Environmental Must-Reads – January 10, 2014


EPA to require California fracking reports

Oil and gas companies that are fracking off the southern California coast must report chemicals discharged into the ocean under a new rule released Thursday by federal environmental regulators.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency published the requirement in the federal register, and will become effective March 1.

Spirit of Cooperation Frays in Fracking Debate

After environmentalists, lawmakers and the oil industry got together last year to draft Illinois’ first regulations for hydraulic fracturing, the rest was supposed to be easy.

The unusual collaboration was praised as a potential model for other states and a rare example of political foes finding common ground on a complex issue.

But six months after the regulations were signed into law, the spirit of cooperation is fraying: Environmentalists worry that state regulators are weakening the rules agreed to at the bargaining table. Industry officials say some policies could stall oil -and gas-drilling permits, and the state Department of Natural Resources insists it’s working hard to be fair to everyone involved.

Radio Disney Is Promoting Fracking at Dozens of Elementary Schools

Last month, a Radio Disney-sponsored, oil company-funded educational program performed a series of events at 26 elementary schools across Ohio, educating students about the alleged benefits of fracking.

The program, titled Rocking in Ohio, was led by three Radio Disney staffers and was entirely funded by the Ohio Oil and Gas Energy Education Program (OOGEEP), a lobbying group funded by oil and gas companies.

UK and Poland announce plans to push fracking across Europe

The UK and Poland have pledged to work together against any EU regulation that could threaten the shale gas industry.

Speaking to Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk on the phone, David Cameron pledged to work with him to ensure a bright future for fracking across Europe.

100 Local Anti-Fracking Activists Receive Grants From MoveOn

The online progressive organization MoveOn will announce Thursday a new program to support local anti-fracking activists across the U.S. The “Frack Fighters” program provides funding and training to 100 activists fighting natural gas projects.

The effort comes as activists in Colorado and Pennsylvania have won recent fights to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a process used to extract natural gas from shale rock, in their communities. MoveOn’s work is inspired by “both the victories and the potential for more victories,” said Victoria Kaplan, the group’s campaign director.

New York Energy Plan High On Renewables, Mum On Fracking

New York’s newly released energy plan calls for increased use of renewable energy and clean technology and anticipates reduced utility bills and a more flexible distribution grid, but takes no position on hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in the fertile Marcellus Shale.

While the proposal of the State Energy Planning Board calls for expanding the use of natural gas, instead of oil, for heating and power generation to reduce emissions of climate-changing carbon dioxide, it also notes that state officials are reviewing health and environmental concerns regarding fracking.

EPA to require offshore frackers to disclose the chemicals they dump into the ocean

New regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency will require companies fracking off the coast of Southern California to report any chemicals discharged into the ocean.

Offshore fracking, which has been taking place in the Santa Barbara Channel since the late 1990s, requires less fracking fluids than land operations, the AP reports. Understandably, however, it receives far less attention than drilling that occurs near communities. Last year, the AP uncovered hundreds of instances of fracking in California’s waters that were carried out with little to no regulatory oversight.

House Republicans Just Quietly Passed A Bill Gutting Hazardous Waste Legislation

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Thursday overhauling the country’s hazardous waste laws.

The bill, called the Reducing Excessive Deadline Obligations Act, amends both the Solid Waste Disposal Act and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (which is commonly known as Superfund). It would remove requirements that the EPA periodically update and review solid waste disposal regulations, and would make it harder for the government to require companies that deal with hazardous substances to carry enough insurance to cover cleanup. The bill would also require more consultation with states before the government imposes cleanup requirements for Superfund sites — places where hazardous waste is located and could be affecting local people or ecosystems.

Scientists document gas development disturbing forest ecosystems

Pennsylvania is no stranger to extractive industries–like coal and timber. By the early twentieth century its forests were decimated. Today they’ve grown back and trees are harvested in a sustainable manner.

But scientists say the state’s surge in natural gas development is having new kinds of dramatic effects on its forests.

Natural gas exports: Slow walk or “danger zone”?

The debate over exporting liquefied natural gas is intensifying as the Energy Dept. considers an array of applications to ship the fuel to Japan, India and other countries where prices are far higher than in the United States.

Some large manufacturers that use natural gas say the department is moving too quickly to approve gas exports, pushing the U.S. into a “danger zone” that could raise prices and harm the economy. Environmental groups worry that tentative approval of several large export projects may accelerate a fracking boom they say could harm public health and the environment.

Chemical Spill Fouls Water in West Virginia

More than 100,000 customers were without safe tap water on Thursday after a chemical used to clean coal leaked into the Elk River in Charleston, W.Va., officials said.

West Virginia American Water warned residents in nine Charleston-area counties not to use the water. Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency, urging people not to drink, bathe, cook or wash clothes in the water.

Memo to many in W. Va.: Don’t drink the water

Nearly 200,000 people in West Virginia awoke Friday to stark warnings about their tap water: Don’t drink it. Don’t cook with it. Don’t even brush your teeth or take a shower in it.

The reason: a chemical spill in the Elk River in the central and southwestern parts of the state.

Judge Orders Lawyers For Convicted Ex-BP Engineer Not To Have Any More Contact With Jurors

A federal judge has ordered lawyers for a former BP engineer to refrain from having any more contact with jurors who convicted their client of trying to obstruct a federal probe of the company’s 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Gulf Coast residents stand up against BP’s pursuit of oil in their waters

The 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was the worst offshore oil spill in history. Residents of the US Gulf Coast are still recovering from its devastating impacts on their health, livelihood and environment. From their perspective, the rosy picture of recovery that BP attempts to paint in its advertising masks what remains an incomplete clean-up and recuperation effort.

Against the interests of Gulf Coast communities, BP is working hard to restart drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. In fact, even the UK government has intervened on behalf of BP, supporting their pursuit of oil — even the face of the on-going health, environmental and climate consequences of continued offshore drilling.

BP returns to traditional concepts for long-delayed Liberty oil field

BP once touted its Liberty prospect in the Beaufort Sea as a marvel of ultra-extended-reach drilling technology that would show the world how distant offshore oil could be produced from wells drilled from the safety of land.

Not anymore.

BP is now hoping to develop Liberty the old-fashioned way — with an artificial island constructed in the shallow and icy sea, with drill pads on that artificial island and with a subsea pipeline carrying produced crude from the wells drilled on that pad to the North Slope main pipeline network onshore.

When It Rains It Oils in St. Bernard Parish

At 2 PM on Friday, October 25th Valero Refinery in Meraux, LA reported a large discharge of crude oil from a rupture in a crude unit to the National Response Center. This crude unit in the refinery had a series of small explosions and a fire in the summer of 2012. This pattern of accidents not only poses threats to families’ health, but also demonstrates Valero’s inability to operate a refinery safely. Valero initially reported “a small amount of oil” from a plug on the pipeline that crosses the highway caused the closure. Then, they said a malfunctioning tank was the source; finally they settled on a rupture in the crude units. Valero has submitted an initial written notification report, subsequently a follow-up notification report, and final follow-up notification to the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality which contains more conclusive details now that the investigation is complete.

DeFazio, Holt, Pallone, and Garcia Express Concern Over Impacts of Offshore Oil Exploration

Representatives Peter DeFazio (D-OR), ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, led a letter to the Department of the Interior (DOI) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expressing concern over the impacts of offshore oil and gas exploration and development activities on living marine resources. The letter asks DOI and NOAA to provide detailed information about how seismic testing and other acoustic tools affect marine mammals.

Texas Supreme Court Favors Landowner Over TransCanada in Keystone XL Eminent Domain Case

The Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of landowner Julia Trigg Crawford, ordering TransCanada to submit information by Feb. 6 as the justices weigh arguments to hear the case regarding eminent domain abuse.

Insurers Declining to Pay Texas Brine for Sinkhole Claims

Texas Brine Co., the company blamed for the Bayou Corne-area sinkhole, has filed a formal complaint with the Louisiana Department of Insurance. The company alleges one of its insurers is not paying up as its policy requires.

Notion of stopping Keystone XL, oil sands ‘just silly,’ industry economist says

U.S. energy policy should encourage a domestic oil and gas production boom that can foster an “American renaissance” of jobs and economic development, the industry’s top economist told Montana business leaders Wednesday.

Keystone Pipeline Approval Snag Spurs Oil to Rail Tankers

As the year rolled to a close, Russ Girling, chief executive officer of TransCanada Corp., repeated on television what he has often said: he’s “very confident” that President Barack Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

The problem is that people have been saying that for years. As a result, the oil industry on both sides of the border has begun to aggressively deploy alternatives to the pipeline, including shipping by rail and barge, to get that oil to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries.

Keystone consultant lobbied for trade group linked to TransCanada

The contractor hired by the State Department to evaluate the environmental risks of the Keystone XL project once held a lobbying contract from a trade group that included a subsidiary of the company seeking to build the Alberta-to-Texas pipeline.

The contractor, Environmental Resources Management, was listed as the registered federal lobbyist for the International Carbon Black Association in 2009 and 2010, according to Senate public records.

Senators: More scrutiny needed after train explosions

Following a series of recent oil-train accidents including a fiery explosion in North Dakota last week, leading Democratic senators on Thursday called on the Obama administration to probe  regulations and safeguards for transporting crude.

Sen. Ron Wyden, the head of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation panel, urged the Transportation and Energy departments to  launch an investigation into the issue.

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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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