Environmental Must-Reads – June 12, 2015


Exploratory Drilling Approved For Louisiana Wetlands

The Army Corps of Engineers this week issued a permit for an oil and gas company to fill three acres of wetlands in St. Tammany Parish, Louisiana, where it will begin exploratory drilling — the first step towards hydraulic fracturing (fracking). The decision raised questions for local leaders and environmental advocates about how much control they have over their natural resources.

Fracking Blowout in Texas Causes Huge Dead Zone

The same week that Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed a bill stripping local communities of their ability to control the oil and gas industry, a fracking well exploded in south Texas, spraying a toxic mix of chemicals and forcing the evacuation of 20 families.

The well, one of two that blew out that week, exploded outside of Karnes City in the Eagle Ford shale, one of the most heavily fracked places in the US. The fracking well spewed enough oil, gas, and chemicals to leave a ¼ mile gash of dead vegetation and contaminated land. The blowout also released an unknown amount of methane, a greenhouse gas 85 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

U.S. fracking rules to face early legal test

Energy industry groups and states that oppose new U.S. rules for hydraulic fracturing on public lands are headed to court this month to try to block the regulations a day before they are to take effect.

Foes of the regulations will go before a federal judge on June 23 to seek a preliminary injunction. The Interior Department rules, slated to take effect on June 24, would require companies to provide data on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and to take steps to prevent leakage from oil and gas wells on federally owned land.

Pennsylvania case studies mirror EPA’s national fracking report

A federal investigation into links between fracking and drinking water contamination in Bradford and Susquehanna Counties found some private water wells had been damaged by methane and ethane migration caused by nearby fracking. But the report found no evidence that homeowners’ private water wells and springs had been affected by frack fluids or waste water.

In Washington County, the same probe found ground water near a gas industry waste water impoundment contained chlorides that exceeded the federal health limit but that methane found in about a quarter of wells tested was naturally occurring.

Williams natgas pipeline in Pennsylvania ruptures; no injuries

Williams Cos Inc said a natural gas pipeline in Pennsylvania ruptured late Wednesday, requiring area residents to evacuate their homes briefly but causing no injuries or impact to service.

“There was no fire,” Williams spokesman Chris Stockton said on Thursday as the company moved the flow of gas through the area to its other pipes in the area.

Energy giant denies oil development’s role in quakes

The earthquakes that have struck near Azle and Irving, Texas, are naturally occurring and not related to oil and gas development, scientists for XTO Energy Inc. told state regulators.

XTO, a subsidiary of Exxon Mobil Corp., mounted a full-throated defense of its operations during a hearing called by the Texas Railroad Commission here yesterday, saying there have been earthquakes in the Fort Worth Basin, which lies Azle and Irving, for 600 million years.

Earthquakes prompt meeting over fracking

Environmental groups from Kansas and Oklahoma are hosting a public event this weekend that aimed at raising awareness about earthquakes and a hydraulic fracturing process commonly known as fracking that is used in drilling injection wells.

The Sierra Club chapters from the two states have scheduled the meeting Saturday at the Medford Civic Center in Medford, Oklahoma. Both states have seen a rise in earthquake activity.

Making tiny earthquakes to understand fracking-driven quakes

In some places, notably Ohio and Oklahoma, the injection of used fracking fluid in deep disposal wells appears to have produced a significant uptick in earthquake activity. The earthquakes are mostly much too small to be felt at the surface, but a magnitude 5.6 quake in Oklahoma was large enough to cause some damage in 2011.

This has made lots of news because of its scale, but it’s not our first experience with injection-triggered earthquakes. It’s a concern for geothermal power designs that inject water to depths where it can turn to turbine-driving steam, for example. And in the future, it could be a concern for efforts to store carbon dioxide in underground reservoirs.

Fracking technique raises prospect of better prediction of mega-earthquakes

An experiment has shed light on how controversial human activities such as fracking can cause small earthquakes. This may enable better controls of hazardous techniques. But it could have even greater relevance as a way to predict big earthquakes and other natural hazards.

The past decade has seen a significant growth in so-called “fluid-injection techniques”. In the most common one – fracking – shale gas is released by the drilling of a high-pressure water mixture into the earth.

“There Could Be Trouble” As US Fracking Revolution Prepares to Go Global

A new report showing the U.S. overtaking Russia as the leading producer of oil and gas in the world should put to rest any doubt that the fracking revolution that has occurred in the U.S. is for real, or as BP’s chief economist put it, “profound.”

And now with the recent Environmental Protection Agency report on the impacts of fracking on drinking water being touted by the American Petroleum Institute as proof that fracking is safe, the industry’s insatiable greed got another boost. More recently, the Harvard Business School has also joined in the discussion calling for the end of the ban on exporting U.S. crude oil and warning about the implications of missing the “opportunity” offered by fracking.

Attempts to ban fracking statewide suffer from drop in momentum, funding

Democratic Rep. Jared Polis may no longer be interested in running a statewide anti-fracking initiative after last year’s bruising political battle royale, but Cliff Willmeng isn’t giving up on the dream.

Six months ago, Willmeng launched an issue committee, Coloradans for Community Rights, to promote a proposed constitutional amendment on “the right to local self-government.” While he has yet to file language with the state, the effort sounds similar to his 2014 proposal, which failed to qualify for the November ballot.

Government trying to fast-track fracking without public consent

The Government is attempting to fast-track fracking by doing away with the need for the public to be consulted before test drilling goes ahead.

The changes, which have been quietly put out to public consultation, mean the advice of local residents would no longer be sought in the early stages of most new oil and gas developments.

Mock oil train derailment, disaster in La Crosse tests emergency response

On a balmy September afternoon, a freight train hauling 2.7 million gallons of crude oil derails as it crosses Pammel Creek on the South Side of La Crosse, spilling about 100,000 gallons of the volatile cargo.

Traffic comes to a halt as motorists stop to gawk at the overturned tankers beneath the overpass. Firefighters struggle to get through the bottleneck.

BP Cherry Point oil train facility gets extra track

By the end of June, crews at BP Cherry Point refinery are expected to complete an additional rail loop at the crude oil train unloading facility off Grandview Road.

The third loop allows for more room to store empty crude oil tank cars until they can be taken away by BNSF Railway, BP spokesman Scott Dean said in an email.

New pipeline could mean tax bonanza for NJ towns, but for Pa.? Not so much

As Republican legislative leaders and the natural gas industry unite to beat back Gov. Tom Wolf’s severance tax proposal, here’s something lawmakers in Harrisburg are not talking about: Companies building new pipelines to grow markets for Pennsylvania’s natural gas don’t have to pay local property taxes on those lines to counties, towns and school districts.

So how much could local communities be missing out on?

Mountain Valley Pipeline drama continues in Roanoke County

State law cracks open the gate. A controversial Virginia law allows contractors working for Mountain Valley Pipeline to enter private property without permission to survey for a possible route for the company’s proposed natural gas pipeline.

That’s true if Mountain Valley has followed the advance notification requirements mandated in statute 56-49.01. Survey crews can stroll right past “no trespassing” signs and get to work.

Small oil spill reported after 10-inch pipeline ruptures in Louisiana

A small oil spill was reported on Thursday after a pipeline, the owner of which is unknown, ruptured in Carlyss, Louisiana, according to a local official.

The spill from a 10-inch line was quickly contained, according to Norman Bourdeau, operations manager for the Calcasieu Parish Office of Homeland Security.

BP oil spill: Court filing hints penalty ruling near

A routine filing in federal court Wednesday (June 10) hints a New Orleans judge could be close to a ruling on how much BP will pay in fines for its role in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier and Magistrate Judge Sally Shushan, who are overseeing the complex oil spill litigation, were scheduled to talk with lawyers June 18 for a regular status conference on the ongoing cases.

Officials Spurn Exxon Offer To Provide Trucks During Pipeline Repair

Santa Barbara County has denied Exxon Mobil’s offer to provide tanker trucks to transport oil in Southern California until a pipeline that normally carries the crude is being repaired.

Exxon had offered to have the trucks, each with a capacity of 6,720 gallons, make as many as 192 trips per day. The oil giant had planned to use as many as eight trucks per hour, 24 hours a day, to move oil from a facility it owns near the Pacific coast to several destinations, including an oil refinery in San Luis Obispo County, about 70 miles to the north.

NTSB Report: Captain’s Decision, Lack of Communication Led to 2014 Collision and Oil Spill in Houston Ship Channel

A U.S. National Transportation Safety Board investigation into the March 2014 collision between a towing vessel with two barges and a bulk carrier on the Houston Ship Channel has determined that the towing vessel’s Captain attempted to cross the Channel ahead of the bulk carrier, impeding the passage of the vessel.

In blow to Big Oil, EPA says oil refiners recover RINs costs

Oil companies ultimately recover their costs of complying with the U.S. biofuels program, according to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analysis that marks the regulator’s clearest challenge yet to a key criticism of the policy.

The report, written in May but released this week to back up a recent proposal for use requirements, is significant for both its detail and its timing.

More Dukeville water wells declared unsafe

More Rowan residents are without clean drinking water after the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural on Thursday released additional test results for wells near Buck Steam Station.

To date, 44 water wells in Rowan County have been declared unsafe. The greatest number of wells have tested above state standards for hexavalent chromium and vanadium — present naturally and in coal ash. Both chemicals are also toxic for human consumption at certain levels. The latest results — released in a blog post on the Department of Environment and Natural Resources’ website — included exceedances for a number other chemicals including: antimony, cobalt, lead, manganese, zinc, sulfate, iron and total dissolved solids.

Water utility hires firm to study river

Central Arkansas Water is hiring a contractor to evaluate the Arkansas River as a backup water source in the event its primary water source, Lake Maumelle, is compromised.

The likelihood of a catastrophic event interrupting the raw water flow from Lake Maumelle will increase with the restarting of the Exxon Mobil Pegasus pipeline, the agency wrote in a memo to the utility’s board of commissioners.

Ortonville residents still have concerns with Enbridge pipeline work, pump station near home

Not too long ago, Mark and Sue Evans could see a swath of trees less than a football field’s length from their home in rural Ortonville.

Since oil company Enbridge has come into the community, the couple’s view has changed dramatically, and they’re not happy about it.

“We feel rather powerless,” said Sue Evans. “For the past two years, it’s just been crazy, and very sad. It seems like every time we don’t go along with (Enbridge), they retract any assistance we have requested.”

Scientists Say Tar Sands Development And Limiting Climate Change Are ‘Incompatible’

More than 100 scientists from the U.S. and Canada called for a moratorium on the development of tar sands Wednesday, saying the carbon-intensive form of energy was “incompatible” with limiting climate change.

The scientists published a consensus statement laying out 10 reasons why mining of tar sands — an energy source that’s found largely in Alberta, Canada’s Athabasca region and whose mining has led to significant deforestation and forest degradation in the province — needs to be halted. Those reasons — all of which were backed up by scientific research — included findings that the expansion of tar sands development would slow North America’s move to clean energy, that environmental protections on tar sands development were lacking, and that less than 0.2 percent of the region affected by tar sands mining had been reclaimed.

Trans-Alaska pipeline will go offline for summer maintenance starting Friday

The trans-Alaska pipeline will shut down starting Friday for 36 hours of scheduled summer maintenance. Meantime, pipeline operator Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. is assessing the best way to fix a “weeping joint” discovered along an underground section of the line.

The “weep” at a pump station between Delta Junction and Glennallen — with crude leaking a rate of 1 teaspoon each day — is contained and under constant monitoring, said Michelle Egan, corporate communications director for Alyeska. It’s falling into a drip pan when an employee isn’t wiping off accumulated oil with a rag, she said.

Norwegian government forced to reassess Arctic oil drilling boundaries

Norway’s government will have to reassess oil drilling boundaries in the Arctic after failing to get parliamentary backing for its original proposal to move them further north.

With Arctic ice shrinking significantly, a trend scientists link to climate change, the way the government defines the ice edge, and with that where there can be oil and gas exploration, has been put in question.

Shell’s Alaska Arctic spill response plan wins court approval

A divided federal appeals court on Thursday rejected an effort by a coalition of environmental groups to revoke federal approval of Royal Dutch Shell Plc’s oil spill response plans related to drilling on Alaska’s remote Arctic coast.

By a 2-1 vote, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, which is part of the Department of the Interior, acted lawfully in approving the plans, which relate to Shell oil leases in the Beaufort and Chukchi seas from 2005, 2007 and 2008.

First vessel in Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet heads for Alaska

The first vessel in Royal Dutch Shell’s Arctic drilling fleet has embarked from Washington state to Alaska ahead of its planned resumption of oil and gas exploration in the remote region this summer, the company said on Thursday.

The Arctic Challenger, an oil spill containment barge, had left Bellingham, north of Seattle, and was headed toward Dutch Harbor, in Unalaska, off mainland Alaska, Shell spokeswoman Megan Baldino said. She did not know when it would arrive.

Russia stops Arctic oil field development as sanctions halt Exxon partnership

RUSSIAN state oil producer Rosneft will be forced to postpone drilling a second well in the Kara Sea for at least two more years, three sources told Reuters, as a result of Western sanctions over the Ukraine crisis.

The delay will be a blow to Rosneft, which is key to President Vladimir Putin’s goal of lifting output and securing Russia’s energy dominance by exploring the Arctic, where Moscow is thought to have some of the world’s most plentiful oil resources.

What’s ahead for Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant

Four years after an earthquake and tsunami destroyed Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant, the road ahead remains riddled with unknowns.

The government approved a revised 30-to-40-year roadmap Friday that delays by three years the start of a key initial step—the removal of still-radioactive fuel rods in the three reactors that had meltdowns following the March 2011 disaster in northeast Japan.

Japan to speed up return of Fukushima area evacuees

Japan plans to revoke evacuation orders for most people forced from their homes by the Fukushima nuclear disaster within two years as part of a plan to cut compensation payouts and speed up reconstruction, the government said on Friday.

The government also said, however, that it would delay the removal of dangerous spent uranium fuel rods at the wrecked Fukushima power station, another setback in Tokyo Electric Power Co’s struggle to contain the world’s worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.

Fukushima nuclear plant cleanup plan approved by Japan

Japan’s government approved Friday a revised 30- to 40-year roadmap to clean up the wrecked Fukushima nuclear plant, but many questions remain.

The plan, endorsed by Cabinet members and officials, delays the start of a key initial step — the removal of spent fuel in storage pools at each of the three melted reactors — by up to three years due to earlier mishaps and safety problems at the plant.

“Dangerous Decision” Could Leave Californians Vulnerable After Nuclear Disaster

Housed in a nondescript office park in Las Vegas, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has an elite team of radiation experts trained to respond to a nuclear disaster. One of their most important tools is a Mobile Environmental Radiation Lab known as the “MERL.”

A set of three large vehicles, the MERL can be in Southern California in a matter of hours after a terrorist attack or nuclear accident. And it allows the radiation response team to quickly identify and track dangerous radiation spreading across the region.

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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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