Environmental Must-Reads – July 29, 2014


Welcome to Williston, North Dakota: America’s new gold rush city

The most expensive place to rent new housing in the US isn’t Miami, LA or even New York. Thanks to the fracking boom, it’s Williston, North Dakota, where Walmart pays $20/hour and new arrivals sleep in shipping containers. How does a city cope with a modern-day gold rush?

GAO seeks more drinking water safeguards

A congressional watchdog wants the Environmental Protection Agency to better protect the nation’s drinking water when it comes to risks posed by disposing of wastewater from the oil and gas industry deep underground.

The Government Accountability Office on Monday released a report recommending the EPA look at emerging risks such as earthquakes, the use of diesel in fracking and overpressurization of wells, and how agency safeguards stack up against such risks.

Wyoming seeks to address drilling near communities

In North Dakota, the epicenter of the current American energy boom, oil and gas wells cannot be drilled within 500 feet of a home, business or school.  Colorado requires the same distance, though it also has stipulations for wells within 1,000 feet of “high-use buildings” like schools and hospitals.

And in Texas, long the keystone of the country’s oil and gas industry, the question is left up to communities themselves. Dallas chose a buffer of 1,500 feet. Fort Worth, home to 1,700 producing wells within its city limits, has a minimum distance of 600 feet.

Wyoming’s setback is 350 feet, though that could soon change.

Well inspectors trying to keep up during boom time

The state’s 83 well inspectors face a daunting enough challenge keeping tabs on 120,000 active oil and gas wells that have been drilled over the last century.

But boom times on the Marcellus shale are bringing online thousands more wells that use a complicated process requiring more careful oversight.

In Big Bend, Battle Looms on Fracking Along the Border

The Big Bend of Texas, so named for the way the region hugs a massive bend in the Rio Grande, is renown for its desert landscapes, open spaces and tranquility.

But parts of it lie within the oil-rich Permian Basin, the nation’s highest producing oil field thanks in large measure to fracking technology.

Congressional Watch-Dog Warns Fracking Waste Could Threaten Drinking Water

The Government Accountability Office says new risks from underground injections of oil and gas waste could harm drinking water supplies, and the EPA needs to step up both oversight and enforcement. The GAO released a study on Monday detailing the EPA’s role in overseeing the nation’s 172,000 wells, which either dispose of oil and gas waste, use “enhanced” oil and gas production techniques, store fossil fuels for later use, or use diesel fuel to frack for gas or oil. These wells are referred to as “class II” underground injection wells and are regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Congressional watchdog urges EPA to step up actions on fracking

The Government Accountability Office is calling on the federal Environmental Protection Agency to step up enforcement of water contamination and seismic activity associated with fracking, the high-pressure injection of fluids into wells to extract oil and natural gas.

In a report made public Monday, the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, found that the EPA’s efforts were hindered because the guidance it gives other agencies hasn’t been updated since the 1980s. In addition, the GAO said, the EPA lacks the resources needed for enforcement, such as annual on-site evaluations. The issue is important because fracking has been increasing.

Nearly Half Of U.K. Opens To Fracking Exploration, Including Protected Areas

On Monday, the United Kingdom’s government opened its 14th onshore oil and gas licensing round, the first in six years, giving fossil fuel companies the chance to bid for licenses across nearly half the region. It is also the first round of licensing since the initial exploratory shale gas wells were drilled in the U.K. around four years ago. This latest round was delayed three years after seismic tremors caused by prior exploration pushed back the process.

Fracking: Matthew Hancock fails to name a single village that supports it

The energy minister failed to name a single village in Britain that would welcome fracking as a leading scientist warned 1,000 successful wells a year would be needed to meet the daily demand for gas.

Matthew Hancock, the new energy minister, said that exploring for shale gas had to be carried out in a “sensitive way” to reassure concerned communities while companies work out how much gas will be accessible.

Beauty spots still at fracking ‘risk’, say campaigners

Fracking licences can only be issued for beauty spots in “exceptional circumstances”, according to new rules issued by the government. It said the regulations for the new bidding round for licences – the first in six years – are stricter than before.

And companies applying to frack near beauty spots will have additional obligations. But some environmental campaigners say the new rules are not tough enough.

Coral Damage Goes Deeper in Gulf of Mexico’s Oil Spill Zone

A sweeping survey of coral communities surrounding the site of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico shows that the catastrophe had a wider effect than scientists thought four years ago.

“This study very clearly shows that multiple coral communities, up to 22 kilometers from the spill site and at depths over 1,800 meters, were impacted by the spill,” said Penn State biologist Charles Fisher, lead author of the report being published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Submission for oil spill restoration projects begins

Gulf Restoration Council has announced it will begin accepting submissions for habitat restoration and water quality projects to be paid for with a new pot of oil spill fine dollars.

Report finds Beaufort Sea oil spill response inadequate

A report released Friday by the World Wildlife Fund in Canada finds the capacity for oil spill response in the Beaufort Sea is woefully inadequate, even as Canadian regulators consider relaxing safety standards for offshore exploration.

WWF ran 22 separate models looking at how different spill scenarios would impact wildlife and habitat in the Beaufort Sea, drawing on industry development proposals and environmental data. Though conducted in Canada, the research affects Alaska, as well.

WWF maps future Arctic oil spill disasters

Imperial Oil, ExxonMobil and BP Canada have each applied for permission to explore Canada’s Arctic Beaufort Sea for oil. The site due to be studied stretches for more than one million acres and is home to rich and diverse sealife, including the world’s largest beluga whale population, migrating bowhead whales, more than 70 species of fish and myriad seabirds that call the coasts and wetlands home.

The World Wildlife Fund has now developed an online mapping platform demonstrating what would happen if an oil spill occurred in different regions of the Beaufort Sea. The platform was generated with the help of RPS Applied Science Associates, an environmental modelling company with more than three decades experience.

Washington Township oil spill update: DEP to answer questions

Washington Township residents with questions about last month’s oil spill — in a small pond behind Hydra Lane — will have the chance to talk to officials about their concerns at an upcoming environmental commission meeting.

Representatives from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection will be at the Aug. 7 meeting to answer questions and give residents a report.

Pressure on Enbridge in lakes pipeline safety

Four years after a pipeline broke and spilled hundreds of thousands of gallons of crude oil in Calhoun County, the Michigan Attorney General says the state is continues to give Enbridge, Inc. extra scrutiny.

When the Enbridge pipeline broke near Marshall in July 2010, it dumped 800,000 gallons of oil into the Kalamazoo River and its tributaries.It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history. Enbridge is still cleaning up the mess.

U.S. lawmakers got cash from Alberta’s Keystone lobbyists

One of Washington’s most influential lobbying firms made thousands of dollars in political contributions to key U.S. lawmakers last year as it worked on behalf of the Alberta government to drum up congressional support for the Keystone XL pipeline, documents reveal.

Chronicling meetings and luncheons between lobbyists and congressional staffers, the U.S. government records offer a glimpse into Alberta’s efforts to promote a project that is facing a growing number of hurdles across the border.

Canadian regulator tells Enbridge to stop Line 3 maintenance work

Canada’s energy regulator has ordered Enbridge Inc to halt maintenance work on its Line 3 crude oil pipeline near Cromer, Manitoba, after an inspection in early July revealed a number of environmental and safety concerns.

The National Energy Board said Enbridge had failed to put in place measures to conserve topsoil, control erosion and manage drainage, resulting in damage to wetlands and agricultural lands and posing a safety hazard.

Inuit village sues to block oil surveys in Canada’s Arctic

A small Inuit village in the Canadian Arctic on Monday sued to block offshore exploration for oil, involving noisy air-cannon surveys it says threaten marine wildlife.

Oil prospecting ships are soon due to arrive on the Clyde River, located on the east coast of Baffin Island and 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) from the North Pole, after Canada’s National Energy Board gave the green light in June.

Nunavut groups launch legal challenge to oil, gas exploration

The remote Nunavut community of Clyde River launched a legal challenge on Monday against plans to conduct a large-scale seismic survey across Baffin Bay and the Davis Strait in the search for offshore oil and gas.

In an application for judicial review, the community asked the Federal Court of Appeal to strike down regulators’ approval of the project, which would collect two-dimensional seismic data for more than 16,000 kilometres of the Arctic sea floor starting next year.

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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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