Environmental Must-Reads – January 7, 2013


EPA’s Fracking Study May Dodge Water Contamination Frequency Issue

An ongoing U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study on natural gas drilling and its potential for groundwater contamination has gotten tentative praise so far from both industry and environmental groups.

Glenn Paulson, the EPA’s science adviser, describes the project as “one of the most aggressive public outreach programs in EPA history.”

Drilling Far From Imminent, but Debate Roils a Region

If Otsego County were Hollywood, then its debate over hydraulic fracturing, the contentious method of drilling for natural gas, would be resolved as it is in the movie “Promised Land,” which opened here over the weekend at the Southside Mall. That is, a good-looking representative of a villainous gas company would dupe the townspeople into selling him their mineral rights, only to repent after deciding that his employer was bad and fracking, as it is known, potentially worse. And this would win him the heart of the prettiest teacher at the local elementary school.

Instead, people here are not following the script.

Proposed rule for water testing in Colorado limited

Colorado’s proposed new rule to protect water from expanding oil and gas operations would not apply to more than 25 percent of wells or to the tanks, pipelines and other production facilities that are frequent sources of leaks.

Environmental groups that worked with Shell Oil to develop a tougher before-and-after groundwater-testing rule are calling the state’s proposal a farce.

State’s ‘fracking’ panel is delayed

Ohio officials are more than a year behind schedule in setting up a system to allow oil and gas “ fracking” in state parks and forests.

A state law gave Gov. John Kasich a November 2011 deadline to appoint a five-member commission that would lease park and forest mineral rights to the highest bidders. And that commission had until June 2012 to come up with rules.

Creatures thrive in ‘fracking’ wells

The Marcellus shale holds a buried bounty of natural gas for humans, but it also might become a residence for microscopic creatures more at home at the bottom of Earth’s oceans.

Why the natural gas industry hates the movie ‘Promised Land’ so much

Matt Damon’s new fictional movie about natural gas development in a rural township was being lambasted by the natural gas industry even before it premiered. And yet, the film shows no tanker trucks laden with toxic fracking fluid. It depicts no roughnecks descending on a small town unprepared for the influx of new workers. It features no ghastly wastewater ponds and not even one drilling pad or derrick. In fact, drilling has yet to begin in the fictional township of McKinley.

Boulder County wants federal lawmakers to address local oil, gas concerns

Boulder County commissioners are calling for strengthened federal oversight of the oil and gas industry and its potential impacts on air and water quality.

That’s among the high-priority policy positions the Board of County Commissioners plan to pursue with the members and staffs of Boulder County’s congressional delegation that’s part of a “federal legislative agenda” the commissioners adopted last Thursday.

EPA to release sample results from fracking study

Federal environmental regulators say they’ll release preliminary results from water sampling at sites in Pennsylvania and across the nation as part of their study of the potential impact of fracking.

Bakken Oil Tankers on The Hudson River

For several months long trains of rail cars full of crude oil can be seen inching along, or stopped altogether, beside I-787 in downtown Albany NY. Other tankers fill the rail yards off I-90 not far from the SUNY campus.

All are waiting to offload into the tank farm at the Port of Albany for transfer onto barges for transport down the Hudson River to the New York harbor, and from there to Philadelphia and other East Coast refineries. There is simply so much oil pouring through Albany these days that the limited number of holding tanks, and the relatively small size of the river-going tankers, can just barely manage it.

Is Fracking Safe? Democracy Now! Hosts Debate on Controversial Natural Gas Drilling Technique As NY Moratorium May Expire

The controversial use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” that is behind the country’s natural gas boom has come under scrutiny in the new Hollywood drama, “Promised Land,” and met stiff resistance in New York state, where a four-year moratorium against the process could soon expire.

Democracy Now! hosts a 30-minute debate on fracking with two opponents and two supporters.

Henry Henderson: No fracking in Illinois until communities are safe

It is an open secret that lawmakers, regulators, environmentalists, industry and community voices have been discussing standards to govern fracking in the shale that underlays two-thirds of Illinois.

As we ponder the standards for this controversial oil and gas drilling technique, the experiences of our neighboring states are instructive. They provide important lessons on disappointing job numbers, disruption of property interests and complications from vast amounts of dangerous waste.

Oil and gas lawyers want residents banned from talking at rule hearing

Oil and gas industry lobbyists are maneuvering to block Coloradans who live near drill sites from talking about their experiences during a rule-making hearing next week.

Colorado Oil and Gas Association and Colorado Petroleum Association legal motions argue that state laws and procedural rules bar state commissioners from hearing written or oral testimony from the residents because it would be improper, “abusive and harassing” or irrelevant.

Colorado: Fossil fuel industry seeks to block citizen comments at formal hearing on new oil and gas drilling rules

Industry says personal statements on impacts fall outside the evidentiary scope of the commission hearings

EPA to release some fracking study sample results in weeks

Sample results from case study sites in Pennsylvania and across the country are expected to be released in weeks as part of an ongoing federal study of the potential impact of hydraulic fracturing on water supplies.

South Dakota, Alaska Propose Revisions To Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations

In the past few weeks, two states in key shale regions joined the chorus of states that have updated their oil and gas rules to address the unique issues posed by high volume hydraulic fracturing operations.

Methane leaks erode green credentials of natural gas

Scientists are once again reporting alarmingly high methane emissions from an oil and gas field, underscoring questions about the environmental benefits of the boom in natural-gas production that is transforming the US energy system.

Petition requests White House action on sinkhole

An online petition created Saturday asks the Obama administration to declare the Assumption Parish sinkhole a federal emergency and assign a federal team of experts to the state to help with relief efforts.

Oil Spill Settlement: BP Could Face Higher Penalties

The $1.4 billion settlement by Transocean Ltd. (NYSE: RIG : 51.73, 2.5) suggests that the oil spill proceedings is moving to a pragmatic solution while BP’s ultimate liabilities could be higher.

Transocean, the owner of the Deepwater Horizon rig operated by BP Plc (NYSE: BP : 43.64, 0.37) (LSE:BP) at the time of the Macondo explosion in April 2010 has settled with the US Department of Justice (DoJ) for a sum of $1.4 billion.

Tanker concerns prompt Coast Guard review of B.C. oil plans

Concerns south of the border over oil tanker traffic from British Columbia have spurred a U.S. Coast Guard review of proposed increases in Canadian oil exports.

A legislative amendment proposed by Washington state Sen. Maria Cantwell and signed into law by President Barack Obama a couple of weeks ago gives the U.S. marine safety agency six months to conduct a risk assessment of the planned expansion of oil pipeline capacity to the West Coast.

BP polluted the Gulf of Mexico; are we still angry?

The weekend after Christmas in Jackson, Miss., my resistance to BP toppled. Thirty months after the massive oil spill that befouled the Gulf of Mexico, I stood before a green pump and filled my tank with gas. On the road to my relatives’ house, I had encountered stations selling gas from BP, Exxon and Shell in that order. I’d assumed I’d stop at one that hadn’t poisoned Louisiana’s fisheries, but it appeared that BP was quite a bit cheaper.

Sierra Club Statement on Transocean, Justice Dept. Settlement in Deepwater Horizon Gulf Oil Spill

“Just a month ago the Sierra Club called on the Obama Administration to hold BP and their contractors fully accountable for the largest environmental disaster in American history. The settlement announced yesterday, like the $4 billion settlement of BP’s criminal charges last month, is wholly inadequate to the damage these companies caused – the loss of human life and the disruption of the entire Gulf ecosystem and economy. With these weak settlements, Gulf communities, families and businesses are being sold out to Big Oil for pennies on the dollar. BP and their contractors must pay the real cost of this disaster, no less than $60 billion, and be held accountable for their careless and illegal operations that created this disaster.”

Eyes on the weather as beached Shell oil rig Kulluk awaits rescue

A week after the Shell oil barge Kulluk hit shore near Kodiak Island, Alaska, officials are waiting on the weather to attempt a high-stakes rescue.

The Kulluk, a 266-foot barge fresh off its inaugural drilling expedition in the Arctic, broke free from its tow lines in rough weather and hit the rocky shore on Sitkalidak Island hours before Alaskans rang in the New Year.

Grounded Shell oil-drilling ship refloated

A Shell oil-drilling ship that ran aground near a remote Alaska island has been refloated, officials said early Monday.

Royal Dutch Shell’s Kulluk was floated from the rocks late Sunday night and teams were assessing its condition, the Unified Command said.

“Blundering” Shell Has to be Banned from Arctic

After nearly a week of being stranded, a line has finally been attached to Shell’s grounded oil rig, the Kulluk, in Alaska.

It means that the rig will now be towed from its current position in Ocean Bay some 30 miles north to safer waters.

Ironically for a company that has ploughed nearly $5 billion into its Arctic campaign, it seems the rig was being moved to avoid a tax levied on oil and gas equipment in the state.

U.S. concerned about oil tanker traffic from B.C.

Concerns south of the border over oil tanker traffic from British Columbia have spurred a U.S. Coast Guard review of proposed increases in Canadian oil exports.

A legislative amendment proposed by Washington state Senator Maria Cantwell and signed into law by President Barack Obama a couple of weeks ago gives the U.S. marine safety agency six months to conduct a risk assessment of the planned expansion of oil pipeline capacity to the West Coast.

A Timeline of Shell’s Arctic Drilling Debacle in 2012

This week’s grounding of Shell’s enormous Kulluk drilling rig near Kodiak Island, Alaska has not inspired confidence in its preparedness to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean.

Northern Gateway pipeline risk assessment to be conducted by U.S. Coast Guard

Concerns south of the border over oil tanker traffic from British Columbia have spurred a U.S. Coast Guard review of proposed increases in Canadian oil exports.

NOAA Declines to Probe Vast Underestimate of BP Spill

The federal agency responsible for presenting dramatic underestimates for the 2010 BP Gulf oil spill, the biggest environmental disaster in the nation’s history, will not investigate the errors, according to documents posted today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) documenting the official response to its scientific integrity complaint on the subject.  Spill rate numbers presented to the public and decision-makers at the height of the crisis were less than half the true flow. The President’s National Commission found that the inaccurate low-ball numbers hampered numerous attempts to cap the run-away well and slowed clean-up efforts.

Unlike BP, Transocean likely off the hook for felony charges related to workers’ deaths in 2010 Gulf spill

Like their counterparts at BP, executives at Transocean Ltd. are likely breathing easier with the looming unknowns of civil and criminal fines and penalties now settled for their role in the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, legal experts and industry analysts following the case generally agreed Friday.

BP tells Halliburton to come clean

British energy company BP accused oil services company Halliburton of skirting its responsibilities in the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Texas Brine fights fines

Texas Brine Co. LLC is challenging $160,000 in fines that the Louisiana Office of Conservation levied against the company Dec. 17 for failing to meet state-mandated deadlines in its response to an 8.5-acre sinkhole emergency in northern Assumption Parish, company officials confirmed Friday.

Cleanup Crews Near Fukushima Plant Dump Waste in Rivers, Newspaper Reports

According to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun, cleanup crews working near the ruined Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, “dumped soil and leaves contaminated with radioactive fallout into rivers.”

Evacuees told they’ll need to stay away for a generation

In one of the first estimates of when Fukushima evacuees may return to their homes, the mayor of one nearby town is telling former residents that it could be 30 years away.

How Japan Discovered Conservation: Fukushima

Japan lost a quarter of its electric capacity when it shuttered its nuclear reactors in the wake of the Fukushima disaster. Predicted blackouts have not materialized, though, thanks to a national conservation effort that reduced demand by as much as 15 percent.

CROOKED CLEANUP: Government to investigate Fukushima decontamination

The government will investigate decontamination work around the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant following reports that potentially radioactive debris has been dumped into the environment, even during the preparatory stage of the program.

“It is extremely regrettable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference on Jan. 7. “We will take stern measures after fully investigating it.”

West Windsor firm working on medication to help those exposed to high levels of radiation

A company with a background in developing medications for use in extreme biohazard situations said it may one day have something humans can use in the event of a nuclear attack or reactor meltdown.

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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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