Environmental Must-Reads – February 5, 2015


Hard To Clean Up Wastewater Spills From Oil Wells Into N.D. Stream

In all the debates over oil drilling and transporting oil, there’s one thing that everyone agrees on; accidents can happen. People in the industry say they take every precaution, and the risk is worth the gain. Critics say damage to the environment can be disastrous. N.D. has just seen its worst spill since an oil boom began in that state. It’s not oil leaking but wastewater from drilling. Emily Guerin reports.

Halting Fracking in California: The Time Is Now

Governor Brown’s state of the state address in January included a warning on climate change and a vision for California’s energy future. Quoting Edward O. Wilson, Brown noted that, “The evidence for climate warming…is now overwhelming…we are needlessly turning the gold we have inherited from our forbearers into straw, and for that we will be despised by our descendants.” The Governor’s proposals to cut vehicle fuel use, increase energy efficiency, and most importantly to increase the amount of electricity California derives from renewable sources to 50 percent should be widely supported.

But the Governor has been less forthcoming on his position on fracking. On Saturday, February 7, thousands are expected to rally in Oakland to call on the Governor to halt fracking in California.

Ministers promise to oppose fracking in Wales

The Welsh government has indicated that it will try to block fracking anywhere in Wales until its safety is proven.

Powers over the gas drilling technique lie at Westminster, but Welsh ministers have called for them to be devolved.

They backed a motion proposed by Plaid Cymru calling for the Welsh government to do all it can to block the extraction of shale gas.

State orders injection well shut down after northwestern Oklahoma earthquake

Staff at the Oklahoma Corporation Commission directed that an injection well operated by SandRidge Energy be shut down Tuesday due to continuing earthquakes in Alfalfa County near the Kansas border.

The well is the second active wastewater injection well directed to “shut in” or halt operations by the agency since it began a new monitoring system in 2013.

Geologists look for earthquake and fracking correlation

For at the last 15 months, Kansas geologist Rex Buchanan estimates, he’s spent 90 percent of his time studying something once relatively rare in the state – earthquakes.

He has learned a lot, said the director of the Kansas Geological Survey, whose focus in the past was primarily on water and geologic formations, including just how little is known, The Hutchinson News reports.

A Push For A Fracking Moratorium In Md

A Maryland lawmaker is hoping to block the start of a hotly debated natural gas drilling method in the western part of the state.

Del. David Fraser-Hidalgo, a Democrat from Montgomery County, is set to announce a proposed moratorium on fracking during a news conference in Annapolis on Thursday.

Iowa coalition formed to fight Bakken oil pipeline

Twenty Iowa activist groups said Wednesday they are uniting in efforts to block state approval of the proposed Bakken crude oil pipeline, which would cut across 343 miles of land in 18 Iowa counties.

The Bakken Pipeline Resistance Coalition represents landowners, community members, nonprofits and advocacy groups, organizers said. They are concerned about protecting Iowa’s soil and water, its communities, and the health of future generations.

REPLAY: Dominion pipeline public hearing

Read staff writer Calvin Trice’s live blog coverage of Wednesday’s public hearing on Augusta County’s zoning review for Dominion’s proposed natural gas pipeline.

Water may be leverage in thwarting pipeline in Boyle County

Danville’s water source may be the leverage Boyle County pipeline opponents need to fight a proposed repurposing of an aging pipeline to carry natural gas liquids through the county, said a panel of experienced anti-pipeline activists.

More than 50 area residents gathered Monday at InterCounty Energy for a second “informal” meeting to discuss ways to thwart a plan by Kinder Morgan. The company wants to abandon a Tennessee Gas Pipeline, currently carrying natural gas, and reverse the flow to carry much heavier, and many would say more dangerous, natural gas liquids through the county from the fracking plays in Ohio and Pennsylvania to the Gulf Coast.

NEXUS gas pipeline route not established yet

Developers of the proposed NEXUS natural gas pipeline emphasized at a Wednesday open house that no final decisions have been made on a route.

The event at Margaretta Elementary in Castalia was held to provide information about the proposed pipeline to landowners who may be affected by the route.

Anyone in the area who missed Wednesday’s meeting can still attend an open house Thursday in Fremont.

PUC hearings on Enbridge’s Sandpiper pipeline to determine need for eminent domain

Last week the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission (PUC) had a week long evidentiary proceeding to help determine whether or not the State of Minnesota should grant a Certificate of Need (CN) for Enbridge’s proposed Sandpiper pipeline and to be given eminent domain rights take individuals property for their pipeline.

Prior to the start of the PUC hearings Jan. 27, the true mothers and grandmothers of earth sang a tobacco song followed by a water song, both for good thoughts and medicine for the Sandpiper proceedings and the Kalamazoo River, which still has contamination as shown by the dilbit tar ball in the jar of Kalamazoo water LaDuke was holding.

Oil train trouble in Toronto: citizens

A Toronto neighbourhood group, alarmed by what appears to be a surge in oil trains rumbling past their urban backyards, is taking the unusual step of urging the Auditor General of Canada to intervene to help it get answers to safety concerns.

The group, called Safe Rail Communities, says it has been asking basic questions to CN, CP Rail and the federal government about the safety of transporting these explosive fuels, but found the responses lacking.

Second near-disaster as shale oil train derails

For the second time in just over a year, a train carrying Bakken Shale crude oil derailed in Philadelphia, again in an area where potential harm to surrounding communities could have been catastrophic for thousands of people.

Eleven cars of a 111-car CSX train traveling from Chicago jumped the tracks around 3 a.m. on Jan. 31 in a South Philadelphia rail yard. It was near the Lincoln Financial Field sports arena and the Philadelphia Naval Yard. The area is also near Interstate 95, one of the busiest highways in the U.S., and close to waterways.

LEAN considering lawsuit against Exxon, wants Clean Air Act compliance

The Louisiana Environmental Action Network has reupped its intent to file a lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation alleging that a settlement in early 2014 didn’t ensure that the company would come into compliance with the Clean Air Act.

The notice of intent to sue sent on Jan. 30 is meant as an addition to a previous notice of intent filed on April 22, 2013, alleging violation of the Clean Air Act at the ExxonMobil Chemical Company in Baton Rouge.

Noranda plant in St. James Parish seeks permit to emit mercury

Noranda Alumina officials say they believe their nearly 55-year-old refinery in St. James Parish has been releasing mercury into the air without a permit, possibly since operations began in 1959.

The Tennessee-based owners of the once-bankrupt Kaiser Aluminum complex on the Mississippi River are asking state regulators for permission to release up to 250 pounds of mercury per year. That would make the plant one of the largest mercury polluters of Louisiana’s air while Noranda officials figure out what is causing the air releases, state and federal records show.

11 memorable quotes from the BP oil spill trial’s penalty phase

Testimony in the civil trial over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill ended Monday (Feb. 2), two years after attorneys for BP, the federal government and BP’s partners first started their arguments. The trial was split into three phases.

The third and final phase, which began Jan. 20 and ended Monday, will determine how much BP Exploration & Production and partner Anadarko Petroleum Corp. will pay in Clean Water Act fines for the spill. BP faces a $13.7 billion maximum penalty.

Trial Over, Judge to Decide Extent of BP’s Penalties 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 on Feb. 2, but a decision from the judge is not expected for months.

The trial closed in New Orleans 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.

Few Hints on BP Fine as Oil Spill Trial Wraps Up

The trial over how much BP will be fined over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill has ended, but a decision on the potential $13.7 billion fine could still be months away.

This was the third phase of a trial to determine fines under the Clean Water Act after BP’s Deepwater Horizon rig exploded 50 miles offshore from Louisiana on April 20, 2010, killing 11 people and dumping millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Voluntary plan to reduce fertilizers not enough to shrink Gulf’s ‘Dead Zone’, new study says

Major voluntary strategies used on Midwest farmland to curb fertilizers that feed the annual low oxygen “Dead Zone” in the Gulf of Mexico don’t remove enough nutrients to succeed, according to a new, peer reviewed scientific study.

But combining those strategies with new techniques, including strategically restoring wetlands in some Midwest locations, could reduce nitrogen runoff from farmlands by 45 percent, said the study published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.

State’s coastal restoration efforts imperiled by Obama’s budget proposal

President Obama’s unexpected budget proposal to stop sending a portion of federal offshore mineral royalties to Gulf states could cripple Louisiana’s coastal-restoration efforts by eliminating what is expected to be $140 million to nearly $180 million in annual revenue.

The money, to come through the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act starting in 2017, would be the largest by far of only three recurring revenue streams the state has to pay for its Master Plan for the Coast, a 50-year, $50-billion effort. Current projections of land subsidence and sea level rise show most of southeast Louisiana will be part of the Gulf of Mexico by the end of the century if that plan isn’t a success.

What the national media are saying about BP’s earnings slump, cost cuts

BP is the first of the major oil companies to post an earnings loss for the fourth quarter of 2014, amid falling oil prices. In addition to thousands of job cuts worldwide, BP said Tuesday (Feb. 3) it will slash spending on new drilling and other long-term investment by almost 20 percent, to $20 billion.

BP also faces as much as $13.7 billion in federal fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil disaster. According to its fourth quarter report, BP pegs its total oil spill cost at $43.5 billion, including its cleanup, payment of claims and litigation. A federal judge in New Orleans has yet to rule on the final penalty.

U.S. regulators probing BP crude shipments on Enbridge pipeline

A U.S. investigation into oil major BP Plc (BP.L) breaking anti-fraud and reporting rules on using oil pipelines is related to crude shipped on Enbridge Inc’s (ENB.TO) Mainline system, Enbridge said on Wednesday.

Graham White, a spokesman for Canada’s largest pipeline company, confirmed the investigation is related to crude volumes nominated by shippers on its system. He said the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) had not indicated Enbridge was under investigation.

EPA Push For Massive Munitions Burn Ignites Opposition In Louisiana

Explosions used to be no big deal for residents of sleepy rural towns in north Louisiana’s piney woods near the Arkansas border. Blasts meant jobs.

The Army’s Camp Minden was the site of a former ammunition factory built during World War II. The factory closed in the 1990s. Still, the place is littered with millions of pounds of leftover artillery waste.

The stuff in question is called M6, a toxic propellant in grenades and artillery rounds. The Army doesn’t use it anymore, and tons of M6 are stored in bunkers at Camp Minden.

Camden, Gloucester Superfund site received $222 million in court settlement

An ongoing environmental cleanup at the Welsbach and General Gas Mantle site has been awarded $222 million in a court settlement, U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-1 of Camden) announced Monday.

The award is part of a $5.15 billion settlement that alleged Anadarko Petroleum and its subsidiaries fraudulently moved assets to avoid liability for contamination at Superfund sites across the country.

Bill would exempt thousands of tanks from post-spill safety law

Thousands of chemical storage tanks across West Virginia would be exempt from the law passed in the wake of the Freedom Industries spill, under legislation introduced Tuesday in the House of Delegates.

The bill (HB2574) would rewrite the definition of “above-ground storage tank” so that only tanks located within “zones of critical concern” near public drinking water intakes would be subject to new state safety standards and inspection requirements.

Claims center established in Glendive for Yellowstone River pipeline spill

A claims center has been set up in Glendive for people who suffered financial losses from a 30,000-gallon oil spill into the Yellowstone River.

Pipeline owner Bridger Pipeline LLC of Casper, Wyoming will be responsible for any valid claims submitted. Claims can include costs from the removal of oil or damage to natural resources, loss of profits by a business and the costs of the public response to the spill.

Oil pipelines are going to keep breaking in rivers

On the second day of July in 2011, I walked down to my hay fields to see if the Yellowstone River had flooded its banks. It had — but so had crude oil leaking from Exxon’s Silvertip Pipeline, which runs underneath the river upstream from my farm south of Billings, Montana.

That was the beginning of months of dealing with cleanup workers, water and soil testing, while my family suffered from chronic coughs and a lot of stress. In the end, it was determined that 1,500 barrels of oil had spilled into the river.

County board won’t put ordinance in way of Keystone pipeline

Commissioners in eastern Nebraska’s York County have decided not to adopt zoning regulations that would have affected the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

The County Board voted 4-1 on Tuesday against setting any zoning regulations on underground transmission lines of any type.

Chairman Bill Bamesberger said the county attorney advised against adopting the regulations for several reasons, including the difficulty in interpreting them and the difficulty and expense in enforcing them. And, he said, state laws on siting and reclamation would pre-empt proposed regulations that included language about pipeline abandonment and depth requirements, setback distances and soil removal.

Keystone pipeline is a mistake, just like the tar sands oil it would carry

Having seen former Attorney General John Havelock, former Anchorage Mayor George Weurch and former Commerce Commissioner Paul Fuhs conclude the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico is a good thing, it was refreshing to read Kate Troll’s opinion in opposition. I’ll side with her for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the extensive hard look I’ve had over half a decade of researching the Athabasca tar sands of Alberta, the ones most proponents prefer to euphemistically brand as “oil sands.” Yet they remain extremely poisonous tarry bitumen, needing natural gas byproducts called diluents to even begin to facilitate their shipment via pipeline. Think asphalt.

No deadline in sight for Keystone approval

Even as the deadline expired Tuesday for U.S. agencies to submit their final views on the Keystone XL assessment, the State Department has refused to disclose when it will make its final recommendation to the president or even if it will complete the process before the 2016 election.

Asked if a decision will be made before U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration ends January 2017, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, “I’m not putting a new deadline on it.” She added, however, that the State Department will “make a determination” on whether Obama should approve the pipeline.

EPA Keystone Review Links Oil Sands to Carbon Emission Jump

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said developing Canadian oil sands would significantly increase greenhouse gases, a conclusion environmental groups said gives President Barack Obama reason to reject the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

“Until ongoing efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the production of oil sands are more successful and widespread,” developing the crude “represents a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions,” the EPA said Tuesday in a letter to the State Department, which is reviewing the project.

Keystone XL Pipeline Benefits U.S. And Canada, Alberta Premier Says

Few issues have been as politically divisive in recent years as the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s designed to carry crude oil from Canada’s tar sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast. A bill approving Keystone XL should get final approval in the Republican-controlled Congress within the next week. The GOP sees it as a real job creator. The president, however, says he will veto the bill because the State Department hasn’t issued its final recommendation on the project. Obama has brought up his reservations about the pipeline, like when he appeared on “The Colbert Report” in December.

Enbridge pipeline permit decision postponed

Dane County zoning officials want to be sure Enbridge Energy has enough insurance to clean up an oil spill before they issue a permit that would triple volume in the Canadian company’s pipeline that runs through Wisconsin.

It was standing and sitting on the floor room-only at the Jan. 27 Dane County Zoning and Land Regulation Committee meeting as it, for the second time, postponed a decision on a conditional use permit that would allow an upgrade to the company’s pump station located between Waterloo and Marshall in the Town of Medina.

Arctic Bulls Forced to Cool Their Heels Even as Arctic Warms

It seems that at least for now, the bloom is off the Arctic rose.

As an article in this week’s Economist argues, fervent hopes for developing the Arctic’s energy and minerals, and for using an Arctic sea route to ship goods between Asia and Europe more quickly, have faded.

Blame plunging petroleum prices that have made exploring for Arctic oil uneconomic — but not just that.

Statoil looks at delaying development of Norwegian Arctic field

Statoil is examining whether to delay development of its Johan Castberg project in the Norwegian Arctic as it takes a hard look at capital spending after crude prices fell more than 50 per cent.

Eldar Sætre, the Statoil veteran who on Wednesday took over as chief executive from Helge Lund — after he resigned to become the top manager at BG Group — told the Financial Times the state-controlled company needed “to take the time that is necessary to come up with a project that is as good as possible.

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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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