Environmental Must-Reads – June 6, 2014


The Fracking Fight’s New Front Line

As the U.S. oil-and-gas boom rolls into its second decade, a new idea is starting to resonate with regulators and communities: Certain places should simply be off-limits to drilling.

That is not how it has worked up until now. Over the past decade, oil and gas wells have been drilled for hydraulic fracturing in suburban subdivisions, airports, public parks and golf courses. As long as energy companies leased the mineral rights, they could drill almost anywhere.

Germany Leans Toward Lifting Ban on Fracking

In a potential shift in German energy policy, the government of Chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing a framework that would let energy companies extract oil and natural gas by the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

The guidelines emerging from government discussions are strict, but they are a step, as energy companies have been barred from using the technology in recent years, even for conventional gas extraction.

A Gas Cache, Now Under Shaky Ground

Deep below the cow pastures and farming villages in this picturesque northeastern corner of the Netherlands lies an extraordinary resource: Europe’s largest source of natural gas, known as the Groningen gas field.

Since its discovery in Groningen Province in 1959, the field has powered the economy of the Netherlands and has been a reliable supply of gas for Northern Europe. Five decades and counting is a remarkable run of productivity for a field of fossil fuel.

But as it enters old age, Groningen has grown cranky.

Counting Each Drop: Corporate Concern Mounts About Water Supplies

As droughts and floods become more frequent and extreme around the world, companies from food and beverage makers to the mining and energy industries are beginning to scrutinize their operations for vulnerability to water problems that could increase their costs or disrupt production. The concept of “water risk” is catching on as a way of thinking about potential exposure not just to shortages or deluges, but also pollution, regulatory troubles or increases in the prices of water and water-dependent raw materials.

St. Tammany Parish Council will wage court fight against fracking

In front of a large sign-carrying, anti-fracking crowd, the St. Tammany Parish Council decided Thursday night to go to court to fight a proposed oil drilling project near Mandeville. By unanimous vote, the council adopted a resolution to hire outside attorneys to seek a court judgment and injunction to block the state Department of Natural Resources’ Office of Conservation from issuing drilling permits in St. Tammany.

Councilman Marty Gould, who sponsored the resolution, also asked that the attorneys explore a possible outright ban on fracking in St. Tammany.

St. Tammany Council makes statement on fracking

In front of a packed house, the St. Tammany Parish Council unanimously approved a resolution to stop the state of Louisiana from issuing any oil and gas permits in their parish.

Right now, the parish has no authority to prevent the state Department of Natural Resources from issuing drilling permits, including the one requested by Helis Oil and Gas to drill a fracking well in St. Tammany that sparked public outcry over the safety of the parish’s drinking water and surrounding environment.

Scientists: Tests prove fracking to blame for flaming Parker County wells

For the past two years, News 8 has aired a series of stories of flames shooting from water wells in Parker County. Dangerous levels of methane gas somehow found its way into the water supply.

While Barnett Shale gas producers deny any connection to their operations, a pair of scientists are now disputing that. They say test results just released by state regulators provide concrete evidence linking fracking and groundwater contamination.

Oil money flowed to Calif. senators who blocked fracking moratorium

A week after the California Senate rejected a moratorium on fracking in the state, a watchdog group said those who opposed the bill or abstained from voting on it received significantly more campaign money from the oil and gas industry than supporters of the measure.

Senators who opposed the bill received 14 times as much in campaign contributions from the industry, on average $25,227, than those who supported the measure, who on average received $1,772 during the four years ending Dec. 31, 2012.

North Carolina To Lift Fracking Ban And Criminalize The Disclosure Of Fracking Chemicals

North Carolina is open to frack.

On Wednesday, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law that lifts the state’s moratorium on fracking permits, a ban that’s been in place since 2012. The new law, called the Energy Modernization Act, allows fracking permits to be issued in the state as soon as next spring. Those permits would allow for the first fracking ever in the state, whose midsection houses Triassic Basin shale deposits.

Commissioner’s loss threatens Mora fracking ban

The chairman of the Mora County Commission, driving force behind a controversial ordinance the commission passed last year banning oil and gas drilling within the county, was soundly beaten in Tuesday’s Democratic primary election.

The election defeat of Commissioner John Olivas raises new questions about the fate of the ground-breaking ordinance, already the target of two federal lawsuits.

How a 14-inch Hole Created a 1,300 Foot Deep Saltwater Lake

Lake Peigneur is located in Louisiana near the Gulf of Mexico. Before 1980, it was an approximately 10-foot deep fresh water lake with an island in the middle. Next to it, and partially under it, Diamond Crystal Salt Company maintained a salt mine, with salt being mined near the lake since 1919.

Around large underground salt domes, you can often find oil. As explained by one Dr. Whitney J. Autin, “…salt moves upwards and it pierces through surrounding strata… and this piercing produces faults and folds within the surrounding sediments producing an ideal mechanism to trap oil.”

Lawyers: BP claims at risk if Jindal signs levee lawsuit bill

Billions of dollars in damage claims filed by state and local government bodies stemming from the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill may soon hang in the balance, some legal experts say, as Louisiana officials consider the potential consequences of a measure intended to kill an unrelated lawsuit by a New Orleans-area levee board against 97 energy companies.

Appeals Court Rejects BP, Anadarko Attempt to Skirt Blame for Gulf Disaster

A federal appeals court on Wednesday rejected BP and Anadarko Petroleum’s efforts to evade billions of dollars in fines for Clean Water Act violations for the millions of barrels of oil that spewed from their well in the 2010 Gulf disaster.

The opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirms a lower court ruling that found oil giants, as co-owners of the fated Macondo Well, liable.

Fixes After BP Spill Not Enough, Board Says

Federal safety regulators warned on Thursday that another disastrous offshore oil well blowout could happen despite regulatory improvements in the four years since a BP well explosion in the Gulf of Mexico killed 11 workers and dumped millions of gallons of oil into the sea.

The warning came with the release of a report by the Chemical Safety Board that placed much of the blame for the destruction of the Deepwater Horizon, the rig involved in the BP disaster, on a buckled steel drill pipe that interfered with the functioning of an emergency device in sealing the well.

Flawed drilling gear still being use after BP oil spill, board says

Design problems with a blowout prevention system contributed to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster, and the same equipment is still commonly used in drilling four years after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, according to a report issued by the federal Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board.

The board concluded that the “blowout preventer” — a five-story-tall series of seals and valves that was supposed to shear the drill pipe and short-circuit the explosion — failed for reasons the oil industry did not anticipate and has not fully corrected.

Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Linked to Failed Blowout Preventer

Federal investigators probing the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster say a critical piece of safety equipment helped trigger the worst offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

The report by the Chemical Safety Board, an independent investigative arm of the federal government, renews questions about the effectiveness of blowout preventers, giant sets of valves that are supposed to seal off an oil well in an emergency.

Problem in BP Oil Spill Exists in Many Other Rigs, Report Finds

A federal board investigation into the 2010 BP oil spill concludes that a last-ditch safety device on the underwater well had multiple failures, wasn’t tested properly and still poses a risk for many rigs drilling today.

The report issued Thursday by the U.S. Chemical Safety Board zeroes in on what went wrong with the blowout preventer and blames bad management and operations. They found faulty wiring in two places, a dead battery and a bent pipe in the hulking device. And that, they said, led to the dumping of 172 million gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico and the nation’s worst offshore oil disaster.

State is moving to prevent spills of oil shipped by trains

Although most people think of oil spills in California as potential beachfront disasters, there is new anxiety in Sacramento about the surge of crude oil now coming through the state each day by train.

Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers want to avoid the sort of fiery disaster that killed 47 people in July in southern Quebec when tank cars exploded as they carried oil from the booming Bakken oil fields of North Dakota through Canada. Other less spectacular oil tanker car derailments occurred in Aliceville, Ala.; Casselton, N.D.; and Lynchburg, Va., during the last 12 months.

Anti-pipeline marchers reach Suncor refinery

Tanned and tired-looking, but still cheerfully chanting anti-pipeline slogans, a group of about 70 protesters marched to the Suncor oil refinery in east-end Montreal Thursday afternoon to take a stand against plans by two oil companies to pump oil from Alberta’s oilsands projects through Quebec.

Some of the group have been walking since May 10 when the action, called Peoples for Mother Earth, began in Cacouna, a small town near Rivière-du-Loup, where TransCanada hopes to build a marine terminal and storage facility for its oil exports.

Rosneft Set To Pour $400Bln Into Extracting Arctic Oil

Igor Sechin, head of state-owned oil giant Rosneft, said his company plans to invest $400 billion into resource extraction the Arctic shelf over the next 20 years.

At a meeting on Arctic development President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg on Thursday, Interfax quoted Sechin as saying that the multiplicative effect of the investment for Russia’s economy would surpass the investment by 7.7 times.

Phillips 66 buys big oil storage terminal on Gulf Coast

Phillips 66 struck a deal Thursday for what would become its largest oil and refined-product storage terminal, as it anticipates an influx of crude oil on the Gulf Coast.

The Houston refiner and chemical maker plans to purchase the Beaumont Terminal, capable of carrying 7.1 million barrels of oil equivalent, from Chevron subsidiary UNOCAL. Phillips 66 expects to close the deal in the third quarter. The companies did not disclose a price tag for the facilities.

Railroads seek to limit oil train disclosures despite order in wake of explosions

Two railroad companies want to prevent the public from getting ahold of details about oil shipments through Washington state, a disclosure the federal government ordered be given to state emergency managers in the wake of several oil train accidents.

But restricting that information violates the state’s public records law, so the state has not signed documents from the rail companies seeking confidentiality, said Mark Stewart, a spokesman for the Washington Military Department’s Emergency Management Division.

TEPCO Starts Fukushima Ice Wall Construction

Tokyo Electric Power Company started building something new and very cold at the ruined Fukushima nuclear power plant complex on Monday. It’s basically a big underground cooler meant to freeze the soil into a rectangular wall around TEPCO’s four nonfunctioning but still highly radioactive reactors. The frozen ground of the Fukushima ice wall should prevent the steady flow of clean groundwater from nearby hillsides mixing with irradiated cooling water under the reactors and turning a huge water contamination problem (400 tons per day) into an insurmountable one.

Wall Of Ice Surrounding Fukushima Will Contain Radioactive Water

Earlier this week, workers in Japan began constructing an underground “ice wall” around the melted-down nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant. The wall is designed to stop hundreds of tons of radioactive groundwater from leaking into the nearby Pacific Ocean.

Building a subterranean wall of ice sounds a little crazy. NPR’s Geoff Brumfiel, who’s been covering the story, says it is a little crazy — but not as far-fetched as it sounds.

Problems still plague ALPS decontamination system at Fukushima plant

High radiation levels and technical difficulties continue to stymie full-scale operations of key decontamination equipment at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant even though tests started more than a year ago.

The multi-nuclide removal equipment, called ALPS (advanced liquid processing system), began trial runs in March 2013 to reduce levels of 62 kinds of radioactive substances in contaminated water, such as strontium, to below detectable limits.

Debt aid for Fukushima firms to be strengthened

A government body is ready to strengthen its support for firms in Fukushima Prefecture that came under the weight of so-called double loans after being hit hard by the March 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disasters, officials said Wednesday.

To do so, the Corporation for Revitalizing Earthquake-Affected Business, a unit of Deposit Insurance Corp. of Japan, set up a special team in May, the officials said.

772 Fukushima No. 1 interviews slated for release

The government will release the transcripts of interviews with 772 people about the 2011 Fukushima meltdown crisis, provided the subjects agree to the disclosure of their testimony, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Thursday.

Even with the permission of the interviewees, parts of the transcripts will be redacted if it is deemed they would violate the rights or interests of third parties or could harm “the safety of the nation,” Suga said.

For Kan and former Cabinet members, disclosure of Fukushima testimony a non-issue

Ten politicians interviewed by a government investigative panel on the cause of the Fukushima nuclear disaster are in favor of their accounts being released to the public, The Asahi Shimbun has found.

The finding will likely add to growing public pressure on the Abe administration to disclose the records.

Among those who gave consent is Naoto Kan, the prime minister who spearheaded the Democratic Party of Japan-led government’s response to the March 2011 disaster at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

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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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