Environmental Must-Reads – January 29, 2015


Tanks overflow, cause oil spill near Williston

Tanks that overflowed released nearly 40,000 gallons of oil and brine northwest of here, the North Dakota Department of Health said Wednesday.

Oasis Petroleum reported that 490 barrels of oil and 455 barrels of produced water brine, or saltwater, were released about 11 miles northwest of Williston. Crews have recovered 487 barrels of oil and 454 barrels of brine.

Oil spill reported in North Dakota

The North Dakota Department of Health announced an oil spill in the western part of the state, at the least third release so far this month.

The state agency said Oasis Petroleum reported that 490 barrels of oil and 455 barrels of brine, a liquid associated with production, were released as a result of a tank overflow. Nearly all of the released material has been recovered as of the Wednesday announcement.

Lawmakers call for higher pipeline standards in wake of spills

The North Dakota Industrial Commission called Wednesday for better monitoring of pipelines and higher standards for those that cross major bodies of water as crews continue cleaning up two major pipeline spills that affected the state’s waterways.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Industrial Commission chairman, also said the state should speed up research on new technology that could prevent pipeline leaks.

Enterprise Products seeks cause of West Virginia pipeline explosion

The operator of a pipeline that exploded in Brooke County is seeking the cause of the blast.

Monday’s explosion sent flames shooting several hundred feet into the air. No injuries were reported.

Methane Leaks From Gas Pipelines Far Exceed Official Estimates, Harvard Study Finds

Methane is leaking from natural gas infrastructure in Boston and the surrounding region at rates two to three times higher than government estimates, scientists at Harvard University and other institutions found.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last week, the researchers’ paper is the first peer-reviewed study that quantifies emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, from natural gas installations in urban areas—including pipelines, storage terminals and power plants. The amount of methane lost over a year in the study area is worth $90 million, the authors wrote.

Oklahoma Court to Decide Whether Fracking Companies Are to Blame for Spate of Earthquakes

The Oklahoma Supreme Court is set to make a decision that could, for the first time, legally acknowledge that the oil and gas industry may have something to do with the swarm of earthquakes the state has experienced in recent years, the Tulsa World reports.

The case, brought by Prague, Oklahoma resident Sandra Ladra, centers around a 5.7 magnitude earthquake, the strongest ever recorded in the state, that struck the region on November 5, 2011 amid a series of similar quakes, destroying 13 homes. The quake caused pieces of rock to fall from Ladra’s fireplace and chimney onto her legs and lap. She was treated for injuries in an emergency room.

Oklahoma worries over swarm of earthquakes and connection to oil industry

The earthquakes come nearly every day now, cracking drywall, popping floor tiles and rattling kitchen cabinets. On Monday, three quakes hit this historic land-rush town in 24 hours, booming and rumbling like the end of the world.

“After a while, you can’t even tell what’s a pre-shock or an after-shock. The ground just keeps moving,” said Jason Murphey, 37, a Web developer who represents Guthrie in the state legislature. “People are so frustrated and scared. They want to know the state is doing something.”

Scotland Just Announced An Indefinite Ban On Fracking

The Scottish government has announced that it will place a temporary ban on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, the Guardian reported Wednesday.

Scottish energy minister Fergus Ewing reportedly told the country’s parliament that the ban would allow for time for the government to conduct a public health assessment on the process. The decision and rationale closely resembles that of former New York Governor David Paterson, who in 2008 imposed a moratorium on fracking in the state pending a full-scale public health study. That moratorium lasted six years, and ended with current Gov. Andrew Cuomo banning the practice.

Block on fracking in Scotland announced by minister

The Scottish government has announced a block on planned fracking operations, pending further inquiries.

Ministers will carry out new work on the environmental and health implications of the controversial gas drilling technique.

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to ban new fracking in Pennsylvania parks, forests

Gov. Tom Wolf plans to sign an executive order ending a short-lived effort by his predecessor to expand the extraction of natural gas from rock buried deep below Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests, his office said Wednesday.

Following through on a campaign pledge, Wolf will sign the order restoring a moratorium on new drilling leases involving public lands on Thursday at Benjamin Rush State Park in northeast Philadelphia.

Earthquakes Rattle Texas Town: Is Fracking to Blame?

January has been a shaky month for Irving, Texas. Twelve earthquakes rattled the city during a 48-hour period at the end of the first week of the new year.

“It was very scary. I was at my job on the 4th floor in a cubicle surrounded by glass,” Tonya Rochelle Tatum, a loan specialist who works in Irving, told DeSmogBlog. “One quake seemed like it lasted five minutes. No one knew what to do.”

The earthquake swarm shows no sign of stopping. On Jan. 21, five more quakes struck.

Pennsylvania shale gas producers received hundreds of environmental citations in 4 years, PennEnvironment says

Hundreds of environmental citations issued to shale gas producers over a nearly four-year period provide evidence that Pennsylvania should halt well development and tighten regulations, an anti-drilling group said Tuesday.

But gas drillers and their trade association dismissed the report’s veracity, saying the group used flawed methodology by including administrative citations in its list of environmental and health violations.

DNR to take fresh look at sand mining regulations

The state Department of Natural Resources will conduct new analysis of the health and environmental effects of Wisconsin’s fast-growing sand mining industry.

The Natural Resources Board voted 7-0 in Madison on Wednesday to begin work on a “strategic analysis” of industrial sand mining and whether the industry is being properly regulated.

Protests Against Fracking in the Sahara Desert Are Spreading in Algeria

Anti-fracking protests have escalated in the small Algerian town of In Salah since the start of January, and have now spread to neighboring towns in the region. The demonstrations have continued despite the government’s announcement that plans to tap shale gas reserves have been temporarily shelved amid growing public concern over the environmental impact.

Residents of In Salah, a town of 36,000 that is located 750 miles south of the capital Algiers, have been protesting relentlessly since January 1 against the government’s proposed plans to extract shale gas through the use of hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as fracking, following initial drilling tests in the region.

Landowners briefed on pipeline’s progress

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would transport oil from Canada down through the middle of the U.S. has been a political football for years. But while the nation’s attention has been focused on that project, another planned pipeline, for natural gas, would be more than twice as large.

And that pipeline, the Energy Transfer Rover line, is projected to transit Richland and Crawford counties from one end of the region to the other.

China’s Louisiana Purchase: Who’s building a methanol plant on the bayou?

A prominent Chinese tycoon and politician — whose natural gas company’s environmental and labor rights record recently started coming under fire in the Chinese press — is parking assets in a multibillion dollar methanol plant in a Louisiana town. And he appears to be doing it with help from the administration of likely GOP 2016 presidential ticket contender Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal.

China’s Louisiana Purchase: Environmental concerns in ‘Cancer Alley’

No one asked Lawrence “Palo” Ambrose if he wanted a Chinese company with a controversial environmental record to build a methanol plant in his neighborhood. But if they had, the 74-year-old Vietnam War vet would have said no.

A town hall meeting about it in July at St. James High School, which is close to the site of the plant, in a sparsely populated area with mobile homes and a few farms, took place only after the St. James Parish Council approved the project.

“We never had a town hall meeting pretending to get our opinion prior to them doing it,” said Ambrose, a coordinator at St. James Catholic Church. “They didn’t make us part of the discussion.”

Chevron and BP in Deal to Search for Oil Deep Beneath the Gulf of Mexico

Chevron and BP said on Wednesday that they would work together to explore, appraise and, possibly, develop 24 offshore leases in a deepwater part of the Gulf of Mexico known as the lower tertiary.

Also known as the Paleogene, the geological zone has in recent years been considered a new frontier. But because it is deeper under the seabed than previously worked areas, the oil there tends to be hotter and under more pressure and thus more difficult and costly to bring to market.

BP sells parts of 3 Gulf oil fields in divestment effort

As a part of its effort to deal with rising oil spill-related costs, BP announced Wednesday that it has sold half of its stake in some major ultra-deepwater Gulf oil fields to Chevron.

BP had owned approximately two-thirds of the Tiber and Gila fields with ConocoPhillips, but the new deal splits the ownership three ways with BP, Conoco and Chevron. The three-way deal also extends to an exploratory field east of Gila known as Gibson, where the operators plan to drill this year.

BP cuts jobs in Houston as it trims Gulf of Mexico business

BP said Wednesday it is laying off employees in Houston to cope with falling oil prices, but refused to say how many of the local jobs will be cut.

The British oil giant’s cuts, concentrated on the support staff at its Houston offices, are part of an effort to simplify its business in the Gulf of Mexico, BP spokesman Brett Clanton said in an emailed statement. Some employees were notified this week they would be laid off, Clanton confirmed.

With recent ruling, federal judge cuts at least $240 million from state’s BP fine

The windfall in coastal-restoration money Louisiana hopes to gain from the Deepwater Horizon disaster took at least a $240 million hit last week when a federal judge ruled that BP spilled 3.19 million barrels into the Gulf of Mexico, not the 4.19 million claimed by the federal government.

The Clean Water Act, which BP admits violating, calls for a maximum fine of $4,300 per barrel if  “gross negligence” by the responsible party contributed to the pollution. U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier determined in a September ruling that BP was, in fact, grossly negligent in causing the accident, setting off headlines that BP could be facing $18 billion in fines based on the government’s claim of 4.19 million barrels spilled. His ruling last week for the smaller volume reduced the maximum fine to $13.7 billion.

Gulf Coast beaches, marshes show ‘substantial recovery’ after 2010 oil spill, BP witness testifies

The Gulf Coast shoreline has shown a “substantial recovery” in the years after the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, due in large part to BP’s “comprehensive, thorough and effective” work to clean beaches and marshes, an expert on oil spill response testifying for the oil giant said Tuesday (Jan. 27).

Elliott Taylor, a principal at Polaris Applied Sciences Inc., a Kirkland, Wash.-based oil spill response firm, was one of two expert witness BP called Tuesday to provide environmental impact testimony for the civil trial on the disaster.

Montana oil spill cleanup to slow as river gets dangerous

The struggle to recover 30,000 gallons of oil from a pipeline spill into Montana’s Yellowstone River is expected to grind to a near-halt in coming days as warmer weather makes ice on the river increasingly dangerous, state regulators and a company spokesman said Wednesday.

Because of brittle ice, crews trying to recover oil trapped beneath the Yellowstone could be pulled off the river as early as Thursday, said Bonnie Lovelace with the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.

Yellowstone oil spills fuel arguments over Keystone line

Oil pipeline accidents have become increasingly frequent in the U.S. as Congress pushes for approval of the Keystone XL pipeline — a project that would pass near the spot where 30,000 gallons of crude spilled into Montana’s Yellowstone River earlier this month.

The recent spill temporarily fouled a city’s water supply and became the latest in a string of accidents to highlight ongoing problems with maintenance of the nation’s 61,000 miles of crude oil pipelines.

Houska: Obama to Veto Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, But Will He Reject Permit?

“Respect our rights, honor our treaties!” yelled Sarah LittleRedFeather. Her cry was joined by thousands of others – Native and non-Native – who had arrived in New York City to demonstrate against climate change.

The People’s Climate March was in full swing, and we had reached the epicenter. Amidst the pulsating lights of Times Square and the throngs of onlookers, a line of nearly 400,000 people marched for Mother Earth. Eagle staffs caught the sun and our drumbeats bounced off skyscrapers. It was an incredible moment of solidarity – a moment in history.

Senate votes on fracking & endangered species pave way for Keystone XL passage

The Senate knocked down more than a dozen amendments on energy and the environment Wednesday, as Republicans worked to finish a nearly four-week debate over Keystone XL.

The casualties included proposals involving liquefied natural gas exports, endangered species protections for the lesser prairie-chicken and hydraulic fracturing.

The Senate has passed just four amendments to the Keystone pipeline bill

The Senate on Wednesday will vote on a series of amendments to a bill that would approve construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. If past is prologue, not many will pass.

To date, just four amendments have been approved by the Senate to the Keystone bill. Another 20 have been rejected. Wednesday afternoon, the Senate is scheduled to vote on another 18 amendments to the bill, which is a top priority of the new Republican-led Congress.

Enbridge Gets Another Federal Tar Sands Crude Pipeline Permit As Senate Debates Keystone XL

On January 16, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers gave Enbridge a controversial Nationwide Permit 12 green-light for its proposed Line 78 pipeline, set to bring heavy tar sands diluted bitumen (“dilbit”) from Pontiac, Illinois to its Griffith, Indiana holding terminal.

The permit for the pipeline with the capacity to carry 800,000 barrels-per-day of tar sands dilbit came ten days after the introduction of S.1 — the Keystone XL Pipeline Act — currently up for debate on the U.S. Senate floor, which calls for the permitting of the northern leg of TransCanada’s Keystone XL.

Enbridge expansion controversy heats up in Dane County

While the Keystone XL Pipeline controversy takes the national stage, another project is creating heat here in Wisconsin.

Enbridge Energy wants to boost the capacity of its line running through Wisconsin. In order to do so pump stations in area counties would have to be changed or built. Right now, about 400,000 barrels of crude oil run through Line 61 every day. Enbridge wants to up that to 1.2 million barrels a day, which is much more than what would run through the Keystone Pipeline.

Map: Obama’s Offshore Drilling Plan

The Obama administration announced plans Tuesday to open up parts of the Arctic and waters off the mid- and south Atlantic coasts to drilling. The contentious new plan, unveiled by the Interior Department, proposes 14 potential leases between 2017 and 2022 in parts of the Arctic, Gulf of Mexico and off the coasts of Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. The leases open up drilling on nearly 80 percent of undiscovered, potentially recoverable resources off the nation’s outer continental shelf.

Plan to allow Shell Arctic oil drilling fleet to homeport in Seattle draws opposition

A plan to allow Royal Dutch Shell PLC to use Seattle’s waterfront as a homeport for its Arctic drilling fleet is drawing opposition from environmental groups that say it’s not consistent with the region’s environmental goals.

Several state and national groups, and local city leaders on Wednesday urged the Port of Seattle to halt lease negotiations that would allow Shell to use 50 acres of port property across from downtown Seattle.

Shell to slash spending by $15bn after oil price collapse

Royal Dutch Shell is to slash investment by $15bn (£9.9bn) over the next three years but still intends to start drilling work in the Arctic if it gains US legal clearance despite envrionmental concerns and falling oil prices, the company said as it revealed weaker earnings.

The oil major made the announcement as it unveiled softer profits for the fourth quarter which fell to $3.26bn, down from $5.85bn in the previous quarter after exceptional items and asset sales.

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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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