Environmental Must-Reads – February 3, 2015


Canada May Have Just Set A Fracking Earthquake World Record 

Late last month, a 4.4 magnitude earthquake shook the town of Fox Creek, Alberta. The province’s energy regulator is pointing the finger at hydraulic fracturing which, if confirmed, would make it the largest earthquake ever to have been induced by the method.

The earthquake, which was severe enough to cause minor damage, happened on January 22. It was the largest of a swarm of earthquakes to strike the region across a 50 kilometer (31 mile) radius. The town, which is primarily sustained by oil and gas development, is located about 260 kilometers (161 miles) north of Edmonton and is home to about 2,000 people.

In fracking hot spots, police and gas industry share intelligence on activists

Last month an anti-fracking group settled a lawsuit against Pennsylvania, after it was erroneously labeled a potential terrorist threat. The case dates back to 2010 and was an embarrassment for then-Governor Ed Rendell.

But documents obtained by StateImpact Pennsylvania show law enforcement here and in other parts of the country continue to conduct surveillance on anti-fracking activists, leading some to claim their Constitutional rights are being violated.

List of places than ban fracking keeps growing

Scotland banned fracking last week, implementing an indefinite moratorium while the government studies environmental and health impacts of the oil and gas extraction technique, the BBC reports.

The nation joins a small but growing group of cities, counties, states and countries that have prohibited fracking, including some locations in the technique’s Texas birthplace.

Federal fracking rules due out soon

Rules for hydraulic fracturing on federal land will be made final within weeks, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said.

Jewell told reporters Monday that the rules from Interior’s Bureau of Land Management are “very close” and can be expected “in the coming weeks.”

Another Victory for Fracking in Colorado

Trustees of a small town straddling Colorado’s conservative Weld County and liberal Boulder County narrowly voted down an “emergency” one-year fracking moratorium last week.

Instead of imposing a moratorium, Erie trustees said, they will work with the oil and gas industry “to address community concerns about noise, truck traffic and setbacks from housing.”

West Texas frac sand proposal abandoned

Faced with public opposition and grim oil field economics, a West Texas businessman has abandoned his proposal for a rail facility to load sand onto trucks across from a residential neighborhood.

The businessman, Lee Pfluger, ended months of increasingly rancorous debate with a dramatic flourish, making his announcement during a highly anticipated civic meeting in San Angelo on Monday.

Proposed fracking deferred near Chaco Canyon

At the end of December, a coalition of environmentalists and watchdog groups won a small victory when the Bureau of Land Management decided to defer leasing five Navajo allotment parcels, or approximately 2,803 acres, for hydraulic fracturing near Chaco Canyon.

The BLM announced on Dec. 30 that it would defer issuing the leases in response to a protest filed by the group that demanded the agency suspend hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on public lands in northwest New Mexico until the agency can ensure it will not negatively affect public health, the environment and the region’s cultural heritage.

State drilling panel weighs disclosure of fracking chemicals

Gov. John Hickenlooper’s task force on oil and gas discussed proposals Monday that would force energy companies to disclose all the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing and give local governments more of a say on where wells can be drilled.

The task force is winnowing down a list of 56 suggestions from members before making its recommendations to Hickenlooper on Feb. 27 on ways to resolve disputes over local control and landowner rights.

ET Rover natural gas pipeline won’t be built in Genesee, Oakland and other counties

An agreement signed with another pipeline company will eliminate the need for the proposed ET Rover natural gas pipeline to be built through several Michigan counties, according to a release by the company on Monday, Feb. 2.

“Rover Pipeline, LLC is pleased to announce it has signed a contract with Vector Pipeline and its affiliates for firm transportation capacity to deliver gas to markets in Michigan and the Union Gas Dawn Hub in Ontario, Canada, as part of the Rover Pipeline project,” the release states. “The capacity arrangement with Vector eliminates the need for Rover to build its pipeline through Michigan’s Shiawassee, Genesee, Lapeer, Oakland St. Clair, and Macomb counties.”

NY, MA and NH Anti-Pipeline Groups Join Forces

In the latest anti-pipeline move, groups from New York, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have joined forces to combat a proposed natural gas pipeline that would run through the three states.

More than two dozen organizations are banding together against Kinder Morgan’s proposed Northeast Energy Direct project. The Tennessee Gas pipeline would carry fracked gas from the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania through New York’s Capital Region, western Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire and re-enter Massachusetts ending at Dracut, about 30 miles north of Boston. Before a change in December to run along power line corridors, the initial route kept most of the pipeline in Massachusetts. Katy Eiseman is with the Massachusetts Pipeline Awareness Network, a member group of the newly formed StopNED Coalition.

Proposed pipelines are causing a slight uproar

The flourishing supply of natural gas coming from the Marcellus and Utica shale regions in Ohio, West Virginia and Pennsylvania has become a promising area for companies that develop interstate pipeline–and a potential migraine for those who are against massive amounts of gas flowing through their property.

Currently, there are several proposed underground pipeline projects that would transport natural gas across the state from the Utica and Marcellus shale regions to northwest Ohio.

Oil train cars derail in Philadelphia

A freight train carrying crude oil partially derailed in Philadelphia over the weekend. No injuries or spills were reported. It was the second oil train derailment the city has seen in the span of a year.

As StateImpact Pennsylvania has previously reported, North Dakota’s Bakken Shale oil has helped breathe new life into Philadelphia’s refineries, but the city has also become one of the nation’s most heavily traveled regions for rail oil shipments.

Honoré: Environmental agencies using 1950s technology to monitor 21st-century industries

The state is using 1950s technology to regulate its 21st-century industries, and that needs to change in order to protect Louisiana’s air, water and land, Russel Honoré told the Baton Rouge Press Club on Monday.

The comments of the retired Army lieutenant general-turned-environmental activist came during his presentation of the GreenARMY’s 2014 legislative scorecard.

Honoré, who made national headlines when he arrived in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, has more recently taken on environmental causes, from the sinkhole at Bayou Corne to concerns about saltwater intrusion into the Southern Hills Aquifer, which supplies drinking water to Baton Rouge.

BP oil spill trial wraps up nearly 2 years after historic litigation began

The final phase of the main BP oil spill litigation ended Monday, nearly two years since dozens of attorneys for the federal government and BP converged on a New Orleans courtroom to begin what has become one of the most complex civil cases in the nation’s history.

BP partner Anadarko Petroleum Corp. rested its case for the penalty phase of the trial Monday. A ruling on how much the two companies will pay in pollution fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill is expected in coming months, if not weeks.

Trial Ends Over How Much BP Should Pay for Gulf Oil Spill

The latest phase of a trial to determine how much BP should pay in Clean Water Act penalties for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill — which could reach $13.7 billion — ended Monday, but a decision from the judge is not expected for months.

The trial closed after two weeks of testimony and arguments by lawyers for the Justice Department, which wants a high penalty, and BP, which wants a lower figure. Anadarko Petroleum Corp., a minority owner of the ill-fated well, was also part of the proceeding and is fighting the government’s push for more than $1 billion in penalties.

BP appeal seeks ouster of claims administrator

BP is trying again to force the ouster of the administrator of claims arising from a settlement reached with businesses claiming economic harm from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

BP argues that Patrick Juneau has mismanaged the settlement program and that he had a conflict of interest that he didn’t disclose when he was appointed to administer claims arising from the 2012 settlement. The corporation also says that Juneau “actively advocated against BP’s interests” as part of his work for the state of Louisiana in 2010 and 2011.

Strike hits Tesoro refineries, Texas plants

Three refineries owned by San Antonio-based Tesoro were targeted for strikes Sunday by the United Steelworkers as part of a nationwide walkout by the union’s 30,000 members.

The action — the first of its sort by the union in three decades — comes as oil prices have plunged to around $50 a barrel and many energy companies have begun curtailing activities and laying off workers.

Refinery strike catches some workers by surprise

Union members had picked up rumblings that the United Steelworkers union might not reach a deal before an early Sunday contract deadline. But in picket lines and outside of a local union hall Sunday, several said they were surprised when they got word to strike at nine refineries and plants nationwide, including five local sites.

For many union members, it’s unfamiliar territory because the last wide-scale strike was three decades ago.

Montana oil spill latest in pipeline company’s string of of incidents

The Wyoming company whose pipeline leaked 30,000 gallons of crude oil into the Yellowstone River in Montana and its sister company have had multiple pipeline spills and federal fines levied against them in the last decade, according to government records.

Bridger Pipeline, the operator of the Poplar Pipeline that broke recently near Glendive, Montana, recorded nine pipeline incidents between 2006 and 2014, according to the pipeline administration. Combined, the spills leaked nearly 11,000 gallons of crude.

Impacts of oil spill on fish, birds still unknown

On the surface, Montana’s Yellowstone River, home to pallid sturgeon and bald eagles and the source of drinking water for this city of 6,000 residents, looked like it belonged on a postcard one day last week. The river, covered by snow and 3 feet of ice, split into separate fingers where it wrapped around an island.

But two weeks following a 30,000-gallon spill of Bakken crude from a pipeline, oil remains trapped in the ice, mostly out of sight, and men in white suits and carrying squeegees were attempting to collect it.

“It’s very unusual to be doing it like this,” said Marty McComb, the on-scene coordinator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

How The Keystone XL Pipeline Decision Will Influence UN Climate Change Talks In Paris

Monday is the deadline for eight federal departments, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, to complete reviews of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The critical milestone could put the Obama administration on track to issue its final verdict on the Canada-to-Texas conduit as early as this month, observers say.

President Barack Obama’s decision will have broad political impact outside the U.S. and Canada and could bolster — or undermine — the United States’ ability to influence global climate change talks later this year. Nearly 200 countries are expected to negotiate an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at a United Nations-led conference in Paris in December.

The Pipeline Fight Pitting Native Americans Against Big Oil

On a map in the crowded conference room of a hotel, Winona LaDuke pointed to a tiny tract of land in the northeast corner of the White Earth Indian Reservation. The area, home to the wild rice that feeds the tribe and helps to pay its bills through deals with retailers like Whole Foods, is miniscule in comparison to the counties that surround it, but it’s worth millions to an oil company and the state.

The Kochs Are Already Getting What They Paid for in Congress

Ask progressives what the last three weeks of Senate debate on a Keystone XL bill was really about, and they might mention the Koch brothers. “The Republican’s Keystone XL obsession is about one thing and one thing only—a direct payback to Big Oil, specifically to the Koch brothers,” Credo’s Senior Campaign Manager Elijah Zarlin said in response to the Senate passing a Keystone XL bill, 62-36, on Thursday.

Arctic Oil on Life Support

Oil companies have eyed the Arctic for years. With an estimated 90 billion barrels of oil lying north of the Arctic Circle, the circumpolar north is arguably the last corner of the globe that is still almost entirely unexplored.

As drilling technology advances, conventional oil reserves become harder to find, and climate change contributes to melting sea ice, the Arctic has moved up on the list of priorities in oil company board rooms.

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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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