Environmental Must-Reads – July 22, 2014


Federal, state agencies raise concerns about St. Tammany oil well

In what the company calls a “routine part of the process” of applying for permits, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality have requested that Helis Oil & Gas consider alternative drilling sites for a proposed oil well in St. Tammany Parish and provide greater details on contingency plans and the expected environmental impact of the proposed well.

The 10-acre site where Helis proposes to put an oil well is 91 percent wetlands, and the company should consider alternative sites “that would be economically viable and environmentally less damaging,” according to the Corps’ letter.

GOP Senators Question Inspector General’s Right To Probe Fracking

The Environmnental Protection Agency’s inspector general defended Friday his right to investigate pollution risks from hydraulic fracturing, after a posse of Republican senators from petroleum-rich states questioned his authority.

Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn of Texas, Thomas Coburn and James Inhofe of Oklahoma, and David Vitter of Louisiana sent a letter in May to EPA Inspector General Arthur Elkins asking why he was investigating fracking instead of investigating the EPA itself.

Fracking fight headed for the ballot in Colorado

Colorado voters will likely get a chance to weigh in on fracking in November — and that puts Democrats on the ballot in a tight spot.

The fracking boom has bolstered Colorado’s economy, and twisted its politics. Even many Democrats advocate for oil and gas interests, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, both of whom are up for reelection this year. But many people living near the wells complain of contaminated air and water, noise, health problems, and other adverse effects.

Halliburton takes 5 days to provide chemical information at Ohio fracking explosion that killed 70,000 fish

Last week I blogged about explosions and a spill at a fracking operation in Ohio. More details are now available, and the reports offer a cautionary tale of all the things that can go wrong on a fracking site. Here are key conclusions from news reports and a U.S. EPA emergency response report

Families Sick From Fracking Exposure Turn to Concerned Scientists

Like people in other regions transformed by the shale energy boom, residents of Washington County, Pennsylvania have complained of headaches, nosebleeds and skin rashes. But because there are no comprehensive studies about the health impacts of natural gas drilling, it’s hard to determine if their problems are linked to the gas wells and other production facilities that have sprung up around them.

California Halts Injection of Fracking Waste, Warning it May Be Contaminating Aquifers

California officials have ordered an emergency shut-down of 11 oil and gas waste injection sites and a review more than 100 others in the state’s drought-wracked Central Valley out of fear that companies may have been pumping fracking fluids and other toxic waste into drinking water aquifers there.

Protesters Shut Down Construction of a Fracked Gas Pipeline in New York City

Construction on the Rockaway Lateral natural gas pipeline in Brooklyn was briefly halted on Saturday when protesters entered a gate and stormed into the drilling site while chanting, “Go home, go home!”

Saturday’s protest was the latest escalation in an 11th-hour campaign to halt the construction of the 26-inch pipeline, which will carry fracked natural gas under high pressure from an interstate transmission line off the coast into Brooklyn. The pipeline will run under the Rockaway beaches of Fort Tilden and Jacob Riis and through the heretofore federally protected Gateway National Recreation Area before terminating in a metering and regulation station being built in a hangar at Floyd Bennett Field. There, the pressure will be stepped down and the gas will flow into NYC electric giant Con Edison’s distribution network.

Halliburton Says Demand for North American Fracking Turn

Halliburton Co. (HAL), the world’s largest provider of hydraulic fracturing services, said demand for fracking in North America has turned a corner and it’s adding crews this year as the industry burns through excess capacity that has kept prices low.

“On our last call, some of you may have been skeptical when I said I was beginning to feel the turn in North America,” Chief Executive Officer David Lesar said on a second-quarter earnings conference call today. “Based on our performance during the quarter, I believe this feeling was dead on target. Today, we are not feeling the turn, we are in the turn, and I feel even more excited than I was last quarter.”

Fracking Opponents Renew Call for South African Shale-Gas Halt

A South African environmental group renewed its call for a moratorium on shale-gas fracking, as the government moves closer to a decision on whether to allow the process opponents say imperils water quality.

The Treasure Karoo Action Group, named after the semi-desert area of South Africa that has attracted petroleum exploration companies, started in Johannesburg today the latest phase of a campaign to block the drilling technique.

Kean Miller targeted by lawsuit alleging divided loyalties in sinkhole litigation

Vulcan Materials, a longtime client of Baton Rouge-based Kean Miller, is suing its former law firm in Baton Rouge district court. Vulcan alleges Kean Miller breached its duties to Vulcan while working for Texas Brine, the firm blamed for the Bayou Corne sinkhole. Vulcan says Kean Miller failed to advise Vulcan of the sinkhole’s emergence or the fact that Vulcan was being accused by Texas Brine of contributing to the cause of it.

Hydroelectric plant spill releases oil into Keowee River

A spill from a hydroelectric plant has released oil into the Keowee River, though the government regulators and the owner of the plant say the spill isn’t a threat to the public.

The spill — about five gallons of oil — happened Sunday at the Keowee Hydro Plant, which releases water into the Keowee River upstream of Lake Hartwell.

Official: Oil spill ‘poses no threat’ to public

A Duke Energy officials said an oil spill in the Keowee River does not pose a threat to the public.

BJ Gatten, spokeswoman for Duke Energy, said the spill happened at Duke’s Keowee hydro plant Sunday evening.  When workers noticed the spill, it was stopped and contained by a yellow boom across the water.

Oil Spill Drill Conducted Near Teller

Even as marine traffic increases past the Bering Strait, no one knows how well an oil spill could be cleaned up in the case of an accident. Stakeholders traveled to the region last week to conduct the region’s first spill response exercise, and learn more about the challenges posed.

‘We Will Fight’: Keystone XL Pipeline Foes Fear Worst for Water Supply

Facing the sunrise on a frigid morning, Rosebud Sioux tribal leader Royal Yellow Hawk offered an ancient prayer in song, his voice periodically muffled by the whistling prairie wind. Behind Yellow Hawk was a cinematic scene from another century: 30-foot-tall tipis arranged in a half circle, quickly brightening in the morning light.

This tipi encampment was erected this spring to be a visible and ongoing embodiment of opposition to the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, which, if constructed, would hug the reservation’s territory in transporting diluted bitumen oil 1,179-miles from Canada’s tar sands to Steele City, Nebraska.

Maine Town Weighs Ban On Oil Exports In Attempt To Stop Flow of Canadian Tar Sands Crude

A small town in southern Maine is hoping to block the oil industry’s plans to increase the flow of Canadian tar sands crude.

On Monday night, South Portland’s city council is expected to approve a ban on the export of crude oil from the local waterfront. The ordinance would effectively close off the possibility of using an existing Maine-to-Montreal pipeline to ship Canadian crude through the U.S. Northeast for export.

Maine town fights plan to use pipeline to export oil sands crude

Tom Blake, like thousands of his neighbors in this coastal town, is used to living alongside the oil industry. Tank farms cluster in neighborhoods, by the park where families watch the movie “Frozen” on a summer night, next to schools and senior citizens apartment buildings. As a child, Blake, the town’s former mayor, used to jump into high snow drifts from the massive oil tank next door.

Now, after decades as a New England hub for importing crude oil and distributing fuel, South Portland is enmeshed in a dispute with the oil industry that echoes far beyond southern Maine.

17 Billionth Barrel Flows Down Alaska Pipeline

The trans-Alaska pipeline has moved its 17 billionth barrel of oil.

The operator of the 37-year-old pipeline, Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., announced the milestone Monday.

Cleaned-up Kalamazoo River ‘unrecognizable’ to Ceresco historian with loss of town’s dam

Following a massive oil spill near Marshall four years ago, the Kalamazoo River is nearly back to normal, the restoration of its clean water, oil-free banks, natural plants and fish habitat almost complete.

Fish, turtles and recreational river users will all return. But the community of Ceresco has suffered collateral damage, not from the oil but from the aftermath, town historian Heather Rocho says. It will never be the same.

Enbridge workers evicted from Grand River “Integrity Dig” site by Six Nations community members & allies

Individuals from Six Nations and their allies have interrupted work on a section of Enbridge’s Line 9 pipeline. The work stoppage began around 10am this morning. Individuals involved asked workers to leave, asserting that the land is Haudenosaunee territory guaranteed under the Haldimand deed, and that Enbridge’s workers were present without consent or consultation.

Russia’s Rosneft cleans up oil deposits in Arctic from icebergs

Russian oil giant Rosneft intends to create a complex control system of ice situation in the Arctic region to protect geological prospecting and oil production from icebergs, Rosneft board member Artur Chilingarov said.

Rosneft jointly with partners from US energy giant ExxonMobil is developing new safety technologies in the Kara Sea where drilling is already planned in August. Drilling rig West Alpha is moving to Russian coast for the purpose.

Exxon Oil Rig Enters Uncharted Waters of Russian Political Storm

An ordinary, long-scheduled journey of an oil drilling rig into Arctic waters is turning into a major political exercise, attracting international scrutiny and creating a dilemma for Exxon Mobil Corp.

Exxon, the top U.S. oil major and the world’s most valued oil company, is bringing the rig, called West Alpha, from Norway to the Russian Arctic. It is hoping for a major discovery in the Kara Sea with Russian partner Rosneft Oil Co.

Trouble in Legoland as Greenpeace Campaigns Against Toy Company’s Partnership With Big Oil

What happens when a beloved toy company partners with a global oil giant that wants to drill in the Arctic Ocean? Greenpeace gets involved.

The international conservation group has launched a social media campaign against Shell Oil and Lego, which are giving Lego race cars to children while hawking gasoline to their parents.

Wisconsin Train Crash Hurts 2 People, Spills Fuel

A Canadian National Railway Co. train struck another freight train as it rolled through a small village in southeastern Wisconsin, causing cars to derail, injuring two people and spilling thousands of gallons of fuel that prompted the evacuation of dozens of homes.

The southbound Canadian National train struck several Wisconsin & Southern Railroad cars around 8:30 p.m. Sunday at a rail crossing in Slinger, according to Patrick Waldron, a Canadian National spokesman.

New oil train rules likely to have wide reach

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx suggested Monday that coming mandates to boost the safety of hauling oil by train will take a comprehensive approach, going beyond requiring changes to the tank cars that carry crude across the country.

“So many folks out there say, ‘Just figure out what the tank car should look like,’?” Foxx said after a speech at the National Press Club. “And that’s one piece of it, but speed is an issue, and there are several other components that matter.”


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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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