Environmental Must-Reads – February 27, 2015


Group Backs off Plan to Put Fracking Ban on Colorado Ballot

An activist group on Thursday backed off its earlier announcement that it would to try to get a statewide ban on hydraulic fracturing on the Colorado ballot and said it would instead try to persuade Gov. John Hickenlooper to halt the practice.

Karen Dike of Coloradans Against Fracking said the group has not ruled out a campaign to put a ban on the 2016 ballot if the governor doesn’t act.

Fracking Task Force Proposals Sets the Starting Bell for Ballot Issues

The much maligned oil and gas task force that Governor Hickenlooper put together last fall to keep fracking ballot issues off the 2014 ballot finally submitted proposals to the legislature this week.

The nine proposals range in scope but all attempt to address the chasm between local communities and oil companies.

Keystone XL Veto Could Make A Case Against Fracking

President Barack Obama recently vetoed a bill approved by both Congress and the Senate to build the Keystone XL pipeline, an oil pipeline system commissioned to transport oil from Canada and the North Dakota Bakken Shale region to Midwest and Gulf Coast refineries.

The move to veto this bill showcases the Obama administration’s focus on climate change at a time when environmentalists are concerned with the pipeline causing more oil spills in sensitive areas of the U.S. and increasing greenhouse gas emissions in total.

German Beer Brewers Win Fracking Protection for Spring

German brewers have won the backing of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to protect the springs they use from fracking, which they say could taint the purity of their beer.

The government plans to allow federal states to identify locations where fracking can’t take place to preserve the quality of the ground water used by brewers and producers of bottled mineral water, the Environment Ministry said Thursday.

Greens petition California to ban fracking

Dozens of environmental groups filed a legal petition Thursday asking California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) to ban hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas in the state.

The groups said their case is bolstered by recent news that oil and gas drillers were allowed by the state to inject wastewater from 140 wells, some of which were fracked, into protected waters.

Legal Petition Urges Gov. Brown to Impose Emergency Fracking Moratorium After Oil Waste Illegally Dumped Into California Aquifers

After California officials admitted allowing the oil industry to illegally inject wastewater into protected aquifers via disposal wells, more than 150 environmental and community groups filed a legal petition today urging Gov. Jerry Brown to use his emergency powers to place a moratorium on fracking and other well stimulation techniques. The groups point to tests showing dangerously high levels of cancer-causing benzene in fracking flowback fluid, which is often dumped into California injection wells.

USGS: Fracking Wastewater Disposal Wells Are Causing Oklahoma Earthquakes

Some of the most heavily fracked parts of the US have experienced an unprecedented wave of earthquakes in recent years even though they’ve long been considered geologically stable. But the oil and gas industry is quick to reject any suggestion that fracking is to blame.

The United States Geological Survey, for its part, has said in the past that the injection of fracking wastewater into deep geologic formations was a likely cause of the increased seismic activity in Oklahoma.

Now the agency has made it official.

UK ministers halt Scottish fracking ahead of Holyrood move

The UK government has “agreed in principle” not to award any more fracking licences in Scotland.

UK ministers will, however, consult with companies which have already applied for licences before any final decision is made.

New powers over the industry are due to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament.

Fracking Project Encounters Peaceful Yet Persistent Foes Deep in Algerian Sahara

Deep in the Algerian Sahara, daily protests against a pilot hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, project are now well into their second month. The demonstrations have spread to several towns and have provided opposition parties with a new platform at an especially precarious moment for the government, as oil prices have slumped and the declining health of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has removed him almost completely from public view.

Wales to get power to ban fracking and lower voting age to 16

Wales will be handed the power to ban fracking and allow voting at 16 under a devolution package that is due to be unveiled today by David Cameron and Nick Clegg.

The powers are expected to be granted under what the government is calling the St David’s Day agreement. They were promised following the referendum on Scottish independence.

North Texas fracking ban becomes case of state v. local control

The November election saw voters in Denton, a college town north of Dallas/Fort Worth, approving a hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, ban and while legal challenges loom, debate over a larger issue – state v. local control – is now emerging.

Despite some headlines proclaiming a “landslide” victory, Denton, with an estimated 2013 population of 123,099, approved the fracking ban with a 59 percent margin reflecting 14,881 out of 25,376 votes cast. The city is now defending this action on two legal fronts – at the expense of voting and non-voting taxpayers.

Tracks Reopen Where Oil Train Derailed in West Virginia

A rail line has reopened in southern West Virginia where an oil train derailed earlier this month.

A statement from multiple agencies responding to the fiery derailment said crews restored the tracks and reopened the line for commerce Thursday afternoon. Cleanup activities continue at the site in Mount Carbon.

The oil trains and the cities: How safe?

They gathered at dusk at the King Street Station with the words “No Exploding Oil Trains” projected on the station’s clock tower. Some held signs with four more words, “Not Under Our City.” The crowd wasn’t certain if any 100-car oil trains would enter the tunnel beneath them on the underground route past the Pike Place Market. But after two more oil train explosions this month, one in Ontario and another in West Virginia, the people gathered there Tuesday felt the time was ripe for another protest.

Alberta energy drillers pivot to natural gas as oil plunges

Alberta’s energy producers are pivoting toward developing gas reserves rather than oil after crude lost half its value last year.

The number of gas development rigs in Canada’s biggest energy producing province almost doubled in December to 157, the most for that month since at least 2010, the Alberta Energy Regulator said in data posted on its website late Wednesday. The number of crude development rigs fell by 4.3 percent to 134.

Oil Train Wrecks Increase Pressure for Tougher Safety Rules

Fiery wrecks of trains hauling crude oil have intensified pressure on the Obama administration to approve tougher standards for railroads and tank cars despite industry complaints that it could cost billions and slow freight deliveries.

On Feb. 5, the Transportation Department sent the White House draft rules that would require oil trains to use stronger tank cars and make other safety improvements.

Flood board to decide next week on ‘Big Oil’ lawsuit appeal

A New Orleans flood protection board meets Monday for a vote on whether to appeal the dismissal of a coastal erosion lawsuit against oil, gas and pipeline companies.

The Southeast Louisiana Flood Protection Authority-East filed suit in 2013.

Should levee authority appeal wetlands damage lawsuit dismissal?

Members of the east bank levee authority opposed to the controversial wetlands damage lawsuit against oil, gas and pipeline companies will ask their fellow commissioners to veto an appeal of a federal judge’s decision throwing out the suit.

The vote is expected to be proposed during a special meeting on Monday (March 2) at 1 p.m. Monday at the Orleans Levee District’s Franklin Administrative Complex, 6920 Franklin Ave., New Orleans.

3 lawyers banned from handling BP oil spill damage claims

A federal judge has barred three lawyers — including one who worked inside a court-supervised facility — from handling damage claims over BP’s 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill because they allegedly set up a system of payments to help speed claims through the process.

On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier issued sanctions against lawyers Lionel Sutton III, Jonathan Andry and Glen Lerner. None of the lawyers has been charged with a crime.

Oil workers dig in for historic fight against industry giants over crucial safety rules

Four weeks into the largest nationwide strike by oil plant workers in 36 years, the fight over critical safety standards in a deadly industry has grown even larger, with the movement now including 15 plants and 6,500 workers.

As Common Dreams has previously reported, the workers are demanding basic protections from some of the world’s largest fossil fuel companies, which they say create an environment of forced overtime and high out-of-pocket health care costs, while regularly outsourcing risky jobs to untrained contract workers.

ExxonMobil Protests Penalty in Pipeline Spill Case

ExxonMobil Corp. recently appealed a $1,045,000 penalty imposed by the federal pipeline safety agency against the oil company in relation to a 2011 pipeline failure that caused a large oil spill into the Yellowstone River in Montana.

The Silvertip Pipeline owned by Exxon Mobil ruptured on July 1, 2011, where the pipeline crosses the Yellowstone River and released approximately 1,500 barrels (63,000 gallons) of crude oil into the river. This occurred after the river had prolonged flooding in the months prior to the incident.

Keystone XL story definitely not over. Nebraska lawsuits could delay permit decision for years

You wouldn’t have guessed it from some of the reporting, blog commentary and comment thread talk about President Obama’s veto earlier this week, but the Keystone XL pipeline is far from dead. Foreign Policy, for instance, headlined its story on the subject “Obama Kills the Keystone Pipeline to Nowhere.”

No, he didn’t.

What Obama did do on Tuesday was veto the bill Congress passed to circumvent executive authority for approving that pipeline originating in Alberta.

The Keystone XL debate shows how radically climate politics has shifted since 2008

The fight over the Keystone XL pipeline has been raging for so long it seems almost routine at this point. This month, Republicans in Congress passed a bill to approve the pipeline once and for all. On Tuesday, President Obama vetoed it, saying he still needed more time to decide. And on and on it goes…

So this is a good moment to step back and appreciate just how truly and deeply unexpected it is that we’re even having this fight in the first place.

Too Many Broken Pipelines: Fort Peck Reservation Passes Resolution Opposing Keystone XL Through Montana

The Sioux and Assiniboine tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation have passed a resolution opposing the Keystone XL pipeline, the first reservation in Montana to do so.

The pipeline would jeopardize drinking water projects for the reservation, tribal officials told Indian Country Today Media Network.

York County Landowners Win Injunction To Halt Eminent Domain For Keystone XL Pipeline

The District Court in York County, Nebraska on Thursday granted local landowners’ motion for a preliminary injunction to halt TransCanada’s use of eminent domain to take their land for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

The legal process surrounding the pipeline’s route in Nebraska could go on from 12-18 months, until the Nebraska Supreme Court reconsiders landowners’ arguments. If landowners win at the Nebraska Supreme Court, TransCanada must reapply for a permit with the state Public Service Commission. Bottom line, the foreign pipeline company is facing up to three years of delay in Nebraska.

Celebrities line up to blast Keystone XL

More than a dozen celebrities are lending their star power to the battle against Keystone XL.

The singers, filmmakers and actors — including “Revenge” star Emily VanCamp and Dawn Oliveri of “House of Lies” — lay out arguments against the pipeline in a video produced for the Sierra Club and the Environmental Media Association.

What the Keystone Pipeline Means to Millennials

A Presidential Veto is a momentous event, and President Obama has only chosen to exercise this power three times. That being said, the President’s recent veto of the Keystone Pipeline Bill was a subdued affair, operating in stark contrast to the mock signing ceremony held by the Republicans weeks ago. The Keystone Pipeline, still popular among Americans though decreasingly so, has become a politicized lightning rod simultaneously illustrating progress and obstructionism, environmentalism and energy independence, left and right. The pipeline seems to address everyone on a different level, but this is what I hear: the President is speaking the Millennial’s language.

Lawmaker proposes pipeline to ferry oil across state

Worried about North Dakota oil trains derailing, leaking or exploding in Washington state? Let’s build a pipeline.

That’s the solution state Sen. Michael Baumgartner unveiled Wednesday in response to concerns over dangers posed by the 19 crude-oil trains lumbering across Washington every week. Those trains can each carry more than 2.9 million gallons of oil in about 100 tank cars.

Irving-owned companies at odds over Canada pipeline plan

Two companies owned by the billionaire Irving family in eastern Canada appear at odds over some of the details of the country’s largest oil pipeline project, which one of them backs.

Forestry company J.D. Irving filed a notice with Canadian regulators this week, saying it was “vitally concerned” about how TransCanada Corp’s proposed Alberta-to-New Brunswick pipeline would affect its operations.

Tired Of Oil Trains? State Senator Wants To Consider Wash. Pipeline

Part of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System. A state senator has proposed studying whether to build a Washington state pipeline.

President Obama has vetoed the KeystoneXL Pipeline, but as more oil moves through the Northwest by rail, one Republican state senator says a pipeline through Washington state could be a solution.

Enbridge allowed to enter Bay City federal lawsuit

The owner of a major oil pipeline through Michigan has been allowed to enter a legal dispute over a federal permit.

A judge on Wednesday granted Enbridge Energy’s request to intervene in litigation in Bay City federal court. The Sierra Club is suing the U.S. Forest Service, saying it didn’t prepare an environmental analysis when it renewed Enbridge’s permit.

Arctic Barge Nears Russia After Months In Ice

An unmanned fuel barge that got stuck in Arctic sea ice last fall has now made it almost as far as the northern coast of Russia.

It sounds like the makings of a children’s book: the long, unexpected journey of a little barge called the NTAL-2.

The ship got lost in an Arctic storm last October, and nearly ran aground near Prudhoe Bay before getting caught up in advancing sea ice. Since then, it’s traveled almost 1,400 nautical miles without ever touching solid ground — about the distance from Maine to Florida.

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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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