Environmental Must-Reads – June 12, 2014


NY top court considers local bans on gas drilling

New York’s highest court is expected to decide by the Fourth of July whether municipalities can use local zoning laws to ban shale gas development using hydraulic fracturing within their borders.

The seven-member Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Tuesday in two cases where a midlevel appellate court unanimously concluded last year that state oil and gas law doesn’t trump the authority of local governments to control land use.

Lawsuit against Cabot Oil can proceed

A Dimock Twp. couple suing Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. over their methane-contaminated well should be permitted to proceed with a negligence claim, but other counts in the suit should be dismissed for lack of evidence, a federal magistrate judge said.

U.S. District Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson said Scott Ely and his wife, Monica, have presented sufficient evidence to support their claims that Cabot’s drilling of Marcellus Shale wells near their home may have contaminated their well water. But they failed to provide enough evidence to uphold several other counts, including breach of contract, fraud and claims for medical monitoring.

Lafayette residents sue state, Gov. Hickenlooper seeking enforcement of city’s fracking ban

The battle over whether Colorado municipalities have the right to regulate oil and gas extraction within their borders continued in Boulder County this week, as two Lafayette residents filed a lawsuit seeking immediate enforcement of a fracking ban passed by the city’s voters in November.

Lafayette residents Cliff Willmeng, of anti-fracking group East Boulder County United, and Ann Griffin filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Boulder District Court, naming the state of Colorado, Gov. John Hickenlooper and the Colorado Oil and Gas Association as defendants. The suit seeks the dismissal of a lawsuit filed last year by COGA that challenges the legality of Lafayette’s “Community Rights Act.”

Not even severe drought can stop fracking

Critics of fracking may have hoped drought-ridden states might be inclined to shut down the oil and gas abstraction method that uses lots of water.

But just last month, in the midst of the worst drought in California’s history, the state Senate killed a bill that would have put a moratorium on the state’s use of hydraulic fracturing.

Meeting on proposed gas pipeline through Lebanon County: ‘We know what we’re doing’ vs. ‘I’m not wanting it’

Scores of Williams Partners engineers, land agents and other experts tried to allay the concerns of mostly skeptical property owners about a natural gas pipeline likely to cross their lands.

About 75 Williams Partners employees talked individually to about 300 visitors during the Tuesday night open house at Annville-Cleona High School here.

Naples area officials, Florida spar over oil drilling enforcement

Collier County will challenge a settlement between the state and a Texas oil company over the penalty for a fracking-like drilling operation.

The county commission opted Tuesday to move forward with a legal challenge to a consent agreement between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Dan A. Hughes Co. over an “enhanced extraction procedure” used this winter.

Fast-track fracking bill dead, companies wait on IDNR

A bill aimed to skip the rule-drafting process and begin fracking in Illinois recently died in the hands of legislators.

The bill would have allowed fracking to begin while rules for the practice were still being drafted. It would have also imposed a moratorium in northern Illinois.

Fracking is buoying up the Mississippi barge business

We check in with Austin Golding from time to time to see how his business is doing. He’s the co-owner of Golding Barge Line down in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He says after a rough drought last year, things are looking up. The river is flowing nice and high and there is new demand from a burgeoning industry.

Fracking: Could Mexico’s Water Scarcity Render It’s Energy Sector Reforms Self-Defeating?

In many countries, including the U.S., France, Germany, Ireland, The Netherlands and Australia, fracking has been partially banned or delayed on environmental concerns. Also known as hydraulic fracturing, fracking is a controversial oil and gas producing method that relies on injecting massive amounts of water, chemicals and sand into the earth to break up rocks to free up oil and gas reserves buried deep underground.

Texas fracking heads to China, creating jobs here and natural gas there

FTS International CEO Greg Lanham says the joint venture with Sinopec means more jobs for North Texas and big potential for China to produce its own shale natural gas.

Fort Worth-based FTS is a well completion company that currently fracks oil and gas wells in every major shale play in the U.S. On Tuesday, the company announced a joint venture with Sinopec, the national oil company of China.

NC Rules commissioners who will review state’s fracking regulations have political ties

The final state commission that will weigh in on the state’s fracking standards is a relatively little-known board of Republican appointees that includes a plant nursery owner, a former lobbyist turned stay-at-home mom, and a former state Senate candidate who has described government as a “tyranny.”

The N.C. Rules Review Commission has been cast into the spotlight by the state legislature’s recent vote to allow drilling permits to be issued without waiting for lawmakers to vote on fracking standards.

Hydraulic fracturing continues to produce more legislation and oversight

As U.S. oil and gas production has dramatically increased due to the more frequent use of hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to release tight oil and gas, new state legislation and rules around oil and gas drilling have seen a corresponding increase. In recent weeks, Oklahoma and North Carolina enacted laws generally seen as promoting more drilling activity, while Virginia has convened an advisory panel to determine whether rules should be updated to require disclosure of ingredients used in hydraulic fracturing.

Environmentalists: Inaction feeds crisis over Mississippi River

Decades of shortsighted decisions by industry and government have put the Mississippi River’s future at risk, and degradation at its southern Louisiana delta is contributing to “the greatest land loss on the planet,” a five-state environmental coalition warned Wednesday.

As much as $50 billion will be needed to secure Louisiana’s port system, but “there is no hope in the current budget of the United States. Zero,” said Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, who addressed a diverse group of political, environmental and private-sector leaders at a conference in Washington on the river’s future.

Gulf state, not Louisiana, blocking approval of $627 million in BP oil spill restoration work

One of five Gulf Coast states that serve as trustees in assessing natural resource damages in the aftermath of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill is blocking the release of $627 million that BP has set aside for a third phase of early restoration projects, according to a senior Louisiana official.

“We have hit a snag in finalizing the Phase III Early Restoration Plan,” said Kyle Graham, executive director of the state Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority, who acts as the state’s trustee in negotiations over how to spend damage assessment money, in a statement. “One of the state trustees has expressed an unwillingness to proceed. We are investigating solutions. Hope to have things resolved soon.”

What Penalties Are BP And Anadarko To Face Under The Clean Water Act

A U.S. appeals court recently ruled that as the owners of the Macondo well, which blew out in April 2010 causing the worst-ever offshore oil spill incident in the U.S., both BP Plc. and Anadarko Corp. must face penalties under the Clean Water Act. The ruling affirmed the decision taken by the U.S. District Court in New Orleans in 2012. This could mean billions of dollars in potential liabilities for both companies.

BP & The Real State of the Gulf – Pollution Report for Monday, June 9, 2014

On Monday, FDEP environmental specialist David Perkinson conducted a post-response monitoring survey on Escambia County, Florida beaches, with a focus in the NAS Pensacola and Perdido Key areas.

Numerous Surface Residue Balls (SRBs or “tar balls”) were found throughout the area. These hardened balls are often filled with deadly, flesh-eating bacteria. Do not handle without protective gloves.

Monday’s findings indicate that oil from BP’s Deepwater Horizon spill is still quite prevalent. A total of 125 tar balls were collected during the survey, amounting to over one-half pound of Deepwater Horizon oil product removed from these sections of beach – by just one person.

Galveston Bay oil spill cost assessment could take years

Federal and state agencies have started looking at natural resource damage in an effort to come up with a dollar estimate from a March barge and cargo ship collision in the Houston Ship Channel that dumped thousands of gallons of oil into Galveston Bay.

“You’ve got all kinds of different wildlife that could be impacted,” Chip Wood, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service biologist, told The Galveston County Daily News. “You’ve got marshes, you’ve got sand beach, you’ve got recreational issues, so it’s quite an extensive evaluation.”

NTSB: Coast Guard Could Have Done More to Prevent Galveston Oil Spill

U. S. Coast guard investigators are reviewing testimony they heard during a four-day hearing held last week in Galveston. They’re trying to learn what might have prevented the collision of a freighter with a barge carrying fuel oil in March. Some of what they heard points a finger right back at the Coast Guard.

Along Galveston Bay, the big collision is still fresh in the minds of people who have a front row seat to the very busy Houston Ship Channel. John McMichael is a retired Navy submarine officer who manages Seawolf park on Pelican Island.

Judge Rules Exxon Must Face Negligence Lawsuit Over 210,000-Gallon Oil Spill

An Arkansas federal judge on Monday refused to let ExxonMobil off the hook from a lawsuit claiming the company violated federal and state clean water laws when its Pegasus Pipeline ruptured in March 2013, spilling approximately 210,000 gallons of Canadian tar sands crude oil into the small community of Mayflower.

U.S. District Judge Kristine Baker denied the company’s motion to dismiss, saying the lawsuit offered sufficient proof that ExxonMobil may have committed two violations of the Clean Water Act, two violations of Arkansas’ air and water regulations, and one hazardous materials violation. The lawsuit, brought by both the federal and Arkansas governments, says ExxonMobil should pay up to $4,300 per barrel of oil released — a maximum of $21.5 million — and up to $45,000 per day in civil penalties for violations since the spill.

Exxon to Challenge Ark. Oil Spill Fine at Hearing, but Public Not Allowed to Listen

Federal pipeline regulators and ExxonMobil lawyers will spar Wednesday in Houston over a proposed $2.7 million fine and allegations that the company delayed crucial inspections, skewed risk data and ignored warning signs before its Pegasus oil pipeline ruptured in Arkansas last year.

The two sides are presenting evidence for and against the fine and allegations in an “informal” administrative hearing that’s closed to the public. It is being heard by a presiding officer from the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), according to Damon Hill, spokesman for the regulatory agency. A final ruling could take six months or longer.

Like So Many Bad Things, Oil Spills Are Good For the Economy

Energy giant Kinder Morgan was recently called insensitive for pointing out that “Pipeline spills can have both positive and negative effects on local and regional economies, both in the short- and long-term.” The company wants to triple its shipping capacity from the Alberta tar sands to Burnaby, in part by twinning its current pipeline. Its National Energy Board submission states, “Spill response and cleanup creates business and employment opportunities for affected communities, regions, and cleanup service providers.”

Alberta Sees Canada Approval of Gateway Pipeline: McQueen

Alberta Energy Minister Diana McQueen said she expects Canada’s government to approve the Northern Gateway pipeline this month, putting crude producers a step closer to easing bottlenecks that are suppressing prices.

“We’re very optimistic that Gateway will be approved by the federal government,” McQueen said today in an interview at Bloomberg headquarters in New York. “It’s a very important pipe for us in Alberta but certainly nationally as well.”

Rickford Says Safe Bet of New Canada Pipeline by 2020

Canadian Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said he’s confident the country’s oil industry will have access to new pipeline capacity by the end of this decade.

A period of four to six years is consistent with a “medium-term” timeframe for other major energy projects in North America, Rickford said in an interview in New York, where he was attending the Goldman Sachs North American Energy Summit. Proposed projects include TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL and Energy East conduits, Enbridge Inc. (ENB)’s Northern Gateway and the expansion of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP’s Trans Mountain line.

Northern Gateway pipeline decision could be delayed, says natural resources minister

The Canadian government could possibly delay an imminent decision on whether to approve the controversial Northern Gateway pipeline from Alberta’s oil sands to the Pacific coast, a minister said on Wednesday.

Natural Resources Minister Greg Rickford said the Conservative government is considering an extensive report by the country’s energy regulator, the National Energy Board, for the proposed pipeline which is opposed by many environmentalists and aboriginal groups.

Oil by rail — how to keep California safe

California needs more inspectors, more hazmat teams and more information from railway companies to protect against accidents involving trains carrying crude oil, according to a state report issued Tuesday.

The report, from the state’s Interagency Rail Safety Working Group, follows a surge in the amount of oil imported into California by train, with shipments rising more than 500 percent in 2013.

Oil-by-rail secrecy may lead to court dispute

A month-old requirement by the Transportation Department to limit information about Bakken crude oil shipments by rail has triggered a conflict among railroads, states and the federal government that could wind up in court.

The department and the railroads want state agencies to keep the information confidential, but some states have not agreed to comply, citing open-records laws.

California Braces for Explosion of Oil by Rail Shipments

The mountains and cities of California are about to see an explosion in the number of trains carrying fracked Bakken crude oil through the state. And according to a report (pdf) released on Tuesday, both the federal government and industry have done little to protect citizens from the “potentially serious risks” of such oil transport.

Further, despite requests from state energy officials, railway companies have provided “limited data” to the state and have “vehemently resisted” sharing information regarding oil shipments with the public, claiming that such knowledge is a “trade secret,” the Sacramento Beereported on Monday.

New Report Analyzes Tar Sands Threat to America’s Migratory Birds

Tar sands mining in the heart of Canada’s boreal forest is putting millions of America’s migratory birds in jeopardy and has already resulted in hundred of thousands of fatalities, according to a new report released today by the National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Council of Maine.

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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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