Environmental Must-Reads – January 6, 2015


Permit denied to use Amite River water for fracking

Louisiana officials have denied a permit that would have allowed an oil company to use water from a scenic river to perform hydraulic fracturing, or fracking for a well in East Feliciana Parish.

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.

Against the Grain: Minnesota’s Long Slog Toward Dealing With Frac Sand

As oil-and-gas producers’ demand spikes for frac sand, a key ingredient used in hydraulic fracturing, there’s mounting concern about the industry’s air emissions. Toxic dust kicked up when the sand is produced and transported is a known trigger of lung disease.

For this reason, legislators in Minnesota, the fourth-largest producer of this special sand, committed 18 months ago to revamping air quality regulations for the industry. Staff at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) will release these much-anticipated rules for public comment in the coming months—and they expect a deluge of feedback.

Accounting For Methane Emissions From Oil And Gas Wells

Not all oil and natural gas wells are equal. Some emit more methane than others. Much, much more.

Three studies, published in December 2014, underscored this issue. Researchers recorded the amount of methane escaping from active natural gas production sites and from abandoned oil and gas wells. In each, they found that a small percentage of wells emit the majority of the methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

Fracking in Ohio triggered an earthquake so big you could feel it

Earthquakes never used to happen in Poland Township, Ohio — or, at least, they were never identified. But then the fracking started. In March of 2014, the township saw 77 earthquakes occur, says Robert Skoumal, a seismologist at Miami University. These earthquakes were so small that most went unnoticed by the area’s 15,000 inhabitants. But when the hydraulic fracturing operations stopped, so did the earthquakes, Skoumal says — and “no earthquakes in this area have been observed since.”

Ohio’s oil and gas boom saw highs, lows in 2014

The past 12 months have been a roller coaster for the oil and gas industry in Ohio.

There were high notes: Drilling and production, including wastewater injection, soared. And in July, state officials announced that the industry had spent or committed to spend more than $6 billion in infrastructure to process and move natural gas and oil from shale deposits deep underground.

Dozens heap scorn on local injection well proposal

The Athens County Commissioners are investigating ways to monitor air and water quality in the Torch area in the aftermath of holding a public meeting about a third proposed fracking waste injection well in eastern Athens County.

The third well has been proposed by K&H Partners of West Virginia, the same company that currently operates two other injection wells in the same area near Coolville.

Plummeting oil price casts shadow over fracking’s future

There’s no doubt that US-based fracking – the process through which oil and gas deposits are blasted from shale deposits deep underground – has caused a revolution in worldwide energy supplies.

Yet now the alarm bells are ringing about the financial health of the fracking industry, with talk of a mighty monetary bubble bursting ? leading to turmoil on the international markets similar to that in 2008.

In many ways, it’s a straightforward case of supply and demand. Due to the US fracking boom, world oil supply has increased.

Lawsuit challenges panel that made NC fracking rules

A lawsuit filed Monday by conservationists asks that rules on fracking in North Carolina be thrown out, arguing the panel that developed them was formed in violation of the state Constitution.

Lawyers representing the Haw River Assembly argue the state Legislature violated provisions separating the branches of government when it formed the Mining and Energy Commission in 2012, according to the lawsuit in Wake County Superior Court. The lawsuit says the Legislature usurped the authority of the executive branch by forming the commission as an administrative agency and then appointing eight of its 13 members. The governor appoints the rest.

West Virginia judge denies chemical company’s second challenge to fracking operations

A West Virginia judge has rejected a second legal challenge from a chemical manufacturer saying that hydraulic fracturing operations near its facility in Marshall County would negatively affect its operations.

In a Christmas Eve order, Marshall County Circuit Judge David Hummel denied the challenge from Eagle Natrium LLC, a New Martinsville-based subsidiary of Axiall Corp., a manufacturer of chlorovinyl and aromatic chemicals and formerly owned by PPG Industries.

Colorado toughens fracking penalties

Daily penalties for fracking leaks and spills, or other environmentally dangerous accidents associated with fossil fuel development will go up to as much as $15,000 per day in Colorado, under new rules adopted this week by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission.The beefed-up penalty structure also does away with a $10,000 penalty cap for each violation.

“This marks a considerable change in the way we do business. Toughening major penalties for violators is an important component of our ongoing efforts to strengthen our oversight, enforcement and compliance program,” said commission director Matt Lepore. “This is yet another step forward in our long-running and continuing work to build a regulatory approach that stands as a model across the country.

Kansas derailment raises vital rail safety questions

Rail safety is back in the spotlight after a new warning from federal regulators.

The National Transportation Safety Board is urging railroads to take immediate action following its investigation of a derailment in Kansas. No one was hurt in the derailment, but it raised new questions about whether America’s rail network — carrying cargo and passengers — is as safe as it could be, CBS News’ Mark Albert reports.

The collision in September between two Union Pacific freight trains in Galva, Kansas, may have come down, in part, to a light bulb.

Minnesota officials: Cost is $280M to upgrade oil train routes

Minnesota transportation officials said last week that it will cost at least $280 million to upgrade railroad crossings on highways and roads where passing oil trains from North Dakota pose a risk of explosions and fires.

The study, mandated by the 2014 Legislature, comes one year almost to the day after a BNSF Railway train derailed in Casselton, N.D., triggering explosions and a fire that caused an evacuation but no injuries in the community 24 miles west of Fargo.

Communities push for oil-train safety

Mayor Tom Weisner can’t stop the crude-oil trains from moving through his city on two railroads, but he’s doing what he can to make sure they do so as safely as possible.

From his downtown office window, every day Weisner can see four to seven trains with 100 or more cars of Bakken crude from North Dakota on the elevated Burlington Northern Santa Fe line passing through his city of 200,000, about 40 miles west of Chicago.

Hearings begin on Enbridge Energy’s proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline across northern Minnesota

Supporters of the proposed Sandpiper oil pipeline told an administrative law judge Monday that it will provide a safer and more efficient alternative to the trains that now carry most of the crude from the Bakken fields of North Dakota, while opponents said the project will exacerbate climate change.

About 302 miles of the proposed 616-mile pipeline would cut across northern Minnesota, transporting light crude from western North Dakota to the Enbridge oil terminal in Superior, Wisconsin. It would be built by the North Dakota Pipeline Co. LLC, a joint venture between Enbridge Energy Partners and Marathon Petroleum. The judge, Eric Lipman, is taking testimony for and against the project this week. His report and recommendations are due April 15. The final say on whether to grant a certificate of need will be up to the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, which is expected to decide in June.

Plunging Oil Prices Trigger Economic Downturn in Fracking Boom Town

When fracking and horizontal drilling made the oil embedded in North Dakota‘s underground Bakken shale formation accessible for extraction, it touched off something akin to a gold rush in the state.

Oil production has grown 600 percent in the last decade. Small towns, called “man camps,” have sprouted with growing populations of oil field workers, bringing both increased economic activity and employment and increased crime and social problems such as sexual assaults. But plummeting oil prices have the potential to upend all that in ways that are hard to predict.

Oil spill injures more than 400 birds

A large amount of used lubricating oil that spilled into a creek Saturday from an above-ground storage tank injured about 400 waterfowl — mostly mallards — and posed a temporary risk to area waterways.

But officials said Monday the spill had been cleaned up to the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency’s satisfaction and isn’t expected to have lingering effects.

BOEM Adjusts Limit of Liability for Oil Spills from Offshore Facilities

As part of the Obama Administration’s ongoing efforts to ensure the safe and responsible production of domestic offshore energy resources, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) has administratively increased the limit of liability for oil-spill related damages from $75 million to approximately $134 million for offshore oil and gas facilities. This is consistent with recommendations to increase the liability cap from the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and other studies and represents the maximum increase allowable under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990.

Singapore collision leads to 4,500-tonne oil spill

About 4,500 tonnes of crude oil has been spilled near Horsburgh Lighthouse on the Singaporean island of Pedra Branca following the 2 January collision of oil tanker Alyarmouk and Sinar Kapuas, a bulk carrier.

The estimate, by V.Ships UK, manager of the 116,039 dwt Alyarmouk, was reported by the Maritime Authority of Singapore in a press release.

Will Keystone XL pipeline create 42,000 ‘new’ jobs?

Senate Republicans soon plan to bring a vote on the Keystone XL pipeline as one of the first acts of their new majority status, and once again we find ourselves fact checking jobs claims related to the project. Over at CBS’s “Face the Nation,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer said it “would create several thousand temporary construction jobs and only 35 permanent jobs.” And Barrasso said it would result in “42,000 new jobs.”

That’s not quite as wide a range as in Jon Stewart’s spoof of the Keystone jobs debate—“somewhere between millions of jobs and 35”—but it’s still enough of a range to give a viewer of the Sunday shows whiplash.

Senate Republicans to try to force construction of Keystone pipeline

Republicans will introduce a bill on Tuesday to force construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, setting the new Congress on a collision course with the White House over Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.

The Keystone XL bill aims to take the decision about the controversial pipeline out of the president’s hands. It is seen as the first shot in an all-out Republican offensive against the Democratic president’s environmental and health agenda.

The bill is expected to pass but it faces a potential veto from Obama.

Keystone pipeline would have little impact on gas prices: White House

The White House said on Monday that U.S. President Barack Obama believes the proposed Keystone XL (TRP.TO) pipeline would have little impact on U.S. gas prices but a spokesman would not say whether he would veto Republican legislation related to the project.

Republicans want Obama to approve the pipeline, which would carry tar sands oil from Canada. White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Obama would wait to see any legislation they propose before determining whether to veto it.

Sorry, Republicans: The Keystone XL pipeline is not a jobs agenda

In the new Congress, Republicans will have the majority in both the Senate and the House for the first time in eight years. As they get ready to take power, their rhetorical focus is clear: jobs, the economy, and more jobs.

So far, there are two main proposals on deck for the GOP. First, the Hire More Heroes Act, which would make it easier for small businesses that hire veterans to deny health care to their employees. Second, they want to immediately build the Keystone XL pipeline, a project that would transport oil from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

Republicans Are Picking Exactly the Wrong Time to Push for the Keystone XL Pipeline

The New York Times tells us what to expect when Congress reconvenes this week:

Republicans hope to strike early with measures that are known to have bipartisan support. The House is set to pass legislation this week expediting the Keystone XL pipeline; the Senate is making it the first order of business as well. The House will also take up a measure that would change the new health care law’s definition of full-time workers to those working 40 hours rather than the current 30 hours — another proposal that has drawn backing from Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate.

Battle over Keystone pipeline at the centre of bitter political fight

Republicans, freshly armed with a solid majority in Congress and seeking an early victory over the lame-duck President Barack Obama, will make approving Keystone XL their top priority.

Buoyed by gains in last November’s midterm elections, Republicans now control both Houses of Congress for the first time in eight years and authorizing Keystone XL – the long-delayed pipeline that would funnel Canadian oil-sands crude across the United States to the Gulf Coast – will be the first shot aimed at a weakened President.

Putin Makes His First Move in Race to Control the Arctic

In november, the Russian K-550 nuclear ballistic submarine Alexander Nevsky, submerged in the Barents sea between Russia and the north pole, successfully launched a missile that travelled its prescribed course to Kamchatka in Russia’s far east. The Alexander Nevsky thus joins two other Russian nuclear submarines, which have, in the course of the autumn, conducted successful ballistic missile tests.

Russian nuclear submarines have long been based in Arctic waters, just as the United States keeps its fleet in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Still, the missile tests from the icy region sent a chilly message.

Russian Sanctions, China, and the Arctic

Russian Arctic offshore energy efforts are in a period of unwelcome pause, and the flight of Western companies in the face of sanctions imposed by their home countries has left the future of these efforts up in the air. But this state is unlikely to last for long. Western firms have left incredible opportunity in their wake, and China is in the perfect position to benefit.

Number of ships transiting Arctic waters drops in 2014

Fewer ships sailed through Arctic waters in 2014.

Thirty-one ships used the Northern Sea Route over Russia to sail between Europe and Asia and another 22 used part of the route, Alaska Public Radio Network reported. In 2013, 70 vessels used the Northern Sea Route.

Predictions of increased ship traffic in the wake of diminished Arctic sea ice Arctic waters may have been premature, said Malte Humpert, executive director of the Arctic Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

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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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