Environmental Must-Reads – July 15, 2015


Gas surges ahead of coal in US power generation

For the first time ever, gas has usurped coal as the biggest producer of electricity in the US. Analysts say Obama administration’s proposed climate change rules are likely to establish gas as the predominant source of electricity as early as 2020.

Figures released by the US government’s Energy Information Administration (EIA) show that in April, natural gas produced 31.5% of the country’s electricity and coal 30.2%.

California should not issue permits for offshore fracking

The contrast couldn’t be more striking. Just as New York state banned fracking, California officials quietly issued nine offshore fracking permits in the wake of the state’s worst oil spill in 25 years.

These permits for fracking on oil islands off Long Beach harbor are the first in California waters since public controversy over the dangerous practice sent the industry on a hiatus. The permits add insult to injury considering Big Oil just coated the Santa Barbara coastline with crude and killed hundreds of birds, dolphins and other wildlife.

Bonita Springs anti-fracking law up for final vote

An attorney for Collier Resources Co. won’t say whether the family concern that controls much of the mineral rights on land in Southwest Florida will file suit to block an anti-fracking ordinance if it wins final approval before the Bonita Springs City Council on Wednesday.

The city’s legal department, meanwhile, has recommended that the council put off consideration of the ordinance, to give the owners of oil drilling rights an opportunity to “work out issues” with the environmental protection group Conservancy of Southwest Florida.

Fracking Jobs Encouraged American Teens to Become High School Dropouts

That burst of employment generated by fracking in the past decade may not have been all good news for the U.S.

Jobs offering low-skilled American teenagers a chance to earn big bucks in the shale oil and gas industry also made it less attractive to finish high school, causing a jump in dropout rates, a new study showed. It was published this month by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Fracking Democracy

As more and more evidence emerges on the potential harm to air, water and land from fracking and as oil and gas companies get more aggressive in growing their operations, communities are saying “enough” and fighting to retain or restore their democracy.

The most recent battleground is Ohio where communities are trying various tactics, including charter reform, to ban fracking operations within their borders. It’s pitted local officials against the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) and the courts.

Fracking proposals for Long Beach oil islands draw protesters at City Hall

Protesters demonstrated outside Long Beach City Hall on Tuesday against proposals to frack on Long Beach’s oil islands.

The Press-Telegram has reported that the state’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources granted permits for fracking work at eight existing offshore oil wells and five new ones, according to agency spokesman Don Drydale.

Fracking: A Dangerous, Unnecessary ‘Bridge’

Good news! The drinking water in Maryland shall remain nonflammable for at least the next two years!

On June 1, 2015, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan allowed an anti-fracking bill to become law without his signature. The new law prohibits Maryland regulators from issuing fracking permits until October 2017. However, although this policy represents a victory for the public interest, it is much too early to celebrate.

Britain should avoid deep injection shale wells: task force

Britain should steer clear of using deep injection wells in shale oil and gas “fracking” and take extra steps to reduce the technique’s environmental and health effects, an industry-funded task force examining the sector said on Wednesday.

The oil and gas industry uses deep injection wells to dispose of wastewater when drilling for shale, but some have been linked to earthquakes in the United States.

Fracking fears in WA’s south west downplayed as preferred exploration applicant announced

The WA Government has downplayed the likelihood of fracking in the state’s south west in the near future saying it could be years before any mining companies conduct drilling.

The Department of Mines and Petroleum (DMP) has announced Unconventional Resources Proprietary Limited has been chosen as the preferred applicant for a shale gas and oil exploration permit in the region which includes a sizeable dairy, beef and fruit industry.

Train derailment near Fort Frances: ministry unsure how long cleanup will take

Ontario’s Ministry of Environment and Climate Change says it doesn’t know how long it will take to clean up the remnants of a trail derailment near Fort Frances, in northwestern Ont. late last week.

Fourteen cars went off the tracks. One breached, spilling a petroleum-based combustible liquid.

Ministry spokesperson Kate Jordan said CN has hired a clean-up company to mop up the spill, and the substances have been contained.

Judge rejects CP Rail’s challenge of Lac-Mégantic settlement

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. has failed in its attempt to block a court settlement that could pay millions of dollars in compensation to families of the victims of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic oil-train disaster.

Quebec Superior Court Justice Gaétan Dumas rejected CP’s challenge of the settlement in a decision released on Monday, saying the process can go ahead. CP had argued that the court had no jurisdiction over the settlement, which was proposed under bankruptcy proceedings for the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway Ltd., which was responsible for the explosion.

Crews cleaning 20,000 gallons of lube oil in Pulaski Co. train derailment

Crews now have to clean up quite the mess after a train ran into another train and derailed in the New River Valley on Tuesday afternoon. Multiple cars were knocked off the tracks and two crew members were taken to the hospital — neighbors in the immediate area were also evacuated.

The two people hurt in the accident have been treated and released from the hospital, as of Wednesday morning.

Plaquemines Parish rejects BP settlement offer as too small

Plaquemines Parish has turned down a settlement offer from BP to pay for damages caused during the Deepwater Horizon disaster and oil spill because it was too small to compensate for the losses, two lawyers representing the parish in settlement talks said Monday (July 13).

In an interview, Parish Attorney Joel Loeffelholz and private attorney Scott Bickford said Parish President Amos Cormier told the Parish Council about the settlement offer and the decision to turn it down during a July 9 executive session in which the council was considering a separate offer to settle claims of the Port of Plaquemines.

Refugio Oil Spill Subject Of Congressional Hearing

The May 19  oil spill near Refugio State Beach was the subject of a congressional hearing on Tuesday.

The U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Power allowed Rep.Rep. Lois Capps (CA-24) to make the opening remarks: “As you all know, nearly two months ago over 100,000 gallons of crude oil spilled from the ruptured Plains All American Pipeline in my district. The oil gushed from the ruptured pipeline, flowed down a hill, onto the beach, and into the ocean along the pristine Gaviota Coast. From there, tens of thousands of gallons of oil spread for miles down the coast, closing popular beaches and valuable fisheries, devastating wildlife, and bringing back memories of the Platform A disaster more than 45 years ago. Since that devastating oil spill in 1969, the Santa Barbara community has dedicated itself to learning from that tragedy and working to ensure it does not happen again. Sadly, even in a community so determined to prevent them, May 19th reminded us that spills are inevitable as long as we continue to depend on oil for our energy needs. I know the Plains spill in my district certainly is not the first pipeline failure, nor will it be the last.

Toronto Wildlife Centre Dozens Of Ducks From Oil Spill

Dozens of workers at a wildlife charity in Toronto have set up a makeshift triage unit as they try to save dozens of ducks covered in oil that spilled into a city creek.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre said it had rescued 31 ducks — with at least a dozen more en route — that were slicked with oil by late Tuesday afternoon.

Oil spill cleanup continues in southwestern Illinois

The cleanup continues in southwestern Illinois after a weekend oil spill dumped more than 4,000 gallons of crude into a creek.

Houston-based Plains All-American Pipeline says it has deployed 2,700 booms in response to a Friday pipeline break at a pump station about 40 miles east of St. Louis near Highland.

2 generations aid each other politically — and walk a fine line on Gulf drilling

Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) warmed up a large crowd on the sunny beaches of Clearwater, Fla., in late 2008 for GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin by starting off with a familiar Republican chant: “Drill, baby, drill!”

Gas prices that summer were on an upward march toward $4 a gallon just as an election was in full swing, and Palin was out campaigning for Arizona Sen. John McCain, the Republican presidential nominee.

Aircraft to start hunt for Atlantic oil off East Coast

An aerial hunt for oil and natural gas reserves in the Atlantic Ocean is poised to launch, a first step in the plan to lease waters off Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia to drilling.

But controversial seismic cannons, considered the best method to find where the oil and gas is, won’t be unleashed off the coast until at least next year.

Alberta Says It Must Act on Climate for Quebec Pipeline Nod

Alberta will only win Quebec’s support for TransCanada Corp.’s Energy East pipeline if it generates jobs for Quebeckers and if the oil-rich province does more to protect the environment, Premier Rachel Notley said.

Alberta’s premier spoke with reporters Tuesday by telephone after meeting in Quebec City with her counterpart Philippe Couillard. Quebec’s premier hailed “a new ally” in Notley, a New Democrat whose party won power for the first time in Alberta in May.

Suncor oil sands project aims to replace steam with radio waves

Suncor Energy Inc has launched a pilot project to replace the high-pressure steam used to extract bitumen from oil sands with radio frequency technology developed by U.S. defence contractor Harris Corporation.

Canada’s largest oil and gas company, which produces 440,000 barrels per day from Alberta’s oil sands, said on Tuesday that the technology could significantly reduce costs, greenhouse gas emissions and water usage.

Enbridge slammed for information gaps in Straits oil pipeline report

Assurances from Enbridge Energy that the company’s twin oil pipelines under the Straits of Mackinac are in “excellent” condition and pose “minimal” risks of a spill are not enough to resolve existing public concerns about the line’s potential threat to the Great Lakes and Michigan’s economy.

That’s one of several key concerns outlined in a state pipeline safety task force report released July 14, recommending, among other actions, an immediate third-party analysis and risk assessment of the aging pipelines.

Michigan: Ban heavy oil from Straits of Mackinac pipeline

Heavy crude oil will be banned from a pipeline that runs under a scenic waterway where Lakes Huron and Michigan meet, state officials said Tuesday, adding they also will require independent analyses of future alternatives to the pipes and worst-case consequences of a spill.

Only light crude presently moves through Line 5, two side-by-side pipelines below the 5-mile-wide Straits of Mackinac that transport nearly 23 million gallons of oil a day. It is run by Canada-based Enbridge Energy Partners, which told the state in February it has no plans to move heavy crude through the line built in 1953.

SC now pushing back on proposed Palmetto Pipeline

As the would-be builders of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline fight for survival in a Georgia court, South Carolina’s top legal office has signaled the project may face unexpected hurdles there.

An attorney general’s opinion, signed by Solicitor General Robert D. Cook and issued earlier this month, delves into the state’s constitution and the history of its pipeline law. Cook concludes lawmakers probably never intended to give oil pipelines the right of eminent domain.

South Carolina swipes at Palmetto Pipeline’s authority to take property

As the would-be builders of the proposed Palmetto Pipeline fight for survival in a Georgia court, South Carolina’s top legal office has signaled the project may face unexpected hurdles there.

An attorney general’s opinion, signed by Solicitor General Robert D. Cook and issued earlier this month, delves into the state’s constitution and the history of its pipeline law. Cook concludes lawmakers probably never intended to give oil pipelines the right of eminent domain.

House reps rap pipeline regulator for slow action on safeguards

The nation’s top pipeline regulator has taken too long to impose congressionally ordered safeguards, including changes that could have blunted the impact of a recent spill in California, lawmakers said Tuesday.

The stalled reforms include regulations governing how quickly companies must notify authorities after a pipeline spill, leak detection systems and the use of automatic and remote-control shut-off valves that can be triggered in emergencies to swiftly halt flowing oil and natural gas. All told, more than a dozen of the 42 mandates Congress gave the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration in a 2011 law remain unfinished, lawmakers said Tuesday.

Researchers: Much still unknown about cleaning up Arctic oil spills

As drillers make their way toward Arctic waters, some researchers say plenty remains unknown about how to deal with an oil spill in icy waters up North.

The U.S. Arctic Research Commission wants better testing in actual Arctic conditions, John Farrell, the commission’s executive director, told the audience at a Arctic symposium in Washington, D.C., Tuesday.

Greens urge U.S. to refuse Shell’s final Arctic drilling permits

Environmental groups on Tuesday urged the U.S. government not to grant Royal Dutch Shell final permits for Arctic oil exploration after an icebreaker with safety equipment to cap wells was put out of action.

Ten groups, including Oceana, Greenpeace, and the Sierra Club, said in a letter that under Shell’s exploration plans, the U.S. Interior Department cannot allow it to begin exploring for oil in the Chukchi Sea off northern Alaska while the icebreaker, the Fennica, is unavailable.

Groups want Shell’s Arctic plans stopped after ship damaged

Ten environmental groups say a missing icebreaker should be a deal-breaker for Arctic offshore drilling by Royal Dutch Shell PLC off Alaska’s northwest coast.

The groups in a letter Tuesday called on Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to reject permits sought by Shell to drill in the Chukchi Sea because of the absence of the 380-foot icebreaker Fennica while it undergoes repairs.

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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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