Environmental Must-Reads – July 8, 2015


$283B in natural gas projects could be threatened in low-carbon economy — report

While energy experts have promoted natural gas as a “bridge fuel” that can help the world shift from coal and oil to more carbon-neutral alternatives, even the “bridge” will need to be dismantled to achieve a low-carbon energy economy, experts with the Carbon Tracker Initiative (CTI) say in a new analysis.

When that happens, energy firms and investors with deep holdings in liquefied natural gas — the world’s only exportable form of gas — could be forced to shed as much as $283 billion in capital expenditures by 2025 as surplus gas loses value and LNG producers see their markets soften.

Ohio University to switch from coal to natural gas

Ohio University, located in coal-mining country in southeastern Ohio, is weaning itself from coal and switching to natural gas for fuel.

The university still uses coal-fired boilers to generate steam to heat and cool campus buildings, but officials anticipate changing that by year’s end. A $5.5 million project is underway to build a pipeline to carry natural gas to the university’s power plant.

Fracking might move into Kansas courts

Kansas environmentalists plan to bring legal action in the wake of an Oklahoma court ruling that will allow a lawsuit against oil companies over earthquake damage to move to trial.

The Kansas Sierra Club is finding encouragement in the Oklahoma ruling, which paves the way for a courtroom showdown over the increasing number of earthquakes in Oklahoma. Scientists have linked the quakes to oil production techniques.

Washington County resident warns locals of fracking dangers

Ron Gulla had the second horizontal gas well in Pennsylvania on his farm in Washington County, south of Pittsburgh.

A former Hickory, Pa., farmer and drilling tool salesman, he knew a little about oil and gas drilling.

But his experience when he leased his farm for drilling in 2002 has turned him against hydraulic fracturing.

ACLU asks Butler County developer to drop fracking-related lawsuit

The American Civil Liberties Union said Tuesday it sent a letter to a Butler County developer asking him and other residents to drop a lawsuit against five Middlesex residents and two nonprofits.

The ACLU contends the suit by the developer is the first SLAPP, or strategic lawsuit against public participation, it has found related to fracking in Pennsylvania.

Protests sparked on the second anniversary of ‘bomb train’ disaster

Two years ago this week, a runaway oil train roared down hill and exploded, killing 47 people in the middle of the night. It decimated the small town of Lac-Megantic, Canada, and set off a roiling storm of protest that is peaking again with more than 80 planned actions against oil-by-rail in the next few days.

In Portland, Oregon, on Monday, 60 people blocked the tracks of a key oil transfer station, holding signs with the names and ages of the Lac-Megantic victims. Police arrested four other protesters near Oakland, California, after they suspended themselves from a major rail bridge, attempting to dangle a banner that read: “Stop Oil Trains Now: Are You in the Blast-Zone.org.”

4 Minnesota oil train disaster plans haven’t been released to public

Some Minnesota lawmakers and railroad safety advocates are concerned that new disaster plans are not being released to the public. They gathered Tuesday morning, on the second anniversary of the Lac-Megantic disaster in Quebec, to say the state’s plans are essential in coordinating resources should an oil train disaster happen in Minnesota.

Under a new state law, Minnesota’s major railroads all had to submit emergency disaster plans last week to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. This is a result of more oil trains rolling through the state carrying crude from the Bakken region of North Dakota.

Protest over Bakken oil trains in Milwaukee: “I don’t want to be one of those 47 people who blow up and die”

July 6th, 2015 marked the two-year anniversary of the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster that occurred in Quebec. An unattended 74-car freight train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled downhill and derailed. 47 people were killed. More than 30 buildings in the town’s centre — roughly half of the downtown area, were destroyed. It was the fourth-deadliest rail accident in Canadian history. There is concern something like what happened in Lac-Mégantic could happen in Milwaukee.

Railroads urged to communicate more to improve oil train safety

Many Minnesota emergency managers say railroads that haul crude oil should communicate with them better.

“Planning done in a silo is not effective,” director Judson Freed of Ramsey County Emergency Management and Homeland Security said Tuesday as rail safety advocates called for more cooperation. “We need to know what their experts are saying.”

PG&E report counters lawyers’ contentions about buried pipeline

Pacific Gas & Electric issued a report Tuesday that says the gas pipeline that exploded in northwest Fresno in April was buried 4.7 feet in the ground as recently as the day before a county front loader doing work at the Fresno Sheriff’s Foundation shooting range allegedly struck it, causing an explosion that led to one death and 12 injuries.

The report follows up a report for the California Public Utilities Commission released Monday that confirms the loader’s shovel struck the gas line, sparking a nearly instantaneous rupture and explosion.

Dominion makes changes to pipeline route in Southside Virginia

Dominion has made some alterations to the pipeline route through Southside Virginia, to make it more closely follow the right of way.

The developer of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline has proposed changes to its route to rely more upon existing utility rights-of-way in Southside Virginia, but not yet in the western part of the state where public opposition is fiercest.

Wolf Administration announces members of new pipeline task force

Governor Wolf has announced members of the state’s new Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, which will be led by DEP Secretary John Quigley. The 48-member body was chosen from an applicant pool of about 200 people. An additional 101 people will serve on working groups that will help inform the task force, according to a press release issued today.

Although states have little authority when it comes to major interstate pipeline construction projects, the Wolf administration says it wants to bring all stakeholders together in an attempt to institute planning and best practices to a pipeline building boom that includes an estimated 4,600 new miles of interstate pipes over the next three years, according to the Energy Information Administration. That’s in addition to thousands of miles of gathering lines, which carry gas from the well heads to the interstate lines. Much of those smaller lines are unregulated.

Fractivist gets uninvited from Wolf’s new pipeline panel

Scott Cannon was pretty surprised last week when he got a letter inviting him to be part of Governor Tom Wolf’s new gas pipeline task force.

He was even more surprised a few days later when his appointment was rescinded.

Minnesota’s loons could benefit from BP Gulf payout

Minnesota’s beloved loons may get a piece of the $18.7 billion Gulf oil spill settlement announced last week — perhaps as much as $39 million over the next 15 years.Minnesota and Wisconsin would be the only states outside the Gulf Coast region to share in the payout, largely because scientists here have proved that the birds migrate every year to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and that, since the disastrous spill in 2010, many have returned contaminated with carcinogens and other toxins that they pass onto their eggs.

BP Deal Will Lead to a Cleaner Gulf

Though no amount of money can ever compensate for the staggering damage caused by the 2010 BP oil spill, last week’s provisional $18.7 billion settlement among five states, the federal government and the company will help make amends for one of the worst environmental disasters in American history.

If approved by a federal judge, the deal will end years of legal battles and bring the total amount BP will pay for its role in the calamity to more than $50 billion. It will also provide a significant, continuing source of revenue for the repair and restoration of the Gulf of Mexico’s marshes, barrier islands, fisheries, deep-sea corals and other vulnerable elements of an ecosystem that had been ailing long before the spill.

Listen to Alec Baldwin talk BP oil spill with journalist Antonia Juhasz

In the latest episode of Alec Baldwin’s radio show Here’s the Thing, the actor and proprietor of one of the world’s most soothing voices interviews journalist Antonia Juhasz about her in-depth coverage of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. And, well, here’s the thing: The situation down there is still bad, future oil spills are pretty much inevitable, and BP’s tentative $18.7 billion settlement is probably way too low. That said, there are still plenty of good people in the oil industry who are just doing a job that someone’s gotta do until we kick this habit. Unfortunately, those people work for disgustingly rich and powerful companies that can pretty much do whatever they want.

Following California spill, House committee to scrutinize pipeline safety agency

Lawmakers are set to probe a federal agency’s oversight of U.S. pipelines after a crude spill near the southern California coast highlighted the government’s delays implementing congressionally mandated safeguards.

The House Energy and Power Subcommittee will examine the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s handling of those long-stalled mandates during a hearing Tuesday. Other House and Senate hearings are expected in the wake of the California spill but have not been announced.

Pipeline plan rejected, U.S. notifies Exxon

A federal regulatory agency has found that Exxon Mobil’s proposed remedial work plan for the shuttered 648-mile portion of the Pegasus pipeline was inadequate, according to a Justice Department document filed in court Tuesday.

In a letter dated July 1 and also filed in U.S. District Court, an Exxon Mobil attorney said the company has no plans to submit a revised work plan this year — a necessary step before restarting the line’s segment running from Patoka, Ill., to Corsicana, Texas.

Judge grants eminent domain to Dakota Access pipeline

A Minnehaha County judge has granted Dakota Access pipeline the right to survey the property of nearly two dozen landowners who oppose the project.

Judge Mark Salter’s ruling comes months before the Public Utilities Commission hearing that will determine if 272 miles of the 1,134-mile pipeline can be built through South Dakota.

Lawsuits challenge railroad’s authority to OK oil pipeline

The U.S. government began handing out land to railroads to encourage development more than 150 years ago, but there are still questions about how much control those companies have over the land.

Union Pacific is facing several lawsuits related to whether a railroad it acquired years ago had the authority to allow an oil pipeline to be built along its tracks in six states. Also at question is who is entitled to the royalties that are now worth more than $14 million a year.

South Dakotans sound off on Keystone XL Pipeline

The Keystone XL Pipeline was front and center Monday evening as supporters and opponents of the project pleaded their cases in front of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission.

The three hour-long Pierre meeting was the first of a series of PUC meetings and hearings this month to recertify TransCanada’s proposed 1,179 mile pipeline. The project would transport crude oil from oil fields in Canada and North Dakota to Northwestern Nebraska where it would then be taken by existing pipelines to refineries in Texas.

Hearing on Keystone pipeline plan nearly irrelevant

The South Dakota Public Utilities Commission held a public hearing Monday night on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline that would run through the state on its way to the Gulf Coast.

And yet, none of the testimony presented at the 3-hour hearing will affect the final decision on the pipeline.

The hearing was slated for 5:30 p.m. at the state Capitol in Pierre for TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL project, a Canada-to-Texas pipeline that would carry Canadian tar sands oil and 100,000 barrels of crude daily from North Dakota and Montana.

Kansas’ U.S. House delegation again attempting to pass lesser prairie chicken amendment

Kansas’ U.S. House delegation will once again attempt to stymie the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from enforcing its “threatened” listing of the lesser prairie chicken this week.

The offices of Reps. Kevin Yoder, Tim Huelskamp and Lynn Jenkins, all Republicans, said Tuesday that Yoder will attempt to file an amendment to the Department of the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, H.R. 2822, during House floor discussions. Those discussions began Tuesday and are expected to resume Wednesday.

An Arctic thank you for UN action against toxins that accumulate in traditional food

Sometimes when you live in a small, remote town you need support beyond your community to take care of your family and well-being. Savoonga is a traditional Yup’ik community on St. Lawrence Island in the northern Bering Sea, just 40 miles from the Chukotkan Peninsula of Russia. For much of the year we are surrounded by sea ice. Like our traditional Siberian relatives, we rely on bowhead whale, walrus, seals and other customary foods for most of our diet. But, recently, we relied on the peoples of Ghana, South Korea, El Salvador, Brazil, Switzerland, Norway, and over 80 other nations to support our health. Together, our work improved health globally, through a United Nations vote that banned the chemical pentachlorophenol.

Hull damage forces Shell Arctic support ship back to dock

An icebreaker carrying a key piece of equipment for Arctic drilling planned by Royal Dutch Shell off the northern coast of Alaska was forced to return to dock after a hole more than three feet long was discovered in its hull, the company said Tuesday.

It was unclear if the mishap would delay Shell’s plan for drilling this summer.

The crew of the Fennica discovered the leak in a ballast tank on Friday as the ship was leaving the channel in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on its way to the Arctic, Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said.

Shell Places Huge Bet on Arctic Oil Riches

Royal Dutch ShellPLC is days away from drilling in the Arctic Ocean—betting it can find enough oil to justify the huge risks that keep almost every other competitor out of those icy waters.

The company is hauling two massive rigs—the Polar Pioneer and the Noble Discoverer—more than 2,000 miles up and around the Alaska coast to the Chukchi Sea, where it plans to begin work the third week of July. Accompanying the rigs are 30 support vessels and seven aircraft, a large entourage even by big oil-company standards.

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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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