Environmental Must-Reads – February 24, 2015


Officials: Rules Changes Have Upped Fracking Water Recycling

Oil and gas drilling companies using hydraulic fracturing in Texas say they are recycling more water than ever before thanks to a change in state rules, Texas’ three railroad commissioners told two House committees Monday.

But exactly how much water is being conserved or reused during production is unknown, according to the regulators who oversee the oil and gas industry, because the companies aren’t required to report those figures.

Fracking Water Is Shaking Oklahoma

Not so many years ago, earthquake science was no more relevant to Oklahoma than marine biology. But these days the state is shaking way more often than California, and giving many people there an unwanted crash course in seismology.

Last year, Oklahoma had 585 earthquakes with a magnitude 3.0 or greater (big enough for people to easily feel) — almost three times as many as California had and up from an average of just two a year before 2009. Not coincidentally, that’s when oil and gas drillers began injecting wastewater from fracking operations into thousands of underground wells. In the past week alone, Oklahomans have felt the earth move eight times — which is probably eight times more than nature intended them to. It’s enough to get officials, even in a drilling-friendly state, to take action to manage wastewater wells.

Officials: Rules changes have upped fracking water recycling

Texas’ three railroad commissioners say that oil and gas operators statewide are recycling more water than ever before, thanks to a change in state rules.

But exactly how much water is being conserved or reused during oil and gas production is unknown. That’s particularly true for fracking – a process by which oil and gas is extracted from rock by injecting high-pressure mixtures of water and other substances.

New York Report Analyzes Industry Science Behind Fracking

A new report released in the wake of New York State’s decision to ban the horizontal gas drilling process known as fracking analyzes more than 100 scientific studies that have been approved and distributed by oil and gas industry representatives.

Only 30 percent of scientists “favor increased use of fracking,” according to new Pew Research Center surveys. But that might not be what the oil and gas industry would have us believe.

Judge allows state to intervene in Va. pipeline lawsuit

A federal judge has allowed the state to intervene in a Virginia lawsuit challenging Dominion Resources’ right to survey private property for a proposed pipeline.

The lawsuit filed by Churchville residents William Little II and Wendy Little says the couple has denied Dominion permission to enter their property.

Derailed Oil Train in Ontario Was Within Speed Limit

A train that derailed in northern Ontario just over a week ago—igniting and spilling more than 6,000 barrels of oil—was traveling at a restricted speed and carrying oil in structurally enhanced tank cars, Canadian investigators said Monday.

Initial findings on the accident from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada suggest it bore stark similarities to a fiery derailment that occurred days later in West Virginia. The findings are likely to add to concerns that recent regulatory steps to make the transport of oil by rail don’t go far enough.

Canada safety board says latest oil train derailment shows new safety standards are inadequate

A fiery oil train derailment in Ontario this month suggests new safety requirements for tank cars carrying flammable liquids are inadequate, Canada’s transport safety board announced Monday.

The accident was the latest in a spate of fiery derailments in Canada and the U.S., a trend which American safety officials say drives home the need for stronger tank cars, more effective braking systems and other safety improvements.

Hearing examiner: Shell oil train project needs full environmental review

A hearing examiner in Skagit County has ruled that an oil-by-rail project at the Shell Puget Sound Refinery near Anacortes should undergo a full environmental review.

In Monday’s decision, hearing examiner Wick Dufford said “Shell’s proposal is a major action significantly affecting the quality of the environment” and a full review should be prepared.

Texas reconsiders and will disclose oil train records

Texas officials have reconsidered their decision to withhold details of how many trains carry at least 1 million gallons of crude oil across the state each week.

The Texas Attorney General’s office decided last week that the records BNSF and Kansas City Southern railroads gave the state should be disclosed.

Shell’s Washington rail project faces lengthy delay

Royal Dutch Shell’s proposed crude-by-rail project in Washington state has been put on hold pending environmental review, just days after a pair of oil train derailments caused huge fires in Canada and West Virginia.

A Skagit County Office of Land Use Hearings examiner ruled Shell’s proposal must undergo a full environmental review, which can take a year or more.

Exploding Oil Trains Could Become a Horrifying New Normal

Last week, a train carrying oil from North Dakota derailed in West Virginia, spilled oil into a river, and sent a horrifying fireball shooting into the sky. The incident came only a few days after another oil train spill in Ontario. In fact, in the last few years the number of oil train accidents has skyrocketed, thanks to booming production in the northern US and Canada that has overwhelmed the existing pipeline network.

Oil train accidents like those could become a regular fixture in headlines across the US, according to a Department of Transportation analysis uncovered by the Associated Press over the weekend

Report Predicting 10 Oil-train Derailments Per Year Underscores Need for Immediate Moratorium on Crude-by-rail

A risk analysis by the U.S. Department of Transportation predicts that trains hauling crude oil or ethanol will derail an average of 10 times a year over the next two decades, causing more than $4 billion in damage and creating the potential for hundreds of deaths from accidents in densely populated areas.

The revelation comes on the heels of a report released by the Center for Biological Diversity last week that detailed the broad range of risks posed to people and the environment from these rail accidents. The Center’s report, Runaway Risks: Oil Trains and the Government’s Failure to Protect People, Wildlife and the Environment, revealed that 25 million people live within the one-mile “evacuation zone” where oil trains travel and that the trains pass through 34 national wildlife refuges, critical habitat for 57 imperiled species and within a quarter-mile of 3,600 miles of rivers and streams, including the Columbia, Mississippi and Hudson.

After West Virginia Explosion, Oil Trains Quietly Rerouted Through Virginia Towns

After a CSX Corp. train carrying 3 million gallons of crude oil derailed and exploded in West Virginia last week, the company is quietly rerouting its volatile cargo through 16 Virginia cities and counties, according to Reuters.

Among those is Pembroke, a riverside town with a population of about 1,128. After visiting Pembroke and speaking with store owners and town officials, Reuters reporter Edward McAllister said “barely anyone” aside from the 35-member fire department was aware that large oil trains would be hugging the nearby New River and briefly traveling through town limits.

BP appeals U.S. judge’s ruling on size of Gulf oil spill

BP Plc on Monday appealed a federal judge’s finding of the size of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, which leaves the company potentially liable to pay $13.7 billion in fines.

In January, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans ruled that 3.19 million barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf as a result of the disaster. A determination that less oil was spilled would likely translate into a lower fine for the company.

BP statement on restitution for Deepwater Horizon oil spill

“All told, BP has paid out to date more than $13 billion on claims by individuals, businesses, and government entities.  This includes payments made as part of BP’s claims process, the Gulf Coast Claims Facility, and the Court Supervised Settlement Program (CSSP).

According to publically available data, the CSSP alone has issued more than 87,000 awards with a total value of more than $5.3 billion.  Payments by the CSSP to date total approximately $4.8 billion.   The data shows that the CSSP has issued initial determination notices with regard to approximately 80% of the claims filed to date.

Judge Sides With U.S. on Potential BP Spill Fines

BP can be fined as much as $4,300 per barrel of oil lost in the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster, a federal judge ruled.

The figure is based on the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2010 calculation of how much $3,000, the maximum payment authorized under the Clean Water Act when it was established in 1990, would be worth today.

US oyster, clam farms face economic blow from acidification: study

U.S. shellfish producers in the Northeast and the Gulf of Mexico will be most vulnerable to an acidification of the oceans linked to climate change that makes it harder for clams and oysters to build shells, a study said on Monday.

The report said the two regions would be more at risk in coming decades than the Pacific Northwest, which had previously suffered the most from the problem, with losses to the oyster industry estimated at $110 million, putting 3,200 jobs at risk.

Flare-up roars at BP Whiting Refinery

A massive flare-up lit up the sky at the BP Whiting Refinery early Monday morning.

Around 6:30 a.m., flames leaped and thick plumes of smoke rose over a production unit at the 126-year-old refinery, where nearly 1,100 union workers have been on strike for more than two weeks.

The flames shot up through the flare stacks as a result of a compressor problem, BP spokesman Scott Dean said.

Too much pressure in equipment triggered Torrance refinery explosion

Too much pressure in a piece of equipment at Torrance’s Exxon Mobil refinery resulted in Wednesday’s large explosion that sent irritating ash, filled with fiberglass and glass wool, into surrounding neighborhoods.

The blast jolted nearby residents like a 1.7 earthquake, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

The cause of the over-pressurization is still under investigation.

Tanker Truck Overturns, Bursts Into Flames In Camden County

A tanker truck carrying about 8,000 gallons of gasoline overturned and exploded into flames in Pennsauken, New Jersey Monday morning.

The crash happened at about 11 a.m. on the off-ramp from Route 90 to Route 130.

According to the Delaware River Port Authority, the fire was extinguished in about 30 minutes.  No structures were involved in the fire.

CSX agrees to proposed $361,000 penalty after oil spill into James River

The state’s lead environmental agency proposed that CSX pay a $361,000 penalty in response to the derailment of a railcar that spilled oil and caught fire in the James River in Lynchburg.

Thirteen of 105 cars derailed on April 30, 2014, and three ended up in the James River where it winds past downtown Lynchburg. The train was made up entirely of tank cars full of Bakken crude oil, officials confirmed.

Thousands of gallons of oily-water mixture recovered from trenches along Kanawha River

Approximately 36,000 gallons of oily-water mixture had been recovered from containment trenches where the Kanawha River meets Armstrong Creek as of Monday morning, after a CSX oil train derailed in Fayette County last week.

The joint information center established after the train derailed said on Sunday a “small” amount of oil entered the Kanawha River as ice melted and water levels changed Sunday morning.

Officials continue to say there has been no discernible impact on drinking water or public safety.

DEC, Coast Guard respond to Statter Harbor oil spill

State environmental officials and the U.S. Coast Guard are investigating an oil spill at Statter Harbor in Juneau’s Auke Bay.

Sarah Moore is a spill prevention coordinator with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. She says people first noticed a rainbow sheen and heavy, black oil in the harbor sometime Sunday.

Two Reasons Why Obama’s Keystone Veto Won’t Decide Pipeline

President Barack Obama’s expected veto of a bill approving the Keystone XL pipeline this week will hardly matter, because the controversial project faces new obstacles that go beyond the politics of the nation’s capital.

White House officials have said Obama will veto the bill, passed February 11. Lawmakers plan to send the measure to him this week, now that they’re back in town after a recess and around to denounce his veto from the bully pulpit of the House or Senate floor.

Colorado pipeline spills happen in regulatory vacuum

A spill from an underground pipeline northeast of Denver has contaminated soil and possibly groundwater — the latest of at least 13 spills over the past year from oil and gas pipelines that are largely unregulated.

While none of the recent spills appears unusually large, they highlight a gray area in how Colorado and other states are handling the domestic energy boom.

Arctic oil can wait, advocacy group says

If there is oil locked under arctic waters, it can wait until U.S. policymakers and the industry have effective safeguards in place, an advocacy group said.

The Interior Department last week unveiled seven proposals meant to enhance regulations governing oil and gas operations on the arctic shelf of the United States. The new rules would require companies to adopt oil spill response plans suitable for the arctic environment and have the ability to drill a relief well in the event of a catastrophe like the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, among others.

North Sea oil and gas industry suffers worst losses in decades

The North Sea oil and gas industry is facing a severe challenge to its future viability after suffering a dire year which involved the worst losses in decades, a new report has revealed.

Oil & Gas UK said its annual activity survey painted a bleak picture of the North Sea’s prospects after discovering that the sector as a whole lost £5.3bn last year, the worst figure since the 1970s.

The Only Safe Arctic Drilling Is No Drilling

The Administration has issued draft drilling standards to govern oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean, our last pristine ocean. Billed as safety measures that justify turning these waters over to Big Oil, the proposed standards remain deeply flawed and represent a profoundly misguided step toward irreparably harming these wildlife rich seas and undermining our global commitment to combating dangerous climate change – all while exposing taxpayers to billions in potential costs.

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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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