Environmental Must-Reads – July 31, 2014


While St. Tammany fracking battle rages, the practice is embraced in neighboring Tangipahoa Parish

With about 100 Holsteins to milk twice a day, each and every day, Tangipahoa Parish dairyman Larry McDaniel goes about his chores like clockwork. Rising long before the sun, he heads to the barn across the road from his Kentwood-area home, rounds up his black-and-white charges, then begins the work of milking and feeding.

The same routine is repeated every afternoon at McDaniel Dairy Farm, located in the bucolic, gently rolling hills east of Kentwood, an area that once billed itself as the “Dairy Center of the South.”

Next door, just a stone’s throw from the McDaniel home, the scene belies the pastoral surroundings.

Helis showcases fracking site, safety plans

A little yellow stake, surrounded by acres of trees near I-12 and Hwy. 1088 in Mandeville, is where Helis Oil says the center of its fracking well operation will take place, if it’s given the OK.

The company took Eyewitness News on a tour of the planned well pad area Wednesday to lay out the intended look of the land, which will include a pond for fresh water used in the fracking process, storage tanks, piping and housing for workers, all surrounded by a two-foot berm.

EPA Should Address Emerging Risks From Fracking: GAO

The Environmental Protection Agency should review emerging risks related to safeguards for hydraulic fracturing wells used for oil and gas production, according to a report released July 28 by the Government Accountability Office.

Overall, safeguards in place at the wells—known as class II wells—are effective in preventing contamination of underground water sources and very little has occurred, EPA and state officials told the GAO.

A Public Wiki Shines Light on North America’s 4 Million Oil & Gas Wells

When residents of America’s fracking communities want to know if a particular oil or gas well in their neighborhood has a good environmental track record, they usually face the cumbersome task of searching through state records, which can take hours.

Now, a new website called WellWiki is trying to eliminate that frustration by making user-friendly data just a click away. Created by Joel Gehman, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta’s business school, WellWiki currently lists data on more than 250,000 oil and gas wells drilled in Pennsylvania since 1859.

Five gas wells leaked methane for years

Five natural gas wells in Bradford County have leaked methane for years because of persistent casing and cement problems, according to state Department of Environmental Protection records.

In May, a DEP inspector found combustible gas flowing through vents connected to the cement between layers of pipe. The department issued a notice of violation for each well in June, saying combustible gas outside the well’s surface casing violates state regulations.

Report Criticizes EPA Oversight of Injection Wells

Federal environment officials have failed to adequately oversee hundreds of thousands of wells used to inject toxic oil and gas drilling waste deep underground, according to a new congressional report.

The report, released Monday by the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is critical of the Environmental Protection Agency’s inconsistent handling of safety inspections, poor record keeping, and failure to adjust its guidelines to adapt to new risks brought by the recent boom in domestic drilling, including the understanding that injection wells are causing earthquakes.

Kane’s office to probe handling of fracking-related medical complaints

Activists said Tuesday that the Attorney General’s Office has told them it will look into how state officials handled complaints by residents on the possible health impacts of natural gas drilling.

Sam Bernhardt, an organizer for the advocacy group Food & Water Watch, said an agent from the office’s Environmental Crimes Unit asked him for contact information for individuals who contend the Department of Health never responded to their inquiries about symptoms they believed were related to natural gas drilling.

German Environment Agency calls for rules preventing fracking

Germany’s Environment Agency said it wanted to make fracking practically impossible to head off the risk that the technique for extracting gas could contaminate groundwater with chemicals.

The agency’s view, in a report on Wednesday, feeds into a fierce debate about fracking as Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government draws up new rules on water protection and mining, which will determine the future policy toward fracking.

Attorney general warns company to stop seeking fracking rights in NC

The state’s imminent legalization of fracking is spawning a new round of concerns as the state Attorney General’s Office warned a Pennsylvania company this week to stop offering North Carolina landowners money in exchange for fracking rights.

The attorney general’s cease-and-desist notice, sent Monday to Pittsburgh-based Crimson Holdings, alleges the company’s solicitations are illegal because its land agent is not registered in North Carolina, among a host of other reasons.

Lupo claims he dumped gas and oil waste to save Valley jobs

The U.S. Attorney is asking a federal judge to sentence the former owner of a Youngstown oilfield service company to three years in prison for ordering two former employees to discharge brine and oilfield waste into a tributary of the Mahoning River.

The recommendation for the maximum sentence is included in a memorandum prepared by prosecutors for the sentencing of Ben Lupo, which is scheduled for next week.

Is Fracking To Blame For Increase In Quakes In Oklahoma?

Oklahoma is experiencing more earthquakes, and some scientists say they’re caused by wastewater disposal wells. Linda Wertheimer learns more from energy reporter Joe Wertz of StateImpact Oklahoma.

Feds: BP can’t dismiss lawsuits by blaming drilling moratorium

The Justice Department has joined a fight to stop BP from dismissing lawsuits by deep-water drillers and oil-field services firms alleging the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill left million-dollar holes in their balance sheets.

Federal prosecutors said in court filings late Tuesday that BP can’t  circumvent financial damage claims that may be worth hundreds of millions of dollars with a defense essentially blaming losses on the  three-month, deep-water drilling moratorium the government imposed after the spill.

Slow release of oil spill funds frustrates Florida

The Obama administration isn’t moving fast enough to release hundreds of millions of dollars slated to help the Gulf Coast recover from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Florida officials said Thursday.

Congress passed the bipartisan RESTORE Act in 2012, creating a way to distribute billions in civil fines levied against BP and other companies involved in the spill, which befouled coastal beaches, ravaged marine ecosystems and damaged the tourist trade.

BP employees flood Houston officials with emails related to oil spill suit, newspaper reports

Local government officials in the Houston area are being flooded by emails from BP employees as a part of a “strange and unprecedented” campaign to get them to drop a lawsuit filed against companies involved in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The report says Harris County, Texas, which includes the city of Houston, earlier this month filed suit against BP, Transocean, Halliburton Energy Services and related businesses for $23 million in tax revenues it claims it lost as a result of the oil spill.

Marshals won’t seize tanker’s oil unless it’s brought closer to shore

U.S. marshals won’t seize disputed crude  from an oil tanker anchored 60 miles off Galveston’s coast unless smaller vessels bring it much closer to the coast, based on the latest instructions from a federal judge.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Nancy Johnson had ordered marshals to seize the oil, at the center of an ownership battle between Iraq and its semi-autonomous Kurdistan region, if it was removed from the giant tanker.

Company Reports Another Oil Spill Near Ross

The North Dakota Oil and Gas Division says an oil and saltwater spill near Ross has been contained.

Well owners Stat Oil and Gas estimate that 427 barrels of oil and 142 barrels of saltwater were released.

ExxonMobil restarts Pegasus pipeline closed after Mayflower oil spill; operating in Texas

ExxonMobil has restarted a section of its Pegasus pipeline in Texas more than a year after a crude oil spill in central Arkansas forced the company to shut down the entire line, a spokesman said.

The southern portions of the pipeline were restarted on July 9, ExxonMobil spokesman Aaron Styrk told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in an email. The Texas section includes a 205-mile segment between Corsicana and Beaumont and a 6-mile segment between Beaumont and Nederland.

Work stopped once again on Bayou Corne sinkhole

The 2-year anniversary of the Assumption sinkhole is approaching and work has been put on hold once again at the Bayou Corne site.

The Office of Conservation has reported that increased levels of seismic activity is keeping crews from working on the sinkhole and within the containment berms. This is the third time the work has been halted in the past month.

Petition drive launched against proposed Iowa pipeline

A citizens’ action network has started a petition drive urging Gov. Terry Branstad to reject a proposed crude oil pipeline that would stretch diagonally across Iowa with planned operation to begin by the end of 2016.

Members of Citizens for Community Improvement (CCI) launched a petition and Facebook page this week calling on Branstad to use his administration’s authority under Iowa law to stop the pipeline from being built.

Judge grants access for oil pipeline operations

A refining company will be able to continue operating three pipelines that transport crude oil from Canada after a judge granted access to the final land parcel whose easement had expired.

Phillips 66 had negotiated access agreements with about 600 landowners and the tribe where the pipelines cross the Blackfeet Reservation, but filed a condemnation complaint in federal court against the owners of one parcel when negotiations failed.

Canada-Billings Pipeline Access Granted

A refining company will be able to continue operating three pipelines that transport crude oil from Canada after a judge granted access to the final land parcel whose easement had expired.

Phillips 66 had negotiated access agreements with about 600 landowners and the tribe where the pipelines cross the Blackfeet Reservation, but filed a condemnation complaint in federal court against the owners of one parcel when negotiations failed.

Examining Enbridge’s claims in new TV ad

On the fourth anniversary of the massive Enbridge Energy oil spill in the Kalamazoo River, the company is taking to the airwaves with a new TV ad.

It claims things are back to normal and the river is clean, but is that really the case?

Reports Predict Disaster If Enbridge Pipeline Ruptures in Great Lakes

A recent report by the University of Michigan illustrates the devastation that could occur if a 60-year-old pipeline carrying 23 million gallons of crude oil and natural gas fluids every day were to rupture in the Great Lakes, one of the largest sources of fresh water in the world.

Enbridge, the same company still cleaning up the Kalamazoo River four years after the biggest inland spill in U.S. history, has two 20-inch pipelines running from Superior, Wisconsin to Sarnia, Ontario, directly through the Straits of Mackinac between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan. In July 2013, the company completed $100 million in upgrades in order to increase flow from 490,000 barrels per day to 540,000, but did not replace any of the aging pipeline.

Oil companies cooling on Arctic leases

Oil companies that had locked up more than 1.3 million acres of the Beaufort Sea for drilling in 2007 have since relinquished nearly half that territory, signaling the industry’s appetite for tapping those Arctic waters may be waning even as the Obama administration makes plans to auction off more of the area.

Oil companies have since ceded the rights to drill on roughly 584,000 acres, despite paying tens of thousands — and sometimes much more — to buy individual leases, according to an analysis of government data by the conservation group Oceana reviewed by Hearst Newspapers.

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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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