Environmental Must-Reads – February 20, 2015


Earthquake Dangers in Dutch Gas Field Were Ignored for Years, Safety Board Says

An independent Dutch safety panel has found that the operators of Europe’s largest natural gas field, Royal Dutch Shell and Exxon Mobil, as well as the Dutch government, for years ignored the dangers posed by earthquakes in the field.

That finding could add to growing pressure to reduce production at the field, in the Dutch province of Groningen, which has long been a crucial source of fuel for northern Europe and generates billions of euros in revenue annually for the Dutch government.

Ohio Supreme Court Says Towns Aren’t Allowed To Ban Fracking

Ohio cities and towns cannot enact fracking bans through their zoning laws, a sharply divided Ohio Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

In a slim 4-3 decision, the state’s high court ruled that Ohio has “sole and exclusive” authority over oil and gas production, determining that the Ohio Constitution does not permit a local community to ban drilling approved by the state Department of Natural Resources. The fractured decision produced a concurring opinion and three separate dissents, one of which suggested that campaign cash influenced the result.

Fracking application under review in Penn Township

A Penn Township zoning board is reviewing plans for a Marcellus Shale gas drilling operation at the eastern end of the township, considering what is the first application for hydraulic fracturing since commissioners started revising their zoning laws late last year.

The review is taking place after a public hearing last week when Apex Energy LLC presented its plans for the site near Route 22. A second hearing is scheduled for March 12.

Germany flirts with fracking on road to renewable energy

Nuclear power is out in Germany, but could shale gas soon be included in the historic German energiewende?

The German government has taken bold steps to move its electricity generation mix towards renewable energy, having put in place a groundbreaking feed-in-tariff years ago to provide strong incentives for solar and wind. Germany kicked its plan to shift to renewable energy into overdrive after the nuclear meltdown at Fukushima. Germany’s strong environmental ethos has made the transition possible – opposition to nuclear power is fierce, and the broad desire to shutter nuclear reactors among the populace helped overcome entrenched interests and convince the German Chancellor to make an about-face on her plan to keep nuclear reactors open for years to come.

Alberta Fracking Quake Fears Prompt Tougher Rules for Shale Area

Shale producers in Alberta’s Duvernay region are being asked to monitor and prevent earthquakes after regulators linked a series of seismic events over the last two months to hydraulic fracturing.

Producers must test for quakes and, if they detect seismic events greater than magnitude 2.0 on the Richter scale, take measures to reduce the impact of their activity, the Alberta Energy Regulator said Thursday. If a tremor is detected above magnitude 4.0, producers must immediately halt drilling and can’t resume until they get approval from regulators.

Lawsuit Seeks to Halt Offshore Fracking in California

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the U.S. Interior Department today for violating three federal laws by rubberstamping offshore fracking off California’s coast without analyzing fracking pollution’s threats to ocean ecosystems, coastal communities and marine wildlife, including sea otters, fish, sea turtles and whales.

Oil companies have fracked more than 200 wells in state and federal waters off California’s coast; today’s suit challenges the federal government for its permitting role. Offshore fracking blasts huge amounts of water mixed with dangerous chemicals into the earth, under extremely high pressure, to crack rock formations beneath the ocean floor.

Fracking water disposal plan draws more Nebraska opposition

Sioux County commissioners have joined the opposition to a proposed disposal well for fracking water at the south end of the Nebraska Panhandle county.

The commissioners voted unanimously Wednesday to share their sentiments with the Nebraska Oil and Gas Commission, which has scheduled a March 24 public hearing on the proposal. The commissioners’ letter will echo concerns about water and wear and tear on roads that was cited in a letter already sent by commissioners in adjacent Scotts Bluff County.

Miffed at the fracking ban, these New York towns hope Pennsylvania might adopt them

The early United States, like the early solar system, was a violent, unstable place. Claims on the land were vague, so states fractured freely. New York tussled with New Hampshire over a territory that would later become Vermont. Georgia calved Alabama and Mississippi. Kentucky spun off from proto-Virginia; Tennessee from proto-North Carolina.

The nation’s borders have long since cooled into place. It’s hard to imagine California splitting into six new states, or Western Maryland divorcing from Annapolis, or Colorado undergoing mitosis. Still, you see secession movements like these popping up everywhere these days, because they serve an underlying truth: Rural and urban America are drifting apart.

Safety standards for oil trains are way off track

RESIDENTS NEAR Mount Carbon, W.Va., heard a “big boom” on Monday, an explosion so forceful that it resulted in a fireball hundreds of feet high and sounded like a massive bomb exploding. Days later, toppled tank cars from a derailed train carrying 3 million gallons of oil were still burning near the Kanawha River, and officials were still scrambling to protect local water supplies.

CSX, owner of exploded train, spends millions on donations, lobbying

CSX Corp., the company whose oil train derailed, caught fire and exploded in Fayette County on Monday, is a prodigious political donor, giving millions of dollars to politicians of both parties, around the country and in West Virginia, and spending millions more every year to lobby those politicians after they’ve been elected.

Until 2015, every person elected to federal office in West Virginia, since at least 1990, had received money from the $35 billion transportation company, according to federal records compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics.

TransCanada Will Seek U.S. Approval For Upland Pipeline From North Dakota To Canada

The Canadian company behind the long-delayed Keystone XL oil pipeline will seek U.S. government approval for another pipeline — this one going north.

Industry officials in North Dakota say the proposed Upland Pipeline could reduce reliance on the railroads to ship crude following recent concerns about safety.

Federal judge rejects BP bid to lower $13.7 billion oil spill fine

A federal judge in New Orleans has rejected BP’s effort to cap its fines from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill at $9.57 billion, nearly one-third lower than the penalty federal prosecutors are seeking. The court has not yet ruled how much the British oil giant will pay for the disaster.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier ruled Thursday (Feb. 19) that BP could pay a maximum civil penalty of up to $4,300 for each barrel of oil spilled. The fines apply under the Clean Water Act, the federal law governing water pollution.

BP oil spill altered soil microbes on gulf beach

Microbes in beach sand apparently gobbled up a lot of oil washed ashore from the 2010 BP oil spill, but that assault altered the microbial population, leaving it less functionally diverse, according to a new study.

Among the declines from the oil inundation was the ability to make nutrients such as nitrogen available to other life forms, according to Georgia Tech environmental microbiologist Konstantinidis Konstantinos, co-author of the study published online Tuesday in the ISME Journal.

BP to stop sending petcoke to Chicago

Amid pressure from neighborhood groups and Mayor Rahm Emanuel, BP later this year will halt shipments of dusty petroleum coke to Chicago sites across the border from its giant Whiting, Ind., refinery.

A BP spokesman on Wednesday confirmed that by mid-year the company will stop sending petroleum coke to two sites along the Calumet River owned by KCBX Terminals, a firm controlled by industrialists Charles and David Koch. But BP would not say where its high-carbon, high-sulfur material will end up instead.

Huge Exxon Mobil explosion a reminder of refinery dangers

A large explosion Wednesday at the Exxon Mobil refinery in Torrance sent flames into the air, injuring four and leaving residents with a stark reminder of the dangers that come with living in the South Bay’s refinery zone.

The blast occurred at about 8:50 a.m., rattling residents, shattering some windows and forcing students at 14 nearby schools to remain indoors. Seismologists said the power of the blast was the equivalent of a 1.4 magnitude earthquake. It sent a ash-like substance into nearby neighborhoods.

Montana oil spill response stalled by weather

Crews working to respond to an oil spill in the Yellowstone River in Montana said they haven’t been able to work for a week because of frigid weather.

Much of the eastern half of the United States is in a deep freeze. Snow is forecast by the National Weather Service for parts of Montana, with highs below freezing for Friday. Weekend highs will struggle to break 15 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sierra Club: Toxins from Lake Julian plant too high

Emissions of sulfur dioxide from Duke Energy’s Asheville coal plant may be violating federal air quality standards and scrubbers used to capture the pollutant before it becomes airborne are operating at inefficient levels, according to a pair of reports commissioned by the Sierra Club.

The Sierra Club emissions study, authored by Howard Gebhart of Air Resource Specialists in Colorado, used computer modeling with local meteorological statistics and emissions data generated by the Asheville coal plant.

New hopes that tar sands could be banned from Europe

A landmark directive with the potential to ban tar sands oil from Europe has been reprieved, the Guardian has learned.

The EU’s most senior energy official confirmed that the fuel quality directive (FQD) to encourage greener road fuels will not be scrapped at the end of the decade, as had been thought.

Toxic waste spilling into south Houston neighborhood

Residents near the old CES plant in south Houston complain of strange odors and illnesses.

The property, located off of Griggs Road, has been closed for years, but open drums containing benzene, mercury and various oils still sit inside. Containers of sludge still stand even after workers have partially emptied them trying to clean up the site.

Judy Marie Jones, a nearby resident, said she’s experienced various symptoms because of the plant.

Toxic Waste Spill in North Carolina: Coal Ash (Part 1)

Coal ash, which contains many of the world’s worst carcinogens, is what’s left over when coal is burnt for electricity. An estimated 113 million tons of coal ash are produced annually in the US, and stored in almost every state — some of it literally in people’s backyards. With very little government oversight and few safeguards in place, toxic chemicals have been known to leak from these storage sites and into nearby communities, contaminating drinking water and making residents sick.

Criminal charges in spills to cost Duke Energy $100 million

Criminal charges are expected to be brought against Duke Energy in the next several days that will accuse the nation’s largest electric utility of multiple misdemeanor violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

The charges would come a year after a Duke power plant spilled up to 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, quickly triggering state and federal investigations.

Native American tribes unite to fight the Keystone pipeline and government ‘disrespect’

The Keystone XL pipeline may have divided advocates and lawmakers in Washington, but the controversial project has also united a wide group of Native American tribes whose lands the pipes would cross.

The proposed pipeline would run for 1,179 miles from southern Alberta to the Gulf of Mexico, crossing through six states and the territories of numerous tribes from the Dene and Creek Nations to the Omaha, Ho-chunk and Panka tribes.

These tribal nations say the US government has failed to adequately consult and negotiate the matter with them, despite the direct effect the pipeline’s route would have on their lands

Gazprom Neft ships first winter oil from arctic

Russian oil company Gazprom Neft said Friday it made its first ever winter shipment of oil from a field located above the Arctic Circle.

The company said 117,280 barrels of crude was shipped on a tanker to European consumers from the Novoportovskoye, or Novy Port, field in the Yamal Peninsula under the escort of an icebreaking ship.

US companies bid for contracts in Arctic Russia

Despite the sanctions, U.S. oil companies Schlumberger and Baker Hughes still bid for new contracts in Russian Arctic waters.

Both the European Union and the United States in September introduced sanctions against the Russian Arctic oil industry, banning cooperation in energy technology and services. However, the oil companies actively seek loopholes in the regime. Reportedly, both Schlumberger and Baker Hughes are bidding for contracts in the Prirazlomnoye project, Russia’s first and only offshore Arctic oil field in production.

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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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