Environmental Must-Reads – June 11, 2015


Exxon Tells Texas Regulators Its Wells Didn’t Cause Earthquakes

Exxon Mobil Corp.rejected any role in a string of recent earthquakes hitting the Dallas-Fort Worth area, saying geological data points to natural causes, not its operations.

Officials with Exxon natural-gas subsidiary XTO Energy presented engineering and geological data to state regulators that they said show quakes that hit one suburb in 2013 originated far deeper than a nearby well it had used to dispose of wastewater from oil-and-gas operations.

California lawsuit seeks to block oil drilling on federal land

Environmental groups on Wednesday filed a lawsuit challenging a plan to open large portions of federal land in central California to oil drilling, saying it did not consider the impacts of fracking on the environment.

The lawsuit targets the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM)approval late last year of a plan that could lead to the leasing of 400,000 acres of public land and 1.2 million acres of subsurface mineral estate in the state’s most oil-rich regions.

Fracking bids ‘unlikely to be considered soon’

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday said that its two-year, €1.25m, study into the safety issues linked with the prospect of fracking in Ireland is due to conclude in July next year and that no licence applications will be welcomed by it or the Department of Natural Resources until after that time.

Given the current 12-month window of a conventional exploration licensing round, that would mean no applications would likely be received until close to 2018, even should the current research find that fracking holds no threat to the local environment.

New York fracking supporters pin hopes on EPA study

Supporters of the currently banned practice of hydraulic fracturing — or hydrofracking — for gas in New York state haven’t given up hope entirely despite a decision by the Cuomo administration in December to continue the ban, which has been in place for more than five years.

Contending that the Southern Tier’s vast supply of untapped natural gas reserves are a “gift,” Karen Moreau, executive director of the American Petroleum Institute’s New York branch, pointed to a study earlier this month from the federal Environmental Protection Agency that found there was “no widespread systemic” water pollution associated with the practice.

Fracking tax won’t be part of final budget deal, Ohio House insists

House leaders are largely holding their tongues on the sweeping Senate changes to their two-year, $71.3 billion budget, but they continue to make one thing clear: They will not pass a severance tax as part of the budget.

The Senate’s tax package, which contains a net $1.7 billion savings over two years, does not include an increased severance tax on shale fracking. But majority leaders have indicated that they expect a proposal will be worked out next week, and it could be included in the budget before it passes the Senate.

Opposition to test drilling for fracking faces entrenched power

There is no nice way to say it. The neighborhood where crews are drilling a 1,750-foot hole on public land to look for signs of natural gas isn’t pretty.

Walnut Tree isn’t Buena Vista, Brookberry Farm Bermuda Run. Many of the homes along Crestview and Middlefork drives are two- and three-bedroom, one-bath jobs that sit on slabs of concrete. A single-family house that’s been foreclosed upon can be rented for as little as $475 a month.

Palm Coast Passes on Supporting County In Anti-Fracking and Drilling Resolutions

A few weeks ago a local resident asked the Flagler County Commission to take a position against fracking, and against a long-term plan to possibly open Florida’s Atlantic coast to oil and gas drilling. The commission did just that, unanimously approving a resolution opposing both in mid-May.

The resident had asked the Palm Coast City Council to do likewise. But on Tuesday, the council opted not to, saying the county had spoken for Palm Coast already, and that opposing fracking would be irrelevant now that the state Legislature has dropped the matter for the year.

Rise of US fracking causes seismic shift in North Sea oil

The mood in the North Sea oil industry is the most depressed it has been since records began, as soaring production in the US drags down prices – a development so profound that it has created “tectonic shifts” in global energy production and consumption.

The falling oil price has hit the industry’s confidence so badly that two-thirds of North Sea operators have been forced to cancel projects in the region, while half have reduced staff training, according to an alarming new report from the Aberdeen & Grampian Chamber of Commerce.

Notes From Colorado: On the Fracking Front

It is a truth universal that when a politician establishes a task force to examine an explosive public issue, often an issue of his own making, said politician will term the task force’s recommendations remarkable in both their wisdom and farsightedness.

This truth was borne out on February 24th when Colorado Governor Hickenlooper’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Fracking issued its carefully vetted and resultantly sparse recommendations.  He personally selected the 21 members, so of course it was fitting he label them Blue Ribbon and congratulate them on a job well done.  The majority were oil executive cronies or political yesteryears friendly to him or the industry.

Why Advocates Who Helped Pass Denton’s Fracking Ban Now Want to See It Repealed

When voters in Denton banned the oil drilling technique called fracking there last year, the North Texas city took center stage in a national debate over oil and gas, property rights and the environment. But now some of the same people who pushed for the ban are calling to repeal it.

The reason why is House Bill 40, a new law that basically stops local governments in Texas from regulating drilling and puts that power in the hands of the state. Opponents call it a gift to oil and gas companies and an attack on local control. Supporters say the law protects the property rights of mineral owners and gives industry that regulatory certainty they need.

Lac-Mégantic families approve $435M compensation package

Families of victims of the Lac-Mégantic train disaster involved in a class-action lawsuit voted unanimously in favour of the settlement package presented to them on Tuesday.

The total package is now worth nearly $435 million, some of which will be distributed among the families of the 47 victims of the disaster, as well as the family of a firefighter who committed suicide shortly afterward, according to the legal team representing the claimants.

Educators Take Stand Against Central Coast Oil Train Project

The California Teachers Association, out of concern for the safety and well-being of students and educators, is sending a strong message in opposition to the proposed Phillips 66 oil train offloading facility in San Luis Obispo County, which would involve trains moving millions of gallons of hazardous crude oil through highly populated areas of the state near hundreds of schools.

At its June 7 meeting and on behalf of 325,000 educators, the CTA State Council of Education — comprising 800 educators representing all areas of the state — took action requiring the CTA to send a letter to the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors urging it to reject the project permit.

Virtual fires train oil patch workers for real danger

There’s no smoke and no fire, but there’s lots to be learned from a fire simulator in Cape Breton. It’s a training tool to help people learn how to use fire extinguishers.

The fire is controlled by a computer and projected onto a special six-foot screen. Students use a fire extinguisher that looks and handles just like a real one.

Gas line explosion in Lycoming County involves pipeline owned by same company that wants to build in Lancaster County

A natural gas pipeline rupture and explosion forced the evacuation of about 130 people Tuesday night in Lycoming County.

The rupture occurred on a 24-inch natural gas pipeline owned by Williams, the pipeline company that wants to build a 42-inch gas pipeline through 36.5 miles in Lancaster County as part of the Atlantic Sunrise pipeline project.

BP boss widens transatlantic rift in energy industry over climate change

BrP has threatened to widen a rift between European and US oil companies over how to respond to global warming by urging political leaders to deliver a “substantial” deal at international climate change talks later this year.

Bob Dudley, chief executive of the British oil and gas group, said the United Nations global warming summit in December needed to broker agreements that encourage energy efficiency, renewable power such as wind and the use of gas. Such moves are considered vital if global governments are to succeed in keeping the Earth’s temperatures from rising more than 2C, the internationally agreed threshold to prevent widespread flooding, famine and desertification.

Energy industry has reached watershed on fossil fuels, says BP

The global energy industry reached a watershed in 2014 as global emphasis on climate change, a slowing Chinese economy and a resurgence in US oil affected fossil fuel producers, according to BP.

The British oil and gas group said global warming was one of three long-term trends that emerged in 2014, as politicians and campaigners prepare for the UN climate change conference in Paris later this year. However, BP said a slowdown in carbon dioxide emissions growth last year may not continue if demand from energy-intensive industries recovers.

California oil spill cleanup costs reaches $62 million

The cost of cleaning up the oil spill that fouled beaches last month on the California coast has reached $62 million so far, the pipeline company said Wednesday.

Costs are running at $3 million a day, and there is no timetable for when the cleanup will be complete, Plains All American Pipeline’s on-scene coordinator, Patrick Hodgins, told The Associated Press.

Offshore oil drilling banned along new stretch of California coast

In the largest expansion of national marine sanctuaries in California in 23 years, the Obama administration on Tuesday more than doubled the size of two Northern California marine sanctuaries, extending them by 50 miles up the rugged Sonoma and Mendocino coasts.

Under the dramatic move by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the boundaries of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries expand from Bodega Bay to Point Arena, permanently banning offshore oil drilling along that stretch of coast.

EPA ‘environmental justice’ map highlights California’s pollution ills

Many Southern California communities stand out as some of the nation’s worst environmental justice hot spots, according to a new map released Wednesday by the Obama administration.

The interactive online map created by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency highlights low-income, minority communities across the country that face the greatest health risks from pollution. The analysis combines demographic and environmental data to identify where vulnerable populations face heavy burdens from air pollution, traffic congestion, lead paint, hazardous waste sites and other hazards.

Bombing of Colombian pipeline causes ‘environmental tragedy,’ Ecopetrol says

Several thousand barrels of crude oil have spilled into a river in southwest Colombia after insurgents bombed a pipeline, state-run oil company Ecopetrol said on Wednesday, describing the damage as an “environmental tragedy.”

The bomb attack occurred Monday but was not previously disclosed. It was one of spate targeting oil installations this month and will affect several thousand families, Ecopetrol’s Chief Executive Officer Juan Carlos Echeverry told reporters. As many as 4,000 barrels of spilled oil have contaminated rivers used for fishing and fresh water supplies.

Mega Borg Explosion’s Impact Tested – This Forgotten Day in Houston

On this day, scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency arrived on the scene of the Mega Borg explosion in the Gulf of Mexico to test the environmental impact.

Fifty miles off of the coast of Galveston, the Mega Borg, carrying 40 million gallons of crude oil was transferring oil to another ship when there was an explosion in the pump room. For several days, crews struggled to extinguish the fire and contain the oil that had spilled nearly a mile from the burning ship.

Sierra Club taking Exxon’s dirty deal to court

The New Jersey Sierra Club has taken the fight against Exxon’s dirty deal to the courthouse.

“We have filed a motion to intervene along with other environmental groups,” said Jeff Tittel, director of the organization. “Columbia Environmental Law Clinic will be representing us in court. Exxon’s settlement with the state of New Jersey is an insult to New Jersey taxpayers. Under this deal they will pay only $225 million dollars when they should be paying close to $9 billion to clean up damages across the state. They will also be able to get away with merely capping sites, rather than cleaning them up. The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection and Christie Administration should be fighting to protect New Jersey taxpayers’ money, not settle a dirty deal with a company who can, and should, pay to clean up their mess. The New Jersey Sierra Club is intervening to represent the people of New Jersey in court and to make sure that Exxon pays what the community deserves.”

Drinking water contaminated by Adams County chemical plant fire; water restrictions in place

Thousands of Adams County residents on Tuesday remained under mandatory water restrictions one day after a fire destroyed a fertilizer plant and led to the contamination of one of the main water sources in the region.

Approximately 4,500 New Oxford residents continued to get their water from York County after public safety officials detected contaminants in the south branch of the Conewago Creek in the aftermath of the Monday fire that destroyed the Miller Chemical and Fertilizer Corp., in Conewago Township just outside Hanover.

Stop oilsands expansion, Canadian and U.S. researchers say

More than 100 Canadian and U.S. researchers are calling on Canada to end expansion of its oilsands, for 10 reasons that they describe as “grounded in science.”

“Based on evidence raised across our many disciplines, we offer a unified voice calling for a moratorium on new oilsands projects,” said a statement issued Wednesday by the group, led by academics at the University of Waterloo, Simon Fraser University and the University of Arizona.

To protect Great Lakes, Lansing must keep pipeline safety info public

We need to know more about the oil pipelines that run under our Great Lakes, not less. But companies like Enbridge Energy Partners are supporting a move by Michigan’s Legislature to keep documents about the safety of oil-bearing pipelines out of the public eye.

As House Bill 4540 was introduced, oil industry representatives were offering testimony in Lansing, and beforehand Enbridge’s lobbyist was working to line up support from environmentalist groups. The law they support would ensure that Michigan citizens cannot know what companies like Enbridge are doing, or how they are doing it.

Norway Government Loses in Drive to Expand Arctic Oil Boundary

The Norwegian government’s attempt to push oil exploration farther into the Arctic was halted by a majority in parliament.

Parliament, backed by two key government support parties, on Wednesday declined to go forward with a plan to redefine where the edge of the polar ice cap starts.

First vessel in Shell Arctic drilling fleet arrives in Alaska

The first rig that is part of Royal Dutch Shell’s drilling fleet that will be used to explore Alaska waters for oil and gas reserves this summer arrived Wednesday in Dutch Harbor.

The Arctic Challenger, an oil spill containment barge that is one of at least 25 support vessels bound for the Chukchi Sea, is in the Aleutian community and will be followed by the other vessels in the coming weeks, Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino said.

Faulty valves in new-generation EPR nuclear reactor pose meltdown risk, inspectors warn

Nuclear safety inspectors have found crucial faults in the cooling system of France’s flagship new-generation nuclear power plant on the Channel coast, exposing it to the risk of meltdown.

The third-generation European Pressurised Reactor currently under construction in Flamanville is the same model that Britain plans to use for two new plants at Hinkley Point in Somerset.

Drone being developed to fly autonomously inside Fukushima reactor buildings

A drone is being developed to survey the interior of reactor buildings at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima No. 1 plant.

The unmanned aircraft will use lasers to detect and avoid obstacles in flight and will be able to land to replace its batteries in the absence of an operator.

UK firm wins Fukushima nuclear contract

British engineering and consultancy Atkins has won a contract at the Fukushima Daiichi Plant in Japan.

Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) awarded the contract to analyse fire hazards and assure safety at the nuclear plant.

Cellphone industry sues Berkeley over radiation warning label law

A city ordinance requiring cellphone retailers to provide a warning to customers about radiation A trade group representing the wireless industry is asking a federal judge to stop Berkeley from enforcing an ordinance requiring warning labels about radiation on cellphones sold in the city.

CTIA–the Wireless Assn. claims in a federal suit filed Monday that the city is violating companies’ 1st amendment rights by forcing it to disseminate an opinion it says is false.

Cell tower on Deering High roof undergoes tests after fish die in classroom

Responding to some teachers’ concerns about health risks, the Portland School District hired a company to test the level of radio frequency emissions from a cell tower on the roof of Deering High School this week.

Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk said the teachers’ concerns were the first he’d heard regarding the tower, which has been in place since 2006. He ordered the tests after a biology teacher reported that fish she kept in Room 305 – located right below the tower – kept dying.

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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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