Environmental Must-Reads – January 16, 2015


Study: High levels of pollutants from drilling waste found in Pa. rivers

New scientific sampling and analysis has found high concentrations of ammonium and iodide, two potentially hazardous pollutants, in oil and gas well drilling wastewater discharged into streams and rivers in Pennsylvania and other states.

The peer-reviewed study, which will be published this week in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, is the first to identify those contaminants as widespread in the wastewater discharges from spills and treatment plants, including three facilities in the Allegheny River watershed.

Obama Climate Change Plan To Cut Methane Emissions From Oil And Gas Industry Lacks Regulatory Muscle, Enviros Say

The Obama administration’s plan to cut methane pollution from U.S. oil and gas operations doesn’t have enough regulatory muscle to beat back the dangerous greenhouse gas, environmental experts say. The White House announcement Wednesday drew tepid praise from green groups, while some scientists criticized officials for downplaying the scope of the methane threat.

The proposals would work to reduce methane leaks at oil and gas sites and along pipeline networks. Faulty equipment and leaky systems cause more than 8 million metric tons of unburned methane to seep into the atmosphere each year — the climate equivalent of running 180 coal-fired power plants. Federal regulators say they will set new standards to minimize leaks in new and modified oil and gas systems, while officials and companies will work together to craft voluntary guidelines for existing facilities.

Plug Those Leaks: Why Obama’s new methane regulations are a big deal.

Wednesday morning the White House announced a new plan to crack down on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. The move is the last major piece of President Obama’s domestic climate agenda, following in the footsteps of tougher standards for vehicle emissions and a sweeping plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

EPA Emission Regs Ignore 1.1 Million Existing Sources

The new greenhouse gas rules unveiled by the White House Wednesday will ignore the nation’s greatest source of methane gas: more than 1.1 million existing oil and natural gas wells, hydraulic fracturing operations, horizontal drilling sites, processing facilities, pipelines and other sites.

“It’s a missed opportunity to regulate a large source of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Joel Mintz, a professor at the Nova Southeastern University Shepard Broad Law Center and former chief attorney with the Environmental Protection Agency. “I imagine they’re going to rely on a voluntary approach – those don’t work out well, but in this case maybe they have a very cooperative industry that’s going to do the right thing.”

Report: Fracking Imperils Southern California Residents, Wildlife

A state report released Wednesday says that fracking at three oil fields in Southern California poses significant potential risk to the environment and public health.

The analysis by the California Department of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources comes as part of a draft Environmental Impact Report analyzing the effect of well enhancement practices such as hydraulic fracturing and acidizing, generally lumped together in public discussions under the term “fracking,” on California’s environment.

Tomblin calls for study of increased deaths from gas-drilling boom

Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin is calling for a study aimed at reversing the increase in workplace deaths that has accompanied the boom in natural gas drilling and production from the Marcellus Shale fields in Northern West Virginia.

The governor offered few details of the initiative, but announced the effort Wednesday evening as part of his annual State of the State address.

Companies will be legally required to reveal chemicals used for fracking

Fracking companies will be legally bound to reveal the chemicals used to blast gas out of every well they drill and to better monitor for groundwater pollution, under concessions made by the government in parliament. But the Labour party, which proposed the changes, said many flaws remained and ministers remain “zealously opposed” to the necessary regulation.

Trafford residents concerned about gas drilling plans in nearby Penn

Some Trafford residents talked Monday about their fears of a plan for Marcellus Shale gas drilling nearby.

The proposed drilling site, on farmland in the Level Green area of Penn Township, is less than 2,000 feet from a subdivision of dozens of homes within Trafford boundaries.

At an informational meeting borough leaders organized, residents cited the possibility of their property value decreasing if drilling occurs, and they said they are fearful of possible environmental and health risks.

California fracking hasn’t unearthed an oil boom

About 20 percent of California’s oil and natural-gas production uses hydraulic fracturing — with almost all of it happening in one corner of the San Joaquin Valley — according to the most authoritative survey yet released of fracking in the Golden State.

Oil companies frack 125 to 175 of the roughly 300 wells drilled in California each month, according to the survey released Wednesday by the California Council on Science and Technology. Nearly 93 percent of all fracked wells lie in western Kern County or in nearby Fresno County, both of which sit atop the vast Monterey Shale formation — a potential treasure trove of oil.

How local government played catch-up as a fracking boom rolled through

Most weekdays for the past 19 years, Erick Coolidge has gotten up at 4 in the morning, gone to help milk his 240-odd cows, then put on a suit and headed to the courthouse in Wellsboro, where he serves as a Tioga County commissioner. Take a ride with him around Wellsboro, and at some point — after winding through narrow country roads to visit well pads effectively hidden by the landscape’s rolling topography — you’ll end up on top of a ridge that has been in his family for five generations.

“At night, when you’re looking down at the lights, it’s like being in an airplane,” Coolidge says softly, after driving up the hill in his sport-utility vehicle. “I bring everybody here because it’s so beautiful.”

As gas activity started ramping up in 2008, it wasn’t clear that pastoral beauty would survive. Actually, it wasn’t clear what was happening, period.

Kansas tremblers likely caused by oil and gas fracking process

The mysterious earthquakes in south central Kansas are likely linked to high-pressured injection of massive amounts of saltwater into disposal wells, top state government officials told the Lawrence Journal-World (this week).

It’s the first time state officials have so clearly stated the cause of the earthquakes that are afflicting south central Kansas where a process called hydraulic fracturing or fracking that is used to extract oil and natural gas is occurring.

Illinois community college to offer degree in fracking

Lincoln Trail College this month announced the Robinson based community college would launch a petroleum drilling technology degree program. The program is set to officially welcome students in the fall of 2015. College administrators explained the program’s launch is vital to the area, citing horizontal fracking technology will soon make its way to the already oil-rich Southern Illinois area.

“We didn’t want to be left behind, so we petitioned to the state to bring this program back we called it petroleum drilling.”

Seismologists Disagree Over Texas Earthquake Swarm

A swarm of recent earthquakes that has rattled residents in and around Irving, Texas, has sparked a disagreement among seismologists over how to determine whether fracking could be to blame.

On the one side, the seismologist for the regulatory agency overseeing the state’s oil and gas industry said he sees no connection between the two.

Two new reports shed light on fracking in California

Two highly anticipated reports on hydraulic fracturing in California were released on Wednesday, with one discounting environmentalists’ fears that a fracking boom is imminent and the other suggesting that fracking being conducted in Ventura County’s Sespe oil field is creating environmental risks.

A draft environmental impact report on the practice of hydraulic fracturing examines impacts on three specific oil fields, including the Sespe field in the Los Padres National Forest just north of Fillmore.

BP faces largest oil pollution penalty in U.S. history as final phase of trial begins

Dozens of lawyers will return to a New Orleans federal courtroom Tuesday (Jan. 20) to begin the final leg of arguments over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico spill — its cause, its impact, and, ultimately, its price tag in pollution fines.

The third, three-week phase of the civil trial will determine how much BP, the owner of the failed Macondo oil well, owes in penalties under the federal Clean Water Act.

BP oil spill smaller than feared, judge rules

BP faces a fine of up to $13.7bn (£9bn) after a US judge ruled that the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill was smaller than initially feared.

His ruling put the spill at 3.2 million barrels – the US government had estimated it at 4.09 million barrels.

It shields the oil giant from what could have been a $17.6bn fine. A final figure is expected later this month.

Judge’s decision could cost BP $13bn for Deepwater Horizon oil spill

A federal judge determined on Thursday that more oil than BP estimated spilled into the Gulf of Mexico following a rig explosion in 2010, a decision that could potentially cost the London-based oil giant more than $13bn.

US district judge Carl Barbier ruled that 3.19 million barrels – just under 134m gallons – were discharged into the Gulf after a rig explosion at BP’s Macondo well. The number is more than the 2.4m barrel figure BP had argued for and less than the government’s estimate of about 4.2m, a figure that could have meant $18bn in maximum penalties under the Clean Water Act.

Judge’s Ruling on Gulf Oil Spill Lowers Ceiling on the Fine BP Is Facing

A federal judge will hold BP responsible for spilling 3.19 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster — a finding that could lead to a penalty of nearly $14 billion.

Judge Carl J. Barbier of Federal District Court in New Orleans issued the ruling on Thursday. In a 44-page finding of fact that anticipates the coming third phase of the sprawling federal case over the spill, Judge Barbier wrote that the company actually spilled four million barrels of oil into the gulf but, considering its collection efforts, BP should be held responsible for a net discharge of 3.19 million, or about 134 million gallons.

Verdict due in Colombian farmers’ £18mn High Court lawsuit against BP

A British High Court will decide whether UK oil firm BP should pay £18 million to Colombian farmers, following allegations that a faulty pipeline caused environmental devastation in central Colombia and resulted in economic losses for regional farmers.

The Ocensa pipeline, which carries 650,000 barrels of crude oil daily from central Colombia to the state’s Caribbean coastline, was laid in the mid-1990s.

230,000 People Told Not To Drink Their Water After Diesel Fuel Spill In Canada

The 230,000 residents of Longueuil, a city just outside of Montreal, Canada, have been told that their tap water is unsafe to drink following a diesel fuel spill that leaked into the water supply.

According to media reports, 7,400 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from a city-owned wastewater treatment center in Longueuil, apparently due to equipment failure. Canada’s CBC News reported that the spilled diesel made its way into the sewers from a generator, eventually flowing into the river that supplies drinking water to the city.

Longueuil water advisory remains in effect for second day

The City of Longueuil says a water advisory will remain in effect on Montreal’s South Shore following this week’s oil spill into the St. Lawrence River.

Mayor Caroline St-Hilaire told an early-morning news conference Friday that tests on the water supply would continue.

Spanish oil firm says Canary Island exploration unsuccessful

Spanish energy company Repsol says it has ended oil and gas exploration off the Canary Islands after analysis showed there were insufficient finds to merit extraction.

The search, begun in November, had generated much opposition as island residents and ecologists feared spills could damage the Spanish archipelago, one of Europe’s biggest tourism magnets and home to an important fishing industry.

North Dakota looks to hire more pipeline inspectors

Aaron Morman is the state’s only intrastate natural gas pipeline inspector. He covers about 6,000 miles of gas lines in the state doing a number of inspections on things such as records, operations, maintenance and operator qualifications.

“I spend a lot of time on the road,” he said. “We’re booked up pretty solid all the time.”

Regulators slap Plains Midstream Canada with pipeline audit

Plains Midstream Canada must hire a third party to audit its pipelines in Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario, regulators said on Thursday, an order that came after the company failed to comply with previous safety directives.

Plains Midstream, a subsidiary of Plain All American Pipeline, has been under scrutiny by Canada’s National Energy Board since a corrective action plan in 2010 highlighted safety and environmental issues.

Canada disses Obama, postpones meeting with U.S. over Keystone pipeline: report

The White House confirmed Thursday that Canada has postponed the North American Leaders Summit scheduled for next month but would not say whether tension over the Keystone XL oil pipeline is the reason.

Canada, this year’s summit host, announced Thursday that the summit will be held later in 2015, though no exact date has been set. Some Canadian media outlets, such as the Toronto Sun, reported that the meeting was rescheduled because of President Obama’s continued indecision on Keystone, which the Canadian government strongly supports.

Terri Sewell takes questions on controversial Keystone pipeline vote at Bessemer town hall

U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell defended her vote in favor of building the Keystone XL pipeline at a town hall meeting in Bessemer Thursday evening.

Sewell, D-Birmingham, was one of 28 Democrats who joined the Republican majority approve the building of the pipeline last week. She called that vote one of her “most controversial” Thursday.

Lawsuit Seeks Study of Enbridge Pipeline

How do you know it’s safe if you’ve never studied it? That’s the question environmental advocates want answered in response to the government’s decision to allow oil to flow through an old pipeline under some of the state’s most pristine areas.

The Enbridge Energy pipeline runs across the Upper Peninsula, under the Straits of Mackinac and through the Lower Peninsula. It’s been more than 60 years since the line was built – and in all those years, said Marvin Roberson, a forest ecologist with the Sierra Club Michigan Chapter, there’s never been an environmental risk study by any federal or state agency.

Plunging Oil Prices Cast Doubt on Arctic Drilling

As oil prices continue to plummet, some corporations are scaling back on expensive exploration projects — like drilling in Arctic waters. But, one company with a major stake in the region has yet to tip its hand. Within the last few months, a handful of oil companies have backed away from the Arctic. Chevron decided to stop seeking government approval to work north of Canada. And over in Greenland, Statoil gave back three of its four licenses to drill offshore.

But Royal Dutch Shell has been quiet about whether it’s still planning to go back to Alaska this summer for the first time in three years.

Oil Price Drop Puts Russia’s Arctic Drive in Question

While governors of Russia’s Arctic regions agreed Thursday that the development of the Arctic would be the “next space program,” there are increased fears that the recent plunge in oil prices could jeopardize these ambitious plans.

The governors of the Murmansk, Arkhangelsk and Chukotka regions, as well as of the head of the Yamal-Nenets autonomous district, Arctic experts and Duma deputies, were speaking at the Arctic session of the annual Gaidar forum in Moscow. The momentum Russia’s Arctic policy has gained in recent years was reflected by the turnout for the event: The panel’s hall was packed with journalists and experts, with dozens of people sitting and standing on the stairs.

Ex-minister Suggests Pause in Russian Arctic Oil

“Arctic offshore oil production is only profitable at an oil price of 100-120 dollars per barrel” says Former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov, writes Barentsobserver portal.

Primakov says there is no reason for Russia to be in a hurry when it comes to developing oil projects in the Arctic, as the country has several other fields that can be developed for less money

Bucking the trend

Even as the oil industry steps back from expensive oil projects, Gazprom Neft said today that it expects to expand its exploration in the high-cost Arctic after being awarded the rights to an additional two off-shore areas.

The news comes on the same day BP and ConocoPhillips said they would cut 500 jobs at North Sea production facilities in response to decaying oil prices. On Tuesday, media reports announced that firms exploring on the Greenlandic continental shelf were fleeing the country in the face of falling prices.

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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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