Environmental Must-Reads – July 17, 2014


In North Dakota’s oil bonanza, natural gas goes up in flames

Frank and Wanda Leppell once lived on a quiet cattle ranch in the middle of a rolling prairie, the lowing of cattle and the chirping of sparrows forming a pleasant soundtrack to their mornings. No more.

Not since the pasture they began leasing in 2009 became part of one of the nation’s most productive new oil fields. Not since a well barely 200 yards from their front porch began shooting a torch of burning gas skyward, 24 hours a day, with a force as loud as a jet engine.

Politicians on attack after scientists call for more research into fracking

Deputy premier Rich Coleman challenged Thursday the conclusions of a scientific panel into the environmental effect of shale gas development using fracking.

The group of Canadian and U.S. scientists, appointed in 2011 by former federal environment minister Peter Kent to examine the sector’s potential and risks across Canada, urge a cautionary, go-slow approach until more research is done on a relatively new sector.

Advocates critique new state water-quality standards

Environmental advocates criticized a long-overdue update of North Carolina water-quality standards for not including limits on fracking chemicals and other contaminants.

States are required to review their water-quality standards every three years, but North Carolina last did so in 2007. The state Environmental Management Commission is expected to consider them this fall.

Texas Town Moves One Step Closer To Fracking Ban

Even Texans are hotly debating fracking.

Fed up with what it claimed were serious health-related issues among the community’s children,  the Denton Drilling Awareness Group, a grass-roots group in a town of the same name, has managed to get the state’s first referendum on whether to ban further permitting of the controversial oil-drilling practice within city limits.

‘Saltwater’ From North Dakota Fracking Spill Is Not What’s Found in the Ocean

In early July, a million gallons of salty drilling waste spilled from a pipeline onto a steep hillside in western North Dakota’s Fort Berthold Reservation. The waste—a byproduct of oil and gas production—has now reached a tributary of Lake Sakakawea, which provides drinking water to the reservation.

The oil industry called the accident a “saltwater” spill. But the liquid that entered the lake bears little resemblance to what’s found in the ocean.

Fracking receives support in survey of St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce members

Nearly 70 percent of the responses to a St. Tammany West Chamber of Commerce survey about fracking expressed support for the method of oil extraction or no opposition as long as safeguards are put in place to protect the parish’s drinking water. The chamber released the results of its survey as it considers taking a formal position on fracking, a controversial issue in St. Tammany since Helis Oil & Gas proposed drilling a well and using the hydraulic fracturing method on undeveloped land northeast of Mandeville.

Hickenlooper: No special session on fracking

Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper said Wednesday that he won’t call a special legislative session seeking to grant communities more control over Colorado’s booming oil and gas industry.

The announcement comes after months of negotiations between the Hickenlooper administration, the energy industry and environmentalists. The goal was to try to stave off ballot measures that would restrict fracking and, the energy industry has argued, damage the state’s economy.

Erie Planning Commission approves 13 new fracking wells

Oil and gas company Encana has taken another step toward securing approval for 13 new hydraulic fracturing wells near a dense residential section of Erie, but affected residents and town officials pressed the company to communicate their plans more clearly going forward.

Erie’s Planning Commission voted unanimously Wednesday night to approve Encana’s plan and send it to the town’s Board of Trustees, which will meet Aug. 12 to either OK or reject the project once and for all.

North Carolina public gets a chance to weigh in on proposed fracking rules

North Carolina environmental regulators have opened the public comment period on proposed rules for fracking, a controversial drilling technique that involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into a well to fracture rocks and release trapped natural gas or oil. Fracking — short for “hydraulic fracturing” — has been linked to water contamination and air pollution problems in other states.

Planned fracking sand facility rejected

The Wyoming County Planning Commission denied preliminary approval Wednesday for a proposed facility that provides sand for fracking, saying it violated a section of the county code that protects the health, safety and welfare of the community.

In a packed room, around a dozen residents were given three minutes each to speak to what they saw as problems with the transload silica sand facility in Tunkhannock Twp., first proposed in December by D&I Silica of Sheffield to be located at the intersection of Route 92 and Route 6 Bypass.

Coastal Louisiana land loss worth price to fix, study will attempt to show

With a 50-year, $50 billion coastal restoration and protection plan to pay for, the state is gearing up with evidence to convince the rest of the country that the price tag is worth it.

The state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority started a new study in May that will quantify the worth of south Louisiana and just how much the rest of the country has to lose if nothing is done to stem coastal land loss or make coastal communities more secure.

Pinellas officials seek ideas on spending BP oil spill funds

The five Gulf Coast states affected by the 2010 BP-Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout will soon receivefederal funds to help restore local environments.

Estimates peg that total to range from $1.5–$2 million per year for 10 or more years, as part of the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities, and Revived Economy Act of 2012, better known as the RESTORE Act.

Judge orders lawyers repay portion of client’s fraudulent BP claim

A federal judge has ruled the lawyers and accountants who represented a claimant at the center of an investigation into alleged fraud in the BP oil spill settlement are responsible for repaying nearly a quarter of the $357,000 payment he received.

U.S. District Court Judge Carl Barbier in April ruled Casey C. Thonn and the lawyers who represented him in a shrimping claim repay the amount after an investigation revealed the payment was made based on phony tax returns.

New Orleanian biking to Valdez to study oil spill for student project

The Exxon Valdez and BP oil spills. Two disasters that one New Orleanian living in Alaska hopes to find common ground on.

Twenty-two year old Hillary Hafner, a senior at Alaska Pacific University, says she plans to bike 300 miles to Valdez to research the aftermath of the oil spill.

Polish power plant leaks fuel, threatens river

A malfunction at a Polish power plant on Wednesday caused a leakage of fuel, prompting emergency officials to work to make sure it doesn’t contaminate the nearby Vistula River.

A spokesman for the plant, Piotr Ludwiczak, said about nine tons of the fuel, an oily substance used in combustion called mazut, escaped from the plant.

Energy Committee vote on Sen. Landrieu’s Keystone pipeline bill draws GOP cynicism

Rarely does a committee meeting get this kind of advance attention — especially with Republicans suggesting the key vote Wednesday on legislation to approve the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline is meaningless.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La, the new chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has scheduled the vote, and is likely to prevail with Republican support.

Enbridge raises ‘attack’ concerns in Line 9 pipeline filing as opposition mounts

In a sign of the mounting tensions over new energy infrastructure, Enbridge Inc. has raised the possibility of an “attack” on one of its pipelines.

The reference was contained in a redacted emergency response plan filed with the National Energy Board tied to the company’s Line 9 reversal and expansion. An un-redacted version was hand-delivered to the NEB’s Calgary offices and shared with first responders on the 600-kilometre pipeline route between Sarnia, Ont. and Montreal, Que., the company said.

Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention: Task Force Meets

When the Arctic Council’s Task Force on Arctic Marine Oil Pollution Prevention (TFOPP) met recently in Ottawa, it says it took important steps towards developing the Action Plan for oil pollution prevention mandated by Ministers in Kiruna. The Task Force is focused particularly on potential safety measures to prevent oil pollution from maritime and petroleum activities.

CSX: 15-30 oil trains move weekly on Hudson River line

Fifteen to 30 trains, each carrying at least 1 million gallons of North Dakota Bakken crude oil, pass through the Hudson Valley each week, according to information provided to the state by CSX Transportation.

The freight trains are moving along the CSX River Line through densely populated areas of Rockland and Orange counties as they head south from Albany to refineries in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Trains filled with flammable crude oil threaten area, records show

As many as 40 crude oil trains, each carrying a million or more gallons of the flammable liquid involved in several recent fiery derailments, roll through the Chicago area weekly, documents obtained by the Tribune show.

Although mile-long trains hauling scores of black tank cars have become a common sight in the past year, the documents provide the first public tally of the volume of such shipments passing through the nation’s busiest rail hub.

Map shows areas most at risk as rail shipments of oil continue to rise

Although it was crafted for advocacy purposes, I think the new “Blast Zone” interactive map of rail routes carrying shipments of crude oil across the U.S., in ever-increasing volumes, is an interesting and significant act of journalism as well.

Ever since the derailment, explosion and fire that killed 47 people in Quebec just over a year ago, we’ve all read about rising concern — and relative inaction — regarding the safety of these shipments. We may even have read reports like this one, from the Star Tribune earlier this year, noting that as many as six oil trains pass through the Twin Cities on a typical day.

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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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