Environmental Must-Reads – March 14, 2014


More quakes reported near fracking well

Geologists say there were 12 earthquakes near an active fracking well in northeastern Ohio — four last week and eight this week.

The earthquakes all have similar wavelengths, said Won Young-Kim, a senior scientist who runs a regional earthquake monitoring network at Columbia University in New York.

Is Your State Full of Dangerous Gas Pipelines?

Authorities are still trying to determine the cause of the gas leak explosion that destroyed two buildings in Manhattan, killed at least seven people, and injured dozens of others on Wednesday, but a possible culprit is old, hazardous iron pipe that has yet to be replaced by safer plastic. Depending on the state you’re in, you might be sitting over a similar pipe right now.

Fracking Chemicals May Not Stay Secret For Much Longer

The concoction of chemicals used in the oil and gas drilling process known as ‘fracking’ may not be kept a “trade secret” for much longer, following a ruling by the Wyoming Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The plaintiffs in the case, the Powder River Basin Resource Council and other groups concerned about the controversial drilling technique, said the Wyoming Oil and Gas Commission should not be able to withhold the types of chemicals it injects into the ground during the process, which have been known to contaminate groundwater.

Report: Fracking could raise earthquake risks in California

A potential boom in hydraulic fracturing in California would increase the risk of earthquakes in the state, according to a report that environmental groups released Thursday.

Oil companies have shown great interest in California’s Monterey Shale, which could hold more than 15 billion barrels of oil. The Monterey Shale is located under the San Joaquin Valley, stretching across most of central California.

Fracking Is Creating A Rift Between Governor Jerry Brown And Some California Democrats

Despite putting environmental issues at the center of his re-election bid, California Governor Jerry Brown is catching flak from fellow Democrats for his support of fracking.

During a speech at the California Democratic Convention in Los Angeles this past weekend, Brown was repeatedly interrupted and drowned out by protestors chanting “No fracking!” and carrying signs that read “Another Democrat Against Fracking.” Opponents of the drilling process also recently released a parody commercial online for “Frack Water, a fragrance by Jerry Brown.”

Chesapeake Energy’s $5 Billion Shuffle

At the end of 2011, Chesapeake Energy, one of the nation’s biggest oil and gas companies, was teetering on the brink of failure.

Its legendary chief executive officer, Aubrey McClendon, was being pilloried for questionable deals, its stock price was getting hammered and the company needed to raise billions of dollars quickly.

The money could be borrowed, but only on onerous terms. Chesapeake, which had burned money on a lavish steel-and-glass office complex in Oklahoma City even while the selling price for its gas plummeted, already had too much debt.

Tennessee lawmakers won’t take on fracking, mining limits for now

Bans on fracking and mountaintop mining in Tennessee appear dead for the year.

Three measures before state lawmakers aimed at adding those protections for Tennessee’s natural resources failed to make it out of the Senate Energy, Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee on Wednesday.

Senate GOP pushes bill curbing natural gas flaring

Three Republican senators are pushing legislation that fast-tracks permits for natural gas pipelines in an effort to curb gas flaring.

Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), John Hoeven (N.D.), and Mike Enzi (Wyo.) introduced the bill on Wednesday, which requires the Interior and Agriculture Departments to issues permits for the majority of gas pipelines within 60 days.

Dems Grapple With Dilemma on Keystone XL Pipeline

Democrats are grappling with an election-year dilemma posed by the Keystone XL oil pipeline.

Wealthy party donors are funding candidates who oppose the project — a high-profile symbol of the political debate over climate change. But some of the party’s most vulnerable incumbents are pipeline boosters, and whether Democrats retain control of the Senate after the 2014 midterm elections may hinge on them.

Senate debates pros and cons of Keystone XL pipeline

The fight over Keystone XL pipeline moved to the Senate on Thursday, as fans and foes of the pipeline battled over its link to climate change, the economy and U.S. security.

But little was resolved during a two-hour Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the issue that only served to underscore the sharp divisions over TransCanada Corp.’s $5.4 billion project.

Film Exposes Harsh Reality of Living Amid North Dakota’s Oil Boom

North Dakota is the fastest growing state in the U.S., but a recent video exposes why some will want to stay away from the Great Plains state.

The Dakota Resource Council’s (DRC) short film, This Is Our Country: Living with the Wild West Oil Boom, shows how North Dakota rose to become the No. 2 oil producer in the nation behind Texas and the impact that ascension has had on residents.

Researcher finds methane from oil spill has entered food web

When millions of gallons of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico four years ago, so did large volumes of methane, or natural gas.

Now, researchers from Florida State University and Florida A&M University have confirmed that methane-derived carbon has entered the Gulf’s food web through tiny organic particles floating in the Gulf.

UGA researchers return to Gulf oil spill site

A team of researchers from the University of Georgia and other institutions will return to the Gulf of Mexico to assess the environmental impacts of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout that discharged roughly 5 million gallons of oil into the ocean over a period of 84 days.

The researchers will conduct a series of dives in locations near the Macondo wellhead using the recently upgraded deep submergence vessel, Alvin. Alvin is a research submarine owned by the U.S. Navy, which allows scientists to view the ocean floor, record the observations through high-definition cameras, and collect water, sediment and biological samples.

Researchers to use Alvin sub to study mile-deep seafloor near BP well blowout

A team of scientists led by University of Georgia marine biologist Samantha Joye will spend most of April using the deepsea submarine Alvin to study the mile-deep seafloor near the site of BP’s ill-fated Macondo well for the lingering effects of the 87-day flow of oil and gas following the blowout that sank the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in April 2010.

Ex-BP engineer convicted in Gulf oil spill case wants conviction tossed over juror misconduct

The lawyer for a BP engineer found guilty of obstructing an investigation into the 2010 Gulf oil spill urged a judge to throw out the conviction Thursday, arguing the evidence was insufficient and the jury forewoman heard statements outside of the trial that influenced the panel’s decision.

BP Can Again Work for Feds After Oil Spill

The oil company behind the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history can once again perform work for the federal government.

Under an agreement reached Thursday with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than two dozen BP entities and its Houston-based oil production and exploration arm can secure new government contracts.

U.S. Lifts BP’s Ban on Contracting Imposed After Gulf Spill

U.S. officials lifted a ban on government contracting imposed on BP Plc (BP/) in response to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that fouled beaches from Florida to Louisiana.

An end to the suspension lets London-based BP, once the Defense Department’s top fuel supplier, win lucrative federal contracts and seek leases for oil exploration on federal lands or waters. There is a U.S. auction next week for the right to drill in the Gulf, where the spill occurred.

Green Army Prepares to Battle Louisiana Legislators To Protect Water From Oil Industry Threats

The Green Army, a group representing environmental and social justice organizations led by retired Lt. Gen. Russel Honore, met on the steps of the state capitol for a rally preceding the start of Louisiana’s legislative session which begins today. Their demonstration, called a “Water Festival,” was a cry to protect Louisiana’s water.

Twenty-Five Years of Oil Spills

On March 24, 1989, a tired third mate ran the tanker Exxon Valdez into a reef near Alaska’s Prince William Sound. About 10.5 million gallons of crude oil flooded the waterway in what was then the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. Although the salmon have returned and most of the spill is gone, stubborn pockets of oil linger at the site even after 25 years and billions of dollars spent on cleanup. The incident spurred tighter international and U.S. regulations and the construction of sturdier, better-staffed ships. While the safety record of oil tankers has vastly improved, it’s difficult to prevent outlier events such as the 2010 BP spill. Where oil goes, spills follow.

Shell to slash oil field spending, jobs in the Americas

Shell will slash spending and staff in its oil and gas field operations in the Americas, CEO Ben van Beurden told investors Thursday, largely in response to disappointing results in U.S. shale plays.

Shell announced that it will reduce spending in its upstream Americas unit by 20 percent this year. In a presentation released Thursday, the company said it also is planning a 30 percent cut  in company and contractor staff in its North American, onshore portfolio.

Portland to Montreal Pipeline: Too Old for Tar Sands Oil?

Environmental groups say evidence that a pipeline that runs from Portland to Montreal has passed the date of its expected retirement should be reason enough to end the debate about using it to transport tar sands oil to Maine. The information was uncovered by the National Wildlife Federation in a decades-old tax dispute involving the pipeline’s owners. But as Susan Sharon reports, the Portland Pipe Line Corporation says the records are being grossly exaggerated.

Another Firm That Evaluated Keystone For State Department Had Ties To TransCanada

The contractor that evaluated greenhouse gas emissions for the State Department’s Keystone XL report is the latest company to come under fire for its ties to TransCanada, the prospective builder of the controversial pipeline.

A conflict-of-interest statement from the consulting firm ICF International, submitted to the State Department in 2012, reveals that the company had done other work for TransCanada.

TransCanada Whistleblower’s Evidence Ignored, Keystone XL South Rushed Into Operation

Pipeline safety regulators in North America have done nothing but write warning letters to TransCanada in the two years since former employee Evan Vokes revealed evidence indicating the company had been breaking the rules.

A recently released report by the Canadian National Energy Board on TransCanada’s integrity management programs stated: “There are areas where the company was found to be out of compliance.” The board gave TransCanada 30 days to come up with a plan to fix things internally.

Albany County Enacts Moratorium on Tar Sands Transport Expansion Project

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy issued an executive order today imposing a moratorium on the heating of crude oil and expansion of dangerous crude by rail transport operations at the Port of Albany, proposed by the Massachusetts-based Global Companies LLC.

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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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