Environmental Must-Reads – March 15, 2013


University of Tennessee proposes fracking on its own land

The University of Tennessee wants to allow hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas on a state-owned tract of rolling woodland, raising the hackles of environmentalists who question its stated goal of raising funds to research the environmental impact of such drilling.

With debate over “fracking” continuing, the unique proposal is being considered when many universities say they don’t have enough money to properly study the environmental implications of an increasingly popular and lucrative method for energy companies to remove gas or oil from rock formations by forcing liquids underground at high pressure.

Tenn. university’s proposal for fracking research funded by gas profits raises ethics concerns

The University of Tennessee wants to allow hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas on a state-owned tract of rolling woodland, raising the hackles of environmentalists who question its stated goal of raising funds to research the environmental impact of such drilling.

With debate over “fracking” continuing, the unique proposal is being considered when many universities say they don’t have enough money to properly study the environmental implications of an increasingly popular and lucrative method for energy companies to remove gas or oil from rock formations by forcing liquids underground at high pressure.

UT’s fracking plan faces opposition

The University of Tennessee is expected to face vocal opposition today when it seeks approval for a plan to allow natural gas drilling on more than 8,000 acres of public land in East Tennessee’s Morgan and Scott counties.

The university’s Institute of Agriculture, which manages the land known as the Cumberland Forest, wants permission to seek bids from energy companies to lease the oil and gas rights.

Florida Legislature Pushing Fracking Disclosure Bill

Florida may soon become the fourth state with a law on the books enforcing hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) chemical disclosure. The Florida House of Representatives’ Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee voted unanimously (11-0) on March 7 to require chemical disclosure from the fracking industry. For many, that is cause for celebration and applause.

Fracking Legislation in Springfield: Where We Stand

Sierra Club is opposed to fracking. Fracking is devastating to communities and families all over the country — polluting our air and water, and contributing to the destabilization of our climate.

That’s why the Sierra Club supports a moratorium on fracking in Illinois: We want to stop destructive drilling before it can start. Our responsibility is to ensure our representatives take the strongest possible actions to protect our families and the environment. We stand with Representative Mell, Senator Hunter, Speaker Madigan, and other legislators who have expressed their support for a two-year timeout while we analyze the tremendous risks fracking poses for Illinois.

UPDATE: Fracking Fluid Leak In Wyoming County

Several families in Wyoming County are heading home after a fracking fluid spill at a nearby natural gas well pad forced them out early Thursday.

The Department of Environmental Resources said a drill malfunction caused thousands of gallons of fracking fluid to shoot out, and for a while workers were worried there could be natural gas explosion.

Carbondale talks fracking

High-volume horizontal fracturing, a gas and oil extraction process known as “fracking,” was brought up several times at the March 5 Carbondale City Council meeting.

Some councilmen wanted to make sure the city had the power to ban fracking and the means to control the city’s water supply or capture revenue to pay for repairs or services associated with fracking.

Federal Legislation Aims to Close “Fracking Loopholes”

Pennsylvania Representative Matthew Cartwright (D-17) has introduced legislation to remove oil and gas industry exemptions from the federal Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. Cartwright is from Scranton, and his district stretches over five counties including Berks, Dauphin, Lebanon, Perry and Schuylkill county.

The “FRESHER” Act would remove federal regulatory exemptions related to storm water run-off at drill sites. And the “BREATHE” Act would require air emissions generated by the oil and gas industry be subject to federal aggregation regulations.

Casey questions what led to fracking wastewater communication breakdown

A federal legislator has joined in asking what led to a communication breakdown that kept Pennsylvania state agencies from being notified of a fracking wastewater dump upstream in Youngstown, Ohio, on Jan. 31.

U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., D-Scranton, announced Thursday that he wrote a letter to the National Response Center, urging them to improve their notification system and efforts after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection didn’t receive notice of the illegal dumping of thousands of gallons of fracking wastewater into a storm sewer that led to the Mahoning River, which eventually leads to the Beaver River.

Colorado Democrats to pitch expanded city, county control over fracking

Colorado Democrats plan to introduce late-session legislation soon targeting oil and gas development that could apply to Fort Collins’ recently adopted ban on hydraulic fracturing, party leaders in the Legislature confirmed Thursday.

“I expect by the first of next week we will see some legislation on oil and gas,” said House Majority Leader Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, D-Gunbarrel. “There will be something on local control, probably in conjunction with setbacks.”

How Big Oil Seduced and Dumped This Utah Town

I greet you from the land of the giant white trucks. I sit here, typing away, barricaded behind the door of the last available hotel room—the smell of smoke oozing from every fiber of polyester bedspread and carpet of this non-smoking room—in Vernal, Utah. Outside on the crowded streets hundreds of Rams and Rangers and Silverados prowl, most displaying Texas and Wyoming and Oklahoma plates.

The drivers of the trucks are here for the same reason I am: the boom in drilling for oil and natural gas. The vast, dry lands south of Vernal hold about half of the state’s active rigs and present a veritable smorgasbord of opportunities for energy extraction: shale aplenty, fracking for both oil and natural gas, and even the state’s very own poised-to-open tar sands. Uintah County has been Utah’s main oil producer for more than 70 years. As far back as 1918, National Geographic extolled the area’s potential: “Campers and hunters in building fires against pieces of the rock had been surprised to find that they ignited, that they contain oil.” In other words, what is happening here is no nouveau drilling dalliance, no young sweetheart in first flush, freshly wooed, like the Bakken Field in North Dakota, but an on-again, off-again affair that has been going on for decades.

“Frackademia” Strikes Again at USC with “Powering California” Study Release

“Frackademia” – shorthand for bogus science, economics and other research results paid for by the oil and gas industry and often conducted by “frackademics” with direct ties to the oil and gas industry – has struck again in California.

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 contractor finds cement samples

BP’s cement contractor on the Deepwater Horizon rig has discovered cement samples possibly tied to the ill-fated drilling project that weren’t turned over to the Justice Department after the 2010 oil spill, a lawyer for the contractor said Thursday.

Halliburton lawyer Donald Godwin told U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier that the company believes the material found Wednesday at its laboratory in Lafayette has no bearing on the ongoing trial to assign responsibility for the nation’s worst offshore oil spill.

Enbridge Kalamazoo River Oil Spill: Company Ordered Finish Clean Up, Dredge River

More than two and a half years after a Canadian pipeline rupture spilled heavy oil into a Michigan River, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is ordering Calgary-based Enbridge (TSX:ENB) to perform additional dredging to remove submerged oil.

The agency said it has repeatedly found oil in sections of the Kalamazoo River.

EPA Orders Enbridge to Perform Additional Dredging to Remove Oil from Kalamazoo River

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued an administrative order that requires Enbridge to do additional dredging in Michigan’s Kalamazoo River to clean up oil from the company’s July 2010 pipeline spill. EPA’s order requires dredging in sections of the river above Ceresco Dam, upstream of Battle Creek, and in the Morrow Lake Delta.

MDCH releases report on drinking water wells after Kalamazoo River oil spill

We’re rounding the corner on the three year anniversary of the Enbridge oil spill near Marshall.

The cleanup isn’t over yet and so far, more than a million gallons of thick tar sands oil have been cleaned up from the Kalamazoo River and Talmadge Creek.

State officials have been looking at possible health risks from the spill.

Louisiana Governor: Texas Brine Agrees to Sinkhole Buyouts

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal says a Texas company blamed for the sinkhole that  formed after the collapse of an underground salt cavern has agreed to provide settlement offers, which include buyouts, to the residents of the Bayou Corne community in Assumption Parish who were forced to evacuate the area as a result of the massive sinkhole.

Sinkhole buyouts await evacuated Louisiana homeowners

Texas Brine will offer buyouts to Assumption Parish residents whose homes are in a swampy area under evacuation because of a nine-acre sinkhole, Gov. Bobby Jindal said Wednesday.

Scientists say the sinkhole formed after the collapse of an underground salt cavern operated by Houston-based Texas Brine Co. LLC, which extracted brine and piped it to nearby petrochemical facilities. The cavern failure released oil and natural gas from formations along the salt dome face.

“They caused the situation. They’ve got to make this right,” Jindal said after a closed-door meeting with company leaders.

Oil Exports Spur More Questions About Pipeline

Much of the crude oil that would flow down the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline would likely be exported as refined products by U.S. companies—a prospect that is stirring further debate over whether the project serves the nation’s best interest.

Backers of the pipeline, which would carry heavy crude from Alberta, Canada, through the Plains states to Gulf Coast refineries, say the exports would be good for the U.S. economy by creating refinery jobs and helping to reduce the trade deficit.

Opponents, who have long cited the potential environmental risks, say if the fuel ultimately gets exported, Americans won’t benefit.

Flights Restricted Where La. Pipeline Still Burns

The Coast Guard has placed temporary flight restrictions over a coastal Louisiana bayou where a pipeline fire continues to burn two days after it was touched off by a tugboat accident.

The restrictions announced Thursday affect flights below 5,000 feet and within a mile of the accident site.

Interior Dept. Warns Shell on Arctic Drilling

The Shell Oil Company must provide a detailed plan addressing numerous safety and operational issues that plagued its efforts to extract oil beneath the Arctic Ocean last year if it wants to resume drilling off the coast of Alaska, the Interior Department said Thursday.

Shell barred from returning to drill for oil in Arctic without overhaul

Shell “screwed up” drilling for oil in Arctic waters and will not be allowed back without a comprehensive overhaul of its plans, the Obama administration said on Thursday.

A government review found the oil company was not prepared for the extreme conditions in the Arctic, which resulted in a series of blunders and accidents culminating in the New Year’s Eve grounding of its drill rig.

Shell Oil Unprepared for 2012 Arctic Drilling, Finds U.S. Review

“Shell screwed up in 2012 and we’re not going to let them screw up when they try to drill in the Arctic again,” Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar told reporters today, releasing the findings of a departmental review of Shell Oil’s 2012 Arctic operations.

In 2012, Shell started drilling the first wells in the Alaskan Arctic in nearly two decades in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas. Shell’s goal for the summer drilling season was to confirm a major discovery of oil in commercially-viable quantities in the Alaskan Arctic Ocean.

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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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