Environmental Must-Reads – January 9, 2015


Obama administration sued over Gulf of Mexico fracking info

An environmental advocacy group sued the Obama administration in federal court on Thursday for refusing to release documents detailing the extent of fracking in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Center for Biological Diversity filed the lawsuit in U.S District Court in Washington, saying the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has refused to comply with the group’s federal public records request for more information about how often oil companies are using the technique in Gulf waters.

Fracking’s Methane Leakage To Be Focus of Many Studies This Year

The early years of the shale boom came with a widely held assumption that the vast quantities of natural gas liberated through high-volume hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, would help slow climate change by displacing coal-fired power plants and speeding the transition to a clean-energy future.

But that notion was seriously challenged as scientists began studying the life cycle of natural gas. Although natural-gas power plants emit fewer greenhouse gases than coal plants, the process of extracting, processing and transporting natural gas releases unknown amounts of methane into the air.

Eleven earthquakes recorded in less than 24 hours near birthplace of fracking

The north Texas birthplace of fracking has been rattled by 11 earthquakes in just over 24 hours, the US Geological Survey (USGS) said on Wednesday.

All of the earthquakes, which ranged in magnitude from 1.6 to 3.6, occurred around the town of Irving, west of Dallas.

Fracking ‘activated fault line’, US study finds

SEISMOLOGISTS have sent a ripple through the debate over the link between fracking and earthquakes, claiming the practice opened up a previously unknown fault in the American midwest.

Geologists from Miami University in Ohio say they have unearthed proof that hydraulic fracturing caused dozens of earthquakes in Poland, a town in the state’s northeast. The team investigated five earthquakes recorded last March near a group of oil and gas wells.

Pennsylvania court upholds public land gas drilling leases

A state court sided with the Corbett administration Wednesday in upholding the right of the state government to lease more public lands for natural gas and oil drilling.

The Commonwealth Court rejected a 2012 lawsuit by the Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation that sought to halt more drilling in state parks and forests and the diversion of rent and royalty payments away from a land conservation fund called the Oil and Gas Lease Fund.

EPA Moves to Count Methane Emissions from Fracking

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is proposing a new rule that would require energy companies to report to the federal government all greenhouse gas emissions from oil well fracking operations and natural gas compressor stations and pipelines.

The EPA’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program currently requires energy companies to report only those emissions from fracking operations that involve flaring — the industry’s practice of burning off excess natural gas at a well site.

BLM postpones oil and gas lease sale

The Bureau of Land Management has postponed an oil and gas lease sale for more than 4 square miles in northwestern New Mexico, saying more time is needed to review public comments that have raised concerns about environmental justice and other issues.

The BLM is in the process of updating its management plan for the San Juan Basin in the face of an expected shale oil boom, and a coalition of environmental groups has been pushing the federal agency to stop approving new drilling permits in the region until the plan is in place.

Deep Debt Keeps Oil Firms Pumping

American oil and gas companies have gone heavily into debt during the energy boom, increasing their borrowings by 55% since 2010, to almost $200 billion.

Their need to service that debt helps explain why U.S. producers plan to continue pumping oil even as crude trades for less than $50 a barrel, down 55% since last June.

DOT: More than 1,600 trucks could be required for one NC fracking site

More than 1,600 trucks could haul sand, water and equipment for a single fracking operation in North Carolina, chewing up country roads and causing millions of dollars in damage to roads and bridges, according to the state Department of Transportation.

The department is projecting nearly $11 million in maintenance and repairs in one example cited to the state legislature in an agency study of traffic impacts resulting from shale gas drilling.

Activists say pipeline meeting notices were deficient

A coalition of Iowa environmental groups wants the Iowa Utilities Board to block a Texas company from filing a request to construct a pipeline that would transport crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields through 18 Iowa counties.

The 13 advocacy organizations, led by the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club, contends Dakota Access LLC, a unit of Dallas-based Energy Transfer Partners, failed to give proper notice before conducting statewide public information meetings last month to explain details of the project.

State-funded report recommends big increase in gas pipeline capacity

A report commissioned by the Patrick administration and released Thursday, less than an hour before Charlie Baker’s inauguration as governor, shows the need for a significant increase in natural gas capacity to help fuel local power plants on cold days.

The report, from Synapse Energy Economics in Cambridge, could reignite discussions about a tariff to help pay for more pipeline capacity into New England. A group representing the region’s governors put the tariff talks on hold in August after then-Governor Deval Patrick decided to revisit the need for more natural gas pipelines.

Pipeline proposed to carry NGLs flows beneath Danville homes, businesses and a school

Danville may soon have controversial natural gas liquids (NGLs) flowing beneath homes, businesses and an elementary school as it traverses the southern part of the city on its way from Ohio to the Texas Gulf Coast.

The 71-year-old Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which totals more than 13,000 miles of pipe, is a system of four parallel pipelines.

State seeks comments on Constitution Pipeline

A proposed pipeline that would carry natural gas from Pennsylvania through a slice of eastern Broome County has moved into the state regulatory phase, and the Department of Environmental Conservation is looking for public comments.

The Constitution Pipeline would transport enough natural gas to serve about 3 million homes per day, according to the company, through a 30-inch pipe that would traverse nearly 100 miles of New York, including 17 miles in the Town of Sanford. It would also cross parts of Chenango and Delaware counties, along a route from Susquehanna County, Pa., to a station in Schoharie County.

Restoring Alabama: Green groups collaborate on ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’ for conservation funding after oil spill

While the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill represented an unprecedented environmental crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, the influx of funding earmarked for coastal restoration projects now represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to make lasting impacts on the region impacted by the spill.

As the government restoration process moves from theory into practice, many of the environmental groups who’ve worked on the spill since 2010 have shifted their focus to form what they call the Alabama Renewal Group, a collaboration of like-minded organizations hoping to help the state get the most positive economic, environmental and community benefit from its undetermined pool of oil spill fine money and to offer a unified voice from several organizations.

State finds 125 dead ducks near Titan Tire oil spill site in Bryan

Authorities are working to assess the full scope of damage from Saturday’s oil spill at Titan Tire after another 125 dead, oil-soaked birds were found Thursday near the spill site.

John Windau, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Natural Resource’s wildlife division, said the agency continues to work with volunteers and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to assess the total loss. Most of the dead birds found Thursday were ducks, and they bring the total number of dead animals to 150, he said.

Saraki hails Shell’s decision on oil spill compensation

The chairman, Senate committee on Environment and Ecology, Senator Bukola Saraki, has praised the Shell Petroleum Development Company of Nigeria Limited (SPDC), for agreeing to compensate the Bodo community in Ogoniland over two oil spill incidents that occurred in the area in 2008.

Saraki noted that he had in October, 2012 led members of the committee on an unscheduled oversight visit to the Niger-Delta region to inspect and assess the impact of oil spills in the area.

Experts Say That Battle on Keystone Pipeline Is Over Politics, Not Facts

In 2009, the Obama administration approved a 986-mile pipeline to bring 400,000 barrels of oil sands petroleum a day from western Canada to the United States. Almost no one paid attention. Construction on the pipeline, called the Alberta Clipper, was quietly completed last year.

In that same period, the administration considered construction of a similar project, the Keystone XL. So far only in the blueprint stage, this pipeline has become an explosive political issue that Republicans are seizing as their first challenge to President Obama in the new Congress.

A Pipeline and a Pie-In-The-Sky

The Koch brothers Congress, purchased with the help of about $100 million from the political network of the billionaire energy producers, got down to its first order of business this week: trying to hold off the future.

Meanwhile, here on the other coast, one of the most popular politicians in America, California Gov. Jerry Brown, bounced into his fourth and final term by trying to hasten that future. The contrasts — East and West, old and new, backward-looking and forward-marching, the beholden and behold! — could not have been more stark.

The Keystone Pipeline Is Overrated by Both Sides

The debate over the Keystone XL pipeline burns so bright that it distracts from more illuminating subjects, like how much it really matters.

For the past several years, Republicans and Democrats have used the pipeline to prove their economic or environmental bona fides. The new Republican-controlled Senate will once again use it as an issue to divide Democrats and put pressure on the President to veto a bill the public largely supports.

In face of veto threat, Senate panel advances pipeline bill

A bill to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline cleared a key Senate committee Thursday, setting up a fight next week pitting newly empowered Republicans against President Barack Obama and Senate Democrats.

The Energy and Natural Resources committee moved the bill closer to the floor by a 13-9 vote. Sen Joe Manchin of West Virginia, one of six Democrats sponsoring the bill, was the only Democrat to support it in committee. The House will vote on its version of the bill Friday, and is expected to pass it easily.

Joe Manchin: We could override Obama veto on Keystone bill

As a key Senate committee cleared legislation approving the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a prominent supporter of the project said Thursday he believes the chamber could have enough votes to override a presidential veto of the bill.

Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, told his colleagues he believes the bill approving the pipeline could garner 67 votes, the number needed to overcome a veto by the president.

Do Plummeting Oil Prices Weaken Case for Keystone Pipeline?

Back in September 2008, when a Canadian company first sought U.S. approval to build the Keystone XL pipeline, the United States was the world’s third largest oil producer and crude oil prices hovered around $105 per barrel. At that time, Apple was selling the iPhone3, Britney Spears won an MTV award, and George W. Bush was president.

Today, in Barack Obama’s second term in the White House, Calgary-based TransCanada is still seeking the go-ahead for the northern leg of its controversial Canada-to-U.S. project, which would move oil to the Gulf Coast. But just as in pop culture and politics, a lot has changed in oil economics.

Limiting Tar Sands, Coal, Arctic Oil Is Key to 2°C Goal

The most efficient way of meeting the world’s most prominent climate goal would involve ending all Arctic oil drilling plans, drastically curbing tar-sands oil mining in Canada, and leaving most of the world’s remaining coal reserves in the ground.

That’s according to a new study that aimed to determine how best to limit the burning of different fuels to meet theinternational goal of holding global warming to less than 2°C, or 3.6°F. The goal was established during United Nations climate negotiations, and meeting it would require leaving two-thirds of remaining fossil fuel reserves unburned.

Hilcorp eyes Arctic exploration despite plunging oil price

At a time when falling world oil prices are triggering market cutbacks, America’s race to the Arctic appears to be expanding with a second company joining Royal Dutch Shell PLC in applying to explore in Alaska’s icy northern waters.

Oil independent Hilcorp Alaska has filed a development and production plan to explore for crude from a man-made island to be constructed at the Liberty lease site 5 miles into federal waters in the Beaufort Sea.

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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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