Environmental Must-Reads – January 23, 2014


Australia Divided on Fracking

Debate over hydraulic fracturing is growing in Australia, where environmentalists are concerned about new efforts to tap the country’s substantial reserves of oil and natural gas.

So far, experts say, hydraulic fracturing has made few inroads in Australia. But the practice, also known as fracking, is expected to grow as Australia seeks more natural gas for export. Fracking involves extracting oil or gas from shale rock with a high-pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals.

Proposed fracking in national forest meets broad opposition

The headwaters of the Potomac River rise amid the hills and hollows of George Washington National Forest in Virginia. Small creeks dart past oak, white pine and hickory, become streams that nourish farmland and towns, and create a river that courses through two states and the nation’s capital.

About 4 million people depend on that water. For decades, the U.S. Forest Service identified preserving its purity as the top priority for the national forest. Now, the agency is considering allowing George Washington to become the first national forest to permit high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

European Commission issues new guidelines for fracking

The European Commission issued Wednesday recommendations to ensure that clear environmental safeguards are in place when the controversial technique of “fracking” is used to tap shale gas reserves.

With a number of European countries looking to begin drilling for shale gas, the Commission said it was responding to calls for “minimum principles … to address environmental and health concerns and give operators and investors the predictability they need,” said Environment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

State and National Groups Fear O’Malley Decision On Fracking In Maryland By August

In a letter to Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and his administration, 14 state and national groups requested that the governor reveal his timeline for making a decision on fracking. Pointing out that the governor’s fracking commission is scheduled to issue its final report in August and that O’Malley’s term is over in January 2015, the groups asked O’Malley to disclose if he plans to make a decision on fracking between August 2014 and January 2015.

NREL working to clean air in fracking process

In the annals of impressive eating, there was The Cat That Swallowed the Canary and The Eggplant That Ate Chicago. Now, add The Microbe That Consumes the Methane.

A microbe capable of digesting methane could save countless tons of greenhouse gas from reaching the atmosphere during the hydraulic fracturing process. Hydraulic fracturing, also known as fracking, uses pressurized water to fracture rock to release natural gas. It’s been a boon to local economies and a source of inexpensive fuels—but if nothing is done to capture the byproduct methane, which is typically flared in the air, it can also contribute heftily to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Concerns Continue over Fracking Waste on the Ohio River

In the wake of the recent chemical spill in West Virginia that tainted the water supply for 300,000 people, there’s a call to beef up protections for water Ohioans depend on.

The U.S. Coast Guard is expected to decide soon on whether to allow waste from fracking to be shipped along U.S. waterways, including the Ohio River.

Anti-fracking activists to protest Cuomo’s Los Angeles fundraiser

It wouldn’t be a high-profile fundraiser for Gov. Andrew Cuomo without an appearance from anti-fracking protesters. Even if that fundraiser happens to be in Los Angeles.

Cuomo will travel to California today to attend a big-money fundraiser for his re-election campaign, which will be hosted by a number of A-list Hollywood executives and held at the home of Fox Filmed Entertainment Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos. Tickets run from $5,000 to $25,000 per person.

Discord runs deep on new drilling rules

Four members of the Department of Environmental Protection presided over a divided house Wednesday night at Washington & Jefferson College.

Every five minutes, either the left side of the room or the right would break into applause at the first southwestern Pennsylvania public hearing of the agency’s proposed new oil and gas regulations.

A closer look: Pa. Supreme Court decision on fracking

The state Supreme Court recently declared unconstitutional certain provisions of Act 13, the state natural gas drilling law. While only a handful of provisions were struck down, the impact could be far-reaching, according to Penn State Dickinson School of Law professor Ross Pifer.

“Is the rest of the statute so integrally connected to the unconstitutional statutes that they, too, must be struck down?” Pifer asked.

Ohio House planning changes to fracking-tax bill

As House Republicans and Gov. John Kasich butt heads over an industry-backed proposal to levy severance taxes on fracking in Ohio, the bill is set to undergo significant changes as soon as next week.

“There are changes that can be made to satisfy a whole host of people who have concerns,” said Rep. Matt Huffman, R-Lima, the bill’s sponsor and No.2 House leader. “I don’t think there are changes we can make to satisfy the governor’s office.”

Backlash Grows Over Plan To Store Fracked Oil In Pittsburg

Some heavy hitters have come out against a plan to ship a highly-flammable and explosive type of crude oil to Pittsburgh.

A company called WesPac Energy wants to start bringing the substance, known as Bakken shale oil, to the Delta town by rail and to store it there before shipping it to the Bay Area’s five refineries via pipeline.

North Texans to Texas Railroad Commission: Stop the ‘Frackquakes’

The North Texas citizens at the Texas Railroad Commission hearing this morning tried to make it as simple as possible: For as long as anyone could remember, there hadn’t been earthquakes in Azle and surrounding areas. Then the fracking boom took off and the wastewater injection wells went in. Soon the earthquakes started, more than 30 in just the past few months, rattling homes and nerves. A considerable amount of research, including work by SMU scientists, links wastewater injection wells to earthquakes.

“No disrespect, but this isn’t rocket science here,” said Linda Stokes, the mayor of Reno, a small town 20 miles northwest of downtown Fort Worth. “Common sense tells you the wells are playing a big role in this.”

Study Links Natural Gas Drilling and Spills to Hormone Disrupting Chemicals

Chemicals used in gas drilling work against our endocrine system, a network of glands and cells that release hormones into our bodies.  The chemical disrupters can effect fertility, sperm counts, cause breast and prostate cancer, compromise our immune system, and even contribute to obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes.

The University of Missouri studied surface and ground water samples from sites where a spill had occurred in Garfield County, Colorado, an area with more than 10,000 active natural gas wells.  They compared the data to areas of Garfield County where no spills had occurred and Boone County, Missouri with no natural gas wells.

Millions spent by pro-frackers

A new report shows pro-fracking interest groups have spent a staggering $64.3 million on campaign contributions and lobbying efforts in attempts to pressure state lawmakers to allow high-volume hydraulic fracturing in New York.

Hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as “fracking”, is a natural gas extraction process that blasts high volumes of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals into gas-rich rock formations to release the natural gas.

Volunteers use airborne patrols, satellite photos to spot oil spills along Louisiana coast

Jonathan Henderson was shouting to be heard over the engine noise in the small plane as it circled above an oil rig just off the Louisiana coast. A ribbon of colored water extended from the rig for about 100 yards, and Henderson had asked the pilot for a closer look.

“Right there, that’s sheen,” Henderson yelled. “In fact, rainbow sheen tells us it’s oil, and it’s probably coming from that platform.”

Oil Trains Spilled More Crude Last Year Than In The Previous 38 Years Combined

A new analysis of government data shows that more oil was spilled from trains in the U.S. in 2013 than in every year between 1975 and 2012 combined. Railcars released more than 1.15 million gallons of crude oil last year, reports McClatchy’s Curtis Tate, while only a combined 800,000 gallons were spilled in the previous 38 years.

Forget West Virginia. Chemical Spills Are an American Tradition

The chemical spill in West Virginia may seem to many like a rare catastrophe, and the sheer scope of a man-made calamity that could deprive hundreds of thousands of drinking water for days will naturally garner widespread attention. Perhaps even more alarming is that this type of thing happens all the time. Even a quick dig through U.S. media reports and other data find no shortage of spills

Cuba announces new plans for oil exploration

Cuba has announced new plans to drill for oil from land, while experts say its prospects for deep-water explorations remain grim because of more promising opportunities in Mexico, Brazil and West Africa.

The state-owned Cuba Petroleo, or CUPET, this year plans to drill a 27,000-foot-long well, the longest ever drilled on the island, according to an EFE news agency dispatch based on a Havana television news report late Tuesday.

Cuba Pushes Ahead With Oil Drilling, But U.S. Fears Potential Spills Reaching Florida

Despite repeated failed efforts to find oil, the Cuban government has pledged to resume offshore drilling in the deep waters of the Florida Straits, raising concerns in the U.S. about the threat of environmental damage along Florida’s coastline.

After a trip to Havana, former Senator and Florida Gov. Bob Graham said that the Cuban government is working with energy companies from Angola and Brazil to drill exploratory wells next year along the U.S.-Cuban maritime border. In desperate need of hard currency, Cuban officials believe that the country has billions of dollars of oil reserves sitting below the surface of its waters — even as multiple attempts to source it have come up short or empty.

Waste well not a likely to produce a sinkhole, officials say

Residents close to the proposed Vanguard Environmental wastewater well in Houma should not fear it will eventually become a sinkhole like the 24-acre one in Assumption Parish, officials said.

Two weeks ago, the state Supreme Court rejected Terrebonne Parish’s appeal of a lawsuit that would have stopped Vanguard from drilling, upholding a lower court’s ruling that said the state Department of Natural Resources, not the parish, has exclusive authority to grant permits for such wells.

TransCanada’s Keystone XL South Pipeline Set To Begin Operations Today

Today, January 22, the southern portion of TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline is set to become operational, although environmentalists and Texas homeowners are continuing to fight against it.

TransCanada is surely celebrating now that it has a pipeline system in place connecting the tar sands in Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast refineries and export terminals — via the combination of the original Keystone pipeline running from Alberta to Cushing, Oklahoma and the pipeline it connects to, Keystone XL’s southern half (now rebranded the Gulf Coast Pipeline Project) which President Obama fast-tracked via executive order nearly two years ago.

TransCanada Ships Oil Through Gulf Pipeline

TransCanada Corp. began shipping crude oil through its Gulf Coast pipeline on Wednesday, the latest project to bring growing volumes of oil to the heart of the U.S. refining industry.

The pipeline will start delivering 300,000 barrels a day of crude oil Wednesday to the Houston area, which is home to about a quarter of U.S. fuel-making capacity, from the storage and pricing hub in Cushing, Okla. The pipeline will transport an average of 520,000 barrels a day in 2014, TransCanada executives said during a call with reporters.

Citizens With Cameras to Monitor TransCanada’s New Pipeline

Today, Texas residents picked up their cameras as the Canadian company TransCanada started operations on its new $2.3 billion pipeline carrying tar sands crude oil from Cushing, Oklahoma to refineries in Nederland, Texas. The Gulf Coast pipeline can initially transport 700,000 barrels of diluted bitumen per day and can be expanded to transport 830,000 barrels a day.

The 485-mile Gulf Coast Pipeline is the southern leg of what TransCanada proposes to be the much longer Keystone XL pipeline carrying tar sands crude in the form of diluted bitumen from northern Alberta to Texas.

Landowners seek answers on oil pipeline

A steady stream of landowners attended a two-hour open house Wednesday evening in Crete, eager to learn more about a proposed oil pipeline, including its exact route and how safe it would be.

Enbridge Energy Co., based in Calgary, Alberta, hosted the public session at the Village Woods Retirement Community with lots of maps and brochures on its plan to install a 79-mile pipeline that will carry crude oil from downstate Pontiac to Griffith, Ind. A computerized map showed exactly which properties would be impacted.

Arctic Ocean oil drilling opponents win appeal

The U.S. government violated the law when it opened millions of acres of the Arctic Ocean to offshore oil drilling, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday, possibly delaying plans by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell to drill off the northwest coast of Alaska in the near future.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the Interior Department did not properly evaluate the impact of oil development in the Chukchi Sea when it sold more than $2.6 billion in development leases in the environmentally sensitive area in 2008.

Court rules offshore oil leases in Alaska Arctic are too flawed

In another blow to offshore oil drilling in the Alaska Arctic, a federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled in favor of environmental and Alaska Native groups and concluded the federal government failed to properly evaluate the scale of oil production that could result from a 2008 lease sale, throwing those leases into question.

Royal Dutch Shell, the biggest leaseholder offshore in Alaska and the only one that’s drilled in the Arctic in recent years, said only, “We are reviewing the opinion.” The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Department of Interior agency that manages oil lease sales, declined to comment on “pending litigation.”

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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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