Environmental Must-Reads – June 24, 2015


Ute Tribe seeks to join lawsuit against BLM ‘fracking’ rule

The leadership of the Ute Indian Tribe announced Tuesday it will seek to join a federal lawsuit against the Bureau of Land Management over the agency’s new rules on hydraulic fracturing.

Calling the regulations “contrary to tribal interests,” members of the Ute Tribe Business Committee said they must take a stand against the new BLM rules —slated to take effect Wednesday — or risk “irreversible damage to the tribe’s economy.”

Fracking foes want St. Tammany council to call referendum

An environmental group in St. Tammany has launched a new effort to curtail a fracking project, which started last week.

The organization Preserve St. Tammany plans to ask the Parish Council to put a referendum before voters on whether to require an “industrial impact bond” for large projects.

Earthquakes Tied to Fracking Boom, Two New Studies Confirm

Oklahoma was never big earthquake country, but in the last six years their numbers have surged, going from an average of two a year over 3.0 magnitude to 538 last year, surpassing California as the U.S.’s most seismically active state. Regions in Texas and Ohio that rarely felt an earthquake are now seeing wave after wave of them; eight states overall have seen big increases.

Studies keep showing that the earthquakes start happening when wastewater from fracking is injected underground. Scientists say it’s because those large quantities of water, forced underground by heavy pressure, activate dormant fault lines. Now two more such studies have been added to the pile of evidence.

How fracking has divided the US

A decision over whether to allow fracking in Lancashire is expected to be made later. But how do they view the controversial process in the United States?

While in the United Kingdom we have spent years debating the rights and wrongs of hydraulic fracturing, better known as fracking, over in the US they have being cracking on with it for quite some time.

Hundreds protest against proposed fracking site in Lancashire

Hundreds of people protested against a proposed fracking site in Lancashire on Tuesday, as the county council considered whether to approve the project.

Over 450 people massed outside the county hall in Preston while Lancashire County Council listened to representations for and against Cuadrilla’s bid to frack at Preston New Road in Little Plumpton, between Preston and Blackpool.

Judge blocks federal fracking rule

A federal judge in Wyoming has temporarily blocked implementation of the Obama administration’s regulations for hydraulic fracturing on federal land, hours before they were set to take effect.

The late Tuesday decision in the District Court of Wyoming means the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) cannot implement the rule Wednesday as it had planned.

Oilfield Services Companies Are Betting On Re-Fracking. Will It Catch On?

Improving production efficiency and cutting well site costs have been two key themes in the upstream oil sector over the last few quarters, as producers look to cope with lower cash flows amid a tough crude oil pricing environment. The term re-fracking, or the practice of fracking a well a second time, has emerged a particularly hot buzzword in the industry. The premise for re-fracking is simple: it allows operators to maximize production from existing assets without having to drill and complete new wells.

A ‘Bunch Of Whores’: One Punk Band’s Uncensored Campaign Against Fracking

As the lead guitarist and singer of punk band Anti-Flag, Justin Sane is known for advocating against war overseas. But in the band’s latest release, the war Sane wants to stop is happening on the borders of his own hometown.

“They sit inside the kitchen, broken, in despair, their livestock sick or dead, their water a toxic cocktail,” Sane sings on “Gasland Terror,” his depiction of the fracking boom in Western Pennsylvania. A Pittsburgh native, Sane sees the sudden influx of natural gas drilling as poison, an infiltration of what he calls “criminal corporations.”

U.S. court dismisses challenge to California oil train law

A federal court has thrown out a lawsuit challenging a California state law requiring spill response plans and other safety measures for trains transporting crude oil, ruling that the matter was not yet “ripe” for review.

The Association of American Railroads and two railroad companies, represented by Latham & Watkins and Flesher McKague, filed a complaint last year seeking to block the California law.

CP Rail alleged to have breached safety protocols

The president of the union that represents rail workers is alarmed by allegations in court documents that a CP Rail manager may have ordered a conductor to breach safety directives and park a train carrying dangerous goods in the mountains of British Columbia without hand brakes – directives introduced after the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster.

A search warrant filed in the Provincial Court of Alberta by Transport Canada alleges Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. superintendent Mark Jackson ordered conductor Stefaney Pacey to leave 57 cars unattended near Revelstoke, B.C., without first applying the hand brakes. Transport Canada started looking into the incident after Ms. Pacey sent an e-mail about the order to her union, the documents say.

Broken wheel caused fiery 2014 derailment of Canada oil train

The fiery January 2014 derailment of a Canadian National Railway Co crude oil train in New Brunswick was caused by an undetected flaw that broke a wheel, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said.

The accident at Plaster Rock in the Canadian Atlantic province was one of a series of tanker train disasters that have increased concerns about the safety of shipping crude oil by rail in North America.

Six former railway employees charged in Lac-Mégantic disaster

Nearly two years after the Lac-Mégantic oil train explosion killed 47 people and levelled the small Quebec town, the federal government has laid new criminal charges.

Six former employees of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway, including the train engineer and the top executive, face charges under the Railway Safety Act and Fisheries Act for their alleged roles in the worst Canadian rail disaster in modern times. The bankrupt company itself has also been charged.

Texas company to build pipeline to Mexico

San Antonio-based Howard Midstream Energy Partners said Tuesday that it will build a 200-mile, 30-inch pipeline to transport natural gas from the company’s hub in Webb County to two sites in suburban Monterrey, Mexico.

Brandon Seale, president of Howard Energy Mexico, said there is “strong interest from Eagle Ford producers” in the pipeline because at present the natural gas they produce must take an indirect route from Texas coastal ports to Mexico.

Houston operator of ruptured gas pipeline fined in 2011 inspection

Federal inspectors found several violations during their most recent review of Spectra Energy’s Texas Eastern Transmission system, which includes the pipeline that burst last month in the Arkansas River.

Spectra Energy was cited during the 2011 inspection for three violations, including failure to inspect sections of pipe for corrosion, and was required to pay a civil penalty of $134,500, according to reports by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

BP’s Gulf spill toll could run up to $68.2 billion

The runaway well that emptied millions of barrels crude into the Gulf of Mexico could ultimately cost BP about $60.2 billion to $68.2 billion, a high bill for a firm wading through an industry downturn, analysts say.

The cost estimate means the remaining legal aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which includes impending environmental fines and settlement payments, could run up another $16 billion to $24 billion as the tangle of litigation around the spill unfolds for the next few years.

BP to carry oil spill debt for years, newspaper reports

A leading credit rating agency expects low oil prices and forthcoming environmental fines from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill could hurt BP earnings for years to come, the Houston Chronicle reports.

The report says Fitch Ratings changed the outlook for BP’s credit rating from “stable to negative” this week, noting the company faces “continued uncertainty” over its oil spill costs and is likely see debt rise above cash levels in coming years.

ExxonMobil temporarily halts oil production off Santa Barbara after oil spill

ExxonMobil has shut down oil production at its three platforms off the Santa Barbara County coast a month after a corroded pipeline owned by Texas company Plains All American Pipeline burst, effectively cutting off the flow of Exxon’s crude.

The oil giant halted operations at the Heritage, Harmony and Hondo offshore platforms late last week after it exhausted storage space at an onshore facility near El Capitan State Beach, company spokesman Richard Keil said Tuesday.

Exxon Mobil halting 3 oil platforms off Santa Barbara after spill hobbled pipeline

Exxon Mobil Corp. has been forced to halt operations at three offshore oil platforms because it couldn’t deliver to refineries in the wake of a broken pipeline that spilled up to 101,000 gallons of crude on the Santa Barbara coast, the company said.

Operations temporarily ceased last week because Santa Barbara County rejected its emergency application to truck oil to refineries, spokesman Richard Keil said Tuesday.

Activists will rally to block offshore oil drilling expansion in Santa Barbara

Using a loophole in the state law that prohibits leasing state waters for oil and gas drilling, Venoco has asked the State Lands Commission to approve a lease swap that would allow the company to drill for more oil on 3,400 acres off the California coast. That oil would be transported through the Plains All American pipeline, according to Californians Against Fracking.

Coastal Commission addresses oil spill, sea level rise

At its June 9 meeting in Newport Beach, the California Coastal Commission heard reports on two  coastal issues with implications for Malibu: The May 19 Refugio oil spill and the revised draft of the coastal agency’s sea level rise guidance policy.

As part of the his emergency response, Governor Jerry Brown temporarily suspended the Coastal Commission’s authority over the Plains All American pipeline break that released more than 100,000 gallons of crude oil onto the beach and into the sea at Refugio State Beach in Santa Barbara County. That suspension has now been lifted, restoring the agency’s authority.

Oil-leaking wreck off coast of Newfoundland cost Ottawa $1.7M

Documents showing the federal government spent $1.7 million over the last two years to plug oil leaks from a Newfoundland shipwreck bolster calls for a permanent fix, says a Liberal MP.

Scott Simms received the financial update in response to an order paper question and provided it to The Canadian Press.

New pipeline safety chief raises eyebrows amid concerns over oil transport

It’s a small agency with a long name and big responsibility — ensuring the safety of more than 1 million shipments of hazardous materials a day, including a nonstop flow of oil and gas through 2.6 million miles of energy pipeline and along 140,000 miles of rail. For Americans living in the path of this energy torrent, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) is their main defense against fiery derailments, gas line explosions and pipeline leaks, like the May 29 rupture that contaminated ocean waters off Santa Barbara, California.

As domestic oil and gas production hurtled toward record levels in recent years, the agency has become a pincushion for criticism from Congress, environmentalists, safety advocates and even industry for its inability to produce timely regulations. They complain the agency, known by its acronym, PHMSA,  is stagnant, unproductive and opaque.

Quebec Premier Sees Little Value in Proposed Oil Pipeline

Quebec’s premier says he doesn’t see much economic value for his province in a proposed pipeline that would carry crude oil from western Canada to refineries on the Atlantic coast.

Philippe Couillard said in an interview Tuesday with The Associated Press that if Quebec is simply a “transit place” for TransCanada’s proposed $12 billion Energy East project, he doesn’t see much benefit.

TransCanada, Encana both announce job cuts

Pipeline company TransCanada Corp. and oil and gas producer Encana Corp. both said on Tuesday they were cutting jobs, joining other Canadian energy firms that have laid off staff since global oil prices slumped.

TransCanada, the backer of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline project, said it cut 185 jobs following a restructuring to lower costs for customers affected by weak oil and natural gas prices.

There’s more than one reason to block the Keystone XL pipeline

The Keystone XL pipeline is a political lightning rod, a symbol around which have gathered stark opposing views. It’s jobs versus environmental degradation. It’s energy independence versus climate-change alarms. It’s cool, clear water versus Koch.

Of course, each side can seem right in a narrow sort of way, depending at any given moment how it marshals the arguments. But what really should we do about it? And where will this ongoing, difficult environmental debate, among all the others being fought right now, eventually lead?

Emma Thompson Warns Of ‘Terrifying’ Risks From Arctic Oil Exploration

Oscar-winning actor Emma Thompson has added her name to a petition to stop the controversial use of seismic air cannons for oil and gas exploration in Canada’s Arctic.

“Inuit have been stewards of the Arctic for millennia and it’s terrifying to think the region could be devastated by the by the greed of oil companies in an instant,” the “Harry Potter” star said in a statement from Greenpeace Monday.

Opponents of Arctic undersea oil drilling move protest to Everett

Activists launched a new protest Tuesday against oil drilling in the Arctic Ocean, launching kayaks around a Shell support vessel in the port of Everett as it prepares to head north for Alaska.

About 10 “kayaktivists” took to the water overnight around the Noble Discoverer, which has been docked in Everett for about six weeks as crews worked to fix a number of safety violations on board.

Shell’s Arctic drilling plans may hit permitting snag

Shell’s plans to bore two wells in the Arctic Ocean this summer may be jeopardized by an obscure permitting requirement that effectively bars drilling operations close to each other in waters off Alaska.

The restriction highlighted by environmentalists opposed to Shell’s Arctic drilling campaign could be a major stumbling block for the company, which has spent $7 billion and seven years pursuing oil in the region.

New law would allow only Russian-flagged ships in Russian Arctic

A new law might force shipping companies to sail in the Arctic only under the Russian flag.

The new legislation being considered by Russia’s Ministry of Transport proposes to significantly restrict shipping with petroleum products in Russian Arctic waters. If adopted, the law will prohibit companies from exporting Russian Arctic oil and gas with foreign-registered ships.

Shell’s Arctic plan counters U.S. walrus protections: green groups

Green groups urged the U.S. Department of Interior on Tuesday to revoke the agency’s conditional approval of Royal Dutch Shell’s 2015 Arctic oil exploration plan, saying it runs counter to established protections for walruses.

A 2013 rule implemented by the Fish and Wildlife Service, a bureau of the Interior Department, prevents energy companies from exploring for oil simultaneously at wells in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska that are within 15 miles (24 km) of each other.

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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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