Environmental Must-Reads – March 17, 2015


Uneven State Rules And Trade Secrets Fuel Fracking Debate

A brew of state activity, federal inaction, industry interests, and environmental concerns is bubbling over in response to public demands for more information about the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing. Fueling the debate is the oil and gas industry’s refusal to reveal the identity of the substances in fracking fluids.

Fracking, an unconventional oil and gas recovery method, involves injecting large volumes of fluid deep underground to break up tight rock formations to extract hydrocarbons. Composed of about 90% water, 10% proppant—sand or other particulate matter—and less than 1% assorted chemical additives, the fracking fluid that oil and gas drillers use varies in composition depending on the recovery method and underlying geologic formations.

Hydraulic fracturing rules take effect Tuesday, clearing way for permits

Rules governing the hydraulic fracturing method for drilling natural gas are expected to take effect Tuesday, creating the potential for drilling to start later in the year.

The set of 120 rules that govern issues including well construction, water testing and buffer zones was developed by the state Mining and Energy Commission over nearly two years and approved in December by a separate state panel.

Fracking bill gets final OK

A state panel may opt out of its mandate to draft its own rules regulating air pollution from fracking operations, under legislation that quickly cleared the state Senate on Monday mostly with Republican support and was signed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

A provision in the bill requires that the N.C. Environmental Management Commission establish air pollution rules only if it deemed inadequate existing federal and state rules on air emissions that come from a shale-gas drilling method known as fracking, altering a mandate established by the General Assembly in 2012. Under the mandate, the environmental commission must draft its own air-pollution rules dealing with fracking.

As NC fracking moratorium lifts, Lee County awaits wildcatters

It’s been seven years since state geologists set off visions of a shale gas boom here by publicizing an energy jackpot that awaits a prospecting army of truckers, drillers and roustabouts.

Now, after rounds of legislative maneuvering, North Carolina is set to become the nation’s 34th fracking state when new drilling rules go into effect Tuesday, marking the end of the state’s longstanding moratorium on hydraulic fracturing.

Denton Fracking Ban Tees Up Local Control Fight

As policy dilemmas go, the one triggered when Denton voters decided last fall to ban hydraulic fracturing in their city looked like a whopper: The oil and gas industry versus local control — two things Texas holds dear — in intractable opposition. There seemed little doubt lawmakers would weigh in upon their return to Austin.

But four months after the North Texas city’s historic vote, top state lawmakers don’t appear to be scratching their heads. Petroleum is winning hands down, and local control appears headed for a beating.

Parent power bid to block fracking

Dozens of worried parents have joined together in protest over plans for shale gas ‘fracking’ near the school their children attend.

Parents at Weeton St Michael’s have launched a petition to try to halt plans for the gas drilling site at Little Plumpton.

Nelson, Augusta Landowners Form New ‘All Pain No Gain’ Campaign Against Pipeline

Nelson and Augusta County landowners have joined together once again, forming a new campaign against Dominion’s proposed natural gas pipeline.

Tom Harvey, a Nelson County landowner, is a part of the new ‘All Pain, No Gain’ campaign, joining together with groups like Friends of Nelson, and the Augusta County Alliance.

U.S. Forest Service Extends Comment Period on Mountain Valley Pipeline

The U.S. Forest Service extended the comment period on whether portions of the Jefferson National Forest can be surveyed for a possible pipeline route.

A special-use permit would be required before surveying could be done in the national forest for the proposed Mountain Valley Pipeline.

Clark County residents call for oil-train safety

Vancouver resident Eric LaBrant told a panel of lawmakers on Monday the home he shares with his two children, Carissa and Phoenix, is a block from the rail yard and less than a mile from two proposed crude-by-rail oil terminals.

“I’m asking you to think hard about our names and faces as you consider the transport of explosive commodities through our state,” LaBrant testified in Olympia.

House panel hears concerns over oil train legislation

Proposed rules for trains carrying oil across Washington don’t put enough responsibility on the railroads and should include oil pipelines, a Spokane city councilman told a House committee Monday.

But some of the proposed rules to increase the number of workers on each train could run afoul of federal laws and negotiated labor contracts, railroad officials warned the House Environment Committee.

Casey Backs Bill to Prepare for Oil Train Disasters

Amid growing concern about oil train derailments — including on trains journeying through Philadelphia to refineries on the south side of town — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey on Monday announced his backing for a bill that would give streamline training for emergency crews expected to deal with any disaster.

AP reports Casey is backing the RESPONSE Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a North Dakota Democrat. “The bill would provide training for firefighters in their home communities and at a federal facility in Pueblo, Colorado, connect small departments to experts in combating hazardous materials leaks and fires, and create a national database to track train incidents,” the wire service says.

Will lax oil train safety, inflict disaster in state?

LOOKING AT so many spectacular crude oil train explosions, including recent conflagrations in West Virginia and Illinois, Pennsylvanians have good reason to wonder when disaster will strike here.

And we do mean “when” – not “if.”

Because there are so many oil trains heading from North Dakota’s booming oil fields to Philadelphia-area refineries – some 60 to 70 a week – each carrying such easily combustible cargo, in tank cars that routinely rupture upon derailment, a catastrophe somewhere in the state is almost inevitable.

Albany residents call for an end to oil trains

A group of Albany residents known as People of Albany United for Safe Energy, or PAUSE, argued for an end to oil trains passing through Albany at the Common Council meeting Monday. The group spoke in favor of a summary abatement that would forbid the oil trains that run through the city on their way southward.

The grassroots group that advocates for sustainable safe energy detailed the dangers of the oil trains, which can explode and contribute to climate change. They called for the summary abatement, which is the removal of a public nuisance.

Feds appeal ruling limiting BP’s oil spill fine to $13.7 billion

Federal prosecutors will appeal a January ruling that caps BP’s potential oil spill penalty at $13.7 billion, well below the amount the government originally sought. A federal judge has yet to make a final ruling on how much BP will pay for each barrel of oil spilled.

In a notice of appeal filed Friday (March 13), the federal government said it would challenge U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier’s ruling that 3.19 million barrels of oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico during the 2010 disaster. The ruling was based on evidence presented in October 2013 in the civil trial over the spill.

BP report: GoM environment returning to pre-spill conditions

BP has released a report finding that the Gulf of Mexico environment is returning to its baseline condition in the five years since the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. The Gulf of Mexico Environmental Recovery and Restoration report also indicates that impacts from the spill largely occurred in the spring and summer of 2010.

The report is based on scientific studies that government agencies, academic institutions, BP and others conducted as part of the spill response, the ongoing Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) process or through independent research.

BP’s 5 Year Report on Oil Spill, Premature says Locals

On a day like this, it’s hard to tell the worse environmental disaster in U.S. history ever touched these beaches.

“Oil still washes ashore on beaches somewhere in Alabama every single day,” says Casi Callaway with Mobile Baykeeper. Under the Gulf State Park Pier there are those reminders of the disaster that can be found along with seashells washing ashore.

“Five years out is premature,” says Callaway. “Knowing oil is all over the bottom of the gulf and calling it clean and fine? Inaccurate, completely.”

Chevron’s massive Big Foot platform heads to Gulf of Mexico

Chevron’s gargantuan Big Foot platform is headed to its final destination in the Gulf of Mexico.

Built in Korea, massive deep water offshore platform has been undergoing additional work at Gulf Marine Fabrication yards in Aransas Pass since March 2013.

Supply vessel hits Apache platform; company says no injuries or spills

Apache Corp. says a supply vessel ran into its Forties Echo platform in the North Sea Monday morning, but the incident didn’t result in injuries or a spill.

The 30 workers aboard the platform are all accounted for and none of them were hurt, Apache said. The company is now moving non-essential personnel away from the structure. Fifteen workers remain with the Forties Echo, and 15 were transferred to another nearby platform.

Oil spill in New Castle spells a troubling trend

Crews are working to remove remnants of a Delaware River oil spill from Battery Park in New Castle, a week after a cargo ship dumped about 100 gallons into the waterway. An environmental group warned Monday of the potential for devastating effects from repeated exposure to such smaller spills.

The oil was from the barge Wild Cosmos March 9 at the Port of Wilmington, Coast Guard officials said. The ship apparently was refilling but overflowed capacity, with 400-500 gallons spilled on the deck and about two barrels’ worth going into the river.

Watch Four Years of Oil Drilling Collapse in Seconds

The crash in oil prices kicked off intense debate over when, and how, American producers would react. So far they’re still cranking out oil, but there are signs that a slowdown is looming. Chief among them: the record drop-off in drilling for new oil. The animation below shows the deployment of drilling rigs since 2011, culminating recently in a sudden collapse.

State Senate Works to Block Christie From Settling Pollution Lawsuit Against Exxon

The New Jersey Senate approved two measures on Monday contesting Gov. Chris Christie’s attempt to settle a pollution lawsuit against Exxon Mobil Corporation for a fraction of the damages that the state had originally sought.

By a vote of 24 to 0, the Senate approved a resolution urging a judge to reject a proposed $225 million settlement in the case. The state had sought $8.9 billion in damages for restoration and for loss of use of the land by the public because of contamination caused by refineries in Bayonne and Linden.

N.J. Senate OKs resolution asking judge to reject Christie’s $225M settlement with Exxon

The Democratic-controlled state Senate fired a shot at the Christie administration Monday when it approved a resolution asking a state judge to vacate Governor Christie’s controversial $225 environmental damage settlement with Exxon Mobil – a decade-long case in which the state originally sought $8.9 billion from the oil giant.

The vote on the resolution followed party lines, with all 24 Democrats voting in favor and all 16 Republicans abstaining.

NC Supreme Court hears arguments on Duke coal ash pollution

Lawyers for North Carolina environmental groups urged the N.C. Supreme Court on Monday to force Duke Energy to immediately stop the groundwater contamination that’s been seeping for years from Duke’s coal ash pits at 14 sites around the state.

The four organizations want the Supreme Court to uphold Wake County Superior Court Judge Paul Ridgeway’s 2014 ruling, which required Duke to act immediately to stop polluting groundwater beneath its coal ash pits.

NC Supreme Court mulls how Duke Energy must clean groundwater

The North Carolina Supreme Court heard an appeal Monday of a lower-court judge’s ruling last year that Duke Energy take “immediate action” to clean up coal ash-contaminated groundwater.

The state Environmental Management Commission appealed the ruling, with Duke joining the case on its side. Four environmental groups are on the other side.

Oil lobby wants ozone rule scrapped

The oil industry says it’s inappropriate for the Obama administration to try restricting ozone standards when the country is still working toward the current requirements.

The American Petroleum Institute (API) says the current standard, set in 2008, would be sufficient to protect health and the environment if states were actually given time to achieve it.

While We’ve Been Debating Keystone, The U.S. Has Grown Its Pipeline Network By Almost A Quarter

Americans have been waiting for the federal government to come to a decision over the Keystone XL pipeline for more than six years, enduring countless protests, Congressional hearings and even a Presidential veto over the controversial project.

But during that time, pipeline construction in the U.S. hasn’t slowed — in fact, it’s surged.

DOT quietly floats overhaul for aging U.S. oil pipeline network

Almost two years after an Exxon Mobil Corp. pipeline split open and sent Canadian crude flowing through a neighborhood in Mayflower, Ark., federal regulators have quietly proposed a sweeping rewrite of oil pipeline safety rules.

If the proposal is finalized in its current form, as much as 95 percent of the U.S. pipelines that carry crude, gasoline and other liquids — 182,000 miles — would be subject to the new rules and about half the system may have to undergo extensive tests to prove it can operate safely, according to information from the Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration.

Meskwaki Nation Opposes New Pipeline Threat That Could Rival Keystone XL

The Sac & Fox Tribe of the Mississippi in Iowa (Meskwaki Nation) has formally lodged its opposition to a 1,100-mile-long underground pipeline that would carry 570,000 barrels of Bakken crude daily across 343 miles of Iowa to Patoka, Illinois and from there to the Gulf Coast.

“As a people that have lived in North America for thousands of years, we have environmental concerns about the land and drinking water,” tribal chairwoman Judith Bender wrote in a February 19 letter to the Iowa Utilities Board, according to the Desmoines Register. “As long as our environment was good we could live, regardless of who our neighbors were. Our main concern is Iowa’s aquifers might be significantly damaged. And it will only take one mistake and life in Iowa will change for the next thousands of years. We think that should be protected, because it is the water that gives Iowa the best way of life.”

Animal Planet stars Tia Torres, Jackson Galaxy to help rehome feral Bayou Corne sinkhole cats

The 38 feral cats living in a near-empty neighborhood near the massive Bayou Corne sinkhole are getting some celebrity assistance to find new homes: Animal Planet star Tia Torres, of the New Orleans-based show “Pit Bulls and Parolees,” is taking the cats under her wing, with assistance of cat expert Jackson Galaxy, star of “My Cat from Hell.”

The two are stepping in to help Bayou Corne resident Teleca Donachricha, who lives near the Assumption Parish sinkhole and found herself caring for the cats about two years ago as nearly all of the residents in the neighborhood left. As reported by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune last week, she’s been trying to find the cats new homes because Texas Brine, the company that operated the salt mine that’s blamed for causing the sinkhole, is now preparing to demolish the neighborhood.

Special master in Bayou Corne sinkhole case has deep connections to plaintiff’s attorney, possible conflicts of interest

The special master handling the settlement in the Bayou Corne sinkhole class action lawsuit has served as a lawyer for Calvin Fayard, the lead plaintiff attorney in the matter.

Last April, U.S. District Judge Jay Zainey appointed Alton Shelby Easterly III to serve as the special master handling the settlement in the Bayou Corne sinkhole case.

Hanford landfill hits milestone of 17 million tons of waste disposed

The main Hanford landfill for contaminated material from the nuclear site’s environmental cleanup has reached a new milestone, 17 million tons of waste disposed of since it opened in 1996.

The Environmental Restoration Disposal Facility in central Hanford accepts waste with hazardous chemical and low level radioactive contamination.

Japan to Scrap First Nuclear Reactors Since Fukushima

Two Japanese power companies said Tuesday that they will scrap three older nuclear reactors, the first moves in Japan to permanently shut down reactors after the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster.

Their decisions come as the Japanese government is working to formulate a new energy plan that, while expected to retain nuclear as a significant source of energy, is also likely to lead to many more of the nation’s 45 other reactors being decommissioned in what will be a long, expensive and challenging process.

Tepco to miss May deadline to treat 20,000 tons of Fukushima radioactive water

Tokyo Electric Power Co. said some 20,000 tons of radioactive water at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant will be left untreated as of May, missing its cleanup target.

Tepco cited the presence of relatively high levels of seawater-derived substances, including magnesium, and therefore it will take several more months to treat that portion of the contaminated water. The affected water represents 3 percent of the 600,000 tons of tainted water stored at the plant.

Fukushima Radiation Found in Sample of Green Tea from Japan

Four years after the multiple explosions and melt-downs at Fukushima, it seems the scary stories have only just begun to surface.

Given that Japan’s authoritarian regime of Shinzo Abe has cracked down on the information flow from Fukushima with a repressive state secrets act, we cannot know for certain what’s happening at the site.

Chernobyl Containment Funding Talks Lined Up

The completion of a new enclosure for the radioactive remains of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant is in sight despite continued turmoil in Ukraine’s east as international institutions ready new funding for the decades-long project.

The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the European Commission plan to hold a Chernobyl donors’ conference—possibly the last—in London on April 29, the institutions said late on Monday.

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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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