic birds and killed at least 300 of them has been identified as either a synthetic or natural oil or fat that was deliberately dumped or accidentally spilled into San Francisco Bay, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife said Thursday.

Scientists at several state and federal laboratories determined after more than two weeks of research that the substance was “a mixture of nonpetroleum-based fats or oils.”

Crews work to contain possible oil spill in Mill Creek

Crews from several local and state agencies worked Friday to find the source of an apparent oil spill in adjoining Millcreek and South Salt Lake neighborhoods.

A passer-by reported noticing a sheen on the water in the area of 3300 South and 700 East about 7:30 a.m. Unified Fire Authority spokesman Rob Morley said although the substance was still being tested, it is believed to be oil-based.

Company Fined for Oil Spill in Grand River

A Jackson company will pay about $65,000 in fines and cleanup costs following an oil spill in the Grand River last May.

It took two days for about 800 gallons of motor oil and hydraulic fluid to be cleaned from the river in Jackson. Industrial Steel Treating Co. was later determined to be responsible for the spill.

U.S. Army Corps cannot be allowed to dump toxic dredge in Cleveland harbor

Maybe some officials at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have taken one too many hits in the head from silver carp, those prodigious plankton predators that shoot out of the water at the sound of a boat engine.

Or maybe the Corps just believes neither state law nor common sense apply to its mandate to keep the Cuyahoga River, a federal navigational channel, open for business.

Whatever the reason, the Corps is returning Tuesday to Cleveland, the scene of its attempted crime against nature last year, to argue – again — that dumping toxic river dredge into Cleveland harbor is, well, cheaper than putting it into an environmentally sound confined disposal facility.

Governor Bullock Calls For More Extensive, More Frequent Pipeline Inspections

On the heels of the January’s Yellowstone River oil spill near Glendive, Governor Steve Bullock is bringing attention to pipeline inspections in Montana.

Governor Bullock is calling for more frequent pipeline inspections, and has sent a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Transportation asking for additional pipeline inspectors.

TransCanada Plans to Seek U.S. Approval for New Pipeline Project

The company behind the Keystone XL pipeline plans to ask the U.S. government to permit a new and different pipeline project.

Despite the yearslong fight over Keystone XL, TransCanada Corp. will apply to the U.S. State Department to build a 200-mile pipeline from North Dakota’s booming oil fields across the border into Canada to connect to another proposed pipeline, according to a person briefed on the plan.

Local Farmers Talk About Keystone Pipeline

As The Keystone XL Debate rages on in Washington, the Keystone Pipeline in Freeman continues to pump. This pumping station was built in 2009. Farmers in the area say for the last five plus years, they haven’t seen any serious issues.

“I don’t see any real adverse effects. It’s not like they said, ‘You’ll never see it.’ You can still see it and you’ll probably see it for quite some time but it’s such a small area that at least for us it wasn’t a big deal,” Michael Shultz said.

Judge Halts TransCanada’s Use Of Eminent Domain On Nebraskans For Keystone Pipeline

A Nebraska district judge has halted TransCanada’s attempts to use eminent domain to force landowners to turn over their land for the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, an act that anti-Keystone activists are calling a major win.

Nebraska State District Court Judge Mark Kozisek issued a temporary injunction against TransCanada on Thursday after a hearing during which nearly 70 landowners called on the judge to grant the injunction. The injunction will remain in place until Nebraska’s Supreme Court takes up the landowners’ case against state law LB1161, which gave TransCanada the right to use eminent domain against the landowners.

Shipping company, engineer admit to dumping oily bilge near Aleutians

A German shipping company and one of its engineers have agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges involving wastewater dumping in U.S. waters off Alaska.

AML Ship Management GMBH and chief engineer Nicholas Sassin admitted that the City of Tokyo – a large AML-operated ship that was carrying vehicles from South Korea to the U.S. West Coast – pumped 4,500 gallons of oily bilge water overboard while sailing 165 miles south of the Aleutian Islands, according to plea agreements filed Thursday in federal courts in Anchorage and Portland.

Arctic Shipping Emissions to Increase by 600% in Ten Years

As global warming intensifies and Arctic sea ice melts, marine vessel traffic is expected to increase and amplify the levels of harmful pollution emitted into the atmosphere, a new report by the International Council on Clean Transportation says.

These pollutants include carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfur oxides, and particulate matter, including black carbon.

Watch out, Arctic: Shell is coming for you again

Even as Shell is talking a good talk about climate change, it is pushing ahead with plans to drill in the Alaskan Arctic as early as this summer. The company suspended operations there in 2012 after a series of minor disasters. Its contractor was hit with eight felony counts and fined $12 million late last year.

But now Shell is moving forward again, with what looks like a newly reaffirmed go-ahead from the Department of the Interior (DOI). One clear sign of its intent: The company has leased a port on the Seattle waterfront where it can base its Arctic operations.

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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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