Environmental Must-Reads – June 17, 2014


New York Fracking Cases Echo Past Gas Boom

The fate of two fracking lawsuits before New York’s highest court hinges on legislation passed in 1981, an era of advances in gas-exploration technology that has parallels to today.

The New York Court of Appeals is weighing whether towns can use zoning regulations to ban high-volume, hydraulic fracturing, widely known as fracking. Its decision will have ramifications for energy companies and the more than 170 towns and cities that have passed moratoriums or bans on fracking.

Erie neighbors say they’ve been kept in dark about 13 planned fracking sites

In January, Geri and Steve Nelson moved from Aurora into a brand new home in Erie’s Vista Ridge neighborhood, on a choice plot with a backyard overlooking a golf course and several acres of wide open fields.

Two weeks ago, Geri Nelson noticed three trucks and an unusual wire strung along the walking path behind her home. She asked around, and found out 13 oil and gas wells are slated for installation in the untouched greenery that her back porch overlooks.

Texas’ oil, gas regulator refuses to talk to media

Texas’ oil and gas regulatory agency has instituted a blanket policy barring staff members from doing media interviews, raising questions about transparency as the state grapples with the intricacies of one of the largest energy booms in decades.

The Texas Railroad Commission, which has three commissioners leading one of the largest state agencies of its kind in the country, approved the policy in August, about a year after Milton Rister took over as the agency’s executive director. Since then, all media inquiries have been funneled through a spokeswoman who responds via email and bars any direct access to staffers.

Anti-fracking group plans lawsuit after well appeal gets rejected by state

A local anti-fracking group is vowing to continue its struggle against a Torch area injection well in the civil court system after an appeal was denied Thursday by the state Oil and Gas Commission.

The Athens County Fracking Action Network filed an appeal of what’s known as the K&H2 well in eastern Athens County earlier this year, with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources disputing the standing of the group to make such an appeal. The well in question is one of two injection wells owned by K&H Partners of West Virginia at the site.

Area counties’ Shale impact fees up 15.5%

Philadelphia and four surrounding counties will receive $3.9 million this year from the Marcellus Shale impact fee, up 15.5 percent from last year, according to figures released this month by the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission.

In the three years Pennsylvania has collected the impact fee on unconventional natural gas wells, the five counties in the Philadelphia area have received $10.7 million out of the $626 million assessed.

Where does all the wastewater from this B.C. disposal well go?

Disposal well #2240 is located in northeast B.C., near the small, booming resource town of Fort Nelson.

While it might look like any other old gas well on the surface, the lake of polluted wastewater that has formed underneath makes it worthy of note, and raises some troubling questions about whether provincial regulations are adequately protecting the environment.

Fracking waste water being injected into old wells in northeastern B.C.

Toxic waste water equal in volume to 24 World Trade Center towers has been injected into a single 46-year-old natural gas well in northeastern British Columbia, says a report for the Fort Nelson First Nation done by the University of Victoria’s Environmental Law Centre.

More than 41 billion litres of water too contaminated for surface disposal has been injected into the well — identified as Well #2240 — since 1968.

Report: Oil Companies Knowingly Dump Toxins In Southern California

Oil and gas companies used more than 45 million pounds, or 22,500 tons, of dangerous chemicals throughout the last year in 477 hydraulic fracturing, acidizing and gravel packing operations in Los Angeles and Orange counties, according to a recently released report from the Center for Biological Diversity and three other environmental and health groups.

The report specifies that more than 44 different air toxic chemicals, or chemicals that are released into the air, were used over 5,000 times since last June. These air toxics include crystalline silica, methanol, hydrofluoric acid and formaldehyde — chemicals that have been proven to cause significant health harms, illness and death.

‘Win-win’ deal reportedly struck on leases in hotly contested Colo. plateau

A decadelong battle over whether to drill for gas atop a wildlife-rich plateau in western Colorado could be nearing a resolution, with environmentalists, industry, Colorado’s governor and the congressional delegation reportedly backing a proposed settlement.

While far from final, the proposal is aimed at resolving one of the longest-running public-lands feuds in the Centennial State. At issue is the Roan Plateau, an area blessed by an abundance of natural gas as well as major herds of mule deer and elk and genetically pure Colorado River cutthroat trout.

Group considers suing North Carolina to stop fracking

Anson County residents are calling for action after Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law that would allow fracking permits to be issued as early as next year.

Anson is one of 14 counties in North Carolina where fracking could occur. According to the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA, those counties include Rockingham, Yadkin, Davie, Granville, Durham, Wake, Anson, Montgomery, Chatham, Lee, Sanford, Union and Moore counties.

Records show inspection lapse in Kern County oil and gas wells

Federal officials in charge of overseeing the drilling of new oil wells on public land in California let three years pass without inspecting some high-priority sites, according to public records.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management records say 31 of 99 high-priority wells drilled from fiscal year 2009 to 2012 in the state’s oil-rich Central Valley were not inspected during that period, the most recently available records provided by the bureau. Each of the uninspected wells is located in Kern County.

Meeting Logs: Obama White House Quietly Coddling Big Oil on “Bomb Trains” Regulations

When Richard Revesz, Dean Emeritus of New York University Law School, introduced Howard Shelanski at his only public appearance so far during his tenure as Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), Revesz described Shelanski as, “from our perspective, close to the most important official in the federal government.”

OIRA has recently reared its head in a big way because it is currently reviewing the newly-proposed oil-by-rail safety regulations rolled out by the Department of Transportation (DOT) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).

Judge Sets May 2015 Date for BP Investors’ Suit Over Oil Spill

A U.S. judge set a May 2015 trial date on Friday for BP Plc to face claims in a lawsuit accusing the company of misleading investors about the severity of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison in Houston set the May 18, 2015 date nearly a month after granting class certification to the shareholders in the lawsuit.

Texas company sues BP for breaking spill cleanup contract

Fluor Corp. is suing BP over millions of dollars in workers’ compensation claims related to cleanup efforts after the Gulf oil spill in 2010.

Fluor says BP has violated a contractual agreement by failing to repay litigation costs that Fluor incurred from the claims. A subsidiary of the Irving, Texas-based engineering firm agreed to help BP clean up the oil-polluted Gulf of Mexico in 2010 by training unemployed Florida and Alabama residents to restore the beaches, along with other services. Its condition: That BP agree to protect it against legal costs, Fluor said in court documents filed in a Harris County district court Friday.

CSB reports unrecognized pipe buckling added to Macondo oil spill

An incident similar to the 2010 deepwater Macondo well blowout and resulting oil spill still could occur, the US Chemical Safety Board reported June 5 in releasing its investigation findings into the 2010 incident.

CSB called for better safety management by oil companies and regulators concerning drilling equipment, and CSB investigators identified a type of pipe buckling that they called effective compression.

Waiting on Jindal: Governor’s signature all that’s needed for SB 585 to become law

Senate Bill 585, which places a two-year moratorium on constructing solution-mined salt caverns in Iberia Parish, is awaiting Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature after being sent to his office June 1 from the Secretary of the Senate.

“I’m anticipating a signature pretty soon,” said state Sen. Fred Mills, R-Parks, who pushed the bill through the House and Senate. “I think it’s just a matter of timing.”

Greenland Oil Spill Response signs MoU with the world’s largest oil spill emergency response organisation

Greenland Oil Spill Response (GOSR), Greenland’s nationally owned oil spill emergency response company, has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Oil Spill Response Limited (OSRL) to deliver enhanced services to mutual clients in Greenland.

Ship operator fined $2,500 after Elizabeth River oil spill

The Coast Guard has fined the operator of a coal ship $2,500 for a spill on Friday that released an estimated 200 gallons of fuel oil into the Elizabeth River.

The spill happened when a tank on the 740-foot Ostria S overflowed after being filled. The ship was docked at Pier 6, the coal pier at Lamberts Point operated by railroad company Norfolk Southern.

2 States Beef Up Oil-by-Rail and Pipeline Safety After String of Accidents

Alarmed by a string of explosive and disastrous oil spills, two states recently passed laws aimed at forcing rail and pipeline companies to abide by more rigorous emergency response measures instead of relying on the federal government.

The moves by New Hampshire and Minnesota reflect a desire for more control over in-state hazards, as well as mounting frustration over gaps in federal law involving oil pipelines and oil trains, superficial federal reviews and the secrecy surrounding spill response plans submitted to U.S. regulators.

High costs of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline outweigh paltry benefits

As the Senate considers yet another pro-Keystone XL measure, the case for the embattled Keystone XL tar sands pipeline has never been weaker. In recent weeks, a myriad of industry reports have shown that tar sands expansion is slowing due to a lack of pipelines, deflating the argument that tar sands expansion is inevitable. Meanwhile, the Associated Press has revealed the federal regulators found systematic bad welds and other defects in the construction of TransCanada’s Gulf Coast pipeline, highlighting the real risks of spills on the proposed tar sands pipeline. Finally, new trade reports reveal evidence that Keystone XL is an export pipeline through the United States rather than to it. This information comes after the State Department and media have thoroughly debunked the exaggerated job creation claims by Keystone XL’s proponents. The bottom line is that Keystone XL is not in the nation’s interest.

Congress aims to bypass Obama on Keystone pipeline

The movement to bypass President Obama and approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline through congressional action has more momentum than ever, with a key Senate committee set to vote later this week on a bill to greenlight the massive Canada-to-Texas project.

Quebec government seeking $400 million for Lac-Megantic rail disaster cleanup

The government of Quebec is seeking $409 million Canadian from the bankrupt Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway for cleanup and reconstruction in the town of Lac-Megantic, where one of the company’s trains carrying oil crashed last year in an accident that killed 47 people.

Oil train fires require SWAT teams, veteran firefighters tell states

A pair of Texans with decades of firefighting experience is encouraging state and local government leaders to consider establishing SWAT-like response teams for crude oil train fires.

A series of derailments of trains loaded with crude oil in the past year has exposed numerous safety vulnerabilities, including the integrity of the rail cars, the condition of the tracks and the way the trains are operated.

Arctic drilling rig arrives at Gazprom Neft’s Dolginskoye field

The GSP Saturn drilling platform has been delivered for test drilling at the Dolginskoye field

The jackup rig was contracted by Gazprom Neft’s subsidiary, Gazpromneft Sakhalin, which operates the Dolginskoye field on the continental shelf in the Pechora Sea. An exploration well will be drilled from the platform during the ice-free months of 2014 to further investigate the field’s geological structure and prepare it for full-scale development.

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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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