Environmental Must-Reads – June 26, 2015


Here’s Which States Are Leaking The Most Natural Gas At The Expense Of Their Taxpayers

Oil and gas operations located on federal and tribal lands leaked $360 million worth of fuel in 2013, money which would have gone in part to taxpayers and tribes in the form of royalties, according to a new report.

Tuesday’s report was commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) to track fugitive methane emissions, a term referring to methane released when natural gas is leaked, vented, or flared. Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, and is 86 times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year time frame.

Judge blocks US fracking rules after petroleum groups and states object

A US district judge in Wyoming has granted a request by four states and several energy industry groups to temporarily block new federal rules governing fracking on public lands.

The interior department rules due to come into force on Wednesday would require companies to provide data on chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and to take steps to prevent leakage from oil and gas wells on federally owned land.

Court delays federal fracking rule

The Obama administration’s long-awaited hydraulic fracturing rule will not take effect as scheduled today, thanks to a federal judge’s eleventh-hour decision to stay the rule until August.

Judge Scott Skavdahl, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, issued the decision after more than six hours of courtroom arguments yesterday in Casper, where attorneys representing the oil and gas industry and affected states pushed for a preliminary injunction of the rule.

Why North Dakota’s oil fields are so deadly for workers

On average, someone in the Bakken oil fields dies every six weeks – at least 74 people have died on the job there since 2006. But the major oil companies that have profited most from the boom often evade accountability when accidents happen.

Across North Dakota, deeply entrenched corporate practices and weak federal oversight inoculate energy producers against responsibility when workers are killed or injured, while shifting the blame to others. Oil companies also offer financial incentives to workers for speeding up production – potentially jeopardizing their safety – and shield themselves through a web of companies to avoid paying the full cost of settlements to workers and their families when something goes wrong.

Earthquake spike pushes Oklahoma to consider tighter fracking regulations

Oklahoma is considering tightening regulations on its oil and gas industry, after a spate of earthquakes which regulators say were probably related to an increase in fracking in the state.

Between 17 and 24 June, Oklahoma experienced 35 earthquakes of 3.0 or greater magnitude, a huge jump from the average of about 12 a week experienced over the last year, according to the Oklahoma Geological Survey.

Even experts don’t know the long-term risks of fracking – so why would a local council?

Fracking is relatively new and hi-tech – and even experts armed with cutting-edge instruments are only just beginning to get their heads around some of the risks involved. No one really knows exactly what it will mean in the medium to long-term. It’s not just that there aren’t enough informed opinions – there isn’t enough conclusive research anywhere in the world to enable anyone to make truly informed decisions on fracking and its risks.

So why, then, would a county council in the UK be any different? The issue has come to a head as council officials in Lancashire, north-west England, decide on whether to let energy firm Cuadrilla begin shale gas operations at two sites in the region.

New report estimates enough natural gas is leaking to negate climate benefits

Natural gas has been touted as an environmentally friendly substitute to coal and oil production, but a new report estimates enough gas is leaking to negate most of the climate benefits of process.

The report, commissioned by the Environmental Defense Fund and carried out by environmental consulting group ICF International, estimated the amount of leaks from natural gas and oil production on federal and tribal land in the US. It also looked at venting and flaring, processes in which drilling sites purposefully let gas go into the atmosphere for a variety of reasons – usually for safety.

Marcellus Shale health complaint log released for the first time

The state Department of Health logged 86 health inquiries related to Marcellus Shale development from 2011 to 2015, according to a list obtained by environmental group Food & Water Watch.

The log is the public’s first set of concrete evidence that the Department of Health is routinely tracking such complaints, which often come alongside inconclusive evidence of hazardous levels of harmful substances entering people’s bodies.

Fracking health complaints received little follow-up from the Department of Health

Newly released documents from the Pennsylvania Department of Health on fracking-related health complaints reveal a lack of follow-through and inaccurate record-keeping. The telephone logs, which span four years from 2011 to 2015, were gained through a Right-to-Know request by the environmental group Food and Water Watch.

The documents include about 87 separate complaints from residents and workers who feared exposure to fracking chemicals and were looking for advice from the Department of Health. But notes taken by agency workers show little information is collected from patients.  And at least in one case, important details were inaccurate. In some cases, doctors were looking for help.

Fracking Linked to Increased Infant Mortality in Alarming New Study

A new study has linked fracking to a higher incidence in infant mortality, perinatal mortality, low-weight births, premature births and cancer in infants and children.

Funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation and written by Joe Mangano, co-founder and president of the Radiation and Public Health Project, a nonprofit educational and scientific organization that studies the relationship between low-level, nuclear radiation and public health, the study used data from state agencies to examine eight heavily fracked counties in Pennsylvania — four in the northeast and four in the southwest region of the state, counties that account for the majority of the state’s natural gas drill wells and gas production. In all categories but child cancer, increases were greater in the northeast counties than they were in the four southwest counties.

Lancashire county council rejects Cuadrilla fracking bid

Councillors have unanimously refused a planning application for fracking in Lancashire in a move which has been welcomed by environmental campaigners.

Lancashire County Council’s development control committee turned down Cuadrilla’s application to explore for shale gas by drilling, hydraulically fracking and testing the flow of gas at Roseacre Wood, Roseacre, between Preston and Blackpool.

Judge: Train Companies Must Prepare for Oil Spills

Railroad companies soon won’t be able to carry oil in California unless they have a safety plan – and put aside lots of money to cover any future spills. That’s because a federal judge in San Francisco dismissed an industry lawsuit last week against California’s new railroad safety law.

Patti Goldman, managing attorney for Earthjustice, said the precautions required are common sense.

“All other industries, like the tankers that carry the oil, the refiners, the pipelines, all of them prepare these oil-spill response plans,” she aaid. “It’s time for the railroads to do the same.”

FOIA request on oil train issue prompts lawsuit

Failure to respond to a public information request is resulting in a lawsuit against the federal government.

Eric de Place of the Sightline Institute told those attending Wednesday’s oil train forum that the institute will be filing suit against the Obama administration for its failure to respond to a U.S. Freedom of Information Act request.

Railroads use new oil train rule to fight transparency

Railroads may have found a new weapon in their fight to keep information about oil train shipments from the public: a federal rule that was supposed to increase transparency.

The U.S. Department of Transportation insists that its May 1 final rule on oil trains, which mostly addresses an outdated tank car design, does not support the railroads’ position, nor was it intended to leave anyone in the dark.

Pipeline partner says natural gas could be exported

A partner in the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline confirmed this week that natural gas transported by the pipeline could be one supply source for liquefied natural gas bound for India.

The news comes after Paul Friedman, a project manager for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, repeatedly — and publicly — dismissed concerns last month from pipeline opponents that natural gas transported through the pipeline would be exported.

Anti-pipeline group goes another round with Sunoco Logistics

A citizen’s group opposed to Sunoco Logistic’s natural gas pipeline project in West Cornwall Township is challenging the company’s latest zoning filing regarding upgrades to a pumping station.

Concerned Citizens of Lebanon County has filed an appeal challenging a building permit issued May 7 to Sunoco by the Lebanon County Planning Department for structural improvements to a pumping station on Route 322 east of Butler Road.

Debate intensifies over the nation’s gas pipeline needs

The numerous pipeline projects already in the works are more than sufficient to handle the increased natural gas demands in the U.S., with a federal push to limit carbon emissions, according to a new report from the Advanced Energy Economy Institute that urges for more clean power solutions.

The new report attempts to counter claims by the North American Electric Reliability Corp. and other stakeholders that contend the nation’s increasing reliance on cheap natural gas for electricity will require more pipeline and power generation capacity. Such critics say the problems will be exacerbated and the nation’s grid reliability will suffer if the federal government’s proposed rule for reducing carbon emissions at existing power plants is finalized in August.

California oil spill gushed like hose ‘without a nozzle,’ investigators say

Firefighters investigating a reported petroleum stench at a Central California beach last month didn’t take long to realize a spill had taken place — oil was spreading across the sand and into the surf. Tracing the source, they found crude gushing from a bluff like a fire hose “without a nozzle,” records show.

But critical time would elapse before the operator of a nearby pipeline would confirm it had ruptured and was the source of the spewing oil. An employee at the scene for Plains All American Pipeline initially suggested to firefighters that the spill “was too big to be from their pipeline,” according to the documents obtained by The Associated Press.

Homeowner sues pipeline firm in Santa Barbara County oil spill

A Santa Barbara County homeowner is the latest party to file suit against the Texas owners of a pipeline that burst last month along the Gaviota coast, sending thousands of gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean.

The suit claims Alexandra Geremia’s home just north of Refugio State Beach has been “bombarded” with a steady stream of tar balls and oil sheen from the spill that prevents her from walking on the beach.

Tests for Oil Spill Response Drones Underway

Final testing for a new fleet of drones aimed at rapid oil spill detection at sea are set to begin June 25 in Cartegena, Spain.

Five drones comprised of both autonomous water vehicles and aerial drones will be taking part in the experiment coordinated by the Universidad Politecnica de Cartegena. This week’s tests will mark the culmination of the experimental phase of the European URready4OS Project, which began in 2014.

Elastec offers offshore oil spill recovery system

Elastec introduced a new product for offshore and nearshore oil spill cleanup. The X150 Skimmer Launching System is an oil spill response system with the capability to recover light, medium and some heavy oils in incidents. Elastec’s conducted sea trials in the Gulf of Mexico near Port Fourchon, Louisiana.

The centerpiece of the new launching system is the X150 skimmer, the first commercial model Elastec developed incorporating grooved disc technology.

Big oil companies must work harder on climate, says U.N.

Oil companies should urgently intensify their efforts to fight climate change, the United Nations climate chief said in a letter replying to six European firms.

“I would call on you to devote urgent attention to scaling this action up and look forward to learning about progress later in the year,” Christiana Figueres said in the letter, published on Thursday.

Alberta to Double Carbon Tax in Step to Toughen Environmental Policy

The recently elected government of Alberta said Thursday it will double a carbon tax on industrial emissions of greenhouse gases by 2017, calling it a first step in toughening this oil-rich province’s environmental policies.

In a move closely watched by Canadian oil and gas producers, the left-leaning New Democratic Party, or NDP, government said the policy is part of a broader review of environmental policies that will result in additional measures to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions in time for a year-end United Nations climate-change conference in Paris.

‘A New Era’: Canada’s Oil Country Promises To Become ‘World Leader’ On Climate Change

Last month, the historically ultra-conservative and oil-rich province of Alberta, Canada, did the unthinkable: It elected a left-wing government. And that new government just made one of its first big moves: It announced a serious clamp-down on climate change.

“We need a climate change plan that is bold, ambitious, and will bring Alberta into a new era of responsible energy development and environmental sustainability,” Environment Minister Shannon Phillips said Thursday. “If we get it right, our environmental policy will make us world leaders on this issue, instead of giving us a black eye around the world.”

Alberta’s New Climate Plan Seen as a Meaningful First Step

The newly elected government in the Canadian province of Alberta announced what it called “important first steps” to rein in the province’s growing emissions of greenhouse gases. It vowed to tighten its existing regulations, raise its carbon price modestly, and promised new rules governing the oil and gas sector.

But it appears that the new approach, like the old one that was about to expire, would allow carbon dioxide emissions from Alberta’s gigantic tar sands operations to keep rising, at least for the time being.

Senators’ measure calls for pipeline river crossings study

A U.S. Senate committee has approved a measure that requires federal transportation officials to report on the safety of pipelines that cross beneath rivers following two major oil spills into the Yellowstone River.

Montana U.S. Senators Jon Tester, a Democrat, and Steve Daines, a Republican, co-sponsored the amendment included Thursday in a Transportation Department funding bill.

Saugerties votes ‘no confidence’ on oil pipeline

In what looked like a final kiss-off to the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline, the Town Board passed a “no confidence” resolution at last week’s monthly board meeting.

The 178-mile project would run two underground lines between Linden, New Jersey and Albany. One line would carry Bakken shale oil south while the second line would carry processed oil products north. Much of the proposed route would use existing utility right-of-ways.

Everybody is against Enbridge on Haida Gwaii

Poor Stephen Harper. The Prime Minister of Canada has all that oil trapped in the sands of Alberta and no place to go, with the Keystone Pipeline held up in Washington. Fortunately the big energy powerhouse Enbridge has an all-Canadian alternative:

The Northern Gateway Pipelline, an 1,170 km (727 mile) long pair of pipes running over mountains, watersheds, rainforests and first nation territories, ending in Kitimat, where it will be loaded into tankers that will carry it away to Asia via some of the most beautiful and treacherous waters in North America. Those waters happen to be between British Columbia, Alaska and Haida Gwaii.

Enviros Say Shell’s Arctic Drilling Plan Violates Protections For Pacific Walrus

A number of environmental groups are asking the Department of the Interior to rescind permission granted to Shell to begin exploratory drilling in the Arctic this summer because they say the company’s plan would not adequately protect the walrus.

In particular, Shell’s plan would violate federal rules limiting how closely a company can drill multiple wells, Earthjustice argued in a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, sent on behalf of 10 other groups. The rules, issued in 2013 by the Fish and Wildlife Service under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, state that such drilling operations should be at least 15 miles apart in order to “avoid significant synergistic or cumulative effects from multiple oil and gas exploration activities on foraging or migrating walruses.” But Shell’s two proposed drill sites are only 9 miles apart, the groups said.

14 Reasons Why We Must Never Drill in the Arctic

The Arctic is a thriving, diverse landscape filled with life. It is home to iconic species including seals, walruses, polar bears and bowhead whales. It is also home to vibrant Alaska Native communities which have depended for millennia on the ocean for their way of life.

Today, the Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, putting tremendous strain on its wildlife and people. There is currently no offshore oil and gas development in America’s Arctic Ocean. And for the sake of our warming world and irreplaceable species, there should never be.

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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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