Environmental Must-Reads – March 18, 2015


New fracking rules coming in ‘days’

The Obama administration is poised to impose new rules for hydraulic fracturing on public lands.

The mandates are aimed at boosting the integrity of wells on public lands to ensure oil, gas and other fluids are contained within them. The rules will also require recovered water and other fluids to be safely stored at the sites.

Air Pollution Mandate Change for Fracking Signed Into Law

Environmental legislation that gives leeway to a North Carolina state panel in creating air pollution rules for fracking has been signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory.

The governor signed the measure soon after the Senate gave final General Assembly approval Monday night to the bill, which cleans up environmental laws already in place. The legislation adjusts the 2012 law authorizing hydraulic fracturing for drilling natural gas and directing exploration rules be created.

Fracking law opens North Carolina to drilling

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.

Advocates: Fracking won’t start in North Carolina without a fight

On the day it has become legal under state law to apply for a fracking permit in North Carolina, advocates at Environment North Carolina joined with a group of state lawmakers at the Legislative Building this afternoon to make clear that the controversial drilling procedure will not commence in the Tar Heel state without a fight.

Armed with a damning new report on the myriad problems to which fracking has given rise in Pennsylvania (“Fracking Failures: Oil and Gas Industry Environmental Violations in Pennsylvania and What They Mean for the U.S.”) and forecasting litigation if any permits are approved by the state Mining and Energy Commission, the advocates and legislators addressed a gaggle of cameras and reporters at a press conference and made clear that the battle over fracking in North Carolina is far from over.

Republicans change their minds about pushing fracking in state parks

Ohio’s state parks are safe from fracking after a legislative panel pulled the controversial provision on Tuesday.

Almost as significant: The rare defeat of the oil and gas industry came after genuine cooperation between Democrats and Republicans in the Ohio General Assembly.

“It’s a big win for the people of the state of Ohio,” said Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus.

Fracking opponents push statewide ban

Activists gathered Tuesday at the Capitol to push for a bill that would ban fracking in Florida and speak out against legislation they say would lay the groundwork for the controversial form of natural-gas extraction to occur.

Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando and sponsor of the bill (SB 166) that would ban the practice, said fracking would cause environmental damage and harm the tourism industry. Soto spoke during a news conference hosted by ReThink Energy Florida and the Sierra Club Florida.

Refiners sue BNSF over fee on oil loaded in older tank cars

A trade group representing oil refiners has sued the nation’s largest hauler of crude oil in trains over a surcharge for oil loaded into older tank cars that have punctured and ruptured in numerous derailments.

The American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers, a trade association for producers of gasoline, jet fuel, home heating oil and other refined products, sought an injunction last week in U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas to block BNSF Railway from imposing a $1,000 surcharge for every DOT-111 model tank car loaded with crude oil.

Disaster averted: Toxic gas leak contained at Moccasin Bend plant

Chattanooga averted a disaster Monday after nearly a ton of poisonous chlorine gas leaked from its container at the city’s sewer plant but was contained before it escaped into the atmosphere.

Yet the enormous leak, which officials said was caused by a plant employee, sent two workers to the hospital and caused the building’s safety equipment to overheat twice in less than 12 hours.

Fears workers at underground gas project exposed to cancer-causing substances

There are fears that workers at a controversial underground gas project in southern Queensland have been exposed to cancer-causing substances.

The ABC has seen an internal Environment Department document on an investigation of Linc Energy’s underground coal gasification plant near Chinchilla.

After Congress Gutted Propane Market Reform, Industry Doubles Down on Secretive Storage Plan

After failing to convince Congress to fix the root causes of propane shortages and price spikes that rocked the Midwest and Northeast last winter, the U.S. propane industry is now throwing its full weight behind a secretive underground storage project in western New York. Industry’s renewed support for that private sector option comes after Congress gutted a 2014 bill to scope out and fund regional propane storage sites.

Now even the make-do private solution is in serious jeopardy. State regulators have already taken five years to evaluate Crestwood Midstream’s plan to store 88 million gallons of liquid petroleum gas, or LPG, in abandoned salt caverns near Seneca Lake. They are still, at a minimum, months away from deciding whether to grant the storage permit.

Report: Rail industry must answer for oil train accidents

The rail industry is chiefly responsible for preventing oil train accidents and U.S. regulators must do more to keep trains on the tracks, a leading voice for the energy industry said on Monday.

“Any effort to enhance rail safety must begin with addressing track integrity and human factors,” Charles Drevna, president of the American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers wrote in a letter to Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

Track May Have Played Role in Canadian Oil-Train Derailments

Canadian investigators said the state of the train tracks in the part of northern Ontario where two oil trains operated by Canadian National Railway Co. derailed recently in separate incidents may have played a part in the accidents.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada said the second incident, which occurred near Gogama, Ontario, earlier this month, ignited a fireball that led to the destruction of a steel bridge.

TSB says track failures may have played a role in 3 train derailments

Canada’s transportation investigator says track infrastructure failures may have played a role in three recent derailments involving oil-laden trains in northern Ontario.

The Transportation Safety Board says it wants Transport Canada to review the risk assessments for a stretch of track known as the CN Ruel subdivision following the fiery derailments in Gogama and Minnipuka.

Federal Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Over Mayflower Oil Spill

A federal judge dismissed a class-action lawsuit Tuesday against Exxon Mobil over a 2013 oil spill in Mayflower and acknowledged that the message his decision sends to people with pipeline easements “does not seem fair,” but said it is based on the law.

Judge Brian Miller, ruling in U.S. District Court in Little Rock, dismissed the case “with prejudice,” meaning it cannot be refiled.

BP Says Gulf Of Mexico Recovering From 2010 Oil Spill, But Federal Scientists Dispute Company’s Claims

Federal scientists are disputing statements by BP PLC that U.S. Gulf Coast ecosystems are recovering well from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Government officials and environmental groups said late Monday that the effects of the multimillion-barrel oil spill are likely to last “for generations,” according to media reports.

BP released its environmental recovery and restoration report Monday, a month before the five-year anniversary of the disaster. An explosion on the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig killed 11 workers and sent at least 3.2 million barrels into Gulf waters — the worst offshore oil spill in American history — destroying fisheries, coastal habitats and eco-tourism ventures from Florida to Texas.

Tulane grant helps study BP oil spill impact

Tulane University will use a $1.4 million grant from the BP Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative to study the impact of the 2010 oil spill, focusing on three coastal communities in Alabama and Louisiana.

According to Ky Luu, the principal investigator, Tulane’s research will focus on the health, social and economic impacts of the spill on communities, vulnerability to future spills and socio-economic factors. Luu is executive director of the Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, a program in Tulane’s School of Social Work.

Louisiana Parish Fights Plan to Burn Tons of Propellant No One Wants

Just before midnight on Oct. 15, 2012, Sheriff Gary Sexton of Webster Parish was driving home from the airport when the sky lit up like midday. He flipped on his walkie-talkie to hear everyone asking: What on earth were those big booms?

As the sheriff would soon learn, two massive explosions had taken place at Camp Minden, a 15,000-acre site owned by the state in the pine woods just south of here, where private companies engage in military-related work. When the authorities began examining the blast site, they found something startling: thousands of tons of M6 propellant, used in the firing of artillery rounds, stuffed into plastic bags and piled into sagging cardboard boxes, many of them out in open fields.

Cleaning Up More Than 100 Years of Spilled Oil in New Jersey

The oil refineries of northern New Jersey have been the butt of late-night jokes, created the moody backdrop for Bruce Springsteen songs, and were the subject of an $8.9 billion lawsuit by the state seeking damages for the loss of land to the public dating back a more than a century.

The 1,300 acre Bayway Refinery in Linden, New Jersey, now run by Phillips 66, was opened by Standard Oil in 1909. Standard Oil later became ExxonMobil. A report prepared for the state found that over the last 100 years, 7 million gallons of oil have spilled and seeped into the ground. Between the Bayway and Bayonne refineries, 600 different contaminants have been found in the soil.

Canadian Natural Resources Fined $125,000 For 2010 Oil Spill

Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) is facing $125,000 in penalties nearly five years after an oil spill in northwestern Alberta.

The sentence was handed down in provincial court last Friday after the company pleaded guilty to an offence under the Fisheries Act.

In a release, Environment Canada says $113,000 will go toward its Environmental Damages Fund and the remaining $12,000 will be paid as a fine. Canadian Natural has also been added to the Environmental Offenders Registry.

2 Former Freedom Owners Plead Guilty in Chemical Spill Case

Two former owners of Freedom Industries pleaded guilty on Monday to environmental violations stemming from last year’s Charleston chemical spill that prompted a temporary tap water ban for 300,000 residents.

At separate hearings, William Tis, 60, and Charles Herzing, 64, entered the pleas to causing an unlawful discharge of a coal-cleaning agent into the Elk River.

Chevron, Other Refineries Face Tougher Air Quality Rules

The public will have a chance to comment this week on proposed air quality rules for the Bay Area’s five oil refineries.

The new rules, from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District, aim for more accurate estimates of all refinery emissions and to assess any risks to human health. The district also wants to see a 20 percent decrease in emissions.

Democratic Republic of Congo wants to open up Virunga national park to oil exploration

The Democratic Republic of Congo’s prime minister has said that his government wants to find a way to explore for oil in the Virunga national park, a Unesco world heritage site , and will engage in negotiations with the UN body to “explore judiciously”.

Virunga, Africa’s oldest and most biodiverse park, has been on the list of ‘world heritage in danger’ since 1994, as two decades of armed conflict and intense poaching by militias has taken its toll on the park’s ecosystem.

The Keystone XL Distraction: Industry Has Built 11,600 Miles of Oil Pipeline With Little Public Resistance

Every good magician knows that the key to success is misdirecting the audience. You have to draw everyone’s attention away from your ultimate goal in order to perform the trick. Politics is no different, and one of the greatest misdirections in recent memory has been pulled off by the fossil fuel industry.

While most of the environmental movement was (rightfully) focusing attention on stopping the Keystone XL tar sands export pipeline from crossing over one of the most vital aquifers in the U.S., the dirty energy industry was quietly building a network of smaller pipelines all over North America.

Montana Senate Considers Keystone Pipeline Resolution

Montana Lawmakers are considering a resolution asking Congress and the President to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, which President Obama has already vetoed once. Malta Republican Representative Mike Lang told the Senate Energy Committee the pipeline promises benefits for the state and the nation as a whole.

“Pipelines are the safest, most reliable, economical, and environmentally favorable way to transport oil and other petroleum products. Presently, a lot of people don’t know but in Montana, 88 percent of the oil that’s in our refineries comes from Canada, right now, today.”

Feds OK Atlantic Coast Pipeline survey through George Washington National Forest

The U.S. Forest Service will allow Dominion Transmission Inc. to survey a path for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline through the George Washington National Forest in Highland and Augusta counties.

The Forest Service said Tuesday that it will issue a temporary special-use permit to allow surveying along 12.6 miles of the forest, but made clear the decision does not represent approval of the $5 billion, 550-mile pipeline proposed from West Virginia to southeastern Virginia and North Carolina.

Huge data gaps cloud fate of Arctic mammals

A first-ever effort to gauge the ecological status of all 11 species of marine mammals living in the Arctic reveals a mixed picture—and a lot of missing information. Researchers found that although some populations appear to be coping with climate change, others are in decline. Overall, however, scientists found that little information is available on most of the 78 known populations.

“Unless we fill critical data gaps, this is the information we have to base management decisions on for the foreseeable future—amid increasing development pressures,” says Kristin Laidre, the study’s lead author and a marine mammal biologist at the University of Washington’s Polar Science Center in Seattle.

Putting profit before people in the hunt for Arctic oil

The tiny Inuit community of Clyde River, Nunavut, is heading to court to fend off unwelcome oil exploration in Baffin Bay and Davis Strait, a precedent-setting move in the struggle to defend Inuit self-determination and the Arctic environment against reckless oil and gas development. Helping to facilitate the rapacious pursuit of northern fossil fuel resources is the National Energy Board (NEB), whose discretionary authority has expanded as environmental legislation has weakened under the Conservative government.

The Melting Arctic: A Fragile Frontier of Riches and Risk Opens for Business

In the summer of 2014, Crystal Cruises announced the latest in its opulent adventures: a 32-day voyage from Alaska to New York, via the Northwest Passage––the world’s first luxury-liner cruise through the icy North.

Never mind that the passage across the top of the Earth is encased in ice much of the year, and that the 1,070-passenger cruise wouldn’t take place until 2016. And never mind that the least expensive ticket would cost $21,000 a person.

It sold out in three weeks.

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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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