Environmental Must-Reads – January 30, 2015


Fracking fight – St. Tammany Parish Council to consider allocating another $50,000 to legal effort

The St. Tammany Parish Council next week will consider putting an additional $50,000 toward its legal effort to block a proposed oil drilling and fracking project northeast of Mandeville. If the resolution by Councilman Steve Stefancik is approved on Thursday (Feb. 5), the budget for the legal fight would increase to $175,000.

Stefancik said it’s unclear whether the additional $50,000 would be enough to carry the parish through the district court stage of its lawsuit against state Commissioner of Conservation James Welsh and the state Department of Natural Resources. “There’s a lot of ways the judge can rule on these things . . . ,” he said.

Natural gas pipeline ruptures; homes evacuated

Dozens of homes have been evacuated after a natural gas pipeline ruptured near Bowling Green.

The break happened around 6 p.m. Thursday near Highway U in Pike County, which is about 90 miles northwest of St. Louis.

Officials estimate at least 50 to 100 homes have been evacuated, but there have been no requests for shelter.

Nearly half the UK is up for fracking, and these maps show you where

Shale exploration has sparked passionate debate in the UK, since drilling first caused earth tremors back in 2011. Since then a few, scattered wells have been tested, but nothing yet on a commercial scale. That could be changing, with the government firmly backing shale gas, and encouraging drillers to invest.

In fact, nearly half the country is up for grabs to shale exploration. Together, the already-licensed and offered areas cover 48.1% of the country.

Pennsylvania’s New Governor Will Ban Fracking In State Parks And Forests

Pennsylvania’s new Governor Tom Wolf will sign an executive order Thursday banning the practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in state parks and forests, the Associated Press reports.

The order will reverse a policy implemented in 2014 by notoriously fracking-friendly former Gov. Tom Corbett, which opened up state parks and forests to the controversial well stimulation technique. Wolf — who was sworn in as governor less than two weeks ago — had promised in his campaign to reverse that decision.

Did Alberta Just Break a Fracking Earthquake World Record?

Hydraulic fracturing, a technology used to crack open difficult oil and gas formations, appears to have set off a swarm of earthquakes near Fox Creek, Alberta, including a record-breaking tremor with a felt magnitude of 4.4 last week.

That would likely make it the largest felt earthquake ever caused by fracking, a development that experts swore couldn’t happen a few years ago.

After Years Of Study, Deep Divisions Over Fracking’s Risks Remain

For more than three years, a state commission has been studying whether to allow hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to get at natural gas trapped in the Marcellus shale beneath the mountains of Western Maryland. Now, the commission is done, state agencies have proposed rules, but commissioners still don’t agree on the central question of whether we can frack safely.

At the center of the commission’s work is this question: How much risk is too much risk? There’s a lot of risk associated with blasting water, sand and some pretty nasty chemicals into rock thousands of feet underground to get natural gas– But can the state regulate those risks down to an acceptable level?

Proposed fracking wastewater injection site in western Nebraska raises some concern

A proposed fracking wastewater injection site in Sioux County has citizens concerned and lawmakers introducing bills to help cover its projected costs.

The wastewater would be trucked to the site and injected more than a mile into the ground at the site of an existing Wildcat oil well on a ranch about 14 miles north of Mitchell, just east of Highway 29.

Legislative panel hears testimony on environmental spending

Cleaning up polluted land for redevelopment, improving access to public lands and increasing resiliency to extreme weather are among the Department of Environmental Conservation’s priorities in the coming fiscal year, Commissioner Joe Martens told Senate and Assembly fiscal committees at a budget hearing Wednesday.

Notably absent from the agency’s agenda was fracking, which has drawn sign-waving crowds of opponents and advocates to environmental budget hearings in the last few years.

Fracking Companies Push to Cut Radioactive Waste Bills

North Dakota’s oil industry is seeking to change the state’s radioactive waste disposal laws in a mad dash to save money in the wake of dropping oil prices.

Waste from hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — becomes slightly radioactive in the process, which churns up isotopes deep underground.  Current law dictates it must be trucked out of state, as landfills in North Dakota do not accept radioactive materials.  The transport costs energy companies big money.

‘Bomb Train’ Neighbors’ Lawsuits Sidetrack Oil-Rail Plans

Rail yard projects vital to the flow of crude from the shale oil boom are being waylaid in court by legal challenges that may slow the march to U.S. energy independence.

Crude-oil handling facilities along rail lines in cities from Albany, New York, to Richmond, California, are mired in lawsuits by community and environmental groups claiming they were kept in the dark about the projects. They accuse local regulators of giving cursory review and rubber-stamping operating permits for proposals that pose threats to their safety and the environment. In Albany, pollution regulators who examine such projects for dirty-air potential are grappling with 19,000 comments from residents more worried about exploding trains.

Environmental lawsuit targets oil-by-train terminal near Taft

A coalition of environmental activists filed a lawsuit Thursday that attempts to shut down a new oil-by-rail terminal northeast of Taft.

The suit in Kern County Superior Court alleges the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District worked with the terminal’s owner, Plains All American Pipeline LP, to minimize public scrutiny of a facility designed to receive up to two separate mile-long train shipments of oil per day from across North America.

Proposed Oil-By-Rail Expansion At Shell’s Anacortes Refinery Drawing Crowds

An overflowing crowd turned out to testify in Skagit County Thursday on plans to add an oil-train facility to Shell’s refinery in Anacortes.

The company says it needs to be able to receive Bakken crude by rail to remain competitive.

More Oil Trains Could Roll Through Puget Sound To Shell Refinery

Shell Oil wants to build more tracks at its refinery in Anacortes, Washington, to receive oil by rail. At a packed hearing in Skagit County on Thursday, more than 100 people turned up to comment on the proposal.

Shell’s refinery in Anacortes is the last of Washington’s five oil refineries to apply for permits to receive oil by rail from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota.

Local officials want state to be more aggressive on oil trains

The state increased the number of oil train inspections last year and plans to conduct even more in 2015, but some local officials say it’s still not enough.

Inspectors checked 7,368 tanker cars and 2,659 miles of track last year, state transportation commissioner Joan McDonald said during a budget hearing Thursday. They found 840 defects, including problems with wheels, brakes and tracks, and 12 hazardous materials violations, McDonald said.

Get moving on oil train safety rules, Cantwell tells Obama administration

With 19 oil trains passing through Washington towns and cities each week, the U.S. Department of Transportation should move its behind, finalize and enforce safety rules for tanker cars, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said Wednesday.

“We should go faster: The administration should get those recommendations implemented,” Cantwell said at a Senate Commerce Committee hearing.

Ohio reconsiders and discloses oil train records

More than a dozen trains loaded with over 1 million gallons of crude oil cross Ohio every week.

Ohio officials released the information to The Associated Press Thursday after earlier refusing to disclose it.

Federal transportation officials ordered the railroads last spring to notify states about trains carrying at least 1 million gallons of crude oil.

BP oil spill: Study traces almost 10 million gallons to Gulf sea floor

The mystery of the missing gallons of oil after the BP oil spill in 2010 has been solved by scientists who have traced the oil to the sea floor in the Gulf of Mexico.

A study led by Florida State University Professor of Oceanography Jeff Chanton has found around 6 million to 10 million gallons buried in the sediment on the Gulf floor, about 62 miles southeast of the Mississippi Delta.

In the long-term, this spells trouble as the low oxygen levels on the sea floor mean the oil will not be decomposed by bacteria.

BP’s ‘civically responsible’ spending after oil spill propped up Gulf economy, expert testifies

Baton Rouge economist Loren Scott predicted “the bottom would fall out” for the region’s economy when oil started washing ashore in the early days of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Scott testified on Wednesday those forecasts were some of the “worst I’ve ever given,” failing to anticipate the “robust recovery” driven by billions of dollars BP pumped into the Gulf Coast for cleanup and damage claims.

Scott’s assessment was part of testimony from several witnesses BP called on during the civil trial that will determine how much the company will pay in Clean Water Act fines for the spill. BP asked Scott to examine the spill’s economic impact and the company’s role in the regional economy.

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 had been recovered as of the Wednesday announcement.

Bayou Corne sinkhole settlement leaves residents lonely

The population in the small town of Bayou Corne is decreasing by the day.

Homeowners have settled with Texas Brine, the company responsible for the massive sinkhole that formed in that community in May of 2013. Many of the houses are vacant, and now more of them are disappearing.

The changes have rattled some residents who remain.

Yellowstone 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.

Some homes near Montana oil spill report dark ooze after flushing taps

Residents of a Montana town whose water supply was tainted by an oil pipeline rupture last week got the all-clear on Friday to turn taps back on, though some reported brown or black material spurting from faucets even after their pipes were flushed.

Drinking supplies for some 6,000 people in and around the community of Glendive became contaminated last Saturday when an estimated 1,200 barrels of crude oil was spilled into the Yellowstone River from a pipeline breach several miles upstream from the northeastern Montana town.

Oil spills fuel pipeline debate

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.

Abandoned boat leaves fuel slick on bayou

U.S. Coast Guard crews and the Texas General Land Office’s Oil Spill Response Team are working to clean up a small diesel fuel spill on Dickinson Bayou.

The Galveston County Emergency Management Office was first called to the area at Gum Bayou near where Country Club Drive dead ends at Dickinson Bayou on Tuesday, said Garret Foskit, the county’s nuisance abatement officer.

‘Turning Back on American People,’ US Senate Votes to Approve Keystone XL Pipeline

Marking a major—and likely symbolic—victory for Republicans on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Senate voted on Thursday to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline in a 62-36 vote that will not be sufficient to override President Barack Obama’s expected veto.

The nine Democrats who voted to approve Keystone were Sens. Michael Bennet (Colo.), Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Jon Tester (Mont.), and Mark Warner (Va.). Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who is traveling, missed the vote, as did Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is recovering from eye surgery.

Senate Approves Keystone XL Pipeline Bill, Testing Obama

The Senate passed a bill on Thursday to force approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, which President Obama is certain to veto in his first official clash with the new Republican-majority Congress.

The five-year fight over the Keystone pipeline has become a proxy for far broader fights over climate change, energy and the economy, and for the conflict between Mr. Obama and congressional Republicans.

Keystone pipeline wins Senate vote in victory for GOP, Mitch McConnell

After weeks of unusually robust debate, the Senate on Thursday approved legislation to expedite construction of the massive Keystone XL pipeline, brushing aside President Obama’s threat to veto the measure.

Passage secured not only a top Republican policy victory but also a political success for new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who made Keystone his first priority.

Enbridge pipeline permit decision postponed

Dane County zoning officials Tuesday night postponed action on a conditional use permit for Enbridge Energy to construct a pumping station on Cherry Lane in the Town of Medina.

The Zoning and Land Regulation Committee made no decision on the permit in order to get additional input from insurance experts. Officials want to be sure Enbridge Energy has enough insurance to cover an oil spill before they issue the permit.

Shell determined to start Arctic oil drilling this summer

Shell is determined to drill for oil in the Arctic this summer if it can win the permits and overcome legal objections, although the energy company accepts it will never win a battle with environmentalists over its reputation.

The oil group said the project would cost $1bn (£660m) whether it proceeded with drilling or not, given the fleet of vessels and other logistics that needed to be kept on standby.

Obama sends conflicting US signals over Arctic oil

With the US set to take over the chair of the Arctic Council for the next two years, this week’s announcements on oil and gas plans by the Obama administration were eagerly awaited.

US President Barack Obama has focused special attention on the Arctic, a region rich in fossil fuel resources, but also of key ecological significance. The polar region is under severe pressure from climate change, warming more than twice as fast as the global average.

Politicians and Oil Men Swoon at the Arctic’s Siren Call Even as Scientists Warn of the Rocks Ahead

From increasing heat, to melting snow and ice, and rising sea level, we’ve been getting a clearer picture of how Earth’s climate is changing and where it is probably heading in the next hundred years.

But what about beyond a century?

One way to gain some insight into that question is to study past climates when atmospheric carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases were as high or higher than they are today. And not surprisingly, that research paints a picture of considerably less ice and much higher sea level.

Shell responds to oil slump with budget cuts, still open to Arctic drilling

Royal Dutch Shell PLC is slashing its capital budget by $15-billion (U.S.) over the next three years, including the delay of a proposed steam-driven, oil-sands development near Peace River, Alta.

But the Anglo-Dutch giant is sticking with its expensive, long-term vision of Arctic offshore development as it plans to return to Alaska’s Chukchi Sea for drilling this summer.

NWT announces study into Arctic oil pipeline, roads

The Premier of the Northwest Territories has announced a year-long feasibility study into an “energy, transportation and communications corridor” running up the Mackenzie Valley to the Arctic Ocean.

Bob McLeod has been proposing an “Arctic Gateway” pipeline scheme for a number of years, and raised the idea with the Prime Minister in a meeting earlier this week.

Statoil Puts Arctic Exploration on Hold After Oil-Price Plunge

Statoil ASA, Norway’s biggest oil company, isn’t planning any wells in the Barents Sea this year, another sign explorers are turning away from the Arctic region after a plunge in crude prices.

“No exploration drilling is planned so far in the Barents Sea in 2015 from our side,” Morten Eek, a spokesman for the Stavanger-based company, said in an e-mail. Statoil will spend this year looking at data assembled during a record 12-well campaign in the Barents Sea in 2013 and 2014, he said.

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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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