Environmental Must-Reads – July 7, 2014


American Wilderness Faces the Firing Squad

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, wilderness in America, as physical sanctuary and as an idea, finds itself under an unprecedented swarm of threats.

The first of these threats is the usual business of extracting resources, pushed urgently to the forefront by discoveries in the energy field: coal-bed methane, fracking technology, and the tar sands of Alberta. Everyday, here in Montana, you can watch the protracted lines of coal cars headed night and day to Pacific ports where the dirtiest of fuel is shipped to feed an endless Asian appetite for energy. Settling over wilderness areas everywhere, like a deadly fog, is the scourge of our time: global warming.

Controversy spreads over Everglades oil drilling

Alarmed by the spread of oil drilling in the Everglades, environmental activists and some lawmakers are pressing for stricter regulation of the energy industry and a state ban on new fracking-like techniques that blast open oil deposits near Florida’s aquifers.

Critics in Collier County, the center of a mini-oil rush, warn that drilling leads to pipelines, refineries and hazardous-wastewater disposal — a domino effect that threatens a delicate ecosystem and water supplies. They say Florida is ill-equipped to control the search for black gold and that Texas wildcatters are taking advantage of the state’s limited laws.

Fracking in South Florida? Environmentalists Steamed Over Texas Company Drilling Near Lake Tafford

For a couple months now, residents and officials in Collier County have been up in arms about recent revelations that a Texas-based oil company used an unauthorized fracking-like method to extract oil from a well near Lake Trafford. Environmentalists and county officials have said the state’s environmental agency has not done enough to protect water resources in the area, prompting the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to step in. The results are mixed.

Florida to drilling company: Meet demands or face fines

The state, in a scathing letter to the company that is drilling in Collier County, gave it two weeks to comply with nine demands or face penalties.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection is demanding accountability from a Texas company drilling in rural Collier County, and Friday also put the property owner on notice.

Environmentalists criticize drilling plan for state forests, parks

The state’s just finished budget calls for raising almost $100 million by expanding leases for gas development in state forests – even though leases the state has already issued are far from tapped out.

Environmental groups complain that Gov. Tom Corbett’s plan to open thousands more acres of state forest to gas development – and allow drilling in state parks for the first time – is poorly timed and ill advised.

Tale of two legislators plot thickens in state’s gas-drilling drama

With apologies to Charles Dickens, it was the best of times (for Texas and Oklahoma gas industry aristocrats), it was the worst of times (for the Pennsylvania rabble suffering from the exploitation and destruction of their environment).

In a tale of two legislators, we have Pennsylvania Senate President pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, valiantly fighting to protect the first group, and state Rep. Greg Vitali, D- Delaware, scheming to advance the cause of the second, who are in the winter of despair.

Families’ well water disrupted near Ligonier

Route 711, designated a “Pennsylvania Scenic Byway,” wends through the countryside south of Ligonier. The bends in the two-lane road mirror the twists that three families living along it have traveled in trying to replace water supplies contaminated by wastewater from Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

A Harrisburg scandal that no one is talking about

OK, let’s be honest — there’s a lot of scandals in Pennsylvania state government a lot of the time, so sometimes it’s hard to keep up. We still don’t know, for example, if anything will ever happen to those state lawmakers who saw nothing wrong with pocketing cash in an envelope from a lobbyist and not reporting it. And then there’s all the ones from Vince Fumo to John Perzel to…well, you get the picture — the ones who got caught and got sent away. Sometimes it’s amazing that they still get a quorum in Harrisburg.

Honestly, is there anything worse than public servants getting rich on other people’s money? Actually, there may be. What about public servants who are muzzled and prevented from talking to average citizens about potential serious health problems? There have been startling allegations in recent weeks that over the last three years workers in Pennsylvania’s Health Department have been hampered into talking with citizens about any issues that may be related to fracking.

Fracking interests are big donors to Texas regulators

Two members of the state panel that regulates oil and natural gas drilling received more than $70,000 in campaign contributions from individuals and political action committees associated with injection well operators near Azle, the Fort Worth suburb rattled by earthquakes that scientists say could be caused by such wells.

Aides to Railroad Commissioners Christi Craddick and David Porter, both Republicans who aren’t on the ballot this year, said the donations received between 2010 and 2013 did not play a role in the decision to allow operators to continue injecting wastewater into wells near Azle.

Maziarz says Court of Appeals ruling could help ban ‘equate’

A Court of Appeals ruling last week that allowed individual towns to ban hydrofracking could have an impact on the fight over the spreading of biosolids on farm fields in Niagara County.

At least, that’s what State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, thinks.

North Dakota oil wells drain energy and money

A defining sight in the booming oil fields of North Dakota is flames flaring from the top of wells — burning off natural gas that escapes during pumping.

Today oil wells in the state burn about a third of the natural gas that comes when fracking for oil. North Dakota officials estimate that’s like burning about $50 million dollars a month.

Lafayette lawyer takes heat handling oil spill claims

Lafayette attorney Patrick Juneau has administered some of the biggest claims settlements in U.S history. He handled Vioxx and Toyota settlements. And he is the administrator for BP settlements, paying claims to those who can prove their businesses were damaged by the impact of the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The BP settlement is complex and mammoth — more than 1,000 pages — and Juneau had nothing to do with writing or approving it. He was appointed by a federal court to administer it, which includes filing and reviewing claims in a timely fashion and keeping track of the company’s appeals.

London councils among investors suing BP over Deepwater Horizon oil spill

Shareholders, including a number of London councils, are suing BP in Texas over the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, after a US court ruled they are allowed to claim compensation payments.

The lawsuit, launched by New York-based Pomerantz Law, has received the backing of Kensington and Chelsea council, the City of Westminster council, Cumbria county council and the Shell Pension Trust.

Bayou Corne property owners face Saturday deadline

The battle for Mike Schaff to keep his home after a sinkhole appeared in Assumption Parish almost two years ago has been long and emotional, but it may be coming to an end.

Schaff, 64, a 24-year resident of Bayou Corne, has been an outspoken critic of Texas Brine Co., and, at times, the state, over the sinkhole and the events leading up to its appearance in swampland near his home in early August 2012.

TransCanada Buys Town’s Silence On Tar Sands Pipeline Proposal For $28K

A small town in Ontario, Canada will be receiving $28,200 from energy company TransCanada Corp. in exchange for not commenting on the company’s proposed Energy East tar sands pipeline project, according to an agreement attached to the town council’s meeting agenda on June 23.

Under the terms of deal, the town of Mattawa will “not publicly comment on TransCanada’s operations or business projects” for five years. In exchange for that silence, TransCanada will give Mattawa $28,200, which will ultimately go towards buying a rescue truck for the town.

TransCanada’s donation to Ontario town means silence on pipeline

TransCanada Corp. provided an Ontario town along the proposed Energy East pipeline route with cash to buy a rescue truck on conditions that include the municipality not comment on the company’s operations.

TransCanada gave Mattawa C$30,000 ($28,200) under its community engagement program, according to an agreement appended to the agenda of the town council’s June 23 meeting. The city agreed to “not publicly comment on TransCanada’s operations or business projects” for five years as part of the agreement, the document showed.

Oil Pipeline Expansion Presents A Whale Of A Problem

Energy giant Kinder Morgan’s plans to expand its existing Trans Mountain oil pipeline in order to triple the amount of oil shipped out of Canada from 300,000 barrels a day to around 890,000 barrels per day, has been met with strong resistance from environmental protection groups and concerned members of the public who argue that the increase in oil shipments will have a negative impact on marine life — particularly whales that live in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

Of particular concern to environmental protection groups such as Living Oceans, though, is that the energy company has not examined the “potential cumulative effects on sensory disturbance” of the whales. This presents a problem, as these acoustic disturbances will likely interfere with the animals’ ability to communicate, hunt and essentially survive.

After Lethal Crash, Quebec’s Lac-Mégantic Fears Return of Oil Trains

A year after an oil-train explosion killed 47 people in this small town, residents are waking up to a new reality: The oil trains are probably coming back.

That upsets many of the town’s 6,000 residents, who lost family, friends and neighbors when a 74-car train carrying crude derailed in the early morning of July 6.

But Lac-Mégantic probably has no choice.

The Lac-Mégantic crude oil train derailment tragedy: A year later, are we safer?

Today over 1,000 people packed Ste-Agnes Church in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec to remember the 47 people who died there one year ago after a run-away crude oil train derailed and exploded. Together with Mayor Roy Laroche, who gave a moving speech on the disaster today, residents are calling for no more crude oil trains through their community.  They want bypass tracks built.

Rupture-Prone Oil Trains Keep Rolling After Quebec Crash

When Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner sees rail cars full of crude oil rumble down the tracks that criss-cross his Chicago-area town, he often thinks about the derailment that killed 47 people almost a year ago in Canada.

The disaster focused attention on the design of the oil tankers, yet two-thirds of the tank cars in use today are still older models that safety experts say are vulnerable to puncture. The July 6 derailment last year in Quebec and seven other major ones in the U.S. and Canada since then have spilled more than 3 million gallons of oil, with some cars catching fire or exploding.

N.J. considers revealing train shipments of oil

After a series of explosive train crashes, New Jersey officials are deciding whether to publicly disclose information about where and how often trains carry crude oil across the state.

Although a spokeswoman from the state’s emergency management office initially said New Jersey would not make any information public, state officials have since said they have yet to make a decision.

Pa. refuses to release route info on oil trains

Pennsylvania officials have refused to disclose information that freight railroads provide about shipments of volatile crude oil through the state.

In the wake of several fiery accidents, the U.S. Department of Transportation in May issued an emergency order requiring railroads to report to state emergency management officials the number of trains carrying oil from the Bakken Shale formation in the Midwest and the routes of the shipments.

Oil train records show what Oregon tried to hide

When Oregon officials at last released oil train routing information after a monthlong public records battle, they still decided to redact some information. But officials in neighboring Washington state had no such qualms.

The Oregonian reported that Oregon officials made at least four redactions, when the information was available in Washington records, including the source of the oil and who shipped it.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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