Environmental Must-Reads – June 30, 2015


New York formalizes ban on fracking, ending 7-year review

New York formalized its ban on high-volume hydraulic fracturing for natural gas on Monday, concluding a seven-year environmental and health review that drew a record number of public comments.

“After years of exhaustive research and examination of the science and facts, prohibiting high-volume hydraulic fracturing is the only reasonable alternative,” Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens said in announcing the decision. “High-volume hydraulic fracturing poses significant adverse impacts to land, air, water, natural resources and potential significant public health impacts that cannot be adequately mitigated.”

Green group’s unconventional fight against fracking

The residents of Grant Township, Pennsylvania, were worried about Little Mahoning Creek, a picturesque trout stream best fished in the spring when the water runs fast.

The Pennsylvania General Energy Company had acquired a federal permit to drill an injection well down 7,000 feet about seven miles from the creek to dispose of wastewater from its natural gas hydraulic fracturing operations.

For U.S. power firms, EPA ruling barely a bump on road to natgas

For big U.S. power companies like FirstEnergy Corp, the Supreme Court’s decision knocking back landmark rules reducing air pollutants from coal-fired plants has arrived too late for them to turn away from a natural gas-fueled future.

Big coal-fired generators said on Monday that they would press ahead with facility upgrades and plant closures even after the court invalidated one of President Barack Obama’s major environmental initiatives, which would set new limits on the amount of mercury and other hazardous pollutants.

Slow-motion tragedy for American workers

Six weeks before Chris Johnson was born in 1974, the U.S. government issued a warning about a substance that would nearly kill him 30 years later.

The substance was silica, a component of rock and sand that is the scourge of miners, sandblasters and other workers who breathe it in. When pulverized into dust, it can cause silicosis — a scarring of the lungs that leads to slow suffocation — as well as lung cancer.

Drillers to submit electronic records on fracking chemicals to Pa. DEP

Pennsylvania will require shale gas companies to disclose electronically the chemicals they use in hydraulic fracturing in a new state-run database by next summer.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said the department will end its partnership with FracFocus, an independent online catalog of fracking records, and develop what he considers a more comprehensive and user-friendly online database.

Judge grants Broomfield’s request to temporarily suspend lawsuit over fracking moratorium

A district court judge has granted Broomfield’s request to temporarily suspend the Colorado Oil and Gas Association lawsuit seeking to invalidate the voter-approved fracking moratorium.

Broomfield sought to have the case held in “abeyance” pending the outcome of two “substantially similar” cases being appealed. COGA opposed the request in a motion of its own.

Pennsylvania Governor and Fracking Sector Face Off on Budget, Regulations

Since taking over from a Republican administration this year, Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf repeatedly has said he supports the state’s booming shale gas industry. But lately, the industry is questioning his commitment.

State regulators, who have begun reviewing dozens of environmental cases the previous administration handled, recently imposed an $8.9 million fine for a gas well they said is contaminating drinking water—the largest ever against a gas operator in state history.

Public Reaction to EPA Report on Fracking Reveals a Fractured Society

It keeps happening. A science-based report on hydraulic fracturing (fracking) has been released, and public reaction is polarized. In this case it’s the EPA report on the impact of fracking on drinking water released earlier this month. Based on an exhaustive and objective assessment of existing studies, the report concluded that fracking has not caused widespread contamination of drinking water supplies. That’s not to say that the process is without peril though. The report also detailed known risks and instances of previous contamination, and observations of important differences between locations where fracking is employed.

California oil train risks worse in minority areas: report

Californians most exposed to the risks of oil train derailments or fires overwhelmingly live in poorer, minority neighborhoods, two environmental groups in the state said on Tuesday.

The report, the first of its kind to explicitly link issues of class and race to the ongoing oil train safety debate, urged state regulators to ban oil imports by train into California and reject permits for several projects refiners have proposed to expand oil-by-rail cargo capacity.

Oil train traffic down on BNSF lines in Minnesota, Wisconsin

New documents show BNSF Railroad is hauling fewer crude oil trains through Minnesota and Wisconsin than it was last winter.

BNSF now averages 25 unit trains per week along its line that follows the Mississippi River from the Twin Cities to Illinois, according to a report released Friday by the Wisconsin Department of Emergency Management.

That’s down from an average of 36 reported in September, a drop of about 25 percent.

Natural gas pipeline project in University Heights, Beachwood, Lyndhurst will end in July

A $1.8 million gas-line replacement project on Cedar Road in University Heights, Beachwood and Lyndhurst is scheduled to wrap up July 23.

Workers are replacing pipe on Cedar between Milton and South Green roads in University Heights and between Fenway Drive in Beachwood and Stonelake Drive in Lyndhurst. Traffic is being maintained in both directions during the project, which started in May.

Sunoco seeks to calm fears of Mariner East pipeline project in Chester County

Sunoco Logistics took its pipeline-promotion show on the road to Chester County on Monday, seeking to calm residents’ concerns surrounding the construction of a of a major new natural gas liquids pipeline from the Marcellus Shale of southwestern Pennsylvania to a processing plant at Marcus Hook near Philadelphia.

Company officials sought to offset fears over flaring, pumping stations and land contracts in two presentations and an accompanying “open house” at West Chester University where residents were invited to hear about the company’s plans and ask questions, during an evening-long program.

Pipeline builder gives 3 Lancaster County conservation groups $1.5 million

Three grassroots environmental groups from Lancaster County will share more than $1.5 million for stream restoration from special environmental stewardship grants set up by the builder of a controversial proposed gas pipeline.

Oklahoma-based Williams, which wants to build the Atlantic Sunrise Central Penn Line South through Lancaster County, selected 17 projects in five counties to receive $2.5 million in one-time grants as part of the Atlantic Sunrise Environmental Stewardship Program.

Shell, Chevron win bid to dismiss gas station employee’s cancer suit

A federal judge in New Orleans has thrown out the lawsuit of a widow who claimed her husband developed a deadly blood cancer after being exposed to benzene in gasoline as a gas station attendant in the 1950s and 1960s.

Defendants Shell Oil, Chevron USA and Texaco asked the court to dismiss the case after successfully challenging key expert medical testimony.

BP, Anadarko Rejected by U.S. Supreme Court on Gulf Spill Fines

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected appeals from BP Plc and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. and left intact a ruling that opens the companies to potentially billions of dollars in fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

In declining to hear the appeal, the high court let stand a ruling by U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier in New Orleans that BP and Anadarko were automatically liable as co-owners of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig. Supreme Court intervention might have delayed Barbier’s pending ruling on a U.S. request for as much as $13.7 billion in civil fines from BP and more than $1 billion from Anadarko. His decision may come at any time.

Scientists say sandy clumps on Sunset Beach contained BP oil from 2010 spill

Five years after the Deepwater Horizon disaster off the coast of Louisiana dumped between 3 million and 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, scientists now say they have proof that a little bit of it wound up on a Pinellas County beach.

Small sand patties that washed ashore along a 30-yard stretch of Sunset Beach near Caddy’s on the Beach restaurant in Treasure Island contained traces of the Deepwater Horizon oil, as well as of the chemical dispersant that BP sprayed on the spill, according to a just-published paper by scientists from the University of South Florida.

Body of Evidence: How the White Pelican Spreads Oil

In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, disturbing photographs of Brown Pelicans coated in oily sludge played nonstop on TV news and ricocheted around the Internet. Now American White Pelicans, which migrate inland (unlike their brown relatives), seem to be revealing the far-reaching consequences of the disaster more than 1,400 miles from the Gulf, at Marsh Lake on the Minnesota River, where 12,000 to 14,000 pairs nest in May and June.

Biologists from North Dakota State University and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources have been collecting samples in the form of eggs and the odd-looking bill knobs, or nuptial tubercles, that pelicans shed after mating season. The scientists are analyzing the samples, looking for evidence of chemicals from both the oil and the dispersants used to clean up the spill.

Oil-munching microbes cleaning up Gulf marshes faster than expected

The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill left the Gulf Coast’s vast and delicate marshlands in desperate need of cleaning. But soil microbes are on the job.

Since the spill, populations of oil-degrading microbes have boomed in some of Louisiana’s most heavily oiled marsh soils. These invisible-to-the-eye janitors are breaking down the goopy brown oil faster than expected, scientists report June 19 in Environmental Science & Technology. Although some researchers are skeptical of the data, the study hints at a relatively speedy ecological recovery.

Fishing resumes in waters fouled by California oil spill

The state Department of Fish and Wildlife allowed fishing to resume on Monday across 138 square miles of water off the Santa Barbara coast that was closed following last month’s huge oil spill.

Fish and Wildlife officials said decided to reopen the area following word from scientists that consuming fish caught in those waters poses no threat to human health. They said their scientists worked with their counterparts from the state Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment to test a broad range of finfish, shellfish and other marine life to evaluate their exposure to oil chemicals.

Oil spill causes ‘ecological disaster’ close to Nefteyugansk city

A rupture in a key pipeline led to oil pouring into Ob floodwater with the polluted area now put at more than ten hectares. Pictures showed the scale of the damage in an area close to the city of 123,000 people in the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Region.

The Ob was anyway flooded when the spill occurred on 23 June and the key damage is to an area already underwater.

Former Sea Shepherd Vessel Sinks, Causes Oil Spill in Canada

The Research Vessel (R/V) Farley Mowat, which was once under the command of controversial Canadian conservationist Paul Watson, has unceremoniously sunk in Nova Scotia. The R/V Farley Mowat was once the flagship vessel of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, which was founded by Mr. Watson, and it was used for direct action conservation efforts in various parts of the world, including a historical and ill-fated operation off the coast of Costa Rica.

Agencies respond to oil spill in Savannah River

An indeterminate amount of food-grade palm oil was spilled over the weekend from a tanker ship offloading at Vopak Terminal on the Savannah River just east of Georgia Ports Authority’s Garden City Terminal, Savannah Riverkeeper Tonya Bonitatibus said Monday.

First responders, including Moran Environmental, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Georgia Environmental Protection Division and the U.S. Coast Guard are on the scene, she said. Some 5,000 feet of containment boom has been stretched along the river’s edge.

China’s Energy Giant Settles Oil Spill Lawsuit

The China National Petroleum Corporation is the country’s largest producer and supplier of oil and natural gas.

Five years ago, two of the company’s pipelines exploded—spilling an estimated 15-hundred tons of crude oil into waters around the northeastern port of Dalian.

That’s the equivalent of about 11 thousand barrels of oil…the worst oil spill in China’s history.

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.

Oil companies played hardball in bid to defeat climate outsiders

Petty legal filings. Diversionary ballot measures. Counting abstentions as no votes. These are just some of the tactics U.S. oil companies used this spring to quash efforts by investors to win the right to nominate climate experts for board seats.

Led by New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer and proposed at 75 U.S. companies in various industries this year, the so-called proxy access measure would give investor groups who own 3 percent of a company for more than three years the right to nominate directors. At the 19 oil and gas companies targeted, the aim was to demand more accountability on global warming.

Midstream companies to build Houston-area pipeline and crude storage

Magellan Midstream Partners LP (NYSE: MMP) and LBC Tank Terminals LLC have partnered to build a $95 million crude oil storage and pipeline infrastructure in the Houston Gulf Coast area.

According to a release from the Magellan, the companies have formed the joint venture project Seabrook Logistics LLC to build, own and operate the infrastructure. The project is owned 50-50 by Magellan and LBC.

Safe For Now: Imperial Oil, Exxon Mobil, and BP Suspend Plans to Drill in Canada’s Beaufort Sea

In a surprise announcement, Imperial Oil and its partners–ExxonMobil and BP–informed two Canadian regulators that they would “defer the proposed Beaufort Sea Joint Exploration Drilling Program.” NRDC engaged early in the regulatory process to highlight the severe risks posed by Imperial’s proposal to commence deep sea drilling in the Canadian Arctic without essential safeguards (such as relief wells). By stopping this industry proposal to waive a critical safeguard for offshore drilling in Canada, this victory means that deep water Arctic exploration will for–the time being–not put these fragile waters or our climate at risk. It also means that it is time to begin a meaningful and detailed conversation about economic development and indigenous community opportunity in the Arctic–a conversation that considers viable alternatives to oil and gas development and its propensity for boom and bust cycles.

Shell says could begin Arctic oil exploration off Alaska in late July

Royal Dutch Shell could begin drilling for oil in the Arctic off Alaska as early as the third week in July, when it expects sea ice to begin clearing, a spokesman said on Monday.

The Polar Pioneer drilling rig arrived in Dutch Harbor, in Unalaska, off mainland Alaska, early on Saturday morning and will remain there until ice begins clearing over the area in the Chukchi Sea where the company plans to drill through late September, spokesman Curtis Smith said.

U.S. activists to protest against Shell Arctic oil rig

U.S. environmental activists said they planned to protest on Tuesday against the launch of the second of two oil rigs central to Shell’s plans to drill for oil in the Arctic.

The Washington state activists, who have staged frequent demonstrations over the last two months against Royal Dutch Shell’s oil exploration in the Chukchi Sea off mainland Alaska, said they expected the rig to leave a Seattle-area port in the early morning and were planning a water-borne protest.

Battling for the Arctic: Lummi Canoe Leads Kayaktivists Against ‘Death Star’ Oil Rig

In an ominous foreshadowing of possible things to come, the EPA granted Shell Oil permission to dump 13 separate streams of waste from the oil rig Polar Pioneer into the Chukchi Sea north of Alaska, reported Joel Connelly in a June 15 Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog. In addition to bilge water, streams of such things as water-based drilling fluids and drill cuttings, deck drainage, sanitary wastes, domestic wastes, blowout preventer fluid and boiler blowdown will be dumped into the pristine environment of the Arctic Sea starting next month when the massive oil rig begins drilling at four separate exploratory well sites.

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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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