Environmental Must-Reads – July 3, 2014


Pa. confirms drilling “buzzword” list; says it’s meant to guide, not silence employees

Did Pennsylvania health department officials circulate a list of drilling-related “buzzwords” and a meeting permission form that led department staff to believe they were being silenced on the issue of natural gas development?

Two weeks ago, when StateImpact Pennsylvania first reported on the buzzwords list and meeting form, the department’s answer to that question was no.

Since then, StateImpact Pennsylvania has obtained copies of the documents, which show that department employees needed high-level permission to attend forums on Marcellus Shale.

North Dakota Regulator Sets New Gas-Flaring Rules

North Dakota’s chief energy regulator said Tuesday it would enforce new restrictions on the amount of natural gas burned off at oil wells, a move designed to reduce flaring to a level more in line with other energy states including Texas.

New concerns arise over fracking’s safety

The ongoing controversy over the method for removing oil and gas from unconventional, hard-to-reach underground deposits that’s known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” has some new data to chew on.

It seems a large percentage of oil and gas wells tapping the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania are leaking methane gas, either into the air or into underground sources of drinking water.

Bakken Shale oil explorers told to cut flaring or face punishment

North Dakota, the second-largest U.S. oil-producing state amid booming output from shale, plans to punish crude explorers that fail to curtail the burning of natural gas as waste.

Energy companies that don’t curb so-called gas flaring will face limits on the amount of oil they can pump from the Bakken shale formation, the North Dakota Industrial Commission said in a statement today.

Rail Safety: Rising Risks

It’s been nearly two months since a train derailed in Lynchburg, sending a fireball into the sky above that city’s downtown and spilling oil into the James River.

Experts said the accident could have been far worse, and many communities along the state’s 3200 miles of railroad face similar dangers.

How two small New York towns have shaken up the national fight over fracking

The multibillion-dollar Anschutz Exploration Corp., which helped make its founder, Philip Anschutz, one of the richest men in America, filed a lawsuit three years ago against Dryden, a small town in Upstate New York.

The issue: Dryden was sitting on top of some of the best shale gas prospects in the country, and Denver-based Anschutz had bought a substantial number of leases giving it the right to drill there. But in August of that year, Dryden — like many towns seeking to restrain the rush to drill for shale oil or gas — had banned the combination of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling known as fracking. It did this by adopting new language for its zoning laws and by citing road-use regulations, noise limits and the need to protect 31 “critical environmental areas.”

Cities eye New York fracking ruling

The top court in the state of New York affirmed the rights of cities to ban hydraulic fracturing, in a much-watched case nationwide.

In a 5-2 decision, the state Court of Appeals said the cities of Dryden and Middlefield used their “home rule” authority appropriately by banning fracking before it ever came to them. Whether the decision has implications for Texas cities, including Denton, that already have thousands of acres in production, remains to be seen.

Oklahoma oil leaders respond to New York anti-fracking decision

Tulsa and Oklahoma energy industry leaders don’t seem too worried about a New York high court’s decision that allows municipalities to ban hydraulic fracturing in that state.

This state’s historic bond with oil and gas drilling is too strong — and lucrative — to follow suit with the New Yorkers, they say. Oklahoma is one of the nation’s primary energy producers.

Rumble on the Oklahoma prairie

The T-shirts say it all: Keep calm and polka on.

It has been almost three years since a 5.6-magnitude earthquake struck Prague, Oklahoma, buckling a highway, cracking structures and rattling nerves. It was the largest earthquake ever recorded in the state.

Shallow drillers might get a break in Pa. law

State lawmakers are considering legislation that would direct regulators to establish separate rules for drillers tapping oil and gas in shallower wells above the more popular Marcellus shale.

Language in bills, which would differentiate conventional wells from those drilled in deeper formations that are accessed by hydraulic fracking and horizontal drilling, appeared this week in the fiscal code, a companion bill to the state budget.

Florida County Goes To Court Over ‘Acid Fracking’ Near Everglades

In southwest Florida, county officials are fighting the state over a new oil drilling process that’s known by many different names: acidification, acidizing, acid stimulation and acid fracking.

Collier County has charged that state regulators have been lax in their oversight of the drilling, jeopardizing public health and the environment.

Pennsylvania Fracking Company Offers Residents Cash To Buy Protection From Claims Of Harm

For the last eight years, Pennsylvania has been riding the natural gas boom, with companies drilling and fracking thousands of wells across the state. And in a little corner of Washington County, some 20 miles outside of Pittsburgh, EQT Corporation has been busy – drilling close to a dozen new wells on one site.

It didn’t take long for the residents of Finleyville who lived near the fracking operations to complain – about the noise and air quality, and what they regarded as threats to their health and quality of life. Initially, EQT, one of the largest producers of natural gas in Pennsylvania, tried to allay concerns with promises of noise studies and offers of vouchers so residents could stay in hotels to avoid the noise and fumes.

BP oil spill medical claimants start receiving payments, USA Today reports

USA Today reports that BP has started to make payments to the 10,000 coastal residents, cleanup workers and other claimants who became ill or were injured as a result of exposure to oil and dispersants during the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

The report says about 800 claims are ready for payment and 100 claims have already been paid under the medical settlement deal approved by a federal judge in New Orleans in January 2012.

Harris County sues 10 companies connected to Gulf oil spill

Harris County Attorney Vince Ryan on July 2 filed suit against 10 companies involved in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster and Gulf of Mexico oil spill. The state of Texas and the city of Houston have filed similar lawsuits in recent years.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court Southern District of Texas Houston Division. It names three BP companies, five Transocean companies and two Halliburton companies as defendants.

Maine DEP evaluates site of Gorham oil spill

Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection is still working to clean up an oil spill that happened 3 weeks ago in Gorham. An oil tanker truck carrying kerosene flipped on June 11 at the South Street rotary, where Routes 112 and 114 meet, spilling somewhere around 8,900 gallons of oil.

Traffic was detoured in that area Tuesday as crews took another look at how much more work needs to be done. The DEP was checking the clay beneath the rotary, and found that that clay was containing the remaining oil pretty well.

Green River oil spill visually clean, but monitoring continues

Bureau of Land Management officials say it will be a year, maybe two, before they are prepared to give a complete “all-clear” to the site of an oil well leak that ultimately reached the Green River.

Though the site about 12 miles southeast of the city of Green River has been visually “scrubbed” clean of any noticeable hydrocarbon or salt products, BLM spokeswoman Lisa Bryant said, mineral specialists will continue to visit the site for monitoring, as they did Wednesday.

Keystone XL Pipeline: TransCanada Receives Another Setback After South Dakota Certificate Expires

The long and bitterly contested attempt to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico just received another setback.

A certificate allowing TransCanada Corp. (TSE:TRP-C) to construct the pipeline through South Dakota lapsed over the weekend, meaning the company will have to reapply for permitting. The process is sure to draw fierce opposition from environmental groups that argue the project will endanger water supplies and exacerbate global warming, as well as landowners who object to construction on their property.

Landrieu strikes out with Obama, Reid on Keystone Pipeline

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) continues to strike out with President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in her attempt to get their support for building the Keystone XL pipeline.

More delays seen for start of U.S. crude pipeline Seaway Twin

The widely anticipated Seaway Twin crude pipeline has yet to start pumping oil, missing an end-June target and fueling speculation among traders of potentially deeper delays.

Pipeline operator Enterprise Product Partners (EPD.N) said in June that the 450,000-barrel-per-day expansion, which would move crude from Cushing, Oklahoma, to oil tanks hear Houston, would be completed by the end of the month.

Keystone Pipeline: No. Shenandoah Pipeline: Yes?

In July of 2014, the first survey crews should be appearing on private lands along a proposed new pipeline’s route. Actual construction is expected to get underway in 18-24 months.

The project map’s town labels are blurry, but it seems that a planned Dominion pipeline for fracked natural gas would pass near the town of Stuarts Draft as it angles from Highland County, southeastward through the GW forest, and onward over the Blue Ridge. The Old South High blog has a detailed report. The pipeline, officially called the Southeast Reliability Project (and the Virginia Trunk Line as it passes through the Commonwealth), has supporters who cite potential job-creation and energy price stability. Opponents have a 1000+ signature petition against the pipeline, while citing National Forest environmental damage and other concerns.

For Oil-By-Rail, a Battle Between “Right to Know” and “Need to Know”

Since the first major oil-by-rail explosion occurred on July 6, 2013, in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, citizens in communities across the U.S. have risen up when they’ve learned their communities are destinations for volatile oil obtained from hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) in North Dakota’s Bakken Shale basin.

As the old adage goes, ignorance is bliss. It’s also one of the keys to how massive oil-by-rail infrastructure was built in just a few short years — the public simply didn’t know about it.

Global Partners’ oil train terminal near Clatskanie sued over Clean Air Act permitting

Environmental groups on Wednesday sued Global Partners, the operator of an oil train terminal near Clatskanie, alleging that it is violating the federal Clean Air Act by moving large amounts of volatile crude without a major air pollution permit.

Four groups say the terminal, a former ethanol plant built with state subsidies, skirted federal requirements when it started accepting crude oil instead of ethanol. They want Global Partners to do a lengthy review of the best pollution controls available, which they say should’ve been required the terminal began operating.

Oregon’s cost to disclose oil train routes? $218.75. In Washington: Free

For five media outlets looking to tell the public how many oil trains move around Oregon, the information will come with a price tag.

The bottom line? $218.75. That’s how much the state is seeking from the outlets, including The Oregonian, The Associated Press and Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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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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