Environmental Must-Reads – January 4, 2013


Matt Damon film scratches surface on fracking

The new movie “Promised Land” digs into the fierce national debate over fracking, the technique that’s generated a boom in U.S. natural gas production while also stoking controversy over its possible impact on the environment and human health.

Promised Land movie takes on fracking

As environmental issues become mainstream topics, they are garnering more press, and, as is the case with Hollywood, then becoming screenplay fodder; such is the case with Promised Land, the new Gus van Sant-directed drama that zeroes-in on a singular down-and-out Pennsylvania town and its struggle, as a place, to address environmental concerns engendered by fracking.

Shale Leases: Promised Land

While I haven’t yet seen the movie Promised Land, I have read the reviews, and it appears that Promised Land is good entertainment but really doesn’t cover the details of the fracking – and particularly the leasing considerations – as well as it might.

This issue, and how it has developed in various parts of the country, is an amazing tale.  The development of the US shale plays involves high tech, heavy machinery, water and land issues, property rights, energy, the law, and money – which makes it just about the perfect American story.

Bans and Rules Muddy Prospects for Gas Drilling

In three decades of drilling, John C. Holko said, his oil and gas business has never faced such a hostile environment.

Years after he negotiated leases for gas drilling in upstate New York, strict rules on hydraulic fracturing that state environmental officials proposed threaten to put 20 percent of that land off limits, he estimated. And local drilling bans adopted by town boards could put him out of business altogether, he said.

Fracking can be done safely in New York state: dept report

The natural gas drilling process known as fracking would not be a danger to public health in New York state so long as proper safeguards were put into place, according to a health department report that environmentalists fear could help lift a moratorium on the controversial technique.

Cuomo Confidential: Secret N.Y. Dept. of Health Review of HF Concludes It is Safe

Earlier this year the New York Department of Environmental Conservation indicated that public comments on the SGEIS precipitated a need for a review of  public health concerns.  It turns out DEC had the review completed all along and kept the information from the public. Begging the question, would the release of a report contradicting a loud and vocal minority of activists harm the administration’s reputation too much – or did they simply drop the ball and are now trying to cover their tracks?

David and Goliath Story: Small Towns Versus Big Gas & Bigger Government

As the controversy surrounding the extraction method known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, intensifies nationwide, Maryland has yet to issue any permits for fracking wells.  In 2011, Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley signed an Executive Order establishing the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative, which required the Maryland Department of the Environment and the Department of Natural Resources along with an advisory panel to study the issue and present recommendations regarding the extraction of natural gas in Maryland.  While the Marcellus Shale Safe Drilling Initiative is not technically a moratorium on drilling and does not restrict the State’s ability to issue permits under existing law and regulation,  many of the land leases signed in anticipation of drilling have expired.   The issue remains contentious with some lawmakers calling for a moratorium while others insist that fracking is safe and poses an economic boon for the state.

Fracking Opponents Knock State’s Health Document

Opponents of hydraulic fracturing for natural gas are pushing back against a draft state assessment of the technique’s potential health impacts, saying it “confirms public fears that the pressure to allow fracking is trumping the actual concerns” of New Yorkers.

Mysteriously sourced report claims hyrofracking safe in New York state

A leaked report provided to the New York Times and other media outlets claims that health studies have concluded that the controversial natural gas extraction technique, hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking” would be safe to conduct in New York State. According to the Times, the party providing the analysis claims the report, which was submitted to the state Health Department early in 2012, is being kept secret by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is allegedly afraid of “strident opposition on his party’s left.”  Critics of the report argue that it is out of date and inaccurate.

Fracking called safe in New York state

The state’s Health Department found in an analysis it prepared early last year that the much-debated drilling technology known as hydrofracking could be conducted safely in New York, according to a copy obtained by The New York Times from an expert who did not believe it should be kept secret.

Report: Gas Drilling Safe Under Proposed Rules

An unreleased state report found potential health impacts from fracking are addressed in the Department of Environmental Conservation’s regulatory plan, making a separate health impact study unnecessary.

Leaked, useless report suggests fracking is fine for New Yorkers

The New York Times got its ink-stained hands on a report from the New York Health Department assessing the risks associated with fracking, the primary issue at play as the state considers whether or not to lift a ban on the practice. While the report suggests that fracking doesn’t pose risks, there are at least two gigantic caveats.

Health expert: Risk from fracking is ‘significant’

THE risk posed by fracking remains significant, a leading environmental health expert in Northern Ireland has said.

There are still too many unknowns and gaps in the evidence surrounding the emerging use of shale gas, the director of the Institute of Environmental Health in Northern Ireland said.

Alaska senator welcomes gas pipeline nod

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said building a natural gas pipeline through the Denali National Park is a low-risk option for the state.

Fracking trade secrets would get no protection under draft Alaska rule

Companies will not be able to keep trade secrets for hydraulic fracturing ingredients if a proposed Alaska rule is adopted.

Senate OKs maintenance on pipeline in Glacier National Park

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday gave approval to a bill that allows the National Park Service to authorize maintenance on an aging natural gas pipeline that runs through a portion of Glacier National Park.

Flooding Caused Pipeline Spills In 8 States In Past 2 Decades, Report Finds

Pipeline spills caused by flooding and riverbed erosion dumped 2.4 million gallons of crude oil and other hazardous liquids into U.S. waterways over the past two decades, according to a new report from federal regulators.

Gulf of Mexico shrimpers and processors to describe impact of foreign imports

In response to Gulf of Mexico shrimp processors’ petitions with the federal government seeking relief from subsidized shrimp imports, the U.S. International Trade Commission is asking area shrimpers and processors to describe the effect of imports on their industry. The federal commission must receive all completed questionnaires, which also ask about their businesses’ financial stability, by next Friday, Jan. 11, in order to use the responses in this first step of its investigation.

Transocean’s $1.4 billion settlement of Clean Water Act, safety violations prompts comments from public officials, environmental groups

Comments on Transocean’s agreement to a $1.4 billion criminal and civil settlement of Clean Water Act and offshore drilling safety violations stemming from the 2010 fire and sinking of its Deepwater Horizon oil rig, which led to the two-month flow of oil and gas from BP’s Macondo well off Lousiana’s coastline

Gulf leak case settled

The U.S. Justice Department announced a $1.4 billion settlement Thursday with Swiss-based Transocean Ltd., which owned the Deepwater Horizon oil rig involved in the 2010 BP oil leak.

Transocean agrees to pay $1.4bn oil spill fine

The Swiss-based company will pay $400m (£248m) in criminal penalties and a $1bn civil fine after pleading guilty to violating the Clean Water Act.

BP Praises Transocean Settlement, Fingers Halliburton

In a brief statement, BP hails Transocean’s admission of criminal conduct today in a $1.4 billion settlement stemming from the Deepwater Horizon oil-rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, saying it proves the “accident resulted from multiple causes, involving multiple parties.”

Second Oil Spill Settlement Adds to Gulf Coast Science and Restoration Funding

Gulf of Mexico science and restoration will get another chunk of cash from a second settlement of federal charges related to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Transocean Deepwater Inc., the company that operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig for oil giant BP, has agreed to pay $1.4 billion in civil and criminal fines and penalties for the spill, the U.S. Department of Justice announced today.

BP worker loses appeal in oil-spill case

A federal appeals court has refused to overturn a ruling that a BP rig supervisor must submit to a medical exam to determine if he is fit to be questioned under oath for civil litigation spawned by the company’s Gulf oil spill.

Officials: BP funds needed

Gretna — With the budgets of several Jefferson Parish municipalities tightening due to slumping sales tax revenue and other expenses, city officials are hoping that a potential settlement with BP due to the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster could ease some of their economic pain.

Texas Brine balks at order

Texas Brine Co. LLC has asked state District Court in Baton Rouge to permanently block the Louisiana Office of Conservation’s latest directives compelling new investigations into the underground effects of an evolving, 8.5-acre sinkhole in northern Assumption Parish.

Northern Gateway Pipeline May Still Pass Despite Opposition, Says Canada Natural Resources Minister

Proponents of the planned Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to Canada’s West Coast can still carry the day even though the project has generated a wave of opposition, the country’s natural resources minister said.

Richmond, Calif., fights back against Chevron’s choke hold

Chevron has dominated the town of Richmond, Calif., for 110 years, but that dominance is finally being called into question. Tensions have been escalating for decades, but came to a head after a fire in August 2012 at the oil giant’s Richmond refinery belched toxic smoke all over the Bay Area.

It probably shouldn’t have taken Exxon 46 minutes to shut off a broken pipeline

You can imagine the scene at Exxon headquarters. The team responsible for spill response has just learned that a pipeline near Laurel, Mont., has ruptured. “Wow,” some team members probably said. A few might have said bad words.

In short order, one pipes up: “What should we do?” Someone suggests shutting the line down partially; this is quickly agreed to. Then, for 46 minutes, the team sits around a heavy oak table, stroking chins and mumbling “hm”s. No one is quite sure what comes next.

A new year, a new Keystone XL blockade

Late Wednesday night, the Keystone XL blockaders launched a new tree-sit in Diboli, Texas, coinciding with kickoff of a direct-action training camp.

Shell’s Alaska mishap has a big PR cost — and a big cost to taxpayers

Even at 6:30 a.m. Alaska time today, three hours before sunrise, there was a hum of activity at the unified command center coordinating the response to Shell’s breakaway drilling rig off Kodiak Island on the state’s southern coast. The command — coordinating the efforts of Shell, the Coast Guard, the state, Noble Corporation (the drilling contractor), and local officials — is responsible for figuring out how badly the 28,000-ton Kulluk is damaged, if it’s leaking any of its 143,000 gallons of diesel fuel, and how it can be towed back out to sea. Three days after the rig broke free of two tugboats in bad weather and ran aground, only one of those questions can be answered: It isn’t leaking fuel. Yet.

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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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