Environmental Must-Reads – January 15, 2014


Letter to Gov. Brown: Californians United in Support of a Fracking Moratorium

Today, as the public comment period on fracking regulations ends, a broad and united coalition of 50 environmental, public health and social justice groups representing more than 2 million Californians just sent one unified comment, in the form of a letter, to Governor Brown asking him to place an immediate moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and other well stimulation activities. This letter can be viewed here. As we said back in July and have been saying for more than a year and a half now, California needs a time-out on fracking to allow the state the time it needs to thoroughly assess the health risks and environmental impacts, as well as how to protect against them.

EU Drafts Fracking Guidelines to Clarify Conflicting Laws

The European Union plans guidelines for shale drilling under proposals that may facilitate oil and gas extraction using the contested technique that’s brought the U.S. toward energy independence.

Are Towns In England Being Bribed To Accept Fracking?

Speaking in front of a fracking facility in Lincolnshire, England, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced new financial incentives for communities that embrace unconventional natural gas extraction.

Under the new rules, local councils will be allowed to keep 100 percent of the taxes levied on fracking projects in their area instead of the 50 percent previously allowed. That could mean as much as £1.7 million for local coffers for a typical 12-well site. Communities would also receive an additional £100,000 when a test well is fracked and would earn one percent of the company’s revenues over the lifetime of the wells.

Will Illinois Ban Fracking After Disaster Strikes Or Before?

An Illinois ban on fracking is inevitable. The question is whether it will happen before or after a major fracking disaster.

The public comment period on Illinois’ draft regulations ended January 3 with groups in potentially impacted areas repeating their call for a ban on fracking. A group of southern Illinois residents representing several grassroots groups drove to Illinois Department of Natural Resources headquarters in Springfield to join with Frack Free Illinois in delivering comments on the regulation and a petition asking Governor Quinn to oversee a rewrite.

Fracking chemicals may make oil extra explosive

Have you noticed the recent spate of oil-hauling trains bursting into flames? There was the devastating explosion last July in the town of Lac-Mégantic, Quebec. It sent a 100-foot-tall fireball into the air, flattened dozens of buildings, and killed 47 residents. In November, a train derailed in Alabama. This time the flames reached 300 feet high. On Dec. 30 in eastern North Dakota, a train explosion sent toxic smoke over homes, forcing most nearby residents to flee.

Senate panel approves bill encouraging acid mine drainage use in fracking

A bill aimed at encouraging the use of abandoned mine drainage for fracking is moving forward in Harrisburg.

On Monday the state Senate Appropriations committee approved the measure which amends Pennsylvania’s Environmental Good Samaritan Act. The bill would limit liability for natural gas drillers who use the polluted water.

Natural gas export project could hinge on court case

The future of a massive, controversial construction project on the Chesapeake Bay for exporting natural gas could depend on one poorly written sentence.

Attorneys for the Sierra Club were in court last week fighting the $3.8 billion proposal by Dominion Resources to renovate its terminal in Calvert County so the facility could send domestic gas overseas. The case — which turns on several words in a contract first signed in 1972 and rewritten over the years — is pending in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

Study Blows a Hole in EPA Claim That Homes Near Fracking Site Are Not in Danger

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) dropped an inquiry into claims that a gas-drilling operation had contaminated water in Parker County, Texas.  The move angered anti-fracking activists and the homeowners whose water is impacted by fracking operations.

Their anger will probably increase with the latest news:   Duke University researchers have confirmed that there are combustible levels of methane in some of the water wells in Parker County.

Parker, Wise residents meet again to express alarm over earthquakes

Residents of Wise and Parker counties said Monday that they will jam into the next meeting of the Texas Railroad Commission to demand answers about a spate of earthquakes that have shaken their communities west of Fort Worth.

To Drill Or Not to Drill—Debate Over Offshore Testing and Drilling in the Atlantic

Last year saw hundreds of complaints mounted against well-water contamination from oil or gas drilling in US, but the jury is still out as to whether hydraulic fracturing is to blame, news agencies report.

Complaints in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Texas—key venues of the US oil and gas boom—continue to suggest that drinking water is being contaminated by oil and gas operations, which has been confirmed in a number of cases, but not across the board.

To Drill Or Not to Drill—Debate Over Offshore Testing and Drilling in the Atlantic

With the United States is currently producing record amounts of oil and natural gas, thanks to fracking and other new technologies, the government is eyeing the possibility of conducting offshore seismic testing of the ocean floor off the Atlantic Seaboard for future oil drilling.

The deplorable story of how 300,000 West Virginians lost their water

Following a 7,500 gallon chemical spill that left 300,000 people without drinkable tap water for five days, West Virginia Gov. Earl Tomblin announced Monday that a nine-county tap water ban would begin to be lifted. The spill spurred a federal emergency declaration, 10 hospital admissions and new scrutiny on industry’s influence over state and federal policy.

To consider the fallout, Salon called up Dr. Jennifer Sass, a senior scientist for the Natural Resources Defense Council and lecturer for George Washington University. Sass blasted Freedom Industries’ handling of the emergency, called West Virginia “a state that’s not interested in enforcing … state or federal regulations,” and warned that an initially promising bill in Congress could make the situation worse. A condensed version of our conversation follows.

Company in W.Va. Oil Spill Under Scrutiny

When state inspectors showed up unannounced at Freedom Industries to investigate a licorice odor wafting across West Virginia’s capital city, company executive Dennis Farrell seemed to brush off any cause for concern.

But inspectors quickly found what was already contaminating the water for some 300,000 people: a chemical oozing from an above-ground tank and escaping through an old, cracked containment wall. A bag of absorbent material had been placed nearby and weighed down with a cinder block in a failed attempt to stop the flow.

Residents Concerned Over Lewis County Oil Spill

Myra Bonhage-Hale has spent decades in Lewis County growing produce at the La Paix Herb Farm outside of Alum Bridge, and said her organic growing is a highlight of her farming.

“I have been farming organically here for 33 years now, and sell my produce as organically grown,” Bonhage-Hale said.

But after an oil spill last week, Hale has been struggling with other issues. Crews from Consol Energy on hand to repair the leak have been working since it was reported, but Hale said they often block the road, and she’s concerned what would happen if something went wrong.

Approximately 150 Gallons Of Oil Spill Into Delaware River

The Coast Guard is supervising the cleanup of an accidental spill of approximately 150 gallons of heating oil into the Delaware River from a business in Gloucester City, Camden County.

Authorities say the heating oil spilled into a storm drain at the Blue Knight Energy Partners along the 200 block of Water Street about 9 a.m.

Utah Claims Settled by Phillips 66 for $2 Million

Oil refiner Phillips 66 has paid $2 million to settle allegations it helped itself to a state fund for cleaning up damage from leaking fuel storage tanks even though it had insurance to cover the cleanups.

Phillips 66 is among three major oil companies accused of double-dipping by Utah. Chevron Corp. has paid the state $1.8 million, and a similar lawsuit is pending against BP Amoco.

Trinidad Oil Spills Leave State-Owned Energy Company Scrambling To Clean Up

At least 11 oil spills have crippled parts of Trinidad and Tobago, coating miles of beach with crude as the state-owned energy company scrambles to control what’s being called one of the country’s worst environmental disasters.

Petrotrin, Trinidad’s state-owned oil company, first responded to an oil spill near La Brea on Dec. 17, according to a report from the Trinidad Guardian. Over the past month, the company has confirmed at least 11 spills and was slapped with a $3.1 million fine from the country’s Environmental Management Authority last week, which the company’s president, Khalid Hassanali, called “harsh.”

Texas high court ruling gives hope to landowners in eminent domain fight

TransCanada, the energy company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, was ordered by the Texas State Supreme Court last week to submit information on its use of eminent domain – an action that keeps a key landowner lawsuit alive.

Keystone opponents celebrated the move as a small victory in a larger battle against the company’s seizure of private property that has united left and right in Texas.

Rail Accidents Seen Pushing Obama to Approve Keystone XL

Recent railroad accidents are increasing the chances President Barack Obama will approve the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada, said Senator John Hoeven, a North Dakota Republican.

Hoeven, who supports TransCanada Corp.’s (TRP) proposed link between Alberta’s oil sands and U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, today said the debate is starting to swing back and put “more pressure on him to approve” the pipeline.

New U.S. Tank Car Rules Won’t Come Until 2015

New regulations that could require the railroad industry to improve, phase out or retrofit the tank cars it uses to haul crude oil and other flammable liquids are still more than a year away, according to a schedule published by the U.S. Department of Transportation Tuesday.

The new schedule, an update published in a short notice in the federal register, gave the most specific timetable yet for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration’s rule-making process. PHMSA is the agency responsible for the safety of hazardous-material transport.

Oil companies real beneficiaries of Canada’s Arctic highway extension

On Jan. 8 in Inuvik, Northwest Territories, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper presided over the groundbreaking ceremony of the extension of the Dempster Highway to Tuktoyaktuk, on on the Arctic Ocean’s coastline.

The extension will lengthen the highway 85 miles, finally bringing an all-weather road to Tuk. The existing road, which opened in 1979, stretches 452 miles from Dawson City, Yukon to Inuvik, crossing the Arctic Circle and several rivers in the process. Ferries allow vehicles to travel across the Peel and Mackenzie Rivers in the summer, when they are not frozen.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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