Environmental Must-Reads – March 14, 2013


Halliburton rig worker acknowledges missing signs of well blowout as BP trial continues

Joseph Keith, a mud logger for Halliburton’s Sperry Sun unit, testified Wednesday in the 11th day of the BP trial that he took a smoke break and missed a “kick” of natural gas an hour before the April 20, 2010 blowout of BP’s Macondo well and the explosion and fire aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer resigns amid BP oil spill trial

A Texas lawyer has resigned from the team of plaintiffs’ attorneys who brokered a multibillion-dollar settlement with BP PLC and are facing the company at trial over the massive 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s order Wednesday did not say why Mikal Watts, who was in court only for the trial’s first day, resigned from the Plaintiffs’ Steering Committee.

BP Oil Spill Trial Continues

A worker says a flurry of activity on the Deepwater Horizon hindered his ability to monitor BP’s well for signs of trouble before the April 2010 blowout that caused the drilling rig to explode.

Creatures in Alabama coastal marshes mostly unaffected by BP spill, according to study

A three-year study of an Alabama marsh suggests the 2010 BP spill had little effect on the number of juvenile fish, shrimp and crabs living there before and after the disaster.

La. Pipeline Blaze Could Burn Until Thursday

A fire raging in a coastal Louisiana bayou where a tugboat struck a gas pipeline appeared to have diminished Wednesday night, but is far from extinguished, the Coast Guard said.

Smoke was still visible in New Orleans, 30 miles to the north, and officials say they don’t expect the fire sparked by Tuesday night’s crash to be out until Thursday or later.

Bayou Blaze Still Burning, Oil Spill Creates Sheen (VIDEO)

The scorching fiyo on the bayou that started last night after a tugboat slammed into a pipeline near Lafitte continues to burn Wednesday afternoon. Officials are apparently set to let the Bayou Perot blaze run its course as they begin operations to contain and clean up oil that was spilled in the area, according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

No Oil Spilled After New Orleans-Area Barge Crash; Fire Still Burning – Coast Guard

A fire is still burning nearly a full day after a tug pushing a barge crashed into a pipeline in a bayou south of New Orleans Tuesday evening, but the Coast Guard said there is no visible oil in the water.

Earlier Wednesday, the Coast Guard had said a mile-long sheen was visible near the site of the incident, but it now says that was actually ash from the burn of the liquefied gas in the pipeline.

Dilbit Sinks in Enbridge Oil Spill, but Floats in Its Lab Study

A recent industry-backed study of diluted bitumen, the Canadian crude oil that would be shipped through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, contradicts what environmentalists have said for years—that diluted bitumen, or dilbit, sinks in water and is much more difficult to clean up than conventional crude oil.

More than 90 mini-earthquakes reported overnight at Louisiana sinkhole

According to officials, seismic activity called spasmodic bursts were reported from the site of the nine acre sinkhole Tuesday night in Bayou Corne.

Spasmodic bursts are many rapid-fire earthquakes. More than 90 mini earthquakes happened around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Keystone Pipeline Jobs Numbers Are Probably Exaggerated, Obama Allegedly Told Republicans

Jobs numbers and other benefits touted by supporters of the Keystone XL oil pipeline are probably exaggerated, President Barack Obama told House Republicans on Wednesday, according to lawmakers who attended the closed-door meeting.

But Obama did not rule out a decision to approve the $7 billion pipeline, according to participants.

Keystone Pipeline Consultants ERM Criticized in Past for BP Pipeline Approval in Turkey

DeSmogBlog has found that Environmental Resources Management, the consulting firm behind the Keystone XL Pipeline environmental impact assessment, has been at the center of controversial pipeline projects in the past.

Activists working against the 2002 planned construction of British Petroleum’s Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline in Turkey, singled out Environmental Resources Management (ERM) for what they saw as ERM “grooming” the BP pipeline for construction. Like the Keystone XL pipeline assessment, ERM’s assessment of the Turkish pipeline was seen as flawed and drafted in a way that gave all but the green light for the pipeline to be constructed.

OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Keystone pipeline takes center stage at House hearing

The House Foreign Affairs Committee will jump into the fray over the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline with a hearing that will feature witnesses who strongly support the project.

A subpanel of the GOP-controlled committee will explore U.S. energy ties with Mexico and Canada, a session that will focus on Keystone XL, which would bring Canadian oil sands to Gulf Coast refineries.

When to Say No

The State Department’s latest environmental assessment of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline makes no recommendation about whether President Obama should approve it. Here is ours. He should say no, and for one overriding reason: A president who has repeatedly identified climate change as one of humanity’s most pressing dangers cannot in good conscience approve a project that — even by the State Department’s most cautious calculations — can only add to the problem.

Keystone XL: State Department Dodges the Big Questions

A lot happened between the State Department’s first environmental assessment of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline plan, completed in 2011 – before the proposed route was altered to bypass Nebraska’s Sand Hills – and the latest one, which appeared in draft form earlier this month. More than 400,000 comments were sent to the State Department (in addition to the million or so it had already received), hundreds of people were arrested in acts of civil disobedience meant to slow or stop the pipeline and gallons of ink were spilled on the topic by supporters and opponents alike.

N.Y. Farmers Learn Fracking May Mean Drilling If Neighbors Agree

Kris VanSlyke doesn’t want fracking on the 170 acres in New York’s Southern Tier that have been in her husband’s family for 150 years. She may have no choice.

VanSlyke got a letter last year from XTO Energy, a unit of Exxon Mobil Corp. (XOM), informing her that portions of her property are within range of a horizontal hydraulic-fracturing well the company wants to build if New York approves drilling. Under a 2005 law, the company doesn’t need VanSlyke’s permission to buy the natural gas under her farm once 60 percent of the land around the well is leased or owned.

In Texas, water use for fracking stirs concerns

In this South Texas stretch of mesquite trees and cactus, where the land is sometimes too dry to grow crops, the local aquifer is being strained in the search for oil. The reason is hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling process that requires massive amounts of water.

“We just can’t sustain it,” Hugh Fitzsimons, a Dimmit County bison rancher who serves on the board of his local groundwater district, said last month as he drove his pickup down a dusty road.

California governor Brown says state needs to look at ‘fracking’

California Governor Jerry Brown, a prominent environmentalist, said on Wednesday the state should consider the use of “fracking” technology to develop its massive shale oil reserves and reduce reliance on imported oil.

Farmers getting fracked

Vintner Steve Lyons of Santa Barbara County was stunned when he found an oil well in his vineyard in 2011. Veneco Inc. owns his mineral rights and proceeded to drill and frack a well without even notifying Lyons.

Keith Gardiner is a third-generation Kern County farmer whose three 50-year-old deepwater wells were contaminated with chloride. He suspects the oil field tank farm and disposal well next to his property. The investigation will probably take years to prove, just like farmer Fred Starrh’s eight-year, $8.5 million judgment against Aera Energy. Aera contaminated Starrh’s groundwater with frack wastewater, and now he is suing Aera for $2 billion in punitive damages to clean up his aquifer.

Speaker Madigan supports moratorium on fracking

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan said Wednesday he supports a moratorium on high-volume oil and gas drilling, weighing in on the issue one day before a House committee is scheduled to consider competing bills involving the practice.

Underwater Gas Reserves: The Next Big Thing?

Japan says it has successfully tapped a potential new source of energy from the ocean bottom — the slushy, frozen chemical called methane hydrate – but there’s one tiny problem. Any accidental releases of seafloor methane could boost the amount of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Oil companies have been trying for decades to figure out how to turn frozen methane hydrates into natural gas. Methane hydrate, also known as clathrate, is a compound of methane that exists under pressure at depths below 1,000 feet and under certain conditions in the Arctic.

An Enlightening Study on Shale Gas and Water Quality

A team at Resources For the Future (RFF) led by Sheila Olmstead has a neat new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) that takes a rigorous look at water pollution due to shale gas development in Pennsylvania. (Hat tip: John Quigley.) The team collected thousands of data points measuring shale gas activity and water quality across a wide geographic area and more-than-ten-year span, and then used careful statistical analysis to test a series of hypotheses about how shale gas development might have affected water quality. What’s particularly interesting about this study is that it doesn’t require physical assumptions. It can also shed light on the cumulative impacts of large-scale shale gas development, going beyond analysis at the level of single pads and wells.

3 Reasons Why We Should Stop New Gas Drilling Before it Starts

You know what natural gas smells like. Or do you? Natural gas is actually odorless. That rotten-egg smell is added for safety reasons. Otherwise, you might not notice a potentially deadly gas leak.

If only we could add a similar smell to the natural gas industry. Too many people — especially politicians — aren’t paying attention to the dangers of the current “boom” in natural gas development. Here are three big reasons why we should stop new gas drilling before it starts and replace fossil fuels at every opportunity with clean, renewable energy.

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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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