Environmental Must-Reads – June 27, 2014


Oil From U.S. Fracking Is More Volatile Than Expected

Millions of barrels of crude oil flowing from shale formations around the country—not just North Dakota—are full of volatile gases that make it tricky to transport and to process into fuel.

Oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale field has already been identified as combustible by investigators looking into explosions that followed train derailments in the past year.

Oil from fracking may end U.S. ban on exporting oil

Ever since the oil crisis of 1973, when oil prices nearly quadrupled as a result of an OPEC embargo following the Yom Kippur War, there has been a ban on U.S. crude oil exports. But that may change.

In two rulings, yet to be confirmed, the U.S. Department of Commerce will allow two private companies to export a special type of crude oil. It’s a tiny opening in what could be a big change for the oil industry.

Frac Sand Boom: South Dakota Is Latest State to Try to Cash In

Oil and gas drillers are salivating over silica sand, a key ingredient in fracking operations, and their increasing demand for the stuff has the nation’s industrial sand operators seeing green.

Now, a new player—and an unlikely one—is on the horizon: South Dakota is poised to cash in on the frac sand boom.

Shale Gas Draws Japanese Plant

Mitsubishi Rayon and the trading firm Mitsui & Co. are planning a large acrylic plant in the U.S. that would use as feedstock low-cost ethylene supplied by Dow Chemical. The project is in keeping with a Japanese corporate strategy to take advantage of cheap shale-derived energy and raw materials in the U.S.

The proposed Japanese joint venture would build a 250,000-metric-ton-per-year plant making methyl methacrylate (MMA), a material used in acrylic plastics. Some of the plant’s output would be sold to Dow, which itself is a producer and user of MMA. The venture would likely be based on the Gulf Coast where Dow is building new shale-gas-fed ethylene capacity.

States confront worries that fracking is causing earthquakes

Earthquakes used to be almost unheard of on the vast stretches of prairie that unfold across Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma.

But in recent years, temblors have become commonplace. Oklahoma recorded nearly 150 of them between January and the start of May. Most were too weak to cause serious damage or endanger lives. Yet they’ve rattled nerves and raised suspicions that the shaking might be connected to the oil and gas drilling method known as hydraulic fracturing, especially the wells in which the industry disposes of its wastewater.

House passes bill to speed up natural gas exports

The House voted Wednesday to force the Obama administration to accelerate its scrutiny of dozens of proposed natural gas export projects, responding to energy companies’ clamor to sell the fossil fuel to Japan, Thailand and other countries.

State seeks more disclosure from railroad on plans to ship Bakken crude oil through Sacramento

One trainload of Bakken crude oil passed through Sacramento in the first two weeks of June, according to a report shared with The Sacramento Bee by the California Office of Emergency Services.

But agency spokesman Kelly Huston said the state doesn’t consider the information useful for emergency responders because it concerns what has already come through town, not what will be coming.

Loveland voters strike down fracking moratorium

Loveland voters on Tuesday struck down a proposed moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a controversial oil and gas extraction process that has been restricted in several cities along Colorado’s Front Range.

More than 20,000 ballots were cast, but ultimately the moratorium failed by about 900 votes, said city spokesman Tom Hacker. Results came in just after 10 p.m., making the Loveland election one of the last Colorado races to be decided Tuesday.

New Jersey lawmakers send fracking waste ban to Christie

The state Assembly Thursday overwhelmingly passed a bill designed to ban the treatment and disposal of waste generated by hydraulic fracturing. The Senate had already approved the measure last month, which now faces a final hurdle – the signature of Governor Christie, who vetoed a similar bill in 2012.

Supporters think this time around Christie may be slightly more inclined to approve the bill, or at least conditionally veto it, rather than dismiss it entirely.

Sand rush in Midwest, where rare material for fracking is mined

It’s not a gold rush, but a sand rush that is taking place in the Midwest, where a rare type of sand used in the energy extraction process known as hydraulic fracturing is exclusively found.

The smooth, round, very strong white sand known as “Northern White” or “Ottawa White” is pitting neighbor against neighbor, and neighbors against sand mining companies. The sand is 99.5 percent pure silica,

Colorado Community Votes to Allow Fracking Within the Community

The Colorado residents of Loveland voted Tuesday to reject a fracking moratorium that was on the ballet. The vote was close; out of more than 20,000 ballots cast, the moratorium, which would have banned fracking for a two-year period, failed by about 900 votes, the Coloradoan reported.

Loveland was the sixth municipality in Colorado to take up the issue. In the previous five votes on fracking moratoriums, the Colorado municipalities holding the votes – Lafayette, Boulder, Broomfield, Longmont and Fort Collins – voted to limit or ban hydraulic fracturing, according to the New York Times.

Parsippany takes stand against Pilgrim oil pipeline that could cut through Highlands

Parsippany’s township council says a proposed 150-mile oil pipeline from Albany, New York to Linden would have a “tremendous” impact on its residents, and has passed a resolution opposing the project.

“There is nothing Parsippany would get from this project,” Councilman Michael dePierro said in a statement provided by the Sierra Club, one of 38 organizations in a coalition against the proposed Pilgrim Pipeline. “Our residents take on the risk of potential leaks in the future but there is no gain — financial or otherwise.”

Final plan for $627 million Phase III BP oil spill early restoration projects released

The final plan and accompanying environmental impact statement for the $627 million, 44-project Phase III BP oil spill early restoration plan were made available to the public on federal and state websites Wednesday (June 25).

The documents are available at the NOAA Gulf Spill Restoration web site and at the Louisiana Oil Spill Control Office’s Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill damage assessment site. A description of the Louisiana projects is included in Chapter 9 of the main report.

Dispersant chemical found in beach oil patties four years after BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill, new study says

Traces of a chemical contained in dispersants used to break up oil during the 87-day BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010 were found in material deposited on deepwater corals six months after the spill, and in weathered oil patties on Gulf Coast beaches four years later, according to a scientific letter published online this week in Environmental Science & Technology, the peer-reviewed research journal of the American Chemical Society.

I-17 reopens north of Phoenix after oil spill closes freeway for 9 hours

Northbound lanes of Interstate 17 north of Phoenix have fully reopened after being closed since about 4 a.m. Thursday for an overturned tanker truck that spilled used motor oil onto the highway, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Authorities’ closure of northbound lanes near New River caused traffic to back up for miles. The extended closure was required to remove the tanker and for a hazardous-materials crew to remove spilled oil from the road,the Department of Transportation said.

Frustrations continue to rise over Bayou Corne sinkhole

Frustration continues at the Bayou Corne sinkhole despite assurances from parish officials as well as the company that operated the collapsed underground salt dome cavern.

“Texas Brine indicated to the community that they should be able to remove all gas by the end of the year,” said John Boudreaux, director of the Assumption Parish Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness. “I would say that it’s probably their plan, but I don’t believe that can happen”.

Welch: Slow down tar-sands-pipeline bill

Owners of the Portland-Montreal oil pipeline running through Vermont need federal approval before changing their operations. That requirement would vanish under legislation approved by the U.S. House this week.

Under the legislation, passed 238-173 on Tuesday night, plans to expand or modify cross-border pipelines and transmission lines would be exempt from federal approval or environmental review.

APNewsBreak: Oil train dangers extend past Bakken

The dangers posed by a spike in oil shipments by rail extend beyond crude from the booming Bakken region of the Northern Plains and include oil produced elsewhere in the U.S. and Canada, U.S. safety officials and lawmakers said.

Acting National Transportation Safety Board Chairman Christopher Hart said all crude shipments are flammable and can damage the environment — not just the Bakken shipments involved in a series of fiery accidents.

House votes to expand offshore drilling

Even before the House voted on Thursday to force the federal government to allow drilling off the South Carolina, Virginia and California coasts, lawmakers admitted the plan was going nowhere.

The Republican-backed drilling legislation, which was approved in a 229-185 vote, is a compilation of other measures that have passed the House before only to stall in the Senate, and it is sure to meet the same fate this time around, a political reality even bill backers acknowledged.

Industry study says Texas pipeline proves Keystone’s benefits

An Oklahoma-Texas leg of the Keystone XL Pipeline produced economic benefits that support approval of a northern leg still subject to hot debate, according to an oil industry group.

The Consumer Energy Alliance, whose membership includes a number of major oil companies, commissioned a study on the economic effect of the 485-mile portion of the Keystone pipeline known as the Gulf Coast Extension, which runs from a pipeline hub in Cushing, Okla., to Nederland in Jefferson County. It opened earlier this year.

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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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