Environmental Must-Reads – January 21, 2015


Map: The Fracking Boom, State by State

As debate intensifies over oil and gas drilling, most states with frackable reserves are already fracking—or making moves to do so in the near future.

That translates to 22 states, from California to Texas, Michigan to West Virginia, currently employing this high-intensity form of energy extraction, and five others may soon follow. Called high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the controversial process became commercially viable in the late 1990s. It generally involves injecting millions of gallons of water, along with sand and chemicals, down a well to extract oil-and-gas reserves that were previously hard to access.

Geophysicist links earthquakes to oil and gas extraction

The disposal of waste saltwater from hydraulic fracturing could be to blame for a sharp increase in earthquakes in south-central Kansas, according to a geophysicist with the Kansas Geological Survey.

Rick Miller’s comments are the first by a state official to clearly suggest a link between hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, and the earthquakes that have rattled the area in the last two years, The Lawrence Journal-World reported

‘Ban fracking now’ protesters urge Gov. Wolf at inauguration

“Ban fracking now” shouted protesters during Gov. Tom Wolf’s oath of office from Soldiers’ Grove, who promised it will be words he will hear throughout the coming year.

After a morning rally at Grace Methodist Church on State Street, a group of about 250 from new statewide coalition Pennsylvanians Against Fracking marched to Soldiers’ Grove, across from the Capitol where inauguration festivities were held.

Community college to create fracking degree program

A southwestern Illinois community college has received the go-ahead to create a petroleum drilling technology, or fracking, program.

Lincoln Trail College in Robinson, Ill., will enroll its first students this fall. The college petitioned the state for the degree and received approval this month.

Bill would prohibit Florida utilities from charging for fracking

A bill filed in the state Legislature Tuesday would prohibit Florida utilities from charging customers for investment in fracking operations.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, filed the measure in response to a recent ruling by the Florida Public Service Commission that will allow Florida Power & Light to collect $191 million from ratepayers to invest in an Oklahoma fracking project.

How Fracking Impacts Everything, Including Professional Sports

Forget, for the moment, whether you think fracking is an energy godsend or an endtimes disaster. Just consider how it’s everywhere.

In the long run, fracking will impact our lives far more than four of its fellow inductees into the Merriam-Webster dictionary this past year: Hashtags, selfies, tweeps and turduckens all have their place in society. But none touch everyone’s lives like fracking will, and already has.

Enviro Groups Rally Against Fracking

Activists associated with last year’s Measure P campaign joined forces with larger organizations last week and vowed, in the wake of the initiative’s defeat, to continue their fight against expanded oil drilling in Santa Barbara County and beyond. Ahead of an evening forum held in conjunction with a statewide push by anti-fracking groups, a dozen people gathered at the courthouse Sunken Gardens on Thursday to rally against potential health and environmental effects of fracking and cyclic-steam injection.

Lower fracking demand hits Guar bean farmers

What do bean farmers in India’s Rajasthan and US sand miners in Wisconsin have in common?

They have been the beneficiaries of the shale revolution and the fracking boom to release oil and gas from rock.

Spain To Consider Fracking Following Canary Islands Failure

A highly controversial oil project that Spain’s national government had pinned its hopes on was just cancelled. Spanish oil giant Repsol has decided to call off drilling near the Canary Islands, a small chain of Spanish-controlled islands off the coast of Morocco.

While oil companies across the globe are slashing capital expenditures and scrapping rigs because of low oil prices, Repsol’s divisive campaign to drill off the coast of Canary Islands suffered from a different problem. Despite what was being billed as potentially the largest oil discovery in Spanish history, Repsol reported highly disappointing results from its surveying.

What it’s like to be the only woman in the fracking fields

Last week, we ran a series on how counties in Northern Pennsylvania dealt with the ramp-up and swift decline of natural gas drilling. It’s likely to come back, though, and many people have decided to make a career in the industry — including Amy Gallagher, 39, who got a job with a gas field services firm after graduating from a three-week course run by Pennsylvania College of Technology. She’s a rarity in a very male-dominated profession, but so far she likes what she sees. Here’s a transcribed conversation with Amy, slightly condensed.

Five Die After Crash In South Texas Oil Field

Five oil field workers died Thursday after their van crashed into a crude oil tanker truck, causing the truck to burst into flames.

The crash occurred in Dimmit County around 7 a.m. Central Time, when the oil tanker truck rolled onto its side after swerving to avoid a pickup truck. The van carrying the men and one other vehicle then hit the truck. Three others were injured in the crash, and one remains in critical condition with burns covering 85 percent of his body. The crash occurred on U.S. Highway 83.

Glendive oil spill not first for pipeline company

The oil pipeline responsible for a estimated 50,000-gallon spill into the Yellowstone River near Glendive on Saturday is one of four pipelines owned by Bridger Pipeline LLC.

The Poplar Pipeline System, which officials confirmed Sunday had ruptured, is a 10-inch and 12-inch line that moves crude oil from the eastern Williston Basin south to Baker, according to the company’s website.

Ice may delay restart of pipeline’s breached Montana section

A ruptured section of a pipeline that spilled 1,200 barrels of Bakken crude oil is under a frozen part of the Yellowstone River in eastern Montana, which may delay an investigation that is required for the pipeline’s restart.

The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration would need to sign off on the investigation before Bridger Pipeline LLC can restart the pipeline, said agency spokesman Damon Hill.

Cancer-Causing Agent Detected in Water After Montana Oil Spill

The city of Glendive, Montana, on Tuesday advised residents to not drink or cook with the water from the municipal water system due to contamination, possibly from a crude oil spill. Elevated levels of benzene, a cancer-causing component of oil, were found in water samples taken from a treatment plant that serves about 6,000 people in the agricultural community. Truckloads of fresh drinking water were being delivered to the city for distribution. Officials said work at the Glendive Water Treatment Plant was under way to remove the contamination and bring the system back on line. That includes increasing the dose of activated carbon, which removes contaminants.

Oil Spills Into Yellowstone River, Possibly Polluting Drinking Water

The scenic Yellowstone River has suffered its second sizable oil spill in four years, prompting truckloads of drinking water to be shipped into the eastern Montana city of Glendive. The latest spill is not expected to affect Yellowstone National Park, about 350 miles upstream.

Some oil from the weekend spill got into a water supply intake along the river that serves about 6,000 people in Glendive, according to preliminary tests at the city’s water treatment plant. The sample showed elevated levels of volatile organic compounds, predominantly benzene, that would explain the odor in tap water, officials at the plant said. The potential health risks are uncertain until further testing is complete, they said.

Benzene found in Montana water supply after Yellowstone oil spill

A cancer-causing component of oil has been detected in the drinking water supply of an eastern Montana city just downstream from a crude oil spill that entered the Yellowstone river.

Elevated levels of benzene were found in samples taken from a water treatment plant that serves about 6,000 people in the agricultural community of Glendive, near the North Dakota border, officials said.

BP trial’s last phase begins — penalty for gulf oil spill will be determined

The slowly unwinding Deepwater Horizon oil spill trial began its final phase Tuesday as a judge in New Orleans considers the record fine that oil giant BP must pay for the well blowout five years ago that killed 11 men and spawned the worst environmental disaster in American history.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier heard arguments from government lawyers and BP, which is liable for fines of up to $13.7 billion for violating the federal Clean Water Act as a result of the April 20, 2010, explosion in the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

BP trial resurrects gloomy images of 2010 Gulf spill

Images of oil-coated birds and testimony about “widespread sociocultural harm” opened the third phase of a trial to establish penalties BP must pay under the federal Clean Water Act for spilling millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The government wants the oil giant to pay another $13.7 billion for harming not just the birds and fish, but the business climate and social fabric of coastal communities.

BP, feds start fight in New Orleans courtroom over 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill fines

The U.S. Justice Department urged a federal judge on Tuesday to impose the maximum $13.7 billion fine on BP for its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. But attorneys for the oil giant said such a penalty would cause undue harm to the company.

Each side outlined their arguments during opening statements for the third and final phase of the civil trial on the spill, one of the nation’s largest environmental disasters.

Oil spill intensified Gulf inequality amid economic damage, U.S. witness says

Gushing oil in the Gulf of Mexico caused serious and widespread sociocultural destruction in Louisiana and other states and exacerbated inequality in a region marked by economic immobility, the U.S. government’s second witness in BP’s oil spill case said Tuesday.

Diane Austin, an anthropologist at the University of Arizona, said the Deepwater Horizon disaster five years ago hit the poorest Gulf communities hardest as the economic ripple effects of shuttered fisheries and halted oil and gas drilling spread from the commercial fishing and energy industries to small businesses, contractors and deckhands.

BP, U.S. attorneys clash in opening statements in oil spill trial

A U.S. prosecutor said in court Tuesday that government experts will show BP is overstating how well it mitigated the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, and that the company shouldn’t get much of a break on  a potential $13.7 billion in fines merely for complying with the law.

“We’re not here to say BP did a bad job in the response action – they didn’t,” Justice Department attorney Steven O’Rourke told a federal judge in New Orleans in opening statements to kick off the penalty phase of BP’s oil spill trial, which will continue for three weeks.

Five Things to Know About the Latest BP Gulf Oil Spill Trial

One should be forgiven for losing track of the never-ending legal warfare over the April 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. With lawyers swinging back into action in federal court in New Orleans this week, here’s a cheat sheet for sorting through the jurisprudential muck.

2010 BP Gulf oil spill penalties trial: Extent of damage to economy debated

Images of oil-coated birds and testimony about “widespread sociocultural harm” opened the third phase of a trial to establish penalties BP must pay under the federal Clean Water Act for spilling millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.

The government wants the oil giant to pay another $13.7 billion for harming not just the birds and fish, but the business climate and social fabric of coastal communities.

8 factors the court will use to determine BP’s oil spill fine

The third and final phase of the civil trial over the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill is set to begin Tuesday (Jan. 20). The three-week trial will determine how much BP will pay in Clean Water Act fines for the disaster. The British oil giant faces a maximum penalty of $13.7 billion.

The federal government is asking U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier to hit BP with the maximum fine, about $4,300 per barrel of oil spilled. BP says the fine should fall on the lower end of the statutory range.

Lab accepted Exxon tweaks to pipe report

Exxon Mobil successfully proposed numerous changes to a Texas laboratory’s report on the cause of the Pegasus pipeline’s 2013 rupture in Mayflower, even though the oil giant described the company as “independent,” according to newly unsealed documents in a class-action lawsuit.

Faced With Land Seizures, Defiant Nebraskans Vow to Halt Keystone XL

As Canadian energy company TransCanada filed eminent domain claims against Nebraska landowners on Tuesday for the construction of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, families whose properties are on the verge of forced seizure say they will do whatever is necessary to shut down the project.

Landowners from Nebraska’s York and Holt counties last week filed suit against TransCanada to stall or even stop construction of the Keystone XL pipeline through their state. On Tuesday, they continued to call on President Barack Obama to veto the project altogether.

Nebraskans File New Lawsuits That Could Stop The Keystone XL Pipeline

Nebraska landowners have launched two separate lawsuits that, if successful, could serve to delay or even stop the construction of the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The lawsuits, filed last week, represent Nebraska property owners’ second attempt to challenge the constitutionality of a law that gave the Keystone XL pipeline a legal route through the state and, by extension, their property. The landowners claim that TransCanada — the Canadian company that wants to build Keystone XL — made direct threats to use eminent domain and seize their land if they did not consent to having the pipeline run though it.

TransCanada Takes Steps to Acquire Keystone Pipeline Land

The developer of the Keystone XL oil pipeline made good on its promise Tuesday to try to seize access to the Nebraska land it needs to finish the project — the first steps it’s taken since the state’s high court removed a major legal barrier.

TransCanada employees said the company filed legal papers in nine Nebraska counties to invoke eminent domain for the land that’s needed to construct, operate and maintain the pipeline. The filings come just before the company’s two-year window closes Thursday.

Keystone pipeline firm files for eminent domain against Nebraska landowners

TransCanada Corp., the Canadian company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, filed eminent domain proceedings against an estimated 90 Nebraska landowners Tuesday to secure the right to build the controversial project across their property.

“Today we initiated these actions in the state of Nebraska, but that does not mean we’re done working toward a voluntary agreement,” said Andrew Craig, TransCanada’s land manager for Keystone projects. “Our goal today is that, over the next six months, we are able to address any concerns they have about the project…. The current landowner will continue to own the land.”

Rare Moment of Consensus for Senate on Keystone Pipeline

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved an amendment to the Keystone XL pipeline bill that is aimed at improving energy efficiency in buildings — a rare moment of bipartisan agreement in a tense debate that is nowhere near being settled.

Lawmakers voted, 91 to 5, to add the popular energy-efficiency provision to a contentious bill that would approve construction of the Keystone pipeline.

Enbridge officials: Bat habitat spared along proposed Sandpiper route

With talk of the Northern Long-Eared Bat being added to the endangered species list, there have been questions of how it could affect industries in the Northland.

“Each bat eats about its weight in insects every night. They provide an enormous service. That service is estimated to be in the order of six billion dollars of insect control each year in the U.S.” said Minnesota DNR Endangered Species Coordinator, Rich Baker.

Norway moves Arctic ice edge north, invites oil industry bids

Norway invited firms on Tuesday to drill for oil and gas further inside the Arctic Circle, putting the government at loggerheads with opposition parties as it seeks to open up new fields at a time of declining production.

Launching a new licensing round, Oslo said it would offer 57 blocks in the previously unexplored eastern part of the Barents Sea, which had been free of ice since 2004.

Norway Offers Northernmost Oil Blocks Amid Polar Ice Cap Row

Norway’s government offered its northernmost blocks for oil exploration after saying new data show that the Arctic ice cap has receded, rebuffing opposition from environmental groups and allies in parliament.

The 23rd licensing round will include 54 blocks in the Barents Sea, the same as was first proposed last year by the Conservative-led government, the Petroleum and Energy Ministry said in a statement Tuesday. Thirty four are in the Barents Sea southeast, an area formerly disputed by Russia and the first new acreage to be opened by Norway since 1994.

Motiva, other Shell entities, to pay $900,000 to settle EPA air pollution charges

Motiva Enterprises LLC, which has refinery operations in Norco and Convent, and two other companies affiliated with Shell Oil Co. have agreed to pay $900,000 to settle Clean Air Act violations alleged by the Environmental Protection Agency, agency officials announced Tuesday.

The alleged violations included selling gasoline and diesel fuel that did not conform to federal standards and record-keeping irregularities, according to the agreement. The two other companies are Deer Park Refining Limited Partnership and Equilon Enterprises LLC, which does business as Shell Oil Products U.S.

Tepco Vows Safety Review After Deaths at Fukushima Atomic Plants

Tokyo Electric Power Co. (9501) promised a review of safety procedures after the deaths of two workers in two days at the company’s damaged nuclear plants north of Tokyo and an increase in the frequency of accidents at the sites.

The deaths occurred at plants in Fukushima prefecture and could delay decommissioning work at the Dai-Ichi plant, said Takafumi Anegawa, a managing executive at the utility known as Tepco. Three reactors had meltdowns almost four years ago in Dai-Ichi following an earthquake and tsunami.

TEPCO to beef up on-site training after 2 deaths at Fukushima plants

Two workers died Jan. 20 in separate accidents at the Fukushima No. 1 and No. 2 nuclear power plants, prompting the operator to step up training programs to prevent a recurrence.

Akira Ono, manager of the Fukushima No. 1 power plant, told a news conference Jan. 20 that industrial accidents have been on the rise since the crippled No. 1 plant entered the full-fledged decommissioning phase.

Fukushima Watch: Regulator Calls on Tepco to Discharge Tritium Water

Japan’s nuclear regulator has officially called on Tokyo Electric Power Co.9501 to work toward discharging low-level contaminated water into the ocean from the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

The call on Wednesday comes just two days after a worker fell into one of the hundreds of tanks used to store contaminated water at the plant during an inspection, a fatal accident that has refocused attention on the need for improved safety measures and a longer term solution for the huge amounts of water in storage.

4 Years After the Meltdown, Investigating Fukushima’s Ecological Toll

Until a reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded on April 26, 1986, spreading the equivalent of 400 Hiroshima bombs of fallout across the entire Northern Hemisphere, scientists knew next to nothing about the effects of radiation on vegetation and wild animals. The catastrophe created a living laboratory, particularly in the 1,100 square miles around the site, known as the exclusion zone.

US House passes low-dose radiation bill

The US Department of Energy (DOE) and National Academy of Sciences have been directed to work together to assess the current status of US and international research on low-dose radiation and to formulate a long-term research agenda under a bill approved by the US House of Representatives.

The Low Dose Radiation Research Act of 2015 (HR 35) directs the two organisations to carry out a research program “to enhance the scientific understanding of and reduce uncertainties associated with the effects of exposure to low dose radiation in order to inform improved risk management methods.” The study is to be completed within 18 months.

EPA Claims Air Safe to Breathe Near Burning Bridgeton Landfill

The EPA is out with a new study claiming the air around the burning Bridgeton landfill is safe to breathe.

EPA Regional Administrator Karl Brooks says the seven-month study from May through December last year found no harmful levels of alpha, beta or gamma radiation.

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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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