Environmental Must-Reads – June 2, 2014


Fracking wells possible culprit of Texas earthquakes

The first time the earth shook their home, David and Meredith Hull thought it was a propane tank exploding outside, an odd but rare phenomenon.

Then it happened again. And again and again — more than 30 earthquakes since early November. One tremor tossed David Hull against the refrigerator and Meredith atop the stove.

“It felt like something was under the house literally lifting it up and slamming it back down on its foundation,” said David Hull, 60, a retired sheriff’s deputy. “The whole house was shaking.”

Rural county protests fracking in Nevada

A rural county has joined an environmental group in challenging an oil and gas lease sale in central Nevada that could open 270 square miles of public land to hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking.

Lander County and the Center for Biological Diversity have filed formal administrative protests over the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s July 17 sale of leases in 102 parcels around Big Smokey Valley between Austin and Tonopah.

Anti-fracking fight in Texas draws St. Tammany interest

When Cathy McMullen woke up one morning and saw three dead cows around a cistern on her neighbor’s property, she knew she and her husband needed to move. The pair left their 11-acre spread near Decatur, Texas, in 2009 and headed 30 miles east to Denton, where they hoped they wouldn’t have to deal with the effects of nearby “fracking” wells like the one that she says produced the wastewater that killed the cows.

Little did McMullen know she was walking into the fight of her life — a fight that may prove instructive to St. Tammany Parish residents who are opposing an oil company’s effort to drill a single fracking well near Lakeshore High School.

Va. to review natural gas fracking rules

Virginia is looking anew at regulations governing hydraulic fracking for natural gas, a drilling method that has spawned a gold rush for the energy resource in the U.S. and given rise to its own environmental movement.

The review comes ahead of a Dallas energy company’s plans to drill in tens of thousands of leased acres south and east of Fredericksburg. To date, drilling for natural gas in Virginia has occurred only in the southwest Coalfields region of the state.

Fracking review leaders met with Cuomo advisers

During a key period in New York’s review of hydraulic fracturing, the commissioners in charge of the analysis met with two of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s top political advisers, according to documents obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau.

Twice last year, Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, then-Health Commissioner Nirav Shah and Cuomo’s top aides huddled with Phil Singer and Peter Kauffmann, senior advisers to Cuomo’s successful 2010 campaign who now work for the state Democratic Committee.

How Your Town Can Ban Fracking: A Q&A with Goldman Prize Winner Helen Slottje

Helen Slottje has redrawn the map of fracking in upstate New York.

Since 2010, Slottje and her husband David, both attorneys, have battled to keep fracking out of New York communities using local zoning laws. Since pioneering this novel legal strategy in the town of Ulysses, near their home town of Ithaca, the Slottjes have traveled town to town, helping communities understand language in the state’s constitution that gives municipalities the right to make and enforce these local land use decisions.

Oil, gas wells often keep operating despite violations

Ohio has more than tripled its number of inspectors of oil and gas wells in the past five years. But even with the extra eyes, wells cited for violating state law often stay active for years without fixing problems that could be harmful to the environment.

A Dispatch analysis of more than four years of inspection and violation data kept by the Ohio Department of Natural Resources shows that the vast majority of Ohio’s 64,000 oil and gas wells operate without issue.

Neighbors fret over scant science on oil, gas drilling health impacts

When Noble Energy started drilling a well about 650 feet from Eric Ewing’s rural Weld County home in March, the noise was fierce and the house shook — but that’s not what worries Ewing.

“It’s the fumes,” said Ewing, 39. “You can see them coming off some of the sites around here. They can make you dizzy.

“I don’t know if I should be worried. I mean, I have two small children, a 5-year-old girl and a 3-year-old boy. Am I putting them in jeopardy?”

Longmont defends fracking ban, asks judge to hear case

The state has never regulated “fracking” and the oil and gas industry has alternatives, Longmont attorneys argued in a brief late Friday defending its ban of hydraulic fracturing.

The brief asks the Boulder County District Court to not summarily kill the ban, but to let it go on to an evidentiary hearing in April. The Colorado Oil and Gas Association, which sued Longmont over the ban in 2012, asked for a summary judgment in March.

Testimony set to begin Monday afternoon in oil spill trial

Testimony was set to get underway in a hearing Monday afternoon that intended to find out who was responsible in the devastating oil spill back in March.

168-thousand gallons of oil leaked into the water near Galveston Island, after two boats collided in the Houston Ship Channel.

Weeklong federal hearing examines barge-ship collision, oil spill into Houston Ship Channel

The U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are opening a week of hearings into the collision of a barge and a freighter that spilled nearly 170,000 gallons of fuel oil into the Houston Ship Channel earlier this year.

July 9 hearing set in BP employees’ criminal case

A federal appeals court has set a July 9 hearing in the manslaughter case against two BP employees charged in connection with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 offshore rig workers.

BP well site leaders Robert Kaluza and Donald Vidrine were indicted on 22 manslaughter counts in the case. U.S. District Judge Stanwood Duval Jr. threw out 11 counts of “seaman’s manslaughter.” Duval said the seaman’s manslaughter law didn’t apply to the well leaders.

Louisiana lawmakers divide expected oil spill recovery money

Lawmakers want to steer Gulf oil spill recovery money to help refill Louisiana’s “rainy day” fund and an elderly trust fund that was raided to fill budget holes.

The plan taps into dollars that BP PLC is expected to pay for the state’s claims of economic damage caused by the massive 2010 spill. Those claims are the subject of ongoing federal litigation, and it’s unclear when any of the money might be available to the state.

Louisiana’s regulation and inspection of oil and gas wells, including ‘orphaned’ wells, is inadequate, Legislative Auditor finds

The state Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation is doing an inadequate job of regulating and inspecting the state’s oil and gas wells, and is not properly overseeing a growing number of “orphaned” wells abandoned by private operators, according to a report released Monday by Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera.

The result is an increasing state financial burden for cleaning up environmental problems caused by improperly operated wells and for plugging wells that have been abandoned by oil and gas companies, the report concluded.

A Cautionary Tale: Tar Sands Oil and Health.

The question of whether tar sands are hazardous to our health is growing stickier.

A final decision from the Obama administration on construction of the much-debated Keystone XL pipeline remains on hold, stalled by legal challenges to its planned route through the state of Nebraska.

But other questions have been raised in Congress about the possible health effects that may result from pumping 35 million gallons a day of diluted bitumen—tar sands oil—through a pipeline every day from Alberta, Canada, through the heart of America to refineries on the Gulf Coast. And there are questions that are barely being asked or answered. Here, we take a look at some of them.

If Keystone XL Pipeline Is Rejected, Trains Will Transfer Oil

The proposed Keystone XL pipeline has generated controversy, especially in Nebraska, where opposition to transporting crude from the oil sands of Canada has delayed a national decision on the project.

Corn to be planted in anti-pipeline message

Opponents of a proposed pipeline that would carry Canadian oil south to the Gulf Coast hope to cultivate more resistance to the project by planting corn in the shape of a message.

About four acres of Ponka red corn will be planted this weekend in a field near Neligh, Nebraska, to fill out an anti-pipeline message carved into the ground earlier this spring.

Enbridge plans open house on controversial pipeline project

Enbridge, the company that plans to build a 167-mile pipeline from Flanagan to Patoka, will have team members at an open house Thursday to answer questions about the project.

It’s the last of four open houses planned along the proposed pipeline route. Jennifer Smith, communication manager for Enbridge, said no formal presentation will be given; instead, those attending can speak one-on-one with team members.

Protesters Fight ‘Bomb Trains’ Hauling Oil Thru California

The Contra Costa Times reports that a group of about 60 protesters representing the Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) held California‘s first demonstration against what the group calls “bomb trains” that will be bringing as much as 1.3 million gallons of highly toxic and flammable crude oil through Richmond’s Kinder Morgan rail yard to be trucked to local refineries.

Norway Moves In to Guard Oil Rig From Greenpeace

Norway’s Coast Guard on Friday evening towed away a Greenpeace ship that tried to block a Norwegian company’s rig from drilling the world’s most northerly oil well, in the Barents Sea, the environmental group said.

Oil drillers from Norway are moving farther north as fields to the south are depleted and as the Arctic ice retreats, opening areas that were previously inaccessible. American estimates suggest that the Arctic may hold 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered oil and 30 percent of its gas.

Norway rejects Greenpeace appeal against Statoil drilling

Norway gave Statoil the go-ahead to start drilling the world’s most northerly oil well in the Barents Sea by rejecting an appeal by environment group Greenpeace to block the exploration.

Oil drillers in Norway are moving further north as mature fields in the south deplete and the Arctic ice retreats opening new areas that were previously unaccessible.

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
Cooper Law Firm

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