Environmental Must-Reads – January 14, 2015


California’s New Fracking Rules: Too Little, Too Early?

On Dec. 30, 2014, California regulators released new state rules for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

State regulators and members of industry have repeatedly hailed the rigorous rules, which go into effect July 1. Dr. Steven Bohlen, California’s state oil-and-gas supervisor, called them “as strict or stricter than any other state’s.”

But some local scientists and environmentalists counter that the rules fall short, noting gaps in coverage and problems with the rulemaking process.

Obama Is Said to Be Planning New Rules on Oil and Gas Industry’s Methane Emissions

In President Obama’s latest move using executive authority to tackle climate change, administration officials will announce plans this week to impose new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, according to a person familiar with Mr. Obama’s plans. The administration’s goal is to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent by 2025 from the levels recorded in 2012.

Barack Obama moves to cut methane emissions by almost half

Barack Obama will unveil a plan to cut methane emissions from America’s booming oil and gas industry by as much as 45% over the next decade in an attempt to cement his climate legacy during his remaining two years in the White House.

The new methane rules – which will be formally unveiled on Wednesday – are the last big chance for Obama to fight climate change.

Obama Wants to Crack Down on Fracking Emissions

President Barack Obama will unveil a new plan to cut methane from America’s booming oil and gas industry ahead of the State of the Union address, in an attempt to cement his climate legacy during his remaining two years in the White House.

The new methane rules—expected ahead of the State of the Union speech next week—are the last big chance for Obama to fight climate change, campaigners said.

Asheville Council says no to fracking, asks state to re-instate ban

On Tuesday night, Jan. 13, Asheville Council made its opinions known in regards to hydraulic fracturing throughout the state, region and city: They approved a resolution that asks North Carolina legislators to halt fracking operations.

The resolution, approved through the consent agenda, calls on the state “not to explore future horizontal hydraulic fracturing in Western North Carolina, Buncombe County and the City of Asheville; … re-instate the ban on fracking and support the continued moratorium on injection wells in Western North Carolina, Buncombe County and the City of Asheville [and] calls on the General Assembly to re-instate the authority of local governments to regulate fracking and its impacts if local elected officials deem it necessary.”

Erie to revisit yearlong fracking moratorium Jan. 27

If Erie is going to suspend fracking operations in town, that decision will have to wait at least two weeks.

On Tuesday night, the town’s Board of Trustees spent hours debating whether to enact a yearlong moratorium on oil and gas operations, but ultimately voted to put that decision off for two weeks.

On Jan. 27, the board will revisit the possibility. Oil and gas companies Encana and Anadarko have promised to hold off on seeking any new drilling permits from Erie between now and then.

U.S. fracking activity expected to slow considerably, reports predict

If oil prices stay low as many reports are now suggesting, Wisconsin’s frac sand boom might be cooling sooner rather than later.

The problem is that shale oil fracking — where large-grained sand is mixed with water and chemicals and injected into wells at high pressure — is one of the most expensive ways to produce oil or natural gas.

Fracking makes sand a $10 billion industry

On a square of clay and gravel about 40 miles north of downtown Denver, Joel Fox’s colleagues are starting a frack on an oil well. Fox — who runs fracking operations for Encana Corp., a $9 billion oil and gas company — points to the action we’ll be able to see from our safe distance.

“Once they start the sand,” he says, “you’ll see it coming out of that hopper.”

The hopper is connected to a Sand King — which looks like a giant purple dumpster, 40 feet long, one end tilted into the air.

Seconds later, we see sand flowing into a trough that feeds a giant blender, which mixes the sand with water. Together, they’ll get pumped into the well, shattering the shale rock below ground.

Why New York Banned Fracking

New York State voters approve of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent decision to ban hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, by a margin of 55 to 25 percent. According to a recent Quinnipiac University poll, no political party, gender, age group, or regional interest group disapproves of the ban against fracking in New York State.

New fracking rules will not apply in Scotland, UK government pledges

The UK government has agreed to exclude Scotland from laws making it easier for fracking firms to drill for shale gas.

The Infrastructure Bill currently going through Westminster is set to allow underground access in England, Wales and Northern Ireland but not Scotland.

U.S. oil train rule changes would have side effects

Long-distance passenger and freight rail service could be headed for gridlock later this year if trains hauling crude oil and ethanol are limited to 40 miles per hour.

And it could get worse. If the controversial Keystone XL pipeline doesn’t win approval, the American Petroleum Institute estimates “an additional 700,000 barrels per day” will need to be shipped by freight rail. That would require an additional 1,000 rail tank cars every day to transport the tar sands oil the pipeline was intended to carry from Canada to the U.S.

San Jose City Council Unanimously Votes to Oppose Central Coast Oil Train Project

San Jose today became the latest city to oppose the proposed Phillips 66 oil train offloading facility in San Luis Obispo County. The city council voted unanimously to prepare a letter to the San Luis Obispo Planning Commission expressing serious concerns about the dangers of the project. If approved, this facility would bring mile-long oil trains carrying 2.5 million gallons of crude nearly every day through densely populated centers including San Jose.

Butte County seeks help dealing with oil train derailments

An ever-growing number of trains carrying a particularly volatile form of light crude oil through the Feather River Canyon has a worried Butte County asking for help and training to deal with a potential catastrophic derailment.

In recent years an increasing number of tanker trains filled with “Bakken light crude,” a variety of crude that is easily converted to gasoline, diesel fuel and jet fuel, have been rolling through the canyon above Lake Oroville on the Union Pacific railroad.

EPA proposes more restrictive standards for oil spill dispersants

Citing lessons learned during the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the Environmental Prrotection Agency on Tuesday proposed sweeping changes in regulations for the use of chemical dispersants and other substances in future spills.

The 247-page proposed rule includes more stringent standards for toxicity. It also would mandate that the inclusion of the chemicals in regional spill response plans, and the way they are used, be reviewed every five years. The rule would ban the use of dispersants in freshwater.

EPA Proposal Would Set New Limits on Toxic Oil-spill Dispersants

The Environmental Protection Agency today proposed a series of important steps to protect people, wildlife and the environment from chemical dispersants used to break apart oil after an oil spill. The rules, if enacted, would place new limits on the use of dispersants and require better testing and monitoring of the safety and efficacy of these products.

“Oil spills are bad, but often these dispersants make the problem worse, adding an extra layer of toxic chemicals that hurt wildlife and put people at risk,” said Miyoko Sakashita, director of the Oceans program at the Center for Biological Diversity. “We’re glad to see the EPA taking this problem seriously and pushing ahead with these changes.”

Shell still avoiding oil spill justice

The Nigerian community of Bodo hit the headlines this week. In a spectacular jiu jitsu manoeuvre, they forced a £55m ($83 million) settlement from Shell over two oil spills that destroyed their homes and livelihoods.

While this is an important victory for social movements, it’s not the end of the story. It’s part of a larger battle for justice in the Niger Delta, and this year will be pivotal.

Pipeline Corrosion Monitor Pleads Guilty to Pipeline Safety Violations

Randy Jones, 44, a former corrosion coordinator for Shell Pipeline Co. LP (Shell), pleaded guilty in Milwaukee earlier this month to failing to conduct bi-monthly voltage readings and an annual survey of a pipeline used to transport jet fuel in violation of the Pipeline Safety Act (PSA) and making a false statement to the Pipeline and Hazardous Material Safety Administration (PHMSA).

NM Pipeline Safety Bureau Chief is unlicensed engineer

The signs dot the New Mexico landscape and bear a short, urgent message: “WARNING: GAS PIPELINE.”

Unless they’re about to pierce the earth with a shovel or a backhoe, most people don’t give the signs a second thought. That’s the job of the state’s Pipeline Safety Bureau Chief.

It’s a job so important that it’s enshrined in state law.

Wyden tacks amendments on Keystone pipeline bill

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., on Tuesday introduced two amendments to a Senate bill to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

Wyden said his amendments would require foreign oil companies – not taxpayers – to be responsible for cleaning up oil spills and ensure taxpayers receive fair returns for energy produced on public lands, while minimizing environmental impacts.

Grueling fight on Keystone pipeline to hit new Senate

Senators are bracing for a debate over legislation on the Keystone XL pipeline that could take weeks to conclude, setting up an early test of GOP leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge to allow “regular order” in the upper chamber.

McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday threatened a midnight vote before senators agreed to move forward on the pipeline bill, and could soon turn to late nights and weekend work to muscle through a stack of amendments.

Attorney: Landowners still have options in Keystone pipeline dispute

Nebraska opponents of the Keystone XL oil pipeline will continue to fight the project, even though the state’s highest court allowed its planned route to stand, an attorney for the group said Monday.

Omaha attorney Dave Domina said landowners on the route can challenge the project again once pipeline developer TransCanada uses eminent domain to get access to their property. Once the company begins that process, Domina said individual landowners can fight the company in court battles that could take two to three years with appeals.

Keystone XL could face new lawsuit from Nebraska ranchers

The Keystone XL tar sands pipeline faces a potential new legal challenge and the prospect of further delays from ranchers along its proposed route in Nerbraska who say they “aren’t finished fighting” yet.

The threat of a new lawsuit, delivered in a video ultimatum from the ranchers’ lawyers, is almost certain to extend the saga of the Keystone XL in Nebraska – and in Washington, where open debate was scheduled to begin in the Senate on Monday afternoon ahead of an expected veto threat from Barack Obama.

Slippery Truths: What The Data Says About The Keystone XL Pipeline

After it was narrowly defeated last November, approval to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline has just passed in the Senate, and is expected to pass in the House of Representatives by the end of next week. President Obama plans to veto the legislation, after which it will be sent back to both houses of Congress for another round of voting.

Where Is Fox News’ Outrage Over Keystone XL Land Rights?

Fox News consistently pushes fears of government “land grabs” surrounding environmental regulations. But the network celebrated the recent court decision allowing TransCanada to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline on private land  — with no mention of the threat to landowner rights.

The Nebraska Supreme Court recently overturned a lower court ruling that would have protected the property rights of landowners who do not want the Keystone XL pipeline built on their land  and fear that a spill could devastate region’s drinking water and agriculture-based economy.

Activists Rally Across The U.S., Calling On White House To Reject Keystone XL

Anti-pipeline activists held rallies in states across the U.S. Tuesday, calling on the president to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

Activists gathered in cities and towns in nearly every U.S. state Tuesday as part of a coast to coast anti-Keystone XL event organized by multiple environmental organizations, including 350.org, CREDO, and the Indigenous Environmental Network.

Activists gather in Fargo, across Minnesota to protest Keystone XL pipeline

Protesters here, in tandem with activists across the country, rallied Tuesday against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

Environmental Groups, Citizens Hold Vigil About Keystone Pipeline

Folks against the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline joined together for a vigil in Duluth on Tuesday evening.

Local activists protest Keystone XL Pipeline

Environmentalists gathered outside the federal courthouse in Tallahassee Tuesday to protest congressional approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.

Activists gather to protest Keystone pipeline, tar sands oil extraction

The Republican-led Senate has made voting on the Keystone XL Pipeline bill a priority.

People rally against the Keystone XL Pipeline

On Tuesday, people were marching, chanting, and holding signs. Demonstrators in Burlington voiced their concerns about the Keystone XL Pipeline.

Keystone XL Pipeline protest in Wichita

The final phase of the Keystone XL Pipeline facing a major snag, both nationally and in Wichita.

Pioneer Valley activists call on President Obama to reject Keystone XL pipeline

Pioneer Valley climate activists braved the bitter cold Tuesday to stand out on Main Street here as part of a nationwide day of action against the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.

After the vote and the veto, the Keystone XL pipeline could make a comeback

The U.S. Senate launched its first great debate of 2015 this week, on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would carry oil from the tar sands of Alberta to the refineries of Texas. Predictably, the rhetoric was apocalyptic.

“I think XL stands for extra lethal,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), a leading opponent of the pipeline, pointing to the high lead content of Canadian oil. “This is really a big hug and a big kiss to Big Oil.”

Enbridge to build Gulf of Mexico pipeline

Enbridge Inc. has announced it will build an offshore crude oil pipeline extending to Hess Corporation’s Stampede Gulf of Mexico project.

The pipeline, called the Stamepde lateral, will connect the field to an existing third-party system. The line is expected to cost about $130 million and to be online by 2018. Enbridge said the lateral will be about 16 miles long and 18 inches in diameter.

First Nations launch Enbridge challenge

Two B.C. First Nations are filing a constitutional challenge in provincial supreme court alleging an “equivalency agreement” between the National Energy Board and B.C.’s Environmental Assessment Office should be void — since it hands decisions that impact B.C. First Nations to a federal jurisdiction.

The claim, filed Tuesday, seeks orders from the court that the B.C. Ministry of Environment should be making decisions relating to the Northern Gateway project by first consulting First Nations.

Arctic Explorers Retreat From Hostile Waters With Oil Prices Low

When Statoil ASA (STL) acquired the last of three licenses off Greenland’s west coast in January 2012, oil at more than $110 a barrel made exploring the iceberg-ridden waters an attractive proposition.

Less than two years later, the price of oil had been cut by almost half and Norway’s Statoil, the world’s most active offshore Arctic explorer in 2014, relinquished its interest in all three licenses in December without drilling a single well, Knut Rostad, a spokesman for the state-controlled company, said by e-mail.

Another nail in the coffin of Greenland’s Arctic oil hunt

With plummeting oil prices, impacts of Russian sanctions and changing weather patterns, those hunting for Arctic oil have never been under more pressure. Combine that with the growing global resistance and the repeated failures from oil companies to prove themselves capable to drill safely on the top of the world, the future looks dim for highly risky and controversial Arctic oil.

U.S. Robot to Tackle Toxic Water Leaks at Fukushima Atomic Plant

Kurion Inc. in California said it’s developing a robotic arm to go where humans can’t and repair water leaks in the Japan nuclear power plant crippled by an earthquake and tsunami almost four years ago.

The technology will be used at the No. 2 reactor at the Fukushima plant starting in mid-2016 under a contract with Japan’s IHI Corp., according to the Irvine-based company. That follows work by Kurion to use a robot at the site to search for leaks.

Fukushima-type reactor in Vermont gets the axe, concerns remain

A nuclear power plant near the town of Brattleboro, Vermont is being shut down thanks to local environmental activism. The Vermont Yankee plant ceased splitting atoms on Dec. 29 after more than 42 years of activity. The victory is one that will surely bring relief to activists and citizens alike, as the plant’s reactor was the General Electric Mark I, the same design as that of Fukushima, which infamously melted down and exploded, spewing radiation into the atmosphere.

Town near wrecked Fukushima No. 1 plant to host 30-year radioactive dump

An irradiated, abandoned town adjacent to the wrecked Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant has agreed to let the central government build a dump there which will house contaminated waste for as long as three decades, the town’s mayor said Tuesday.

Cleanup workers will toss radiation-tainted soil, leaves and debris in the facility in the town of Futaba, Fukushima Prefecture, Mayor Shiro Izawa said.

U.S. Lawmakers Want to Know More About Low-Dose Radiation, Draft Bill for Further Research

Low-dose radiation is the subject of a new investigation initiated in Congress. The news study was spurred by concerns over radiation, following the 2011 accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan.

Radiation constantly bombards everyone. The Earth itself contains radioactive elements, and air travelers receive additional doses every time they fly. Many medical treatments and tests also involve the use of low-level ionizing radiation.

Entergy: Radiation rule violation should get lower rating

Entergy Corp. acknowledged Tuesday that it didn’t follow some radiation safety monitoring procedures during a refueling of its Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in southwestern Michigan last year but says federal regulators should treat it as a low-level violation.

The New Orleans-based company presented its case at a hearing before the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Lisle, Illinois. The plant is on the shore of Lake Michigan in Van Buren County’s Covert Township, about 55 miles southwest of Grand Rapids.

Meeting wraps up NRC investigation into Palisades, decision expected next month

A meeting Tuesday was the last step in a lengthy investigation by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

The meeting was held between Entergy, the parent company of Palisades Nuclear Power Plant in Covert Township, and the NRC.

Long-term cellphone use linked to brain cancer

While I’m a big believer that cellphones should not be banned from golf courses, I’ve never been one to stop in the middle of a round and take a call that might hold up play. But if you’re a frequent golf-course phone user, a new study might give you pause.

A report released late last fall stated that the risk for glioma—the most common form of brain cancer—tripled among those using cellphones for more than 25 years. The risk of cancer also increased in young adults if they used a wireless phone before the age of 20.

Church’s price to kill cell tower: $750,000

Crossfire World Outreach Ministries on Tuesday made an unusual, public offer to opponents of a proposed cell tower at its south Eugene church: Pay big bucks and the tower proposal will disappear.

Nearby residents are upset over Crossfire’s plan to lease land next to its church at West Amazon Drive and Fox Hollow Road to AT&T. The firm wants to build a 75-foot cellphone tower disguised as an evergreen tree on the site.

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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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