Environmental Must-Reads – January 5, 2015


Heavyweight Response to Local Fracking Bans

This northern Colorado city vaulted onto the front lines of the battle over oil and gas drilling two years ago, when residents voted to ban hydraulic fracturing from their grassy open spaces and a snow-fed reservoir where anglers catch smallmouth bass.

But these days, Longmont has become a cautionary tale of what can happen when cities decide to confront the oil and gas industry. In an aggressive response to a wave of citizen-led drilling bans, state officials, energy companies and industry groups are taking Longmont and other municipalities to court, forcing local governments into what critics say are expensive, long-shot efforts to defend the measures.

Interior secretary criticizes fracking bans

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell criticized local and state bans on hydraulic fracturing, saying they create confusion for the oil and natural gas industries.

Jewell, who oversees the federal government’s various public land agencies, also said fracking bans often come as a result of what she sees as bad scientific decisions that incorrectly find safety or health problems associated with fracking, radio station KQED reported.

State denies permit to use protected river water for fracking; industry experts wait to see what the fallout will be

For the first time, the state in December denied a permit that would have allowed an oil company to use water from a scenic river to perform hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

However, it was a limited, technical victory for the environmentalists who opposed the permit. The company involved, Texas-based Comstock Resources Inc., was allowed to use water from nearby ponds for its well, instead.

Gas prices are way low, but U.S. oil production to grow in 2015. What gives?

Today, the price of oil fell under $53 a barrel, the cheapest crude since the 2009 recession. Petroleum’s price plummet over the last six months (explained by Vox) means cheaper gasoline prices, a short-term win for cash-strapped American drivers but a potential setback for the climate. Heck, inexpensive gas has even summoned the climate-wrecking SUV from its too-shallow grave.

On the bright green side, a glut of bargain-basement oil could potentially slow production, especially at super-dirty sources like the Bakken shale oil of North Dakota. Such “unconventional petroleum” is expensive to extract and then refine. The longer oil prices remain low the harder it is for the fossil fuel industry to turn a profit on shale oil.

In West Texas, protest aims to stop fracking sand depot

From a high floor of the Cactus Hotel, which he owns, Addison Lee Pfluger has a fine view over the historic downtown, much of which he also owns. Across the Concho River, where he treats the townspeople to a Christmas light display, his vantage extends unimpeded to the cotton fields and goat herds and oil pumpjacks of the vast ranches, several of which he owns as well.

At 73, with neatly parted hair as golden as his wristwatch, Pfluger has assembled a local business empire matched only by his own achievements in community service, which include urban restoration, patronage of the arts and financing for charitable organizations.

Idaho’s Destructive Earthquake Saturday Has Some Looking at Fracking

It’s another case of something happening where you would least expect: earthquakes in Idaho. But a major earthquake on Saturday suggests that they are getting worse and, once again, fracking is a prime suspect.

The latest tremor measured a significant 4.9 on the Richter scale and happened on Saturday around the small town of Challis in the state’s central mountain region. It shook long and hard enough to be felt as far away as the state capital in Boise, about two hours away.

Residents gearing up for pipeline battle

Local residents hope to put pressure on New Jersey Natural Gas to keep a proposed 28-mile natural gas transmission line out of their neighborhoods.

New Jersey Natural Gas has not yet finalized a route for a 30-inch high-pressure transmission pipe that will feed the southern portion of the utility’s service territory in Ocean and Burlington counties. Currently, the utility pulls natural gas from a connection to an interstate pipeline in Middlesex County.

As Louisiana’s marshes erode, so does the Houma Indians way of life

Streams of oil slid into the bayous of southeastern Louisiana after the Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010, damaging the marsh grasses, the wildlife and the livelihood of the 17,000-member Houma tribe.

The pollution also weakened the marshes, accelerating the rapid disappearance of coastal land that is taking the Houma Indians culture with it.

Now money that BP, the oil and gas company responsible for the spill, was forced to pay is beginning to flow to some groups and businesses to repair the environmental damage and protect the coast. But the Houma Indians say they haven’t been compensated for the damage to the land they live on and fear they won’t see funding for the protection and restoration projects they consider important.

Door still open for BP oil spill claims

Roughly half of the Pensacola area businesses that are eligible to file claims for revenue lost because of the BP oil spill in 2010 haven’t done so, attorneys say. But the new deadline is June 8.

The eligible companies and entrepreneurs aren’t required to be shoreline area businesses that are typically thought of as those having suffered legal damages, said Brian Barr, a Pensacola lawyer who handles such claims.

Nuke plant reports 2-month oil leak into Lake Michigan

An oil cooling system on the turbine of a southwest Michigan nuclear power plant leaked oil into Lake Michigan for about two months, according to plant officials.

Officials with the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Plant near Bridgman reported the leak to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, as well as state and local authorities, on Dec. 20, according to an event notification posted on the NRC’s website. Plant officials believe 2,000 gallons of oil leaked into the lake, and a retroactive examination of system oil levels leads plant personnel to believe the leak may have been ongoing since about Oct. 25, said Bill Schalk, communications manager for the Cook Nuclear Plant.

Ship collision causes 33,000 barrel oil spill off Singapore

An oil tanker and a bulk carrier collided off Singapore on Friday, causing a crude oil spill, the Maritime and Port Authority (MPA) said.

The Libyan-registered oil tanker Alyarmouk collided with the Singapore-registered bulk carrier Sinar Kapuas about 11 nautical miles north-east of Pedra Branca, east of Singapore.

Oil spill: Akwa Ibom monarch demands $100m compensation from ExxonMobil

Worried by environmental degradation occasioned by frequent oil spillages, the people of Ibeno Local Government Area, one of the major oil-bearing communities in Akwa Ibom State, have lamented over what they described as environmental hazards caused by oil exploration activities by ExxonMobil.

Ibeno, host community to the American oil-giant for decades, has been groaning over constant oil spills into their rivers, leading to destruction of aquatic lives, farmlands and fishing business.

Exxon fights release of documents on unbuilt pipeline that would have paralleled Pegasus route

The D-G’s Debra Hale-Shelton (paywall) reports on an interesting development in the class-action lawsuit that victims of the 2013 Mayflower oil spill are waging against ExxonMobil, operator of a pipeline which spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of Canadian crude oil and solvents into a neighborhood of the small Central Arkansas community almost two years ago.

The pipeline that ruptured in 2013, the Pegasus, runs from a juncture point in Illinois south through Arkansas and onward to the Gulf Coast refinery town of Nederland, Texas. (Since the spill, it’s been shut off indefinitely and its eventual fate is unknown.) Apparently, in 2007 ExxonMobil planned to build a second pipeline of much higher capacity that would have followed exactly the same route as the Pegasus, but the “Texas Access Pipeline” never got off the ground. Now, attorneys for the Mayflower landowners filing the class-action suit are trying to force Exxon to release additional information about the Texas Access project; Exxon’s lawyers have filed a brief in U.S. District Court attempting to fight that release.

Senator Pushes Keystone XL Pipeline With Egregiously Misleading Statistic

As the 113th Congress ends and the 114th Congress begins, at least one thing remains the same: Supporters of the Keystone XL pipeline are still using the misleading claim that the controversial project will create 42,000 jobs.

Speaking on Meet the Press on Sunday, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) told host Chuck Todd that a bill to approve Keystone XL — the pipeline proposal that would send up to 830,000 barrels of Canadian tar sands oil per day down to Gulf Coast refineries — would be the first legislation sent to President Obama’s desk in 2015. And Obama should sign it, Barrasso said, noting that the pipeline would mean 42,000 new jobs.

Sen. Schumer lays out battle over Keystone pipeline

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said Democrats have enough votes to support the president if he vetoes a bill to begin construction on the Keystone XL pipeline.

“I think there will be enough Democratic votes to sustain the president’s veto,” said Schumer, the number three Senate Democrat, on “Face the Nation” Sunday.

The Senate narrowly defeated a bill to fast track construction of the pipeline after the House passed it in November. After the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, pledged it would be the first bill he takes up when Republicans assume control of the Senate later this month.

Democrats to Push Clean Energy, Export Limits in Keystone XL Pipeline Bill

Senate Democrats will introduce a series of amendments countering the GOP push to pass legislation approving the Keystone XL pipeline, Sen. Charles Schumer (D., N.Y.) said Sunday.

The amendments are unlikely to change the ultimate outcome of the bill, which is expected to pass and face a potential veto from President Barack Obama. But the Democratic strategy will add more political tension to what’s expected to be a partisan showdown between Mr. Obama and Republicans pushing to approve the pipeline as their first item of business this upcoming Congress.

Keystone & Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change

Keystone and Beyond: Tar Sands and the National Interest in the Era of Climate Change tells the definitive account of the Keystone XL saga.

Published last year, the book upends the national debate over the fractious project, tracing its origins to energy policy decisions made by President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney in the earliest days of their administration, and to expectations about energy supply and demand that turned out to be wrong.

What was Bush’s no-brainer has become President Barak’s Obama dilemma, as he confronts a game-changing U.S. oil and gas boom and accelerating climate impacts his predecessors did not anticipate.

This week, as Congress prepares legislation to approve the Keystone and force Obama’s hand, we are reissuing Keystone and Beyond and making it free. The book holds great resonance for the debate now surrounding the project in Congress, the White House and the country.

BLM extends comment period for proposed for 140-mile pipeline ahead of oil boom in San Juan Basin

The Bureau of Land Management is giving the public more time to comment on a proposed pipeline that would be capable of moving 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day.

The project by Saddle Butte Pipeline LLC would be made up of smaller pipelines that would gather oil at well pads and other points. A larger pipeline would then move the oil south to a distribution center near Interstate 40 in western New Mexico.

Officials worry about pipelines and the St. Clair River

More than four years have passed since a ruptured pipeline spilled an estimated 20,000 barrels of crude oil near Marshall.

The spill from Enbridge Energy’s Line 6B spread for miles down Talmadge Creek and the Kalamazoo River and launched a four-year cleanup effort.

Enbridge North Dakota pipeline resumes operations after fire

Enbridge Inc., a pipeline operator that runs several lines across the U.S. and Canada, restarted its North Dakota system after a fire at a truck-loading facility, according to a company spokesman.

The blaze began yesterday at the facility that was leased to its unit, Tidal Energy Marketing, Michael Barnes, a spokesman for Calgary-based Enbridge, said by phone. Eight out of 12 crude storage tanks, with a capacity of 400 barrels each, caught fire at the site, according to Karolin Rockvoy, a manager at the Emergency Management Services for McKenzie County, North Dakota.

Outlook uncertain for Shell’s return to the Chukchi

Six years after dropping more than $2 billion on leases in the remote Chukchi Sea off northwestern Alaska, Shell has yet to drill into any oil in that icy frontier.

Plans for an audacious offshore Arctic exploration program have been stymied by litigation and adverse court rulings and a string of accidents, mishaps, mistakes and some legal violations.

Looking Ahead in the Arctic, With the United States on Point

This year is expected to bring a breakthrough for global climate action—and that includes the rapidly warming Arctic.

Starting in April, the United States will take over leadership of the Arctic Council, the intergovernmental body charged with coordinating the eight Arctic states: Canada; Denmark, including Greenland and the Faroe Islands; Finland; Iceland; Norway; Russia; Sweden and the United States—along with a number of observer nations, including China, India, Japan and South Korea. Though the council can’t issue policy, it provides the main forum for consensus building in the region, and produces recommendations that the delegates can bring back to their home countries.

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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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